Going into a European vacation with my family and extended family, was daunting.  Not to mention that little race I had while I was there.  Knowing my anxiety-ridden self, I used some preventative techniques prior to stepping one foot on the plane.  I decided (with a lot of help from my friends) that no matter what, this trip would be an adventure.  That sound great, doesn’t it?  An adventure!  So glamorous, so fun, what could be better?

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All along I knew it was going to be messy, that there would be ups and downs and, though it all, I needed to keep my head.  As in running, when your legs are burning and lungs can’t get enough air, you call upon your mantras to get you though those tough times -so I needed one for my 12-day European trip with 5 year-old twins, my husband, father and stepmom.  I decided upon “adventure,” and boy was it ever!

After the race (full recap on Monday!), we headed into Portugal for some much needed relaxing.  Well, I needed to relax and the rest of the slackers just joined me.  We needed to rent a bus car for our crew but couldn’t rent one in Spain and drive it into Portugal, so we took a train to Porto, Portugal and rented one there so we could drive to Obidos, Portugal, our ultimate destination.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Europe you know the cars come in one size there – small.  My Toyota Sequoia would never, ever manage to even fit down those roads!  We also found out that the gas there is $1.49 per liter or $9.00 per gallon!  Holy no way could I even afford to drive my SUV there!  And, (yes there’s more) the tolls on the highways were about $12 each.  We went though approximately four of them in a two hour trip.  Needless to say, the highways were clear of most all traffic any time of the day or night.

Our rental was a behemoth of a vehicle by European standards.  It was a Mercedes van that looked suspiciously like the old Aerostar mini-van my mom used to drive:



After we picked it up and strapped the kids in, we were eager to get to downtown Porto which was supposed to be beautiful and filled with shops, parks and restaurants by the water.  Lovely.

Mistake #1:

We tried to park our van in a parking garage.  Have you ever tried to put a sleeve of crackers back into a narrow box?  That’s exactly what it was like, trying to get our van into the garage.  By the time we realized it was a huge mistake, there was no way out.  My husband Mike was our trusty driver and he narrowly missed side swiping the van on the first turn down into the garage.  Next up – how the hell do we fit this thing into a parking space?

Mistake #2:

My husband was trying to pull the van ahead of the parking spot so he could back it in.  This was an excellent idea, and probably the only way this monster was going to cram itself in between two white lines, but we ran into a little snag.  He couldn’t get it into reverse.  Right.  He also kept inching forward every time he thought  it may be in reverse so we got wedged into a corner:

No way out.

No way out.

My dad even tried to get the thing into reverse but to no avail.  I think my dad was actually hanging his head in shame as he had to walk up to the parking garage office and tell the guys working there (who saw our near miss on the turn by the way) that we are stupid Americans and can’t get our European monster truck into reverse.

I’m not sure how they contained their laughter but, they graciously accompanied my dad to our location and one of the men jumped into the driver’s seat.

Now, I of course had gotten my ass out of the van at this point.  My dad and Mike were peering into the window to see how this guy was going to magically force the gearshift into submission but my kids and stepmom were still in the back seat.

Did I mention this puppy was a three-people-in-the-front kinda ride?

Selfie taken by my dad while Mike was actually driving.  It was ok because no one was on the road!

Selfie taken by my dad while Mike was actually driving. It was ok because no one was on the road!

The trick (for future reference) is you have to pull up on the gearshift and then down to throw it into reverse.  All the appropriate “OOOOhhhhhsss” were said, and the guy took off with our van and people in it.  At first we started casually walking behind the van, thinking he was going to swiftly and gracefully guide that puppy right in between two Prius’ but no, he picked up speed and so did we.  At one point my dad and I were jogging behind the van and looking at each other like “where the hell is he going?”

And then he pulled into a Handicap spot.  So appropriate on so many levels.

We then enjoyed all the glory that is Porto!

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And then we tried to leave.

Mike, now a master of reverse, was able to get us all the way to the exit (Salida!), which by the way is always shown with a sign of someone running.  I do love that they’re depicting someone running but, why toward the exit?  Kinda scary.

Everyone run!

Everyone run!


Anyway, back to use being trapped in an underground garage in a glorified mini-van – we insert the ticket we were given and nothing happens.  Actually something was being messaged across the screen but it was in Portuguese, which even my dad couldn’t help us with.  And now there were two mini cars behind us, patiently waiting.

Once again, our token saint (my father) had to get out of the van, first explaining to the people how stupid we are so Mike could move the tractor trailer van out of their way and then go back  to the same parking lot guys to explain what tragedy has befallen us now.  I think we were all praying for a shift change but, alas, it was the same guys.

Apparently in Portugal, you need to pay for parking before you leave.

After we paid, got our giant van back in line to exit, we all said a silent prayer that we would escape the garage in one piece.

We did, and after several wrong turns trying to get back to our hotel (thank the Lord and sweet baby Jesus for roundabouts!), we finally made it!

I think my son Miles put it best the next day, when we all piled back into the van to head to Obidos, when he said “Dad, are you going to not kill us today?”  Yes baby, we’re all going to make it to the beach alive!

Ever have car rental issues?

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done on vacation?