The first problem with the rental car was turning it on. In less than 10 hours we would be wedged into a pedestrian street, considering the feasibility of a helicopter evacuation.
But first we had to get out of the rental car parking lot and none of the four adults in the car could figure out how to use the key. Maybe new cars don’t need keys, I wondered, as I hovered the plastic knob around the steering wheel, willing the ignition to fire up. It occurred to us eventually that we had the key to the wrong car or, more accurately, we had the right key and were sitting in the wrong car. First problem solved and off we go to get properly lost in the highway system around Madrid.
Along the way to Andalusia, where we would later that evening be hopelessly trapped in a “street” shaped like a funnel, we stopped to admire the view of Toledo. Add another place to the return list. That afternoon, inspired by an Instagram post, we stopped in Consuegra, home of the windmills made iconic by Cervantes. We took mandatory selfies; what is this life?
As we traveled south, the landscape turned from flat and dusty to rolling and covered in olive trees. Soon there were snow-capped mountains in the distance. The sun was setting over Granada as we arrived. It was a romantic scene that tried to neutralize the growing pit in my stomach of arriving in a new city in the dark. I should have listened to my body’s natural foreshadowing and parked the damn car in a garage.
Instead I found myself on an 8 foot wide cobblestone road on a 45 degree hill with a bus coming straight at us. A group of pedestrians were frantically waving me onto a side street that looked suspiciously like a staircase, but I was out of options, so I made my next mistake.
Why did our AirBnB host think this was possible? If he thought driving through the Albaicin, a neighborhood clearly designed for horses, in a mid-size rental car was a good idea, then he could come and drive us to his place himself. There was no danger of putting the car in park. No one else would be dumb enough to drive here, so we wouldn’t block traffic. The road was now the width of the car and getting narrower.
Now I’m dreaming of a vertical evacuation via helicopter. Instead I start backing up. I have about 150 meters of winding pedestrian road to navigate backwards, in the dark. The car is trying to be helpful by incessantly beeping. Yes, I know I am about to hit a building!
Once I’ve gone as far as possible and the road has widened a bit, it is suggested by more helpful pedestrians that I need to do a three-point turn to navigate the next bit forwards and approach the main road. The road is narrower than the length of the car. Who are these people? Is there no geometry in Spain?
I may or may not be freaking out. I’ve been told it’s hard to tell.
Still parked. Still no other people dumb enough to try to drive here. As I start to give up and consider making a run for it, I spot a garage. If it could be opened, I could turn around in there. The thought is barely formed before a car pulls up behind us trying to approach the garage. We are saved!
Stopped at a red light along the pleasantly four-lane main road, I feel the exhilaration of survival. I make a solemn promise to myself: only wide streets from now on. We will park in a parking garage! As we drive down the ramp and descend into the dim parking garage, the walls start to narrow and close in around us.