Back to Spain

Barcelona (Spain), 25.11.2013

225 days after leaving Spain on a sunny April morning, now came the day to get back. In the morning I packed the car and left Milan in bright sunshine. In no time I was on the motorway towards Genova and spent two hours to reach the border with France. Roads were excellent, traffic very light, weather good – perfect driving conditions. Starting my descent towards the Mediterranean, at some point a valley opened up in front of me, the sea at the end of it, a thick white cloud over the scene, and the sun made the water sparkle, while some white sails moved slowly on the horizon. I wanted to take pictures, but the narrow motorway didn’t allow for a stop.

Right before the former border I had to pay toll for the motorway since Milan. I handed the lady one of my credit cards, then another one, and another one. None of my eight cards worked. I heard a colleague of her having the same problem with another car, while other Italian vehicles passed the gate easily. “Italian disorganization!” I thought. After the next tunnel a road sign told me I was now in France: no border, no police, no controls. Freedom! For a second the many border control crazes I had to endure on this journey passed through my mind. At the first gas station I stopped. I had waited to fuel up in France to avoid the absurdly high fuel prices in Italy, the most expensive of any country I had passed so far. Diesel in France was a lot cheaper (1,45€/l in France vs 1,75€/l in Italy). But the fully automated gas station didn’t take any of my credit cards. So I had to drive on, slowly to save fuel. I remembered how on the outbound journey I had almost been left without fuel at night in France for not finding a gas station. Well, I had to repeat the experience, this time in full daylight. No gas station crossed my way as I left the motorway and drove through endless commercial areas. It was lunchtime, shops were closed and few people on the roads to ask for directions. I found one gas station suddenly, but it was closed! As the Evoque’s display told me I could do another zero km with the gas left, I started sweating. In all these months I had never been left without gas, not now please! Ultimately I found a Renault service station with a pump, got my full tank of diesel, and paid with credit card without any issue.

Back on the motorway, I had to stop every hour or so to pay tolls, sometimes of just 2€ or so. At none of these stations, that lied on a major tourist route on the Côte d’Azur, my eight credit cards from three banks and four different circuits were accepted. And since the toll gates took only coins, I had to call the motorway call center for assistance and send a person to change my Euro bills into coins, or as I discovered later (when I had run out of all cash) give them my credit card number digit by digit to pay. Welcome to small minded Europe, where on major motorways only national credit cards are accepted. Unbelievable! I lost a lot of time with these toll gates, also because the French seemed to be unable to make you pay once for their motorways but made me stop constantly to pay micro amounts. European integration seemed far away here.

Several hours of driving later, incl. one hour standing on the motorway due to an accident, I reached the border with Spain. Here the police and customs buildings are still visible, but no stop was needed. At the first gas station I stopped again to fuel up. Diesel in Spain was 1,37€/l, cheaper then in France. As I got out of the car a freezing strong wind almost blew me away. Temperature was just four degrees. A young men with dark skin, long curly hair and a thin jacket approached me. He said he was hitch hiking to Alicante and needed a ride anywhere in that direction. He spoke fluent English. Since I couldn’t take him with me, my car being fully loaded, he asked me to teach him how to explain this in Spanish. Together we repeated several times “me puede llevar a la pròxima gasolinera, por favor?” He understood quickly, and as I went to pay for my diesel I heard him ask several other drivers with his newly learned phrase. I wondered if I had crossed the country he was from, and what a different journey he probably had to endure to get here.

Leaving the gas station at 40km/h, I saw a red flash behind be. A camera got me “speeding”, an reminder that Spain is the one country where I have to stick to all restrictions if I want to avoid a windfall of friendly letters from the traffic police a couple of weeks later. Here there are no corrupt cops on the roadside, but cameras of all types everywhere. It felt like Azerbaijan without the threat of the cops. Reaching Barcelona, I called a friend and we went for some cañas and raciones in the old part of town. The moment we entered the bar and I saw the hams and sausages hanging from the roof, the big wooden wine barrels, the food on display at the counter, I felt once again at home. I say “once again”, because having lived in several places in Europe there are several ambiances that make me feel “at home”, even if they are quite different from each other.

Trip data

– Km driven: 1.000

– Hrs on the road: 11

– Diesel l/100km: 10,0

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