Tips for Driving in Europe

Yesterday we had to turn in our rental car and here are a few things that Josh and I learned while driving in Europe.

Every car has a clutch
Yep, that’s right, every car is a manual. I learned how to drive a standard when I learned how to drive as I remember my dad saying “You never know when you might need to know how to drive a stick shift car,” well, now I need to know. Thanks Dad!

Speed Limits Don’t Necessarily Need to Be Followed
While driving on small roads to the secluded beaches in Ireland, the speed limit on the winding road was 110kph (nearly 65mph) and I couldn’t go much faster than 50kph. I have found that I have been going under the speed limit more than over it.

Motorcycle (and other two wheeled operators) are crazy
They don’t have to follow the traditional traffic laws and they weave in out of traffic on or off the street. When sitting at a red light, it’s standard procedure for the bikes to weave their way to the front of the line of traffic.

Navigating always takes two people
When navigating through a city, the passenger had to ensure that the driver was going the right way. When backing out of a tricky parking spot, the passenger had to direct the driver out to not hit anything. Most turns from parking lots or gas stations were located at blind intersection so whoever could see helped the drive.

The left lane is only for passing
This this one of the cool things that I will try to bring back to the States. Cars only use the leftmost lane when passing another car. If you want to pass someone, you use the left lane then immediately get back in the right lane. Absolutely no cruising in the left lane.

The small cities have crazy small streets
This causes two problems. The first is that you have to be good with stick shift. As I mentioned before, I learned to drive a standard transmission when I was a teenager and have only used that skill a handful of times since then, until now. While navigating in small towns, most of the streets are wide enough for one car, so one car has to pull off on to the sidewalk (if possible) on a steep hill to let the other car through, then try to start moving forward without rolling backwards and/or stalling on a 45 degree bank.

Another problem is you need to be able to collapse your mirrors since the streets are so narrow. Luckily our rental car has a button that will fold both windows against the car to make it easier to navigate. I’ve have had to do this several times or I would have definitely sideswiped something.

Rarely do you have to make a left or right turn
I don’t think that Europeans like making turns as there are round abouts or rotaries at nearly every intersection. They are actually very helpful for novice standard drivers as it nearly eliminates the need to start your car from a dead stop.

Round abouts are also good for making U turns. If you accidentally miss your turn, then just go all the way around and viola you are now heading in the correct direction. We did this more times than I want to admit!

The roads are not designed for taking pictures
There have been lots of beautiful views that we would have loved to have had captured, but taking pictures in a moving vehicle is nearly impossible. As soon as you get ready to take a picture, a tree, a bush or guard rail suddenly appears and is the main object of the photo.

Some countries use their traffic lights differently
In Austria and Germany, the traffic lights were different than all the other countries. When sitting at a red light the yellow light comes on simultaneously letting you know that the light will turn green in a few seconds, so can start moving. Also the green light begins flashing after the green steady, which means that yellow is coming and you need to start slowing down.

Pedestrians have the right away
Driving in the city is a pain due to everyone walking around. Most locals will cross the street and expect you to stop and not hit them.

Speed cameras everywhere
Our car was equipped with a navigation system that knew what the speed limit was on every road as well as where the speed cameras were. I never saw a cop sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun trying to catch speeding cars. All cars going too fast were ticketed by speed cam and we were glad we knew where all of them were.

GPS devices are a must
At first, we thought we could get by having maps on our iPads to help us navigate around. Those did turn out to be helpful, but the GPS immediately told us when we were off course. Plus by following the turn by turn directions, we avoided going the wrong way down a one way street.

Gasoline costs a small fortune
The prices look like that gas is actually a great deal when the sign says €1.59. That”s actually the price per liter and there are 3.1 liters in every gallon. So that makes the price 4.93 Euros per gallon or $6.90 per gallon. Luckily we are driving a disel machine which is the least expensive option and it is more efficient than the small SUV we drove in Ireland.

No matter how many times we try, you can”t start moving in third gear
We have stalled this car quite a few times or had choppy starts nearly every time we try to start in the wrong gear. Lucky for us, our car is extremely quick to restart with a push start button.

Stalling is a perfectly acceptable way to park
More than once we have pulled in to a parking spot and thought we should pull in the spot just a little bit more. If moving the car forward results in a stall, then we call it good enough 🙂

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