Thursday, June 17, 2004

Another car in the forest this morning, this time occupied [as far as I could tell out of the corner of my eye] by two young men. One of these seemed to have a layer of tin foil on his lap. Useful in the smoking of heroin, I’m told. Then again it might have been the wrapping for his sandwiches. Judging from the quantity of discarded foil, quite a lot of sandwich-eating must be taking place in the forest. At all hours of the day and night.

On my long drive to France and back, I came to realise just how relaxing it is to travel within the speed limit on Spain’s wonderful motorways. For a start, you hardly ever have to risk any overtaking, as you rarely catch up with anything ahead of you. Secondly, you don’t need to worry about the traffic police who are lying in wait for the drivers that regularly rocket past you. And, finally, your fuel consumption figures are a good deal better than they would be if you took the Spanish approach and regarded the speed limit as a guideline which doesn’t apply to you.

By the way, such is the pace of motorway construction in Spain, whenever you go on a long trip you inevitably come across at least one new motorway that wasn’t there the last time you passed that way. This adds more than passing interest as all major roads in Spain have two or three numbers [don’t ask] and the opening of a new road or a new stretch provides an opportunity to change one or more of these. Such fun.

In Valladolid on the way back, I came up against the new and the old Spains within seconds of each other. Outside the cathedral, a traffic warden was using a digital camera to snap cars that might be about to exceed their limited stay. Still pondering this, I found myself frustrated in my attempts to get into the cathedral that should have opened 30 minutes earlier. Happily, though, the door was ajar when I walked back a short while later. After I had checked out the Duke of Wellington’s fine quarters in what is now one of the university buildings.

This talk of the trip to France reminds me that the very first thing that caught me eye as I crossed the border high in the Pyrenees was a man urinating against a large rock at the side of the road. I wondered whether he was a Frenchman relieved to be home or an aggrieved Spaniard saying his final farewells.

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