If you're going to France this summer, here's something you might (or might not) be interested in:
Yes, indeed! Drinking and driving laws in France are extremely strict (another good reason to take the train most places).
smart advice. Andstrict indeed. Most states have a .08 threshold, whereas France and other western Europe countries have .05. It doesn't take much to reach that mark.
As someone who has driven almost every country in western Europe I can honestly say that any tourist who drinks and drives anywhere in Europe is very, very foolish. First, even though I have driven thousands of miles in France and other countries, I am still challenged to understand their roads and drivers. Second, everyone over there drives like they are in the Indy or Daytona 500! I once made it from Crecy la Chapelle to Normandy (all highway) averaging about 135 - 140 kmh (about 110 MPH) and I was the SLOW driver. If you drive from Paris to Nice or Monaco and go through any mountainous terrain, you are absolutely driving right on the edge of a cliff where even a wheel off the ashphalt is a long drop awaiting you.
It's really a completely different driving standard over there and anyone new to it is shocked at the first experience (trying to drive normal and cars flying around you with horns blaring and fingers wagging). One gets up to speed quick or stops driving over there!
Bottom line, I couldn't even imagine driving in France or anywhere over there like they do with a drink or two under my belt!
Great point, TEF. I spent a fair amount of time in western Europe as well and I second your comments.
Speaking of Daytona...who's your favorite? I'm going with Carl Edwards.
Tough to pick a winner in Daytona. I don't have a favorite (I'm an open wheel guy) but want to see a good competitive race. We won't know how the new rules will impact the drafting they all do until they are into the race and we see who wants to work with who. It's such a **** shoot first race out because nobody knows what setup their car will work best with. There's a lot of strong teams this year and Edwards is right up in the top groups! I'll be watching!
My one defense of French and German drivers is not only that there is a really low alcohol limit (and they also have cameras in France that will flash on your registration if you're going over the speed limit on major highways -- the privacy violation is mitigated by the fact that they publish where the cameras will be active and when.
I would never in a million years drive in Italy. Beyond the insane drivers there are the mopeds when you're not on the Autostrade. Maybe in Sicily it would work, but not in most populated areas.
That said, there is one great advantage to driving almost any of the highway systems in France or Germany -- the roads are in superb condition. (I am feeling a bit grizzling this morning since we got the first significant snow of the season [!] and so all of the potholes were not clearly visible, as they usually are. (Some look more like sinkholes, and the fixes never take because the weather just ruins them again.)
But I have driven extensively in France in Burgundy and the Loire Valley in bad weather. I knew not to drive after drinking in Burgundy, so that wasn't an issue - I simply took the train. But I wanted to visit some of the outer-lying great Burgundy houses at least to take photos. The roads are incredibly narrow and serpentine (do not rent a large car if you are in France - make it as small as possible for you to fit in). At one point on the rue des Grands Crus two small cars could not pass one another, so the one that does not have the right of way (I haven't totally figured that out) has to get off the road onto the dirtlike area till the other passes). Actually, now that I said that I realize the same thing happens in Acadia National Park in Maine.
A few things to note at least in France, the only place I've rented cars. Our right turn system is not the same (be careful!). There are also lots of rotaries, and they are pretty much the same and actually handle traffic pretty well, especially in the Loire. At the bottom I'm attaching a guide to driving in France. BTW, only get an international driver's license if you are utterly convinced you cannot make yourself known (or your problem) to a Frenchman. Most speak English, so if you are polite it will usually be fine, especially if you say Monsieur or Madame and point to your problem.
BTW, Go RYAN NEWMAN! I am a member of his fan club.
Hi Prof, I'm very impressed with the roads in Ile de France and the Loire Valley, as well as Bavaria, Germany. I wouldn't venture to drive in Paris (Place de la Concorde traffic circle comes to mind, with wall to wall cars weaving in and out of seemingly about 8 lanes of traffic and no road striping, they'd hate me for sure - I'd probably receive many unwanted lessons in sign language!), but there's really no need to, so... I did not mind driving in Italy in Sorrento, Naples and the autostrade, but I would NEVER venture to drive anywhere in central Rome. I cannot figure that out at all. And I don't how comfortable I'd be driving on the cliffside roads of Amalfi and Positano...fist bite...
