The last two weeks in May, Aunt Karen came to visit us in Bavaria. It lifted my spirits to have my older sister visiting us. To make things easier, we rented a car for those two weeks. Although we can get by using public transit and by relying on neighbors and friends, it was freeing to have a car.
The rental company sent us a black Passat station wagon. We soon dubbed das Auto Priscilla the Prissy Passat because the car has sensors on both the front and back which get more and more hysterical-sounding as you’re trying to park or turn around. It was a great car to practice driving in Germany though, as the engine had plenty of power on the Autobahn, and we had plenty of space for baby gear and luggage.
At first I was bewildered by all the traffic signage but once I drove around a bit and became more comfortable with the way roads are marked, I did just fine. I was nervous about driving on the Autobahn, I think because it always has this almost mythic quality when we talk about it here in the US. It is true that on many stretches of the Autobahn, there is no speed limit. This means one must absolutely take care when moving into the passing lane. If you even see the glimmer of headlights behind you, it might be best to wait until the car passes you. Some drivers truly drive at dizzying speeds so it can be hard to judge just how fast they are going. Toward the end of the car rental period, I was handling the Autobahn with no difficulty whatsoever and even drove at 150 or 160 km/h from time to time – that’s around 95-100 m/h. In fact, it was pretty fun. Usually I felt most comfortable driving at 120-130 km/h which is 74-80 m/h. That’s still quite fast in comparison to most roadways in the USA. In Austria, 130 is the top speed you’re allowed on the Autobahn, but I noticed that in Austria, there were many drivers who were certainly going faster than that.
I practiced driving around our rural area which was a good way to start out; then the next day I drove up to the Munich airport to meet Aunt Karen. Munich is congested and hectic, and as you’d expect, we ran into construction on some of the roads. But honestly, I didn’t think it was much worse than driving in Chicago or LA. I’ll write about our Austria trip over the next few days; I drove in Salzburg, Linz and Wien (Vienna) and survived to tell the tale. Honestly, I did just fine. The only difficulty was trying to figure out where we were going as we weren’t familiar with the street names, but that’s no different from driving in any unfamiliar city. And, now that I’ve had that experience, I expect it will be easier the next time!
Speaking of driving to Vienna, it’s only a four to five hour drive from our house (depending on how fast you go!). For us Americans, that is certainly doable as a day’s drive. When we mentioned to our neighbors that we were driving to Vienna, they were very surprised. “You’re driving to Vienna??” they exclaimed, “it’s so far away!”. And, for a European, it does feel farther away in that they are not as likely to jump in the car and drive somewhere.
Gasoline is way more expensive. Priscilla the Prissy Passat had a 60-liter tank, roughly equivalent to a 15-gallon tank. When we stopped to fill up the tank in Austria, it cost me 70 Euros. That’s almost $100.00 for 15 gallons, meaning gas was about $6.60 per gallon. And, that was in Austria where gas is generally 0.25 cents cheaper than in Germany as there are lower gas taxes in Austria. Still, though, it was cheaper for us three adults and the baby to travel by car than by train.
note: Here’s a fun little traffic sign quiz for all you German speakers out there. Do you know how to interpret the German traffic signs?
German traffic sign quiz