On Friday, the 4th of December, I went up to Madrid and had another go at driving in what I call "the city on LSD". Thanks to the crazy drivers and unusual layout (a British friend recently visited me and confirmed that the Spanish roads are strange for Europeans as well), driving in Spain in general is no picnic. I've also determined that the drivers here are maniacs bent on overtaking (passing) anything that enters their line of sight and at any cost - just read this TripAdvisor driving guide for foreigners. Indeed, the people being overtaken include even those who are going well over the speed limit... the Guardia Civil has clocked some of these lead-foots overtaking at 280 kph!
So, the reason I call Madrid "the city on LSD" (the crazy driving culture is not limited to any particular part of Spain) is that there are three things about driving here in particular that leave me feeling rather... vulnerable.
Lights: in America, and the many other parts of the world that I have visited, you can't miss them. The light dangles directly in front of your face - a logical system if you ask me. Of course, in Spain I have had to learn to look to the side of the road in order to find the traffic signals... the same place where the pedestrian crossing light is. And, if that isn't confusing enough, you often have to stop again at the other side of the intersection because the pedestrian crossing isn't synchronized with the flow of traffic!
Signs: aside from the obvious benefits of having drinking fountains in every corner of every venue, America also has some pretty decent signage - at least compared to Spain. In Las Pedroñeras they literally put a sign for Las Pedroñeras directing traffic away from the pueblo... but, at least it's not difficult to turn around. In Madrid, on the other hand, the consequences of poor signage are often quite dramatic. Not only are signs generally a bit misleading but, in many cases, there aren't any at all! Again, my British friend attested to this during his recent visit as, many times, he was left wondering where traffic was meant to flow. In any case, the real nightmare of driving in Madrid is when you come to a fork in the tunnel (Madrid has a great many tunnels) and, while many of the initial signs direct traffic into the left lane, the last sign (at the turn itself) directs you to the right! Assuming that the new information on the last sign actually makes sense (often specific destinations, like cities way up North, are listed on the last sign), you have literally seconds to cross several lanes in order to access the tunnel going the correct direction. If you fail to get over in time, this can result in over an hour of delay in getting to your destination as one tunnel takes you a half hour north while the other takes you a half hour south! Certainly makes you think twice about taking the M-30...
Divisions: just pointless... Madrid has center medians everywhere you look. Well, you may ask, don't we need traffic divisions to keep both sides safe? Well yes, of course, but not when both sides are going the same direction! It seriously seems to me like they put in these divisions just to take up space. You'll be driving along and suddenly you're forced to make a choice - left or right. You think, "Oh... I want to get off soon and I don't want to be stuck on the left side but, on the other hand, I don't want to be forced into an early exit!"
Well, don't fret, turns out it doesn't make any difference. Left or right, the lanes will converge again later anyway... or not.
Despite the awkward period of adjustment, I have managed to adapt to driving in Madrid for the most part. This particular weekend was quite an interesting time to be driving around in Madrid as many people were visiting thanks to Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day). Walking around the main square, my group and I found ourselves weaving through the vast crowd of people in order to see a few street performances and some monuments.