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Our Trip To Spain Part 3: Attractions. Elescorial & Segovia

Our Trip To Spain Part 3: Attractions. Elescorial & Segovia

May 23rd, 2001, 07:33 AM
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Our Trip To Spain Part 3: Attractions. Elescorial & Segovia

The Trip from Hell

We rented a car so that we could see El Escorial and Segovia in one day. It wasn’t as bad a decision as buying a ticket on the Titanic, but it was close.

At 10 in the morning, we picked up the rental car at Hertz in Atocha train station and got right on the freeway with no problem. We were to follow the freeway around Madrid until it connected with the highway (A6, I think) to El Escorial. This was easier said that done. The highways around Madrid are like a bowl of spaghetti, compounded by the Spanish tendency to change road names for no apparent reason. Anyway, we never saw the A6 sign, which became ominously clear when we found ourselves out in the country. We pulled off at the next exit. Bad move. In Spain, you often cannot get back on the roadway once you exit. We wandered around for a half hour before somehow magically finding ourselves on A6.

Things looked good until I came to a barrier dividing my lane. An overhead sign said “El Escorial” and pointed left, so we took the left side of the barrier. It soon became clear that we were in an express lane. We drove for a while and then I saw a sign “El Escorial” point right, from the collector lanes that we could not reach because of the barrier. Huh? I looked up just in time to see and electronic overhead sign with the words “El Escorial” flash off. I kept looking waiting for the message again. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I notice something on my left. About 200 yards later, I realized that it was some unmarked little exit ramp descend on the left! That probably was the exit. But I’ll never know for sure.

Of course being in the express lane, we had to go 15 miles before we could get off. And of course, there was no direct way to return, so we wandered around residential neighborhoods, trying to find the way back. With some hand waving from some locals, 30 minutes later we found the way back on to the freeway and found the exit for El Escorial.

There were no signs at all about which way to go. It took another 15 minutes to find the right road. (It doesn’t help that at various times, the few signs say “San Lorenzo” or simply “The Monestary” and that “El Escorial” at various types referred to the town, the building and a hospital near the town.) On the map it looks like El Escorial is near the freeway. In fact, it’s quite some way. After a while, we could see it in the distance. The lift in our spirits was soon crushed when we then sat in a 45 minute traffic jam.

Finally, El Escorial! We parked next to the entrance and strolled around for 2 ˝ hours. My wife like it a lot, but I found it so-so, except for the library which is really extraordinary. The books are turned with the spines inward and the gilded pages showing. Really a great sight. Be careful not to miss it because it is not in the main wing of the building.
May 23rd, 2001, 07:35 AM
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When we left, the road took us behind the building and head north, away from way we had come. As usual in Spain, everything is one way, so you can seldom return over a familiar road. We traveled quite a distance, unsure where we were. We finally saw signs for A6, one pointing to Madrid and the other to a bunch of towns that we couldn’t find on the map. Freeways in Spain are never labeled north-south-east-west. We were unsure what to do, because we were afraid that if headed away from Mardid we could get ourselves even more lost. We hoped to see a sign for Segovia and but we might have already be north of the exit for Segovia. (There were plenty of signs for Avila.) We saw another sign for Madrid and decided that the safest course was to drive back toward Madrid, turn around when we reached El Escorial and then head back north toward Segovia. We did this, (although the first place to turn around actually was half way back to Madrid, well past El Escorial) found the turn off for Segovia and reached the town, with minor problems.

Parking was near impossible, of course, so we stopped on a little side street and walked down to the aqueduct, think that this was the old town. In fact, the old town is quite a distance and then a hike up a hill (No signs or clues, off course about how to get there.) We found a charming square and a beautiful old church. Of course, the castle was the big attraction. You come in the door and see men in armor on horseback. The place has great atmosphere and views. As an added bonus, there is a really nice architectural and armaments museum. We were going to eat roast suckling pig at the famous restaurant there, (can’t remember the name, but it’s in all the guidebooks) but were were exhausted and just wanted to get back before dark. It was tough enough finding our way in the light.

