After a stiff espresso to steady my nerves, we set off for the parking lot to collect the car. Of course, it was in the very last row, a walk of about 500m, which was exactly why they had needed the wheelchairs, but now that we were out of the airport, they were not available. You cannot win.
The car was a Seat and turned out to be very comfortable and easy to drive. The only problem was that the boot only just took two large and one small suitcase and our assorted smaller bags. If there had been four of us, we would never have got the luggage in. They shouldn’t ask you how many passengers; they should ask how much luggage.
It took a while to navigate out of the parking garage – first pay at the booth, then take ticket, boom lifts, proceed to next boom, put in ticket, boom lifts, go. I punched ‘Aranjuez’ into the GPS and we were off.
There was barely a car on the road, which resembled Durban’s Spaghetti Junction, obviously newly built, and we followed the lady’s instructions without any difficulty. Of course, she took us to the nearest toll road, being the quickest route. A vast expanse of empty concrete greeted us, with a massive toll plaza with ten lanes and not a car in sight. I gingerly approached a booth, only to find that it was automated and we were unable to follow the instructions. Luckily we were able to reverse and eventually located the only booth with a person inside. She was amazingly friendly and had a smattering of English. We asked if we were on the right road to Aranjuez and she replied what roughly translated as ‘eventually’ and laughed. Not what we had hoped to hear, but we paid our €2.65 and set off down the autovia. What a bargain. It was the only amount we paid until we reached Marbella on the southern coast.
The autovia was an absolute treat to drive on. Well signposted, very few cars traffic, shoots straight past the towns – perfect practice for driving on the right-hand side with no oncoming traffic. Before leaving home, I researched the driving etiquette and rules of the road for Spain. All the websites were emphatic about one thing – drive on the right and only overtake on the left. The left-hand lane must be free at all times, otherwise a faster car coming up behind you will ride ten centimetres from your bumper and hoot until you pull over. It works – the traffic flow is smooth and at a constant speed, no weaving in and out because of slow cars in the fast lane. The startling part is that, as soon as the car has passed you, it will pull right in front of you, almost taking off your bumper, to ensure that it is back in the correct lane as soon as possible.
Trucks keep a distance between them that allows cars to safely overtake one at a time and still have space to slip in between without becoming the jam in the truck sandwich. It’s all very orderly and civilized, with no sign of road rage at any time.
Another useful bit of feedback from seasoned travellers is that, when feeding in from an on-ramp, you must be up to speed at 120km/h by the time you reach the autovia, as no one is going to slow down to let you in, and quite rightly so. Definitely a case of he who hesitates is lost.
A feature of the autovia is the many bridges which allow you to turn back if you miss an exit. Within a kilometre, you are able to correct your mistake without having to travel far into the distance looking for the next turnoff.
Finding the way out was a bit of a strain at first, but we had hired a GPS which was a help until we came to the self-service toll road! Luckily there was a young lady who manned one of the gates who gave us a helping hand and we were off.
The road is lovely and smooth and fairly empty. The trucks and traffic know the rules and stick to them. The place was not chaotic by any means and the lady in the GPS gave clear instructions, and so we came to our first night in Spain.