Contents 1 Montreal to Madrid, Wed. Sept 17 / Thurs. Sept 18
2 Madrid, Fri. Sept. 19
3 Madrid to Valdemorillo, Sat. Sept. 20
4 Valdemorillo to El Escorial, Sun. Sept. 21
5 El Escorial to Puerto de Navacerrada, Mon. Sept. 22
6 Puerto de Navacerrada to Segovia, Tues. Sept. 23
7 Segovia to Cantalejo, Wed. Sept 24
8 Cantalejo to Rio Bañuelos, Thurs. Sept. 25
9 Rio Bañuelos to Rio Pedrosa, Fri. Sept, 26
10 Rio Pedrosa to Najera, Sat. Sept. 27
11 Najera to River Ebro, Sunday Sept. 28
12 Rio Ebro to Berberana, Mon. Sept. 29
13 Berberana to Bilbao, Tues. Sept 30
14 Bilbao to Gorliz, Wed. Oct. 1
15 Gorliz to (almost) Ondarroa, Thurs. Oct. 2
16 Ondarroa to Donestia/San Sebastian, Fri. Oct. 3
17 Donestia, Sat. Oct. 4
18 Donestia to Madrid, Sun. Oct. 5
19 Madrid, Mon. Oct. 6
20 Madrid to Montreal, Tues. Oct. 7
22 Google Earth Map of trip
This is another web special and it allows me, hopefully to see something that has fascinated me ever since I first heard about it, the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
The flight was quite uneventful, but did have a lost baggage scare and because of it, we were 30min late leaving Montreal. I never regret the removal of bags of a missing passenger. One lady, who was going to Dublin asked me if it was more important to take off bags than to have passengers make their connections. I suggested to her that it was probably most important that the plane not get blown out of the sky. Her reply, ``I didn't think of that.''
Air Canada service quite good. There was no bar service, but the wine with dinner, although not exemplary, was still free. My seat companion, Andrea, was a figure skating teacher who was interrupting her career to see what she could do after becoming a specialist in International Business and Spanish. I managed to make her flight quite enjoyable by preventing her from being awakened while she slept through the entire flight.
The bags made it, and I was easily able to put everything together. Getting out of the airport was quite difficult because of new construction. Much to my dismay, and the intense irritation of some Spanish drivers, I ended up on the autovia. With some difficulty, I extricated myself from the peril and went back to the airport to try to discover a graceful exit and an entry for my return.
This detour was not without trauma. Before I left, I tried very hard to protect the front and rear derailleurs from being smashed. I thought that I had been successful, but as I was trying to ride out of the airport, the rear derailleur got caught in the spokes and was totally destroyed. I gave up trying to fix it and reduced my bike into a single speed. It was either this, or being completely dead in the water. I now found my way out, and know how to get back.
There were only a few small hills, but I did sorely miss the gears. Although I didn't really know where I was going, I found Camping Osuna, discovered I was too early to check in and went into Cannellas to get food, camping gas, and hopefully, a new derailleur. I was successful with the food, found a bicycle/motorcycle shop who had a rear derailleur, but not the MegaRange that I needed. I will look again tomorrow in Madrid. I may be here more days than I had planned.
I did not find the camping gas, but was able to borrow a stove from two German girls from Dusseldorf.
Camping Osuna has gotten some bad press on the Internet. It is not the nicest campground that I have stayed in, but it is actually quite pleasant, and I can write comfortably in the large, clean servicios (bathrooms).
It is another beautiful California day. My main mission for today is to convert my bike back to its normal 18 speeds. However, my experience shows that you can't find a bike store at random. My plan is to find the tourist office and ask there.
That was not to be the case. As I was riding into the center of Madrid, a girl on a motor scooter came by and asked ``Are you from Canada?,'' `` Yes'', I said and it turned out she had lived in Canada twice, once in Montreal and the other time in Vancouver. I caught up to her again as she was parking her scooter and asked her if she knew of any bicycle store. She said ``Yes, there was one two blocks back down a side street.'' Unfortunately, there were two streets angling off at that point and I took the wrong one. After unsuccessfully going around in a circle, and continuing towards the tourist office she came by again and asked ``Did you find it?''. After I explained my lack of success, she led me back, and even offered to come in as a translator. That was not necessary, and although they did not have the correct derailleur, they directed me to Calmera, probably the biggest bike store in Madrid. Calmera had the correct derailleur, and after straightening the frame, bending the new derailleur to fit, I was back to my normal gears. It was so nice to have a functioning bike again. Next time I will take off the rear derailleur to see if that will protect both it and the frame.
The centre of Madrid seems to be museums, monuments, and plazas. It is really quite pleasant, and rather overrun with tourists from everywhere.
