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Published: March 19th 2010
6th June ‘09:
It is 4.30am. We have been driving for half and hour, and a sign now reads 'Barcelona 607km'. Progress is slow; Spain's interior is hilly, and the gearbox must be used. Have you ever wondered why trucks make so much noise downhill? No, I don't suppose you have, but I'll tell you anyway.
The general rule of thumb is to descend a slope - we're talking serious mountains here, not piddling hummocks found in northern Europe - in the same gear you'd select if you were ascending the slope. I guess it’s difficult to tell, because you’re going down, and not up, but one gets a nose for these things after a while - usually after the first time your brakes catch fire. Coo, that’s a frightening smell! So, the revs are up, ideally in the blue section of the rev counter, NOT the red. Now we apply the “exhaust brake”.
A foot pedal, or steering stalk button, closes off the exhaust flap, building back-pressure to the engine. If you're in a low enough gear, this will slow the truck. The footbrake remains cool; those emergency gravel lanes - built for runaway lorries -
are avoided. Or, like the Spanish who love downhill racing, you could go flat out and die. Making tea is almost impossible while all this is going on, of course. Almost, I said.
That's quite enough about trucks, don’t you agree? I just wanted you to know that there is more to Spain than the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava and Costa Blanca. Tourists generally fly straight to the coast, regarding the rugged interior as an enigma. In real Spain, for example, one can't just order English breakfasts and pints of John Smiths ale, willy-nilly. In fact, having survived the vertiginous Cordillera Iberica mountain range, Namibian and I have trouble ordering ANYTHING to eat - nobody speaks English in real Spain.
And while hoi polloi may generically say that 'Spain is hot', that statement is not strictly true. Galicia in the northwest enjoys a similar, dampish climate to England, and, in Burgos in the winter, I've seen a foot of snow and minus eight degrees.
Madrid, too, can be cold - it is the highest capital in Europe. Well, pedant that I am, I’ll have to mention that Madrid is pipped at the post by Andorra La
Vella, capital of Andorra. But is Andorra a country or a principality? Come to think of it, what about the status of Monaco? Oh, I've opened another can of worms. Let’s just say that Madrid is cold in the winter and leave it at that.
The roadside bulls, seen everywhere in Spain, are the remnants of an advertising campaign for Angostura Bitters. I forget why the adverts were dismantled - something to do with road safety, I seem to remember - but the bloodthirsty nation wanted the bulls left. They're a barbaric lot, the Spanish. You'll know if you've ever seen a bullfight - horrific.
Also horrific are the fines levied by Spanish police on foreign truckers. Little Dick has been stopped for exactly the offence we've discussed - full tilt down hills, not stabbing cattle - and is no doubt preparing to ring his bank manager. Ludicrous fines of €2,500 are not uncommon. Yet the cops like the look of his cannon. Well, AC/DC's cannons, actually.
The police are prepared to waive any financial penalty...for a photo. This involves climbing in the trailer, turning a cannon, and a good deal of beaming for the camera. 'Have
you a present for us?' they add, unsportingly. Three tour T-shirts shuts them up, and Dick is a free man.
Oh, and as you travel from Zaragoza to Barcelona, you pass Montserrat, which I can't recommend enough. If you're in Barcelona, it's fifty minutes by train from Place Espanya, a cracking day trip. I include a couple of snaps from the archives to prove my point..
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