Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday, May 31 2015 -- The Tour Ends

Lee and I in our new cycling kits

Today was our final day of cycling as we had a very easy, mostly downhill, ride into Barcelona. The last 12 miles or so were particularly interesting. For about six miles, we followed the river on a thriving multi-use path, with marked bike lanes and a wide lane for walkers, runners, rollerbladers, skateboarders and various other recreational users. The path took us right to the beach where we regrouped, and for the last six miles we rode as a group, along Barcelona's beautiful beaches, then on the city streets, up the famous Ramblas and then the final two blocks to the hotel. Because of the congestion, we just took it slow and easy.

We were checked into the hotel and had the afternoon to ourselves, before we get together tonight for our farewell dinner in one of the classic restaurants of Barcelona. Unfortunately, my cold is getting worse instead of better (although the cough medicine is helping), so I took a nap before heading out for a stroll. Barcelona is a fabulous city to visit, and I am glad that I have been here before when I felt better and had more time to see the sights.  I will have some time in the morning before I have to head for the airport for a 3:15 pm flight to Paris, where I will spend the night at an airport hotel.

Los Gigantes -- along the way to Barcelona
A very successful tour. Lots of wind, but no rain, for which I am thankful. According to my Garmin cycling computer, we rode 323.6 miles and climbed 22,654 feet. And yet, I still gained weight according to the scale at the spa last evening. Probably the wet bathing suit!!

I have just received some additional photos from Gabrielle and Eric which follow:
Guy, Eric, Gabrielle and Lee

We have arrived in Barcelona

At he meeting point before the last few miles to Barcelona

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

All of our breakfasts have been good to excellent, and today's was particularly good with omelets to order and a wide array of pastries, meats cheeses, granolas, fruits, juices, etc. Is it any wonder that I gain weight on these cycling trips? With one day left to bike, we have cycled just over 300 miles so far.
Olives at the Vic market

After breakfast, we started our day with a brief visit to the market in the Plaza Mayor which was absolutely packed with people. What made this market stand out from ones that I have seen in the past were the vendors selling live poultry and rabbits. 

While we were at the market, I ducked off the square and visited the pharmacy to get some cough and cold medicine. I feel the beginnings of a cold and hope to ward it off before it gets worse. 

From the market, we went to the sausage factory, which was on the third floor of a family business with the meat market on the street floor, a restaurant on the second floor and the sausage manufacturing and food prep on the third floor. In addition to the demonstration of the sausage making, we got to try our hand at it. I was pretty inept at filling the sausage casing -- which was tripe, the small intestine of the pig. I have a video of my attempt, which is too large to incorporate in the blog, but is pretty funny.
At the sausage factory

After that we began our journey away from the foothills of the Pyrenees towards Barcelona. It is obvious that we are getting closer to the city as we see more industrial areas and more congested highways (although we stick to the smaller roads). We had a moderately strong headwind for most of the day, and as it was a short ride (30 miles) I rode all the way to the hotel without stopping for lunch. I got here before the van with the luggage, so I had lunch in the plaza across from the hotel. Once again, I had the butifara and beans (sausage and beans) which is typical of the region, and is the type of sausage we made (and tasted) this morning. The sausage from our factory was definitely better!

Caldes de Montbui, our home for tonight is known as a spa town. We met as a group this evening for a circuit of the four thermal baths in our hotel, spending an hour moving from spa to spa. If the medicine doesn't cure my cold, perhaps the thermal baths will.

Tomorrow we head for Barcelona, our final destination.

Selling live chickens

Gabrielle is a natural at sausage making

Catalunian countryside

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday, May 29, 2015 evening update

We had our evening briefing and learned that tomorrow will involve a deviation from our routine. Rather than cycling immediately after breakfast, we will visit the market for a few photo ops, and then have a visit to a sausage factory. The market will be in the Plaza Mayor, which will be completely transformed from the way we saw it today (empty) -- see the photo in my previous post.

Then we will cycle to Caldes de Montbui, site of hot springs that have been in use since Roman times. We will have an opportunity to take a dip in these, the best-preserved Roman Baths in all of Spain.

Sounds like a full day, so I thought I would update today's notes since it is still early. After the briefing, I went with Lee and Carolynn to the bike store that I had discovered this afternoon.Then, since we had all had a big lunch, we went to a Creperie for a light supper. The Creperie is located right on the Plaza Mayor, and we arrived just in time to see a brief procession of several gigantic figures dress in traditional Catalan costume. It was apparently a preview of a more elaborate display that will take place tomorrow afternoon. We each had an entree crepe (I had goat cheese and caramelized onions) and a dessert crepe (chocolate, coconut and banana for me). That was plenty of sustenance. Then we took a walk to the Roman Temple, and back to the hotel for a relatively early (10 pm) end to another great day in Spain.
Procession of Los Gigantes

Roman Temple in Vic

Friday, May 29, 2015

Today was another perfect cycling day. The ride was just under 40 miles and the big climb of the day was early in the ride while it was still quite cool (about 60 degrees). It was a steady, but not steep, climb lasting about 6 miles and gaining 1600 feet in elevation. I stopped for a well-earned coffee at the top and then continued across the relatively flat top (there was a dip of about 300 feet which we had to then climb back up) before reaching the lunch stop. From there, it was a downhill piece of cake into the City of Vic where we are staying this evening.

