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.
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 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:
And as I said earlier:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.