There also was some entertainment.
The bullring in the Plaza Toros is the largest in the world, but it dates only from 1929.
While I was there, another old man came and insisted that he take my picture, with my camera, in front of the Plaza Toros. He did, and I insisted to that his wife join me. He also complimented me on the newest improvement in my equipment, kick stands on my trailer. They allow me great freedom to stop, and take pictures.
From there I continued back towards Camping Osuna, and detoured to the historically uninteresting, recreation Jaun Carlos I Park.
It was a good day.
Getting out of big cities is always a challenge, but Madrid is especially difficult as it appears that almost all the entries are autovias. I was told, as I was checking out, that I should take the N6 to get to El Escorial. There was no N6 on my map, but there was a direct road, the A6, which appears to be the current version of the N6.
The ride through Madrid was uneventful, slowly rising until the sharp drop through the University into the Manzanares river valley. The A6 appeared as it should, an autovia with no signs preventing bicycles, and a small paved shoulder. It was legal, but not terribly pleasant. Often, I was gently shunted off onto the service road. Usually this ran strictly parallel and came back on easily. Occasionally, I was really shunted off into town, which in some cases was really new housing.
One of these times I was trying to solve the puzzle of where to go next, Juan, a retired(?) brain surgeon who was out riding with his wife Kirsten, asked me where I was going. I said I was going to El Escorial but didn't really know where to go next. He offered to guide me through the next section, which was on the way to his house. This, in contrast to what I had been going through was a delightful old residential housing. After several kilometres, near their house, Kirsten stopped to buy bread. It was about 12:30pm and Juan invited me to have lunch with them. I gladly accepted and after we were joined by their son, who happened to be in town, had an absolutely wonderful lunch with some Carlsberg beer (Kirsten is Danish), rice, a chicken and fried tomatoes, pimentos and chilies, a green salad, the fresh bread that Kirsten bought on our way back, and some wonderful melon. It was a thoroughly delightful time, and I was reluctant to leave at 3:30pm. We had long discussions at lunch about the best way to ride to El Escorial and Juan rode with me to the point where it would be very easy to continue on the way that we had selected, the M509 through Majadahonda.
This part of Spain is very reminiscent of California,
even to the point of having such things as the Villanueva El Pardillo, which unlike some places like Neu Ulm in Germany, does not date back to the 12th century.
It even had a sign, this time done correctly of ``La Cañada'' which had me very confused when I was a student at Caltech in Pasadena.
In Spain, these are the stop signs.
Perhaps it is only in the colonies that they get so upset about what is inside the red hexagon.
At about 6:00pm, it was quite obvious that I was not going to get to El Escorial, and at about 7:00pm, I had arrived at Valdemorillo, that, according to my map, had a campground. After getting some very needed supplies, I asked directions to the campground. I knew I was closing in on it, but failed to understand well enough to be able to find it. Fortunately I was able to refill my water bottle, so it would have been possible to ``wild camp'' if necessary. As I was starting back up the road to El Escorial, I saw it across a field, on another road that was running parallel. There was no obvious way to get to it, but I finally did. It was not clear that I would have had any better luck finding it if all the instructions had been in English.
It was after sunset when I started to set up my tent, and quite dark when I took my cold shower. However, it was a great day.
It was another beautiful day and I left with few complications. Again, except for the stone fences, the countryside is very reminiscent of California.
It was a very short 15km ride, with only a short delay to make some more airplane caused repairs, to El Escorial. The highlight here is the Monasterio San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
I rode up to the monastery through the huge monastery park and gardens,
where I had my first close-up of the basilica dome, which really defines the monastery.
and when I had finally climbed all the way up, I arrived beside the monastery itself.
and went inside to visit the Basilica.
The monastery is not really in El Escorial which is down the hill, but in San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It is this that is the real attraction of the area. At a little over 1000m (3300') it was cool, sunny, and crowded on this Sunday afternoon.
All I saw here, and on my way up, were cafes and stuff shops. I wonder how the residents survive.
After getting a map for San Lorenzo from the tourist office, I tried to find the hostel, that also allowed camping. Unfortunately, I didn't notice that there were two #17 on the map. When I found the general vicinity of the first one, I asked a young couple who had just arrived home where it was. Then I saw that there was a second #17 on the map, way over, and apparently very far down the ridge on the other side of town. They gave me good bicycle directions (wrong way down a one-way street) to get back to the monastery that had the advantage that it was all down hill.
The west side of the monastery is perched right on the side of the cliff.
At the tourist office, the nice lady got her pen, and corrected the first #17 to a #2. She offered, and did phone the hostel and got no answer. Perhaps it was just as well that I missed the turn going down the hill to El Escorial.
