Monday, July 7, 2008

On the Road Again

When I was a kid, my family loved to take road trips. We went everywhere in our minivan (and once, even in a Honda Civic): California, Florida, Texas, and all of the states in between; no distance was too far from our home in Minnesota. This week, I exchanged the spacious minivan for a tiny Peugeot and set out on a French road trip. In addition to discovering certain areas of the country for the first time, I also discovered that there are some stark differences between hitting the open road in the U.S. and doing the same in France.

For starters, there is the question of distance. France is considerably smaller than the United States. In fact, it's even slightly smaller than the state of Texas. Needless to say, road tripping in France doesn't give you the same feeling of freedom as you get when you set out on the American highways. Everything is close. You can cross the country in a few short hours. Drive for days and days and you'll end up not in Los Angeles, but Russia. Then there is the question of speed. Speed limits on French autoroutes are much higher than those on American freeways. Cruising along at speeds of up to 130 kilometers per hour (80 miles per hour) doesn't give you as much time to stop and smell the roses as you have at 60 miles per hour. To make matters worse, most drivers go even faster than the posted speeds. Driving through France can feel more like a race than a vacation. And while driving through both countries will eventually require a good night's sleep, no American road trip would ever include a stay in a 14th century Cisterian monastery.

Of course, there are similarities as well. The emergency snack runs, the vain attempts at deciphering a map, the slightly sketchy reststop bathrooms; they can all be found in both countries. I recommend leaving the autoroutes to take the French road less traveled. France is chock full of hilltop villages and historic sites to see along the way, but you'll miss them if you don't take the national roads. Bonus: unlike the freeways, the smaller roads are toll free. So hop in your car, use the euros you'll save to buy some provisions, and set out to explore the country. You have a good 10 hours before you hit the Mediterranean. Or Italy. Or Spain. Or...

1 comment:

Christine Gilbert said...

I think the best part is, "would ever include a stay in a 14th century Cisterian monastery." Because seriously, it's Motel 6 from coast to coast. Um, also can I put in a request for MORE pictures? Thank you. :)