Day 4: Barcelona – Tarragona – Peñíscola – Valencia

Note: This is a travel journal of the day 4 of our trip to Spain. Click here to view the photo collection (38 pictures) for this particular day. Or follow this tag for the related blog entries.

< Prev Page Next Page >


Leaving Barcelona on a Rented Car – Jun 17, Wed

Cynthia was keen to convert our holiday in Spain into a part city tour, part road trip.  Having driven in UK for a good number of years and seen how crazy the road traffic could be like in Paris, I had my reservation of driving in Spain.  Then again, sometimes, life is best to be experienced.  For Cynthia.  And I wouldn’t mind a little adventure.

Not to sound a bit too self-absorbed, I remember I was quite a decent stick driver when I was in UK.  If Cynthia was to be able to handle a manual car well, our car in Singapore would be a stick car.  Perhaps a sport model.  But you know how city drive is like.  Automatic gearbox does have its merits.  Hence for years, I am happy to drive with an automatic gearbox.

Spain is a left hand drive country, unlike Singapore, unlike UK.  Though I have driven in USA before, operating a left hand drive manual car was a whole new experience.  Everything was in reverse, including signal indicator and the screen wiper.  Fortunately the clutch is still on the left and the brake and gas pedals on the right.   It took me a while not to reach out for the hand brakes and gear stick with my left hand (guess what happened after I returned to Singapore?).

Our Rented Car

Driving behind this Opel rental car was an exhilarating experience. Not because the car is any great, it isn’t. I didn’t like the Opel clutch and gearbox mechanism when I was a student in UK, I didn’t like it either in Spain. The biting point is just a bit too high, the clutch is a just bit too hard, the driving experience is just a bit too rough (the 2nd car we rented – a Fiat – was a lot more drivable).

It was an exhilarating experience because getting this car to move was quite an achievement.  It is a hatchback so the rear mirror is tiny, the side mirrors are tiny.  I wouldn’t want to drive a small hatchback in a million years.  But in Europe, looks like the smaller the car, the easier it is to get by.  Because some of the roads are so tiny.

The real excitement kicked in when we got the car out of the hotel car park.  Which road should we take?!  No idea.  My job was to make sure that I didn’t bang onto anything.  Cynthia didn’t have a clue on where we were heading, just like me.  “It’s too near to my side!” Cynthia would warn me from time to time.  It was hard enough drive on a road system that was in reverse of what I am used to, keeping the car in the middle of the road was equally hard.  I had to keep checking on the two tiny side mirrors.  And in the mist of all the checking and making sure that we didn’t hit anything on the road, I have no idea how many red lights I had overshot, how many times we were inside the bus lane by mistake.  Lucky for us, drivers in Spain are by and large good drivers who are willing to give way.  Unlike ….

Last evening, we thought of the potential of extending our stay in Barcelona for one extra day.  We felt that we have not thoroughly toured the city.  And we have grown comfortable with the city as we are able to navigate through Barcelona with ease.  However, as we were driving out of Barcelona, we were happy to have stuck with our plan and moved onto our next destination.  The new unknown.  I guess this is applicable in life too.  We need to constantly take on new goals to make living more exciting than it is a routine.

Lunch in Tarragona

When I first saw the speed sign of 80 km/h, I was mildly disappointed.  80 is a bit slow.  I am used to the highway speed of 90 in Singapore.  Then it has gone up to 100.  Woah, that’s more like it.  And further away from the city, the speed limit is 120.  Hooray!

Safety, was my job.  Map reading, was Cynthia’s.  “We shall be approaching Tarragona soon,” said Cynthia.  “Is it the next exit?”  “I’m not sure, but soon soon,” Cynthia would reply every time I asked the same question of are-we-there-yet?

Later, I realized that we didn’t have a detail map of the region.  Instead, a high level map.  No wonder we kept on getting lost, throughout our road trip.  And I didn’t think renting for a GPS was a good idea.  It was expensive.  And I have not operated a GPS before in my life.  Nokia Map is all I have.

Roman Amphitheatre in Tarragona

So I asked what was there to see in Tarragona.  And Cynthia promptly replied, “A Roman amphitheatre.”  Uh-huh.

Tarragona is an industrial port with long sandy beaches.  The Romans chose Tarragona as their base for the conquest of the peninsula.  That explains the ruins found in and around the city.

We strolled along the coastline, met a group of friendly Spanish teenagers who greeted us in Japanese.  There is something we have consistently observed as we toured Spain.  The people are friendly and open to other cultures.

