Three months ago I knew nothing about the country of Luxembourg. I knew so little that I didn’t acknowledge it as a real place. While looking for flights into Europe I found that Luxembourg International was the most cost effective destination to meet up with family in Southwestern Germany.
As we made our decent toward LUX I find my self looking out the window in awe. The landscape beneath me looked like something from a fairy tale. Small hills, farmlands and green grass as far as the eyes could see. Occasionally you would see a large historical church or castle as well.
Upon landing I realized that the LUX airport has an eery feel. It’s quiet. Almost too quiet. In nearly any public space in the USA you will hear people speaking along with background music playing over the public announcement system. In Luxembourg I felt out of line when speaking to my wife and kids while waiting in line to pass through customs.
Speaking of customs, these border police are intimidating. When I stated that I was staying for a month the customs officer looked at me and said “Hmmmmmmmmm” in an unhappy tone. When he asked where I was staying I said Germany. Apparently this was a relief for him and his facial expressions and tone of voice changed.
The Rental Car Issue
With our bags in tow we walked toward the Hertz rental car counter. I was greeted by a women speaking French. Now I took French for six years between Jr High and High School, yet when I had the opportunity to speak to someone my mind went blank. In fact I couldn’t even recall how to ask if she spoke English. I defaulted to full American and just started speaking in English.
Luckily everyone involved in business, travel and hospitality speaks English in Europe. I told the Hertz employee my reservation number. She looked through and said “I can’t find it, are you sure you reserved this through Hertz?”. She looked through various systems while my worries grew. I need a rental car I have too many people to transport. Eventually she found the issue.
My reservation was made for yesterday.
I didn’t know if the issue was caused by me, Hertz or rentalcars.com. Not so luckily for me, my credit card was already charged in full for the rental. I was told I have to take this up with rentalcars.com and not Hertz. Luckily Hertz had an additional car to rent that met my requirements. Renting directly through them also ended up being cheaper. I paid $209 to rent a car for a month. She stated that I shouldn’t need extra insurance as American credit cards have enough coverage.
Read that last line again. Go ahead, do it. She talked me out of additional insurance on the car. Clearly I am not in the USA. My next concern was the amount of miles / kilometers that I could add to the car over this time. No problem here.. it’s unlimited. I’m still in shock over how cheap the rental car was.
Where is reverse?
While walking through the parking garage I noticed something strange. I felt like I was about to be in the middle of a zombie movie. It was like the moment where everything is silent in the parking garage before a horde of brain eating bastards comes out of nowhere. After taking a quick stop to listen to the sound of an insulated and sound dampening garage we found our four door fiat.
Once everyone was secured in the car I jumped in and turned the key. I expected the sound of the engine turning over. Instead I was greeted with the sound of failure. Not a damned thing happened. I looked around the dashboard to see if I missed something, yet not matter what I did I couldn’t get the car to start.
That’s when I realized this is a manual transmission car. DOH!
I’ve been driving manual cars for half of my life. I know how they work, I know how to start them. I can only imagine that this was skipped over because I have never had a manual rental car before. Anyways.. the car finally started.
In the USA we are accustomed to parking garages with plenty of room to navigate. Even a massive SUV can get around one of these garages without much of an issue. That is far from the case in Europe. I had to navigate this fiat with utmost care around every corner. This parking garage was ridiculously tight. To make the issue worse I took a wrong turn and backed myself into a corner.
Looking at the shifter I noticed that first gear and reverse appeared to be in the same spot. For twenty minutes my wife and I fought with this car trying to get it into reverse. We even tried to read the manual (in French) to find how to get the bloody thing into reverse. Finally I noticed that there was a small ring immediately below the shifter knob. I pulled this upward while attempting to place the car into first gear.
FINALLY the backup camera appeared on screen and I was able to back out of my predicament. After stalling the car a few hundred times I managed to get out of the parking lot unscathed.
Sadly my exploration of Luxembourg on this day would be limited. The sun was starting to set and Badem, Germany was still an hour away.