Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spain Series #2

I mentioned yesterday that we hit snow on the way to Madrid. The trip started easily enough. We left the house just before sunrise and headed southwest to meet up with the A-10 autoroute near Châtellerault. We did that to save a bit on the very pricey tolls in France.

From central France to central Spain: our route.

We stopped at a rest stop to eat some lunch we had prepared for the trip and to give Collette a chance to get out of the car. As we headed on south toward Bordeaux, it started to snow. Ken was suffering a major allergy attack in the car and was miserable. The snow was light, so we didn't think anything of it.

As we got around Bordeaux and continued toward the Spanish border, we heard on the radio that the mountain passes were becoming hard to navigate due to snow and that trucks were being stopped at the border. Cars could go on through, though, so we figured we'd be ok.

Part of the Madrid skyline from our hotel room.

As we got up into the mountains after San Sebastian, the snow got worse and worse. It was very difficult to see, nearly white-out conditions. Then the traffic came to a halt. There we were, tired, with a dog in the back seat, frantically tuning the radio but unable to come up with a station in French. Neither of us speaks Spanish.

We had no idea what was going on. We thought, at one point, that we might be spending the night in the car. Ça commence bien (this is starting off well), we said.

Another shot from the room.

The traffic did start moving again after a while and we debated turning around at the next exit and heading back into France. One of us wanted to go back and the other wanted to press on. I won't give away who held which position. But as we debated, we just kept going. Traffic was moving very slowly, and stopped at times for fifteen minutes to a half hour. After a while, it felt like we were going downhill, so we figured we had made it over the pass. Why go back?

Eventually we made it down out of the mountains and the snow was behind us. We sped our way southwards toward Madrid, realizing that because of our delay it would be dark before we arrived. I think we pulled in around nine p.m. or so, found the hotel, and got checked in. Sue had called the hotel a couple of times before we got there. Since she didn't have a phone in her apartment, she had to go out to a phone booth to call each time. We had no way to call her back to let her know we made it.

Our hotel's neighborhood, a mix of offices and apartment buildings.

We decided to go to her apartment. We knew where it was, at least on the map; it was about a five minute drive from the hotel. Of course, we proceeded to get lost in a maze of one-way thoroughfares and back streets and went in circles for a while. Street signs, if they were there, were well hidden or invisible. I took to looking for subway entrances to figure out where we were. It was dark, after all, and asking for directions was not an option. But again, we made our way there and circled the neighborhood a few times before we found a parking space a few blocks away from Sue's building.

I think it was around eleven when we finally rang Sue's bell. She let me in while Ken stayed on the street with Collette. She was in her nightgown and nearly asleep, but she was a good sport and got dressed and came out for a late walk with us while we told her of our snowy adventure.

From the hotel magazine.

We looked for a place to eat. It was prime time for Madrid restaurants - the Spanish eat very late - and places looked crowded and lively. We hadn't eaten since lunch and were hungry. We soon found out that the Spanish don't generally let dogs in restaurants like the French do. It was too cold to get some take out and eat outdoors. And Sue's American roommates would not have appreciated a dog in the apartment, especially at midnight. What to do?


  1. Reminds me of when I was in Vancouver a few years ago, at a time when the city just happened to be experiencing one of the worst winter storms in its history. The wind was so strong it lifted part of the roof off a major sports stadium which was across from where I was staying.

    I didn't complain though because it meant there was buckets of snow for me on Whistler :)

  2. I wanted to turn back so that we could spend the night in a hotel, with the dog, rather than in the car. Spanish hotels don't welcome dogs, I'd been told. And it was too cold to leave the poor 12-year-old dog in car all night.

    To get to our friend's apartment in Madrid, we finally had to make a blatantly illegal left turn off a major avenue, because we couldn't figure out any other way to get into the neighborhood. We didn't get caught.

  3. I drove through a snow storm in the Netherlands last year which was a nightmare. It took 4 hours instead of the expected 30 minutes :( I really thought we were going to have an accident because I'd never driven in snow before and the roads were icy in parts. Very scary!

    As for driving in Spain, I know what you mean about the lack of street signs. I got lost for 3 hours once in Barcelona. Eventually found some old guy willing to get in our car to show us the way!

    If you don't have a gps, I strongly suggest getting one. It made my last trip so much easier.

  4. Wow. Quite a story! How long would it probably have taken in total if there had been no weather problems?

    I've never been to Madrid, but I've been to Barcelona. The family I visited also took me to their little country house, but I haven't the foggiest idea where it was :)) They didn't speak English, I didn't speak Catalan or Spanish then, and so we were trying to communicate in French, which I still wasn't great at (this was actually the week just before I got to Paris for the Alma program). It really does change everything when you arrive in a country where you don't understand the language!

    Let's hear more!


  5. Thank you so much for taking the time and letting us know about your "expedition" to Madrid. What a pleasure! By the way, we are having "weather" in Los Angeles. It is raining. Yeah!

  6. evol, I've been to Vancouver once, many years ago. Took the cable tram up the side of the mountain. In the summer.

    andrea, I know what you mean about the snow. But I grew up in it. Still, I'm certainly not used to driving in it anymore. As for GPS, I'm a guy. Many of us can't admit that we need help finding our way. Heck, even Columbus found America without a map (while looking for something else...)

    judy, we felt kind of helpless in Spain because of the language. And stay tuned, there's more!

    nadege, weather indeed! But I'll wager it's not too cold...


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