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Thursday, May 23, 2019

April 20th: Olot Loop

When examining the route the day before, we decided that going through Banyoles first was the right thing to do, since the final descent into Girona would alleviate any pain from the expected wind from the North and East.
The initial ride out looked like a reversal of yesterday's entry into Girona, but our GPS kept telling us that we were going the wrong way. We finally realized that we were reversing the loop given to us by the bike shop. I didn't know about the Fenix's "Reverse Route" feature, so I just kept my Fenix 5X on the map screen so I could see the turns that were coming up. What I didn't know was that this actually drains the 5X's battery super-fast, as it keeps computing how far you were from the next checkpoint on the GPX file, and trying to restart the route from then. Fortunately, the 5X has such a big battery that it was still enough to get us home with a bit to spare.

Once out of the initial area, the loop took us alongside beautiful fields of mustard until we got to Bayoles, where we took pictures with the lake, scullers in the background.
Past Banyoles, the road took on a very rural aesthetic. We weren't seeing too many cyclists at this point, though two women were riding behind us but never got close enough for us to even identify them (we heard their voices), before they turned off on a different ride.
The descent into Olot was gorgeous, with turnouts for glorious views of the Pyrenees, with its snow covered peaks. The day was warming up, but never got hot, and we were very pleased by what we discovered. The roads designated by the GPS routes were scenic and never had too much traffic.

At the turnaround, we found ourselves riding now with a headwind, but fortunately there were hills. Even better, the biggest hill had a bike path side-route that eliminated all the traffic and noise, enabling us to climb in peace and then descend using that pavement. It was quite clear that the area near Canet d'Adri was famous for its beauty as many tourists (with cars) were parked along the road and hiking, cycling, or just taking pictures.
Then between Sant Feliu and les Planes d'Hostoles the route took us on a perfect tiny little road of such beauty and perfection and flow that Mike said "It sent shivers up my spine with pleasure." It was so good and required such attention to bike handling that we did nothing but ride, ride and ride. It was one of those roads that you wished would go on forever. We had found cycling heaven, and I never would have thought in a million years to have to discover it in Spain!

The last several miles into Girona was into a stiff headwind, but during the final approach we started climbing a few hills which made the descent down into town very easy and pretty. I was delighted. For a change we had arrived back in Girona early enough to eat lunch, which was a burger place. I then realized that I didn't have to live with not having a map in the Fenix 5X, since I could just download and install it using the hotel's lobby computer! That same computer could be used to help upload Mike's photos from his Ricoh GR2.

So after showers and laundry we did all this computer stuff. The forecast was for rain the next day, but I noted that the rain was not scheduled to fall until later in the afternoon. Mike was all psych'd out to do the Costa Brava ride, and I agreed that it looked great.

Dinner was at the Mexican place John Mitchell recommended. Unfortunately, it suffered from a comparison to L'Aglica: it felt overpriced and there was nowhere near enough food. We got dessert elsewhere, and I bought some fruits.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

April 19th: Llanca to Cadaques to Girona

When I originally planned this trip, everyone told me that I should visit Salvador Dali's house in Cadaques, and that it was a great ride from Figueres. That plan got completely derailed by the holidays, because the house visits were completely booked up over the internet for the entire week and beyond!

In any case, I wouldn't have made it to the house anyway, because my plan was to get on the early train so I could make it to Figueres by 8:30 and ride to Cadaques. For whatever reason, the early train was cancelled, as were several other scheduled trains, and we only made it onto the train at 9:30. We knew this wasn't us being idiot tourists, because local Spaniards were also nonplussed when the scheduled train didn't show up!

Well, the time spent waiting wasn't a total loss. I looked at the forecast for wind coming from the North-East, and stared at the map of the train layout, and realized that the train went all the ay to Llanca, further up the coast. Not only would this shorten the ride, it would grant us a tailwind all day! Since we'd only paid for train tickets to Figueres, I walked up to the counter and asked if I could change the ticket to Llanca and pay the difference. The counter agent nonchalantly said: "Just stay on the train. If the conductor asks you can just pay the difference."

