Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Maybe We'll Drive to Belgium Next Time?
I'm not a natural-born driver. When I first learned to drive, I was 18 and hyper-nervous. My mother doesn't drive, and somewhere along the way, I received LOTS of messages that denigrated women's driving skills. But I vowed not to grow up to be as limited as she is, not to live only where the buses go, not to put my kids in the position of finding rides for me to parent-teacher conferences.
So drive I did. But it didn't come easy. I had one formal teacher and several informal 'teachers'. My nerves were so tense about and while driving that I couldn't catch my breath. I actually went to see a pulmonary specialist who said that my breathing was fine, and to RELAX.
I'm glad to say that ten years later, I'm doing fine as a driver, and even do a not-so-terrible job parking the van despite admittedly terrible spatial intelligence, and it hasn't stopped me from carpooling, and the like. But driving in a foreign country? That is another story altogether.
This is my fifth time visiting my in-laws overseas. But it's our first time renting a car here. In previous years, we've used the "nothing-if-not-efficient" European train system. But at this point, it would be very difficult to get around without a car here.
We're staying at the home of RaggedyDad's sister, who lives in a bit of a more remote part of town. Think cows, horses, and sheep, a freight train humming nearby, hanging laundry out to dry outside (watch out for that fickle Belgian weather! It may rain at ANY moment! Lots more about that in another post), a chicken that keeps escaping from the neighbor's coop (I have personally grabbed the chicken kaparos-style and escorted her home several times!).
So this time, we have a car. Neither of us being knowledgeable in the ways of the stick shift (Ever notice how people in Europe take a certain pride in doing things the hard way?!), our car choices were limited. Cars here are small, oddly shaped, and have bizarre names (I should start jotting those down - that would be a post by itself!).
We managed to squeeze three carseats and our luggage into a low-level Mercedes. Sounds crazy! But it was oddly an affordable option! A van would have been a fortune to rent, and to drive - gas here is very costly. Also, the car is very basic. I'd say the only luxury touch is the gear-shift which has that turkey-neck-like bagginess to it.
Driving here is different. The signs look like that card game we used to play in Israel with the different road signs - they don't make sense to me, and they look fake. (Updated: I just spoke to my brother in Israel, who remembered that the game is called Taki. He's wrong - it is actually called RACE. He then went on to convince me that he's currently in a Taki league. And then to laugh at me when I believed the story. Some things NEVER change.)
Luckily, RaggedyDad actually knows what (almost) all of the road signs mean. There are usually two lanes, and it is assur to stay in the left lane. You must politely pass that truck (they're never in the left) and then get back into the right lane. It's possible that these are also laws in America, but I learned to drive in New York, where people with manners are our tourist friends who are blond and wear fanny-packs.
One more thing about drivers here is that they like to tail gate! There's nothing I hate worse than a tail gate. Maybe they're just doing it to us because our car's plates are German (still can't get over that whole thing). The coolest car here seems to be the Citroen, if only for the double-dots over the "E".
Despite all of the insanity, I'm glad we rented a car this time. The train trip alone back and forth for Shabbos (frum people and kosher anything are about an hour away) would have cost quite a bit at this point, a far cry from the days when it was just the two of us and we were young enough to buy a student-rate ticket. Not to mention getting to and from the train station (cars this small mean it's just about impossible for anyone to give us a ride) and the airport, or the center of town, etc.
And the car gave us the freedom to go to some different, cool places this time around - more about those next time . . .