What isn’t there to like in a country of beautiful scenery, where the cafe and bar have been taken to an art form, there’s culture and history wherever you look, the weather is (mostly) warm, the people extrovertly friendly, the motorcycle is king of the streets in the towns and there are some of the best biking roads I have come across.
My trip through Spain has been a bit of an eye-opener because for me the country has always been associated with the Costa Brava (think Gold Coast on steroids for my Australian readers) and cheap package holidays. As alluded to above it turned out to be much more than that – and i by-passed the Costa Brava for good measure. My first stop virtually as soon as I crossed the border was the small town of Figueres – today its claim to fame is it was the birthplace and final home of Salvador Dali – he of all the dripping watches and other surrealist paintings that all good students had a poster example of on their wall in the seventies. Salvador Dali’s house in Figueres was an old theatre which he turned into an exhibition space come surrealist piece of art in its own right an now draws in the crowds – me included.
This is part of the interior - full of odd mannequin statues and other oddities too hard to photo. Great fun to while away an hour or two wandering around.
Figueres was also a pretty little town and a good introduction to Spain. The difference to France was sharp – a bit noisier, smellier, more cramped feeling; just a bit more life being lived on the streets.
From Figueres it was on to Barcelona where my chief reason for visiting was to see some of the modernist architecture of Antoni Gaudi.
The entrance gates to Park Guere - an early example of his work, but it gives an indication of his style
La Pederera - a more extreme example.
Sagrada Familia - started 1882, estimated completion 2026.
and by night.
The interior is what sets it apart though. Here you can forget about the outrageous decoration of the outside and instead admire the forest of trunks and leaves created in stone. It really was an incredibly beautiful space.
The Sagrada Familia cathedral is an amazing piece of work especially when you consider its a work in progress with currently only 8 of the 18 towers completed. Whether Spain (or even Barcelona, which already has a beautiful 11-13th century one), needs another cathedral is a moot point though – and in fact this one feels much more like a Disney tourist draw card than any place of worship.
As well as monuments though Barcelona is all about the cafe/bar/restaurant culture:
After a tough day being a tourist...
And as I said earlier:
The motorcycle (okay scooter) is king - every change of the lights is the chance for another grand-prix start.
And the bikes are ridden by everyone, men and women, young and old. For some, safety gear tends to go more for style than practicality - but hey who am I to complain.
From Barcelona the plan was to ride to Bilbao in the North West corner of Spain via the famed 9at least to bike riders) roads in the foothills of the Pyrennees. The plan did not get off to a good start though – twenty kilometres out of Barcelona whilst still on the autoroute out of town I picked up a screw in the back tyre causing a rapid puncture.
The offending screw - it projected 20-30mm into the tyre which is what did the damage.
The "Oh Bugger" moment - what do I do next?
Now this is normally no drama; but this time because I had to ride on the flat tyre at speed until I got to somewhere I could pull in without being killed by the time I stopped the tube was destroyed – and I had no spare. In the end I had to ride along the metre wide hard shoulder on the completely flat tyre until I could exit – then I limped into the town of Terrassa. Here I spotted a small hotel/bar with a couple of bikes outside:
And met Vincent - who (rapidly) couriered me up to the local bike shop to buy a new tube.
and Joy and "the boss"
Joy was a waiter at the bar, Taiwanese by birth, who acted as my friend and translator and “the boss” was the hotel owner (sorry never caught his name). Everyone was incredibly friendly and needless to say I spent the night at the hotel (and a long enjoyable evening in the bar). the puncture was one of those events that as it first started to unfold was a real annoyance – but as it worked out the friendship of everyone who helped me out will make it one of the great memories of the trip.
Anyway I did finally get away to the Pyrennees and the roads were everything I had been led to believe. The N260 it was called and it snaked its way over hills and though sheer sided gorges for several hundred kilometres. Some of the riding was up with the most spectacular I’ve ever done – there was one gorge where you switched sides several times and all the time the road was literally just clinging onto the cliff face with a sheer drop down to a river far below, other times there were rides up through twisting hairpins sometimes in the clouds before suddenly bursting out onto summits with glorious views.
I rode up hills with abandoned villages on the tops
and get summits with views like this
And when the day warmed up and the clouds disappeared I found myself riding hairpin littered roads past villages like this.
As I got higher it did get cold again though! (This is mid-afternoon)
I knew I was in for a cold night when ice started to form on my damp tent flysheet as soon as I erected it.
But this was the view from the camp site .
A quintessential Spanish village. Find a hill on a flat piece of land then...
A lot had not survived the passing of time.
When I reached the Atlantic coast it was time for lunch – so having learnt the Spanish way, I looked for a restaurant with a reasonably priced “menu du jour” (OK I know that’s French but I can’t remember the Spanish equivalent). Here I struck gold – a little restaurant in a side street where on learning I was Australian and seeing the bike outside treated me famously – lots of little extra titbits from the chef and an aperitif on the house to wash it down.
Onto Bilbao, where the goal was the Guggenheim Museum.
This is a museum where the building is more famous than its contents.
the skin is titanium.
The interior equally spectacular.
The art(?) works sometimes mammoth. This is the centrepiece one by Richard Serri - the skill of the workers who made it impressed me much more than the thoughts of the man who created it.
Well Spain is now nearly over. I have a 100km ride this morning to Santander where I catch the ferry this afternoon to Portsmouth in the UK.
And for those interested I have done almost exactly 24,000 km getting to this point.