On the 6km ride east of town to Camping El Escorial I passed this war in the field.
Camping El Escorial is a huge tenting, RV, and cabin park with, apparently lots of facilities including a supermercado. This is Sunday so it was indeed wishful thinking to hope that it was open. However it had been open.
It was a good day with tough climbs up into San Lorenzo de El Escorial and in the town itself.
Today I intended to go all Segovia but a couple of wrong turns, and legs that gave out during a continuous 900m (3000') climb meant that I ended up in Puerto de Navacerrada. This is the profile of the hills that did me in.
My first mistake was due to the interpretation of the location of the camping symbol on my Michelin Atlas. The symbol it self was not on the road of the location of the campground but really associated with the town El Escorial. At least I think that was the problem. The end result of the mistake was that I went back to San Lorenzo, climbed all the way up into town. That climb is the first bump of 100m on the profile. I asked two different people where the road was and both gave the same answer ``Straight back.'' in the direction I had just come. However this detour was not a real loss. I was able to completely reprovision at the huge Champion Supermercado and did not see another grocery for the entire day.
The major climb of the day was over the Sierra de Guadarramma. This was wooded mountain range of 2000m ridges passing some small towns up to the pass, Puerto de Navacerrada. There was a turn due north just before the really sustained steep climb of about 500m. I missed that turn and dropped about 70m before I decided that I was really going the wrong direction. Coming back the turn was really very obvious. The really strange thing was that this turn was really an exit and was not accessible from the other direction. That was why there was no sign.
After about 300m (1000') of climb, my legs were really feeling wasted. I started to look really seriously for a place to camp. I rejected one because it was not wonderful and it was only 4:30pm. There was no other possibility before I reached Puerto de Navacerrada at 6:30pm. I wouldn't have made it by then if I hadn't pushed up most of the last 100m climb.
Just below the town I found the first flat spot that I had seen all day. It was the top of the road leading down to the train station and some restaurants. Just down the road, up over a bank, was a nice secluded spot, about the size of my tent with a fantastic view of the valley leading up to the pass. It was impossible to get up over the bank, but a small trail led down from the top of the road.
Although I rode only 37km, it was a good, exhausting day. I am really a tourist, not a road racer like the several groups of cyclists that passed me.
I thought that I was almost at the pass, but there was still a 100m climb in less than 1km. It would have been devastating last night.
Although the valley going down looks rather uninteresting,
it was really very pleasant once I actually got into the woods.
It was steeper on this side, but I rode down slowly, enjoying the coolness and the trees.
My first tourist stop of the day was to see the gardens at the Palacio Real in San Ildefenso La Granja. You were first greeted by the large trees and flowers in front - really the back of the castle.
The gardens, on the other side, were the attempt of Spanish Royalty to outdo Versaille. Some of it was moderately formal,
and a large part of it was woods with some decoration.
Some of the decoration required maintenance.
The real attraction of the gardens are the fountains.
If you come after 5:30pm on selected days, you might be able to see some of them actually spouting. There were also lots of cascading pools, but these looked as though they have not cascaded for centuries.
There was sufficient water in some of these pools to be home for some swans and ducks.
One highlight of the gardens was the Laberinto. To give you a better chance at surviving, there was a map at the entry.
The walls were reasonably opaque,
but they were not taking any chance of destruction from lost cheaters.
At the centre of the maze, all the entrances look the same, and someone decided not to take any chances.
With this hint, it was not very difficult to get back out, and back to the castle.
It was only 8km to Camping Acueducto, where I set up my tent, and reduced the load in my trailer to tools and computer before I went into Segovia.
The aqueduct was truly impressive.
It is really incredible that a structure so large had only a 30cm (1 foot) wide channel at the top. Perhaps this is not really original.
The upper, old city was a delight.
but on the way up, you overlooked the old lower city outside the walls.
The house facades show the Moorish influence.
The Cathedral appeared to be undergoing renewal and was closed,
but the Alcazar, which supposedly inspired Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disneyland, was quite open.
Disney, though was not really able to duplicate the moat and the walls.
or the views.
The ceilings were the really impressive part of the interior.
This was fortified for millennia and home, occasionally for royalty.
I continued riding around the old city, and the new, and then went back to camp. It was a good day.
I left Segovia at just about noon after checking my email and sending a journal report. The road climbed out to the north east and I had my last vistas of the prow of the boat that is sometimes used to describe the city.
It was a relatively easy ride over a countryside of mostly brown grass,
with an occasional field of very dead sunflowers.
I don't know if they had a suicide pact, died in their sleep, or what, but they were all facing the same direction. In French, their name is tournesol, so it is a trifle mysterious.
