September 2008


Chas and Chris finish Alpe d'huez

From Spain it was on to Grenoble, France. Beth & family have moved there for work and as long as I’d made the trip this far, might as well pay a visit, right? So from Barcelona it was on to Lyon by plane and then a fast TGV train ride down to Grenoble.

One of the ideas that Kem and I had when we originally planned the trip earlier in the year was the lofty idea that since we’d be in Grenoble and it wasn’t too far away, we too could try our hand at riding up Alpe d’huez. The fabled stage of the Tour de France that climbs at about 8% grade for 14K over 21 switchbacks has become something of a mecca for bicyclists. Something to test your mettle. There’s a great picture of the route up the mountain here.

My cold/sniffles had begun to subside enough that the semi-thought out idea of riding up Alpe d’huez during the week I was in Grenoble could perhaps take place. Chris was taking the day off on Wednesday and it would all depend on the weather and how I felt come Wednesday morning. Things aligned well and the opportunity presented itself. The weather was fantastic come Wednesday morning and I was feeling pretty good. Chris was up for giving it a try and now all we needed was to figure out how to get there and get the bikes there. Chris had a bike rack for the top of his car but had yet to set it up so he got busy.

Meanwhile, I needed to reassemble my bike. It had been all boxed up for the trip from Barcelona. That took an hour or so. By mid day Chris had gotten the bike rack all assembled and on the car. We were off. Did we really know what we were doing? We had no idea.

Chris figured out how to get there and snaked us up the valley to find the base of the mountain. We just parked along the side of the road. We saw a few other cars there and figured it was OK. As it turns out there was another rider just taking off. His wife or girl friend was taking pictures and off he went. We took a few pictures at the base too. Then we headed up.

Unless you ride up the valley some beforehand, there’s not really any warm up involved. Rather, you round a bend and there it is, the ascent begins. The road surface is littered with names painted on it. There’s stuff painted from start to finish. No doubt a lot of folks as well as pros do this ride.

We knew it’d be chilly at the top so we brought backpacks with extra stuff to wear for the descent later. (We were optimistic we’d make it to the top.) I wore tights and on the way up they probably weren’t necessary. It was a sunny day and while not hot, the exertion alone warmed us to the point where we didn’t need a lot of clothing.

It goes without saying that you need to be pretty fit to do the ride up to the top. But you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to do the ride. That is, as long as you don’t really care how long it takes and you’ve got a decent bike with the right gearing. I geared things such that I was just on the edge of being winded and hunkered down for the climb. We stopped a couple times to gawk at the view and take some pictures – it’s very pretty – and otherwise just crawled up at a steady pace. We were there in something around 1:45 min. Not exactly speedy but then we weren’t racing and by the time we’d warmed up and got into a rhythm, it was just a fun ride.

Near the top we encountered a professional photographer that was taking pictures of us tourists making the trek up. He’d hand you a card and if you want you can buy the photos he took.

At the top we got another couple riders that were doing the same thing to take our picture. Funny thing was one of them was from Colorado, one from Utah. Like I say, a mecca for cyclists.

We didn’t hang around too long. It was in fact chilly up there and we were cooling off fast. We got the extra stuff on from our back packs and headed down. We encountered several more people – several with similar jerseys that appeared to be from Japan – that were making the ascent. The ride down is quite a rush. The grade on the way up is consistent enough that at some point it doesn’t seem that steep. But on the way down, for some reason it seems steeper. Kinda like when you’re skiing and you head down that first run of the day. It seems kinda steep, right? Anyway, you need to be on the brakes a LOT on the way down. Those switchbacks come up fast.

There was a lot more traffic on the road than I expected there would be. There’s a lot more populated places on the route and at the top than I would have thought there would be. It’s a pretty big ski resort up there. Anyway, you really need to keep to the right. Going up it wasn’t that much of an issue. Going down it was more interesting ’cause you’re going MUCH faster.

So, would I recommend the ride? Absolutely. If you get the chance, take it and make the ascent.

Alpe d'huez

The guys in Osor

Our last day of riding was a tough one. Not that the ride was that tough, but my cold was in full swing. Jill referred to it as “The Grip” and that was a pretty accurate name. I brought up the rear since I was sneezing and otherwise honking my sinus juices across the countryside.

The route was to be a loop ride – from Girona out to Osor and then back. To Osor was to be about 45K. The van would be in Osor though and as we mounted up for the ride I was pretty sure I’d take the van ride back.

