Driving in Europe, as we have done, contains its own joys and challenges. The challenges read as a "who's who" of nerve-wracking road conditions, and the joys consist primarily of safely reaching your destination. Well, that's a mild exaggeration, but still, you get the point.
The first challenge we faced was that of driving on the wrong side of the road; The Irish follow English road customs which are almost the opposite of ours. Thankfully, the Nissan Micra we had was small, and it was easier to make up for mistakes that way. The gas, brake, and clutch pedals are all as in America, which was good, since shifting with the left hand was a bit distracting--not a good thing when driving on the opposite side of the road. The other main feature of Irish roads is that, except for the main highways (M7, for example), they are all narrow, bumpy, and hedged by thick mounds of dirt or rock walls. Couple this with local drivers hurtling along and giant buses and lorries (that's what they call trucks) looming out at you every so often, you have a scary ride. We did get a flat tire, either due to bumps in the road, or more likely, severe under-inflation of the tires. Lastly, in Ireland, there are few direct roads to anywhere, so it takes forever to get from place to place, which is not a bad thing, however. The Micra was so nondescript, we never thought to take a picture. I might link an image, though.
France had a set of challenges all its own. The signs were actually pretty easy to read, since I knew French. Driving in Ireland had also prepared us for the placement of European signs, which are subtler and more misleading than American ones. The tough part about France was that many, if not most of the addresses were vague. They gave a name of a location, and the name of the road it was on (i.e., the Paris Road), but not a number or similar system. That left us driving around in the literal and metaphorical dark several times, as we actually drove past our destination several times. We got used to this, however. Leaving Paris was an exercise in patience, since we hit thick traffic and wet roads. It took us well over two hours to get to Chartres. The Parisian style of driving is to fit your car wherever there is an opening. So, two lanes of traffic could easily morph into four, and back; depending on space, which driver was parking, calling a taxi, calling his grandmother, or just plain being French--Which way of being is rather vague like my sentence there. Or here. Anyway, at least everything was on the right side of the road, usually... We named our car Gus-Gus the Panda, since it was a Fiat Panda, and a very Gus-Gus kind of car--cheerful and willing to play, but not a particularly stable character.
Italy was insane, I'll just say it now. There's a reason why the rental company would not rent without the insurance attached. Our ride in Italy was named Ahab, since it was a whale of a car (compared to what we had before), a Citroen Picasso. Besides, Picasso was a whaley sort of person. We did like the mileage the diesel engine gave, and the ease with which it accelerated. Anyway, driving in Italy is like driving on the Autobahn in the fast lane, and a roller-derby in the slow lanes (Italian drivers are like Parisian drivers, everywhere in Italy). No lie. Driving in Rome was like living the nightmares that New York cab drivers have about bad driving. (That may or may not have been hyperbole. That's for me to know and you to find out.) Anyway, if you have a modicum of bravery, and the ability to drive manual transmission, driving in Europe is not bad. You can save some money over trains and planes, not to mention flexible schedules and independence. Just don't try parking on a hill in Siena. I'll tell you that one another time.