You Came, You Saw, You Conquered the Roads of Europe (Mostly)

Oh those European traffic circles! Photo: Creative Commons

When AGirlsGuidetoCars writer Terri Marshall returned from a long drive through Europe, she thought it might make a good story. But a good story about driving in Europe turned into a full on experience about how to avoid ausfahrts (oh wait, that means exit in German) and peeing your pants.

If you’re an American, chances are that a driving trip in Europe puts you in unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar traffic signs in a (probably) unfamiliar vehicle.

In fact, I’ve been that American.

I almost did pee my pants when driving late one night on the Autobahn. And then there was that time my husband and I were in Berlin driving a cheap little Mercedes that refused to go over 35 mph. It turns out it has some sort of speed limiter that we couldn’t figure out how to turn off!

But the best stories came from YOU! We asked many of our friends to share their experiences driving in Europe. Some were scary, some were funny, and all were interesting.

Staying on the road in the Mediterranean

Amelia Dalgaard, who is the mastermind behind Motorhead Mama, shared her death-defying trip in the mountains above the Mediterranean:

The first time I went to Europe, it was on a school trip to France, Switzerland and Monaco. Our bus driver was crazy and really liked to take his hands off the wheel to illustrate his tales. Especially when he drove us through the windy, terrifying mountain roads above the Mediterranean. At one point, he took both hands off the wheel to say “And dis is where ze lovely Princess Grace fell to her untimely death!” I thought I was next…

Maria Lianos-Carbone from amotherworld must have been on the same roads as she responded with:

Like driving up a mountain in western Greece and no barrier? Eeek!

Yep, Maria. Those are exactly the kind of stories we love to hear. Too bad you didn’t have the video camera rolling at the same time!

Rachel Blate of My Mini Adventurer, who is more familiar with the European life, actually did have the camera rolling when she shared footage with us:

I live in Switzerland but everyone drives really “safe” here and follows the rules. Italy on the other hand…

This is from our drive around Lake Como.  At some points the road is so narrow only one car can pass, however the speed limit is 90 (kph) and the locals go as fast as possible.  Also, motorcycles do not hesitate to just go wherever they want. The videos don’t really give the feel of how nerve racking the drive is, but you can see how nice the scenery is!


Jill Richardson Berry, who writes at Musings from Me and is a native of the UK, still doesn’t take kindly to European driving, especially in Italy:

In the early 80s, my dad was driving on a highway in northern Italy when he overtook someone. The driver sped up, drove past our car, and stopped in front of us. My dad had to stop quickly to avoid hitting him…my mother, sister, and I sat watching this irate Italian guy pounding on the car windows. I’m amazed he didn’t break the glass. My dad refused to lower his window. After a minute or two, the guy got back in his car and drove away. Scariest driving experience of my life.

Janice Pearson, affectionately known online as JPlovesCOTTON, has done her share of traveling but this trip to Turkey had us appreciating big parking lots here in the U.S.:

Once in Turkey, I was deemed the sober one so I was going to drive us back to the hotel. The parking lot we were in was an absolute joke! So I could hardly get in the car, had never driven it before anyway, and then had to inch out. The friend who was directing me signaled in a way that in the US means you are clear…. In Turkey it must mean something else cause next thing I knew, metal hit metal! Next time, I’ll get a Turk to at least get the car out of the parking lot!

Those Damn Traffic Circles!

Switching from the Mediterranean to the heart of France, I love Maureen Fitzgerald’s (aka Wisconsin Mommy) story about the glamorous side of Parisian life:

I was the passenger in a car in Paris driven by a woman going around a traffic circle at breakneck speed while smoking, drinking coffee and closing a business deal on her cell phone all at once. I still have flashbacks…

What we really want to know is if the deal went through…

One of the biggest fears in European driving is knowing how to drive stick – something that we feel is a life skill that everyone should know. Catherine Pearlman of The Family Coach explains how that factored into her family’s whole “house-swapping” vacation:

My family lands in Barcelona and the family we are swapping with brings us to their house which is actually in the middle of nowhere an hour outside of Barcelona. They leave for NY the next day. I am beside myself with worry all night. Why did I bring my family to a foreign country to a house where you have to drive and I can’t even drive a stick?