Thanks for the link.
No, you're absolutely right about Paris. When I rented cars twice at CDG to go to Dijon, returning them was a near disaster except for the extremely nice people at the rental counters (I got there a day early to stay at the CDG Marriott) who didn't care that I returned the car five hours late one time. Those five hours were spent circling, recircling, and recircling again about 7 times the Boulévard Périphérique (inner or outer) because I could not find the exit to CDG which is curiously and immediately after other exits. I ended up almost in tears (that takes a lot for me) and had to refuel with gas four times (fortunately they were times to ask for directions yet again). Finally, after actually driving into Paris by mistake [quelle horreur!] and getting out again I pulled in a parking lot of a big French version of Home Depot, I think Monsieur Bricolage and asked directions.
The good part was it was a day before my flight. The trip from Burgundy was horrific, because it was a combination of sleet and snow, and the rental car's windshield wiper fluid had run out, so I had to stop several times en route before the nightmare on the BP.
But the people at the Alamo counter at CDG almost made up for everything. By then I was completely done in, discombobulated (dating myself), and horrified at possible additional fees (which would certainly have been added in the US). But the very nice man simply said, "pas de problème" and didn't charge extra.
But these days I only rent (if I can get an automatic) in the provinces, and leave it off there and take the train back.
I'm laughing, but I can imagine your frustration. I hope you guys are around to offer up driving advice when I finally get my turn to spend a more extensive amount of time in France (in about 3-4 years - happy retirement to me, I hope).
I took a taxi once from Marriott CE to the Air France bus. I know it was less than a mile away, but it was uphill, a warm day, I was tired, and I just didn't want to schlep my luggage along on the most beautiful boulevard in the world. I wanted to leave in style. I probably should have taken the taxi to Gare du Nord or Gare de l'Est; it would have made the driver happier and I wouldn't have missed my flight due to traffic. The taxi driver was so mad at me. "Non, vous pouvez aller à pied, il n'est pas loin," or something like that, she was talking faster than my non-native language ears could listen. I replied, "Cette semaine je marche et marche et marche partout, beaucoup de kilometres, et aujourd'***, je suis fatigué, maintenant, s'il vous plaît madame," mais non, elle dits, "alors, il sera de 10 euros." "D'accord, c'est très bien, allons, s'il vous plaît." She did it, but she wasn't happy about it. Then on another trip in Rome, the taxi driver at the train station wanted 28 euros to take us to the Grand Flora. we were lost - no map, but I was furious because I just knew it couldn't be far (turns out just a little over a mile away), I told my mom, c'mon, we're not paying that. We'll figure out the metro. So off we went, down into the metro and back up with luggage, schlep, shlep, shlep, and came up out from the Piazza Barberini station, I think. We had NO IDEA where we were in relation to the hotel (first timers, and my mom was supposed to have done the advanced research for Rome, but "she just never had time to get to it"). Though we didn't know, it turns out we were just down the hill from the property. We walked up via Vittorio Veneto, dragging our luggage, hoping we were headed the right way. When we got to the top of the street where it runs into Via Leonida Bissolati (or whatever), hallelujah, there was the Marriott. It was 85 degrees out, and we were hot and sweaty, definitely looking none too fresh and in fact ragged. My mother is a talker and loves to share every detail of every adventure with every stranger. I stopped, set my hands on her shoulders to ensure eye contact and said, "Not one word about this to anybody in the lobby, alright? We walk into the hotel with our heads held high and we just let them forever wonder about our appearance." "Okay," she nodded, and that was the end of that! I have another story about a taxi driver who wanted 56 euros to take us from the train station in Sorrento to our hotel, which was also only about a mile away (unknown to us). We walked, again uphill with luggage (well, there's actually more to that story), but not before I gave the driver a piece of my mind. When we told our hotel donna, she called some government agency and complained about him. She said it hurts her business as well. Anyway, from driving to taxis, I easily wander off topic.
