Sunday, 7 December 2008

Andalusia- Day 1, Rental Cars & one way streets

In the summer a cheap flight opportunity to Seville and Andalusia in November provided the perfect opportunity to continue the quest to discover the real Spain. Galicia in the north had been a real eye-opener but this time it was a trip to the South and the part of the peninsula with which, thanks to the travel brochures I suppose, we are all more familiar, the Spain of flamenco, Moorish architecture, sherry, tapas bars and bull fighting.

It was a late flight so we left in good time to pick up lunch on the way. Unfortunately our plans were unexpectedly reorganised by an accident on the A14 so we had to take a lengthy detour down the A1 and then reach the airport by a slow circuitous route that meant that we had to make changes to our planned itinerary.

The plane left on time and by good chance we had managed to secure the emergency door seats that provide extra leg room, which is very welcome on a Ryanair aeroplane when you usually only get about six inches. The downside to this was that immediately in front of us, in the next three rows, was an extended family with a number of small children. Not sitting near small children is one of the golden rules of flying but they boarded after us and by the time they selected their seats it was too late for us to change our own arrangements. Predictably the children soon got bored and started to fidget and whinge and this was a real test of my recent grandad implant. And I am pleased to be able to confirm that it is now fully functional because although the gauge on Kim’s patience tank was showing empty, I managed to get through the entire two and a half hour flight without suffering the slightest irritation at all. ‘Children, what children?’

The first task after arrival at Seville airport was to pick up the hire car and although I said previously that I wouldn’t, for convenience I did choose Hertz again. The lady at the desk took me step by step through the formalities and then showed me a diagram that identified all of the previous damage that the car had suffered. This turned out to be practically every single panel, front back and sides and when we collected it from the car park it was in a real mess and looking quite sorry for itself and my first reaction was to be a bit annoyed that we had been allocated such a tatty vehicle. I was soon to discover however that this was quite normal for cars in this part of Spain! The interior was clean but there was an overpowering smell of industrial strength air freshener that was so unpleasant that we had to drive with the windows down and we began to worry about what sort of previous smell the deodoriser was covering up.

Instead of staying in the city of Seville, where the hotels seemed to be a little expensive, we had chosen instead to book a cheaper alternative in the nearby town of Carmona that was about thirty kilometres away. The first part of the journey along the Autovia du Sur was pleasant and without incident and then we left at the junction for the town and things started to go wrong. We didn’t have a proper town map, only something from the multimap website and this didn’t prove to be especially helpful.

We became confused and did a couple of circuits of the town looking for street names that we could identify but these seemed to be illusive and of little assistance because they didn’t seem to correspond to the map. Eventually, on third time around the main town square I found a bar that was still open and asked for help. The man was as equally confused by multimap as we were and it took him some time to interpret it for himself before he could even begin to draw the route that we needed through what looked like a tangled web of streets with a baffling one way system. Finally he provided comprehensive instructions but in very quick Spanish that made it difficult to follow but it was helpful just to discover that we were in the new part of the town and what we really needed was the centro historico, which was a few hundred metres away.

Confident now of directions we set off again and this time took the correct turning through an imposing medieval fortress gate and into a labyrinth of confusing narrow streets. At a fork in the road we were presented with two options. We were staying at a hotel in San Fernando Square and there was a sign that seemed to suggest that we should turn left but I overruled Micky who pointed this out and foolishly decided to ignore the sensible thing to do and took the right fork instead.

This was a big mistake because the road climbed up a narrow cobbled street barely wide enough for the car to pass and then seemed to abruptly stop at what looked like a pedestrian alleyway. There was an elderly Spanish couple out strolling so we asked for help and after they had studied the map seemed to suggest to us that we should carry on down this narrow path. We were not convinced and asked for clarification and the man, who spoke no English and was not terribly useful, was determined not to let his wife, who could speak a little English and was a lot more helpful, have her turn with the map. Maps and men must be the same everywhere, let me explain, it’s a macho sort of thing that drives us to take control and this is based on years of experience of being sent in the wrong direction as soon as you get a woman involved with directions. Women generally are as useless with maps and town plans as men are with knitting patterns. Anyway, while we were debating the situation another car pulled up behind and seemed to be heading in the direction of the alleyway so this was a clue that that was indeed the correct way to go. As we pulled away the woman looked into the car and in a genuinely caring sort of way said ‘Be careful, good luck’ and this parting comment filled my cup of confidence full to the brim.

We set off and it soon became clear why we needed both precision and good fortune because if we had thought that the previous street had been narrow this one made it look like a six lane highway! First of all it was necessary to negotiate a dog leg gate that was barely wider than the car and we all had to collectively breathe in so that we could squeeze through and after that the street narrowed down still further and I needed keyhole surgery skills to manoeuvre through 90º bends and past carelessly parked cars and iron bollards strategically placed to impede progress at every turn. It was like trying to thread a needle blindfolded and we now understood why the car was covered in dents and scratches and probably why the air freshener was so strong; the previous hirer had possibly driven down the same street and shit themselves in the process!

Going forward was tricky and we were making slow progress but what really concerned me was the possibility of reaching a dead end and having to reverse all the way back because that would have been impossible. Finally however we came out into a square (that was actually a circle) and by luck we had found our hotel. After three circuits of the square it was obvious that there was nowhere to park however so we had to settle for a side street and a two hundred metre walk back to the Hotel Posada San Fernando where a lady on reception was waiting to check us in.

It was a nice hotel with comfortable rooms and even though we didn’t get a room with a view we were completely satisfied and as soon as we were settled in we left to find a bar. On the way out we met a scruffy little dog that was sitting in the doorway and Christine took an immediate shine to it. It was a mangy flea bitten article but this didn’t stop her from petting the thing and then encouraging it to accompany us on our walk. This was the start of a beautiful relationship between the pair of them and the mutt became a complete pain in the arse for the next four days.

Opposite the hotel was the Café Goya that was busy and looked friendly so we went inside and selected a table and had a couple of drinks to steady our nerves after the drama of the drive. At some point the scruffy dog slipped in to join us much to the annoyance of the café owner who reluctantly allowed it to stay so long as it sat still and behaved itself and it was cunning enough to make sure that it sat close to his new friend and didn’t draw attention to itself. After a little while the bar emptied and it was clear they wanted to close so we left and returned to the hotel and hoped that the weather tomorrow would be fine.

No comments: