Wait… you thought I was actually GOLFING in Europe? Lol… my once-upon-a-time attempted golf lesson laughs in the face of that assumption.
Along with my complete lack of hand-eye coordination.
No – this is the OTHER type of Golf… compact, sleek, shiny and handles curves like a dream :)
Driving in Europe has been a pleasure I delayed as long as possible. Anyone who has been in the middle of a rotunda (roundabout) in the center of Rome, or heard the cacaphony of horns in Naples, or seen the speed of the drivers in Germany, or watched the crazed attempts at parallel parking in a spot the size of a baguette in Paris, knows that driving in Europe is not for the faint of heart! It’s a skill, it’s an adventure, it’s a challenge.
I’m a good driver… 25 years in California makes that sort of a given… and you can’t date/ love/marry a man who is a serious car buff without picking up SOME info. Luckily the desire to own a showy car went with him in the divorce… Amsterdam is one of the most expensive place in the world to park, so that’s a good thing! (Easily $55++ for parking in the center of the city for the day!!)
But everything I’ve wanted to reach in Europe has always been possible via trains, planes, bicycles or walking. Granted… sometimes in pouring rain. But still! However, to reach the quiet hillsides of the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, a car is really the only option.
So I gathered my courage and my driver’s license… and rented a car.
I was warned about driving in Belgium… where apparently Europe’s WORST driver’s live. (And you’d think the Italians have that claim to fame… but no!) Getting a driver’s license in Belgium is said to be easy… and so… you see that in the ‘unique’ driving styles… stopping in the MIDDLE of an off-ramp from the freeway… barreling past you at 140kms +++ in a zone that is max 100 kms… complete distain for the use of a turn signal.
It’s bad enough on the freeways… especially coupled with the fact that Europeans don’t drive in what we call in California “the fast lane.” The Outside Lane on European freeways is for faster traffic to pass the slower traffic. But you don’t stay there… oh, no! Once you’ve passed… you get back into the inside lane. Keep in mind that most of the ‘freeways’ are two-lanes on each side… so that makes merging onto the freeway sorta weird. Cars move out of the way for the merging traffic… and then… BACK into the lane. It’s WEIRD. It feels like a tremendous amount of unnecessary moving and signaling. But whatever. The Belgians just whizzzzzz by anyway.
In the country roads though… eek. Giant trucks and transport vehicles coming at you around a corner at full speed and a lean of 45-degrees… The same roads that if you have a bicyclist on it you get past them by going INTO oncoming traffic… So not very wide!!! The Belgians are also impatient – I’ve REPEATEDLY seen a car passing 3 or 4 cars by driving into oncoming traffic simply because the lead cars were going too slow for them! Many of the roads in the smaller villages are one-lane roads twisting upwards into the hills of the Ardennes woods. If a car comes while you are walking on these roads… you step OFF the road to give them enough room. But miraculously… they seem to manage!
So yeah… nuts… crazy.. what was I thinking to try and drive here!?!?!?!
Imagine my surprise when I discovered I had missed the feel of the wheel in my hands :) I was enjoying the thrill of being the driver and being in charge… a sporty little Golf definitely helped matters! And the landscape!!! The Ardennes is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled spots in Europe – rich with camping grounds and little B&B’s and farm houses you can rent for a weekend… hiking trails… rivers… mushroom hunting in the forest and berry picking along the roads! The roads themselves are a top favorite of cycling and motorcycling enthusiasts for their curves, the great scenery, and of course… the lack of inhibition. There are times in the year when the roads here are closed for motorists to allow street races, or motorcycle races, or cycling a la Tour de France.
So there I was… cruising down and up the windy curving roads of the Ardennes… wind in my hair, and The Cure (don’t ask) or Dido (don’t tell!) blasting through the speakers, singing at the top of my lungs… And enjoying…
And then of course… the Belgian Cows! They are fluffy and well-fed and make the “California Cows are Happy Cows” add campaign look like the world’s biggest conspiracy! Seriously!
And if you are lucky – you round a corner and discover….
So driving in Belgium has turned out to be great! If you are thinking of renting a car to drive in Europe – do a quick google on road signs to make sure that you know what you are looking at… know that they are heavily reliant on traffic cameras (so just because there’s no Black & White in your rear mirror it doesn’t mean you are not being tagged for speading!) Watch for bicyclists! Know whether your car is diesel or gasoline powered… and head for the countryside for the best experiences!
AND… don’t forget to savor where you’ve been… :)