The train showed up, and it was only a 20 minute ride to Llanca, whereupon we got off and rode towards Cadaques. The views along the coast were glorious, even though we were further from the Mediterranean side. What I would realize later was that the train went all the way to Cerbere (or Portbou on alternate cars) which was where my 1998 Tour ended, at the Spanish border. If I had known that, I probably would have gone for a more ambitious ride, though Mike probably would have demurred.

At Port de la Selva, the road turned inland and we started climbing towards Cadaques. The ride was pretty and the traffic light, though I was dismayed that at the turn off to Cadaques, most cars were headed for Cadaques, and the road didn't grant us many places to stop for the glorious views of Cadaques.
Cadaques reminded me of Santorini, except that none of the roofs were blue. We rolled into town and saw that most cars were directed to park into the parking lots, so we explored the town by bike, getting pictures and seeking vantage points afforded by the extra mobility that gave us over the pedestrians.

We ate a sandwich breakfast/lunch (because even the roadside shacks weren't serving lunch yet at 12:00pm!) and then paid a visit to the Dali house before leaving Cadaques to confirm that indeed, as the internet had said, the place was fully booked with no exceptions allowed, unlike Neuschwanstein, where some tickets were held in reserve for people who showed up early. (Not that we were very early!)

By the time we left Cadaques, the incoming traffic had turned the highway into town into a parking lot. The climb up was fairly easy, but the traffic meant that there was usually a car behind you. In California this would lead to a lot of stress, maybe some road rage, and some idiot trying to squeeze past you. In Spain, drivers would wait patiently until you found a place to pull over or it was safe.

We descended into Rose, and then rode through Castello d'Empuries, which featured river crossings and houses that, according to Mike, looked amazingly like some parts of Florida. The ride back to Girona was powered by a strong tailwind, as expected, though of course, I couldn't resist routing in some hills on the final approach into Girona to avoid the high traffic roads. This time, we realized something we didn't earlier, which was that when you get into town, all you had to do to get to the hotel was to follow the railroad tracks to the hotel. The bridge under the railroad also served as a bike path, conveniently enough!
We finished too early to consider dinner anywhere else but L'Aglica, and were once again treated to an amazing meal by the restaurant owner. Visiting the local bike shop, Mike had obviously gotten his groove back, and when they suggested the Olot route, he enthusiastically paid the 2.50 Euro price so we could have a long ride the next day. The forecast started to look grim for the days after tomorrow, so that might have factor'd into his decision.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

April 18th: Girona El Angels Loop

I got up, unpacked my bike, and stuffed into the bike case everything I wouldn't need in Girona: the kid's clothing I brought, my air travel water bottle, pillow, and noise cancelling headphones, as well as one of my 2 sets of spare brake pads, a fool hardy gesture since all it would take is one rainy descent to kill a set of brake pads.

We then rode to Barcelona Sants to catch the train. There was a closer train station, but the bigger train station would have more services in case English speakers would have any trouble. We ended up being told at the first counter we spoke to to visit the local train counter, whereupon tickets were sold to us for about 18 Euro for the 2 hour trip.

The train was absolutely packed. We stood for the entire 2 hour train ride, and frequently cyclists would come in and not even try to find bike parking for their bikes, and just sit in the entryway. Almost everybody was headed to the coast, so as one of the folks getting off at Girona we were actually one of the early people to get off!

Once in Girona, we rode to the hotel, navigating via GPS, and then once in the hotel we were told that our rooms weren't ready, but we could park our bike in the dedicated bike room and go out and eat lunch. The bike room at Hotel Ultonia was pretty substantial, with plenty of hanging spaces for bikes, a bike wash area, and a pump and various tools as needed. Mike took the opportunity to use a real floor pump to pump up his tires. Both being hungry, we went to lunch at Placa de la Independencia, finding a restaurant with a view of the river.
After lunch, we were told that our rooms were ready, so we moved in, got dressed for cycling, and debated what to do. The local bike shop was open until 2:00pm, and it was already 1:15, so we rode out to the bike shop to see what they suggested. I had the El Angels loop already preloaded on my watch, but Mike didn't, so he spent 2.50 Euro to get it loaded, and all agreed that it was a good "first day" loop.