The ride up to Osor was quite a nice one despite my cold. A couple of climbs, the longest being the one up to Osor, but very pretty and heavily wooded country. The last part of the route up to Osor snaked up alongside the Riera d’Osor. In otherwords, a little river.

We snacked on a picnic lunch up at Osor and then I vanned back. Later others would say they wished they joined me only because the route out in the morning was the prettiest part and the afternoon added nothing.

Note the picture of the guys in Osor. I’m dressed as if it’s winter. Not sure if I had a fever or not but definitely was feeling some chills. My hair’s all out of whack. I manage to plaster on a smile for the camera. Would you guess the two big guys here used to play some college football? You’d guess right.

I managed a nap later in the afternoon but I wanted to join everyone for the final dinner out. I’m glad I did. We met for drinks for a bit and then went to a wine bar and had ‘pica pica’ (a little of this a little of that) for dinner. We started with some Cava (Spain’s sparkling wine) and then salads and then some meat dishes, one after the other. A really nice red wine named Tinta Fina of cabernet and merlot and by Valtravieso was served. It came from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain.

We all managed to clean up pretty good for our last dinner out. Here’s a picture of the group. That’s me on the right. You wouldn’t guess I was all that sick in this case but I think the meds were kicking in.

Note that Marty Jemison had joined us for dinner. He’s the namesake of the tour company and was back from the custom tour that had been going on concurrently. It was great to meet him. Was a really nice guy. He’s the guy 2nd from the back on the right side of the picture.

Dinner in Girona

Sunrise in Calella
Meow

In contrast to the cool and rain we’d gotten the day before, we woke on Saturday to some really fantastic weather. I was up early and down to breakfast as soon as they opened. No good reason – I wasn’t feeling too great. I snagged the picture here of the sunrise out the window of the hotel restaurant.

My cold that was coming on hadn’t improved. It was coming on gangbusters. I was still up for riding though. Breathing hard in those circumstances can actually make me feel a bit better and I’d come this far… I certainly wasn’t going to be going at 100% though.

We gathered for another group photo before we took off. We were quite the multi-colored bunch that morning. The players, from left: Larry & Cindy, Chris (guide), Celeste (married to Joe over on the right), Julie, Hallie, me, Joe and Jill Jemison. Of the group, I was the only without a Utah connection. All either currently or formerly lived in Park City or Salt Lake. Word of mouth for the Jemison tours is apparently strong there, though I recall Jill mentioning that the Utah ties of this tour group was pretty rare.
Our Girona cycling group

The ride for the day was really a great one. Lots of rolling hills, pretty countryside and quaint old villages. Being the weekend, there were a fair number of Spanish riders in small groups out riding as well. Some were enjoying our coffee stop that morning as well.

Our route on this day took us back from the coast at Calella inland to Girona. It was going to be long enough we had time for both a coffee stop and lunch. I wish I could tell you the names of the little towns we pulled into and stopped but since I didn’t write them down at the time, I’ve got my visual memories only. But I do remember we went through Madremanya. I think we had lunch there. Our coffee stop was fairly early on and by the time we got to lunch I was pretty well ready for some food.

At the lunch stop, Jill had arranged to have some salads and pizzas made. Both really hit the spot. I think I had 3 pieces of pizza despite the warning not to eat too much because we’d be climbing after lunch and past tours suggested that people often over ate before doing another one of these 10K-like climbs. We were joined at lunch by a collection of scrappy local cats. At least 3 by my count in and out between our legs. A bunch of scrawny beggars. They seemed to know I’d be an easy mark. When it was apparent the anchovies weren’t all going to be eaten I snagged some and not surprisingly the cats really went for it.

Despite all the pizza, the climb afterward turned out fine. As climbs go, this one was probably one of my favorite of the bunch we’d done. The grade was not steep – just steady. At times I could ride it in 2nd or 3rd gear (middle chain ring). At intervals throughout the climb the road was painted with the word “Hincapie”. Apparently it’s one of his favorite rides and Jill thought it might have been his wife that had painted the encouragement on the road.

At the top of the climb the view was great. I took some pictures but they really don’t do it justice so I haven’t included them here. What you couldn’t see in the pictures was that in the far distance you could see the Mediterranean. Cool.

Dinner on Saturday night was at an excellent creperie. They were made of buckwheat. I had the 4 cheese one. Wow, a whole lotta cheese. Almost too much – but then, you can never have enough cheesy goodness.

