We were riding the bus from the airport in Barcelona to our room in the city, when we both realized everything felt familiar.  It wasn´t like London, where the city seemed so recognizable from countless movies and television shows, but something different.  It took a few moments before we knew what it was.  We were riding on the right side of the road, the green road signs looked like those in the states, and I was most reminded of the first time I was driven on the freeways from the San Antonio, Texas, airport. 


The familiarity with the roads, though, would not last.  We had decided to rent a car this trip which we would pick up at the end of our four days in Barcelona and use to drive to Andalucia in the south.  We could stop where and when we wanted, and getting out to the national parks would be easier with a car than if we used public transportation. 


This falls into the “seemed like a good idea at the time”category.  We have a lot of those.  Several times on each trip we have taken, one of us turns to the other and declares, “Lesson learned,” and explains what we´ve done wrong or what we´ll be doing differently on our next trip.  Usually our first lesson pops up within minutes of our arrival in a new country.  You´d think with enough of these trips, we´d be making fewer mistakes, but while we really do learn our lessons and rarely repeat a mistake, we are talented enough to discover new ways to mess up.


We actually realized the car was a mistake even before we picked it up, when the owner of our hostal (which is different from a hostel) told us about the toll roads, which no research we´d done on Spain had turned up.  It seems that tolls are collected on most of the roads here, and they charge one euro per ten kilometers, which was quite a lot since we were driving over one thousand kilometers just to get to Andalucia, and more kilometers when we got there.  It turned out that only a fraction of the roads we used had tolls, so it wasn´t quite that bad.


Navigating and driving out of Barcelona was the first challenge.  I´ve driven a little in Ireland where they have lots of roundabouts, but at least there they have lanes.  Here, at the first roundabout I came to, all the cars seemed to shift one lane (there were three) to the right as they entered the roundabout, at which point all the lines disappeared and drivers pretty much went where they wanted.  It was madness, and both Amy and I discovered we really can curse quite effectively when the need arrives.  At least this roundabout had some helpful signage.  Leaving Almeria we found one where the signs before the roundabout listed the many destinations reachable through this roundabout, but once in it, not a single exit had a sign saying where it led. 


Driving on the autovia (freeway) is really not that different from driving in America, except for the larger number of drivers who don´t realize there is a striped line down the center of the road separating the two travel lanes, which, along with the speeding of many drivers, explains why Spain has the highest fatal auto accident rate in Europe.  It´s in the cities, though, where the driving turns to hell.  For example, it took more than 90 minutes after arriving in Granada to reach our hostal.  We had printed a map with just enough detail to show us an easy way to the hostal, with only three turns.  Of course it didn´t work, because before we arrived at our second turn the street was restricted to buses and taxis, forcing us to turn down a side-street and begin our forty minutes of wandering.  We knew from driving in Almeria that there apparently had been a law passed that whatever road we were driving on would not have visible street names, and any street where the name was visible would not be on our map.  This proved true in Granada as well, and only by a little luck did we arrive safely at our hostal. 


The worse part for me is that I was named as the driver for the entire trip.  Amy´s driving test in Ireland was rescheduled until after our trip, and we didn´t want her to relearn to drive on the right side of the road here in Spain and then make a mistake on the test.  To further ensure she wouldn´t be contaminated by this trip to the continent, the entire drive she had to close her eyes, cover her ears, and go, ¨Blah, blah, blah, blah.¨