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The Spain Trip: Part 1

It all started on a Thursday when wife Lynn awoke early and said in her sweet quiet voice, “WAKE UP, ELBOW. IT’S TIME TO GO TO SPAIN.”* I simply can’t resist her demure requests. So I leapt out of bed and frantically began to pack for the trip. “NOT THAT WAY, ARMPIT. LET ME DO IT.” Lynn gets real excited when she is about to embark on a trip. She packed the bags, all 5 of them, in short order. Each of the big check through bags weighed about 243 pounds and the little carry-on weighed 97 pounds. My new carry-on computer that I am using to write this column weighed only 6 pounds and 3 ounces. With the bags all packed and the house moderately tidy, we sat down to wait for our very good friend Cindy, who was going to drive us to the airport.

Cindy is a lovely, talented, highly intelligent professor at our local university and Lynn’s best friend. She generally drops Lynn and me at the airport when we are going on an extended trip. She has also on occasion picked us up at the airport after a long trip. That is, however, a bit more risky. Why? Because Cindy sometimes doesn’t exactly remember where she left things, like her car keys or her car.

One time when Lynn and I were returning from Europe Cindy was providing chauffeur service back to Huntsville. The plane was a bit late and the agriculture and drug dogs were sniffing a bit slow, and there long lines at customs, and Cindy had been waiting almost 2 hours. When we finally cleared all the hurdles set up by the immigration people, we walked out into the waiting area to be excitedly greeted by Cindy. We hugged and kissed and headed for the parking lot. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that we headed for a parking lot. The parking lot implies more specificity than actually existed. We walked through several parking lots, looked at several cars and generally got our day’s quota of exercise. We did find the car about 3 hours later and happily headed home.

By the last time Cindy picked up Lynn at the airport, she had ingenuously solved the misplaced car problem. She made a pad of those little yellow sticky notes with arrows on each page. As she left her car she stuck an arrow pointing in the direction of the car each time she made a turn. She stuck her arrows on the wall, trashcans, waiting travelers, etc. After meeting Lynn at the gate she simply reversed her direction and followed the sticky notes all the way back to the car. (I told you she was smart.) The sticky notes worked much better than the sunflower seed she used to mark the trail one time before. The sunflower seeds were eaten by birds and small children and were useless as a trail marker.

We got to the airport in plenty of time. It took about 7 minutes to get through the airport security and we had a pleasant 3 hours to wait for the airplane, which was of course late. We were greeted in Newark by a rude and surly gate agent. I have been through the Newark airport several times and the experience has never been a pleasant one. I don’t know if it is attributable to the nasty weather or the proximity to New York or the influence of the Soprano family in that area or what. I’m going to try to never go to Newark again.

The trip over the big pond was relatively uneventful. On our previous trip one of the flight attendants broke her leg. That was interesting.

We cleared customs in Madrid and got our rental car. It was a cool Renault that was completely computerized—no key—just a credit card sized piece of plastic that opened the doors and, when inserted into a slot like the one you slide your computer disk into, made the car run. We probably have such in the United States but I haven’t seen one. We headed out of the airport looking for the N-III. (The N-anything is equivalent to our interstate highway.) We found the N-I, the N-II, The N-IV and the N-V, but no N-III. There is a circular road around the Madrid airport just like at Houston. We made so many trips around the circle that construction workers were waving to us like we were old friends. We finally abandoned the circle and got almost to downtown Madrid—a place you don’t want to go especially if you are driving. After using about a half tank of diesel, we happened on the N-III and headed southeast for our first stop in Cuenca—about 165 kilometers away.

Cuenca is famous for its hanging houses. What, you might ask, is a “hanging house?” A place for old timey executions? No! The hanging houses are houses and hotels and other buildings built right down the side of a great gorge—they just hang on the edge. Our hotel was a hanging house. It was built about 700 years ago. You could look out of our room window and see straight down about 1000 kilograms or meters or something. A cute Canadian named Jennifer owned the hotel.

It took a while to find the hotel, which was in the old part of town with very narrow streets. The buildings and the streets between them were built in the 14th century to accommodate rather small horses. (The streets, not the buildings, were built for small horses.) Although many European cars are fairly small, they are all bigger than any 14th century horse. The streets will barely accommodate a single car, let alone two abreast, yet they are two-way streets. Driving on these streets is like a perpetual game of “chicken.” Who will stop and back up first? I almost always lost. I’m easily intimidated in a culture other than my own.

The scenery in Cuenca is breathtaking but I’m tired and sleepy and starting to get grouchy. It’s been a long day. I’ll tell you more about Cuenca and the rest of the trip next time.

*Lynn frequently refers to me as an anatomical feature (body part).