Looking down on Llafranc
On the road to Begur
Coffee stop in Begur

Our ride up to Begur probably turned out to be my least favorite. Mostly that’s because the weather wasn’t great. It was overcast and eventually it rained.

We didn’t actually have that many miles planned for the 12th, but the first two thirds of it was pretty challenging. Almost right out of the gate we were climbing. Most of our climbs up till this ride we’d been doing pretty tame grades – they were just long climbs. These by contrast were short and very steep. Actually, more akin to my neck of the woods back home in Austin. More like “Big View” and “River Place”. No mention of what the grades were, but it was steep. The views of the coast though were great, so we took the good with the bad.

We had a nice long coffee stop in Begur after all the climbing though. There were lots of shops in Begur and several people took the time to shop a little. That made the coffee stop longer than average. Kinda wished we’d moved on sooner. We were there long enough to completely cool down. The sun had not come out, there was a breeze blowing and the weather seemed to be changing – and not for the better. Occasionally I could feel a rain drop. Just one, then two. I thought: “we should get going”.

Finally, everyone was assembled again and the group headed off. We got maybe a couple miles and the rain came. Not just a sprinkle, a full on cold rain. I didn’t really have the right gear on based on what it was like when we left. Wow, I was cold quickly. Chilled to the bone and pretty wet. I mentioned to Chris and he magically pulled a small rain jacket out for me. It helped. Chris seems to always have what you need when you need it.

Thankfully the rains did not last long. But long enough that our route was insufficient to warm me back up. Mercifully, the route back was mostly down hill and short and it wasn’t long that we were back to our hotel. I made a bee line for the hotel room and a hot bath up to my chin. Ahhhh!

Unfortunately though, within the day, the chill was enough to bring on a sore throat and cough that got progressively worse. Ugh!

Pictures here include one shot after our initial climb that looks down over Llafranc (foreground) and Calella de Palafrugell, where we’d come from that morning.

Then, a shot of Chris and Larry taking in the view at the top of another hill. And a final shot of the group at our coffee stop in Begur.

Girona Tour Group
Coffee stop
Jill hams it up
Chris jukes
Lunch stop
Salad at El Pati
Soup at El Pati

The ride up from Tossa de Mar to Calella has been my favorite of the bunch. The climbs were not massive, the scenery was nice and we made a couple of stops for coffee/food along the roughly 50 mile route. I’m not positive on the distance, but that’s what I’m remembering.

It was ‘jersey day’ so we all wore our tour jerseys on this day. Makes us look like something of a team. We look all bright and shiny in the first picture here. It was taken before we all saddled up and headed up the coastal road again.

It didn’t seem like we’d ridden all that long – though it must have been at least an hour to an hour and a half at that point – that we pulled in for a coffee and snacks. There’s a nice group photo of us here taking a break.

Sept 11th is National day (Fiesta Nacional de Cataluña) and the weather was nice and still pretty warm so there were lots of people out and about. We were told a lot of people make it a long holiday weekend before the kids head back to schoool the following week.

There are a couple of pictures here of our ride leads I took as we rode along that afternoon. Both hammed it up for the camera a little. Chris juking to his left while Jill stuck her tongue out. Everyone was having a pretty good time on this straight flat section knowing that lunch was not far away.

Our early afternoon route took us to Peratallada, a small and very old village. Up one of its stone streets arrangements had been made for our group to have lunch at El Pati. The name is apparently a reference to the patio dining there. The place is actually both a hotel and restaurant. Our group had a big circular table you can sorta see here in one of the pictures. We started with salads and also had two cold soups. One was a more typical tomato based gazpacho and the other was made of almonds, grapes and olive oil. If it had a name, I don’t remember it, but it was fantastic. It was creamy without being heavy. I’ll be seeking out more of this stuff in the future that’s for sure. The soup and the salad would probably have been enough since we had a fair bit of riding left to do that afternoon, but more food was on the way. We had a rice dish served with rabbit.

Suitably stuffed, we saddled up and hit the road again. Ugh, I’d eaten too much and we’d relaxed too long. It took awhile to get going again. Eventually we landed at our destination for the evening, Calella. It’s one of many small towns along the coast. Our hotel was the Hotel Mediterrani. It’s the larger white building in the middle of the picture below. It was nothing fancy but the location was great and the breakfasts turned out to be really good. It was right across the street from a nice beach, which you can just sort of make out in the picture below.