The lunch spot was highly recommended, so I stopped even though I arrived before twelve. I relaxed in the sun for a while, waiting for my fellow cyclists. When I finally asked for a menu, the owner told me that he would have one ready in about 10 minutes. (He spoke only a few words of English, so we were communicating in Spanish.) He came to my table with a hand-written menu. (The "menu" in most Spanish restaurants is a prix fixe, three course menu. This was more than I really wanted, but I decided to go ahead rather than try to order ala carte.) I ended up with (1) a huge mound of potato salad surrounded by samples of many local sausages, (2) fried calimari (too greasy, unfortunately), and (3) a freshly made cheese with honey. All in all, it was a great meal and very reasonably priced.

We are on our own for dinner tonight, and there are several highly recommended restaurants here in Vic, but I will probably settle for some light tapas after the big lunch.

Speaking of food -- last night's dinner, near the hotel, started off with an excellent gazpacho with bowls of garnishes (onions, red peppers, cucumber, and croutons) to be added to taste. What made it memorable was the small ball of ice cream in the center of the gazpacho -- we were told that it was balsamic vinegar ice cream.

The same newspaper in two languages

On a previous visit to Barcelona and again on this trip, I have been fascinated by the fact of two languages -- Catalan and Spanish. Catalan is more prevalent (especially here in Vic) bus Spanish is widely understood. Vic is the center of the Catalan separatist or autonomy movement. As Rick explained to us last night this is a complex issue. The conservatives are closely aligned with the central government in Madrid and oppose any notion of separatism. The moderates push for more autonomy but recognize that independence from Spain is an unrealistic (and probably undesirable) objective. The liberals push for independence but would undoubtedly be happy with less. What they really want,  is more say over what happens to their taxes. Because of the booming economy in Catalunya, second only to Madrid, the Catalans send  far more money per capita to Madrid than the value of what they get back. In other words, they are subsidizing the poorer parts of Spain.

Plaza Mayor in Vic
I enjoyed walking through the City of Vic this afternoon, and will walk more this evening, after our briefing. An interesting feature of the city is its large Plaza Mayor (the central square that is found in every Spanish city and town). It is hard packed dirt and not paved, recalling the traditional plazas of the past. Vic is also famous for its sausage. I stopped to take a picture of the front of one store selling sausage (with lots of them hanging outside) and the proprietor came running out, insisting that I come in to sample his sausage. Of course, he then wanted me to buy one -- but I had no need for a large piece of sausage that I would never get through customs.

Only two days of cycling left.

Close-up of statue outside Episcopal Museum

Sausage shop

Free air for your bicycle

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Today was the kind of cycling that I enjoy -- a good distance (48 Miles), a good amount of climbing (over 4000 feet), not too steep, no wind (but enough of a breeze to take the edge off the heat of the early afternoon). The first couple of blocks after leaving the hotel were teeth-rattling cobblestones, and then we had a mile or so of city traffic, but after that we had the roads to ourselves, through rolling countryside. This is billed as the most challenging day of the tour. It was challenging, but given the wind that we had on a couple of the other longer days, I am not sure it was the most challenging. At any rate it was fun, and I arrived at the hotel in time for a quick dip in the pool, a quick washing of some bike clothes (the last time that I should need to that on this trip), and now the  blog.

Yesterday I took 126 pictures; today I only took four, so I will catch up with a couple more from yesterday. Here you see the hotel dining room in the hotel Duran that I mentioned, and then a photo of the group of us (ten riders and three guides) outside the Dali Museum. It was the last time we would all be together, since Gary, Sybil and Amy left this morning for their tour in Majorca, and Montse is off to lead a tour on the Camino de Santiago. We stopped a local cyclist and asked him to take the picture so that we could all be in it. Imagine his surprise when we handed him at least half a dozen phones and cameras to take pictures with. He was a great sport about it.

Today we left the flat plains surrounding Girona and headed further inland toward the "serralada transversal" mountain range. Toward the end of the ride we entered the Natural Park and Volcanic area of "La Garroxta." It is an area with much more rainfall and heavily forested.

We stopped in Banyoles for
Hotel Duran Dining Room

In front of the Dali Museum, Figueres

Tramuntana street --named after the winds that we have been expeiencing

The lake at Banyoles
lunch, with most of us getting take out sandwiches (bocadillos para llevar in Spanish -- I haven't even tried to pick up any phrases in Catalan) and enjoying a rest by the lake in town.

