Driving in Europe is crazy. There is no doubt about it. The drivers here are nuts, the motorcyclists are worse, and they are both typically pretty rude. If you let someone in on the motorway, plan on everyone to begin cutting you off immediately. Tip: Don’t be polite – Just drive. It’s everyone for themselves! I don’t know what the exact ratio for foreign drivers to native drivers in Brussels is, but I know it’s got to be big! Everyone is from somewhere other than the city you are living in…which means they have a different set of driving rules and ettiquette. This is a recipe for disaster!
On top of all of that, the traffic is a serious pain in the ass. I mean I have sat in traffic jams for hours, in order to go three kilometers. It gets to be ridiculous, and you start to loathe the bicyclists zooming past you because you know they are going to get to there destination far before you ever will. Get used to the one way streets, the lack of visible street signs, and pedestrians walking across the street at any given time (they have the right of way on walkways – but it’s still startling). Oh, and the parking situation is a bit of a challenge too. There is typically never enough parking or a “real” parking lot, a lot of parking is parallel parking (a big thank you to Meaghan for teaching me how to park her K-Car in front of the KD house in college), and the spots are tight. There were multiple times when I couldn’t physically get out of my car while I was pregnant…I’d finally find a spot, but after no chance of exiting the car, I’d have to give it up!
I recently had to learn how to drive a manual car. Big D got a new Ford Fiesta (I know you are all jealous…it’s a totally hot car) since it was cheaper to get a stick. This wasn’t an issue since it was going to be his car to drive back and forth to work. But, I figured since I was an owner of a manual car, I needed to figure out how to drive it in case of an emergency. I’m not sure how I went 33 years without knowing how to do this, but it was time to teach myself. I think my desire to learn how to drive a manual stemmed from my first encounter with a loaner car in Geneva. I had to leave my car for service…The service man drove the car around, helped me get the carseats into the car, and away I was to go…or so I thought. I got into the car, looked down, and thought…”Oh shit – it’s a stick!”. I nicely asked the man if they had any automatics, but he said no, and all the batting of my eyelashes wasn’t going to change his answer. I tried to start the car…stall…I tried again…stall. I was mortified. I couldn’t even start the car! The guy came back to the window and asked me if he wanted me to do the work ASAP, and if I wanted to wait. I was so embarressed. I can only imagine how red my face was that morning.
My initial attempt at learning to drive the Fiesta was a total failure. As I tried to exit the driveway, Big D, Little E, and Little A were all watching me from the frontdoor…As I stalled for the second time, Big D was laughing and making fun of me…I gave up. I came back in and gave him an earful. After I cooled down, I gave it another try. I successfully exited the driveway, and managed to drive around for twenty minutes (stalling countless times, but made it home without leaving the car on the side of the road somewhere). I chalked this up as a success. Little did I know about a week later I was going to have to actually put those newly acquired (and very poor) skills to work. My car started to yell at me in Dutch, and the red light came on. I knew the red light was a major issue, but I didn’t know what the hell the car was saying. I had to call my husband’s assistant for “ass”istance! Long story short, she called the dealership and they said to stop driving the car…which was not an option. She was able to finagle me an appointment at the dealership that afternoon. Unfortunately they were not able to fix my car that day, so they had to give me a loaner. When I asked for an automatic, they looked at me like I was insane. Again I got the “take it or leave it” look, but this time with a smile. I thought I was going to die. I had no choice, but to suck it up and go. I put Little A in the car, and off we went…it was a rough start, but we managed to get Little E from school and to make it home safely.
I was just recently in a car accident. And, I am now driving the Fiesta for the unforeseen future until we are able to obtain a new automatic. I can’t wait. The stress of getting into my car every morning is killing me. It’s bad enough that I am a bit paranoid to drive, but now I have to think about shifting and letting out the clutch. I haven’t figured out how to drive in traffic well enough yet, so I have told Little E that she is not allowed to bombard me with questions and yelling because I need to concentrate. I know this life challenge is going to make me a better person and driver, but I am HATING every minute! So, say a little prayer for me.
I’m hoping all of you safe AND stress free travels. I know this is probably a long shot, seeing as some friends and I went to the Taylor Swift concert in Brussels a while back, and it took us over an hour to get home! You’d never expect stop and go traffic at 11PM on a Sunday night, but that’s Brussels for you. It’s ridiculous, and there is no use in ranting about it anymore!
Many smiles, Claire