Hotel Mediterrani

Seven at the beach
Chas heads up coast of spain

Our 3rd day was an option day. You could pass on riding and just hit the beach if you wanted, or you could do a shorter ride with Jill, or you could do a longer ride with Chris. A couple folks did the shorter ride but the rest of us went with Chris on the longer ride.

The ride was 90K and pretty challenging. We started right at the beach across from the hotel and headed back up the coast road the way we’d come the day before and yes, you guessed it, rode back up the hills we’d come down the day before. It was a thrilling descent the day before and quite the workout to go back up. Great views along the way though. Then the 10K descent on the other side into Llagostera. We just did a quick water stop there this time though and then headed north.

I don’t exactly know what towns we went through on the way over, but eventually we crossed over the coastal range again and descended into Platja d’Aro. Eventually we wound our way down to the beach and found a cafe to have a snack.

The rest of the ride took us down the coastal road about 25K or so and back into Tossa de Mar. The route hugs the coast with great views along the way. Thankfully, though there’s a fair bit of traffic on this coastal road, the drivers are pretty darn courteous. Moreso than we would expect back home. You just have to keep single file and hold a line near the right side of the road.

Dinner was on our own Wednesday night and a few of us took the recommendations of the woman behind the reception desk at the hotel and headed up to Castell Vell. The food was good. I got the ‘Turbo’ (fish) special and some onion soup. I thought this place was over priced though. I didn’t get all that much – fish and soup – and still payed over 30 Euro. That’s about $45 for the folks back home.

The picture below is of the beach at dusk not far from where we had dinner.

Next up… on to Calella.

Tossa de Mar beach

Larry
Mmm, cappuccino
Coffee in Llagostera
Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Sunrise in Tossa de Mar

Unlike our first day’s warm up ride, this would be a bit longer ride today. I was up early and down for breakfast. Breakfast seems to get started kinda late here. Typically has seemed to be about 8:30. The same was true on Majorca – though they would start things as early as 8:15. Lots of the usual European selections for breakfast: juice, coffee, croissants and some other pasteries and breads, some kind of eggs (boiled, scrambled, fried), sliced meats, sliced cheeses (Manchego and Swiss often), cereals… anyway, lots to chose from. All served buffet style.

We checked out and loaded up luggage and were off by 10. Early on, more riding thru the urban streets of Girona, but it didn’t take long before we were out in the countryside. Pleasant riding on country roads. Not too much traffic. The sights and especially smells of agriculture abounded. Plenty of joking about the overwhelming odor of pig manure. It’s the country, that’s what you can expect.

Girona appears to be in a valley. To the east – the direction we were headed – you need to pass over a range of pretty big hills to get to the coast. I’m not sure I’d call them mountains, but they are certainly mountainous. Before we hit these we pulled into a small town named Llagostera. We headed for the central square and stopped in for coffee and snacks.

One of the great things about the Jemison tours are they take time out for coffee and/or lunch stops. You don’t just pound until the ride’s done. I got a cappucino. You’ll see it in my pictures. Around here they seem to make their cappucino’s with whipped cream, not just milk foam. Anyway, it hit the spot.

The riding had been pretty easy up to this point, but soon after our coffee stop, we headed into the hills. It was a long climb. The longest we’d done up to that point anyway. About 10K of something in the neighborhood of 5-8% grades up winding roads. Very pretty country. It wasn’t long before pretty much everyone was huffing a bit. The weather was warm and we were working up a sweat. While it was a long’ish climb, the grade really wasn’t that bad. Below is a shot of the fun winding roads we did.

Chris on the road to Tossa de Mar

Chris, our ride lead, provided a very consistent pace for us to fall in behind. I stuck to his wheel until maybe 8K into it and then started to fall behind a little. Celeste, who lives in Park City and rides at altitude, had little trouble. All in all though, the group has kept a very consistent pace, even on the hills. In my experience, that’s fairly rare on bike tours like this.

Once we crested the hill, the descent down the other side was fantastic. The grade was steeper on the other side: 14% toward the top, and the distance down to the sea shorter. Maybe 5-6K. What great views of the Meditteranean from up there though. We stopped at several points and took some photos. Back and forth through winding roads and pretty scenery. It’s very rugged, rocky country. Our descent T’d into a road that hugs the coast line. From there we headed south to Tossa de Mar. The coastal road is “undulating”. Meaning we still had several interesting climbs to get in to Tossa de Mar.

