ON THE ROAD AGAIN

 Flags and building with a sign: Liberte Egalite Fraternite, in  France
 Driving in France - light through the clouds
 Public toilets in France are hard to come by!

 

It's like riding a bike.


So the saying goes - with the implication that bike-riding is a skill that no-one will ever forget. Jump back on a bike after a year of not riding, and all your knowledge will come back to you.

And yet, after ditching my car for six months, I had a sneaking suspicion that my driving skills were not all-there anymore. Oliver and I had just made it through the first half of our backpacking adventure, and now, miracle of miracles, we had acquired a rental car for the second half. Unfortunately, I was the sole driver, as Oliver was a little too young to be zooming around in a rental.

To add to my uncertainty was the uncomfortable fact that I had never practiced driving on the right side of the road. Or, in my case: the wrong side, as New Zealand is a slightly topsy-turvy country with roadways that are swapped to the left. And it certainly does not help that I am terrible at remembering which way is 'left' and which is 'right.'

So, in preparation for the big day, I had read the one-page of instructions emailed to me by the car company, and had practiced approximately once since leaving New Zealand - by driving six months beforehand in the States with my friends. Ominously, that practice session had been cut short when I attempted to turn into the wrong lane near the gas station, and was met with a car full of guys screaming "right" at me. Or was it "left"? 

Yup, I was screwed.

After filling out the necessary paperwork, they asked if we wanted to give it a test-drive, around the parking lot. My heart was thumping, and I had to surreptitiously ask Oliver which pedal was the break, as it seemed to have slipped my mind. I completed a nervous-circle around the other fancy-schmancy-million-dollar-rentals, and then I was waved off. I could go, they said. Wait, what?! Are they crazy? Are they idiots? I should not be allowed to drive yet! When I asked them about any special road rules, they answered "You must drive on the right side." Panic set in as the gates opened on the wide world, full of potential dangers. Aaaaaaaaaaaagh! I screamed a little.

But, as anyone with half a brain cell can calculate, I am still alive and so is poor Oliver, who had to deal with my terrible driving. So, we did not die. In fact, we somehow managed to not-die all that first day. And the next. And over the course of that month, my driving improved seven-fold, and my white-knuckle grip on the wheel relaxed a little. I am extremely thankful that, out of a difficult situation, I learned a new kind of independence. 

I can now drive on major highways, on autobahns, in the rain, up the alps in the snow, and, wonder of wonders, even in Italy where road rules don't seem to exist.