The art of parking – aka driving in Spain Part 2


The vehicle fleet of a particular country is a good indicator of the lifestyle of its citizens.  For example in New Zealand we are predominantly a land of double cab utilities, 4 x 4s and Japanese sedans. We are a practical and workaday country.   And we care about our paintwork.  I have more than once been glared at or reprimanded (mainly by elderly gentlemen) because the door of my car ventured too close to their immaculate pride and joy.

Here in Southern Spain there appear to be roughly two groups of vehicle.  Firstly and the majority are small hatchbacks and tiny French vans.  The vans put me in mind of a Richard Scarry cartoon – I almost expect to see a set of rabbit ears sticking out of the passenger window.  These vehicles are uniformly battered.  There will be an array of scuffs, dents and scratches down both sides.  Shiny perfect paintwork is not a high priority.

The second group of vehicles are comprised of expensive and or exotic marques and are for the most part large  and shiny.  Porsches, Bentleys, Maseratis and LandRovers to name a few.  BMWs and Mercedes are ten a penny.  These are very unlikely to be scratched (apart from one notable older Rolls Royce spotted outside the local supermarket with the most humongous sideswipe down one side) and the paintwork is immaculate.

Given that off the motorways Spanish roads can be narrow, twisty and convoluted you can probably see where I’m going with this post.  Yes the latter group of shiny power statements generally belong to the expat population here in Southern Spain and the locals drive the dinged and battered variety.  Which says a lot about how much exploring and integration the expat community here appears to do.

Individual carparks are uniformly narrow as are the access roads.  Underground carparks often involve sharp corners to get into them and stopping on what feels like a ski run to obtain the entry ticket.   All of which makes parking your vehicle nerve wracking if you’re not from round these parts.  The answer for many people – especially those of the shiny paintwork brigade is to park diagonally across two spaces – that way no one can scratch your car whilst opening their door.  It mystified me for ages as to why people did that (how inconsiderate!) and it wasn’t until a friend who used to have an expensive vehicle explained that the penny droppped.  Our friend has since seen the light and bought what he describes as a “banger”.  Very wise.

Getting into the local supermarket carpark can be a game of dodgems.  The locals, being not too concerned about paintwork and dents park anywhere : the outside lane of roundabouts, double parked in narrow entrance roads, in one lane of a two lane access road, even double parked in the roundabout.

So if it’s the end of the day and I’m tired I practise “Spanish” parking – generally across two parks so I don’t have to worry about anyone else  scratching my friend’s car  and I don’t have to squeeze into those narrow parks.

To all the elderly gentlemen in New Zealand – don’t come to southern Spain.

To anyone else – come here, drive, explore, you’ll love it.  Do it!  Just make sure your insurance is up to date.


Going round the bend …aka driving in Spain Part 1



Having done all my driving in tiny New Zealand on the left hand side of the road, it’s a major learning curve coming to terms with driving in Europe.

Here in Spain it is possible to go from the sublime – multi-lane autopistas (freeways) with a 120km speed limit to the ridiculous – tiny, narrow one lane alleys in pueblo blancos where a Mazda 2 can get stuck on a corner (I kid you not!) within the space of a day, each requiring completely different sets of skills.  All of which occurs on the opposite side of the road to which we are used to driving in New Zealand.

On our first trip over here we hired a Mazda 2 – yes the one we got stuck on a corner in Vejer de la Frontera.  Tiny and all as it was the only real drawback was that it had a gearbox.  Getting into a vehicle and reaching for the gearstick and getting the doorhandle is a bit disconcerting the first time you do it.  After 30 odd years of driving so much becomes  second nature;  you jump in the car, take off and don’t really think too hard about the process until you reach your destination (hopefully safely!)  At home I often use driving time as thinking time – alas not here!   Having to consciously think about the road conditions, vehicles around you, speed limits, signage, and eventual destination, let alone finding the gearstick can only be described as a head trip – or a testament to the powers of the human brain.

Luckily this time around we’re driving an older Audi A3 which is reassuringly solid and also automatic – not having to think about gears is a great relief  and I can concentrate on driving conditions.

Spain has an enviable network of autopistas funded mainly out of EU millions.  These multi-lane superhighways are “peaje” or toll roads.  There will be a P in the designation e.g. we usually travel on the A-7 along the southern coast – locally referred to as the “carretera” or highway.  The AP-7 is the toll road paralleling the A-7 but slightly higher up and further inland.  Tolls vary between 1-2 Euros per section in winter to 15 or more at the peak of summer.  If you’re new to Spain I’d recommend the toll roads if you’re travelling any distance as the speed limit is 120km /h and there are no roundabouts, less traffic and far fewer slip lanes than on the toll free roads.  It’s worth paying the relatively small price to reach your destination quicker and with far less stress.  GPS navigation systems are all very well but not always up to date and I’m convinced they count the exits at roundabouts differently to me.

Entries and exits to motorways are far more abrupt than at home  and the lanes often don’t merge at smaller on ramps.  Th is means that if there are no gaps in traffic you’re often completely stopped before joining the motorway.  A  car that can boot it to make use of any gaps in traffic is a definite plus.  The bonus is that the slow lane really is the sloooow lane and Spanish drivers are cognizant of this.  So if you’re having a nervous day its possible to potter along in the right hand lane and no one’s going to be bothered.  Phew!

Next up – parking, scooters and the joys of roundabouts..

Spain Again

So here we are.  Spain again….  Its taken almost six weeks of being here to get back to publishing my thoughts and impressions.  Just settling in and getting through Christmas and New Year etc.  The festive season here is far less of a commercial circus than at home and it is refreshing.  Spain has a laudable focus on family which precludes over-the-top commercialism.   Yes there is signage and decorations in stores but a lot less than we are used to in New Zealand.  What really impressed me were the Christmas light displays which must be organized by the municipal councils and  churches.  Many people we know here in Elviria, (just out of Marbella) made  a special trip to Malaga before Christmas to see the lights in the main shopping area .  The Cathedral also had a lit up nativity scene  (or Belen, Spanish for Bethlehem) outside one of the doors.

The really big religious festival here takes place on the 6 January – Dia de los Reyes or literally Day of the Kings (also known as Epiphany).  This is the time when Spanish children receive their presents.  It’s a national public holiday so no school either. Traditionally Dia de los Reyes is the more important holiday but Christmas is gaining in popularity also.   Oh to be a Spanish child – two lots of presents!  Dia de los Reyes marks the arrival of the three wise men, or three kings at the stable at Bethlehem bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.  Hence the focus on gifts for the children.

Look out for more posts about our time here in Spain including driving Spanish style and the amazing Cuevas de Pileta.