As we crested that last hill into Tossa de Mar, we stopped for a ‘photo op’:

Tossa de Mar

Sept may be the shoulder season for this area, but there are still a lot of tourists. We wound our way through the narrow streets full of shops and people just strolling around until we got down to our hotel next to the beach. We stayed at the Hotel Diana. You’ll see pictures here.

The group snagged a table on the patio inside to get room keys and some snacks. Everyone tried a little Sangria as well. That’s a light colored/bodied, chilled (iced) red wine with chunks of fruit in it. In this case, pears, apples and oranges. Refreshing. A couple people had beers. You see a lot of San Miguel and Estrella Damm – both Spanish.

My room was great. Simple and small but it had a great little deck with a couple of chairs and a great view of the sea. The bathroom had a very cool window beside the shower that let in a great breeze. You’ll see a picture here that I took one morning of the sunrise out that window.

I was starved and grabbed a quick snack of tomatoes & mozzarella. Tasty. Included a shot here.

I didn’t spend too much time down at the beach. It’s beautiful to look at, but I’m not much for swimming, but I did wander up and down it for a bit. The ‘sand’ is much coarser than it looks from a distance. More like tiny stones. Not entirely foot friendly – at least unless you spend a lot of time bare foot. Of course there were plenty of folks on the beach that seemed to like it just fine.

Later the group went to dinner at a place that our ride lead Chris had chosen. It’s a family run pizza joint a few blocks from the hotel. Wish I could remember the name. We had salads and pizza. Excellent stuff. Chris later took us on a walk around the area. Not for too long though. Most of us were pretty tired. There’s an old fortress at one end of the town up on a rock outcropping. We walked up there and looked out over another small beach on the other side. The sea was illuminated by the moon. It was a pretty spactacular view from up there. I took a picture of it, but it’s on the internal memory of my camera not the removable memory and I don’t have the cable.

Next up, option day…

Girona
Jill
Chris

Time to leave Soller. Enjoyed it, but now off to the heart of the cycling trip, the tour group meeting and starting in Girona.

My flight was at 8:40 but I didn’t really know what to expect enroute, so I got up early. I’d made arrangements with Toni, the proprietor of La Vila, to leave a light on down stairs and that I’d need to leave my key when no one was around. He said they’d even leave me a little snack in the fridge behind the bar since I wouldn’t be able to have breakfast. Sure enough, at 6am I found a little bag with juice, fruit and a ham and cheese sandwich waiting. Nice.

I needed to get gas, drive in, drop off the car, find out where to check in… it all took a lot longer than you might imagine. It was a good thing I got up early. As it turned out, the timing worked out pretty well. The Palma airport was just jammed with people and I ended up having to deal with special luggage handling. Iberia didn’t have a handy option when I purchased my ticket to account for the bike – at least as far as I could tell – so yeah, I was the guy in line holding everyone up as they figured out how to arrange for my luggage. In the end I had to pay an extra 55 Euros for it! But good thing I told them it was a bike. Originally had it just been “luggage” and been the same weight, they would have charged me 100 Euros for the baggage! That’s more than the ticket cost for me!! Anyway, we straightened it out and I was off to endure the long security line. They have one of those security line setups like a ride at Disneyland where you snake back and forth. There were a LOT of people flying Monday morning.

The flight was otherwise uneventful. Barcelona’s airport was even more jammed. Just a sea of humanity. I had about an hour wait till pickup and just grabbed a coffee and hung out. Jill from the tour company (Marty Jemison’s wife) was doing the pick up of me and one other, Hallie from Salt Lake. The pickup was pre-arranged and she found me right on schedule. Hallie, was there soon after and we were off to the van ride out to Girona. The weather was fantastic and we rode with a windows open till the expressway traffic just got too loud.

The tour I’m doing is hosted by Marty Jemison Cycling Tours. Had it not been for a recommendation by Amy and Richard, a couple Kem and I had met on a previous tour, we would likely have not head of it. Word of mouth – an email with some pictures – got us looking and interested. The tour starts and ends in Girona and cycles parts of Catalonia – a region of Spain, though they seem to think of themselves as Catalonian’s first here. It ventures down to the coast and stays a couple days in Tossa de Mar and a couple days in Calella.

Our Girona hotel is right in the heart of the city. I didn’t realize quite how large Girona would be. For some reason I was expecting it to be smaller but it’s a reasonable sized metro area of a couple hundred thousand apparently.

