Driving, although different throughout the world, holds many similarities as well. I just returned from one of many European vacations, and once again was reminded of the challenges of driving in Europe. I was raised in Europe, learned to drive there and yet I still find it always a challenge. First of all I would not recommend driving in most of Europe for an inexperienced American driver, for several reasons.
- Unless you are used to European signage beware it is different from the USA.
- There are restricted areas, based on days, times and pedestrian zones, rendering the driving experience beyond hectic with the possibility of a costly error.
- Finding a place to park is an exercise in patience that extends the learning curve to stellar reaches.
- The further south one travels in Europe the concept of discipline in driving takes on a new meaning.
- It is not that there are no good driving laws in Europe, or good drivers, there are to be sure, it is that in many countries there just is a lack of enforcement of laws and drivers.
Here are some experiences from our latest trip. We drove through Northern Italy to Austria and the Czech Republic and back through Germany Austria and again northern Italy.
Driving in the Czech Republic was very pleasant, the country side has good roads and good signage, except at times if you are not familiar with Czech it is a challenge to figure out where you are or what they mean. Having a GPS system is a tremendous help. The drivers were for the most part disciplined. The countryside is beautiful as are the towns and hamlets.
Prague like most European cities is a mix of old and new streets and can be challenging getting around. Parking was not terrible and the traffic was not unbearable from what I witnessed. However my advise leave the driving in the city to the local Taxi drivers and the countryside to the tourist buses.
In Germany and Austria the driving was well disciplined with good signage and well built roads. The cities although charming and interesting still have similar issues they are a mix of old and new city with small streets and also modern streets, parking can be a challenge and the drivers do tend to drive faster than they should, but they seem comfortable with the excess speeds.
If one is inclined to drive here learn your international signs and be aware of areas that are restricted to vehicle traffic. By the way there is no right turn on red in Europe, well at least a legal one.
Now Italy, Italy is a marvel to see and drive, It is a country as most European lands, that challenges you to keep your eyes on the road as the countryside is so magnificent. Within short drives you find yourself going from Alps to lakes to rivers and cities. Castles on mountainsides to vineyards on hill sides. Tight winding mountain roads that challenge the driver in you, to open highways where you get passed by a Ferrari that makes you feel like you are parked even when you are going 120 kilometers an hour (74 mph). All this joy of driving ends when you hit the cities like if you ran into a brick wall. The cities are a real challenge even for the veteran driver. You are surrounded by darting Vespas and motorcycles, and cars that believe they occupy the same space of a Vespa. If you remember Dumas line from the three Musketeers “All for one and one for all” well driving here is the opposite, All for none and one for themselves is more exact. The Italian is a rare breed from the most charming hospitable kind people to unrecognizable behind the wheel of a car’ with some exceptions. They double park endlessly putting on their emergency flashers and leaving their cars in the middle of the street to go have a coffee or Gellato in the local bar. They cut in an out of traffic lanes, but then of course there are no traffic lanes in the city for the most part. Red lights are often ignored, and the concept of right of way is as foreign to most Italian drivers as steak and eggs for breakfast is. When not double parking or parking on a sidewalk or half a curb, one is trolling for a place to park that can take minutes to hours hence the parking irregularities. If you find it hard to drive one day without seeing a law enforcement officer ticketing someone back home, you can drive for weeks without seeing a person getting a ticket in Italy. You will get honked at endlessly if you drive in a disciplined manner, if you stop for a pedestrian they will most likely smile incredulously at you. Driving in Italy is an experience but not for the faint of heart. There are clearly wonderful disciplined drivers in Italy as was my father inlaw, but they are a breed that is out numbered for sure. Lastly the Taxi cab drivers are good in Italy, they drive well and have a good handle on the experience so when you can leave it to them , I did.