The narrow perils of driving in Spain

Un viaje en España – Day 1 – Arriving in Madrid

Summer break. There are no two sweeter words to a teacher.

I wasted no time. By the next morning after school was out, bright and so not cheerful at 4 AM, the taxi driver arrived to pick me and my friend/comrade-in-crime and take us to the airport. By 7:30 AM, we were on leg one of the flight to Madrid to begin the granddaddy of all road trips. We were going to tackle Spain. By “we,” I really meant her, as I didn’t have an EU driver’s license, and I didn’t have enough time to get my international driving license. I was support – coffee getter, snack provider, and, when the time came, navigator of roads-as-skinny-as-Kate-Moss.

After several hours on an Emirates flight through Dubai and introducing CIA (comrade-in-arms) to the beauty that is Shake Shack (soon to be available in Hong Kong!), we landed in Madrid in the early evening. Loading up the airport van, we ventured to the nearby hotel we had booked. First, we were put into a double room. Nope. I wanted the two twins we’d booked. After some nice coercing, we got the room we were meant to have. No problems, right?

We were getting ready to call it a night when the room phone rang. I answered it and got a “who is this?” from reception. I said my name. They hung up. Weird.

A few minutes later, another front desk person called, asking who I was and what was my room number. How many people were in the room? Two. At least, I thought only two. How many were meant to be in there?

Then, a light bulb seemed to have come on downstairs.

“Oh, we checked you in as the wrong person.”


I had handed over my passport and credit card for incidentals. Even if my name hadn’t been heard properly, that should have taken care of any confusion.

“We have the right person now. Have a good night.”


I shrugged it off, went to bed, and got up the next morning to enjoy a full Spanish breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Finally, at check out, a man went ahead of me with a slightly similar-sounding first name. I looked down at my check-in slip, and sure enough, it was his name that had been recorded. That’s why I’d gotten the late night phone calls and why we’d been given the single bed at check-in.

Even though it made more sense now, it still made me shake my head.

Auspicious start to the trip? I didn’t think so.

Un viaje, Parte Uno – Madrid to Cordoba

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After renting a car at the airport, we were on the road by mid-day, heading due south to Cordoba, our first port of call on this road trip.

The landscape around Madrid was decidedly dry and desert-like. The intense sun glared down on us, pushing the temperatures to soar to about 100-105 ‘F by the afternoon. As we neared Cordoba, olive trees and rocky outcrops broke up the views some, but it was pretty flat and uninspiring for the most part.

We stopped at a general gas-em-up, buy candy, and get burgers canteen area. The parking lot stunk like rotting garbage or something that was ready for the vultures. Because of this, there were millions of – flies. Everywhere. In the toilets. In the canteen area. Everywhere. It was a plague of flies.

When we opened the car door, those million flies invited themselves inside no matter how fast we tried to close the doors. In 100+ ‘F heat, we went into a swat and kill frenzy, trying to first coax the flies from the car but finding that a few stubborn ones refused to leave. By the second stop we made, we had to swat them to bits.


Cordoba, however, was a jewel of city, especially in the old quarter where we were staying. We parked the car in the “cowboys and buggies” area and walked on the wobbly cobblestone streets to the hotel. The parking was “behind the hotel”, which we took to be literally behind the hotel. CIA went around the narrow cobbled street to look for the parking garage, and when the streets became so narrow that the car was barely scraping through – and screaming at us, as this VW was equipped with shrill alarms when it gets too close to something – I popped out and went back to the hotel to ask, where really was the parking garage?

“Behind the hotel.”

“We drove behind the hotel. There’s no garage.”

Well, as it turns out, the garage was on the other side street, behind behind the hotel. Alright. Now I had to find the CIA again.

She wasn’t in the narrow alley where I’d left her, so that was confusing. Instead, after many minutes of searching, it turned out she’d found a wide enough space to pull the car over. However, there was no getting through the alleys further up, so we had to very delicately guide the car back through the tiny street it had just come from, praying that no other car would try to drive in the opposite direction toward us, until we emerged (victorious!) onto the wider lane.

We ended up parking in the garage for the Mezquita, which was only a few klicks away, and that was apparently the parking garage for the hotel, anyway. It was a damn hot mess of directions, that was for sure!

Little did we know then that those alleys were easy to navigate compared to the ones we’d end up driving through later.

At least we got to enjoy an amazing meal for dinner at a gorgeous restaurant called La Fragua (off a bit from Calle Tomás Conde). I tested out the local speciality salmorejo – a cold soup of blended tomatoes and bread, Olive oil and garlic were also added. On top, there were bits of bacon and either a sunny-side up egg or slices of hard-boiled. I’m not much of a cold soup fan, but it had me at bacon. On such a hot afternoon (daytime temps were 105 ‘F), it was perfect. Paired with a glass of red and the first plate of jamon Iberico and Manchego we would have on this trip, it was perfect. Followed up by a grilled pork loin and veg, I was in food heaven.

The evening cooled a bit once the raging sun went to sleep, so we were able to visit the gorgeous Mezquita on the outside and get pictures of it at night from the Puente Romano. Since it was time for a church festival, a procession led through the streets. Spanish guitar players strummed away on the bridge as we crossed the river, luminous with the setting sun and the streetlamps of the avenue.

Despite flies, narrow scrapes in the alleys, and trust issues with the GPS system, the walkabout that first night in Cordoba was about as fantastic as it could get.

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