13 December 2012

Louvre opens in Lens - just 1 hour's drive from Calais

louvre lens museum
Louvre-Lens Museum
Perhaps the most famous museum of them all, the Louvre, has opened a satellite in the unlikely setting of Lens in Northern France. This shimmering glass building is to be found in what was once the heart of the Northern French coal mining region, but all that is long gone.

The Lens outpost of the Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, could transform the post-industrial north, with local politicians hailing it as a miracle. The industrial heritage of the area is plain to see with a view from the galleries of the largest slag heaps in Europe, recently designated as a world heritage site. The region of Picardy is often mocked by the rest of France as being backward and a cultural desert, but this new venture could change that for good.

What makes the Louvre-Lens musem interesting to the British public is its ease of access to the UK. Lens is just a short drive of about 1 hour from the ferry terminals at Calais. So for those British motorists who enjoy driving abroad this newly opened centre of cultural excellence could even be visited in a day trip.

Check the prices available from P&O Ferries or DFDS Seaways, both running frequent ferries to France from Dover to Calais.

The museum will be featuring a rolling programme of works normally only to be seen in the Louvre in Paris. The museum opened on December 12th 2012 with an exhibition of Renaissance art which includes Leonardo Da Vinci's newly restored The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. This will be the first time this masterpiece has been seen outside the Paris Louvre for 200 years.

The space available for temporary exhibitions is greater than that in the Louvre itself, so we can expect some fascinating shows. In addition, praise has been heaped on the architecture, with the buildings described as boats on a river delicately floating into a huddle.

The only disappointment is the Louvre-Lens website which  has few images, a strange ommission for an art gallery, is only in French (fair enough - how many important British websites have French versions?), and does little to inspire.

Book a ferry crossing from Dover to Calais with P&O Ferries

Book a ferry crossing from Dover to Calais with DFDS Seaways/NorfolkLine

1 November 2012

Tyre labelling: what does it mean?

As from November 1st 2012 all tyres on sale in the EU must carry a label showing three performance parameters: rolling resistance, grip and noise levels. The best performance is an "A" rating.

tyreRolling resistance measures the friction between the tyre and the road surface, and relates to the distance a tyre will cover for a given amount of fuel. The greater the rolling resistance the more fuel will be used to propel the tyre forward. So the lower rolling resistance the better. It has been suggested that over the life of a tyre the saving in fuel could well amount to a couple of tank-fulls, which with the current and ever-rising cost of fuel would go some way towards paying for a better quality tyre.

Inevitably there is a trade off between grip and rolling resistance, especially amongst lower cost tyres. In order to achieve good grip and low rolling resistance new compounds using chemicals and silicons are utilised.

These compounds and the research needed to develop them is costly, and this is reflected in the higher price for better performing tyres. But when you consider that at 50 mph in the wet a low-cost tyre can take as much as an additional 7 metres to stop compared with a premium tyre, the extra cost makes sense. 7 metres, the length of a large room, could be the difference between no impact and a life-threatening event.

The third parameter on the new tyre labels is a measure of the noise generated by the tyre. Tyre noise is a significant component of the overall noise level produced by a car. Less noise means a more comfortable ride for those inside the car, and less noise pollution for the environment.

There has been some criticism that the one parameter missing from the new labelling scheme is durability; how long your tyre will last. But in spite of this omission the new labels provide consumers with more information than ever before to help them decide on what is now an expensive purchasing decision.

Visit our pages for all you want to know about traffic rules and regulations in Europe.

23 March 2012

New road traffic regulations for Germany and Austria

More information on German traffic regulations and driving in Germany
More information on Austrian traffic regulations and driving in Austria

Germany is the latest country to ban devices which detect radar speed cameras. If you have a SatNav or GPS device which has this capability it must be disabled or the device switched off. Ensure you have downloaded the latest software, as this should automtically disable radar speed location capability for those countries where this is now illegal.

Austria has introduced a rule whereby vehicles must clear a lane for emergency vehicles between the existing lanes of a motorway or dual carriageway as soon as traffic stops.

On dual carriageways with two lanes a lane for emergency vehicles must be cleared between the two existing lanes; on carriageways with more than two lanes it must be cleared between the far left lane (that is the outside lane) and the lane next to it. This means that all drivers in the far left lane must steer their vehicle as far to the left as possible. All other drivers must drive as far to the right (including using emergency lanes) as is necessary.

The obligation to clear a lane for emergency vehicles applies not only after accidents,but also in everyday traffic jams, whether emergency vehicles are present or not.

Not clearing a lane for emergency vehicles or driving on such a lane can result in a fine ranging from 72 to 2,180 euro.

As in the past, drivers of vehicles are required to make room for approaching emergency vehicles on roads which are neither motorways nor dual carriageways.

7 February 2012

Breathalyser kits to be compulsory in France

France has a high rate of injuries and deaths from motor vehicle accidents - roughly twice that for the UK per head of population. Drink-driving remains a significant factor in many accidents, so to try and improve the situation every car driver, including visitors to the country, must carry a single-use breathalyzer kit from July 1st 2012.

However, anyone caught without the kit will not immediately face the £11 (€14) fine, which police are to start issuing from November 1st 2012.

The single-use breathalyzer kit can be used to check the driver's blood alcohol level. The legal limit in France is 0.5 grams per litre. Single-use breathalyzers cost between £1.50 and £2.00 and the French authorities are trying to make sure there are enough available before the law comes into force.

Breathalyser test kits carrying the "NF" label are recommended in France, manufactured by Contralco and Red Line. UK drivers should be able to purchase such kits from their chemist. We understand that some ferry companies intend to sell appropriate kits at their port shops, and will confirm this later.

Motorists are being advised to have at least two breathalyzers in the vehicle at all times, so that one can be used if necessary while the other is kept to produce if requested by police.

Anyone driving in France must carry a warning triangle and a fluorescent safety vest for each vehicle occupant. The vest should be carried inside the car and not the boot. Failure to have these in the car can lead to a fine of €90. And unless you have a number plate incorporating the GB logo you should affix a separate GB sticker to your vehicle. Also ensure you have headlamp stickers to avoid dazzle to oncoming vehicles.

Other items recommended but not mandatory are a first aid kit, fire extinguisher and and spare bulbs.

More information about driving in France
Country by country guide to driving in Europe