In my opinion, there are only three important matters to consider when travelling abroad; language, plugs and cars.
I have never thought myself a linguist, my French consists of a smattering of words remembered from Standard 6 French lessons, so I was surprised to find my few words greatly surpassed Stefan’s French vocabulary. I realised my assistance was needed when Stefan was asked in French if he would like onions on his sandwich and answered, “No, we’re from South Africa.”
The language issue is simply an inconvenience; Stefan was simply given extra onions. The plug issue can lead to frustration and disappointed blog-readers. The driving issue, however, can have life-threatening consequences.
You may think that we left our stressed lives behind us in South Africa, but no, since we picked up our French Renault Clio from the airport, my life has been filled with adrenalin and white-knuckles. Stefan drives and I navigate, but he has also put in charge of reminding him to keep RIGHT. It may sound simple but the problem is remembering. So far we have driven on the wrong side of the road five times, turned into on-coming traffic twice and taken an off-ramp that was actually an on-ramp. Oh yes, we nearly took out a French pedestrian too, but that had nothing to do with keeping right. It is stressful. Today, however, I do feel there has been a general improvement, as Stefan is no longer trying to change the gears by reaching for the door handle.
Driving across France to Italy we discovered; tunnels, trucks, traffic circles and tolls. The tunnels are impressively long and take you straight through mountains. The trucks are numerous and unavoidable. We thought we would save money on the toll roads, by taking the alternative route, but wound up so dizzy from all the traffic circles that we soon headed straight back to the toll roads.
Leaving France, we also left behind the security of our built-in GPS. We felt fearless, after all we had a map, and the world once functioned without GPS. I was not feeling as confident, however, when we couldn’t find the correct turn-off and ended up doing an hour-long loop, arriving back at exactly the same place we had started; like a lost hiker who finds himself walking in his own tracks.
“Tomorrow I am not going anywhere without a proper map.” I declared.
“Would that be my ‘proper’ or your ‘proper’ “Stefan replied.
Each country incentivises its road users to use the Toll roads. In South Africa it’s potholes, in France it’s traffic circles.