Interspersed among the brown were several small villages, usually nestled at the bottom of deep river valleys.
About 37km away from Segovia, is the small town of Turéngano, with an incredibly strange castle.
It originally was a church and was built by a Bishop who felt that his faith was not strong enough to keep him safe.
Further up the road I ran into my first mob of sheep. Mob, instead of flock is commonly used in New Zealand to describe the behaviour of sheep when you were trying to herd them. Here the shepherd, with his dogs, was trying to prevent them from crossing the road in the wrong place. His shouts at them were ``HOLA'' (``hello'' in Spanish).
A few minutes later he successfully got them across at the appropriate spot, just before the arrival of two cars.
My destination for the day was to be the campground in Cantalejo, which I found quite easily. However, it was very shut down. Right beside it was a huge wooded park, spanning both sides of the road. The south side was moderately civilised but the north was quite wild. There was virtually no underbrush but I got about 200m from the road and so was quite discreet. Except for the biting flies, it was really very pleasant. One nice aspect was the flies disappeared at sunset.
Today was a long (95km), relatively easy day that started with a very slight downhill but was punctuated by some deep river valleys. There were more hills than yesterday,
but they were quite civilised. On one of these hills, was the Torre and village of Torregalindo.
I did not meet any mobs of sheep in New Zealand, but there was a second one today.
The major town of the day was Aranda. The inner city had some charm, but was definitely lacking prosperity.
From there I rode over mostly flat brown country to reach the province of Burgos first historical village, Peñaranda. It is a dusty brown, and was almost deserted.
Its small church, Collegiata de Santa Ana, also on the town square, was quite quiet. Opposite it was the Pallacio de Avellanda, whose courtyard was the only part open.
Again, it was a ceiling that I found most interesting.
The jewel of the village, though, is the Palacio Condes de Miranda.
I found the road to it as I was riding up, out of the village, but decided it was too late to visit.
This village looks rather poor with the only open, and totally vacant, establishments being bars. Their only grocery, a Spar, consisted of closed small door, with no windows anywhere. I had been looking, all through Aranda for an open grocery store with no success. Here my lack of success continued.
Since this is really late harvest I believed them when they said they were very sweet - and they were.
It was now almost 6:00pm, and I still wanted to buy some wine for supper. I had everything else I needed. I also needed a place to camp. In Hontoria de Valdèarados, hidden away in a small square, way up the hill, sort of, behind the church, and at 6:25pm, I found the single, small, single room, 3m square (10') grocery store. They opened at 6:30pm, but the proprietress was outside chatting, and opened up early. She had one choice of wine, which I took and started north to find a place to camp.
This did not have the nice woods between Peñaranda and Hontoria, but my map did show the Rio Bañuelos about 5km north of town. The name Rio, was a little exaggerated, but there was water in the small stream and a path running along it into some trees. In about 15m, the path widened enough to pitch my tent. Having excess, albeit, less than clean water meant that I could wash more clothes than normal. In addition, unlike Italy, where everyplace like this that I saw was a trash heap, it was completely clean.
It was a good day.
Today I continued along the Mesa Castillo until it began to change into the beginnings of the Cordillera Castillo.
Then I reached the incredibly narrow Yecla Gorge. My first view of it revealed nothing,
and even as you were right on top of it, it did not appear to exist.
It is, in fact so narrow, that you can easily touch both sides at the same time. It is possible to actually see it, and get inside, because a concrete pathway has been built right inside.
I had already paid my climbing dues to get here because I came from the south. I continued 2km down to pretty village of Santa Domingo de Silos.
Santa Domingo de Silos has the classiest town map that I have ever seen.
Its streets were very clean, and pretty.
This appears to be a prime tourist destination, possibly because the monks of he monastery had a top selling Gregorian Chant CD in the early 90s and the proximity of the Yecla Gorge. The town really exists because of the monastery.
I continued along the quiet Burgos provincial road up through a relatively wide river gorge,
past some buttes,
until I really started to drop into a large valley to Salas de las Infantes. I, of course, started to pay for my down, with the beginning of the climb to the Reserva la Demanda and my crossing of the actual Cordillera Castilla. On the way up, I passed a castle reconstruction that was, evidently, not using traditional methods.
The beginning of the climb was through country that reminded me of the pampas in Argentina.
As I got higher, it got greener, and, in one way, less hospitable. I am very slow going up hill, and the Spanish version of voracious black flies and bush flies can easily keep up. For the second time today, I stopped to put on some insect repellent. It seemed to do the job. The swarms stayed about 3cm from my face, with only the occasional bad flier landing. If this continues, I will not have enough repellent.
