Tips on driving in France

Oct 26th, 2009, 09:35 AM
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I've updated my web page on Driving in France, at:

I incorporated most of the suggestions made earlier on this thread, and added a section on our use of a GPS in Europe (we've now used it in Italy and France). I think I'll declare it "done" at this point, unless I discover some error that needs correcting.

Thank you all for your help.

justretired is online now  
Oct 26th, 2009, 10:37 AM
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I generally treat GPS as in-car entertainment, particularly on navigating between towns. In towns, I find it more useful -- especially for finding a good route out to the highway.

One tip if you are going to a town about which you know nothing: set "Republique" as your destination in the town, as most French towns seem to have Place de la Republique at the centre.
Padraig is offline  
Oct 26th, 2009, 10:45 AM
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Good suggestion, Padraig. Often the GPS is just not satisfied with putting in a City name. Perhaps that is the equivalent to "Main Street"?!
Surfergirl is offline  
Oct 26th, 2009, 10:57 AM
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Place de la Gare is also an almost universal location in the towns of France.
kerouac is offline  
Oct 26th, 2009, 12:58 PM
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A further note on Garmin. Twice today, "Steffi" tried to lead us down one-way streets the wrong way en route from Munich to Bamberg, but she was faultless in taking us to our hotel in the Bamberg altstadt.
laverendrye is offline  
Oct 26th, 2009, 07:42 PM
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Padraig and kerouac, thanks for the suggestions. These French equivalents of "Main Street" never occurred to me.

This is one reason I love posting on Fodor's - the posters have so many great ideas.

laverendrye, I wonder how long these standalone GPS units will survive. When all our data move up into the "cloud", and all our devices are permanently on-line to the internet like the iPhone, having your own seldom-updated copy of the maps will seem stone-age. Maps in the "cloud" can be always up-to-date.

justretired is online now  
Oct 26th, 2009, 10:32 PM
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Great reference!

I am considering to travel alone in France in Dec, including a plan to drive for a few days in Southern France. Is it difficult (if I have GPS) for a female to do this alone?? I have driving experience in US and UK before but were driving with friends.
aliceyyy is offline  
Oct 26th, 2009, 10:41 PM
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you're right, you will find slightly different designs in different countries. But the overall appearance of the sign will remain the same.

Finding the way to the city center has become easier since more and more countries use the "target sign" to designate the route to the center of town. I don't find a sample pic, but the sign looks like one (or more) concentric circles and a big dot in the middle (all in black on white).
Cowboy1968 is offline  
Oct 27th, 2009, 08:23 AM
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I was reading your excellent little driving guide, justretired, and there are two little things that it might be useful to point out.

1. The horodateurs for parking in the city of Paris do not take coins. They were being pillaged too much so now they only take special chip parking cards (sold in a tabac) and Moneo electronic minor payment cards. NONE of them take coins, which is a big problem for tourists, because the parking cards on sale often have a much greater value than a visitor is planning on using (even the people from the suburbs of Paris feel they are being ransomed for this). The only solution that I can offer for this particular problem is never to park on the street in Paris and only use the underground lots. For anybody with a "disabled" parking card, it is also good to know in Paris that parking is free in both the disabled and the normal surface spots for anyone displaying the card. I don't know about other French cities for this.

2. When turning left at a large city intersection, cars generally create an invisible roundabout and turn around the back of each other rather than facing off like in the U.S., so you should advance almost to the end of the intersection while waiting to be able to turn. If you don't advance enough, cars facing you and wanting to turn left can become quite annoyed that you are blocking them. However, you will find certain cases where cars WILL turn left in front of each other, depending on the configuration of the intersection. Common sense and practice will indicate which method to use.
kerouac is offline  
Oct 27th, 2009, 08:51 AM
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Great idea and a wonderful resource for people about to drive in France for the first time.

As to whether TomTom is superior to Garmin in Europe it's hard to say... I have a TomTom which I thought worked brilliantly but have never used a Garmin to compare.

But what might make a difference is the TomTom feature that allows other users to make corrections and updates to maps. TomTom then checks them and they are downloaded as you update your device. Maybe that makes them more current?