Lori, Between ProfC's horror stories about driving and your excursions about taxis, I'm tempted to just walk a lot. But then we'd probably end in a different time zone like "Midnight in Paris". Sigh, what's a person to do.
You just hit on the magic answer. It is ever so much better to walk (if you're in a city, especially in Europe where most things are concentrated in a relatively small area) or take the wonderful trains -- how I wish we had the equivalent of a TGV here!
LOL! Walking is the best. Public transit second. If you end up in a different time zone, well that's a whole different problème!
Actually, one of my best fixes to the time zone issue (which also racks up my Delta FF miles) is either to fly from a more distant place (e.g. Atlanta in my case, starting with BGR or PWM) where there is actually time to sleep what with the time difference -- I have found it is SO much easier to fly longer distances than to London or Paris.
That is, of course, due to sleeping pills! (And perhaps a glass or two of champagne if I'm upgraded.) Not advocating, just saying... And I take both at home as well .
Now I'm the one laughing, although feeling your frustration! I think it's one of the things that makes a good and frequent traveler. I'm close to 60, but figure I won't be able to retire till around 75. But I know my joints have already retired, so I cannot even imagine schlepping suitcases up to the Grand Flora! Fortunately if you come from the airport rather than the train station, there is a flat (and absolute - as long as you take real taxis) to anywhere downtown of 40 euros, at least last time I was there.
I bet your cab driver was floored (haha) when you replied to her questions in French. As more and more Parisians are speaking (American version) English -- I still get it initially because I don't 'look French', then they are somewhat quizzical as to whether I might be Swiss, Belgian, or lo! maybe even from another part of France. I'm a little surprised she took you for a ride (I'm just full of double entendres today!) in view of your speaking French. I find speaking (haltingly or not) the language where I am usually guarantees good service, ironically, especially from cab drivers. More than a few have enjoyed telling me about their visits to the US or their relatives here when coming from the airport.
I have had good luck with taxis in Europe because I've learned where there are set fees from airports and where there are not. If the latter, I usually find an airport transport company that is private but not much more than a cab *should* cost.
My one truly awful cab experience was in Athens. Of course it happened the one and only time I didn't take my map with me. However, I'd walked up and down Syngrou Avenue (where the Marriott is) enough times to get the feel of it. In Athens, you should always get a cab at a group cab stand. I had read in tour books that it is okay to wave down cabs by holding your arm up and out. That worked once except the driver told me in broken English I should never take a cab in Greece that way. I should have heeded him. The next time, I had started walking from the Acropolis, but as in your case, it was very hot and I just missed the hotel's shuttle bus. So I waved down a cab and even showed him my hotel card with the address and phone number on it (however not in the Greek alphabet, though I don't think that had anything to do with it). He started driving around in circles and I knew I was nowhere near Syngrou Avenue. Finally when I pressed the point he turned on to Syngrou Ave. (which is a very complicated street for cars to cross to the other direction) and stopped in front of a Dubai bank. I explained as nicely as I could (even though I normally don't have a temper, I was getting close to one) that I was not staying at the bank, and that he should look at my hotel address again. He insisted I was staying at the bank, and things looked slightly familiar enough for me to huffily hand him a two euro piece (I shouldn't have even given him that) even though the fare showed about 10 by that time, and got out. Fortunately those walks paid off. I realized I was on the wrong side and crossed underground, then it only took about 15 more minutes to orient myself (so I didn't walk in the wrong direction) and get back to the hotel, which turned out not to be a bank after all.
Actually thinking about it my worst EVER cab experience was trying to get to LaGuardia airport from a nearby hotel after one of many transAtlantic strandings in NYC three years ago. But that's for another day, and there was outright fraud involved.