We drove out of Segovia retracing our route, our so we thought. 15 miles later, it was clear that we were lost and that we had never been this way before. The locals were no help, so we drove all the way back to Segovia to start over. We came to the traffic circle, where a sign pointed straight ahead and toward “Madid” and in red “603.” That’s what we wanted. We came up the next circle. Bingo! A sign pointed straight ahead and said “Madrid” and in red “601.” I had barely notice the change from 603 to 601 the first time, but road number change in Spain all the time. What I hadn’t noticed was an arrow point right with names of several unfamiliar small towns and in red letters “603.” No wonder I had gone the wrong way. I made the mistake of following the sign pointing to Madrid.. OK, so now we found the right road, reached A6 and headed back to Madrid.

Now the story really goes downhill. I didn’t want to play with freeways and more, so I took A6 all the way back to Madrid rather than to try to find the freeway that ran near the train station. Another big mistake. I won’t bore you with the hour we spent lost in Madrid because there are no visible street signs at night, everything is and traffic is horrendous. I’ll just mention that I would probably still be there if I hadn’t gone the final 12 blocks the wrong way down a one way street using a bus lane.

We reached the gas station across a major road from the train station, where I filled the tank before returning the rental car. Just in front of me, there was a sign that said “Train Station.” I turned but the road curved back in the other direction away from train station! After this became obvious, I did a huey in the middle of the road and came back to the gas station. Just beyond the sign there were 4 lanes of traffic coming out of the station. How in the world do you get in station? We sat for a while and tried to figure things out It turns out that if you look another 50 feet, there were lanes which seemed to turn into the train station. At night, it hard to be sure.
May 23rd, 2001, 07:41 AM
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Ok, we were in the station. But where to return the rental car? There was no Hertz sign anywhere. We pulled off next to public parking and started asking “Donde esta Hertz?” Most people knew nothing. A few pointed a direction across the parking lot out toward the street. At this point we had no intention of going anywhere that might get us lost again.

After a half hour of pointlessly questioning the locals, I got out of the car to seek out the Hertz office. It was on he other side of the station and I only got lost 3 times. Signs would have been nice. The clerk toward me simply to drop the car off in public parking and to come back with the ticket and my contract. I got back to the car (after being lost 3 times). I backed up 100 feet into the traffic lane, and parked the car. My wife and I dragged ourselves to the Hertz office, settled up and then took the subway back to our hotel. Frustatred, tired, hungry snd jetlagged. It was midnight.

It was fourteen hours of hell. And so #$%## unnecessary if only they had bother to put up a few #$%$%# road signs. We went through similar, though smaller, exasperating experiences time and time In Sevilla, Nerja and Jaen, were completely unable to find a hotel, even after an hour of driving around. Twice I had to stumble around on foot to find the hotel, had a porter return to the car with me and used him as a native guide. In Jaen, a very kind man led us in his car right up to the Parador.

I’m no travel wimp. I’ve lived 12 places and driven everywhere in North American and in a good part of Europe. But I’ve never experienced anything like Spain. Except for the highways in Andalucia, which are beautifully signed, getting around proved a total nightmare. I’m involved with work on traffic safety and design of signs and information displays. As a professional, I can authoritatively say that the refusal to erect reasonable signage it is a complete disgrace.

So be warned.

OK, now that I've gotten that out of my system, I'll go back to the travelogue. We next went to Toldeo, and our trip improved immensely.

Next Toledo & Cordoba
The most astonishing part is that no one or guidebook every mentions this. (Hence this report.) It must be the Stepford Tourist syndrome. All the work that I had done on gather maps and information proved useless. What good are maps if there are no street signs, if one-way directions are not shown and if streets change their names every few blocks? You cannot recover from mistakes because the roads are one way. You cannot ask for directions if you don’t have good Spanish. And walking isn’t a whole lot easier than driving.

