Traveling through Spain in a Rented Car

7 Apr
After 2000 km, She was a little tired!

After 2000 km, She was a little tired!

Three thousand one hundred seven kilometers (3107 km = 1864 miles) later, I am home. For 13 days, I rented a car in Spain and visited 12 different cities. I made it back to Bilbao in one piece despite the occasional horn-honking when I happened to get in the wrong lane in a rotonda or not progressing through the light fast enough when it turned green at an intersection. These Spaniards do like to honk their horns!

Yes, I put some miles on that car with my friend Tammy from Kentucky who visited nine of those thirteen days. I must say she was the most excellent navigator with the GPS on my phone. There were only a few occasions when I missed a turn or took a wrong one, but never did I go the wrong way on a one-way street or have an accident.

Mountains in Spain

Mountains in Spain

Tammy and I rented a small car for our trip because it was only the two of us. It was small, alright! Small engine with no pick-up-n-go. The first leg of our trip involved driving through many a mountain. I know very well how to drive a manual car, (drove one for three years in Germany), but this car was a real treat climbing mountains. Not knowing how the car would handle at first I didn´t downshift while going up the incline of the mountain. I stayed in fifth gear. Our speed decreased from 120 kph to 50 kph within seconds. I think we could have run faster! Then, I decided to downshift while climbing the mountains. This helped some, but in order to maintain a healthy speed (80-90 kph) I had to downshift to third gear. Who said we were in a hurry?!?

But let me tell you something. If you simply enter the name of a town into your GPS, it will take you straight to the city-center. And I mean directly in the city-center! When Tammy and I arrived to León, Castilla-León, we arrived to a huge rotonda and the GPS told us to take the first street off of the rotonda. But wait! There was a barrier there, yet a traffic signal. What was this? I missed it the first time around the rotonda and the second time I told Tammy I am NOT going there. She insisted, saying GPS says to go there. Against my better judgment, I waited at the traffic signal, and lo and behold, the barrier lowered into the ground like an elevator, and we could pass. BUT…we had crossed into the pedestrian zone! Sure cars could go there, but it should only be cars of residents and those doing legitimate business (like making deliveries). As we slowly crept up the hill, the pedestrians parted ways, just as the Red Sea did for Moses, I expect. I was panicked though, because I did not see ANY cars anywhere!

Zona Peatonal, Leon

Zona Peatonal, Leon

Then, to my surprise, I saw one and decided to follow it. Uh oh! He knew where he was going and disappeared as quickly as he appeared, leaving me stuck in an alleyway. I could not turn around nor go in reverse. I was afraid to go forward so I turned down the next alley to the left and…There was a café with tables and chairs set up! Now we were really stuck! I asked two women in Spanish how we could get out of this jam, and they assured me they thought I could pass between the wall of the building on the right and the tables/chairs of the café on the left. They chuckled and asked how we got into this mess in the first place. When I mentioned GPS, they gave the all-knowing nod. Just so you know, I got through the alley, with space on both sides of the car! When we arrived on the other side, it was a simple turn to the right and another turn to the right to find a parking space OUTSIDE of the pedestrian zone. Whew. That was nerve-racking to say the least.

El Escorial Later in the week, I was surprised again (why, I do not know–there should have bee no surprises by now on the GPS!) when I entered “El Escorial.” Call me stupid, but I didn’t know that the name of the town was “El Escorial” as well. I simply thought it was the name of the Monastery de San Lorenzo where all the kings and queens of the Bourbon and Hapsburg Dynasties are buried, among many other things. Anyway, I entered “El Escorial” into the GPS, expecting to end up at the monstrous building in the town of the same name. It was not so. I followed the directions on the GPS and had a picturesque meandering through the town and then…when the GPS said I arrived at my destination, I was facing the backside of a decrepit and crumbling building. A little disappointing, I should say! I found my way to the train station to ask where the tourist office was and they directed me to the top of the hill, next to the monastery. ‘Nuff said! Follow a road up a hill, and lo and behold, there it was, right in front of me!

Parking on the other hand was a little different. I found a parking garage with no problem and it happened to be a refreshing relief that for three hours it only cost three euros. (After the exorbitant prices I paid in Madrid, I breathed a huge sigh of relief!). The problem was, there were two entrances to the parking garage. I parked at the “inconvenient end.” You see, here in Spain, everything is automated at the parking garage. You need to carry your parking garage ticket with you and pay for your parking at a cajero (cash machine, usually near the pedestrian exits) before you leave. There are no “live” people to take your money as you leave the garage as is still so common in the US. But at this particular garage, I parked at the east end of the garage on the lower level. The cajero was on the west end (.2 km away) and on the upper level. The doors were not marked and half the lights on the upper level were burned out. It was quite a scary walk, not knowing where I was going to pay for my parking. Did I tell you it took me thirty minutes just to find the cajero?!

Parking in Madrid is ridiculously expensive. For one 24 hour period, it cost twenty-seven euro in one garage and in another, thirty-seven euro! And 24 hours starts after twelve hours, with no discount. So be prepared if driving into Madrid.

Castle on the mountainside

Castle on the mountainside

Overall, a most excellent experience. The paisaje of Spain is spectacular, just as it is in the US. Each region has its own particular beauty. Driving in Castilla-Leon and Castilla La Mancha and seeing ruins and skeletons of buildings from hundreds of years of ago, just amazes me. This was definitely the trip of a lifetime and worth every horn honked at me and every alley I turned down.

Some ruins

Some ruins

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