Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015

These cycling trips are almost as much about the food as about the cycling, so I will have much to say on both subjects as the two weeks fly by. Today is considered to be one of the toughest rides of this tour. In a way that is too bad, since this was a perfect ride and I would love to have one like this every day. The weather was great – bright sun, and temperatures around 70 degrees. We started in Girona, our home for the last two nights, and rode 37 miles to the Costa Brava. We had a well-marked route out of the city, and then hit some rural roads with virtually no traffic and some bike paths that were not paved, but were easy to ride on since they were dry and hard packed. Where there was traffic, it was nice to see the signs reflecting the new law that motorists must give 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) clearance to cyclists.
Then we hit the big climb of the day – around 1150 feet of climbing (to an altitude of 1500 feet) over about five and a half miles. Not too steep and really quite pleasant. Then we had a magnificent descent to the Mediterranean’s Costa Brava with spectacular views all the way down. The ride along the cost to St Feliu de Guixols was up and down with another 1100 or 1200 feet of easy climbs, bring the total for the day to about 2800 feet. I bypassed the suggested lunch spot because it was only 11 am when I got there and I wasn’t hungry yet (we had breakfast at 8), so I had lunch at the hotel after I arrived. More on that lunch, after I describe last night’s dinner. We ate at Arros I Peix (Rice and fish – remember the language here is Catalan, not Spanish, although Spanish is also widely spoken and understood). We started with a green salad with tuna, followed by some grilled vegetables. Then it got more interesting with shared platters of deep-fried baby eels, cockels, mussels, and finally scallops. All this was just a build up to the main course, “soupy rice with lobster.” The pictures below tells the story best. We had a choice of desserts, and I went with “coffee pudding,” which was quite good. Alhough this was an early dinner by Spanish standards, it was after 11 when we finished.
After checking into the hotel today and showering, I went downstairs, intending to eat “something light.” But I ended up ordering the “menu of the day,” with a goat cheese salad as a starter (the goat cheese was warm and delicious), followed by grilled hake (a fish that I have rarely, if ever, had before, but which is very pleasant), and flan for dessert. I then took a walk along the beach to burn off a few calories and get ready for dinner (again at 8 pm). Here you see the grilled hake.
Our hotel is directly across the street from the beach. I had intended to swim, but it is quite cool, especially with the breeze, so I decided to pass on the dip in the Mediterranean, at least for today. I think that we will have a few more opportunities.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015 part2

I forgot to mention in my first post that I also visited the arab baths, another aspect of this very old city's long and complex history. At any rate, here are the promised pictures -- three of various views of the Cathedral (including one of a very bizarre statue on one facade) and a photo of a rare sight in Catalonia -- the Spanish flag, in this case flying alongside the Catalonian flag in front of the post office.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My laptop has been acting up today, and Microsoft has now hijacked it to install updates. So, I will do this post from my iPad, (belt and suspenders☺️) and add pictures later when the computer is working properly.
I had a great night's sleep last night, after that long period of travel.
After a good breakfast in the hotel, I started walking the city, beginning with a section of the ancient wall surrounding the city. We have been blessed with absolutely beautiful weather.
Then I did self-guided audio tours of the cathedral and the Basilica. For the rest of the morning, I toured the old part of the city, and ended up in the Placa de la Indendencia where I ran into Lee and Carolyn. The three of us enjoyed a pleasant lunch, and were only slightly late for the safety briefing which was the official start of our tour.
At 3 o'clock, I went down and work with Rick to get my bike set up. I get about 7 miles, just to get the feel of the bike, and returned to the hotel. We will gather again at 7 PM for our first group dinner.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday,May 20,2015

I have arrived safely in Girona, Spain, after about 26 hours of traveling -- three planes, two trains, a taxi, and a couple of shuttles along the way. It almost started disastrously when I got a four am phone call from American Airlines informing me (by recorded message) that my first flight would be delayed about eight hours, forcing me to miss all of my connections. The next message offered me alternative routing through Los Angeles and London to Paris but that would still get me to Paris too late for my connection to Barcelona. When I got to talk to a real person, she was able book me on an earlier first flight (fortunately I was staying in a hotel near the San Jose airport) and all the other connections fell into place. The last train ride was about 90 minutes, and I experienced a little panic since I had anticipated a forty minute ride, but it got me here just fine.
We are having some intermittent rain today, but the weather forecast looks good for the next several days. Upon arrival at the hotel I met three other riders from our group (Amy, Sybil and Gary, all from Colorado) and also ran into our three guides, Joan (Catalan for John or Juan), Montse, and Rick. (I have ridden with Rick before, in Andalucia.) I will meet the others tomorrow (including 3 that I rode with in Croatia). I did a little exploring today, and will do more tomorrow morning before we get the bikes set up in the afternoon. I was immediately struck by the large number of Catalonian flags that one sees (and the complete absence of the flag of Spain). The Catalonian separatist sentiment is strong. I only took a few pictures today, primarily because of the weather. When I arrived, I noticed that the Cathedral steps were covered by sod, although I don't know why. When I went out walking, I could see that they were removing the sod. Along the Rambla, I watched two men putting up a mannequin gymnast, controlled by a wheel on the adjacent balcony. Notice again the Catalan flag. WiFi in the hotel seems pretty good, although this computer is incredibly slow. I shall persevere and try to keep posting updates.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