Tonight we will have dinner as a group. I expect that it will be much quieter than the loud and fun-filled dinner that we had last night in Figueres as we bid farewell to those whose tour was ending at that point.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I will start with a picture of the restaurant where we wanted to dine last night, El Rococo. It was designed by Dali and had an interesting Middle Eastern Menu. Unfortunately, it was closed. Sybil and I are in the back row; Montse and Joan in the front row.We ended up eating at Es Seco instead, which was a very pleasant choice.
Wishing that El Rococo would open

Today was a multi-modal day. We biked/walked the half-mile or so from the hotel to the harbor where we loaded out bikes, and then ourselves, on a small boat and took an hour and a half cruise to the port city of Roses. It was a very attractive small city, with a very active and immaculately clean fishing pier with markets selling the fresh seafood. After a leisurely coffee, we boarded our bikes and rode the 20 miles to the city of Figueres our destination for this evening. As promised, we still had some head winds and tail winds (the "tramuntana" -- I have finally learned the name) for the first part of the ride, but we had a nice tail wind for the second half. 
Loading the bikes

Approaching the Port of Roses

Guy and Natalie
 Upon arrival in Figueres, I joined Gary, Sybil and Amy for a delightful lunch in the Plaza which was directly across the street from our hotel, the Duran.  It is a very nice hotel with a truly elegant dining room -- we will be eating somewhere else this evening for our farewell dinner for Gary, Sybil and Amy who are heading for Majorca for another bike tour. The remaining seven of us will continue our journey to Barcelona.
My new found friend in Figueres

Dali self-portrait


This afternoon we had an English language guided tour of the Dali museum, the second most visited museum in Spain (the Prado in Madrid is first.) We only had an hour and a half -- I think I could easily spend several days or a week there. It was truly a highlight of this trip. 

Dinner beckons, so I will close for today. Another great day in Spain. Hasta manana

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The group, at Portlligat, May 26, 2015
Today was a nice, restful, easy day. It is a scheduled rest day, and as I mentioned yesterday, the optional ride for today was cancelled because the wind continues to be very strong. This wind is a
periodic phenomenon caused by storm systems far to the North, and usually lasts 3-5 days. We seem to be having it for longer than usual.

We gathered this morning for a walk to Portlligat, where the summer home of Salvador Dali is located. After a few pictures and a walk around, some of the group opted to continue on a fairly strenuous hike to the lighthouse at Cap de Creus, the  most easterly point on the Iberian peninsula. Those who went said that it was a great hike, and they returned via the route that we would have  biked. I think that they all felt that they were glad that they were not trying to bike it in today's wind -- in fact, walking was difficult at times.
With my friend, Salvador Dali
The wind does have one benefit. I did a little washing today and put it on the balcony to dry, As long as you can secure it so that it does not blow away, it dries very quickly,

I did not do the longer hike, but took the leisurely route back to town, taking pictures and having a pleasant tapas lunch in town.

This afternoon we took the van and made a short visit to a small local winery. It was interesting, and the location near the highest point on yesterday's ride was very picturesque.

Sculpture on top of Casa S. Dali

Portlligat, seen from above

Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday, May 25, 2015

Steve limbering up before the start

Montse (one of our guides)

Rick and Any before the ride

Me, at the Empuries (Greek) ruins.

Cadaques seen from above

Our hotel
Today was another wonderful day, but I need to start with a story about last evening. Five of us were enjoying a dinner in a very nice restaurant with a pleasant, quiet, ambiance. Just before dessert, the sound system started blaring "We are the Champions" so loudly that I yanked my hearing aids off. We could hear wild celebrations in the bar and on the street outside. The election results had just been announced! The conservatives had held all 9 seats in the local government (city council?) for the last 28 years. Today, the left party (Catalan separatists) took 4 of those seats. Four of nine is not a majority, but a huge step forward, giving them negotiating strength, and the celebration was intense.

Today's highlights were the wind, a visit to the well-preserved Greek ruins at Empuries, the crossing of the Pyrenees (albeit a very little piece), the wind, the beautiful city of Cadaques, where we will spend two nights, and, (did I mention), the wind.

Lest anyone thing I exaggerate about the wind, I should point out that we just had our evening briefing. Tomorrow's ride has been cancelled because of the wind which is expected to pick up even more,  We will hike instead.  Off to dinner, now. Will finish this post later.

Just learned that the forecast is for the winds tomorrow to be 40 miles per hour, with much stronger gusts close to the sea.  Good decision not to ride.

Dinner tonight was excellent, as usual. We ate at Compartir (which means "to share"). The entire dinner consisted of plates of small portions of delicacies to be shared.  How about rabbit ribs with an apple aioli? Far too many others to remember, let alone mention, but you get the idea.