ProfC, thanks, it's good to know about the set price for a taxi to/from Fiumicino. Also, it looks like there might be a train line of some sort from Central Rome to the airport?
Well, we were stuck, it seems, as we were apparently hijacked by the cabbie. Hmmm. Will be arriving in Rome again by train this summer...
I've had some good cab experiences also, both in Paris and Rome; in Paris I had a nice chat with the cabbie about President Bush once (the French nicknamed him 'la bouche' it seemed...)
Ya, one of my joints has taken to rebellious habit as well. I started a walking and stair climbing regime two months ago in preparation of doing some bell tower and dome climbing this summer, and am having issues with it (knee). Just got the results back from an MRI: torn meniscus. I think the repair will have to wait. It's probably been that way for a long time already, anyway. I'm firmly resistant to the thought of wasting vacation days sitting around waiting for a knee to heel.
Anyway, you are quite the adventurous one. Very inspiring. Thanks. Keep the stories coming.
Hi Lori, Shoeman, and Jerry,
I am coming from an East Coast perspective when I say I would rather fly to Atlanta or Detroit before flying to Europe. If I get less than 5 hours sleep, however bad, I'm a wreck. And I am a notoriously bad sleeper to start with. So if my layovers are the result of starting out at 6am and going through CVG and ATL then having an 8 hour to Paris, I'll take it (plus the miles). On the other hand, sometimes I just take the straight flight from BOS to LHR or CDG. But I usually end up getting there at 5 am, dealing sometimes with hotel issues (more often in London than Paris) and utterly exhausted.
Shoeman, I expect it was too many cocktails. Do you spend your time in a lounge while waiting? I find that I've come close to that kind of situation on occasion, except that I'm the kind of person who always gets everywhere too early.
Lori, I'm with you on ORD, JFK, and LHR. They are my least favorite airports in the whole world, which is why I fly west (DTW or CVG) to go east. Anything to avoid JFK in particular. If I'm going to London, I fly to Heathrow, but then it's not a big deal. But I would NEVER make a flight change there. I know most people say the same about CDG, but I've never had a problem (maybe because I'm Delta/Skyteam). AMS is sometimes an issue for me. Ever since the would-be terrorist got through Schiphol (and maybe before, since it was considered one of the safest airports in the world), it takes absolutely forever to get through customs to get to your next gate (which could be at the other end of the terminal). I've never experienced that anywhere else in Europe, but then I usually don't fly to Germanic countries, where the "rules" count far more in my experience than elsewhere.[Once, while on a fellowship in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, for two months in the nineties, I was struck with an umbrella by an elderly woman late at night for crossing the street -- despite no cars -- before the white pedestrian light lit; another time in Hanover, I nearly got run over by a bicyclist because I inadvertently was walking on a bike path -- and he cursed me in German as he passed by. I should add my descent is entirely from Berne, Switzerland, so I am Swiss-German in heritage if not in thought -- maybe I'm a changeling ). While that can be reassuring to some, as a frequent foreign traveler, I get annoyed behind a line of some 100 people when having a one hour connection.
One good thing I have noticed -- lately going through Boston, even though nothing is official there, I seem to be shepherded out of the Nasty Machine Line and go straight to regular screening. I know this is a trial thing at many airports, but I've noticed lately when either flying on an award FF business class ticket or even just regular, that all kinds of things get circled on my ticket then as I approach The Nasty Machine (I truly hate the TSA), I am suddenly turned away toward simple screening.
So being a loyal member, at least of an airline, has its benefits. And to me, the seat you get on international flights is far more important than the bed I sleep in in a foreign country, so I think airlines will never give up FF benefits.
Jerry, I couldn't agree more, though Alamo/National was super to me both times and no surcharges. Even one time when I returned the car to the wrong place (I was exhausted, I think after the multiple times around the BP), they were very nice. I think one of the points (one of the best points) about traveling in Europe is that for the most part you don't need or want a car unless you are exploring the countryside. Until I moved to Maine (at age 42!) I did not have a drivers' license, and it is only because Maine has no public transportation to speak of that I finally learned to drive. Having lived in Boston for many years before that, I had no desire whatsoever to learn .