With less than three weeks before my departure for Spain and my annual bicycling trip, it is time to make sure that my blog is still functional and that I will be able to post updates. So, this post is basically a test. Starting around May 21st, I will attempt to make daily posts chronicling my adventures in the Catalonia region. I will leave home on the afternoon of May 18th and spend the night just outside the San Jose airport. In the morning of the 19th, I fly to Dallas, then Paris and finally Barcelona. From the airport I then have to take a train to the center of Barcelona and another train to Girona, our starting point. I will arrive there in the afternoon of the 20th, ready to start the tour the next day.

I am excited that three of my fellow cyclists and one of the guides are people that I have toured with before. So, I will have the opportunity to reunite with some old friends to and to make new ones. Over the course of our 12 days together, we will cycle 260-300 miles. (I feel more than ready with over 2200 miles under my belt so far this year, including a hilly 65 mile ride last Sunday).

Hasta pronto.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

And so the tour ends

The Statistics:
                Miles cycled: 354.99
                Total climbing: 27,855 feet (per Strava)
                Time on the bike: 31.5 hours
                Nights sleeping in caves: 1
                Olives eaten: ~654

In a fitting and rewarding manner, our 2014 Tour of Andalusia came to a conclusion this morning with a guided tour of the Alhambra. Ignacio, our guide met us at the entrance (after our long uphill walk) and gave us an overview before we entered.
Construction of the Alhambra began in the year 1237. It remained the site of the palaces of the Nasarid dynasty (Muslim) until it was surrendered to the Catholic monarchs in 1492, following which it was expanded as more palaces and gardens were built. Much of the original Moorish architecture remains, however, and the splendor is awe-inspiring.

I had not realized that Washington Irving was in residence at the Alhambra for a while. I am now adding his “Tales of the Alhambra” to my reading list.

Before the Alhambra visit, we had breakfast together and began our process of saying goodbye. Rick was the first to leave – he is driving the bikes back to ExperiencePlus headquarters in Italy. Kathleen and Manfred made complex arrangements to have their luggage picked up at the hotel and for the driver to meet them at the conclusion of the Alhambra visit. They will be back in New York this evening. Jane and Charlie are taking a train to Madrid tonight before flying on from there. Susan, Ron and I will fly from Granada to Madrid tomorrow (different flights) and on to San Francisco (again, different flights), arriving in the Bay area Wednesday evening. Philipp is reuniting with his family here in Granada before moving on to his next assignment. I had the  pleasure of meeting his wife and two year old daughter yesterday afternoon.

We were fortunate to have had good weather, although on the hot side, for the entire tour. The great company made it an especially fine tour – Thank you Philipp, Rick, Kathleen and Manfred, Jane and Charlie, Susan and Ron. I hope to ride with all of you again.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Last Day of Riding – Into Granada

I have pretty much run out of superlatives as I have described the cycling and the food on this trip. So I will summarize today’s ride as “perfect.”
We awoke from a peaceful night in our caves, with several people remarking about how quiet it was. (For me, every night is quiet since I simply take out my hearing aids.) Cave dwelling is quite common in this region, in large part because the caves maintain a constant temperature of about 62 degrees, eliminating the need for air-conditioning, although some heating is required in the winter.  Some of the caves have elaborate facades on the outside, so that they look like standard homes, and as you cycle through the region, you see television antennas on top of all the mounds in which the caves are located.

After a good breakfast, we set out on a short ride with some climbing before lunch, and a nice descent to Granada after a wonderful picnic. The climbing was easy, made more enjoyable by the constantly changing scenery and the cool temperatures – and real trees that provided shade. Just after cresting the hill we some professional Spanish cyclists (team Lotto Belisol) training for the upcoming season.
Right after seeing these riders, we regrouped for our picnic. Philipp and Rick had put out a really great spread with enough food for twice as many people as we actually had. We all ate our fill at a leisurely pace and then continued the descent for the remaining 10 miles or so into Granada. City traffic was a bit hectic, but we all made it into the hotel with ease.
Before I had a chance to complete this blog post, we all got together for the festivities of our final evening. We started off with a visit to a small shop and had a tasting of two hams – a serrano, and a top quality Iberico. We all agreed that the Iberico was far superior
We then walked, mostly uphill, through the old quarters of the city with Philipp providing expert commentary. From our high vantage point, we had an excellent view of the Alhambra, which we will visit tomorrow. We had the usual, lengthy, dinner at Mirador de Morayma, a large restaurant with many indoor and outdoor seating areas. We ate outdoors, with great views of the Alhambra as the sun set over it.

As the day draws to a close, I will post this, and then tomorrow afternoon after my sightseeing, I will do a wrap up post on this year’s cycling/dining/sightseeing experience in Andalucia, Spain. By the way, today's pictures are from the iPhone, since the camera that fell in the water is still drying out.