While this was not the first time we (by we I mean my husband) have driven in France. This was our longest ever trip there and during the summer!!! Boy was it different from driving in Normandy in the fall.
First, all of France goes south in August. Traffic is crazy. There is no parking and you get stuck in gigantic traffic jams. One village we couldn’t get into. One rest area was so busy that the traffic was backed up unto the road. Plus the back up to pay the peage is ridiculous. We had a toll both with a 20km backup.
Second, it is so expensive to take the toll roads in the south of France.
Third, whatever time you thought it should take double or triple it because of the traffic. One trip that was supposed to take 9 hours took 14. And if you are taking a toll road, just give up. Or don’t travel in August. But that was the only time that fit into our schedule so we must live with it.
The roads are good and well maintained. The only big problem is the amount of traffic. Plus the toll system doesn’t help. First, there are several different companies that run the tolls. So you might used different companies for the same trip and each company has different policies. Some of them take credit cards, others only take French bank cards and cash. So be prepared with lots of small bills and coins.
The system works as follows: when you enter a toll area you are given a ticket which you put in the machine at the end of the toll area. Then your toll is calculated. This means that each person and each toll is a different amount because you come in from different spots. This means that it takes a lot time to through each toll booth. Then you have to pay. Like I mentioned above, some toll companies accept credit cards others do not. Then the machines do not always work very well and it is common to see people getting out of their cars to complete the transaction. Plus when you use money and receive change, it is more like a slot machine so you will have money all over the ground. The unfortunate ones are the British. They always have to get out to pay. Poor things.
There is a system called telepeage that allows people to pay using a small transponder. The problem is that very few people use it. I know that in Illinois traffic flow and times greatly improved after the open road tolling was implemented. Now 87% of vehicles use I-Pass and it is even accepted in 15 states. To encourage people to use I-Pass, users get 50% off tolls. Even if you don’t have I-Pass you can still pay your tolls online. What a great way to keep traffic moving. If you are French please get a Telepeage. It will make your roads so much easier to navigate!!!
Playing the License Plate Game
We love to play the license plate game when we travel the US. We often times stop at Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore so we are usually able to get most of the US and Canada plates. One year we were able to get all 50 states!!
While traveling in France we tried finding different license plates. Most EU plates are similar with the EU symbol in a blue box and the country’s initials on the bottom. Some countries have red plates, yellow, while most of them are white with black letters. Belgium is white with red letters. Also many of the European countries will have stickers that say what part of the country the car was registered.
(All license plates are from wikipedia.com except for our rental car)
In our game we got bonus points for seeing plates from non-EU countries. We saw a plate from Andorra and another from Monaco. The other one that we saw that was non-EU was from Turkey.
Switzerland is also non EU. On the left it displays the country shield and on the right it displays the canton shield. Between Lyon and Geneva all you see is Swiss plates from every canton including quite a few of the Corps Diplomatique.
The most common plates we saw were as follows:
R-Romania (many trucks are from Romania)
We saw LT-Latvia once. It is a long car ride to the South of France.
So next time you are stuck in a toll line play the license plate game. It helps the time pass a little faster.
Another fun game is to see all the different car brands and models. There are so many car companies in the EU that don’t exist in the US. Plus they have some very interesting names. Have fun, be safe. Enjoy the road. Avoid driving in the south of France in August and allow plenty of time.
Our rental car
We rented a VW Passat 1.4 SW from Europcar.com. I wanted to put this car in my suitcase. It was fantastic. It was comfortable enough for our family of 5 (2 young adult children and 1 teenager) to sit in the back. It was so fuel efficient that I was jealous. It shuts down anytime the car is idle and starts right back up as you step on the gas. It was automatic (can you hear the heavenly choir?) and it had a wonderful navigation system. It also had a really good AC and it fit all of our luggage (5 small suitcases, 4 backpacks, 1 large carry-on duffel bag plus whatever else we purchased)
I made my reservation several months in advance to get the best deal and I searched using several different search engines. We took our old trusty Garmin but sometimes we used the car’s built in system because we only had France downloaded and we went into Spain and Switzerland too.
Last time we had rented a Ford C-Max which was great. But I have to say that I prefer this car.
Getting Pulled Over
After one of the toll booths getting into one of the towns, there were gendarmes making stops. We got pulled over along with several other cars. They were polite but it did help having my son who speaks perfect French with us. They didn’t seem to speak English very well. Apparently having Swiss plates increases your chances of getting stopped.
They ask for all the occupants passports, my husband’s driver’s license and the car registration. We gave all of the documents to them and they took to a building, where they probably checked our passports. It didn’t take too long so I doubt they did a huge search.
My husband was subjected to a breathalyzer test. It was his first time. Since we are Mormon drinking and driving is not ever a problem. Our only interaction with the gendarmes was pleasant and professional.
If you ever get pulled over just remain calm, keep your hands where the police can see and provide them with the documents they request.