I recently found myself with a tricky situation. It was just a few days before 30 people that I had invited to a meeting would arrive in Barcelona and we still had no firm plan on what to do with them in the evenings. When I realised that many attendees had never been to Barcelona before I decided to hire a bunch of 'Go Cars' and take a tour before dinner. Restaurants don't open in Barcelona until 9 or 9.30 at night so we had a couple of hours free between finishing our work for the day and meeting for dinner.
You may not have heard of Go Cars and they are very new to Barcelona although they are longer-established in other cities such as Miami, San Diego and San Francisco. They are so new in fact that the locals in Barcelona still find them interesting and amusing and other tourists will treat you almost like a celebrity; expect to have your photo taken LOTS of times. I can't help thinking the amusement factor which leads other drivers to wave and smile and toot in a 'non-threatening' manner, will wear off quite quickly and within a few months, these little yellow vehicles will become the focus of a lot of Iberian road-rage incidents. But for now, they are still a novelty.
What's a Go Car anyway?
Go Cars are little yellow 2-seater buggies based on a moped engine and driven like a moped. If you are old enough to remember that classic British design disaster, the Reliant Robin, just imaging one of those, cut the top off, paint it yellow and give it a super-whizzy GPS system and you are halfway to imagining a Go Car.
The GPS is what gives Go Cars a real point of difference compared to other rental vehicles. Each vehicle is pre-loaded with several guided routes and as you drive along, the car will tell you what's coming up and give you some information about the different sites. She'll chat away quite happily, even telling you what lane to get into, when you need to turn left or right and so on. And thankfully she does it in plenty of time. Eventually, the car will then take you back to base so - in theory at least - you shouldn't be able to get lost. There's a lockable boot where you can keep your 'stuff', two small seats, rather limited leg room and that's about it.
How does it work
We'd hired a coach for the evening which dropped us about 50 m from the Santa Catalina market - a large building with a wavy multi-coloured roof. The driver pointed to the roof, then tapped his watch and told us he'd be back at 9 pm to take us to dinner. So far, so much for my limited grasp of Spanish. I unloaded the 27 people with me and we set off to hunt for the office which was completely un-signposted. Thankfully, I didn't need to try to work out how to ask "where is the place with the little yellow cars?" because I had a Spanish colleague with me to do that. After a few minutes standing in the rain, he found someone who knew what he was talking about and we skulked off to find the office.
One of my colleagues said afterwards that as we stood there in the late September drizzle with the light fading fast, he reckoned that 90% of the group wanted nothing more than to turn round and go straight to a bar. A few people had spotted the cars the night before when we were doing a coach tour and they were all quite excited but most people were not at all keen.
The staff split us into 2 groups. We'd not realised when we booked them the week before that we'd need to have a driving license for every driver so it was lucky that 16 out of 28 people had their licenses with them. Not so lucky however that some didn't want to drive. I asked each person who had a license to find a partner who didn't and then we handed over the paperwork. We were taken to stand around one of the vehicles and talked through how to drive them, how to turn on the GPS, how to change the language if necessary, how to turn on the lights and so on. There were maps in the boot of each vehicle in case we got lost, the phone number of the office was on the side of every car (again, in case we got lost) and every car had two plastic-bag ponchos on the seats. We each grabbed a helmet from the racks and were ready to go. Then we took them off again to put the ponchos on.
And they're off!
Suitably attired in our condom-like ponchos, we lined the Go Carts up outside like racing cars preparing for a grand prix. As we left the side street and headed for full-on Barcelona traffic I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a nervous lump in my throat. I've never ridden a moped and I felt very vulnerable in my little buggy.
As we puttered along the streets, our Go Car chattered away, telling us what to do and our colleagues buzzed around us like competitive little wasps. I kept my sensible head on and resisted the temptation to join the battle of cutting in and out of the other Go Cars. These little beasts will do 50 km per hour if they get the chance but we did feel very vulnerable whenever they went over about 30 kph. It's fun in a group but I think if I were on my own without other Go cars around, I would have felt vulnerable. You are very small, very close to the ground and not as visible to other drivers as you maybe would like to be.
Driving the Go Car wasn't too hard at first but as the evening progressed and the rain picked up, my hands got very cold and the hand grips got very wet so it was easy for them to slip when revving. I also have quite small hands and found that braking was getting more difficult the wetter and colder that I got and the wetter the roads became. However, despite the lousy weather, the response we got from the public and other drivers was amazingly warm - toots, waves, lots of laughing, and lots of people taking photographs of us. And of course we also had our little car talking away to us. It was quite a while before we realised that the voice wasn't just supposed to be some random recording - it was the voice and personality of the car.
Ours was a simple short 2-hour tour taking in most of the Gaudi buildings, the beachfront and parts of the old town. A few times the recording gave us an option to go in a different direction and we'd find representatives of Go Cars on bicycles at key points to make sure we stuck to the planned route and didn't take more time-consuming options.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
Two hours later, after bombing about in the rain, we staggered back to the Go Car office to hand back our vehicles. At this point we discovered that 14 cars had left the office and only 12 had returned so four people had gone missing. We waited until 9pm when I sent everyone else back to sit on the bus and warm up whilst I stayed with the manager and rang all the mobile numbers of my colleagues who no doubt didn't hear a thing above the putt-putt of their engines. When the missing people eventually turned up, they claimed that their GPS systems hadn't worked or hadn't been loud enough and one car allegedly had faulty lights and got waved at by a passing police car. I'm still not entirely sure that I believe they GPS was faulty - it's just as likely that the drivers went 'off piste' and lost the signal (they can be a rather independent bunch at times). If they'd taken a few minutes to stop and ring for help or had got the maps out of the boot of the cars, it wouldn't have taken long to get back on track.
From memory the first hour in a Go-Car costs 35 Euros per vehicle, the second costs 25 and then it comes down after that. A full day costs Euro99 and there's also a charge of around 9 or 10 euros for damage insurance. Helmet hire and plastic ponchos are included, as are maps.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely! It's one of the most unusual and fun ways to get around, although undoubtedly it's more fun on a sunny summer's day than on a dark autumn evening in the rain.