I’ve just returned from a road trip across Europe (to Poland and the Czech Republic) and it’s amazing how very different other European countries are to England. I thought I’d share some of my observations and photos with you all.
I’ve never dwelled upon the reason for England driving on the left until I started to write this, so I had a little Google to find out why we’re in the minority of countries who do this and found this article explaining the reasons. I don’t know how true it is, but it makes some sort of sense.
Once you arrive in France it’s pretty easy to adjust to driving on the opposite side of the road; you just remember to look left before right at a junction and that the ‘slow’ lane is on the far right. This is so simple that any idiot can manage it, but the most challenging task when driving abroad is turning right at a roundabout. It sounds crazy, but concentrating on doing this takes a surprising amount of thought because every part of your body is telling you instinctively that you’re doing it all wrong. Turning right at a roundabout is much simpler as once you start to follow the curve of the roundabout, the rest of it simply falls into place.
Driving through France is very easy. Despite their motorways having only 2 lanes, there’s never much traffic and the road signs are easy enough to follow. Other drivers are courteous and I’ve never been stuck in traffic whilst in France.
Belgium is a different thing entirely.
I like Belgium for their chocolate and their French fries (I believe Belgium is where French fries were invented), but I hate Belgium for their drivers. If you thought England was the home of middle-lane-hoggers, then you’ve never driven in Belgium.
It’s frustrating beyond belief as you can be stuck behind a car in the outside lane for mile upon mile and it doesn’t matter what you do to try and persuade the driver in front to move over, they remain completely oblivious to the fact that someone behind wants to get past them. You can flash, honk your horn or tailgate but if the driver in front is happy doing the same speed in the outside lane as those in the middle lane, you’re stuffed.
No one in Belgium appears to want to use the inside lane, which is only used when someone wants to exit at the next junction. This, along with the stubbornness of those who poodle along in the outside lane means you can be held up for a frustratingly long time.
When the lane-hogger does finally move out of the way, you generally see that they are eating as they drive (this was usually ice cream of all things) when you pass them. The dedication to ice cream explains the selfishness of the other drivers but doesn’t help with your frustration levels!
For the immature of you, something that made me chuckle whilst driving through Germany was a sign for a town called Wankum.
The German autobahns are wonderful to drive on despite the aggressiveness of German drivers. The motorways which do have speed restrictions generally have a limit of 130kmh (around 80mph) which is a good speed to be limited to in this day and age. I know there was talk of increasing our own speed limit to 80mph but this was scrapped at the last minute, which I (along with many others) will never understand. The current maximum speed limit of 70mph has been in place since 1965- 49 years ago! Cars are far more powerful, far safer and far more efficient than they were nearly 50 years ago so England really is stuck in the past in that sense.
I was able to do 120mph for a lot of the unrestricted autobahns. Yes, this will obviously increase fuel consumption but not by nearly as much as you’d expect.
If you’re in the outside lane, overtaking traffic in the middle lane but you’re not going fast enough for the BMW or Audi which has come roaring up behind you, these drivers will make it very apparent that they wish to pass you by driving right up your arse until you move over. Even as you start to move over, the driver behind is already squeezing past you and you can’t help but wonder how they haven’t yet damaged their expensive, powerful cars.
Lorry drivers in Germany have an alarming habit of pulling out in front of you at the last moment, regardless of how fast you’re approaching them. I understand that lorries need to overtake other vehicles and that this can be a slow, painful process but whatever happened to planning ahead? Surely it’s better to put your left-hand indicator on a good 10 seconds before you need to pull out so that other road users have a chance to prepare themselves?
Not in Germany.
That indicator goes on almost as an afterthought, right at the moment that the lorry driver decides to go for it. If you’re doing 90mph in the middle lane, a 70mph lorry is just starting to pull in front of you and there’s a BMW about to scream past at 150mph to the left of you, you don’t really have anywhere to go or much to do. The only option at that point is to slam on the brakes and hope that the poo can be cleaned from your seat later on.
That brings me on to my final observation about Germany- going to the toilet at motorway service stations.
You can’t do it for free and have to spend 50 cents to spend a penny. You do get a voucher back which you can spend at the service station, but that’s of no use if you have everything you need or if you don’t have any change. You can’t even use that voucher to redeem against a fuel purchase! Fortunately, there’s a child-shape hole at the toilets (kids are allowed to go for free) and I found that I could quite nimbly fit through that without being seen.
At least you don’t need to pay to use the toilet at motorway services in Poland, but you are likely to be killed on the road before you get to use the toilet.
Polish drivers are lunatics. They all drive kamikaze-style and don’t appear to be concerned in the slightest that they could well be driving their last ever journey. The speed restrictions aren’t always clear in Poland but even when they are, Polish drivers ignore and exceed them. Despite solid white lines and “do not overtake” signs dotted around, Polish drivers will try to overtake someone anywhere; on blind bends, on hill brows and on twisty, country tracks. The amount of near misses I saw in Poland (mainly head-on collisions) was beyond belief, but it’s just the accepted way of driving over there.
I also found that dangerous Polish drivers don’t appreciate not being allowed to force their way in front of you, meaning they suddenly have to drop back again and pull in behind you.
I always leave a gap in front of me when I’m driving but if I’m in slow-moving traffic and the gap in front of me is smaller than the size of the car trying to force it’s way in, I make sure it’s a square peg trying to fit in to a round hole. I guess the way Polish people drive explains a lot about their attitude towards pets (specifically dogs) in that they just don’t care about them in the same way which they don’t care about their lives when driving.
It would also explain why a swan I saw kept trying to bite everybody and everything (including beer bottles).
I encountered several people in Poland who owned a dog, which was kept in a cage or compound at the end of their garden. All of these dogs had shelter, but they had very little water or food. One of the dogs I saw merely had a few slices of bread for sustenance.
I love animals and I know as a nation, England love pets, which made it so upsetting to see dogs being kept like this- each one of them was incredibly friendly and playful. I developed a soft spot for one dog in particular; a 1 year old German Shepherd. I’d let him out of his cage whenever I could to let him have a run around the garden and he loved it. He’d come bounding back to me and roll straight over onto his back so that I could rub his belly. In the space of 3 days, I was able to teach him to give me his paw- something which the owners said they’d been unable to do since they’d had him. The German Shepherd sensed when it was time for me to leave and he looked so sad. He whined and jumped up as high as possible in his cage, but unfortunately I couldn’t take him with me.
Poland is an incredibly pretty country and the green of the plants and trees just seems greener than in England somehow.
I visited several places whilst in Poland and the Czech Republic and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I can’t be bothered to write about the individual places I saw, but have a look at some photos of these places below.