|Getting out of Barcelona
Our first mistake was trying to do anything productive on a Sunday, granted our first in Spain. We were ready to leave Barcelona and decided to splurge on a rent-a-car so we could go through picturesque villages, stopping and going as we pleased. A closed rental office at one place and discovery of our broken floppy adapter thwarted our plans to leave until Monday, at best. Monday came and we set out early, regretting that neither of us could speak Spanish and were therefore resigned to physically traveling to each location rather than dealing with matters over the phone. With no luck at the Sony service office to fix/replace our damaged equipment, our remaining challenge was to find a Spanish-owned rental car agency (slightly cheaper).
On foot with our Lonely Planet bible in hand, we went down the list. The first was no longer a car rental company but a travel agency selling holiday packages to places like Miami, Florida. The second had transformed into a car dealership with shiny new Audi cars of all colors. A helpful young lady there who spoke no English seemed to be saying that the car rental office moved locations. Discouraged, we returned to the place we'd found on Sunday, hoping on a Monday before siesta, they would be open. TOTcar "lloguer de cotxes" was open for business. The woman inside gave us a brochure and told us what class of vehicle she had left. Considering our other options and desirous of leaving Barcelona that day, we eventually signed a rental contract. Unlimited kms, returning the car in Madrid which costs extra and required a min. 7 day rental. We left the office heading back to our pension to get our bags in a SEAT Ibiza, a typical Eurocar about half the size of the average American car. For the first 10 min. cruising the streets of Barcelona, we felt great. Getting out of the city was less great, before nightfall, we managed to make our way to a tiny coastal town called Cadaques, where Salvador Dali lived a number of years. We were free again... but not for long.
If you really think about it, driving a car in a foreign country is not a trivial operation. In fact, it's a wonder that they even let you when you're clearly unable to read, let alone speak, the language. Here we were, two Americanos who could barely order dinner at a tapas bar, suddenly propelling a vehicle—often at high speeds—without as much as a map, guidebook, and a Spanish-English dictionnary. Comical, yet frightening. Eventually we learned to navigate the roads, even if we couldn't read. At least stop signs say "STOP" and people and animal icons look the same wherever you are. With word directions, knowing some French definitely helped, except in Pais Vasco where the renewed sense of Basque identity has made its statement in road signs, now mostly in the Basque language, euskara.