Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Freeway Hazards – Northern Spain

Your friendly Hertz dealerMy neice warned me about driving in Spain – “be sure to read up on the signs” – but it was not the beautifully paved Spanish autovia that nearly undid us, nor even the ubiquitous round-abouts instead of on and off-ramps. It was my lack of cultural understanding of the German transmission of the Opel we were first assigned. I had no problem with the Ford replacement, after just a little coaching about the differences between current manual transmissions and that of the VW fastback I drove so confidently cross-country several decades ago.

The nice lady at the Hertz rental agency had me drive the replacement in the parking lot after the first car had been towed still smoking to her office, and after watching the car buck just a little, she hinted tactfully, “I think you are trying to start in third gear.” Oh. First gear is where reverse used to be, so I had been avoiding that slot. Once we got that cleared up, it was smooth sailing from then on.

And those roundabouts – no problem. I only found myself going the wrong way around once, and fortunately there was no oncoming traffic at that moment, and I was able to exit quickly. After that incident W made sure to keep her eyes helpfully on the direction signs as we approached each circular intersection rather than on her guide book or the GPS screen.

AguilarDeC mapAnd it was not our fault that we missed the turnoff to my niece’s village. She had told us to exit at the first sign for Aguilar de Campoo, cross a bridge, and we would be almost at her house. We did this, defying the urgent pleas of Griselda the GPS lady to take an earlier exit. Neither my niece nor we could know that the Aguilar de Campoo sign had been knocked down from that earlier exit, so the first signed exit led us not over a broad, well-lighted bridge to the downtown plaza as expected, but over a narrow one-lane bridge into the warehouse dock of the local cookie factory. Not many folk about at 9PM, but finally we located a friendly local who was able to re-direct us.

We got great value from our five-day rental, and most of the time was spent on back roads. In general, though, I’d still opt for trains and buses when possible. I prefer to take my wrong turns up one-way streets on foot.

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