One of my favorite things about traveling, especially outside of the United States, is that the everyday things I take for granted and barely think about are suddenly exposed for consideration and examination. On my recent trip to Iceland, one of those things was driving. Here are some of the thoughts that popped up for me while spending a week driving around southern Iceland.
- Our rental car was a Renault Clio. A four door sport wagon. When renting in Europe, I often end up with a Renault. Maybe it is the French surname and rental agents with a keen eye for pairing. Renault is a brand I wish was more available in the United States as I’ve always had a good experience with their cars. This time was no different. Thoughtfully placed controls, roomy interior — even in the back seats, a nice driving feel, good pickup, and a French je ne sais qua.
- The “key” was actually a thick plastic card you slide into a slot in the center console. Ignition was a push button.
- It was diesel and it seems many cars in Iceland are. Diesel seems to be the Unleaded of Iceland. Which I found surprising (even a bit jarring) given the unspoiled natural landscape.
- The car automatically, shuts off the engine when idle. As in, every single stop light and sign. It just turns off. It starts up again, automatically, when the driver removes their foot from the brake. I was told this is the new standard for cars sold in European countries now. It was at once, admirable (for the fuel and ecological savings), annoying (kind of hard to be quick into a roundabout when you have to wait that half-second for the engine to start), and curiosity fueling (I wonder if that makes the ignition system or other engine components fail more quickly? Is it worth the trade off?)
- There are many reasons why small cars are far more popular in European countries, but one of those is fairly narrow roads. This is not a place for the driver who is thrown by passing double-trailer semi trucks on the highway at 90kph with only a couple of feet of clearance and no shoulders.
- Equally interesting were the several bridges we crossed that were one lane for both directions. I was unsure of the rule regarding right-of-way on those but only had to encounter another car wishing to come the opposite direction once. That time, I let them have right-of-way despite my arriving first.
- Driving remains one of my favorite activities. I’m one of those people who can be behind the wheel and never tire of it. Iceland is a very fun country to drive in. Beautiful mountain sprung waterfalls and fields of steam vents. Lupine in full bloom along almost every highway,. Sheep who seem to understand the right-of-way rules as it applies to them better than you do (i.e They have it). The horses, proud and iconic, everywhere.
- I’m very much looking forward to returning. A wonderful country to explore further.