When searching for parking you should be able to find free-of-charge parking all over Europe. Some neighborhoods, however, reserve free parking—or all parking—for residents. In such areas the residents' vehicles bear an official sticker. Check the other vehicles around yours to see if they all bear the same sort of sticker in the same place on one of the windows. No parking zones along streets (for instance, near bus stops) are often indicated by a zig-zag white line painted on the street. |
Parking meters and "pay-and-display" schemes are common. A pay-and-display scheme requires you to pay at a central machine (some machines ask you to punch in your vehicle's license plate number too), press a button (usually the green one, the others are for local residents whose vehicle's bear special permits), receive a ticket that lists a time-of-day limit commensurate with the amount you paid, and display the ticket in readily visible spot on the dashboard (on the side closest to the curb if on the street). Most of these machines account for periods of the day when parking is free, so you can pay at night for the first hour or two after 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. the next day. In event of a defective machine you should use the parking disc I desribe next. You may then park for the maximum duration normally permitted at that location.
Many cities in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland enforce Blue Zones or short-term parking areas which limit parking to an indicated duration, usually two hours. The marking of these zones varies from country to country. Before parking in a Blue Zone you must obtain special tickets or a disc from a tourist office, police station, or tobacconist. Sometimes you must buy the tickets or disc, but usually they're given free of charge. In fact most rental companies include a disc or "blue card" in their vehicles. When using a ticket, you write on it the date and time of your arrival (Europeans write the day number before the month number and use the military convention for noting times) and then display it on the side of your vehicle's dashboard closest to the curb. Discs, on the other hand, either bear a clock face and a set of unmechanized clock hands which you can set to show the time of your arrival (see Figure Driving.3 above) or they actually function mechanically as clocks (see www.dotoni.ch). You may round-up to the next half-hour.
If, for example, you arrive at 9:40, you can indicate 10:00. In lieu of these items a simple note left on your dashboard may suffice. It's worth noting that during my first extended motor tour of Europe I was unaware of such zones; I never bought tickets or obtained a disc, and I never suffered a penalty—and I parked in many cities and towns which supposedly enforce Blue Zones. Maybe I was lucky. If you're unsure about whether you should obtain a ticket or disc, check the dashboards of the other vehicles in the area to determine if other drivers feel it's necessary.
If you do get a parking ticket and you do feel compelled to pay it, most countries offer a rather ingenious way to do so. Take the ticket to a tobacconist, purchase a tax stamp (called a "timbre fiscal" in France) in the proper amount, affix the larger of the tax stamp's two sections to the ticket, and, using a regular stamp, mail the tax-stamped ticket to the address indicated on the ticket. Note that wheel clamps are coming into wider use.
Most parking garages and lots employ one rather clever pay-for-parking scheme. Upon entering, you receive a time-stamped ticket. Just before you leave, you take the ticket to a central processing machine and place it in a slot. The machine then prompts you to insert the appropriate amount of cash. (Many of these machines accept coins only; so it's a good idea to check this upon leaving your vehicle behind.) Insert the cash and the machine returns any change along with the ticket, which now bears the time and a certification of payment. Finally, you must present the ticket to the attendant or insert it in a machine to leave.
For the safety of their female customers, it's quite common in Europe for parking garages to reserve the most well lit and frequented area of the garage for women who are not accompanied by a male. This area usually corresponds to the first level of the garage. Look for signs reading, for example, "Nur Frau" (German for "Only Woman").