Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Business Class Pods
Perhaps I should call this from San Francisco to Dulles to Madrid to Zaragoza.  It was a long day, and a long night even though my hubby and I (much to the “It’s not fair” voiced by our fellow traveler and son Trevor and the “it’s cool”, from his traveling companion Evan) rode it in business class. Hey, when you earn the money, and you plan the trip, you get to ride where you ride :-)  That’s MHO. We arrive Madrid at 7:15 a.m. on June 22nd, our 19th wedding anniversary.  Excited, but tired.  After walking, what felt like a mile, to the Immigration Control area, more or less a place to turn in your “visitor declaration” and get an “official” cursory look at your passport, we were on our way to get our bags, get our car and drive to Zaragoza.  Our plan was to drive the short 190 KM (about 118 miles, so what an hour and a half two hours?) from Madrid to Zaragoza and spend a nice afternoon relaxing and taking in some of the sites.  We had booked an apartment that was close to the Basilica and old town and are chomping at the bit to get this vacation started.

 Our VW Passant awaits us, I told DH I thought we might want to get a GPS nav system, but being a man, he thought it would be easy enough to navigate ourselves AND after all, he had lived in Spain AND spoke and read the language.  So between my iPhone, a regular old-fashioned paper map and his manliness, we set out.

By the time we get on the road, it’s 9:00 on a Tuesday morning.  This is also called “rush hour”.  We are instructed by our “Avis” counter guy to take the R2 once we get out of the airport; take it straight to Zaragoza.  First things first, how do we get out of the car rental lot?  There are no signs to show the way to the exit.  There are no arrows, lines or other instructions, and damn they park these cars close together and the space between rows is TINY… most of what America drives would not  be able to drive in this lot, nor many of the streets we traveled.  When traveling in older cities, you drive on older streets.  Streets meant for horses, buggies and wagons.  But I digress.

Actually in Eppstein Germany, but it gives you and idea.

I’m just getting out of the airport, with all three of my helpful backseat drivers giving me the “watch out for that”; “oh, be careful there”; “why are you going so slow?” when out of the corner of my eye, off to the side of the road I see R2…”Um guys” I say, “was that my exit?”  Yes, yes it was.  Ok…I’m in a very cheerful and forgiving mood, so no problem, I’ll just go up here and turn back towards the airport and we’ll catch it the next time though.  After all, I know where it is now.  Problem.  Remember that thing about “rush hour”?  Well, they also have these things called “Roundabouts”.  It’s how you make turns and get on other routes in Spain.  You don’t go up to an intersection and wait at a light and then turn left or right, you get yourself into this roundabout and then go roundabout until you find the street you need to go onto and then you get out of the roundabout.  Sounds easy enough, but there are cars coming in from all those side streets too, the ones you want to get to.  And they are going across the roundabout to get in position to get out.  And they know what the fuck they are doing and I have no clue how this is going to work, so I sat there a few minutes, just to watch the “dance” and finally say “OK…here we go” and close my eyes (well, not really but kindof) and get into the fray and guess someone was looking out for us because no one hit us, I didn’t hit anyone, and I got out where I was supposed to.  Once I made it once again to the R2, things were much more civilized.

As the boys slept (napped) in the backseat, Brian and I got to see the sights.  Guess what there is between Madrid and Zaragosa?  Not much.  It looks like anywhere USA.  Except for the big old bulls.  Bull signs I mean.  They don’t have anything on them, but we were told they use to be billboards for a Spanish Sherry company, the government thought the signs were too distracting so they made them take the billboards down; now just the bulls remain.  Since everyone in Spain knows the back story, the sherry company is really still advertising on the highways.  Only for free.