I reached the beginning of the reserve, and started climbing up beside the Rio Pedrosa. This river is a fishing preserve, meaning you can fish, but for the most part, you needed to be a mountain goat to get down to the river. After sometime, I found a dirt track, that soon degenerated to rocks that was passable. Near the end, there was a sandy/rocky semi-flat spot, and that was where I pitched my tent.
This is also my first introduction to rain, or at least drizzle in Spain. Tonight I needed my rain fly.
It drizzled on and off all night but was nicely off, when I finally decided it was time to take down a very wet tent. It remained rain free, and pleasantly overcast all day.
My first stop was just 2km up the road in Barbadillo de Herreros to have my early morning banana.
This village is apparently typical of the small isolated villages in the area. The only commercial establishment is a Bar, which opens only in the late afternoon and evening. All bread, meat, and groceries are brought in by a roving truck on different days of the week. Don't miss it, or you out of luck!. How do I know? I talked to a young guy who was building his house, and came up to the fountain to get a drink of water. He said he would probably have to drive somewhere to get breakfast because there was no place in the village.
The mountains of the Sierra de la Demanda kept with me as I climbed out of the village,
but changed into a more typical dry brush as I entered La Rioja.
It was downhill for most of the rest of the day, all the way to Najera.
On one of these high speed downhill sections I heard the loud bang of a blowout. It was the rear tire, and unfortunately, it was a rim break. On this trip, and also to Japan, I did not carry my spare tire because of some new Park tire patches that I had bought. These will apparently fix disastrous punctures but appear to be completely useless for this type of problem. In this situation, you are usually forced to walk or hitchhike. However, I do carry lots of electrical cable ties so I used them to try to hold the tire together. Unfortunately, the quality control, even on the best ones, is not perfect so I went through several before I found 3 pairs that would hold. One penalty for this repair was that I had to remove the rear breaks. This meant that I spent the rest of the day controlling my speed with my front brake, and wondering if the cable ties would hold. On my next banana break I discovered that one had popped off, so I replaced it by two more. They did last all the way to Najera, where I added 3 more before I set up my tent. I arrived rather early, 5:15pm but the only bicycle store in town was closed. Tomorrow is Sunday so I expect it will remain closed.
The cool, overcast, and downhill was more than welcome. I passed the Embalse Mansilla - Mansilla Reservoir, which clearly was in need of more water. It was a tentative destination yesterday, but fortunately I did not make it.
Although the water was low, it evidently had been lower.
Below the dam, I rode down the Najerilla River and gorge with 500m (1600') ridges on either side.
Anguino was the prettiest little town on the way down.
I arrived in Najera, to find not only the bicycle store closed, but also their only campground. The owner had no sympathy for a bicycle rider so I had to look elsewhere. The campground is on the edge of a huge, wild park, that, unfortunately for me is crisscrossed by paths, studded with park benches. The toughest problem was finding a spot that was virtually invisible. I found one, and then found a second, totally hidden, down by the river. When I arrived with my bike, I discovered, a small campfire had suddenly burst into flame. It had either been abandoned or I was not alone. I decided not to stay and opted for my first spot.
All in all, it was not a bad day, but it has been a drizzly night again. So much for getting my tent dry.
I climbed out of Najera in early morning mist and dark skies, tackling some of the ridges that make Rioja wine famous.
It may have been Sunday, but the harvest had to continue.
There were, of course, small villages and towns, dotting the hills. Briones was slightly larger, and a welcome excuse to get off the N232 on which I was recently forced.
Haro is the centre of the Rioja wine district, apparently had a campground, and hopefully a bicycle store. I didn't find either, but I was able to buy some Rioja wine in the small Cuna del Vino, wine boutique that happened to be open today.
I continued out of Haro, and up towards the mountains that I had been seeing once I got over the first few ridges.
As I turned north on the Ruta Medieval, towards them, Sajazarra and its castle looked well worth a stop. By now the sun had come out in full force, and the small town was really pretty.
Their church dates from the 13th century.
However, it was the Castillo Sajazarra that was the real jewel.
Right beside the castle and church was the village gate.
The highlight of the visit started as I was locking up my bike in the Plaza Mayor. A car stopped, and the lady said, ``I have three Canadian flags!''. Natalie from Calgary, and her husband Carlos, who was born in Sajazarra, are now living in Logroño, but still own Carlo's house here in town where he grew up.
As I was wandering around town they drove by me again, and invited me to get in the car and come for a quick glass of wine before they drove back to Logroño. I was expecting to sit down in the square with them, but they drove to Carlos house where I was invited in to, have a glass, see their small wine cellar, and his house.
