Monday, March 30, 2015

Figueres, Spain: Ferme La Porte

Our last view of the Mediterranean Sea at L'Escala
John has a brick in his pannier called the Lonely Planet Guide to France.  It weighs a good pound and a half, but it is quite useful for reading about things to see when first arriving in a new region. We found the equivalent guide for Spain that was just a few years old at a thrift store before we left, and since we were only going to be in Spain for a short period, we ripped out the pages for the area we would pass through.  No use having John carry two bricks. 

The description for the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres captured our interest.  The Picasso museum in Barcelona had a special exhibit of Dali’s works, and it was weird enough for us to want to see more.  So we decided to detour a bit to take an afternoon to visit the museum.

Interior courtyard at the Dali Museum.
The museum is housed in a former theater from the 14th century that was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War.  Salvador Dali was born in Figueres in 1904, and by the time he purchased the building in 1961 he was well known and rich.  He spent the last part of his creative life transforming it.  If all you know about Dali is melting clocks, then a visit to this museum will make you appreciate his crazy genius.  Every angle, corridor, stairwell had some kind of surprise -- paintings, sketches, mirrors, jewelry, and sculptures that expressed his vision in multi-dimensions.  Even the exterior was art.
One of a series of sketches by Dali -- kind of a fairy tale look, but the subject is definitely not for kids.

The Mae West room -- the lips are a couch, the eyes are paintings, but peer through the looking glass and she comes into focus!

Eggs are a frequent symbol in Dali's work, but I am still trying to figure out the meaning.
According to the remnant of our guide there was a campground on the outskirts of town that opens in January.  Arriving at the locked gate with a closed sign, we were surprised, but that is what happens when you buy old used books.  We slipped past the barricade and took a look around, and the water faucets worked fine.  We could set up our tent in between a couple of the permanent trailers unseen.  So we were settling in when a vehicle pulled up.  It turned out to be the property owner, making a drive-through before opening the campground the next day. 

He did not speak English, but he tried French, Spanish, and Catalon, of which John chose French to piece together a conversation.  Our bikes were our passport as travelers, and if he was angry that we trespassed he did not express it.  He just wanted to make sure we took our trash and shut off the water and left the place as we found it.  He kept talking and we kept nodding.  He showed us the bathrooms were open and we looked inside and we nodded.  And he kept talking and we kept nodding and he looked back at the open bathroom door and we kept nodding, and then realized he was repeating “ferma la porta, ferma la porta”.  Of course, of course, close the door!
Our little tent at the scene of the trespass.
We assured him we would be gone by 8am the next day, and maybe he was not so sure we understood all his directions, because he came by promptly the next morning. But all was good, -- John asked him if he could pay, and yes ,10 euros would be fine, and the money was exchanged.  We smiled and thanked him and John shook his hand and he gave me a kiss on both cheeks.  And we closed the door on our way out.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Costa Brava, Spain: Along the Big Blue Sea

Our last view of Barcelona looking south.
The morning was overcast and the terrain level on the day we left our camp north of Barcelona.  The skies cleared by noon, and the road started to climb and twist and turn like the serpentine lines on the map.  It was Palm Sunday, the first bright and sunny day after a rainy spell, and we shared the road with packs of racing bikes, fast and roaring motorbikes leaning into the curves, and people out to enjoy the coastal views.  We were the tortoises amongst the hares.
Imagine this beach on a summer day packed with oiled bodies.

Rocky shoreline of Costa Brava
Costa Brava is the name of the Mediterranean coastline north of Barcelona to the border with France.  Resort towns are scattered along the way.  Houses are built on the nearly vertical cliff faces, clinging to the slope but somehow enough room for a swimming pool.  At one point in the afternoon, as we were crawling our way up a grade, I looked town onto someone’s terrace, and there was spread out a holiday feast with the barbacoa going and the family gathered around.
Downhills are a reward after a hard climb.

Mediterranean blue water and rocky shore.
We were feeling good.  At about the 70 kilometer mark in the town of Tossa de Mar we had an opportunity to camp and call it an afternoon, but we did a reality check and and agreed to push on.  We finished off the last 21 kilometers with just enough time before the sun set to find a grocery store and the campground in the town of Sant Feliu du Guixols.  Before leaving on this journey we wondered if we had trained enough or still had it in us to do the big climbs with our loaded bikes.  No more worries
Can't resist another "old and new" shot.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Barcelona, Spain: First Impressions

Our flight and arrival in Barcelona went smoothly with no surprises, a result of John’s good planning.  We flew with Norwegian Air, and we had no complaints.  The flight was half the price of the other airlines we researched, but this is due to their pricing model which itemizes each of the amenities that passengers used to take for granted -- peanuts, pillows, assigned seating, meals, headphones.  You can get those if you pay for them, but we brought our own munchies bag and didn’t miss anything.  Movies, wifi, and bathrooms were free, in case you were wondering.  Our plane was a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, very modern, but the seats didn’t seem any bigger after 10 hours travel and sleeping in a vertical sitting position.