Sherry Bull Sign on the R2

We soon found out our drive from Madrid to Zaragoza, was not 190KM, it was 190 miles…or 305 KM.  Oops, read that map wrong.  Our plan to have breakfast in Zaragoza was dashed, perhaps a late lunch?
As we drive, we notice some gas station / tapas places along the side of the highway; so we decide to stop, get a bite to eat and an expresso.  The one we choose, I don’t think it was the best one to choose.  The Spanish like to smoke, and they throw their cigarettes on the floor, no need for an ashtray. At this particular stop, they didn’t seem to see a need to sweep the floor either.  But hunger took precedence over our visual so we had our first, of many, Serrano ham and cheese sandwiches on a typical roll.  It held us over. And wasn’t half bad either.

When we arrived in Zaragosa, we put the address of the apartment in my phone and start the process of trying to navigate city streets filled with speeding cars.  As we get closer to old town, the streets narrow down, only enough room for one car in one direction, but these are two-way streets so you just stop as far over as you can get and let people go by, or if they stop, you go.  We were told the apartment is close to the Basilica del Pilar and the river.  Well, the river’s  to my left, the Basilica is to my right, we must be near…right?  But how to get there?  My iPhone is having problems keeping a signal and of little help; so I turn right, then turn left and we start down this little tiny street and I’m thinking holy cow, where did I get us into, when we spy the hotel where we are to pick up the keys to the apartment.  Lucked into that one.  No parking.  Wait, up there, just a ways ahead, there’s a space.  Lucked into that.  I’m glad that no one thought to video me trying to parallel  park on this very narrow street with cars on both sides in a car I’m not totally familiar with (I really am a good parallel parker) but I did get the car pretty close and as I was going to let Trevor try his hand at doing a better job an angry mean old Spanish man comes and starts yelling at us in Spanish “You hurt my car” (remember, my hubby speaks the language – so he translated) and then we told the mean old man, “we didn’t touch your car”.  Then the guy started yelling something fast and furious, we didn’t understand; finally a nice old Spanish man comes to  calmly explain that we had parked in a handicap space.  OK my bad…we’ll move the car.  Did they have any suggestions as to where one might be able to park?  ”Yes” angry old Spanish man says, “go 2 blocks, turn right and there is parking at the Basilica.  OK…now I’m a nice forgiving person, and I’m sure something was just lost in the translation, because when I went 2 blocks, made a right and drove down the mostly pedestrian crowded street, I ended up on the Plaza del Pilar with the Basilica looming straight ahead and the customers at their tables in various restaurants eating their lunch just staring at me as I tried to figure out how to get out of the Plaza del Pilar without running anyone over.  Apparently in Spain nobody even flinches when a car drives onto a plaza filled with people and restaurants.  I made a K and a U and another K turn (avoiding the man in the middle of my exit way who had decided right then set up shop and sell lottery tickets) and found my way back to playing chicken with the pedestrians and finally to the underground parking lot.  Whew! I’m done driving for today.

We get the keys to our apartment, and it is GREAT.  Close to the Plaza, how about practically on the Plaza.  The Basilica is right there.  Restaurants; beer, pizza…WOW, let’s go.

Daytime view from our room

Nighttime view from our room

Trevor and Evan decide to chill for a bit at the apartment and then they are going to go off and explore.  That’s cool.

I think they might have been trying to figure out what this extra toilet was for...

Brian and I decide to go get a bite to eat and a beer for him, a glass of wine for me.  So we set off to the plaza to find a place.  It’s like a friggin carnival.  Each restaurant has someone standing outside calling to you “Here, here, a table here for you”.  They all serve about the same things so we sit at a nice shady table and order a Pizza Margherita and the beer, wine and a large water.  The pizza is not good.  We should have known better, it is after all just a big tourist attraction.  But the beer and wine go down well, and the pizza fills a void in the belly soooo….it’s all good.  We are on vacation.  No worries.

The local beer, it was cold, it was good.

After lunch we walk into town, it’s a cute town, filled with little shops, clothing stores and shoe shops.  We catch up with the boys and decide to “buy them their first beer” at the local bar.  About halfway into them we all decide that we are just too tired to stay up and walk back to the apartment for a much needed shower and nap.

Don't bother me, I'm sleeping

LindySez: Coming up – Anniversary Dinner and a sly dog…

More photos on my Facebook

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