This is their retreat from the big city. Carlos invited me to come and stay with them, leaving my bike at his place, but I was really anxious to get on to Bilbao.
After the visit, I climbed up over the mountains to Miranda de Ebro, my second large town of the day. It was now late enough so that I could stay, if I could find the campground and information on a bicycle store. I followed the signs to the tourist office, and gave up on that when it pointed into the middle of a large square with nothing in sight. A young couple that I asked seemed to think it did not exist.
That was enough so I continued up north parallel to the Rio Ebro, stopping once to blow up my rear tire again because it was getting very soft. By the time I found a place to camp by the Rio Ebro, it had gone flat again. It was clear that my repair had essentially died and that the tube had been pinched.
After I set up my tent, I took the wheel apart again, and put my last patch halfway in and outside the tire, using electrical tape to help it stick to the outside. Hopefully it will last until Bilbao.
This camping spot has, unfortunately, been very well used, and is a little trashy. However it is sufficiently large that I could find a clean place back in the trees.
This was an eventful day, with a trip back to Miranda. The Park tire patch did not hold, and neither did the glueless tube patches. I rode about 5km north and stopped at a gas station to add air to the back tire. I had just repacked everything when I discovered that the rear tire was, again, very flat. There was another leak that had not been patched (a small thorn was in the tire). But that was not the end of it. I pumped it up again, and before I was ready to leave it was flat again. This time it was the original Park glueless patches that were leaking - so much for convenience. I gave up on that tube, put in my last new one, and started back to Miranda. Just as I passed last night's camping spot, the tire patch gave way and I was really dead in the water. I started hitchhiking and in about 10min, Luis stopped. After seeing my problem, he new I needed help but felt that it was impossible in his small car. I said ``Uno momento'', and folded my bike. That went in his trunk, along with my backpack, and the rest of the trailer, without its wheel shared his back seat with a baby seat.
The first bicycle store was closed but he took me to a second one that was open. I got two tires, three tubes, and a patch kit, and reassembled everything. Just before I finished, the lady in the store came out and asked if I needed anything more, because she was going to close and go to lunch. I don't think I could have found any bicycle store on my own.
I now think I have enough tires and tubes for the rest of the trip.
After restocking at the local Consum and checking my email, I left to go north again. The riding was much easier on the, now normally inflated, rear tire.
I rode up through the Cordillera Cantabria and finally found a place by the side of the road at about 7:00pm. The Cordillera Cantabria is not a mountain range, but it does have formidable hills.
I still have a 225m climb up to the top of pass, Puerto de Orduña, but that is for the morning. As I was eating, I enjoyed the valley below me.
The thunderstorm of last night passed, leaving the valley in front of my tent in mist, and obscuring the far ridges.
It was a gentle, but sustained climb of 225m (500') to the 900m (3000') summit at Puerto de Orduña. However, the other side was something else.
The road dropped 600m (3000') right off the side of a cliff. It was surprising and spectacular. I am sure glad I had both front and rear brakes on the bike.
The switchbacks were almost continuous and the tightest I have ever seen.
All of the turns had a 30km recommended speed. I think I would have had a hard time coming up in a day. This was a ridge of real mountains, not the hills I had seen on the other side.
From Orduña it was mostly downhill, except for the last 15km into Bilbao, or in Basque Bilbo, which went up and down through the coastal range that reached all the way into Bilbao.
It appears that entry or an exit from Spain's larger cities is not bicycle friendly. The A625, Bu625, N625, Bi625 (the prefix kept changing) went from 2 lanes to 4 and sometime had controlled access and much truck traffic. However, I knew this was the only way when I saw several other cyclists.
The map did not reveal to me the exact point of entry into Bilbao, so I was delighted when I discovered that I was coming across the bridge that was a part of the Guggenheim, may main reason for coming here.
The Guggenheim is not really a building. It is really a sculpture with rooms inside.
Not all the art was inside.
The rooms (galleries), and the lobby, are also part of the art.
The entire third floor, and one gallery on the first floor were closed to allow for ``movies coming soon''. Only one gallery had paintings, and most of the others had wonderful mobiles.
I have very few pictures of the inside because it was soon pointed out to me that photography was not permitted.
On the way into town, I noticed that my rear tire was getting soft. I added air, but when I came out, it was totally flat. I suppose there are less interesting places to fix a flat tire than in front of the Guggenheim.
I rode through the centre of Bilbao
through the Ercilla pedestrian mall, with the most interesting pedestrian traffic lights.
