All across Spain with the unpredictable English Jane
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.