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As we headed out of Paris for a long drive down to Grenoble and on to Nice, we drove in a 2 car caravan. I led, in a rented Mercedes Diesel ... well, I'd been here before ... and friends followed, in a sleek Austin Martin .. nice car. After an hour or so, we exited the autoroute for a stop and maybe lunch. I have a confession - Carol doesn't like speed much so I usually keep to about 140 km/hr ... if your not too interested in math, that doesn't seem so bad. On this trip ... clear road, light traffic, well designed highway ... I was going about 160 km/hr ... or so. As we re-formed the caravan and got out to stretch, my friend - not known for his quiet demeanor, came over to me looking a little excited. "Do you know how fast you were going?" There's always a math whiz in the crowd, I suppose. " ...'bout 100," I said - m.p.h., that is. "One Hundred [freaking] miles per hour!!" he replied, not waiting for my answer. Carol looked at me with a shrug. "I thought you were going to keep it at 90?"
Caution: Customs and rules change - the speed limit is 130 km/hr as posted. In fact, the French, so I'm told, became so upset about the British trying to take advantage if the Chunel to drive from London to Spain in a single day - requiring great speed - have started to enforce the speed limit. Cameras will clock your speed, record your license, and tack you fine on to your car rental bill ... very efficient - at 500 euros or so, it will take a lot of fois grass out of your dining ... so watch your speed, even as the audis, Bemers and "3-pointed stars" pass you by.
In reality, there is a speed limit in France and it is being enforced. Fortunately, I've never been stopped. I've slowed down a bit lately, so maybe that's why.
Driving around France isn't difficult. Here's the short course:
Autoroutes: They are fast and straight ... and expensive. From Paris to Avignon is about 690 km, with 42 Euro in tolls and 65 Euro of Petrol. There are 3 "Speed Cameras" along the way, primarily as you approach major exits or toll stations. They estimate the trip at 6 and a half hours. I cruise along at 120 or so (about 75 m.p.h.). Watch out for headlights flashing in the mirror. If you are in the far left lane you are expected to move over. At that healthy speed, you will be passed by the BMWs, Peugots and many others. The autoroutes are very safe, but stay alert.
Other Roads: Roads range from excellent to narrow, steep, winding and without guard rails. Drive carefully. On your first few visits, you may think that French drivers are maniacs - coming around blind curves in the middle of the road. The cure is to drive in Italy for awhile; then you'll know what a maniac driver is ... and the French won't seems so bad.
Fuel: Service stations are usually just outside of towns and also associated with large supermarkets. Know if your car takes gasoline (petrol) or diesel (gashol). Prices are in Euro per liter. 1 EUR/litre (at a conversion of $1.25/Eur) is about $4.74/gal. (20 m.p.g. = 8.5 km/l). Most French service stations take credit cards, but the "pay-at-the-pump" systems only accept French credit cards (smart cards - with the gold circuit embedded.) Save your self a lot of hassle by getting into the correct lane.
Maps: We've tried several:
Roadside Signs: The US has begun to adopt several European Signs, but there are a few you should know - learn the rest as you see them (check your guide) -
|Speed Limit -Be a good traveler - obey the local laws. It's no fun to try to explain yourself to someone who has no sense of humor, even in his own language, and certainly not in yours.
|No Parking - Your car will be towed in some places. Many areas have "Payant" stations. When you park, go to the station and buy a ticket. Place it in your window. Hours are written on the sign and the Payant machine.
|Do Not Enter - There are lots of streets, particularly in the medievil villages that are only one way. Some are "No way" if you are driving anything other than DaimlerChrysler's microscopic "Smart Car."
|Yield - the sign may say "Vous n'avez pas prioritie" - You do not have the Right-of-Way.
|Rotary - The vehicle already in the rotary has the right-of-way. But don't push your luck. If you are about to miss an exit because you didn't see the sign in time ... drive around. You are safer to keep moving around than to try to stop.
There are lots of rotarys - look for the sign as you approach that show you where your road exit is.
One final caution - do not drink and drive. The blood alcohol limit is usually 0.05% - if you have wine ... stay for desert and coffee, too. Penalties are huge. Be safe.
Those are the basics. Drive safe. Plan ahead ... keep your speed down. You'll do just fine.