Day 2 — Sunday 14th into Monday 15th February
Burgos is a terrific little town. For Old Town, think a mini version of Bruges — perhaps without quite the majesty of the architecture — and you would not be far wrong. Just the sort of place to send a half-witted Irish hitman for his own send-off. Having said that, the cathedral is quite magnificent.
I emerge from the Central, swaddled in all the winter clothes I have brought and make my way through a bone-chillingly cold night to an Irish bar I had spied earlier.
The Guinness is good and the place is packed until the football finishes, at which point people leave faster than anyone over twelve who had accidentally strayed into a Justin Beiber concert.
A barmaid recommends La Parrilla Braseria, a short walk away and I manage to find it and get a table. It’s 22.30 on Valentine’s Day — try doing that at home!
The steak is excellent, no one speaks English, which underlines my resolve to be able to communicate at least on a basic level — and I end the night with a nightcap back at the Central.
The barman tells me that Burgos is the provincial capital of Spain’s autonomous community of Castile and León, and is marked by its intact medieval architecture. It is also the historic capital of Castile and is situated on the confluence of the Arlanzón river tributaries, at the edge of the Iberian central plateau. It has about 180,000 inhabitants in the actual city and another 20,000 in the metropolitan area. Burgos was once the capital of the Crown of Castile, and the Burgos Laws or Leyes de Burgos which first governed the behaviour of Spaniards towards the natives of the Americas were promulgated here in 1512.
Actually… to be honest, he didn’t have much of a clue, didn’t speak English, and we couldn’t go far on Google translate, so I nicked this bit from Wikipedia.
I sleep surprisingly well and wake at seven, frozen.
It’s snowing, and it’s actually sticking. Snowing in Spain in February! How bloody dare it!
Breakfast is the usual Euro-crap I’d expected, and soon I’m on my way, tiptoeing through the city towards the toll road.
Let me tell you a bit about the Spanish and driving in bad weather. They are precisely the same as the Brits driving in bad weather, especially if they drive a van.
Heaven forbid they slow down or leave enough space for a cigarette paper between themselves and the vehicle in front… especially if it happens to be British… or a Porsche… or worse still, both.
Still, I tell myself, it’ll be fine when I reach the E5/A1.
But it isn’t.
There is barely one lane open, the road climbs and suddenly I’m snow-blind in a blizzard with a long queue of impatient locals behind me.
Sophie isn’t good in the snow. She has around 400 brake horses at her disposal, is rear-wheel drive and gets very twitchy when asked to perform out of her normal environment.
My route planning had told me I should allow around seven and a half hours to cover the 822 kilometres to Marbs, but as it takes me almost three hours, averaging 30mph, to reach Aranda de Duera (love the name — great name for a cat don’t you think… almost miaows at you?) which is still a long way north of Madrid. So this now looks improbable.
There’s a lot of climbing, and altitude brings worse conditions, so I’m now thinking I may need a second overnight; at this rate I’ll be lucky to get past Madrid.
At one point the road is closed: this’ll be to remove the grizzly remains of the Range Rover Evoque and its occupants that flew past me a quarter of an hour ago, I think. But it’s not; instead we are diverted off the motorway, around the feeder roundabout then back onto it. I’m about to conclude that this is as pointless an exercise as putting ‘Smoking Kills’ on a Spanish fag packet when I see there is method to this madness: the lorries are being directed away by the traffic police, leaving the motorway free for us car and van drivers. Aforethought: something else you wouldn’t see at home.
And finally, fifty clicks north of Madrid, conditions ease, the sky brightens, the sun comes out and Sophie’s heart sings as her digital displays tells me the temperature has risen from -4 to 16 degrees.
I reward her with some high-octane fuel as I’m now going to thrash her to within a whisker of her life to make up for lost time.
First, it’s tapas though, before we tackle the Madrid ring road and as usual I over-order.
I’ve been around the Madrid ring road once before and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I’m not going to bore you with it here, but if you’re interested, read this.
But getting around Madrid transpires to be a lot less attritional that it was last time. Once on the road to Cordoba, I give Sophie her head, allow her to change her own gears and start go relax. In all honesty, the scenery through the Sierras, where Eastwood shot the Spaghetti westerns, is drab, so between Manzanares and the outskirts of Granada I’ve pretty much worked through my back catalogue of early Thin Lizzy.
And then a strange thing happens.
It starts to rain; and this is not ordinary rain, or even steepling Normandy rain, it’s almost apocalyptic in its abruptness and force. Before I can stop Sophie to raise her roof, we are both soaked. And this continues all the way through the hills towards Malaga.
I ring David in Marbs who has been overseeing progress on my apartment and has the keys.
‘What’s the weather like with you?’ I ask.
‘Not sun bathing weather, but pretty nice,’ comes the reply.
Windscreen wipers going double speed here, I tell him.
And he was right. I drive the final leg, from Malaga to Marbs on the AP7, roof down in brilliant sunshine, park in the underground car park opposite the apartment and meet him for a chat and my keys.
I feel a quiet sense of achievement at having got here in two days despite the atrocious conditions and without a major problem.
But sipping my beer in the Meeting Place, little did I know how dramatically my circumstances were about to change.