By Andrew Hood
Sticker shock induces gas
March 12, 2008 —
Europe has never been accused of being a car-friendly continent. People walk here, ride bikes or take high-speed trains. When they do drive, they generally do it badly and too fast.
That shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, of course. When Rome, Paris and London were taking root, a mule with a cart was the day’s form of mass transit. Or a good pair of sandals.
These days, governments do their best to nudge people out of their cars. Taxes on licenses, gas and tolls are exorbitant. In London, drivers must pay a daily fee of $10 just to drive into the city.
Negotiating through Europe isn’t easy, either. Rather than route traffic with basic cardinal directions, such as something as simple as I-70 West, traffic signs in Europe instead feature the next major city along the way. An integrated system of color-coded signs and route numbers makes sense, but only after you decipher the Rosetta stone.
I’ve driven for a decade through Europe and believe me, unless you have the genetic coding of a GPS seared into your brain, you will get lost.
Rail passes and cheap, low-cost flights are the best option for moving between major cities.
Driving on Europe’s lesser-known byways still has its allure, of course.
With your own set of wheels, you’re not tied to a time schedule, you can go where you damn well please and explore those hard-to-get-to nooks and crannies that still exist far from the tourist throngs.
There’s nothing better than stumbling upon your own private castle and having it all to yourself.
Freedom, just like in America, comes with a price, more so these days with the dollar tanking faster than the Titanic.
Driving in Europe is pricy, so much so that it’s almost becoming an elitist endeavor.
With oil topping $100 a barrel, the price of petrol is making American-style road trips in Europe cost prohibitive except for groups of people sharing costs.
Two weeks ago, we drove to six hours from León to ski for the weekend in Formigal. The 500-mile round-trip, with gas and tolls included, tapped me out $150. Pricy for a weekend trip.
In France, gas has reached a stunning 1.45 euros per liter. Do the math: 3.785 liters per gallon times 1.50 dollars to one euro, and a gallon of gas in the land of the inventors of freedom fries costs a brake-inducing $8.25 per gallon.
Consider the costs after my recent drive from Beauvais (a small airport about 1 hour north of Paris) to Orleans, about 1 hour south of Paris. The total was about 300 kilometers (180 miles). I used about 38 euros in gas (about $55), paid 12 euros in tolls (about $18), all for the simple pleasure of getting stuck in Parisian traffic for 1 hour.
Compare that to the two-hour flight from Madrid to Paris on Ryan Air – a whopping 0.99 euro cents. Ryan Air is one of those low-cost, no-frills airlines turning the airline business upside down. Add taxes and other charges, the OW ticket was only 27 euros ($40).
That beats driving any day.
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