Last week, we decided to take a trip up to the Normandy region to visit friends. While we were up there, we decided to stop in Paris as well. (Remember, my first stop in Paris lasted only 2 hours, so I wanted a little more time to explore.) Unfortunately, by the time we decided to take the trip, the airfares and train fares had risen exponentially. For example, a one-way ticket from Montpellier to Paris that could normally be found for as low as 35 euros, was now costing almost 100 euros! We almost cancelled our trip when the solution came to me… why don’t we drive?
The distance from Montpellier to Louviers was 793 km (or about 500 miles), approximately an 7.5 hour drive. I had initially reserved an electric car thinking that a hybrid would definitely save on gas. Little did I know that an electric car was not a hybrid – it was fully electric. Which means it takes 7 hours to charge and will only go about 90 km before needing recharging. Nope, that wasn’t going to work. Thankfully I realized my error and was able to change my reservation.
After a nice upgrade from our rental car agency to a Peugeot 308, we were on the road. The Peugeot actually drove a lot like my Volkswagen Jetta, which means that it loves the highways (especially taking the turns), but hates stop-and-go traffic. It was a fun car to drive. I didn’t realize how much I had missed driving.
Now here are my observations on driving in France…
The French countryside is beautiful. We saw snow in the mountains, sheep in the fields, and old churches in old towns. The coolest thing we drove over was the Millau Viaduct, which I later learned is the tallest bridge in the world. Now I wished I had stopped to take a photo. It was absolutely stunning.
The speed limit on most French highways are 130 km/hr (which is about 80mph), which means a quicker travel time to our destination.
Private French companies maintains the French highway roads. Which means that the roads are very well maintained. There is absolutely no advertising or billboards on the road. And the rest stops that we visited were also very clean and well maintained. (Which is very important as those of you who know me well know my public restroom phobia…)
Well-maintained French roads come at a price. A very expensive price. The French word that I learned right away was “péage”, which basically means “you are about to pay a bunch of euros right now”. How much? Well, at some toll booths, we paid up to 34 euros. That definitely adds up. Combined with the 50-60 euros it costs to fill up a tank with gas, well, all I can say is that we will stop complaining about US gas prices and tolls now.
Some French drivers, although supposedly well-trained (they require 1000 hours of practice before getting a license or something like that), can drive pretty crazy at times. They love to tailgate. Oh, and many times, some view the lane lines as more a suggestion, willing to go meters straddling 2 lanes or to cross the line during curves in the highway. On top of that, some French drivers also love to cut you off when they pass you, even though there’s plenty of room. And many times, they do this without signaling.
Driving in Paris, however, is a whole other level of horror. I really tried hard to avoid driving in Paris, however circumstances dictated that I did it twice, one time in the middle of rush hour traffic. Parisian drivers do the same things that other French drivers do (tailgate, cutting you off and straddling lines), but they also like to honk. A lot. Added to this, you have the crazy motorcycle and scooter riders who have no problem weaving in and out of traffic, in between cars, speeding on either side of the car. Oh and then there’s the multi-lane roundabout, which is always a joy to try to manage. The only good thing about driving in Paris was that driving in the rest of France seemed a whole lot easier after that.
Despite these adventures, we made it back in home in one piece. More on Normandy/Paris to come…