Bordeaux to Barcelona - May 23 - June 7, 2005

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May 23-24 Travel (Bordeaux to Martillac)

We left our condo at 11:00 am to shuffle our huge bike boxes to the train platform. We barely made it by 11:29 and then were chastised by the conductor for bringing 'cargo' on the train.

The flght to Paris was long. Rick and I were across the aisle from each other. As fate would have it, we both sat next to neighbors. I sat next to Jeannie and Howard from Sunnyvale - two 60-somethings who are avid travelers. Rick sat next to a Russian lady from his neighborhood in Mountain View. I worked on reading 'The Red Tent' by Anita Diamant. I nearly finished by the end of the plane ride. We transferred to our Bordeaux flight in Paris - Charles Du Gaulle.When we arrived in Bordeaux, we set to assembling the bikes - one left open by TSA :(. I called my mom and let her know we arrived safely.

We meandered 30KM - or about 20 miles - through the outskirts of Bordeaux. We attempted to lodge at a fancy hot springs resort. But, they were booked. They gave us some instructions to find a chateaux in the nearby town that had rooms for rent. We followed their instructions, but there were three chateauxs at the intersection they mentioned. We poked around the front yards of each, until at the third one, a blonde woman came out to greet us. We stated that we were looking for the chateaux wtih rooms to rent. She said, "Oh, I think that's me!". So, we ended our quest at the lovely Chateaux de Lantic. After she enquired at the nearby restaurant, we dined for three hours at 'Le Pistou'. I had warm Camerbert cheese and apple salad, chicken stuffed with mushrooms and a berry 'crumble' for dessert. I made it to 11:00 pm with almost no sleep! Can you tell?

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May 25 - Martillac to Roquefort

Today we awoke early - almost without jetlag. The innkeeper brought us our 'petit dejeuner'.

We got out at about 9:30 and had a brief stop for photos and a phone refill card. Then, we started our flat metric century to Roquefort. The first two hours got us to St. Symphorien, where we had a quick lunch and bought some fruit to snack on later. The one think we could not find was a cistern to get more water!

It was just after noon when we left our lunch stop. The mercury was steadily rising - up to the mid-nineties farenheight - and it was very dry. The rest of our route took us past several small towns - all closed for siesta. Then, we had mile after mile of dense pine forest - mostly cultivated. We learned upon returning home that this was the legacy of Napolean III - turning the swampy Landes region into commercial pine forest.

At about mile 48, I began to feel the effects of heat and dehydration and dragged myself the last 14 miles to Roquefort. We headed straight for the grocery - the Petit Casino - and got 1 liter of cola and 1.5 liters of water for 1.27 Euros. Score! After downing that in the shade, I felt much better! We sought out a hotel we could see from the road. We managed to procure a room for 30 Euros. Our bikes are staying in the garage. The only problem is the soft mattress and the toilet that sounds like approaching dinosaurs as it flushes! We dined on a hearty dinner with soup, pork with prunes and dessert for 11 Euros each. Not bad!

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May 26 - Roquefort to Lembeye

Today we set out from Roquefort under foggy skies. We went about 12 miles to La Bastide de Armengnac - the home of Notre Dame des Cyclistes - the other cycling shrine/church. It took us a few minutes to convince the caretakers we were Americans. It seems they did not understand our rendition of Etats Unis. Finally, the woman understood us and the man said "Oh, Americans, Americans!."

We continued south on quiet roads through rolling hills. Today we had a proper lunch for 9 Euros each in Le Houga. Fortunately, the waitress spoke a little Anglais! Along with the soup, apetizer, and meat dish, there was a huge plate of grilled artichoke hearts. Bless them!

After lunch, the fog had burned off, and it was much hotter and much windier - headwinds again. But, we completed our 55.75 miles to Lembeye by 5:00. We did get several men yelling 'Allez' from the side of the road today. One even said 'Maillot Jaune' to me :) - a sign we are entering the Tour de France country.