May 23rd, 2001, 07:53 AM
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Wow Eddie sounds like you had quite the time on the roads. While we experiemced a nightmare trying to find our hotel in madrid (since it was on a no traffic road) the rest of our driving to and from Segovia was a breeze as was the rest of our driving around the country, in fact we actually thought that everything was really well marked. I quess I am really good navigator of something! Anyways I just didn't want everybody to feel nervous about driving in Spain perhaps your car was possessed!
May 23rd, 2001, 09:41 AM
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Oh, my God, Eddie -- you had the Atocha Station Hertz experience, too! I spent an hour trying to figure out where to drop off my car. Round and round and round the station. It was insane -- and so was I, by the time I got out of there. Hello, Hertz, would putting up a sign be *so* difficult?
May 23rd, 2001, 10:36 AM
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At least they didn't close the road on you. About 2 miles before Segovia we found the road closed for a bike race. Official looking people said it would be 3-4 hours before we could get into the town. The only other possibility for getting into Segovia was returning all the way to Madrid and taking the other road in. We waited it out.
May 23rd, 2001, 10:49 AM
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I did a lot of driving in Spain, but, thank goodness, we took a bus to Segovia. I did, however, have your kind of problems trying to find our hotel in Granada, ended up on a street so narrow that we had to fold the side mirrors in.
May 23rd, 2001, 12:43 PM
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Art, we did a lot of that (folding the rear view mirrors) most especially going to/from Arcos dela Frontera. In Arcos, not only the streets are very narrow and steep, it does not have signs also. On our way down, there will be corners that will force you to make a decision on which street to take and then we noticed some streets are actually stairs! If you made the mistake of the taking the stairs, how do you back out? So no wonder, we saw some men offering their service to act as guides (they actually tell you where to turn). Otherwise, we were fine and that's because we got so much help from this forum on directions, including one who gave us direction going to Hertz in Granada from Nerja. We had a total of 3 Spain maps when we left US but when we checked the Michelin map in Spain, it was different and more detailed so we bought another one. For $6.00, we got our peace of mind, everything was smooth.
May 23rd, 2001, 03:10 PM
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eddiemars--- I always remembered an advice from a tour guide in Spain -"Never, NEVER attempt to do El Escorial and Segovia on the same day"-. By the time I got to the third sentence on your report (you left Madrid at 1000 in the morning???), I knew this was not going to be pretty.

I just asked my husband (who speaks no Spanish), how he finds driving in Spain and his response, and quote - it's a breeze-". I don't know, eddie, but it is not as bad as you painted it, IMHO. Hey, don't hate me, I love you reports.
May 24th, 2001, 03:58 PM
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We just got back from a driving tour of Spain. I was a bit nervous reading all the warnings about driving & all the traffic in the major cities. Our drive to both Segovia & Toledo went off without a hitch. In Segovia we parked at the first spot we saw outside the Aquaduct not wanting to risk not finding any closer spots. Once you realize the sign system, gives you the name of the highway & the last stop or town on the highway, then you have to follow the highway on your map to see which if the town on the sign is in the direction you are going to. The main problem we had were finding our hotels in the old neighborhoods. Cordoba was the worst, our hotel was in the juderia on one of those narrow roads, turns out we were right around the corner but had to go out of the Juderia & reenter it from a different direction. We took it all in stride. It was an adventure. On our way to Ubeda, we passed the sign the pointed to Ubeda, and said A3 (I think) turns out I was looking for A1 as per my AAA map. After driving for a good 1/2 hour, we figured A1 didnt exist so we turned around. This was the only time we overpassed an exit. I blame AAA for that one!
Jan 24th, 2010, 04:47 AM
Join Date: Jan 2010
Posts: 12
I thought my old trip report might be worth reactivating. It’s probably a bit outdated, especially prices, but it still has a lot of useful, realistic, information.
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