While guests in the villa this past week, we had the good fortune of having access to cars. Host Kath has a car she keeps in France, and two other couples had rental cars. Thus, we were able to carpool about the area quickly, especially to the tiny or out of the way villages.
French roads tend to be narrow and windy. As you approach any town, roundabouts proliferate. Signing is reasonably good, though it helps to know the next major city in your direction as reference.
Traffic also proliferates as one approaches any town. Long lines can build up at roundabouts or behind trucks or slow drivers.
The speed limit seems to be a suggestion, and the more expensive your car the more likely you seem to be to ignore the suggestion. Sweden and France both have speed control cameras that the authorities thoughtfully sign in advance. If one overlooks or ignores the camera while speeding, a photo is taken and mailed to the vehicle's registered address along with a traffic ticket. Rental car companies gladly forward tickets to clients.
Tail-gating is irritatingly common. Small Euro cars are being replaced by SUVs everywhere, making narrow roads and streets feel even more narrow. Opposing drivers are reluctant to yield valuable road space. I heard few angry or protesting horns, though.
I did my share of driving. I had the joy of navigating urban streets and roundabouts in a major rain storm at least once. A valid US driver license and passport are all that are needed to legally operate a car in the EU.
Purchasing gas is an interesting challenge. US credit cards are routinely rejected by automated pumps. Therefore, one must find a station with a little cashier's Hut with a real person inside. Huts often observe the noon to two closure and the post 7PM closure. Do not allow your tank to go below 1/3 or 1/4, in my opinion.
Anyway, find a station with open Hut and pump your fuel, making sure to choose petrol not diesel. Petrol and diesel pumps are the same size. Expect to be stunned by the price. $40-50 US will fuel a tiny Euro car with manual transmission. After fueling, drive to the Hut and pay. Cash or credit accepted.
Trains offer the advantage of no traffic jams, good views, and relative low cost. They do not service smaller or out-of-the way destinations.
Train stations often have have more ticket machines than real people, though Bordeaux's station was swarming with friendly helpers in red vests. Toilets are pay, cutting down on loitering, I suppose. Larger stations have restaurants, magazine stands, and shops.
Bus stations are convenient, usually attached to train stations. One can buy tickets from the driver. One advantage of the bus is a better view of city centers.
All in all, we don't miss the horribly long and tedious days in a truck in South America.