Driving in Portugal. My first ever driving on the other side of road.
This was going to be my first ever drive in Europe. In fact the first real international drive. Before I have driven in Malaysia and Thailand but then those were similar to India except the traffic sense.
Europe is a contrast. The highways are great and the city streets can be very narrow and then all those international signboard which we Indians never give any heed. Nevertheless I was preparing for this drive since couple of months and have tried to go through many online blogs to understand what it takes to drive through. Well i drove in spain too, but that was a different rental and another story. My holiday was planned for 5 days in Portugal and then 6 days in spain. The plan was to fly to Lisbon. Spend a couple of days in there and then take the car and drive to porto. From Porto fly to Madrid and again hire a car to drive till barcelona before saying good bye to a nice vacation.
First thing the car booking. There are big brands and then there are locals. But since it was my kind of first international driving, i wanted to stick to good reputed and known brands. Sixt, Hertz, Europcar and Avis , all are present in Portugal and ofcourse local operators with some great rental deals. I booked through sixth as they seems to be cheapest of all big brands. It was from Lisbon and drop was at Porto. Since it was my first time I took all insurance I can take incl tires and glass protection.
Before I speak any further, let me bring in two important things you should keep in mind while renting. 1. Gps is must and i can explain later. 2. Via Verde electronic toll card.
So let’s move forward and talk about the whole experience
Am I eligible?
That’s the first question crossed my mind. I had an old style paper driving license hand written in English and Hindi, so i wasn’t sure if i will be hire car. So i went through internet and also contacted rental companies to know the rules and whether i need IDP or not. Answer was Yes my drivng license will work as long as it’s written in English and at least 1 year old (sigh of relief) but then i will also need IDP (International Driving Permit). But them my driving license was issued from Chattisgarh and there is no way i can go back to RTO and get IDP issued. Here AAUI (Automobile Association of Upper India) came to rescue and issued me the permit. In return i had to take their membership which i must tell you was a costly affair
Remember cross border rentals are costly. When I started comparing rental deals, the first thing i was doing was to look for a cross border rental. i.e. Check Out in Lisbon and dropping in Barcelona, but then i realized it was almost double the cost if i book separately in two countries. That’s exactly i did. Sixt offered me the best deal in Portugal and Hertz in Spain. When comparing rates the deal you get can depend on multiple factor. Like Car category, Extras, Insurance and handling etc. The car category i was looking for and with all inclusive cost (insurance and glass protection, liability) sixt got me the best in Lisbon
Checking out from Rental Location:
The rental location was Lisbon Airport, so after i checked out from hotel, i headed straight to airport. At the terminal, i was greeted by sixt representative who got me into their shuttle and drove us to rental location. After doing the paperwork i was handed over the keys. The lady at the reception explained all the rental and highway rules including toll. I opted for Via Verde electronic toll card. There are two kind of toll roads in portugal, Traditional Toll road and electronic toll roads. Via Verde works in both and has exclusive lanes in Green. This not only saves time but is also easier and worryfree as you don’t have to figure out how to pay toll at every checkpoint. The charges deducted every time you pass on will appear after 24 hours. More on Portugal toll Guide to Toll roads in Portugal. You can calculate the toll charges between destination here
I got brand new Nissan Pulsar. It’s no nonsense practical car with good space. It doesn’t have a great driving dynamic but is good overall in comfort. You can read more here
So after setting my own GPS, charger i was ready to roll. I took my garmin Nuvi and also loaded Nokia here maps on android phone before i started from delhi.
My route was to start from Lisbon, drive through sintra, and coimbra and reach porto next evening. Visit QUINTA DO SEIXO, Douro valley for Wine tasting on 3rd day.
I was a little nervous initially but after couple of kms it was a breeze to drive. Actually it’s much easy to drive if you get to know various road signs. I had earlier gone through some basic hints and below post by Manan was really helpful. He has covered almost every aspect of International driving tips. However still there were a lot of road signs i was unaware of, and to counter this i always tried to follow what other cars were doing. Whenever i was leading vehicle, i quickly used to fall back. This was useful as it allowed me to understand the road signs based on leading cars behavior.
I read a lot about driving in portugal and how dangerous it is, but believe me if you have driven in India, there is no place on earth you couldn’t drive. Traffic signs may have been a little confusing, but i found people very much disciplined. There were clear marking on the roads and proper signpost.
While highway driving was a breeze, it was a little difficult when it came to city driving. Cities like coimbra and porto has a lot of one way traffic with narrow lanes. When i visited coimbra university, i just parked on the other side of river close to university and walked all the way.
Apart from highways i also got a chance to drive on two lane country roads. I enjoyed driving on those roads, as i found them more scenic. One of the other reason i liked driving these roads because there were dhabas just like we have on the road side and i didn’t needed to take an exit to stop. Driving on such roads led me to some village areas where special sign for speed limit etc were there. Apart from these there were signs for overtaking etc which means i could overtake at certain stretches only.
There are a lot of free open parking available on the street but one will have to be careful not to park at No parking areas. For open street parking remember to park facing direction of travel. At some places there are open ground free parking (one of them was near coimbra University). You will find attendant at these places. You may choose to tip them when they assist you in reversing etc.
For paid parking, the entry and exit are electronic. When you enter, you get ticket from machine but remember to pay before you exit. You will find paying machine which charges you based on the time you parked and during exit you just have to swipe the card to let the gates open. You don’t want to be at the gates without paying first, because the gates will not open and you will not be able to reverse if there are cars behind you. I am guessing there is some limit between the time you paid and you actually exit. Initially finding a machine was difficult part for me especially the machines doesn’t have instruction in English. But the good thing is Portuguese people are friendly and they will always help you.
I did a mistake of booking my flight between porto and Madrid at 6 Am. Reason the Car rental drop location doesn’t open till 7 AM. Basically they are not 24X7 office. So i had to drop a day earlier in the night and had a book taxi next morning. They however offered to pick up in out of office hours for an extra 40 Euro. So a small tip to lookout for opening and closing time of rental location.
Before i end this, i must tell you the reason for GPS, Places in Portugal has a lot of similarity, so you will get confused which one to pick. Also Having nokia Here maps helped me as i could save my places offline (inlcuding hotels) and just drive there. Garmin was also there with me but searching places in the unit was little difficult. The other reason i found GPS helpful was it instructed you to be on a particular lane while exiting or at round about or at traffic signal. This helped avoid any traffic offence. And finally it helped to find parking.