ParisAmsterdam is offline  
Oct 27th, 2009, 10:41 AM
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When I see how many streets of Paris change direction regularly (sometimes temporarily due to road works), I can't imagine any GPS system keeping up with it.
kerouac is offline  
Oct 27th, 2009, 11:03 AM
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Priority on the Right, though now there are usually yield signs on side streets in some towns like Orleans there are still unmarked side streets where drivers IME will take their priority on the right, rightly so, but as a surprise to folks not used to the idea. Always look for traffic coming non-stop from the right, even from side streets - though rare to not be marked yield there are indeed some - i just experienced last year in Orleans.
Palenque is offline  
Oct 27th, 2009, 11:57 AM
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What a great list of driving tips. I've made a link to it in my France notes. Thanks so much for putting it together.
cw is offline  
Oct 27th, 2009, 12:43 PM
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Thanks for all the comments and the compliments.

aliceyyy, with a GPS, I don't think you would have any problems. Without the GPS, it's hard to drive in an unfamiliar place without a navigator, because you can only hold so much in your head before you have to pull over and consult the map again. The GPS makes it very easy (and never gets angry if you make a mistake). Your wording seems to imply a worry that it might be more difficult for a lone woman than for a lone man, but I can't think of any reason why that would be so. This is France, not Saudi Arabia.

Cowboy1968, I've never seen one of those target-like "city center" signs in France, or anywhere else. But at least now, if I do see one, I'll know what it means.

I generally don't like icons on the computer. Unlike words, if you don't know what they mean, you can't look them up in an alphabetized list. At least on the computer, you can often "mouse-over" an icon, and a little yellow box will pop up and tell you what it means. I've seen plenty of traffic signs whose meaning was a total mystery to me, but I can understand their use in Europe where so many different languages are spoken.

kerouac, I like both your suggestions for the page, and I'll try to add them soon. I gather that the horodateurs in Paris won't even take a French "chip and PIN" credit card, but a special pre-charged card is needed. I haven't been to Paris in a few years, so my advice is slanted to the countryside. But I've always thought of you on Fodor's as "our man in Paris".

One thing I thought of adding to my page is my brief posting on taking the TGV from CDG, which appears in the Forum at:

I might need to augment it a bit. For instance, I now tend to buy pre-paid PREM tickets on the web, and you don't need to "composter" them. I don't know if you need to pick up your tickets in the same way if your ticket is part of a multi-part air ticket (my earlier notes are now five years old).

And I really ought to have photos: of the sign announcing the trains, of the sign indicating your répère, of the cars themselves, and the LCD signs showing the car number. Sort of like the great photos of CDG that you've been posting, kerouac, only specific to the TGV. For kerouac's posting on CDG and the RER, with a link to his photos, see:

justretired is online now  
Oct 27th, 2009, 12:49 PM
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is parking still free in Paris during August? And in most cities?

justretired - certainly an impressive and valuable compilation. Cheers.
Palenque is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 10:08 AM
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Yes, Palenque, it is still free on SOME streets. You have to look at your friendly local horadateur to know if it is free or not. On the ones in Paris, there is a little zone at the bottom, outlined in green, if I recall it correctly, that says when things are free (in French only). At worst, this would be dimanches et jours fériés (Sundays and holidays), sometimes samedi (Saturday) is added, and of course if you are lucky in the summer, you will find the word août (August) also on the list.
kerouac is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 01:20 AM
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A good summary.

Didn't spot this above, but the "you are entering xyz town" sign ( ) also means this town has priority from the right.

This can be over ruled by stop / give way signs and painted road signs on individual junctions.

If the road you are on has priority the town sign will be next to a diamond priority sign.

Major roads passing through small villages generally have priority.

Smaller roads in smaller towns are still priority from the right.

And priority from the right is perhaps the only road rule that is always obeyed !

Take care.

mpprh is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 01:23 AM
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Oops - just found an amusing town sign that illustrates the combined entry to the town, 50 km limit, and "you have priority" sign :

mpprh is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 05:15 AM
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"If the road you are on has priority the town sign will be next to a diamond priority sign."

Thanks, Peter. While I had figured out some of the logic of French road signs (including the yellow diamond on highways), I hadn't connected the dots when it comes to towns and yellow diamonds. It makes perfect sense, and the absence of such a sign now makes even more sense: priority to the right unless otherwise controlled.

AnselmAdorne is online now  
Oct 29th, 2009, 06:21 AM
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Major roads passing through small villages generally have priority.>

usually but not always - in the case of Orleans where i drive frequenbtly - so always be vigilant of traffic possibly darting out from minor streets onto main drags IME
Palenque is offline  

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