the road (somewhat) less traveled

the road (somewhat) less traveled

I don’t remember learning how to read a map, but it was part of every road trip our family took when I was a child. It was nothing short of a miracle to be able tell what town was coming up next, how far we’d been, how far we still had to go. Map apps are not the same as the real thing! In Spain, I find it helps to spread out the map to get the big picture, as all roads lead to/from Madrid: Spanish highways radiate out from Madrid like spokes – sort of.

National highways, called “interurban motorways” are named with an A plus numbers. The six radial roads coming from Madrid are A-1 through A-6. Other highways have 2-digit numbers.

Regional highways are labeled with the first letter (or 2 letters) of the region. So, traveling through Andalusia, the regional roadways are labeled with an A, just like the national highways. But the regional signs are green or orange. Color matters!

On our way to Granada, we stopped in Lorca for lunch. We’ve added Lorca to the spend-a-day-there list: a great castle and an archaeological dig that you can apparently visit by appointment.

Back on the road through the Sierras in the rain. Passing rolling seas of olive groves, with each bend of the road revealing an even more stunning scene.


Our first view of the Sierra Nevada.

We covered 350 kilometers (160 miles) on that leg.

Driving in Granada itself (and in Cordoba) is not for sissies! Snug streets that shouldn’t have cars on them at all, let alone cars trying to go in both directions with pedestrians who have nowhere to get out of the way except to duck into the door of a nearby business.

And as we left the corkscrew parking garage in Granada, Todd had to park on an incline while I got out to pay at the window. Really odd – with cars stopped on the incline behind us and ahead of us, coming into the garage.

Leaving Granada, we cut across smaller roadways just for the experience. After our rainy drive from Alicante to Granada, we were glad for the brief sunshine on the way to Jaen.


We stopped in Moclin for lunch. The locals looked at us suspiciously – until Gnocchi discovered us. Once she had accepted us, we were met with smiles from all.

As we were loading up in Cordoba to head home, Todd realized that he had left the car keys in the hotel safe. I stayed with our bags while he trudged back to the hotel to retrieve the keys. And we were off…

Just outside Albacete on our way home, we were stopped by the Guardia in a random stop-and-search. Todd got breathalyzed. We were told that since we had residency cards, we were in violation by driving with a Texas driver’s license – we should have an EU license. Much conferring between the guardia, then we were told there would be a 500-euro fine – only 250 if we paid within 20 days. More conferring, then a call from headquarters let them know that we had 6 months from the date of the residency to change the driver’s license. Us: Muchas gracias, senor. Him: Please drive safely.


Becoming Spanish: the driver’s license – Part I

We rented a car to drive to Granada and Cordoba. Aside from alley-walkways that are supposed to be streets and REALLY tight parking garages, we had no issues.

Until we were just outside Albacete on our way home, when we were stopped by the Guardia in a random stop-and-search. Todd got breathalyzed. We were told that since we had residency cards, we were in violation by driving with a Texas driver’s license – we should have an EU license. Much conferring between the officers, then we were told there would be a 500-euro fine – only 250 if we paid within 20 days. More conferring, then a call from headquarters let them know that we had 6 months from the date of the residency to change the driver’s license. Muchas gracias, senor. Please drive safely.

When Todd returned the rent car, he asked the clerk. She pointed him around the corner to the traffic office, so we went the next day to check it out. In typical Spanish fashion, the office upstairs that seemed to be the office we needed sent us downstairs, where we waited in the no-cita line (we had tried to book a cita online, but the function wouldn’t work) for information. The gentleman sent us upstairs. When we told him we had started there, he shrugged and pointed upstairs. Back up the stairs we trudged. The gentleman there had us wait in the lobby while he found someone who could speak English. She told us to use an auto escuela; they would arrange everything for us.

So, we went online in search of info. Our favorite ad for an English-speaking driving school: We speak English. Lessons in Spanish.

  • What we’ve pieced together from sites, blogs, and our Spanish friends, is this:
  • The theory test costs 90 Euros. It is available in English translation, but it’s bad translation and leads to errors. You have to score 27 out of 30 to pass. You can take it multiple times.
  • You have to have a health certificate (20 Euros) before you can do practical training.
  • You of course have to have your residency card and 4 passport photos to get the license.
  • All training has to be done through a school. Cost is minimum 25 Euros a lesson. Not sure how many lessons are required.
  • Final practical is 55 minutes of driving – one source said 25 minutes. Not sure of cost of this. Not sure if you can have multiple tries.
  • If you test with an automatic transmission, you are only licensed to drive an automatic transmission.

No wonder the Guardia kept emphasizing that we had 6 months from date of residency (now 3 months) to get it done!


a perfect Saturday in Alicante

a perfect Saturday in Alicante

People wonder what we do here, and yesterday was as typical as any other.

We woke up to a perfect sunny day. We lingered over coffee and a leisurely breakfast while we caught up on life back home via email, Facebook, and our various news feeds.

About noon, we left, heading across Plaza Luceros to an area we haven’t explored yet. We made note of a driving school and a possible Spanish language school. Todd spotted a pet store: We’ve been looking for an animal rescue where we can volunteer, so we went in. Since they apparently focused on cats, Todd didn’t stay long. The shopkeeper didn’t speak enough English to help me – she thought we wanted to get a pet – so she went out onto the street to pull in a local who spoke more English. They conferred. She looked something up on her computer. He looked something up on his cell phone. After comparing notes, she wrote down a name and phone number. They mentioned ASOKA. I told them I had emailed them but gotten no response. They were not surprised. At this point, several friends came in, and they were recruited to be sure all was translated properly. We left with a possible volunteering contact. Vale!

