Traveling by means of renting a car was never really on my radar. Why? For starters, I haven’t driven a car consistently in 5 years. I never needed to drive a car when I lived in New York City aside from the occasional visit home in which I’d mostly just cruise around my town, never a far distance.
Bright rental car company signs started flashing in my mind after taking a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany in my friends’ rental car. It was such a fun way to travel and the flexibility as a major selling point was undeniable. There’s no need to worry about bus or train schedules; you can come and go as you please with a car for transport.
Driving to Asturias
I tossed this idea around with a few friends and it caught on quickly. I’d been itching to visit northern Spain, and heard that Asturias is beautiful and serene. I was sold on it. Next stop: road tripping to Asturias!
We picked up the rental right in the center of Madrid and set out for Asturias. Sitting in the passenger seat of a car as opposed to the cramped seats on buses felt great. Oh wait, did I mention that I didn’t do any driving…?
So, I actually don’t know how to drive a manual transmission car. Womp womp. I would have loved to get behind the wheel on the open roads of Spain, but my limited knowledge of how to drive stick shift would not have boded well for our road trip. I drove a manual transmission car a few times when I was in high school and that was about it. Renting cars with stick shift is cheaper than automatic transmission cars and my friend graciously volunteered to be the driver, so I was off the hook. Which, honestly, is probably in the best interest of the people I would be sharing the road with in Spain. I gladly assumed the role of navigator and DJ for the duration of our 4.5 hour drive to Oviedo. It’s a pretty good gig if you ask me!
Driving to and from northern Spain was like driving from one world to another. We transitioned from driving through flat green plains to snow-covered mountains just by driving through a tunnel! The change in scenery was exhilarating.
It rained in Oviedo. A lot. Almost nonstop, in fact.
The weather was so unpredictable; one moment it was raining, the next, pellets of hail were pounding on the skylights of our living room. Then, quiet streams of sunlight would peer out from the parting clouds. The erratic weather made for some striking photos, but it was hard to maintain the endurance to brave the elements! We really had to commit to a day walking in the rain/snow/hail when we left to explore the city during the day.
Oviedo is a charming little city with statues planted all over it. Statues can be found in plaza and essentially everywhere you turn. There are statues of the beloved Mafalda cartoon character, animals, abstract body parts, even Woody Allen!
The food in Oviedo was very home-y and perfect for cold and rainy days. Most fixed price menus came with fabada (a Spanish bean stew, originally from Asturias), a meaty main course, dessert, and sidra (Asturian cider)! This time, I didn’t get to pour it myself like I did at a cider party in Madrid, which was more fun, but the sidra was still tasty.
On the Bay of Biscay sits the city of Gijón, the largest city in Asturias. Although the weather conditions were less than favorable, it was really nice to inhale the sea breeze on the coast again. I didn’t realize how much I missed the ocean until I was leaning on a railing at the boardwalk, watching the rough waves crashing against the coast, propelling unexpected spurts of sea water into the air. Moments later, the skies turned an ominous gray and the sea in the distance looked like the a perfect storm was about to hit.
We sought refuge from the rain in a restaurant in Gijón’s Plaza Mayor and dined on Asturian cheese plates and pulpo (grilled octopus dressed with olive oil and paprika served on a bed of mashed potatoes). Maybe it was because I was finally eating pulpo on the coast of Spain as opposed to in landlocked Madrid, but it was the best I’ve ever had!
We left Madrid for Asturias in the afternoon after work, so we didn’t have many hours of daylight left to explore smaller pueblos along the way. This was the main goal for the return; we had the entire day and planned to take our time making our way back home. Basically we just pulled off the highway when we saw a sign for a historical site or pueblo (village) that might be interesting.
The pueblos we stopped at were mind boggling. We found so many empty-looking pueblos were sitting in the middle of nowhere, and I thought each one was uninhabited until we passed by the inevitable bar which always had a parking lot full of cars and old men smoking cigarettes outside. Driving though small empty streets past buildings that are all closed up was a bit eerie; I felt like we were driving right into the set of a direct-to-video horror film like Rest Stop. When we stopped for some tortilla at a bar in one of these pueblos, the bartender and patrons actually looked at us like we had 10 heads. I doubt they get many people passing through their pueblo. The tortilla was amazing though!
The deserted-looking pueblos brought out a subtle beauty to the surrounding vast plains of central Spain. The multiple detours and pit stops made our return drive about 2 hours longer than it should have been, but it was well worth it.
Things to Note
This may not be the cheapest way to travel. Daily rates are reasonable depending on the type of car, kilometer/miles limit of the period of rental, and fuel tank filling options. However, over 3 days we racked up €70 in fuel and €30 in tolls roundtrip driving from the Community of Madrid to the Community of Asturias (approximately halfway across the country). The tolls were the biggest shocker for me! If you fill the seats in the car, a long distance trip can be affordable.
Although this is easy for me to say from the passenger seat of a vehicle, renting a car is a really fun way to travel in a foreign country, or even to get to know your own country. I remember countless road trips I’ve been on with my family when I was younger and I didn’t I appreciate them as much as I should have. Now learning to drive stick shift is on my list of things to accomplish this year and I can’t wait until my next road trip!