The next morning I got up, and walked down to the car and started it. For the next hour I pulled it out of the space and then back in. Over and over again. I was petrified. The next day I got up the nerve to drive around the block without the family. Finally I took the car out for a spin. All went well. But for the next few weeks I had one horrendous experience after another. I stalled in the middle of a road making a u-turn on a highway with a speeding truck coming. I went around blind curves up steep hills to be met with the sight of an 18-wheeler driving down the other way. Traffic circles were the death of me. They are jam packed with speeding and stopped cars. And Barcelona has a ton of traffic circles. It was a nightmare every single time. I stopped breathing right before entering one. But we survived the trip!

A Bloody Difficult Time

Moving further west in Europe, the UK provides its own challenges. They drive on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car! At least that’s what Andrea Traynor from Mommy Gearest says:

When I lived in the UK for the second time, I thought I should finally learn how to drive there. Unfortunately, most vehicles at the time were stick so I was learning stick on the wrong side of the road — and the wrong damn side of the car! I went over a curb and up onto the sidewalk in the first two minutes and my “teacher” called it quits. I stuck to the Tube.

Holly Rosen Fink of The Culture Mom found that culture doesn’t translate to the ability to drive, especially in England:

When I was living in London, my sister came to visit so we rented a car and started driving to Cornwall. Neither of us had ever driven on the other side of the road so she bravely took the wheel. After around 10 minutes, we were going around a roundabout and she side swiped someone’s car and ripped off their sideview mirror. The guy was in the car and ran after us. Needless to say, we returned the car ASAP and took the train to Paris.

The Raceways of Germany

Sean Wilson, who is just The Average Supermom, shared her story NOT on the Autobahn but being trapped in the city:

Our first trip to Munich we got our rental car at the airport and set off for a 15-20 minute drive to our inn. We had borrowed a friend’s GPS to help us get around and programmed our coordinates. That crazy GPS recalculated us around Munich three times, through the heart of the city three additional times, and I finally turned it off and grabbed the map. We arrived at our inn 4 hours after we picked up the car. The bright side? We didn’t need a map to navigate Munich for the entire week because we were very familiar with it at that point.

Note to self: In a pinch, we can still use those paper things called maps.

Amanda Rodriguez is DudeMom. But before she was DudeMom, she was a victim of 90s fashion much like the rest of us:

I drove in Germany when we lived there. I was 19 I remember driving all the way from our house to a shopping center on the Autobahn and then getting there and my dad looking at my shoes and yelling, “YOU HAD THOSE BIG SHOES ON THE WHOLE TIME?!” I was wearing stacked platforms (it was the 90s ok?!) and he was not happy. He was like please wear appropriate driving shoes when you’re driving me around at 100mph. I still don’t know what “appropriate driving shoes” look like, but apparently stacked platforms ain’t it!

Certainly not in this decade, Amanda.

And finally, Michelle Price of Honest and Truly rounds out our reader tales with one of the biggest advantages to driving in Europe… those portable, lightweight cars:

After I graduated college, I had a friend who works for a German company, and they sent him to their plant in Germany for 8 weeks. I decided to visit him for 2 weeks in the very tiny town of Vilsbiburg (where no one spoke English). We rented a teeny tiny Golf to drive, and I dropped him off for work so I could explore outside the town some one day. I parked the tiny car and went wandering in a nearby town. When I returned, my car was completely blocked in. There were some very nice strangers who spoke no English but managed to push and shove cars enough – the benefit of small cars and parking on grass there? – to finally finagle my car out of there so I could pick up my friend on time.

Now, it’s your turn. Share with us your funny, scary, entertaining stories from braving the roads of Europe. Or better yet, tell us what other driving stories you’d like to hear next!

A self-proclaimed "chick who digs cars," Fadra has long been a fan of aesthetics over mechanics. When she's not... More about Fadra Nally