Nothing like getting up at 5 am and heading out to parts unknown to awaken all the senses. Like the ‘Oh my – how do I drive again?’ senses. Jeff was excited about me driving. I could just tell when he moved his seat as far back as possible and clutched a pillow he’d brought along for just this purpose. Yes, I drove out of our parking garage in Valencia, up through that narrowest of openings out onto the street. Of course, the only person cycling in all of Valencia at that time of day had to be passing as I hurtled out of the darkness down below, emerging into more darkness. I believe my arrival above ground startled us both. But we survived. All three of us.
The sun came up around Requena and we stopped for our first coffee of the day. There would be many, many more cafe con leches in my future. This is where we got our first glimpse of how the rest of the world is dealing with all the new normal measures in Spain. We’d been stuck in our limited version of Valencia for months.
Heading into a rest area – in any country – provides a glimpse of a cross section of humanity. The first one on our road trip across the entire width of Spain was no different. It was Don Quixote themed, which seemed appropriate – complete with a windmilled miniature golf course. Masks required until food or drink is consumed. And all the tables were surrounded by these movable plastic enclosures. No one was balking – the area was hard hit so travelers complied.
Driving via Madrid, we made it just in time for heavy traffic but it felt so much like the US on the freeway that I barely noticed. An interesting difference from Valencia is that there are many toll booths. The electronic signs on the freeway warn you that when stopping and paying the toll you must wear a mask when your window is rolled down – even though it’s all e-pay and no toll attendant is involved. Madrid was decimated by Covid. They’re not taking any chances.
We arrived in the Vigo area around 3:30. Vigo is a city on the north west coat of Spain, and it – like its cousin, Pontevedra – is stunning. You can see yourself arriving – laying down roots – and never leaving. Our host was gracious and the accommodations were disinfected thoroughly. He ran through all their procedures and how we could continue to do our part, as guests, to keep every one safe. He was freaked out we were Americans. ‘How did you get here?’ but when we showed him our NIE cards he seemed much more relaxed. American’s are not allowed in the EU except with residencia.
We have a week of house viewing to do all around the Galician coast starting Tuesday, but today we drove down the coast to Portugal to tour a house first thing tomorrow. And the drive was gorgeous. Here’s where I make some broad sweeping generalizations and first-person observations. Sure, there are probably biases galore. But I’ll report it as I saw it.
In our experience on the hiways and biways of Spain, people drive much faster and more aggressively than in Portugal. In Spain, tail gating and rapid lane changing/cutting off another driver is common. In Portugal we have found people drive slower, more in the right lane and seem to give-way on a more regular basis. Their minimum speed on the freeway is 50 k/hr. That’s 30 miles an hour in the right lane. On a freeway where the posted speed is 120 k/hr. So I have found it easier to drive on the motorways in Portugal than Spain. In Valencia, in general, if you put on your blinker they’ll give way. So city driving there isn’t too bad. We shall see how that stacks up to city driving in Portugal when we head up to Porto.
The Portuguese rest area is head and shoulders above the Spanish ones we frequented yesterday. In Portugal they’re all new and uniform from Via Verde – and the food and drink are first rate. Nicer than a Starbucks in the US, and Jeff attests that the bathrooms are first-rate. I can not say the same for the bathrooms in the two restaurants we’ve eaten in since crossing the Portuguese border. These have been less than satisfactory. In our experience, in Valencia, the bathrooms are hit and miss on all the minimum requirements for completing your task. In Portugal, this was taken to a whole new level today.
We stopped for lunch near our hotel and I went to use the facilities. Jeff informed me that I was ‘lucky’ the ladies side of the bathroom had a toilet seat. How wrong he was – luck would play no part in what was about to happen.
It all started out like normal. I’m experienced at this after more than five decades. But never in my life has a toilet thrown me to the floor. As of right now I can no longer say that. I don’t know what the shape of the design of the bottom of this toilets seat entailed, but it was neither flush with the surface of the bowl nor attached to it in any way.
Like all animals, whether in the woods or your own home, when you’re using the facilities you’re at your most vulnerable. You’re very literally caught with your pants down. And in this age of contagion where you do everything you possibly can to avoid touching anything – including your own face – this experience was my worst nightmare. As you’re falling, you’re thinking what part of my body am I willing to sacrifice to the diseases that are surely lurking on every surface – the floor most of all? Turns out, for me it’s a simple tuck and roll. You surprise yourself on how much ingenuity you possess in these situations. I’ve never gotten a shoulder injury in the ladies room before.
I returned to the table after all this rolling around on the bathroom floor. Jeff frowned.
‘What happened to you in there? Your hair is messed up.’
‘Are you kidding me?’ I told him. ‘That ‘lucky toilet seat’ was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I need a shower and not just with hand sanitizer.’ Heavy sigh.
I’ve been amazed at just how much Spanish I am starting to remember and am digging deep because I only have one or two words of Portugese. So I’ve asked every person I’ve met if they speak Espanol – most do – then I promptly rattle off what I need in Spanish. I’ve been shocked at just how much has rolled out of me without effort. My brain is waking up after being ill, finally. After all this time, I was worried it wouldn’t come back. It seems all I needed was a little pressure. We all know that’s what turns coal into diamonds. And I am hoping in my next Spanish lesson I can impress Maria with some actual conversation. Let’s see if it holds.
In Portugal – who had few cases and deaths – they are still lining up at a distance outside grocery stores and capacity is managed like lock down was in Spain. They’re militant on measures here. Checking into our hotel today, they issued masks in sealed envelopes and insisted we will wear one while anywhere on their grounds. We can remove the mask to eat but can’t sit at the table without wearing a mask nor even walk through the lobby. We drove down to Navare`. Jeff will talk more about the area himself and why he’s so interested in it. It was a madhouse with few mask in sight. But this beach at Pedro do Ouro was safe and sane. People staking out their own spots for their families and enjoying a misty day at 23 degrees. Perfect temp.
This evening, we’ve gotten cleaned up and are heading out in a bit to stake out the house we’re going to be viewing tomorrow and to do a little bit of neighborhood recon. Even with all the bathroom antics we’re still bullish on Portugal. All the people we’ve interacted with so far have been lovely and laid back. Whether we end up in the Pontevedra province of Spain, or somewhere in Portugal, we need a lot more of that in our future.