When I set out on my recent journey around Europe, I decided to rent a car for a portion of the trip. Having never driven in a foreign country, I had no idea what to expect. I was a bit worried it would turn out to be a bad decision, but other than Luxembourg City, having a car wasn’t a bad choice. Win for me!
The advantage of a car is the freedom it allows you – I was in control of my European destiny. I was able to make unscheduled stops to take pictures, get lost, see parts I would not have seen any other way, and pick up hitchhikers. Yes, I said hitchhikers!
I know what my American friends are thinking right about now: “You did what? You picked up hitchhikers?” Calm yourselves! They were sweet, young college students just trying to see the world.
Normally, I would never do something like that, but my gut said they needed my help. I remember being their age and wanting nothing more than to see the world. Personally, I would never hitchhike, but it seems to be more acceptable in Europe. So, I threw caution to the wind and packed their things into the car.
Taking them along turned out to be a wonderful decision on my part. The kilometers passed quickly as we talked politics, education, and American culture. By the time I dropped them off, we had bonded, requiring big hugs and wishes for safe travel. I most likely would not do this again, but I did a good thing for them, and that was good for my soul.
Speaking of good for my soul, I got lost in Germany. It was scary at first, but turned out to be a beautiful journey through small towns that aren’t dots on a map. I stumbled across a beautiful church surrounded by fields as far as the eye could see. This country church was constructed a couple hundred years ago, and restored in the 1970s.
Later, I came across a tiny area called “Schlierschied,” where I encountered a newlywed couple. They were not your normal newlyweds, though; they were actually hay rolls dressed as bride and groom. I still don’t know their purpose, but I like to think they are a love letter from a groom to his wife – a reminder of a beautiful promise between two people.
I finally figured out the GPS and returned to the highway. The charm of small country towns was replaced by semi-trucks and gas stations. Disappointing as they may have been, I was on a journey, and I had to get to my next stop.
Welcome to Luxembourg
The next stop was Luxembourg City. This is not a place you want to take a car – at least not at the moment. Most of the city is under construction, making it close to impossible to follow the GPS. Charlotte (that’s what I named my rental car’s GPS) was a trooper through the whole trip, but Luxembourg gave her a run for her money. She doesn’t do well with construction areas and was constantly telling me I was going the wrong way – duh! In addition, the parking situation makes having a car an expensive affair. I was only there for 3 days, costing me a staggering 120€ just to park the car. Oh, and did I mention I had to move the car each day? What a nightmare!
The upside to the parking nightmare was how easy the city makes it to find a parking garage. This doesn’t mean they will have any available spots, though. As in most areas of Europe, there are digital signs pointing the way to the garage, as well as indicating the number of spots available. In Belgium, you will even find digital signs in the garage directing you to rows with available spots. Some of them even go as far as to put blinking yellow lights above the open spots to speed up the process. Why we don’t do this in the States baffles me.
The highlight of my parking escapades was a nifty little gadget I found in a Luxembourg City garage. First, you and your car take an elevator, then pull out onto a platform. After exiting the car, the platform descends underground, bat cave style. It takes about 10 minutes to get your car back to street level, but it was a sight to see.
After leaving Luxembourg, the drive was a breeze—until of course I realized what they meant by “Radar Zone.” Sounds self-explanatory, right? Well, not to this girl. I had no idea what that meant, but I learned quickly. I should have known the total lack of police presence on the highways didn’t mean I could speed. For those who know me personally, I imagine it’s of no surprise that I took advantage of this opportunity. To me, the police-free highway meant “pedal to the metal” and “go, go, go!”
To my dismay, radar zones mean they don’t need to patrol the roads for speed-lovers like me; they just send you a ticket in the mail. Oops! I learned that nuance a little too late to do myself any good.
Warning: if you don’t see cops on the highway, that doesn’t mean they can’t catch you speeding.
The moral of this story is to rent a car abroad, get lost, and enjoy the freedom and control the wheels allow. It won’t always go the way you expect, but you will hopefully return the car with a smile on your face as you remember the ups and downs. I know I did!
What tips do you have for driving in countries around the world?
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