As for the train to FCO, you'd still have to go through the train station, even though it's a downward trek from the Grand Flora so I wouldn't be too keen on it. But there are bus pickups on the Via Veneto not far from Barberini. I never did it (my old joints), but it was about 25 euros (and all downhill).
ProfC, I'm sorry, 25 euros for what? I will have to get up and take my daughter (1st time traveler) to FCO very early one morning, and back. Then again back to FCO a few days later for myself.
Last time I was in Rome walking from the Grand Flora to Barberini I saw several spots that advertised 25 euros to the airport. Since I didn't do it I can't speak to whether it works or not, but might be worth a chance, as long as you get there early enough.
Praise God for your son, and all our military members! I thank him and all of those who serve us. I am one of those in favor of required national service (not necessarily military) after high school graduation. Most Western European countries use that and it often involves education, social services, or military.
But yes, you also need to find and use that pivotal point in your life. You are not 'throwing money away' if you come from it with a greater understanding of another culture, a relaxation period in your life, or simply a great trip. I love traveling alone, and would not have it any other way. But of course you have to get used to it.
But don't feel guilty at all! Your son is giving his all for his country -- why should you not benefit from being allowed a bit of enjoyment as you get older? Long ago, largely because of parents who were regimented and unbending, and after being totally silenced about music, my ideas, or anything else during adolescence, I got married early -- but it was still better. Sometimes we have to settle on the better of choices. It ended in divorce, as did my second marriage, but I have exulted in my life since. I don't have children (though I had live-in stepchildren), but my cat still provides plenty of guilt when I travel.
Still, I could not be who I am or who my cat wants me to be if I didn't do it. I'm not trying to make a comparison at all with your son, but I know he would want you to experience new things and places and love life while he is away from you.
What is life without adventure, Lori? It took me a while to really venture beyond my 'comfort zone' -- which was basically Western Europe -- on sabbatical last year. It was a combination of a devastating personal loss a year and a half ago and my sudden decision that I HAD to see the great places I'd always studied historically (hence the trips to Greece, Egypt, Israel and Turkey). I have not yet made it to Russia (my fourth graduate field thanks to a nasty advisor who told me I'd never get a job if I only stuck to my specialty areas), but intend to. I only have another few must see places -- Prague and Edinburgh. And as soon as things stabilize in Egypt I will be back there in a minute, especially Upper Egypt (Luxor down to Abu Simbel).
PS -- There is something good about getting older and hurting more -- you realize you need to take advantage of your time while you can. Carpe diem!
It's true about getting older. Must be why I am going on another ill planned trip to Europe that I'm frankly not ready for (next year would be better), because my mother is feeling her mortality. I just say ill-planned because it's not well designed at all, and I can't seem to talk any sense into anyone. Could be (SHOULD BE) going to Germany where my kids are stationed, where we could visit Prague, Budapesh, Vienna, Salzburg and Garmish, but no, everyone wants to go to Paris. So that's fine. I'd love to play tour guide for my kids first visit, and babysit the grandkids and facilitate some nice family memories. Tickets purchased, rooms purchased...then found out two days ago that my son-in-law, the Apache helicopter pilot is deploying soon for 9 months. Ah ha ha, you know what they say, if you want to make God laugh... Then in Italy we're just throwing money away doing what's already been done, which makes for a nice segway into your comment about adventure. I saw a blog you did quite a while back on women traveling alone. I'm at a pivotal point in my life where I am ready to start doing more traveling on my own terms, even if it means, well, traveling alone. I'll go to that blog soon and comment more. As for this upcoming trip, the cup half full of it is that precious and quality time will be spent with loved ones, while making nice memories. That's certainly a 'win' bottom line.