We caught a shuttle that transported us and our cardboard boxes with bikes and gear to the hotel  we pre-booked.  Morning found us still a bit jet lagged and the weather outside cold and drizzling.  So we opted for another night at the hotel to stay dry, assemble the bikes, and go out in search of food and camping fuel.

Negotiating the Barcelona city streets.
 The next morning was cool and breezy but brilliantly sunny, a most perfect day to start cycling to a campground on the north side of the city.  We spent the day as oddities with our fully loaded bikes negotiating the city streets.  We took a few detours, one to the top of Montjuïc where we saw the layout of the city and the steeple of probably Barcelona’s most famous sight, the La Sagrada Familia church.  We dropped down the hill and circled that same church and took in a few of the other wavy-gravy architecture by Gaudi.
View of La Sagrada Familia from Montjuïc
 We were impressed how bicycle friendly it was -- dedicated bike paths and lanes in the core of the city, even in some of the narrowest of streets.  The drivers are calm and patient -- I don’t think anyone honked at us the whole day.  They seem to be used to cyclists.  There were people on bikes, not in great numbers, but a variety -- some on folding bikes with toy wheels, others on the snappy red bike shares, as well as recreational cyclists clan in Lycra.  And once we left the main part of the city we followed the coast north on a bike path that followed the beach and separated from all traffic.  It was great to experience bike infrastructure that works.
Gaudi house in downtown area.

While the crowd was looking up at the Gaudi house, I looked doiwn and was a bit taken with the sidewalk tiles.

La Sagrada Familia, from street level.

Our next day was spent as conventional tourists.  We rode the light rail into town and took in the common attractions -- walked down La Rambla, ate paella at the central market, visited the Picasso museum, and said hello to the Columbus statue on the waterfront.

The classic Gothic lines of the old Barcelona Cathedral.

Another angle of the Barcelona Cathedral

Carzy narrow street in the medieval section of the city.

A carnivore's fantasy at the central market.

How about some chocolate?

Our vendor of choice for lunch, dipped from the paella pan on the right. 

Remnant of a Roman wall from the 3rd century used as a foundation for later construction.
Barcelona is a modern city, and from what we could see, thriving.  There was no trash, no homeless people on the streets, and there still seemed to be a bit of afterglow from the Olympics. There were plenty of trendy shops in the old city, tucked in narrow streets, the bright and shiny displays contrasting with the ancient stone walls.  But what impressed us the most is finding the few sections of Roman walls dating from the 3rd century, almost lost to time, but serving as foundations of subsequent layers of bricks and mortar.  And that is what makes Barcelona and Europe so different from home -- the juxtaposition of the old and new.  We are so ready to see more!
John cycling along the waterfront on the way to our campground north of Barcelona.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pleasant Hill, CA: Anticipation Becomes Reality

The bikes have new tires. Our panniers are filled with camping gear and way too much food. And John has learned enough French to get by. After months of planning and anticipation we are on our way to Europe! It is a few hundred miles from our house to Oakland Airport. On past trips we transported our bikes in our car to my sister's house and left the car in her garage for the duration of the trip. But now we have our own garage, so we decided to find a way to leave the car at home and somehow get ourselves and our bikes over the mountains and to the Bay Area. So two days, two buses, one train, and some muscle power brought us to my sister's doorstep. 
An early morning start, heading towards the June Lake Junction as the sun comes up and the temperature gets above freezing.
We took advantage of the Eastern Sierra Transport Authority (ESTA) bus that stops at June Lake Junction to get us to Reno. We were up early to load the bikes and shut down the utilities at the house. With a few minutes to spare we weighed our gear. It's not like we don't know how to pack light -- we backpack and have done this bike tour thing before. But we had 65 pounds of gear each, not counting the bikes themselves. Ouch! As we were biking from the house to the junction I started listing in my mind what gear to leave at my sister's. Our neighbor Joe passed us on the way, and we unburdened ourselves of a couple pounds of trail mix and other dense food -- I am sure he was glad he stopped! 
Our bikes on the front of the ESTA bus. We appreciated the sturdiness of the racks and that it wasn't snowing.

We stayed the night in Reno on the 23rd floor, looking down on the Amtrak station from where we would depart the next morning. A bus then transported us to Sacramento, and then it was an hour and a half by train to the station in Martinez. We cycled the last ten miles to my sister's house in Pleasant Hill. That familiar feeling of pedaling much and moving slowly on a bike that steers like ship came back. It was a good feeling.   Really!
Downtown Reno from our room.  It was pretty exciting when the Circus Circus clown lit up.
Casting a long shadow at sunrise outside the Amtrak station in Reno.
 We had a couple of layover days, so we had some time to do a Sunday morning ride along the Iron Horse Regional Trail. which follows the former railway right-of-way. It was flat. Our bikes were unloaded. It was easy. Things are going to be a little different when we land in Barcelona, just 20 hours away as I write this. Anticipation will then become reality.
Bridge on the Iron Horse Rail Trail

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