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Trip Report Trip Report: France car rental & driving

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Just came back from a trip to Belgium and France. In France I rented a car and traveled with 2 companions from Paris to Normandy and the Loire Valley. This is the report of the experience.

Background

I have extensive driving experience in the US in both cars and 18-wheelers. I have driven in the UK twice, and in Quebec many times. But first time in continental Europe. I hardly know any French.

Rental

I booked through Autoeurope, after a good experience last year for a UK rental. Rate was about US$180 for 4 days, from Europcar, for a SDMR, standard-sized manual with A/C. Websites of AutoEurope and Europcar suggest it would be a Renault Laguna Diesel or similar. Rate didn't include CDG fees (24.1€), and road tax (1.84€/day, I think), which I paid to Europcar directly.

My rental was for CDG pickup and Place d'Italie drop-off. I initially ordered CDG/CDG, but a quick phone call to AutoEurope was all it took to change it.

Pick-up

I actually took the Thalys to CDG, but my travel companions arrived at CDG1, so that's where we picked up the car. Only one agent working at Europcar's counter there on a Sunday morning. Then an elevator ride up to the parking garage. [There was a line for the elevators. CDG1 is a dump, but that's off-topic.]

Found the car, saw some small scratches, so went back down to the rental desk to add them to the agreement.

The car

I ended up getting a Renault Laguna station wagon with a 2.0 gasoline engine. Diesel would have saved me some fuel cost, but they didn't have one. Car was easy to drive with adequate power, and lots of room for 3 people and luggage. Roads around Normandy and Loire are wide, so the large size of the car didn't post any problem, unlike some parts of UK.

Like the Renault I drove last year, it uses a card in place of a key. Also has an electronic parking brake. Good features once you know how to use them.

Rental Return

This was the most exciting part of my journey. I dropped off luggage and my friends at a hotel near Place d'Italie in Paris, then drove to Europcar's office by myself. What I found is that it's a little store front on Avenue d'Italie, about 50 steps from the plaza. There's absolutely no place to stop for a second, let alone park. Super super busy thoroughfare.

So, I drove around the plaza - twice I think - and found a tow-zone on the next street. I put on the flashers, and ran into the Europcar office. There I learned that the car should be parked at the garage at Italie 2, the shopping mall across the street from the office. So, around the plaza once again, park the car, and brought keys to office.

I don't know why, but the agent at the airport office should have told me, or it should be written clearly on the agreement, how to return the car!

As for driving around the plaza, it's really not that hard or dangerous. Keep squeezing left when you get on, then at around 120-degrees (1/3 of the circle) before your street, squeeze back to the right to exit it.

French autoroutes

The autoroutes are delights to drive on. Extremely well paved, well marked, with excellent reflectors on both sides so that there is absolutely no need to use high beams at night. Toll lanes are plentiful and well marked. Never a wait. Toll collectors were mostly young girls that are courteous.

And the service plazas are wonderful. Big store, clean restrooms, many with fast food and/or cafeteria, WITH picnic tables and benches to eat outside.

And the speed limit is so reasonable at 130km/h (110km/h when raining, and in urban areas). At that speed, there's no reason to speed. Everybody stays right except when passing, all passing done on the left.

Traffic is light outside Paris, except on A10 to/from the Southwest. Drove some distances on A13, A84, A81 & A11 and traffic was non-existent on all.

Other roads

The other routes are fine as well, all well marked. Speed limits are not posted, as they're universal - 90km/h outside urban areas, 50km/h inside. They're posted if different from the above. Directions and the rotaries/roundabouts are basically designed the same as in the UK (except left/right). Roundabouts are almost as popular as they are in the UK.

Atlas & ViaMichelin

I bought the very heavy 1:200,000 Michelin France atlas here. I saw them everywhere in France, but I need to have it before hand to study and mark the routes. I also used viamichelin.com to get some directions and to get toll rates, which were 100% accurate.

However, I ended up deviating from some of the routes recommended by viamichelin. For example, they recommend using N15 into Rouen. But I decided to go with the road signs and use N138/338 which is all freeway and faster.

Our Trip

Day One:

A1 out of CDG, A86 around Paris, then A14 to A13. Took N15 to Vernon, then Giverny. Back to N15 to A13 to Rouen (via N138/338).

Back to A13 to Caen, and then D514 to our hotel just west of Ouistreham on the Normandy Coast.

Day 2:

Follow D514 along the WWII sites all the way to Isigny. Then N174 to A84 to Mont Ste-Michel.

Back on A84 to Fourgeres, then D155/N12/D31 to get on A11 at Laval. East on A81 to overnight in Le Mans.

Day 3:

From Le Mans, took N138 (including Mulsanne Straight) to A28 to A10 to Tours. N76 to Chenonceaux.

D31 up to the Loire, then follow D751 to Blois. D951/D84 to Chambord. Back on D951 all the way to Orleans.

Day 4:

A10 to N154 to Chartres. Then A11/A10/A6 to Port d'Italie in Paris. Avenue d'Italie to get to our hotel and car return at Place d'Italie.

Whole trip about 1,160km (720 miles). Fueled up twice: first time 51 liter, 1.38€/l, 70€. Second time 49 liter, 1.33€/l, 65€. Total, 100 liter (26.45 gal), 135€ ($171). Average: $6.5/gal, and fuel economy is about 27mpg.

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