28 December 2016

SPAIN For Dummies

We remembered the traffic from our previous trip to Europe when we visited France, Germany and Switzerland. On that trip our German friends chauffeured us around tiny, twisty narrow streets and at soaring highway speeds (reaching almost 200 km/hr on the Autobahn and sometimes with "NO HANDS/KNEES INSTEAD"). None of that for us country bumpkins, used to wide open spaces and poking along back country roads in LOAF - we would be prepared.

Step 1 was to download the latest maps for Spain & Portugal onto our Garmin RV760 GPS. Book a rental car at the airport that was outside the city limits of Barcelona, so we can just head into the countryside. A daily itinerary complete with full addresses was at our fingertips. What can possibly go wrong? Since I am the navigator (which is the really tough job) and Crusty is simply the driver, I had to do a nightly google map check to determine our route. I programmed the 'avoid toll roads' into the GPS and the address of our first stop outside of Barcelona. Pick up the rental car, plug in the GPS, hit recent and away we go - no problem! Since even the non-toll highways have speed limits of 120 (which of course are strictly followed), we figured we'd take the picturesque route through the quaint little towns and villages, avoid the stress of speeding Spaniards on our tail.

Problem number 1 - our English speaking Garmin (who we lovingly nicknamed Crumby (sticking with the 'bread theme')) can't speak Spanish - so when she politely tells us to turn right on Autovia del Mediterraneo it comes out as "turn right on AW-VON-IALIA DE LA MEDANDAUTIOEE " or something close to that. So if you are looking for a street sign to follow you sure can't listen to Crumby.

Problem number 2 - by taking the 'scenic' route we saw wonderful little towns & villages but also narrow streets that we would consider a 'wide sidewalk' at home.

When Crumby says " turn left on CALLE-A BYXLOPHIALIA " - we quickly look at it "nope that's not a street" and drive by. Next thing you know Crumby is yelling at us to "make a legal u-turn". So, of course we obey Moldy, turn around and turn down CALLE-A BYXLOPHIALIA aka Calle Fillippe. Being naive Canadians we assume this is one-way street - OOPS Wrong!!!  Crusty shouts "there's a guy driving towards us - are we going the wrong way?". "Of course not" I confidently state. Somehow our two cars squeeze by each other - we shake hands with the other driver as we pass. Spaniards are very friendly after all.

Problem number 3 - Pedestrians in Spain assume every driver is going to stop for them, so in addition to trying to squeeze your vehicle down the narrow streets, watching out for people parked and opening doors onto you - you have to watch for pedestrians stepping out in front of you - without looking. We have solved this problem by my shouting "PEDESTRIAN" every time I see someone trying to step off the curb.

Problem number 4 - We are seeing round-a-bouts aka "traffic circles" popping up all over Canada. They make a lot of sense - keeps traffic flowing (assuming everyone knows the rules). At home we calmly look to our left, proceed into the circle and take whichever exit suits us. Here the round-a-bouts occur at every intersection - no traffic lights, just round-a-bouts. OK - we know how to handle them. Crumby says "at the round-a-bout take the 6th exit". We look at each other and go "6th exit"??? No one told us there are also two or three lanes of traffic in the round-a-bout. What lane should we be in? My assumption is right lane since we will exit on the right. Make sense? Lots of people follow this rule, however you get the guy (notice how it is always a guy) that is driving on your left, decides to take the same exit as you and cuts you off. Or decides to take the exit before yours and cuts in front of you. OK - I digress, back to the 6th exit. What exactly counts as an exit? Does an exit to a parking lot count? Does an entrance count (I say no but sometimes it seems to). After going around in circles trying to find our exit to AVENORADONIA VALOAEIBCIAND (Avendido Valancia) we have learned to look at the real street name on the GPS, then as we enter the circle start counting together, 1, 2, 3, - you get the picture. I have dreams about being in a traffic circle for days.

Problem number 5 - After hitting 85 round-a-bouts in one day (OK not 85 but it sure felt like it) we decide to brave the highways and cope with the high speeds. Program in the route, Crumby acknowledges the way we are going. First obstacle "Enter the round-a-bout and take the 3rd exit". We take the 3rd (or what we think is the 3rd) and end up on a road that parallels the highway.  "No problem, there will be another entrance up ahead" I confidently state. Crumby quickly pipes in "Enter the round-a-bout and take the 3rd exit". Here we go again, darn missed it again! We really aren't that stupid - honest! We are looking for entrances to a highway that is similar to our freeways - these look like driveways - how can they possibly be an entrance to a highway. So we continue on again, waiting for our next opportunity. Crumby repeats her round-a-bout directions, then says exit the round-a-bout on the 3rd exit and take the ramp on the left. Piece of cake - right. We nail the 3rd exit, are now on another 2-lane highway and looking for a ramp on the left. As we drive by we see a hole in a fence with a driveway - traffic is coming towards us and we go "NO???". We calmly carry on as Crumby tells us that the hole in the fence was the ramp to the highway. Maybe we are not that bright after all.

Problem number 6 - After a day of exciting driving we look forward to long walks along the lovely promenades in the seaside towns. We have figured out by now that pedestrians rule (see problem number 3) so we can basically step out anywhere and all drivers will stop for us. The streets are crowded and it seems that everyone has a cute little dog (there are no big dogs in Spain). They love their dogs, they carry them, talk to them, sing to them, sit with them in the outdoor cafes - dogs rule. Unfortunately it seems there are no 'poop and scoop' laws here. So you have to be on guard at all times for the dreadful surprise waiting for you in the middle of the lovely promenade. We have tried various methods of communicating a warning without seeming uncouth - we've tried stop, watch it and various other things. We have finally come up the best method - one of us says "POOH" and the other stops. It has worked so far. 

Just thought I'd take the time to share these valuable survival tips for any of you pondering a trip to beautiful Spain. We've had lots of laughs!

                                                                                             WRY Navigating ...

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TEAM: LOAF, Crumby, Wry & Crusty