All across Spain with the un­pre­dictable English Jane

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Special Report Madrid - NORM SI­MONS

OUR re­la­tion­ship with English Jane be­gins when the rental car clerk pro­grams the GPS with a plummy English voice.

My wife, who is in charge of maps, is very scep­ti­cal.

We ap­proach the Span­ish bor­der on the coast near Saint-Je­ande-Luz, with the Pyre­nees loom­ing high into the clouds on our left and the Bay of Bis­cay on our right. We cross the bor­der at 100km/h. There is no stop­ping or slow­ing down in the Euro­pean Union for fron­tiers these days.

We have booked a ho­tel on the coast past San Se­bas­tian on the road to Bil­bao and de­cide to pro­gram its lo­ca­tion into the GPS.

English Jane di­rects us along the au­topista (first-class mo­tor­way), but we notice she puts the speed limit at 120km/h while the signs say 100km/h.

Un­for­tu­nately, we ap­proach San Se­bas­tian at rush hour. There is a large round­about and the traf­fic is bumper to bumper. The idea of giv­ing way doesn’t ex­ist; make eye contact and you’ve lost the game. Ve­hi­cles are three deep on the round­about, horns are blar­ing. English Jane con­fi­dently di­rects us to veer right and take the sec- ond exit. My wife spots that the sec­ond exit says San Se­bas­tian Cen­tro. If we are fun­nelled into the city cen­tre at this hour we will never get out.

The next in­stant we both spot the sign for au­tovia (sec­ond-class mo­tor­way) to Bil­boa on the other side of the round­about. I fight to get the car into the right-hand exit lane. We make it amid tyre smoke and shouted in­sults. English Jane calmly ad­vises, ‘‘Wrong way, go back.’’ She tells us this a cou­ple more times, then goes silent. I think she is sulk­ing. My wife mut­ters some­thing rather un­com­pli­men­tary about English Jane.

We pro­ceed along the au­tovia for about 20km un­til we re­join the main coastal road to Bil­bao. English Jane ob­vi­ously has no knowl­edge of this road be­cause the GPS screen shows us trav­el­ling cross-coun­try.

Once back on the main road, she breaks her si­lence and blithely pro­ceeds with direc­tions. We are in Basque coun­try and the road signs are in that dif­fi­cult lan­guage as well as Span­ish. We find our ho­tel in the Costa Verde re­gion with­out Jane’s help. She goes silent once we leave the bi­tu­men.

It is moun­tain­ous right down to the sea, with deep sunken val­leys. Our ho­tel sits on a hill­side amid pine trees shrouded in mist. It looks ex­actly like a Swiss chalet.

Our next des­ti­na­tion is the his­toric city of Se­govia near Madrid and we climb in­land to the high plain of Castilla y Leon, the heart­land of Spain. English Jane di­rects us con­fi­dently. The roads are new, the prod­uct of ex­ten­sive EU fund­ing. English Jane tries to lure us off these new high­ways through an­cient, crum­bling vil­lages. We dis­re­gard her. She sulks again.

When driv­ing in the rolling hills of cen­tral Spain the old cities come upon you in a strange way. The tops of an­cient spires and tur­rets sud­denly rise up from the fea­ture­less land­scape. We ap­proach the out­skirts of Se­govia.

English Jane has not had a lot to do, al­though she did get con­fused on a moun­tain de­scent of switch­back turns and di­rected us to make a left- hand turn that would have put us over a precipice.

We are drawn deeper into the labyrinth of Se­govia’s nar­row old streets. At one point the way be­comes so nar­row we have to fold in the car’s wing mir­rors. I look up and see the fa­mous Ro­man aque­duct of Se­govia sil­hou­et­ted against the clear blue sky. English Jane di­rects us to take the next left turn and there is our des­ti­na­tion, Hostal Aque­ducto. Our re­la­tion­ship with English Jane is back on track but I am wor­ried about our fu­ture to­gether. This trip is far from over.

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