First order of business was to reassemble the bike again and get it down to Chris, one of the ride leads and mechanic who would be looking to ‘fix’ my headset issues. Sure enough, as hoped, he was able to get it squared away without much drama. Big sigh of relief. I was hoping it wouldn’t take a long time to correct and we were expecting to ride later in the afternoon so all worked out. About 4:30 we all got together – all 7 of us in the tour group – plus the two ride leads Jill and Chris, to do a warm up ride.

The pictures here include one of part of the old town right next to the Onyar river. The river is mostly a trickle at this time of year. The other two are of our ride leads: Jill and Chris. Jill is Marty Jemison’s wife. I was a little bummed that Marty wasn’t going to be on the tour. The tour company is, after all, named after him and he is the former pro cyclist. He was on a custom tour in France. Jill and Chris have been fantastic though. Chris is our ride lead most times. He’s mechanic and tour guide rolled into one. If you need anything, Chris will have it. You can’tn miss him: he’s the one with the argyle socks. Gotta get me some of those.

Aside from the urban riding and traffic, the route out of the city on the first ride and into the foot hills was quite nice. We climbed some and began to work up a sweat but we were only going to be doing about 20 miles so nothing too bad. It was a loop ride and the route back was awesome. Just a quiet, smooth and narrow country road. Most of the way back we could coast or practically coast. Very fun. A little more urban riding and we were back to the hotel. 20 miles give or take. I don’t have my bike computer hooked up so I’m just going by what they told me.

The beauty of this kind of tour is that you don’t have to stress over the logistics, maps and route planning. That’s all been done. You just get to enjoy the riding. Granted, the fun of scouting a route in an area you’ve never been can be fun. I’d just done it in Majorca. But it takes time and a lot of map reading or just trying roads to see where they go. Sure is nice to have had someone already figure out a route and have had it tested and honed over many groups before you so that what you get is the best that area has to offer. There are just so many roads. You of course pay for the privilege of having had someone prearrange so much, but the difference is peace of mind and a more relaxed outting. Same goes for restaurant planning. They have selected placed based on previous good luck.

After the ride we had some time to kill and then we all met around 8 for dinner. Jill took us on a walk around the area and pointed out were George Hincapie lives and were Lance Armstrong used to have a place.

Dinner was a the restaurant associated with the hotel: the Blanc. We had a great salad with some kind of mustard dressing and a chicken brochette dish with rice to follow. A couple of nice wines too. A Rioja from Juan Gil and a verdeho that was good.

Tomorrow, we’re off to the coast.

Majorca open road
On the road to Cura
Cura summit
Mmm, tapas

Sunday presented an opportunity to do some more riding. The weather looked a little dicey and the forecast called for some showers, but it didn’t look too bad. I saw some blue sky up there. I had the bike till the afternoon, and then I needed to return it. I opt’ed to see if I could find something with a little bit less traffic. But no need to rush it, so I drove down the western coast south of Soller for a bit. The road south goes through a couple small and interesting looking towns but they were pretty sleepy Sunday morning. The road was hilly with a lot of twists and turns and a blast to drive. The roads are well maintained on Majorca.

Eventually I veered off and headed inland toward Palma where I picked up the expressway and zipped over more toward the center of the island and the town of Llucmajor. No particular reason. I picked a place more or less at random. From the map I had, it looked like a decent jumping off point to some roads listed as bikeable. I found a place to park and just set off.

It wasn’t 100% obvious which way would get me out of town on the ‘right’ road. I’d picked a destination further north – Sant Joan, through Montuin. But it doesn’t take too long till you find arrows pointing the way to the ‘next’ town on the way to whereever you’re going. It’s one of the things I like about getting around Europe – as long as you know where you want to go you don’t really need a map. Just follow the signs. But I’m a map guy. I always have to have a map to see the big picture.

As it turned out, the route did indeed have less traffic. Mostly a pleasant ride through the countryside. You can see a picture here of the open road I snapped at one point. I did an out and back route and on the way back, took a detour up the Randa mountain to Santuari de Cura. That’s the Sanctuary of the Mare de Déu de Cura that sits at the top of the Randa mountain. There’s a lot of info and a picture here. I didn’t hang around all that long but I did stop in the little cafe to grab some more water.

I’ve included in this post a couple pictures on the road up. One toward the top and one at the signpost marking the top. We’re not talking the Alps here but it was a nice climb to get up to its peak of 534 meters. 5K of about 5-6% grade and switchbacks. Nice views all along the way though.

