Driving in Spain

21 Oct


If there is one thing that the city planners in the US know, it is how to plan streets that are parallel and perpendicular. Amen! (And maybe on a wagon wheel spoke system as in Washington DC.) Not so, in Spain. At least not here in País Vasco. Las rotondas are abundantes and can sometimes be quite confusing to the unaware driver, especially if you do not know the rule of ¨yield to the right.¨ Thankfully I was an international driver some years ago in Germany and had my share of round-a-bouts, but they are not near as numerous as they are in Spain. I have not seen a street yet without a plaza, plazuela, rotonda, or escultura at least every half mile. They even have rotondas on the carreteras and autopistas (highways and interstates!)

Driving through all of these can be quite confusing, because simply to go straight, one must enter the circle and be on the inside of the circle to yield to the person who is entering to your right. Then you must move to the outside of the circle to exit at your salida (exit.) This is done in a very short period of time , with traffic lights and pedestrians at the same time. Throw in some speed bumps and, I think you get the picture! Just somewhat confusing. And that is only the round-a-bout part of the picture. The cities in Spain date back to before the time Christopher Columbus set foot on American soil. The streets here are windy, narrow and run one way only. There is no easy way to go ¨round the block.¨ You may have to drive a half mile to get back to where you started if you make a wrong turn. Luckily, because the streets do not run parallel but generally run one into the other, if you do make a wrong turn, you will end up where you wanted to without any trouble at all!

I must say, though, the rotondas do add beauty to the city and a touch of color where otherwise none would be. The beauty of the rotondas are nothing compared to the beauty of driving through the contryside of the Vizcaya. It is mountainous here and reminds me of driving through the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, with more narrow highways and vistas of the Cantabrian Sea, with its crashing waves and surfers in the various villages speckling the coastline. Driving through the coutryside was not much different than the

US, other than re-acquainting myself with the international road signs, which are so much easier to read and understand (they are all symbols with no words, other than STOP.)

Beware though! A veces, if you do not pay attention to an important “Dead End” sign or simply do not see it, you may end in a very tight spot. At least this time, when I found myself in a dead end and in a very curvy way in a stick shift with seemingly no way out, I

was able to maneuver my way out with no scratches to the passengers and more importantly to the rental. You see, years ago, when I lived in Germany and had recently learned to drive a stick shift, I turned down what I thought was an a street that would take me around the block when it was very dark outside. Not so. It was a dark alleyway where the buildings were narrowing into each other. When I realized I couldn’t go around the block, I tried to put the car in reverse but ended up getting the car stuck in between them and was unable to put the car in reverse to get out of the spot. After about twenty minutes, I finally managed to find reverse and gunned it out of there! (With a few minor scratches on the car.)

So while we were in Gernika, we found ourselves in a similar tight spot. We thought we were continuing on the road through Gernika, but it was a driveway , a windy, curvy, steep, downhill, straight into a garage kind of driveway. No room to do a three point turn kind of driveway. Only way out is to go in reverse kind of driveway. Complete with retaining walls at the bottom to make it even more difficult. But, I did it. With help from my companions, I was able to back up the curvy steep hill without hitting the stone wall, the cars on the street, or any other barrier for at least 150 meters! I was so proud that after all these years of driving an automatic car, I was still able to drive a car de marchas (stick shift) and get out of such a tight spot with finesse.

To tell the truth, I was very worried about driving here last weekend. But I discovered that paying attention while riding the bus surely paid off for knowing my way around Bilbao somewhat and how to make my way around the rotondas. Driving stick shift is like a riding bike, one never forgets. And the scenery and freedom driving affords one is well worth worry I had beforehand. Now I have the confidence to do it all again!


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