The first 10 miles were horrible, riding next to busy roads, with trucks and what not. I thought that I'd made a mistake coming to Girona after Mallorca! After that, though, it became much more rural and the riding became very pleasant. Just as in Mallorca, not steep enough to shift out of the middle, and with swooping turns that were very pleasant to ride and descend on.
By the time we got back to Girona, Mike had turned to me and said: "Wow, this ride has really redeemed itself, hasn't it!" Then there came the problem of finding dinner. The Spanish restaurants don't open till 8:00pm at the earliest, leaving the early pickings to the tourist-oriented restaurants, which of course we turned up our nose at.

After a few false starts, we found L'Aliga, and made a reservation for 7:00pm despite the small number of reviews on TripAdvisor. When we walked there, we realized why: it was completely off the beaten tourist track, but the man serving us was extremely friendly, and when the salad arrived I was blown away by how good it was! We gave up trying to make decisions and instead had him recommend us drinks, main dishes, and even dessert. Every dish was served to perfection, and we were blown away by the price as well as the quantity, which was enough to feed a hungry cyclist. If we had any lingering doubts that the trip to Girona was going to be disappointing after Mallorca, L'Aliga went a long way towards alleviating those!

Monday, May 20, 2019

April 16-17: 2 days in Barcelona

We got up early at 5:20 and ate breakfast at the hotel before going downstairs to get out the bike boxes and await the taxi. The driver showed up on time, and we just about managed to squeeze the bike boxes into his car. The flight was run by Vueling, and we were very impressed: the flight was well organized, left on time, arrived early, and the bikes showed up but we didn't find them because we didn't realize that the Barcelona airport was so big that there was more than one oversized baggage output in the same carousel area.

We took the taxi to the hotel, and were very pleased with the service we got. Not only were our rooms immediately available, they gave us a very nice room with which to store our bike boxes. We headed out to Tapas 24 for some lunch, and then walked downtown to the Tourist information center. We'd already pre-booked the Picasso museum for 5:45pm, and a eTapas tapa tour for the next evening, but I wanted to see if there was a walking tour that would work for us.

The tourist information center told us that since it was holiday week in Spain, everything was booked up! Well, that meant I could switch to my secondary objective, which was to shop for cycling jerseys for Bowen and Boen, since I was so impressed by what Arturo could get for me last time he was in Madrid. The tourist information lady saw my sample of Bowen's bike jersey, and didn't even blink an eye. "I'll send you to ProBike." She got out a map, and gave us directions for taking the bus there.

"What sort of nerd visits Barcelona and visits a bike shop?" I asked Mike with a wink. We took the bus over there and then went and the friendly, English speaking staff showed me the rack full of kids clothing, all at astoundingly high European prices. But you can't buy this stuff in the US for love or for money, so I was resigned to it. I was especially drawn to the UCI World Champion jerseys, and bought a matching set so Bowen and Boen could look like a team. My wife would later say that she'd have been happy to wear that jersey also, if there'd been a women's version. Add in a random bike jersey for Bowen, a couple of pairs of bike shorts, and now we were well over 200 Euros. But this was where having English speaking staff members came in happy, after I asked about dropping the VAT tax for it, the staff lit up, and filled out a form for me. I remembered that there was a tax bureau at the tourist information center.

I also noticed that the Garmin Edge 1030 was on sale, and after you eliminated the VAT tax, it would be cheaper than any mail order store in the USA. I told Mike, who'd been complaining about his Edge Touring running out of battery in the middle of a ride that if he wanted a replacement unit this was a very good deal. He hemmed and haw'd about it coming with European maps, but for me it would have been a feature. "Don't tour in the USA! USA touring sucks!" I told him. He would not be persuaded.

We went back to the tourist information center with the tax forms, and they gave me a series of new tax forms to fill out. I would give the tourist information center 3% of the tax rebate in exchange for getting cash right away. In exchange, they gave me a page with a bar code to scan when I got to the airport for my departure, which validated the rebate. I've tried to get VAT rebates in other countries before, and this was by far the easiest tax rebate I'd ever gotten. I was surprised that the tourist information center wasn't crowded with Asian tourists getting tax rebates for expensive handbag purchases, until I realized that maybe only bike equipment was cheap, and no one else would come to Europe to shop for kids cycling jerseys and shorts.

