Sunday, November 20, 2011

Road Rage, Relaxation and Dogs

It was the second week of November and we lounged by the pool in the Valencian sun. It was a balmy 78 degrees and we now knew why hoards of Northern Europeans flock to the Spanish coast to escape the long, dark winter. Home for the next two days was a low-slung, whitewashed hacienda set amidst sprawling citrus groves in the rolling hills about 30 minutes west of the Mediterranean coast. Everywhere we looked, flat bowls overflowed with tiny, sweet tangerines and a pile of dried peels on the patio was evidence of how much we enjoyed them. We’re heading towards Andalusia in the south of Spain and this stop cut our nine hours of driving time from Barcelona to Granada down to about six. Spiky hedgerows of lavender, heather and agave bordered the winding, mile-long private driveway to the relaxed Mas de Canicatti and I noted as we entered that it would be perfect for an afternoon run. In fact, the day after we arrived, Joe and I both went running and the highlight of my five miles was that I saw my first actual pomegranate bush on the approach road. I’d never before even considered how and where this exotic fruit grows, but I stopped in my tracks as I saw a beautiful golden-leafed bush with apple-size orange-red fruit weighing down its branches amidst the lavender. What a delight! I now know the provenance of the delicious pomegranate seeds in the morning’s fresh fruit salad.

The tranquility of the Mas de Canicatti was a welcome relief after the frustration of our drive from Barcelona. Soon after leaving the city, we quickly learned it’s considerably safer and easier to be a pedestrian than a driver in Spain. We picked up our rental car in town, headed straight for the port and looked for signs for the Autovía del Mediterráneo (A7) that would bring us south along the coast. Joe hugged the outer lane of the roundabout that circles the Cristóbal Colón column, ready to scoot off towards the autovia as directed. Our roundabout strategy seemed reasonable to us but our fellow drivers had other plans. They cut straight across the circle from the center, crossing lanes willy-nilly to exit as they pleased, thereby making those on the circle rim (meaning, us) targets of their haphazard escape routes. We went around the huge rotary twice desperately searching for signs for the autovía. While we managed to survive the Cristóbal Colón 500 road race and make it onto the highway, we quickly learned that serious struggles with the road signs in this country were on the horizon. Warning: Spanish road sign rant ahead! Language wasn’t the problem; the simple existence of clear road signs was. Spanish signage doesn’t even come close to that of France. Even allowing for some time to get used to the nomenclature and unfamiliar coding, the signage just doesn’t work for us. It is too sparse, too small and contradicts itself often. In no time, we found ourselves sucked off the autovía and heading up a steep incline into the hilltop suburbs of Barcelona on a not-so-super-highway because the all-too-tiny arrow for continuing on the A7 didn’t catch our eye until too late. Argh... Yes, here I go again about France, but in that brilliantly drivable country, even the narrowest country byway, miles from any town and tread primarily by farm machinery, is well marked. And the signs don’t just direct you to the next little obscure hamlet. They always post the name of a good-sized town at every intersection with signs that let you know if you’re headed in the right direction. The alpha- and color-coding on every sign lets you know if the road you’ll be taking is a local road (white with no number), a department road (yellow and it starts with a “D”), a national route (red and it starts with an “N”) or an autoroute (blue and it starts with an “A”). If armed with a decent map, even one that simply goes down to the tertiary towns, you’re in good shape. You just connect the dots and then follow the signs. In Spain, on the other hand, markers at even sizable roundabouts will likely only direct drivers to the next town over. OK, fine, but not very helpful. I don’t much care if San Pau is to the right, Bonavista is to the left and San Cugat is straight ahead. I want to know which arm to take off the rotonda if my destination is Valencia! Even the indication of a larger waypoint, like Tarragona – halfway between Barcelona and Valencia, would be helpful. Despite the opaque signage, we managed to find our way to the Mas de Canicatti, with a detour or two sprinkled in, but I couldn’t stop questioning why the signage waited until we were almost there to indicate we were heading towards Valencia.

After a relaxing two days surrounded by orange, lemon and lime trees, we were ready for another day of tackling the Spanish roads. The landscape south of Valencia quickly resembled that of sunburned Tucson with rough, rocky peaks rising to the east of the highway and scrub pines and cactus dotting the arid flats. We made the long drive to Granada with minimal road sign rage and were astounded at how the snow-capped Sierra Nevada rise improbably to the southeast from the desert landscape of the city below. We then headed south 30 kilometers to the tiny, whitewashed village of Chite (Chee-tay), where we’ll be staying for the next two weeks. We’re renting a traditional three-story home, Casa Conejillo (Rabbit House), halfway between Granada and the Mediterranean – about a half hour drive to each. We’re hoping it will be a good base for exploring much of Andalusia.

While driving into Chite, the first thing we noticed is how many of man’s best friends were roaming the streets: all of them with collars and all of them friendly. We have arrived in the land of a thousand dogs, and of course, in the land of all they leave behind. Given the name of the village, imagine the fun we’ll have coming up with new, more appropriately descriptive pronunciations.

Pictures of our adventures:

No comments:

Post a Comment