At this point, we headed down the Rambla to one of our favorite places: Taverna San Pascual. We lingered over the newspaper and 2 liters of sangria, dates wrapped in bacon, potatos bravas, mushrooms sautéed in garlic, and ensalada mixta. Antonio takes good care of us!

While there, we got to chatting with an American girl from Chicago. Turns out Cristina is teaching in a town just up the coast. She loved her 2 years of teaching in Madrid, but teaching in Alicante region has not been as good. So she’ll be returning to Chicago this summer. She’s 32, and that’s tough when you’re on your own. Our experience so far is that the expats here are mostly retired, with a smattering of college students.

After soaking up the sun at the Taverna, we headed to another favorite place: Canada Coffee. We treated ourselves to an afternoon coffee and a pastry and listened to the assorted English conversations going on around us – a little touch of home.

Back at the apartment, we cruised Netflix while I organized pictures and worked on the blog.

A lovely, leisurely day in paradise! Vale!


bath day – of the Arab variety

bath day – of the Arab variety

One of our favorite experiences when we went through Central Europe in 2011 was our visit to the Szechenyi baths in Budapest. We decided bath visits should be a permanent part of our retirement.


Then – a visit to Granada and a chance to visit authentic Arab baths at Hammam al Andaluz. For 60 Euros each, we got the full bath experience – 4 baths of varying temperatures, hot stones, sauna – plus 30 minutes of aromatic massage. An affordable splurge. A unique and unforgettable experience.

Cathedral of the Incarnation – Granada

Cathedral of the Incarnation – Granada

cathedral-spiresJust. Wow. I’m not Catholic, but it’s enough to make me believe maybe God indeed is. Of course, Charles V had to do something to show up the Moors’ Alhambra. Amazing that it’s not baroque. Many of the paintings have been cleaned recently, so the colors are vibrant and the images, clear. You just have to see it to believe it. So this blog post is all about the pictures…


dining – Granada

Our most fun meal was a true tapas experience at Casa Fernando (an appropriate name). The restaurant had one bar table, which we occupied, and 4 seats at the bar itself. There was room for 4-6 people to stand at the bar. By the time we left, there were easily a dozen people in that small space. With each round of 2-euro drinks, we got a plate of tapas of the proprietor’s choosing. He poured drinks, cooked, and served up plates behind the bar. The whole time we were there, I never saw the same plate repeated. Our first plate was tomatoes with olive oil and oregano and sliced grilled chicken breasts. Our second plate was sliced boiled egg and grilled mushroom caps.  Both plates had a buttery cracker kind of bread. We had 2 drinks each and lunch for 9 Euros. What’s not to love?

Breakfast was macchiato and churros with hot chocolate – perfection on a cold morning before sight-seeing!

Lunch Thursday: on the paseo under the Alhambra: gazpacho, 4-cheese risotto, and fried dog fish. Sitting in the sun, looking up at the Alhambra, watching the locals walk their dogs. We then took the C1 bus into the Albayzin up to the Saint Nicholas mirador for more exquisite views of the Alhambra and Generalife.

getting around – Granada

We had rented a car for the drive from Alicante. Getting to the Parador was one adventure – we missed the turn (really, a veer) because it wasn’t well marked (it appeared to be a one-way street, the other way) – (I know, we’re in Spain.) But we found it eventually, and wound our way up the hill and into the fortress.

Getting to our hotel in central Granada after we left the Parador was a different kind of adventure. Siri sent us way around town, and we didn’t see the hotel the first time we drove past. She started diverting us back when a guy on a motorcycle stopped us to ask if we were looking for some place in particular – I’m guessing the rental car sticker was a dead giveaway. He offered to guide us to the hotel. We knew he would expect money for it, but it was worth it. We drove over cobbled streets, streets that were primarily used as pedestrian walkways, and one-lane 2-way streets.. And once we found the hotel, he guided us around the block to the hidden parking lot. We never would have found it without him!

And then we were in the parking lot…10 parking slots per level, 2-way traffic through lanes built for one car. We only got backed into once, and he was rolling, not accelerating, so it wasn’t bad. Found a parking space, found the elevator, and got to the hotel. We gladly took it on foot from here.

Streets in Granada are not laid out logically. At least in Alicante, all roads lead either toward the castle or toward the sea. Here, they crisscross, and you’ll find a square dropped into the middle of several streets; the squares are like squirrels: they pop up when you least expect them and distract you from your purpose.

When we headed to dinner, Siri told us it was a 5-minute walk or a 13-minute drive, with the drive being almost 3 times as far! That seemed to be the case for most of our specific destinations. Of course, everything is really close for walking – you just have to wander until you find what you’re looking for. But what better place to wander than Granada?

We took the C1 “bus” through the Albayzin (old Moorish quarter) up to Saint Nicholas for the view – listening to Lady Antebellum over the bus speakers. Then the ride down, along streets that aren’t really streets, where there seems to be no room for a vehicle. Cars have to wait for pedestrians headed uphill to find a place to get out of the road before they can proceed downhill.

Looking for a business opportunity? I’m thinking golf cart rental in Granada!