Cadaques, where we are staying was the home of Salvador Dali for many years. His museum is at Figueres, which we will be visiting in a few days. In the meantime, we will enjoy this postcard-picture-perfect harbor town.

The ride today was 46 miles long, ending with a climb up and over one (little) piece of the Pyrenees. The climb was not too steep, but the wind made it difficult. The descent, however, was really beautiful.

Early in the ride we stopped at Empuries, the only part of the Iberian peninsula, where the remnants of an entire Greek city can be found. It is remarkably well preserved, and you can see the ancient agora (the central square or market place) and the temple of Asclepius, the god of medicine.

I had missed the marking for the suggested lunch stop, so I fueled up with a banana and an energy bar before tackling the hill, arriving in Cadaques in time to explore and take a few pictures before our evening meeting.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Another great day in Spain as we cycled 43 miles, incorporating a
visit to a pottery workshop, an out and back climb to add a little variety
to an otherwise flat ride, a leisurely lunch on a pleasant patio, and a
detour to some Iberian ruins dating back to the sixth century BC. We were
riding through a region known as Baix Emporda, an area famous for its
several medieval towns, most of them very well kept.

Early in the ride we made out stop at the pottery workshop in la Bisbal,
where we had a demonstration of the artist's techniques. Following this, we
deviated from our loop ride and did a climb off about 500 feet elevation. It
was not steep and quite easy, and apparently we violated a basic rule of
nature -- we had a tail wind going up and a head wind coming down! At the
top, there was a brief view of the city.

After the descent, we cotinued on, stopping at several small medieval towns
for pictures, and ultimately stopping for lunch in Fontanilles at a pleasant
restaurant on a hillside which offered outside tables with a nice view. I
started with a green salad (excellent) and then had the traditional Catalan
dish of a grilled local variety of sausage and white beans. It was quite
tasty and provided fuel for the afternoon's riding. Although we ride fairly
independently, sevwn of us regrouped at this lunch spot which made it all
the more enjoyable.

The highlight of the afternoon was a slight detour to the fascinating
arechaelogical site about a mile from the village of Ullastret. This
pre-Roman site was occupied continuously from the sixth cenntury BC until
about 1700, when it was mysteriously abandoned. The ruins are in excellent
condition and demonstrate a remarkably advanced civilization. They had a
special "severed heads" exhibition based on the recent discovery of some
ancient human skulls with long nails driven through them. Apparently the
heads were taken as trophies after a successful battle and then nailed to
the wall to "send a message."

I got back to the hotel around five and had a very welcome shower before
settling down to write this note. We have our evening briefing in about half
an hour, and then are on our own for dinner tonight.

I'll close with a brief mention of last night's dinner. After our olive oil
tasting we were served dinner in a private dining room. It was another
extravaganza, with many starter dishes for sharing (including quail eggs,
duck ham, snails and other every day delicacies). The main course choices
were squid or grilled rabbit. I had the rabbit which was a little over done,
but still tasty, and had a taste of the squid which was excellent.

Time to wrap this up and head for the briefing about tomorrow's ride.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015

It is hard to believe that it is Saturday already. Today was our
second full day of riding, and it was very different from yesterday. It was
only 25 miles in total, but we had strong "breezes" as we turned inland from
the coast. So, there was plenty of opportunity to stop for coffee, gelato,
photos and lunch.

We left our hotel and followed along the beach, riding for much of the time
on the "boardwalk," which, for the most part was a paved surface rather than
wood. Because we were comparatively early, there were few beachgoers and the
route was easy to navigate. The first major beach that we passed had a sand
sculpture contest in progress. It must have been going on for a few days
because most of the sculptures were begininning to detriorate. Still, they
had been very well executed. The all faced away from the water, so the sun
was behind them and it was difficult to get any good pictures.

Just before leaving the beach and heading inland, we stopped for coffee at a
pleasant little bar right on the water. Then we headed inland, riding for a
while on hard-packed trails similar to what we had yesterday. We passed
through several sall towns, inclluding Palafrugelll where it was market day
and there were lots of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish on display. I had
a quick waltk-through, bought a gelato (quite inferior) and then pedaled on
to the small medieval town of Pals, where I joined Lee and Carolyn for a
walk through the old city before having a "lucky burger" for lunch. (The
lucky burger is distinguished by the guacamole on it; the "goat burger"
features a generous goat cheese). Not exactly cuisine of the region, but we
have had, and will continue to have, lots of that.

The last 7 kilometers brought us to Peratallada,, where we will be for two
nights. Although it was cold, I did take a quick dip in the pool. I still
hope to get in the Mediterranean later in the week, but it just looked too
cold yesterday.

Tonight we have an olive oil tasting before dinner. We have WiFi here, but
the signal is very week, so I am hoping that this will post properly.

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.