When we got to Europe proper, we decided to lease a car, rather than rent, because we can get a pretty good deal this way, and it is much more economical for our family of four to drive, rather than take trains and buses. Also, for purposes of camping and cooking our own meals, it just makes sense. Or so it would seem. We forgot to take into account the wear and tear on our nerves and our marriage.
Gene, being a typical man, insists on doing the driving, and I am only too glad to let him. So the job of map reading and getting us set off in the right direction falls to me. I’m pretty good at this when we’re walking–I have a really good sense of direction, and as long as I know where the lake, river, or ocean is, I can keep us found. Also, I’m fairly good at navigating highways in the United States, where we number our highways. In the states, we say: head south on Hwy 55, get off at Sikeston, and go west on Hwy 60 for about 20 miles, then turn left on Hwy 114 and go 7 miles to get to Grandma’s.
Well, it’s not that way in Europe. For one thing, even though the highways have numbers, they don’t pay much attention to that. They say: okay, I want to go to Barcelona, and I want to go on this blue highway here, so I will need to go thru Girona, and you point your car in that direction. Then when you have gone thru Girona, you find the next town on the map and head for that. It requires a lot of concentration, and being a good guesser as to which town on the map will have the road signs pointing to it. There are 3 times more towns in reality than there are on the map, and some of them are a pretty good size. In the states, we will put a town of 50 on the map (sometimes), but here I think you need at least 50,000 residents to rate a place on the map. The road always leads straight through downtown. No, I lied. It leads a rather crooked path through twisty wind-y streets, and you cross your fingers and use your intuition to guide you through. Once we wound up at the top of the hill in a dead end alley.
On the way to your destination, you will be going thru multiple round-abouts, and you had better keep your eyes open on those, because sometimes the roads come in from seven different directions. So each time you go around the round-about, you have to watch the road signs to make sure that you get off on the right one. Many times your sign is not there, and those are the times when we cross our fingers and go straight. Our new mantra is: “When in doubt, go straight.”
Sometimes the young rowdies in the vicinity like to entertain themselves by turning the signs around, or otherwise rearranging them. We are not amused.
Then other times the signs point to the same town in two or more different directions. We almost got divorced on the way to Rome one day, because all roads really do lead to Rome, but that doesn’t mean you can’t afford to be picky. We were trying to avoid the toll road, but gave up the effort and paid anyway. It was worth it. Incidently, it costs about $35 to drive from one side of Italy to the other. That’s the short way.
Some of the road features in Europe are amazing. There are 3 mile long tunnels in Switzerland, elevated highways 300 feet in the air, and bridges that span large distances. They are amazing feats of engineering, but when we see them coming, our heart sinks, because we can be pretty sure there will be a toll attached to it. One day we took a bridge from mainland Greece to the Peloponnese Peninsula, and it was a beautiful bridge, but it cost us about $13.00 to cross it. That was one way, and there was no way to turn around and choose another way once we had driven up to it. And no, they didn’t announce the price ahead of time either. We had to bite the bullet and pay it, but we took the ferry from then on. It was easier to admire the bridge from the ferry. It really was a beautiful bridge.
Then there’s Spain. How can I describe it? Same as above only more so. We thought we had this down, but Spain does not post road signs that make sense. We followed a sign for miles the other day that literally led us to a dead end. We just sat there trying really hard not to cuss in front of the girls, then gave up and got on the toll highway. It was 19 euros, but hey, what’s 19 euros to stay on a highway that doesn’t turn into something else?
Well, perhaps I am complaining too much, but really I can understand how things got this way. Europe has more population density than the States, so of course there are more towns. The roads are curvy and go off in every direction, but I’m willing to bet that they are built on top of cart tracks that go back at least 2000 years. And therein lies the charm–we find ourselves winding thru cobblestone streets wide enough for one car, just to get out the other side of town and back onto our highway, but at least we are seeing the town, rather than bypassing it on the super highway. All the better to find the local specialty food shops, so we can stop and sample the local foods. Isn’t that why we’re here?
Tags: Europe, Travel