We are staying in an inn that is an old house. A young family lives there and one wing is converted to a hotel. It is a lovely, old building. The husband, Christian, let us put our bikes in the informal dining room and also made us dinner - a bargain for 40 Euros each. The place is called the Hotel Perelin.

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May 27 - Lembeye to Luz Saint Saveur

We had a quick breakfast at the inn and got on the road by 8:45. Right out of town, we had a nice descent and then turned on to a plateau and started following the signs to Lourdes.

We got to Lourdes at 30 miles by 12:00. We had lunch on the main square - ray fish and Spanish rice. It was again 95 degrees farenheight by lunch. Ugh! We decided to skip the requisite holy water, as the town was an absolute zoo. Once we left Lourdes, we were definitely in the mountains. We started the gradual climb with winds at our back!

We found a rest stop that had water and tanked up. Right after the rest stop, we passed the exit for Col d' Aubisque. Then, we started climbing more - up a river canyon. It was lovely with few cars, but HOT!

We arrived in Luz S. Saveur before 3:00 pm. We found a decent hotel that just opened for the season today - the Hotel Londres. The young man running the hotel speaks English and informed us the Col du Tourmalet is not open yet. He called to check. He says it is passable as of today, but not officially open until June 2. Yikes! we are going to try to pass tomorrow anyway. If we are turned around at the top, we have to go back to Lourdes and then around to Col d' Aspin the back route. It will set us back a half day, but is doable.

We are going to get pizza tonight. Conveniently, we both have the same craving.

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May 28 - Luz S. Saveur to Arreau

We headed out about 9:30 up to the pass. About 1/2 mile out of town, we found the first 'Col du Tourmalet' sign informing us we had 17km to go and the first km would average 6% grade. Just after that, I accidentally shifted my rear deurailer to the inside of the cluster in back - VERY BAD. Fortunately, I stopped before wrapping the deurailer and causing fram damage.

A few minutes to reposition the chain, and we were back on the road. Each kilometer had a similar sign informing us of the distance remaining and average grade for that kilometer. After about 6km, we came to the town of Bareges. Right after exiting the town, we had the most difficult kilometer with about 1/3km at 13% grade. We thought it was licked after that. At about 6km remaining, we stopped to take some pictures and eat a pastry. Shortly after that, we passed a small restaurant and the road closure. We plugged on.

There was a little snow on the side of the road, but nothing major. At 1km to go, the road was completely blocked by a snowfall. We lifted our bikes over and got back on for the last push.

We did the requisite photos at the summit. We even got one together. Then, we intended to descend to La Mongie ski resort for a 12:30 lunch. However, the whole town was dead. So, we continued to San Marie de Campan. We had lunch at a small campground/hotel/restaurant serving Basque specialties. They had a chicken dish and creme caramel that were to die for. After lunch, we made the right turn to Col de Aspin - a much lower pass. It was only 13km to the top. The bottom was quite gentle, and the top 6km were quite steep. It was a beautiful pass, and the top reminded me much of Old La Honda near home. At the top, we saw a Spanish club group we had also seen at the top of Tourmalet. We made the descent to Arreau quickly. Again, we were reversing the Tour de France from last year with all sorts of writing going the other way - 'Allez Virenque', 'IMAYO', and 'Thomas Voekler' were some of the things we saw written on the ground.

In Arreau, we checked in to the Hotel Angleterre - a 2 star, but the nicest we've had so far - with a king bed and sitting area. It has new pine floors that smell wonderful. It's now 9:15 and it may be dark by 10:00 now that we've moved to the east. It was previously getting dark closer to 10:30! Time to get some sleep! Dinner tonight was lasagne and pizza - at the only restaurant available besides the pricey one at the hotel!

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May 29 - Arreau to Vielha

We started off the day to cross over Col de Perysourde and then Col de Portillon to Spain. It was a short ride (35 miles) and we thought we might be able to start up the last big pass - Bonaigua.

We got an early start and had a beautiful ascent under partly cloudy skies. The whole climb was 8-9 miles with the last 6 averaging 8.5%. It went through several mountain towns and green meadows filled with sweet Jonquils.