The last picture here is of my little snack of tapas after getting back to Soller. Click through on the picture to see some notes about the food.

Next up, headed to Girona by way of Barcelona.

Port de Soller
Chas on the trail in Port de Sóller
View from Nautilus

Friday was a day I just wandered around the area. I got up at a reasonable hour, but then fell asleep again and rolled out around noon I think. My internal clock is all messed up.

For awhile, I just sat at one of the tables out front of the hotel on the square and had a snack and watched the interesting people go by. While it may not be the height of the tourist season, the place is still packed with us tourists. Among the tourists, mostly I’ve noticed German and English being spoken. Lots of German. And that’s British English not American English. In fact, I don’t think I’ve encountered another American at this point. At least one I could tell anyway.

I’ve noted a few things regarding styles in my short stay: Chuck Taylors are in – or are still in. I’ve had a pair for years and of course these are the same old type of shoes I wore in junior high basketball years ago, but I’m seeing them everywhere here. Oh, and Kem, the “man capris” are the thing to have. Shorts? no, “man capris”. 😉

The bank (or was that a pharmacy) time/temp sign showed 41C degrees. Ouch! It felt hot but is it really that hot? That’s like 105F. Anyway, it was a hot day.

Early afternoon I decided to check out the nearby port town of Port de Sóller. It’s not directly connected, but just a short drive. You can also take a slow little trolley from town to town. Once over there I took the stroll around the town down by the beaches. Very nice little place. Touristy but not too much of the “T-shirt shop” variety. Plenty of creamy white bellies baking in the hot sun on the beach. I passed the beach and headed for the hills. Ended up finding an interesting trail. There’s a shot of me here parked on a rock off the trail. Nice vantage point to look out over the Mediterranean. At one point a wild goat appeared and seemed as stunned to see me as I was it. It was a mama goat and had two little baby goats in tow. Eventually she decided I must not be a threat and decided to pass. I snapped a picture but it didn’t come out so good. Maybe I’ll be able to fix it up and add it here later.

The best part of the day though was relaxing later at a place I happened by, right near the start of the trail I wandered down. It was just by chance I even noticed it. It was a little place named Nautilus that had a deck that looked out over the Mediterranean toward the west. Seemed like a nice spot to catch the sunset. A bonus was they actually had good food! I ordered some baked brie and some wine and settled in. Later I got some “sea bass” – served whole (which is a lot different than the sea bass we find back home – which makes me wonder if they are the same thing. Regardless, it was very good. Muy bien!) It was served with some small buttered potatoes, sauteed veggies & peppers, and prosciutto wrapped asparagus. Wow! great stuff.

It was all a little pricey, of course, but then aside from the good food, you’re paying for the view. And what a great view. Reminded me a bit of Nepenthe in Big Sur though only a fraction of the size. Surprisingly the place wasn’t full. There were plenty of tables available. Possibly a sign it’s not the height of tourist season?

Hotel La Vila

My flight in from Geneva to Palma was also delayed due to weather. It rained in Geneva all day and as we got closer to boarding time, I noticed some flashes of light. Lightning I guessed – but I never heard any thunder. Anyway, everything came to a stop for a short time at the airport. But, within the hour, we were back in business and ready to roll.

EasyJet is like Southwest – it’s kind of a free-for-all. No seat assignments. The main thing I noticed though was that the plane was actually clean and reasonably new. I think most of us in the US have just gotten used to the filthy conditions of US carriers like American Airlines – what I typically fly. Maybe this was unusual, but this plane was new and looked clean.

Must have been after 9 by the time we got in. Still lots of people and activity at the airport though, including a short wait to pick up a rental car I’d reserved. Hadn’t expected much, but somehow managed a nice little Audi A3.

Even in the dark of night, finding my way out of Palma and onto the road to Sóller. wasn’t too bad at all. Google maps to the rescue.

Word to the wise (now) though: don’t forget to pick up some Euros at the airport if you’re driving to Sóller. I usually do this as a matter of course, but being completely exhausted from the 3rd leg of the trip and two long layovers, I was making a bee line for the rental car, hotel, shower and bed. It slipped my mind I might actually need some cash right away. But the road to Sóller includes a toll tunnel. The woman in the toll booth knew no English and my explanations didn’t go too far. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic and I could back out of the toll plaza and make a U turn. There is another way to Sóller: the old mountain road. Had I not been really tired and it not been pitch black out I probably would have liked taking that route but… Anyway, only way in. Back and forth, back and forth… many, many switch-backs later I came out of the hills and made my way into Sóller. The drive was a bit of a white knuckler. Pitch black and mountainous roads I’d never been on – oh, and did I mention I was tired?!

