KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Most people would give their eyeteeth for a visit to Madrid, even if it were for only a couple of days. Here we are, in Madrid for the third time in just over a year, and we are content to hole-up in our hotel and venture out only for some groceries and a breath of fresh air.
Why would this happen to such intrepid travellers such as us? Well, the weather is only part of the answer. It’s now the end of the first week of November, the skies are dark and threatening and rain is forecast. We’re not surprised to find less than ideal weather conditions, as the winter months are the rainiest of the year.
The other reason is that we’re tired and just a little worn out from the pace we’ve been setting for ourselves since leaving Canada at the end of August. We had a relaxing time in New York with Puneet, Komal and Anya, but our time in Ireland, Portugal and northern Spain was go, go, go. For this we can blame our new modus operandi, rental cars. We took our first great leap last spring, February 2010, and rented a car for the first-time outside North America. Did we pick a country where we knew the language, felt safe and knew our way around a little? No, we chose Lebanon to step outside our comfort zone.
All went remarkably well driving in Lebanon so we plucked up our courage and rented another car in Tunisia. This was a little bit more of a leap of faith because we rejected the high cost of the international rental agencies and opted for a local car company. No problems there either thank goodness, though the car already had 100,000 km on it and wasn’t as clean as we would have liked. No matter, we headed into the desert and returned with more dirt and sand than we started out with.
By now we were becoming blasé about driving in foreign countries, so we hired a car for a week in southern Spain in order to explore a little-seen region called Extremadura. It was enchanting and extremely addictive. When our daughter Adia joined us in Madrid, we rented a car once again in order to explore the dramatic cities within striking distance of the city. It really made sense both time-wise and cost-wise when there were three people to transport.
So, when we arrived in Ireland this fall, we weighed the pros and cons of driving on the left-hand side of the road and because we were becoming used to being able to easily get to the out-of-the-way places, we plunged in once again. It was harrowing at times to drive the small lanes and roadways in Ireland, shifting gears with the left hand instead of the right, but we made it, and the car made our trip for us. What sights we saw, what places we visited, all in the short space of just under three weeks. We managed to drive completely around the whole of Ireland.
Then off to Portugal and after a week in Lisbon, we wanted to explore the Algarve and the Extremadura region this side of the border with Spain. A car is the most sensible way to get around and get around we did. We arrived back in Lisbon after a week and were exhausted. So much so, that instead of renting a car to travel into northern Portugal, we hopped aboard a train and were in Porto in less than three hours. We didn’t see much along the way, but were comfortable with the decision.
On into northern Spain where transportation along the coast is more difficult and a car is required if one wants to explore the region properly. We picked up a car in A Coruña and dropped it off here in Madrid a week later. It was the best decision because we were able to cover 1700 km and see the major highlights of northern Spain and some amazing hidden gems as well.
However, renting cars seems to push us to see more and do more than we would otherwise. Gone are the days when we would laze around in a place for a week or more, walking for hours and resting and reading for more hours still. The more photographs I take, the more places we see, the more I feel compelled to add them to my journal to share with friends and family.
All this additional expense of renting cars must sound very expensive to anyone following along with us by reading my journals. However, please keep in mind that we have been renting a car for only one week a month and that we have no expenses to speak of back in Canada. The cost of owning a car for all the years we were living in Edmonton far exceeds the amount we spend on transportation now that we are travelling. It’s hard to believe, but we’re finding we’re not spending more than we would be if we were spending our retirement living in Edmonton or Victoria.
So, to make this long story short(er), we are staying in our hotel in a suburb of Madrid and doing all the things that one does at home, something we call a ‘technical’ day. Hand washing our laundry, catching up on emails, researching hotels and flights for upcoming destinations and getting to sleep a little earlier than usual. Sound boring? Not at all. We have to remind ourselves that this is ‘life on the road’ and not just a vacation. Slow down, breathe deeply, and chill a little.
Tomorrow we fly off to Athens for a month in Greece. We’re promising ourselves that we won’t rent a car there, that we’ll be content to go slowly and see just a little part of the far-flung country. It does help that so much of it is comprised of islands and getting from one place to the other during the off-season is more difficult and definitely slower. Sounds like just the place we need to visit. And besides, the weather is warmer than the plateau in central Spain. Bring on the sun!