While waiting for the form to process, I noticed an ad for a boy's choir up in the mountains. This turned out to be Mont Serrat, and the center did have tickets for the next day, departing at 10am and returning at 4:00pm, which was entirely compatible with our Tapas tour. It was in the opposite direction from Girona, so there was no chance that it would be easier to do a trip from there than from Barcelona, so I signed up on an impulse. Mike demurred, preferring to spend the day in the city rather than do a tour.

Cash in hand and hungry again, we went over to the city's food market. Later, a tour guide would tell us that it was a tourist trap, but the sights and sounds were wonderful, even if the food was inconsistent. I had empanadas which were wonderful, fried squid which were mediocre, a raw oyster that was fresh, and ice cream that was merely OK. Mike was still perplexed that I could keep eating, but I figured that if dinner was at 8:00pm, at 4:00pm I could eat a few snacks and still be hungry for dinner. Plus, this was the cheapest food I'd encountered in Barelona, and I expected dinner to be expensive, so it was OK to spoil my dinner.
We then visited the Picasso museum, which was small but excellent, with lots of examples of themes in his career, but also missing huge gaps in his opus, and left me feeling like I should be a Picasso aficionado before showing up, as it just assumed that I knew everything about him.

It was a good thing I stuffed myself, because after the museum Mike said he was still stuffed, so I think we just skipped dinner. On the way back to the hotel, however, we saw a Laundry Bar. You could eat dinner and do your laundry at the same time! What a great idea. I think I just bought a few fruits from a supermarket and called it good for dinner.
The next morning, we walked out to an anemic and expensive breakfaste that happened to be just across the street from Sagrada Familia, which was sold out of course, because of the holidays, but we could see the outside, which was still nice. After that, I had a walk to catch my bus and headed for Mont Serrat.

While on the bus, I questioned if the whole thing wasn't a scam, because the bus dropped us off at the mountain cog railroad which we would ride to Mont Serrat. Why shouldn't I have just taken the train from Barcelona then? It turned out that I would have had to catch the 8:15 train and gotten an extra 15 minutes and would have made it back in time for my dinner tapas tour, so the bus did save significant time!

The Mont Serrat chapel was a good place for a concert, with great acoustics. The boys' choir was also excellent, though I ended up having to sit in the aisles because the place was so crowded. After that I took a vigorous hike up the hill (which started by hopping onto a funicular), which turned out to be far more strenuous and scenic that I expected.

I got off the bus precisely at 4:00pm as promised and took a long meandering walk which magically netted me an empanada. Barcelona's city streets are empty but strangely not devoid of cars, which I would expect from a busy city center. We met the tour guide precisely at 5:00pm and were joined by a group of New Zealanders traveling as a family.
The tour included demonstrations of various forms of pouring wine/beer/alcohol products, which wasn't something I would have discovered by myself.

But obviously it wasn't catered to cyclists. We ate everything presented to us but I was still a little peckish. Mike had already assembled his bike, but I was too worn out to do so that night, so I decided that I would just eat breakfast in the hotel and then assemble the bike and head out immediately for the train station right after all that tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2019

April 15th: Col d Honor and Col de sa Batalla

 I started the day climbing over Col de Soller again. At this point, I'd climbed over every method out of Port de Soller at least twice, which was disconcerting to me as I'd never done that much duplication on a tour before.

Thus it was that when I got to Bunyola and spotted the climb over Col d'Honor I was excited. The road was a one lane road wide enough for just one car in most places, and none of the festive "century ride" crowding I'd seen on previous days. I wasn't unhappy, as getting the road all to myself was a nice change.

