Thursday, February 28, 2008

Driving in Europe isn't cheap

Driving in an unfamiliar city is always stressful. Doing it in a foreign country…that’s madness.

But driving is the most flexible way to tour the countryside, so for my trip to Puglia, I picked up a car in Rome. Getting out of town brought on the predictable migraine – the directions given by the rental car guy weren’t exactly right, the traffic was scary, I nearly took out a small van and another car. But finally, I was on the Autostrada doing 140 kph – that’s about 87 miles per hour – and getting passed nonstop.

My route led beneath snow-crusted mountains and across wide valleys green with lettuce, carrots and cabbages. The hills and valleys were lined with vines, squarely plotted with orchards of olives and almonds.

Diversions often bring unexpected pleasures, and so I cut away from the direct route to Bari and headed for the coast. A mistake. I got mired in the overgrowth of a town burst beyond its historic borders, a mad explosion of dusty streets, drab-but-useful shops and cars bolting from every side street. A headache squared.

The really sad news: Driving is expensive. My tiny Hyundai car cost $276 for six days – 46 per day including all the taxes and insurances. I refilled the tank once – 33 euros, or $50. The Autostrade toll: 23 euros, or about $35. Ouch.

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