A drive anywhere in Europe provides breathtaking views, with gorgeous mountains, seascapes, forests, lakes, vineyards and even farmlands. You don’t even need “a destination” to be impressed with the drive; the drive itself is a destination!
The winding roads through the mountains can be a bit scary with narrow lanes, barely room for cars coming from the opposite direction, literal hairpin turns, and little “pull-over” places in the road to allow two cars in driving in opposite directions from colliding, and those pull-over places often hang on the edge of very high mountainsides. You will want your navigational system’s map displayed in order to anticipate those turns and appropriate driving speeds!!
The only time you won’t see exceptional views is when you are inside one of their many tunnels, at which point (if you’re like me), you will be equally as mesmerized by the ingenuity! Some tunnels we have traveled through even have intersections where the road inside the tunnel offers two different roadway options! I admit I’m just a little bit claustrophobic; I don’t even want to know how capable those tunnels are when it comes to bearing the weight of the mountains above.
And in Norway, there is a tunnel UNDER THE SEA!!! I am not sure that one is for me! But the engineers swear you are safer driving in any of these tunnels than on any other roads!
Just like in Colorado, the tunnels save a LOT of driving time; the options are to drive AROUND the mountain, experience the narrow winding roads, and see all the amazing little ski resort towns and communities along the way…..or drive THROUGH the mountain! I know the locals do either or both in their daily commutes, but as a tourist, I prefer to mix it up a bit. I can only handle so much of either!
But that doesn’t mean the engineering marvel of these tunnels is lost on me. It totally blows me away! Let’s talk about just a few of the legendary tunnels in Europe.
Norway’s Laerdal Tunnel
The 24.5km (15.2 miles) Laerdal tunnel in Norway is the world’s longest road tunnel. The single tube tunnel with two-way traffic stretches between the county of Aurland and the Laerdal valley.
Norway has some of the most difficult mountainous terrain in the world, as well as many narrow road passages that have many fjord* crossings. The Norwegian Parliament, therefore, chose to build a tunnel rather than invest in road refurbishments given the risky terrain.
*Fjord: a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs
Building the world’s longest tunnel created a myriad of design and construction challenges. Precise drilling was achieved with the use of navigation satellites and computer-controlled drilling machines. A staggering 2.5 million cubic meters of rock was excavated from the tunnel.
The length of the tunnel prompted engineers to include various features designed to alleviate claustrophobia and tiredness, which led to the use of behavioral science and driver psychology in the design to reduce driver fatigue and improve safety. That resulted in large, colorfully lit caverns every six kilometers, providing points of interest and a unique driver experience.
The engineers even separated the tunnel into different sections to give the illusion that drivers are traveling through a number of smaller tunnels. In these smaller sections, drivers can take breaks. One couple even conducted a wedding ceremony inside the tunnel!
Switzerland’s Gotthard Base Tunnel
This one is a rail tunnel; The world’s deepest and longest!!
Completed (and celebrated) in June 2016, the 57 km (35 mile) twin – bore Gotthard base tunnel provides a high-speed rail link under the Swiss Alps, and helps people travel between northern and southern Europe easier, faster and more comfortably. Let’s look at what it took to get it completed:
Construction time: 17 years
Cost: $12,500 million US dollars
People employed: 2,600
Length of drilling machine: 400 m, equivalent to 4 football fields.
Amount of concrete used: 4,000,000 cubic meters ~ 84 times the Empire State building in New York, USA
Copper cable: 3,200 km – more than half the distance between London and New York
European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern also attended the completion celebration. Europe's goods, whether Italian wine for the Netherlands or German cars for Greece, have to cross the Alps. Now they will able to do so more quickly, more safely, and more cheaply.
About 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will pass through the tunnel each day in a journey taking as little as 17 minutes. Still a scenic journey; skirting the lakes of Zurich and Zug, passing the home of the world-famous Swiss Army knives at Schwyz before sweeping along the eastern shore of Lake Lucerne. For someone who is a little claustrophobic in tunnels, this would definitely be the way for me to go!!
"Check out this opening ceremony on NBC! Performers dressed up as miners performed. The tunnel is designed to last a century and will go below the Alps as deep as 1.7 miles."
If you have an interest in actually watching the video on how this tunnel was built, here you can see an awesome YouTube video.
Austria's Arlberg Road Tunnel
Austria is a relatively small country with developed road and railway infrastructures. The most convenient way to explore this country located in the heart of Europe is by the car or train. The terrain in Austria is highly mountainous; lying within the Alps, two quarter of the country is above 500 m, therefore in order to connect the country numerous tunnels had to be built. It is very rare that you travel in Austria without passing through at least one tunnel.
The Arlberg Road Tunnel, with a length of 13.976 kilometers, is Austria's longest road tunnel. When it was inaugurated, it was the longest road tunnel in the world. It is equipped with the 43 traffic-monitoring cameras, emergency telephones, 16 niches and eight connecting tunnels with a length of 150 m to 300 m to maximize safety. The use of the tunnel is subject to special tolls. A single journey by car costs 10.00 Euro. Arlberg Road Tunnel is one of the outstanding attractions of the country. It is used by over 18 million people annually.
The Arlberg tunnel still ranks as the world’s fourth longest tunnel. It is part of the Arlberg highway (S16 Arlbergschnellstraße in German) and crosses the Arlberg mountain ranges. It connects the Tyrol province located in the east with Austria’s westernmost province, Vorarlberg. It took four years to construct and was officially opened to traffic in 1978.
Now, if these don’t wow you, wait till you see some of the most amazing tunnels IN THE WORLD!!! While researching the tunnels in Europe, I stumbled upon some tunnels you won’t believe; some are even natural as opposed to man-made. Either way, I’m astounded!!
I'm closing with a salute to the brilliant and creative engineers!!! Thanks for keeping us safe!!