Unfortunately, I discovered that the Youth Hostel, up the hill on the other side of town was completely full. I rode back into town, and, with some difficulty, found the Hospedaje Maria Isabel. The nice part of it was that it was just across the river from the Old City. The bad part of it was that it was on the second floor. When I asked for a safe place to store my bike and trailer, I was told to bring it up to my room. This is safe, but quite painful. This type of problem is on of the main reasons I prefer to camp.
After I had everything stowed, and had plugged in my computer battery, I crossed over the bridge to the Old City.
It was starting to get dark, but was still quite warm, dry, and crowded with kids, old folks, and lovers.
There was, of course, an independence rally.
Not everyone wanted to show their face.
Today started and ended with brilliant sunshine, and was punctuated with a very wet thunderstorm in the late afternoon.
I wandered down to the Rio Bilbao in the late morning as I was waiting for the Net House to open.
and then rode down along it towards the Guggenheim, on what I hoped was going to be a beautifully simple and easy way out of town.
Just beyond this point,
I could tell that the bridge on my map would be very high, and possibly out of reach. In fact, I never made it that far because the river road dead ended in a factory.
I rode back into Bilbao, crossed to the other side, and decided to follow the signs towards the campground at Sopelana. The signs are definitely auto oriented because very soon, I went through a long rising tunnel, was shunted onto a very busy semi autovia, and then a real autovia. There must be reasonable ways to get out of large Spanish cities by bicycle, but my two case studies, even with a detailed map, have been failures. I tried to get off my last autovia by following a sign to the Centro Comercial in Getxo, but this turned out just to be a huge shopping centre on the top of a hill. The only road down said that bicycles were not allowed - but I had no choice. There was no sign on the way up, on any road that I rode, that bicycles were not allowed.
The Eroski grocery/multi store here was the largest I have seen in Spain. They had lots of everything so it was very easy to restock. I bought a litre box of gazpacho, drank it for lunch, but declined buying a bottle of Fin du Monde beer. It is too easily available from the local microbrewery that makes it in Montreal.
My ride down, and off on the first exit, was really may last time on the autovia for the day. However, I didn't really get on an obvious road to Sopelana, for a while. The signs were non-existent, and I had to ask directions before I found the road that was on my map, and then the number did not really correspond.
The campground in Sopelana did not seem too inviting so I decided to continue on to Gorliz, the next one indicated on my map. The clouds started rolling in just afternoon, with a few drops when I reached Sopelana, and a full scale thunderstorm arrived when I was just outside of Gorliz. It was pouring when I arrived, so I stayed in the reception/store, had some potato chips and a San Miguel, and waited for the rain to slow up. It both slowed and quickened while I was there. The manager took pity on me and offered me one of their trailers, complete with electricity, so that I didn't have to put my tent up in the rain, and possibly take it down in the rain. It was a very kind gesture.
By sunset, the storm had passed and the sun was back out - perhaps tomorrow will be nice.
Today was a day of sun, serious rain, and more sun with continuing sequence of tough, steep, 200m climbs. The first one was up over the peninsula between Gorliz and Armintza, the first small village when I reached the rugged Basque Coast. Rugged, and really beautiful, it was.
Bakio was the next town, really much more than a village, which I first saw from 200m up the side of the cliff.
From here to Bermeo, at the top of Urdaibai which leads to Guernica (Gernika in Basque), the coast is San Juan de Gaztelugh Parque, a UNESCO national heritage site. It is really a strange collection of islands and cliffs.
Just north of Guernica, it started to rain, and was pouring as I entered town. Picasso put Gernika (Basque) on the map, but my ride through it did not reveal anything really stunning.
The rain let up somewhat as I was going back north to the coast, but then really returned, changing the highway into a river. However, as I climbed up out of Urdaibai to get back to the coast at Lekeitio, the sun came back, and it was a stunningly beautiful evening.
Unfortunately, the campground to which I was directed was closed, and the beautiful evening became a dark night as I looked for a place to stay. This is tough territory - all the small dirt roads drop precipitously down the side of the cliff or climb straight up on the other side. I rejected a plausible larger one because it was a sea of mud. Finally, in pitch darkness, I saw a slightly larger semi-flat patch by the side of the road. To my amazement, it was a paved, albeit steep, road going up the side of the hill. I walked up, discovered a switchback that was wide enough to safely have my tent by the side, and went back and pushed my bike up the beginning of the hill. Perhaps I could ride up in the morning but not now.
As I was putting up the tent, a car came down the road, and passed uneventfully. Later another, also uneventfully, came up. This seems to be a public road, but I won't really know until the morning when it may be light enough to read any signs.
After climbing up and down somewhat more, I arrived at the pretty little town of Ondarroa.
After that, I had an exhausting 4km, 7% climb. I was not alone. It seems that half the Basque population is out early in the morning, and in the evening walking the roads.
