I woke several times during the night before we left Madrid. There were four steps to get through, as I saw it, to make our exit the following day.
- Get to the Avis car rental office on time to avoid long lines. It was a path we had walked many times, and we wouldn’t be hauling the luggage with us, thank goodness. We’d drive back to pick it up. As long as we got out of the apartment on time, which meant setting an alarm (ugh!) and not lallygagging around as was our habit (when do you think I write these blogs?), this was the easy part.
- Navigate by car (for the first time in Spain, and in a busy metropolis like Madrid) from Avis to the apartment. Only about a mile, but it is in the busy historic center of the city. Luckily it would be a Sunday morning.
- Park on our street which has no parking, which means that we will be blocking traffic until we can get all our luggage from the 5th floor apartment down to the street. One of us (me) will have to stay with the car, while the strong one (Marcus) brings down the luggage. Note: when renting a fifth floor apartment, always make sure there’s a working elevator.
- Last, but certainly not least, get out of Madrid going in the right direction to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a phenomenal royal palace/monastery/church in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains.
As expected, no problem with #1. We were third in line when we arrived at Avis; the line was out the door by the time we walked out to collect the car.
Also, driving from Avis to the apartment to load our luggage was not bad. There were very few turns; we were essentially traveling in a partial rectangle, and we were fairly familiar with the streets. (Glad we didn’t have to do this when we first arrived. On Day 1 we were overwhelmed just by walking through the city!)
Just as expected, there was no parking on the street where our apartment was located. Marcus pulled into someone’s driveway and ran upstairs. A few minutes later, a bread truck pulled up wanting to make deliveries to the many tapas restaurants on our street. He pulled alongside and said something unintelligible (to my ear). “Cinco minutos,” was all I could manage. No problem; he pulled forward and parked in the middle of the one-way street – his only other option. While he delivered bread, the cars began to stack up behind him. I sunk lower and lower in my seat, but the drivers didn’t seem to care. I guess this is traffic status quo in the historic center where the streets are narrow and the parking nonexistent.
#4 was a mess. We opted to use the GPS instead of the iPhone’s map program. For those of you who read my Scotland and England & Wales books, you may remember Rita, our GPS with an attitude. She directed us out of the city, presumably toward San Lorenzo, but as we approached the city limits we came to a road that was temporarily closed. Our only option was to bypass it; there was nowhere else to go. She recalculated. (Why does she always have to sound so miffed when she says it: “ReCALculating!”) Yes, Rita, please find an alternate route. Only problem was she kept telling us to make U-turns to get back to the closed road. How do you tell a GPS unit that we didn’t just miss the road; it is closed? Imposible! No se puede usar la calle! You can’t. After the third circuit, we stopped and asked some police officers for an alternate route. They spoke no English, but I was able to communicate our predicament. They spent ten minutes typing various addresses into the GPS (nothing I hadn’t already done); she refused to recognize anything but her originally chosen path. San Lorenzo? El Escorial? Never heard of them.
While the policía were working with Rita, I pulled out my iPhone. Fortunately we had purchased a prepaid SIM card for Spain for my phone, with data plan, so we had access to the internet. I typed San Lorenzo de El Escorial into Google maps, pressed the directions button, and there it was: a detailed listing of driving directions (that avoided the closed road) complete with map. I showed it to the policía, they put their heads together, agreed, and handed the phone back to me. Thumbs up, lots of smiles. Adios, y buen día! An hour later we were at San Lorenzo.
I’m thinking Rita may be of retirement age. I’m thinking her severance package may include a long overdue trip to the bottom of the Stuart electronics recycling bin. Or maybe our son Adam will adopt her; he’s fond of outdated electronics. I think it’s best to let her go before she realizes she’s been replaced by a young upstart with a Spanish SIM card.