Sept. 14: Driving from Strasbourg not Germany
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that you should do one thing that scares you every day. Well, I did the Segway tour a couple days ago and conquered that fear. And I have sort of overcome some of my fear of derision for trying to speak French to the French. But nothing compares to the terror I experienced today, having rented a car and tried to drive out of Strasbourg in the pouring rain, in the dark of morning, in rush hour traffic, with a manual shift, not realizing that I really didn’t understand the street signs and that my GPS would be speaking to me in French. An amazing jumble of streets, roundabouts, tram tracks, bicycles and other drivers trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. Lots of stalls when I let the clutch out too fast. Lots of horns. LOTS of horns. It took me over an hour of driving in circles around the more modern part of Strasbourg outside the historic island before I finally got on a northbound highway. I figured if I could just get out of the city, then I could pull over and try to switch my gps to English. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a tense time driving. Just breathe, I kept mumbling.
So, that worked. I found the autobahn, the famous German highway with no speed limit. Seriously? Cars were going by me at 200 kilometers/hour (about 125 mph), IN THE RAIN! But I just kept in the right lane at about 70 mph and let even the trucks pass me. Never turned on the radio or an audio book. Just clenched the wheel and kept going through forests and fields and over mountains. And if I thought my ability to understand French road signs was bad, I was completely unprepared for the German ones. At least the French try to use symbols that sort of represent what’s happening. Sometimes they even translate the French into German and English. But the Germans? Oh, no. A lot of “Achtung!” Symbols (a triangle with a big exclamation point in it) but no hint as to what they were for. But by that time, my GPS was speaking English with a British accent, and although it was using unfamiliar instructions (like “In 35 meters, keep right at the siding and take the road toward God-knows-what-town-it-is saying,”), I eventually made it. Didn’t stop for 5 hours till I got to Cochem. Just frozen at the wheel and sweating profusely. Most insane thing I’ve done yet. But now I’m really good with a manual shift again and glad I had it going over the mountains. Phew!