Eventually I came down to sea level again, with another, not quite as pretty, town.
Partway up my next climb over the E5, I was reminded again that in this area, Spanish is not the favoured language.
The last 20km was an easy ride following a meandering river valley. Unfortunately the entire day, and especially this section was cloudy with patches of intermittent rain.
I arrived in Donestia in the early afternoon and easily found the road to the campground. Lonely Planet indicated that it was 4km out of town. They did not note that the last 3kms were straight up the mountain. After about a 1km, I decided that this was nonsense, and went back to the Youth Hostel that was at the beginning of the climb, only 1km from the centre of town. After some discussion, an easily accessible inside place was found for my trailer so I didn't have to haul all my stuff up to the dorm.
This is the end of the serious? bicycle riding. I really don't have enough margin to make it to Pamplona, and the weather is less than wonderful.
In fact I was quite glad this morning that the campground was out reach yesterday. It was pouring rain, and continued for most of the day. The first few times out, I was unfortunate enough to get soaked. However, for a short period in the early afternoon there was some sun pushing through the clouds. This does not mean that there was no rain - just that there was mostly not rain.
Donestia is a beautiful city, even in the rain, but some sun does wonders. It surrounds a large crescent bay with a huge sand beach.
Some intrepid souls were in swimming but no one was sunbathing. The houses by the bay and on the west side of the river are quite elegant.
However, the new construction on the other side was less than inspiring.
The contrast of the old and new was quite striking on Calle Libertad.
The old city, as in most cities, is one of the most interesting parts of the town. Admittedly, it has been rather sanitized since the middle ages.
One of the main attractions of the old city is its tapa bars. It is a wonderful way to have some lunch.
I had a dry, but cloudy ride to the bus depot, where I folded my bike and packed the trailer for the trip.
It started to rain just as we were leaving and continued for another hour and a half. It appears that this rain was not localized. I was told by various people that they met it in Sevilla, Madrid, and far up into France. However it seems to have passed from the middle of Spain and was dry and sunny when we reached Madrid.
I was very surprised to discover that the main bus station in Madrid is 60m underground, coexisting with the large metro interchange at the Plaza de América. I had no idea where I was and the opportunity to take the Metro to the Airport where I would know where I was too inviting to pass up. I bought a ticket, only 1.10euro, and hauled my bags down several sets of stairs, escalators, and elevators to the correct platform. There were several times when I wondered if it wouldn't have been easier just to go up and ride.
However, the rest of the ride was uneventful. I rebuilt my bike and trailer and rode to Camping Osuna, set up my tent in the early darkness, and ended the day.
Today I rode around Madrid, photographing more monuments,
Some had to compete with modern interfering structures.
I also admired some of the elegant apartments on Avenida de Alfonso XII
that also had a super view of the Parque de Madrid
The Parque de Madrid is not just trees. It is a huge, about 2km by 3km, expanse of trees, lakes, fountains, and a Palacio de Crystal
Madrid obviously has more money and water than San Ildefenso La Granja.
It was also for people.
My real mission of the day was to find a poster, or failing that, a coffee table book, on the Spanish Civil War for Peggy. I had been asking people all over Spain, with no luck. Today I started visiting all the bookstores listed in Lonely Planet, and added some more on the advice that I received at my first stop. On the way to my second store I discovered Feria del Libro Viejo Y Antiguo.
In the last, of about 30 stalls, I was successful finding a book, but no poster.
The day was also one for meeting people. Several times I was flagged down for conversation, once by an Argentinean who was really upset that Monday seems to be the day when Spain closes its museums. Earlier in the day he had just missed the Monasterio San Lorenzo de El Escorial, and had just missed the Museo de Prado.
Much to my delight, my tent has remained dry. I rode to the airport, packed everything in about 45min, and checked in for my flight. It was appropriately uneventful, and sufficiently uncrowded that I did not have a seatmate.
It was a great adventure of about 850kmn (530miles).
When I got home, I discovered that I was unable to put my bicycle back together again. I took the derailleur off in Madrid, to reduce the damage to the frame, but the threads in the frame were so badly stripped that I couldn't get it back on. I knew they were in bad shape when I had to replace it in Madrid, and was a little worried then that it might not hold. However, I was able to gently convince it to go in snugly, and it lasted for the entire trip.
My friendly bicycle shop drilled out the hole and put in a helicoil that will hold it, but probably not to take in and out all the time. This bike is now going to be retired from touring and I will use my new Montague on the next one. This is my third Montegue, and it started out as new frame to replace, under lifetime warranty, my first Montegue, that was ``travelled'' into bad health.
This is a link to the Google Earth Map of the trip.