I agree with you about Germanic rules, at least in Bavaria. They have rules all right, and those rules are not to be broken (EVERYTHING MUST be swept, whether it needs it or not!) I don't know if Switzerland counts as Germanic, but one time, passing through customs in Zurich, this one Swiss agent looked at my passport, and then slooowly looked up at me with literally one eyebrow raised, and stared at me for a few seconds with the brow furrowed. At the time I just stared back with eyes the size of quarters (like, what?), but in retrospect, I could have just busted out laughing (good I didn't no doubt), as she honestly looked at me like someone straight out of a cold war era Russain spy movie. Alrighty, then!
Maybe the new TSA rules will pave a way back to a better relationship between you and them. I read about this trial 'thing' and wish I could be singled out as one of those kind of passengers. You are very fortunate to have FF status.
lorifleenor -- please pass along my sincere thanks to your son in law for his bravery, commitment, and willingness to fight for a noble cause, and to your daughter for staying strong on the home front and supporting him while he stands face to face with the enemy. My wife maintained a stable and loving home during my many military absences, and knowing this allowed me to keep my focus on my mission, for which I am forever grateful.
Oh, thank you both, ProfChiara and nuhusker for your kind words. I will pass them on. We are indeed proud of our son-in-law and his service. To include our daughter as well, the army has certainly gotten two for the price of one, as she is a strong, intelligent, sufficient, loving and devoted army wife and mother.
ProfC, I agree with you about national service. Your self-enlightenment, etc. is an inspiration, and ya, must love our animals!
May peace be with you, Lori, and all your family. We thank every one of them for their service! For you, it's time to live and enjoy other cultures, as I have done and you are planning to do. I think it will only strengthen your family bonds. Enjoy!
Prof, Merci. Et vous aussi.
I have had the same experience, will never drive close to Paris again. Trying to find the entrance to Renaissance La Defense took me more time than the drive to Paris from Normandy. I could see the hotel, but could not figure out how to get to it. Went around seven times, and then finally stopped at a gas station I had been to before and got good directions. To make matters worse, this was the SECOND time I had stayed at the hotel.
A similar experience had me on edge returning a car to La Defense, and Hertz had closed the location. That was terrifying, coming from Euro Disney (Where I could have taken an easy RER train), to Paris, to a total chaotic situation.
I am like you, will drive in the countryside, but no major cities for me. If anyone wants to find grounds for a divorce, get you mate to navigate in Europe, better have both lawyer's riding in the rear seat, you can start the divorce while lost!
I forgot the second part of my either -- but it also gets me more miles. If I fly from BGR to DTW to AMS to ATH (an extreme example -- usually I fly from Boston), I get to walk around and relax in between or fix myself up in the latter stages and still usually have a long enough flight to sleep on. There is nothing worse than going east on a 7 hour flight with a 6 hour time difference. First of all, they actually feed you on international flights, and usually too much too soon, which adds to great discomfort the next day if you partake. Plus your whole system is wacko.
So to me nonstop flights are NOT the best choice (as long as I can avoid airports where you have to go through security again and again. But I must not say anything about my feelings about the TSA lest I get on a no-fly list.
I much prefer the loooooong flight. Even though I get a bit antsy, I much prefer the single-flight over multiple flights with layovers ranging from 2 to 6 hours. I find it unmerciful to have an extended layover in say, Tokyo when returning to the states from China. I cannot keep my eyes open, and I find myself drinking too much in the lounge..... One time, whether due to exhaustion or too many cocktails, I fell asleep and missed my connection. From that day on, no connections for me!
It's worse from the west coast, but I will still take a non-stop over a multi-stop any day. Chicago always has delays, don't like JFK and really don't like Heathrow. Amsterdam not too bad. I find non-stop to be acceptable in an extended range wide body class aircraft. The A380's are heaven for roominess, even in economy class, although fleet numbers are small (unless you're flying Air Emirates), so still a bit hard to come by. Other than the A380, which is like flying in a cruise ship, I'll never fly on an airbus ever again. They're sardine cans.
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