I wish the pop-up ad on the internet would have said ‘Free rental cars in Madrid’. At least then, I would have been skeptical. Instead the ad offered a rental car for 5 EUR a day (about $6). We thought that this was a deal that we could not pass up and rented a car for pickup at the Madrid airport after our arrival at 10:00 PM. After the paperwork transaction, I naively asked the agent for a map and he explained that all the cars had GPS navigation so I would not need a map. So we locate the car, turn on the navigation (in Spanish, of course since Tiffany speaks fluent Spanish) and start out to find the hotel. Little did we know that the hotel that we had booked for one night a mere 5 km from the airport would take us almost 2 hours to locate! After taking the wrong exits from the roundabouts on our route and heading off in the wrong direction (of course), the navigation had to continuously ‘recalculate’ our route since I apparently was not following the very polite female voice commands. We traversed five different highways and numerous U-turns to get back on track. I sensed that there were times when the GPS was intentionally ignoring me which only added to my frustration. I thought (out loud) about parking the car and calling a Taxi several times. When we finally thought that we had to be in vicinity of our hotel, we ended up driving on a narrow road in a very industrial area and thought we had made another wrong turn somewhere. As it turned out, the hotel was just around the block. We had finally made it to our hotel! Eleanore and Grace had fallen asleep (it was almost midnight). We all slept quite well that night and had breakfast at the hotel before heading off to our Airbnb, located somewhere in the ‘center’ of Madrid.
We figured out how to switch the navigation to English and I thought that after last night’s driving fiasco thought ‘how hard can it be’. Well, I was wrong! Madrid is a lot more intimidating in the daytime when you can actually see the throngs of very fast drivers and very large, multi-lane roundabouts. Once again, the navigation system befuddled me when the disembodied pleasant voice told me to stay to the left, enter a roundabout and then proceed to the next right. Sounds easy enough except for the fact the fact that the next right is across 4 very full traffic lanes. Did I mention all the motorcyclists and scooter drivers who seemingly ignore any traffic rules whatsoever and weave in and out of traffic between the endless cars, buses and taxis? I was shouted at by a frustrated motorcyclist “LOCO” translated Crazy. My family now affectionately refers to this roundabout as Bernie’s roundabout. After over 2 hours of very frustrating driving including circumnavigating one of the largest and most complicated roundabouts in Madrid at least three times, a GPS system that gave me erroneous directions and put me into continuous loops a few times, and one of our children vomiting, we made it within a block of our Airbnb. Or so we thought. The pleasant GPS voice then said that the destination could not be reached for some reason? In a final act of desperation, Tiffany called the Airbnb host and after trying to pinpoint our location by giving him street addresses and intersections, he told us that he would come to us. I looked for a place to pull over somewhere (easier said than done in Madrid’s very narrow one-way streets). I found an illegal parking spot and two minutes later Diego (our Airbnb host) pulls up driving the wrong way on a one way street, in the style of a Spanish caballero (in a fine-cut suit, of course) says “Hello Tiffany”. The belligerent GPS had put us in a continuous loop on the block before the Airbnb. We brought our bags upstairs (2nd level). I had to move the car to a public parking garage a block away since there is no street parking in the center of Madrid for more than about an hour. I have never been a parking garage quite like this one. Sardines in a can have more room to maneuver than the cars in this garage! The cost of parking the car continuously in this garage quadruples the total cost of the car rental. Lesson learned don’t answer the siren call of a cheap car rental, there is a reason they are giving them away.
Bernie….a little bit from Tiffany