Once on the descent, I rode through many lonely little towns and passed many farming villages, including meadows, until I got close to Lloseta, where once again I encountered large groups of cyclists on the roads. Certainly much more than any car traffic I'd seen so far in Spain. In the beautiful hill town of Selva, I stopped at a supermarket, bought a bottle of water, a banana, and a local sweet from a young woman, which would have been remarkable throughout the rest of Europe, since usually the big cities suck up all the young people from the rural countryside. I loaded up my water bottles and shared the rest with a group of cyclists from England, and then proceeded to climb up Col de sa Batalla.
I was astounded by how many cyclists were on the road, but since this road was also used by car tourists, I was even more astounded by how patiently each car would wait behind a group of cyclists until it was safe to pass. There were no signs of impatience and road rage, which was both remarkable and a pleasant change from USA cycling. The ride felt like a convention of international cyclists, with folks from the Scandinavian countries, Germany (of course), England, Finland, and even Switzerland and Canada. The Europeans in most cases were repeat visitors, coming here to escape rotten weather in their home countries.
Once over the pass, I rode down to the Sa Calobra intersection, and kept going up to the tunnel road, where the number of cyclists dropped dramatically. I met a group of Canadians, who told me that one of them had suffered a bike breakage during the airline transit. "It looked like someone dropped another heavy object onto the padded bike case." The carbon frame had snapped in 2, and though the replacement cost of the bike was $10,000 the airline depreciated it $2,000 for being 4 years old and the cyclists was forced to rent.

On arrival in Soller, I ran into Mike who was already ready to start packing his bike. I got myself settled in, grab all the gear I wanted to stick in the bike box, and went down to join him. It took a good hour to pack, with a significant amount of time getting the bike box to close snugly, and then we were ready. I asked the reception to organize a taxi ride to the airport for early the next morning. "Piaw, how are you going to do without breakfast!" said Mike. "I'll just buy stuff in the markets at dinner time and scarf it down in the room."

We had dinner at El Sabor, bought food for the next morning, and then packed everything in our carryons as best as we  could, since the next morning would be a 6:00am pickup. I took one last night shot of Port de Soller from our balcony.
I reflected on how prescient Brad was: 6 days was just enough, and not too much. Cap de Formentor would have been nice (and perhaps we should have done that on our car rental day instead of Sobremont). Mike was pretty sure his wife would ask him to take her back, and I was looking forward to switching locations.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

April 14th: Es Verger/Sobremunt

I was now getting up hungry every day, but today, the hotel told me to stay out of the dining area until 7:30. Fortunately, today was going to start by renting a car and driving, so we could take our time and eat. OK, I didn't mean that. We scarf'd down our food the minute the dining area opened, got our bikes out, and arrived at the rental car station at 8:00 right when they opened.
It had been a couple of years since I drove stick shift, but it was longer than that for Mike, so I was elected to drive. We drove out of Port de Soller, through the car only tunnel, and over to Esporles, something that didn't take more than 20 minutes. From there, Mike would finish the second half of the coastal loop which he didn't do the day before, while I'd try to find Es Verger. I was concerned that the entrance of the road from the south side would be tough to find, so I decided I'd do it from Esporles, descend the south side, and climb it back up again.

It took a lot of thrashing about, riding on dirt roads and so forth, before I realized that any signpost that said "Cami" is to be ignored. It was basically pointing at a private residence. This insight eventually got me to the top, whereupon any signposts disappeared. I repeatedly brought out my phone to examine Google maps, and eventually decided that the gate I was in front of must be the right one. The dirt road looked kind of rideable though it soon degenerated into rocks, but the views opened up and I had a nice view from my height. When the dirt road ended, there was a locked fence, which I proceeded to then lift my bike over, and then stepped over.
At this point, I was probably trespassing but no one was about, and I soon found pavement and descended it, observing occasional cyclists that looked like this was the steepest hill they'd ever ridden up.
At the bottom, I found the tiny sign that indicated the road, and turned around and climbed it. While it's comparable to Bohlman-On Orbit-Bohlman in Saratoga, in practice it doesn't go up as high, and so wasn't as much of a gut buster. But now that I'd found the pavement it was a simple matter to discover the summit, where I found that the signs were oriented in such a way that I couldn't see them from Esporles. It looked like one of the signs had fallen off indeed.
I rode back down and completed to loop back to Esporles, where I managed to have a bowl of Spaghetti and cake before Mike showed up. We drove back to Port de Soller, but discovered that the parking lot where the we were supposed to leave the car was full and the person who was running the rental shop had gone, leaving a sign saying he'd be back at 6:00pm. We circled around and I finally squeezed the car into a tiny spot, and then we left the keys at the dropbox and rode back to the hotel, observing that the town was now completely swamped with tourists.