Did you know that Paella is a rice dish originated from Valencia?  And we ordered Paella in the town of Tarragona, somewhere not too far away from Valencia.  I picked the black colored one, because it looked different from the rest of the items.  I think the color comes from the ink of squids (hmmm).  The rice dish was delicious.  The best Paella we have tasted so far.

The Beautiful City of Peñíscola

Peñíscola is beautiful.  It is a well-known holiday resort, with houses in clusters, at the base of a fortied castle.  It is by the coast with beautiful blue sky and ocean.  I was tempted to change our plan and stay a night in Peñíscola instead.  Maybe in our next trip, we would stay in Peñíscola for a couple of days.  To chill out.

Peñiscola

The clusters of houses inside the old town of Peñíscola are mostly painted in white.  The side roads are usually narrow, dotted with small apartments, restaurants, wine shops, all that you would expect to see in a holiday resort.

We wanted to reach Valencia before sun set because we have not booked our accommodation yet.  Reluctantly, we left Peñíscola and continued our journey into Valencia.

Into Valencia

Valencia is full of roundabouts.  In fact, roundabouts are everywhere in Spain.  And the cars inside a roundabout go in an opposite direction from what I am used to.  That wasn’t my problem.  My problem was to understand how roundabout operates in Spain.

It first appeared to me that I had to stop the car in front of a traffic light at every exit of a major roundabout.  So imagine if you are going to exit 9 o’clock, you have to stop at three traffic lights.  That was what I did, initially.

Then I discovered a blinking yellow light for left turn.  When I first saw blinking yellow light on an ordinary road, it confused the living soul out of my.  I mean, red I stop, green I go.  What should I do with a blinking yellow light?!

It turns out that – I think – it means cross with caution.  There may be pedestrians crossing the road.  There may be incoming cars.  Back to the roundabout, I figured that if you are in the innermost lane, you may not need to stop at every traffic light.  Just need to pay attention to the incoming cars entering the roundabout.  And that was a great discovery.  If you want to exit at 9 o’clock, you enter the innermost lane, keep turning, and at your exit, stop at the traffic light and wait for it to turn green to exit the roundabout.

Like I mentioned before, we had no idea where we were going to stay in Valencia.  We did some research and had some hotel addresses with us.  But without a city map – and Valencia is not that tiny – looking for a few buildings could be quite an adventure.  Out of nowhere, Cynthia exclaimed, “That is the road Cardenal Benlloch.  Can we go there?”.

We could.  But first we needed to find a U-turn, which seems there are none in Spain.  I lost count in how many roundabouts we have driven through, how many times we thought we saw the road Cardenal Benlloch, how many times we did a right-right-right turn in order to simulate a U-turn.  Eventually we arrived at the entrance of Silken Hotel.  Cynthia got off the car and checked for availability while I was waiting in the car, took out my Nokia phone, and saved the GPS location of the hotel.

Silken Hotel

Yes, there was a room available.  And a parking lot too!  We drove to the back of the hotel, pressed the button to call the receptionist in order to activate the gate of the garage.  Funky!  We drove down the slope and I reckon the garage can fit about 30 cars.  The light inside the garage switched on once it sensed motion.  Same as the hotel corridors.  When we saw the interior of our room, we were in love.  So modernly decorated, a highly recommended hotel to stay if you happen to visit Valencia.  You can tune the overall room lighting based on the mood setting too.

I often think that water in Europe can be drunk from the tap.  That was what I did in UK.  Inside Hotel Silken, we ran out of bottled water.  We tried to ask the front desk if the water from the tap is drinkable but no one could understand what we said.  So I Googled the water quality in Valencia (using the free Internet access from the hotel) and found an article on the alarming nitrate level that may cause cancer.  Something to do with the nitrogen fertilizers due to intensive agricultural practices in Valencia.

Gasp!

By then, all the shops were closed.  And therefore we drank the expensive water inside the hotel refrigerator for the night.  Where should we go tomorrow in Valencia?  I was too tired to think about that.  After a long day of driving, the bed looked very enticing.

< Prev Page Next Page >


PS. Thank your for reading our journal and feel free to drop a comment or two. You may wish to view our photo collection for day 4 too.

5 thoughts on “Day 4: Barcelona – Tarragona – Peñíscola – Valencia”

  1. Woo! I’ve never experienced a road trip and its nice reading how yours went. I love the photos you took, the postcard sea view & houses, as well as the green fields one. Again looking forward to reading abt Valencia!

    1. Si Ying – Yes, a road trip can be very different. May not be as “efficient” because we spent lots of time trying to find the places and decide the things to do. But it is this degree of freedom unrestrained by any time table except sun rise and sun set that makes road trips interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.