We’d just had 10 relaxing days in Isla Canela (the bit right where Spain meets Portugal on the Mediterranean) when we drove off towards Seville to spend a day exploring the city before flying home the next afternoon. The drive was pleasant in brilliant sunshine along the motorway, we reached the outskirts of Seville and took the exit towards the city, excited at the new experience that lay just around the corner. Or so we thought, because it was at this point that our straightforward journey turned into the Whacky Races.
We had printed directions to take us to our hotel in the historic Jewish Quarter before leaving home and tried to follow them, but without success. The first problem arose with the instruction ‘take the second road on the right’ at a certain junction; only there were 4 roads on the right and it wasn’t exactly clear which direction traffic was going on any of them! So, it was a case of take a deep breath, close the eyes, swing the wheel round to the right and hope for the best. Amazingly, it worked! Maybe this isn’t going to be so bad after all, we thought.
Minutes later, we came across an instruction to turn left, and that’s when things completely fell apart. Turning left is usually pretty straightforward, no matter which side of the road you drive on. Unless, that is, the left turn you’ve been told to take has a ‘no left turn’ sign. Uh-oh. What do you do here? Ok, don’t panic; we’ll keep going straight, take the next left then another left and we’ll get back onto the road we’re supposed to be on. That sounded good in theory…
In practice, we came to the next road off to the left to be faced with – you guessed it – another ‘no left turn’ sign! Aw maracas, what do you do now?! And it wouldn’t have been quite so frustrating if it wasn’t for the fact that loads of other cars were merrily coming from the right and heading off down the road we were aiming for, so it wasn’t a one way road. Mild panic was setting in by now as we veered further and further away from our destination (we assumed!) and we quickly realised we’d have to study the Spanish drivers to see how on earth they were getting to these roads off to the left. Now, studying local drivers in Seville is not for the faint-hearted, particularly whilst you are driving yourself amongst said drivers. Patience was not one of their virtues.
Anyway, on we crawled, trying desperately to figure out how to carry out this most basic of manoeuvres whilst ignoring the orchestra of horns blaring around us. To this day, I tell myself that the drivers were just beeping at their mates. Eventually we sussed out what was going on. You see, the secret to turning left was (can you guess?) – turning right!! You actually had to take a slip road off to the right, swing a quick left around a couple of arcs (like fractions of a roundabout) and point the car in the right direction, meaning you had to do a 270o turn just to turn left! By this point, my nerves were shredded, I was pouring sweat and even with the air conditioning on full blast the car must have smelled of pure fear.
We struggled on, desperately trying to get our bearings and head towards the Jewish Quarter. The directions we’d printed would have been as well being directions to the lost city of Atlantis for all the good they were doing us. The next while was filled with near misses, extravagant greetings from the local drivers, missed junctions, pathetic attempts to read Spanish street signs and a virtual craving to see a sign that said ‘Cathedral’, ‘Old Town’ or ‘if you’re lost head this way’. Lost?! We were in the middle of redefining ‘lost’.
In an attempt at being resolute and with fading optimism, I said nothing to Chrissie about the next looming crisis – the needle on the fuel gauge was becoming overly-friendly with the red block at the bottom, so whilst she was looking for landmarks, I was looking for a petrol station. Eventually, of course, we found one. Actually, that would have been far too easy and predictable (apparently cars in Seville run on Spanish exuberance and have no need of standard fossil fuels). BP, Shell, Esso and pals were all playing a cruel game of hide and seek, and they were winning.
At last, with visions of running out of petrol in the middle of a six lane road whilst trying to turn left by turning right, we sputtered into a car park and turned the engine off, convinced that it was running on fumes. Now what? We considered calling the insurance company, but I rather felt that they would classify our situation as ‘stupidity’ (the evidence being trying to drive in Seville in the first place) and therefore not covered by their policy. So, out onto the road we went and hailed a passing taxi.
Now, if today was yesterday I’d have grabbed our luggage, asked the cabbie to get us to the hotel and abandoned the car, hoping that it would turn up in an episode of CSI: Seville or something. But instead I asked the cabbie to take us to a petrol station. He must have thought we were on day release from an asylum! Anyway, he duly did so; we went into the petrol station, bought a petrol can and filled it to the brim before hailing another taxi and returning to the abandoned car.
The petrol provided some clarity and we decided we’d do what we should have done a couple of hours ago – take the car to the airport and dump it a day early. But first we had to get out of the car park. We paid the fee at a machine but couldn’t get a ticket and so pressed the button for assistance. ‘Hola’, came an overly-cheerful voice. ‘Hola’, I replied, and then, with the final dregs of optimism that remained, I said, ‘we can’t get out of the car park’. My optimism was, of course, foolish as the torrent of Spanish that came back through the speaker confirmed my worst fear – he had no idea what I was saying. My Spanish is limited to ‘dos Coca-Cola, por favor’, but I was fairly sure that wasn’t going to help here. I tried a few Spanish words that may have been salient – salida, por favor, non comprende, paella – but to no avail. You couldn’t have made this up!
After a few minutes a couple wandered by and took pity on us. They spoke English and asked what the problem was, then the guy took over and explained our dilemma to the ‘assistant’ and, thanks to them, we were able to escape the car park. You might expect a car park attendant in a tourist hot spot to speak a little English, but the car park in which we had taken refuge wasn’t at a tourist attraction; it was at a hospital!
By the time we re-emerged onto the road the traffic had thinned a little and we abandoned the search for landmarks and street signs and began looking for signs for the airport. Amazingly, that was fairly painless and 20-odd minutes later (sobbing with relief) we handed over the keys to the hire car and went off to find a taxi. We gave the taxi driver the address to our hotel and headed into Seville – again. Relief was thinking about setting in and the stress was beginning to subside a little when the cabbie said, ‘you know, I think that hotel is in a pedestrian area; you can’t get cars to it’. Surely he was mistaken! No way had we gone through all that in an attempt to reach a hotel you could only get to on foot.
But, of course, he was right. He dropped us off, told us where to walk and off we trudged with our luggage in 90+ degree heat and found our hotel, over 4 hours after reaching the outskirts of Seville. We checked in, I collapsed in a heap and wept, wishing for a vat of paella in which to bury my head.