While removing the bike from the car, I discovered that I'd broken a water bottle cage. It had been on one bike or another since at least 2005, so it had served a long life, but I was still a bit discouraged at having to pay the European price of 15 Euros for something you could get from Amazon for $5. Nevertheless, the bike shop in Port de Soller was easily the hardest working bike shop I'd ever seen in Europe --- opened whenever we rode out at 8:00am, and still open even at 6:00pm on a Sunday. They definitely earned their money, and replaced the bolts as well as the cage for the price.

We were both too hungry to wait for a late dinner, so found a tapas place open called El Sabor. The food was excellent, and so good that we'd return the next night.
It finally dawned on me that the next day was our last day of riding. I had several passes I wanted to check off my list: Col d' Honor, Col de sa Batalla. I decided tomorrow would be a good day to tackle them all and still have time to pack my bike. Linus tried to convince us to do Cap de Formentor, and if we'd known about it earlier that day we might have gone and done it, but as it was I didn't want to do another day of driving if I could help it!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

April 13th: Coastal Loop

Having been rested by doing only half a day of riding the day before, I was now ready to tackle the coastal loop, with a projected 80 miles and 8000' of climbing, it would promised to be challenging but had a reputation for being very pretty.

Mike's massage had made him a new man, but he wasn't ready to tackle as long a ride, so he decided he would come along until Coll d'en Claret, after which he would continue on to return via Bunyola and Col de Soller via a shorter loop through Esporles. At the Valdemossa intersection, a woman cyclist came along, and I would leap frog with her for the rest of the day, but she stopped and happily took a picture for the two of us.
The ride was beyond pretty, passing through gorgeous Spanish hill towns, teasing me continously with views of the Mediterranean through the trees, and even at one point, a coffee shop, where Kate (a school teacher from England on her spring break) and I traded photos for each other. On days with this much sun, I'd be worried about getting hot if I dallied this long, stopping here, taking a photo there, but the last 2 days taught me that it didn't matter --- even at 2:00pm Mallorca never really got too hot.

Hordes of cyclists were coming by the other way as the day progressed. Many of them had taken the Bike Shuttle from Pollenca to Andratx, and were riding back the other way (the round trip would otherwise be a double century!), and once again the road took on the festivities of a century ride. There was surprisingly little car traffic, though Karsten had said to me the night before that on Sundays the very same roads would turn into an exhibition of motorcycles.

Past the hill town of Estellences, which was as pretty as any place you could imagine, the road turned south and started up a climb. There were many minor passes that were clearly marked along the road before, but  I didn't even bother to stop for those. This climb wasn't substantial either, but it marked a high point of the ride, and the descent into Andratx after that was short. At the first roundabout I asked some other cyclists which way pointed in the direction I was heading, and they told me I needed to take the very first exit. "You're going back to Port de Soller the long way!" Well, I had all day and there's no point getting back too early anyway.

The little road leading to esCapdella was nice, and at the intersection that was signed for Galilea there was a grocery store. I walked in, bought a banana, a bottle of water, and a cake, scarfed everything down, refilled my bottles, and looked up just in time to see Kate show up. I gave her the rest of my water and we rode separately after that, since her car was parked near Esporles and I had a long way to go.
The ride into Esporles went through Puigpunyent, and once again I was enveloped in full cycling culture/century atmosphere. Cyclists were everywhere, and in one case, they even rode 4 abreast on a narrow road, posing a threat to other cyclists more than the cars were, which were few and infrequent. This was especially the case when I was climbing and the cyclists going the other way had just crested the hill and were racing down at speed.
I got to Esporles later in the day and by the time I got to the intersection with Port de Soller I was flagging. "Hey there!" said a familiar voice. It was Linus, who'd come by on his own ride. In my current state, I couldn't even consider keeping up with him, but he got a nice picture of me.

The climb over Col de Soller and ride back to the hotel was done in a state of fugue, and I don't even remember what I had for dinner that evening. I was still enthusiastic enough about riding, however, that I remembered that Linus told me that the steepest grade on the island was the Sobremunt climb.. I wanted to do it with fresh legs, so walked over to the car rental company at the end of town and reserved a car for the next morning.