Now Sóller is not that big a place and finding the hotel – which is right on the main square next to a big church – should be pretty easy. But the roads in Sóller – much like those in other old villages in Europe – are really narrow and one-way. Often you can’t go the direct way and even if you could, if you make one wrong turn, good luck getting back on track. So, I drove around awhile… called the hotel… drove around awhile. Ah, the square! this must be it. I parked illegally and wandered around till I found the place. Then Thomas, the man on duty, came out with me and we drove around some more until we came to the designated parking for the hotel. The ‘little’ Audi A3 didn’t seem so little any more on the streets of Sóller. There were a couple places I didn’t think we’d be able to make the turn – but I managed it. Barely.

Finally, unloaded and showered, I slept like a rock.

You can see a picture here of the Hotel La Vila. It’s right on the square and there’s always lots of activity right out front. I would guess it has 8 rooms. My room is the one with the window right next to the ‘a’ in La Vila. It’s a clean, comfortable, small room with its own bathroom/shower. Breakfast comes with and I’ve taken it out on back porch of the restaurant in the rear of the building each morning. I like the place.

Next up, some exploring…

First leg of trip to Spain

The long leg of my inbound trip from Newark to Geneva concluded without any significant issues. Yea! And now I’m parked here in Geneva on a layover – having a coffee and a sandwich. Next stop Spain. The routing through Geneva is mostly a consequence of how I plan to end the trip. Otherwise, I probably would have just gone directly to Barcelona.

My air travel wouldn’t be complete without a weather related delay where we sit parked on the tarmack for awhile and such was the case with the flight to Geneva. Thankfully it was just 45min to an hour. I think I nodded off at one point so I’m not actually sure how long it was. I wasn’t in any hurry though. No impending flight to catch on the other end. But it did make a 7 hour flight into an 8 hour one. We ended up taking off just before sunset and it made for a pretty spectacular view out the window on the way out.

The flight was otherwise uneventful – just the way you want it. No matter how you slice it, it’s a long time to sit in one place though. I was flying coach but I had plenty of room to spread out. The flight wasn’t full. I managed to get some decent shut-eye too despite the regular jostling by the folks behind me. I look forward to finishing the endurance test portion of the program and getting in to Spain later in the day – and getting a shower!!

Now the real question though: how did the bike fare? I always worry that the luggage is going to make it. I haven’t pulled all the bike stuff out of the bags, but I opened them up and they seem to be ok so far. I had them put “fragile” stickers all over the bags. Not sure it really helps. The hard shell case has at least one spot that looks dented. Not to the point there’s a hole or anything but it definitly took a shot from something. Very glad I had ordered the ‘compression members’ from S&S. They essentially prop up the center of the case. The other bag is soft side. Compression members aren’t really suited to that bag according to what I’ve read. The soft case seems fine. I opened it up. Nothing seems crushed. Hard to tell without more inspection. Guess I’ll get to that later.

Meanwhile… I’ve got a few hours to kill. There’s not much to see at this airport. I think I’ve seen it already. Time to wander around a bit…

I read this quote recently in something Beth sent me and liked it.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and many people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime” -Mark Twain.

I’d have to agree with those sentiments – and particularly so when that travel is to a foreign destination. I got the wanderlust long ago and still seem to have it so as I embark on another trip to a far off destination this morning this quote seems particularly appropriate to me.

I’ve developed a pattern of finding an interesting destination every couple of years. Usually it involves or is centered around some cycling. The world is more interesting to observe at the pace of a bicycle at least as far as I’m concerned and so that’s a central theme this year too. This year, it’s off to Spain and later France. A couple years ago, it was Italy. Kem and I had a great time there at, among other things, “bikecamp“. We met a couple there that has since been to and had great things to say about a similar offering from “Marty Jemison Cycling Tours“. Nothing beats a good referral, right? so this year’s plan to ride around the Costa Brava of Spain was hatched.

Hopefully I’ll find some wifi along the way and manage to jot down a few notes on the progress of the trip. Maybe even a few photos. Meanwhile, I wait for my next flight here in Newark…