It was an eleven o’clock flight from Madrid back to London Luton and Ávila is about one hundred kilometres from the city so I calculated that it would take at most two hours and that we should begin our journey at seven o’clock which would give us plenty of time to make the drive, return the car, check in and do a bit of duty free shopping.
We assembled in the lobby and after checking out walked to the car and this was my first misjudgment because I had forgotten to factor in that this would take at least fifteen minutes. It was a clear morning and the temperature had dropped below zero and the cars parked in the street were covered in white frost and in the distance we could see that snow had fallen overnight in the mountains. Thankfully our car was parked under cover so there was no problem chipping away ice and after we had loaded the bags we were soon on our way.
Although there wasn’t a great deal of traffic at this time in the morning most people were driving carefully on account on account of the icy conditions and progress out of the city and onto the N110 was quite slow but once there the pace picked up and we drove easily to Villacastin where we joined the AP6 motorway heading towards Madrid.
My plan was to leave the motorway at Guadarrama and follow the route through the national park and then pick up the M40 motorway close to the airport but then things began to go wrong. We left the motorway as planned but ran immediately into a lot of early morning traffic with everyone choosing this time to go to work and the roads that had been clear of traffic on Friday morning when we had arrived were now congested with growling traffic and impatient drivers. To add to this Kim had some difficulty in interpreting the map so I considered it best to return to the motorway which at this point was less congested on account of Spanish drivers reluctance to use them and pay the tolls.
Even now there didn’t seem to be much of a problem but the closer we drove towards Madrid the traffic began to build up and at every junction the flow of traffic stopped dead as two sets of drivers came together and competed for insufficient tarmac space. About fifteen kilometres out of Madrid all that I could see in front of me was a ribbon of brake lights snaking away endlessly towards Madrid and I cursed myself for not taking into account that this was Monday morning and probably the busiest time to get into Madrid with people returning to the city after the weekend to get back to work. Then I cursed anyone remotely associated with the situation – the Spanish highway authorities, BMW, SIXT Rent a car, Easyjet and even poor Kim for not being able to read the map and when I ran out of people to blame I cursed myself for not making better plans.
As we crawled along making only intermittent progress the clock on the dashboard started to speed up in the way that clocks do when you are late and struggling for time and I watched with horror as it passed nine o’clock which was the planned time for arrival at the airport. We began to wonder about another night in Spain and how much an alternative flight home might be the next day but then the road split in two and the crawling queue carried on for the centre of Madrid and we peeled off onto the M40 which was moving just a little more quickly now at tortoise rather than snail pace!
Travelling east the blinding sun was directly in my eyes but at least we were following signs for the airport now which made us feel a bit more optimistic but although there were signs they gave no indication of distance so it was difficult to make any mental calculations for an estimated time of arrival. At half past nine we could see planes landing and taking off but they seemed a long way away and we still had to refuel and return the car.
Eventually at a quarter to ten we arrived at the airport but had to find a filling station which meant a detour around a confusing one way system and a drive through three of the airport’s four terminals. Eventually we fuelled up but when things are going badly everything seems to be against you and the something about the BMW security system refused to allow the car to restart and things looked bleak again. After a bit of fiddling and guess work eventually the thing fired into life but then there was another problem trying to find the correct entrance in the car park to return the vehicle. Naturally I took the wrong entrance and ended up in the short stay car park so had to leave and drive around the complete one way system once again to get to the correct entrance.
It was ten o’clock with less than an hour until our scheduled flight time and as I parked the car and unloaded the bags I made a rash statement that I will never drive around Madrid or its airport system ever again but of course I will because we will be flying back there next May when we plan to visit the south west province of Extremadura.