Driving in Spain

I’m driving with two wheels up on the sidewalk with no room between the edge of my car and tables set out with chairs and diners in the narrow alley. Spaniards move around the car to get by as I try to eke my way forward, because I sure as hell can’t go backwards.

How the hell did I get here?

The night before leaving Madrid I had it all well planned. I reserved a car through Enterprise (much cheaper than train travel as it turns out), set my alarm for 9am, packed my belongings into my backpack along with some fruit for my breakfast, and loaded a driving map from Madrid to Seville on my computer with full turn-by-turn directions. I reserved a room in a hostel in Seville, planning to get there by 5, which with 4 hours estimated driving time should be easy, leaving me time to stop and explore along the way if I wanted.  I was so well prepared that I had a lovely veggie and shrimp stir fry on the street in the warm Madrid night at 11, getting into my bed well after midnight.

What’s that they say about the best laid plans?

My alarm did not go off.  Some noise awoke me and I groggily bleared at my watch.  11:40.  Not good.  I was supposed to be at the car rental place almost 2 hours ago.

Adrenaline makes for a powerful stimulant.  I quickly checked my computer to be sure I was all set to navigate.

The map was now gone.  I tried to hastily bring it up, but now the internet connection which had been rock solid all week refused to allow even one byte in.

I couldn’t afford to mess with it, had to get going.  In moments I had made my bed, slung my pack on, said a hasty “gracias” and “hasta luego” to my host, and bolted out the door.

Things I forgot: fill water bottle, brush teeth, use toilet.

I arrived at the car rental place just after noon.  After some back-and-forth in Spanish, then English (with me directing my breath away from the lady so my morning breath didn’t assault her), we worked out the contract, and she sent me walking on the 1/2 mile to the car lot.  I asked about a restroom, but was informed it was about 1/2 mile the other direction.  I’d just have to find something on the road.

I had reserved an “economy car”.  My first nice surprise was being mysteriously upgraded to an SUV type vehicle, that was also diesel (yay mpg!) and manual (yay driving fun!).

So, it turns out that instead of a Fiat Panda, I get a Nissan Unpronouncable:

Cash-kai? Quashkee? Quarsh Qwai? Zaphod Beeblebrox?

This turns out to be a very lovely and smooth ride. I acquire a map of Spain, and quick directions from the lady in the lot (first right out of the lot, right after 2nd bridge, look for signs “A-4” and “Cordoba”. Armed with this info, I set out.

Quick lessons learned: drivers in Madrid don’t believe in lane change signals.  Or in lanes all that much.  Their car needs to be in a certain spot, woe be unto someone who might be occupying that spot.  Also, red lights sometimes turn green, but they also sometimes just go from red to flashing yellow.  This means you can go, but it’s rather unnerving to do so at a 5-way intersection without the comfort of a full on green light.  Needless to say, my exodus from Madrid took longer than expected.  I got lost 3 times, one time ending in one of those narrow, winding, cobbled streets I found so quaint when I was on foot.

Note to self: from a car, these streets are not so quaint.  Need to be bulldozed and make for a proper 2-way street.  With parking.  And a median.

Eventually I did make it out, and from there it was smooth sailing.  The south of Spain is beautiful country; all lush rolling hills of green and brown, dotted with trees and crossed with farmlands and orchards.  It was a perfect day for driving with patchy clouds, blue sky, and open roads.  This is why you rent a car in Spain; to drive the open roads, master of your own destiny.

Now I’m kind of a geek for alternate power systems.  Wind, solar, hyrdro, geothermal, I’m fascinated by all of it.  I have been reading for a couple years about the extensive solar arrays that Spain has installed, and on my trip I saw many.  I finally found a place to stop and take a picture of one, but it just doesn’t do the place justice without being taken from high up where you can see the whole layout.

Solar fields!
Far as the eye can see!

Along the way I also found a place to stop for food, use the toilet, and purchase a giant jug of water that I keep in the car and fill my water bottle from. Life is good as I roll into Seville. Now, since I woke up late, got lost on the way, and no longer have a map on my computer showing where to go, I roll in at a little after 7, 2 hours later than I hoped for. Still, the hostel said they were open 24 hours, so all I must do is find it.

Turns out that’s far more difficult than expected.

First off: almost all streets are one-way.  Even though I found an internet café and acquired a map of the town on my computer, the app was unable to give me turn by turn directions since I assume it, too, got massively confused by the array of streets one must navigate, obeying direction and round-abouts.  And this leads me to where I started this story at: through several poor decisions and attempts to triangulate my desired location, I end up in a back-alley in Seville at night, cursing the streets, the people, the cars, and most of all myself for ending up where surely no car belongs.

To their credit, the Spaniards take it all in stride, as if a car in their dining alley is nothing new, and I suppose to them it isn’t.  I still felt like I had brought a bull to a ball room dance though, and I attempted to leave as little damage in my wake as possible.  Side note: is this a prank played on me, to give the big American the SUV instead of the tiny car and giggle when thinking about him trying to navigate Spain’s tiny alleys?

Eventually I make it out, but have to give up hope of actually driving to the hostel.  I end up parking in Egypt (well, it felt like Egypt), and hiking in, as I’m much more able to navigate these streets on foot.  Thus another lesson: parking in Spain is not for the faint of heart. This city grew up without cars, and thus it had no need to allocate spots for parking them.  So people make up spots on their own.  Up on curbs, sidewalks, street corners, what have you.  Cars pile the roadsides in configurations I can’t possibly believe is legal or acceptable.  It took me the better part of an hour to find a spot that I felt reasonably sure wouldn’t get me towed.

And at last I made it to my hostel, after another half hour of walking around, asking people for directions, and searching up and down dark alleys.

The good: the hostel is beautiful, clean, and warm.  The receptionist is friendly and multi-lingual.  The bed is comfy.

The bad: 4 out of 5 people in my room snore.  It’s rather symphonic: I’ve got a deep rumbler, a whooshing mouth breather, a nose whistler, and a spontaneous grunter.  I should really record it and do a techno dance remix.  I think instead I’ll acquire earplugs.


But hey: Seville!

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