July 26, 2006

Driving in Europe

When I drive on local roads between cities in the states I consult a map find the road or roads that connect cities and follow those roads from place to place. If the roads are well signed there is this sense of certainty about where you are, what direction you are going (N, S, E or W), and which road you are traveling. "I'm on Farm Road 287 West," you might say to yourself. But throughout most of Europe a completely different system is in place. There are signs at intersections telling you the direction of the next city, so instead of a sign saying this is so-and-so road South, you'll just get a sign directing you to Mexilhoeira or Santa Maria de la Monte or wherever. If you have developed your navigational skills in the American system, the European system requires a certain leap of faith because often (and especially on small roads) you never have any idea exactly which road you are on and that's sort of the point, it doesn't matter because you'll get to your destination if you just follow the signs. At first this is bewildering, but once you get used to it, there is a sense of liberation because (assuming the local governments have done their jobs and put up proper signage) you'll never lose your way. The problem with the European system is that if you are unfamiliar with the exact order of the towns you will be traversing you can get spectacularly lost somewhat easily and as roads are often not otherwise marked. Both systems have their advantages, I can't decide which I prefer.
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If you must have driving directions, http://www.mappy.com does a pretty good job covering Europe.
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We've driven almost 2000 km now and haven't seen a single cop.
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Quintessential European motoring experiences:

Entering the heart of a historic district, getting a bit turned around on the windy streets, and driving down a narrow alley that is either a dead end or too skinny for your car (usually on the top or bottom of a steep hill). To complete this manuever you must ompletely block foot and motorcycle traffic in both directions.

Passing a car on a freeway only to have another car (often with German plates) come out of nowhere at a high rate of speed tailgating within inches of your car until you move over and let him (it's always a him) pass.

Getting yourself into an impossibly cramped parking spot in some underground lot and realizing you have no idea how you will be getting out of the spot or out of your car (solution for the latter, climb out the rear if you have a hatch back).

Driving on a mountain road that narrows so only one car at a time can make certain turns... getting to those turns and seeing another line of cars heading towards you and having to drive in reverse for several minutes in order to let those cars pass.

Passing on roads in which there are three lanes and the middle lane is a shared passing lane.

Driving a Smart Car.

posted at 05:47 PM by raul

Filed under: travel


07/28/06 03:24 PM

Having driven extensively in both Europe and the States I would say this.

The European system works well on European roads because it is rare to find a straight road and roads rarely connect at right angles. The problem with the system is, as you note, if you don't know the names of all the towns in-between your location and your destination. The other problem is that often there are many roads to get to a particular place and you find yourself on the wrong road. If you just follow the signs to a particular place you might miss the faster road or the more scenic one.

Most places in the US and Canada have the benefit of newer straighter roads that intersect at right angles so the American system works well on them. But with the American system if you get off the right road it is often difficult if not impossible to right yourself without a map.

As you said both have their advantages. I just enjoy driving, so I like them both for what they are.

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