Saturday, February 11, 2012

When driving your car in Switzerland

I have now been in Switzerland for just over a month. Time to give you some heads-up about how to get around here.
Obviously I have my car here, unlike many people that moved here. I need my car to get to Vaduz every day, so it is a big part of my Swiss life. I have driven around quite a few kilometers at the moment, so I think it is safe for me to tell you a bit about the Swiss highways.

1. Changing speed limits. 
The thing I have noticed most about Swiss highways, is that the speed limit changes constantly. That may or may not have an obvious reason, as in weather conditions etc, but change they do. For example, when I get to the highway from Chur, I get to drive 120 kph for about 3 minutes, after which it changes to 100 for no reason. 2 minutes later I get to do 120 again. Don't ask questions, just do it. If you get caught speeding, you get a ticket, and believe me, they are not cheap. They start at 20 CHF for speeding 1-5 kph (yes, that is different from Belgium), and prices rise dramatically. If you go more than 25 kph over the limit, your drivers license appears to be taken immediately.
There are these fixed changes, but there are also places where the speed limit changes day by day, usually due to weather conditions. My tip is to keep your eyes open for the speed signs all the time.

2. Snow, snow and snow. 
Switzerland in its lowest moment.
Be careful of the weather. I have often left Chur in a snow blizzard, to arrive in Vaduz with a watery sun shining and the temperature 5 degrees up. That's of course a good thing, but not if you do it in the opposite direction. Swiss highways have a lot of tunnels - and now I'm talking about the road from Chur to Zurich / Luzern - and the weather after a tunnel can be completely different than before. Strange, I know, I have been amazed many times myself.
Another thing is that the weather can change rapidly. A cute, tiny snowfall can rapidly turn into a thick fog with snow coming from everywhere, so you need to be prepared for that. Usually, speed limits change when that happens as well, so be double aware ;).

3. Be patient. 
Driving in snow conditions, especially with rapidly changing weather, means that you might get stuck behind a snow plough or two. I don't mind that much - I have every respect for snow ploughs. Those people do a tremendously great job. The roads in Switzerland are usually sparklingly clean. Only in the case of a very unexpected or very heavy snowfall, the snow ploughs can't keep up and then the driving might be sketchy.
Usually in the morning the roads are already clean. However, when you do get stuck behind a snow plough, there is nothing to be done except be patient, smile, listen to a nice song and think of the fact that these people are clearing the road for you. They usually work with two and spread out over the highway, so don't try to pass them, it's not possible. You can only wait until they run out of salt ...

4. Be prepared not to see through your wind shield. 
This might sound strange, but I've had some problems with my wind shield - and I'm sure I'm not the only one. With all the salt lying on the highway, then rain or snow falling on it, which makes everything splatter up on your window, the salt sticks to your window and is a bitch to get off. I don't know how it works with other people, but the more I try to swipe my windshield, the more the salt spreads and the whiter it becomes. I try to use the fluid but that seems to clean the window only in the wrong places ... and only helps for about 3 minutes. So, anyway, again, be careful :).

5. Pay when you park! 
This is not a joke - please pay when there is a parking meter! You only have to turn your back for 5 minutes and the police already put a fine under your swipers. Usually this is done very neatly with a nicely printed text and an accompanying sheet that says how to do an international transfer, all put together in a plastic bag - we wouldn't want our fines to get wet now, do we?
These fines aren't cheap either - I have had 2 tickets of 40 CHF, and that is in a residential area outside the city centre of Chur. I don't even want to dream how much it might be in Zurich.
So, bottom line is to always have coins with you, because these meters only work with coins. There is also no paper ticket in a lot of cases, so this machine just happily eats away your money without any proof.

Some fun facts
the Vignette
- it is obligatory to have winter tires. Just so you know.
- when driving highways in Switzerland as a foreigner, you have to have the Vignette, which is a motorway tax. Do not enter Switzerland without it, even if it is for an hour, or you will pay. Again.
- Apparently it is not allowed to honk your horn after dark. We all need to sleep well ;).
- Swiss people drive on the right, and unlike in Belgium, they usually do this. I have also never ever seen anyone passing someone on the right - again, unlike in Belgium.
- people wearing glasses or contact lenses should have a spare pair in their car. I did not know that, might have to look into it. Hmm.

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