“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!” – George Orwell – ‘Homage to Catalonia’
In the summer a cheap flight opportunity to Seville and Andalusia in November provided the perfect opportunity to continue the quest to discover the real Spain. A visit to the South and the part of the peninsula with which, thanks to the travel brochures I suppose, we are all familiar, the Spain of flamenco, Moorish architecture, sherry, tapas bars and bull fighting.
The first task after arrival at Seville airport was to pick up the hire car and the lady at the desk took me step by step through the formalities and then showed me a diagram that identified all of the previous damage that the car had suffered. This took some considerable time because it turned out to be practically every single panel, front back and sides and when we collected it from the car park it was in a real mess and looking quite sorry for itself and my first reaction was to be a bit annoyed that we had been allocated such a tatty vehicle.
I was soon to discover however that this was quite normal for cars in this part of Spain! The interior was clean but there was an overpowering smell of industrial strength air freshener that was so unpleasant that we had to drive with the windows down and we began to worry about what sort of previous smell the deodoriser was covering up.
Instead of staying in the city of Seville, where the hotels seemed to be a little expensive and beyond our budget, we had chosen instead to book a cheaper alternative in the nearby town of Carmona that was about twenty miles away. The first part of the journey along the Autovia du Sur was pleasant and without incident and then we left at the junction for the town and things started to unravel. We didn’t have a proper town map, only something from the multimap website and this didn’t prove to be especially helpful.
We (I) became confused and did a couple of circuits of the town looking for street names that we could identify but these proved to be illusive and of little assistance because they didn’t seem to correspond in any way to the map. Eventually, on third time around the main town square I found a bar that was still open and asked (pleaded) for help.
The man was just as confused by multimap as we were and it took him some time to interpret it for himself before he could even begin to draw the route that we needed through what looked like a tangled web of streets with a baffling one way system. Finally he provided comprehensive instructions but in rapid fire Spanish that made it difficult to follow but it was helpful just to discover that we were in the new part of the town and what we really needed was the centro historico, which was a few hundred yards away.
Confident now of directions we set off again and this time took the correct turning through an imposing medieval fortress gate and into a labyrinth of confusing narrow streets. At a fork in the road we were presented with two options. We were staying at a hotel in San Fernando Square and there was a sign that seemed to suggest that we should turn left but I overruled Micky who pointed this out and foolishly decided to ignore the sensible thing to do and took the right fork instead.
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This was a very big mistake because the road climbed up a narrow cobbled street barely wide enough for the car to pass through and then seemed to abruptly stop at what looked like a pedestrian alleyway. There was an elderly Spanish couple out strolling so we asked for help and after they had studied the map seemed to suggest to us that we should carry on down this narrow path. We were not entirely convinced about this and asked for clarification several times and the man, who spoke no English and was not terribly useful, was determined not to let his wife, who could speak a little English and was a lot more helpful, have her turn with the map.
Maps and men must be the same everywhere, let me explain, it’s a macho sort of thing that drives us to take control and this is based on years of experience of being sent in the wrong direction. Women generally are as hopeless with maps and town plans as men are with knitting patterns. Anyway, while we were debating the situation another car pulled up behind and seemed to be heading in the direction of the alleyway so this was a clue that this was indeed the correct way to go. As we pulled away the woman looked into the car and in a genuinely caring sort of way said ‘Be careful, good luck’ and this parting comment filled my cup of confidence full to the brim and overflowing.
We set off and it soon became clear why we needed both precision and good fortune because if we had thought that the previous street had been narrow this one made it look like a six lane highway. First of all it was necessary to negotiate a dog leg gate that was barely wider than the car and we all had to collectively breathe in so that we could squeeze through and after that the street narrowed down still further and I needed delicate keyhole surgery skills to manoeuvre through 90º bends and past carelessly parked cars and iron bollards strategically placed to impede progress at every turn.
It was like threading a needle blindfolded and we now understood why the car was covered in dents and scratches and probably why the air freshener was so strong; the previous hirer had possibly driven down the same street and had an unfortunate bowel incident in the process!
Going forward was tricky and we were making slow progress but what really concerned me was the possibility of reaching a – and having to reverse all the way back because that would have been impossible. Finally however we came out into a square (that was actually a circle) and by luck we had found our hotel. After three circuits of the square it was obvious that there was nowhere to park however so we had to settle for a side street and a hundred yard walk back to the Hotel Posada San Fernando where a lady on reception was waiting to check us in.