At the top, we met an Aussie cycle tourist going the opposite direction. He was a really friendly fellow. We descended quickly into Bagneres de Luchon and had a nice lunch (mmmm carbonara!). We left lunch about 1:00 to head to Col de Portillon, which would mark our crossing into Spain.

However, when we got to the base, there was a sign stating it was closed. We were informed there was a 'diversion' through St. Beat. It was a 36km diversion on heavy roads. But, we finally made it to the bottom of Portillon on the Spanish side around 4:00 pm. The ride wasn't so bad - other than the busier roads. St. Beat was a charming town that we might like to return to in the future. By 5:30, we were on the outskirts of Vielha - in a town called Pont d' Arros. We found a newly renovated hotel and obtained a room.

The Catalan is difficult. Fortunately, the family running the hotel speaks English! The room has a tub, and for the first time this trip, I had a long soak.

There was a first communion party at the hotel, so dinner was delayed until 9:00. Fortunately, it was delicious. I had salad, salmon with potatoes and apple tart. Rick had the same, but with chicken instead of salmon.

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May 30 - Vielha to Esterri d'Aneu

Today started with some drizzle. I was somewhat dreading crossing the last big pass in bad weather. We got out of town around 10:00 and headed for Vielha proper to make the turn to Porto de Bonaigua. Just after our turn, we had to stop and put the waterproof covers on our bags and shoes as the rain had gotten a little heavier. We started up the pass in a light rain that was steady.

About 6km uphill, I felt the call to get back to nature and spent several minutes enjoying some shrubbery off the side of the road. We continued uphill slowly. We found a bar open around 12:00 in the last town before the summit. When we went in, the waitress informed us in her best Castillian that they didn't serve lunch until 1:00, and they had the workers from town then, so she probably couldn't serve us until 2:00. However, she did offr us tea and sandwiches, so we accepted. As we ate our snack, the rain stopped and a very thick fog descended over the mountains.

We continued up the road with only about 100 feet of visibility. Fortunately, we only had a car come by every 10-15 minutes. Finally, about 3 hours into our journey, we reached the summit - 27km from where we started. We did the requisite photos, bundled up, and headed downhill.

It was about 44 degrees farenheight and a bit windy as we descended. Had the weather been better, it probably would have been the prettiest descent of the trip.

We had originally planned to go to a town called Sort - about 35km from the bottom of the pass. However, we were cold and wet, so took a room in Esterri d'Aneu. It is a comfortable, but sparse room. But, it has a tub! And, we got half board for 82 Euros total. Dinner was quite good. We had an interesting pate/bread/cheese torta for apetizer, a pretty rice and vegetable salad, and hamburger and 'patatas' for the main course. Dessert was rice pudding. Yum! Only about 300km left to get to Barcelona!

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May 31 - Esterri d' Aneu to Ponts

Today we set off after breakfast. After a quick stop at the pastisseria, we barreled down the canyon. We had about 37 miles more or less downhill. We went through a rocky, mountain river canyon, which turned to a desert-southwest landscape with red rocks and plateaus. We had a quick lunch and then made our turn onto the more quiet road to the last Col of the trip.

We went through a sweeping valley with rolling red hills covered in green carpets with poppies - red poppies forming large carpets. We were never far from the smell of fresh manure, which seemed to be mixed into every field.

We came to the town of Isona at the bottom of the Col de Camiols. We witnessed a major sheep crossing on the highway. We then headed into town to see if there was a hotel. There was not. So, we had a soda at a bar and started up the col, knowing we had 29 miles to the next town.

The climb was 8 miles of about 5% grade. When we reached the top, we could see the vast painted desert below and the snowy peaks on Porto de Bonaigua in the distance. What a long way we had traveled today!

We started the descent after enjoying our pastry. It was 6 miles of fresh pavement and sweeping curves - one of the truly great descents. We maintained almost 30 mph the whole way and barely touched the brakes. We made our final turn toward Ponts and had about a mile long climb and then another 3 miles of descending. Then, we went about 5 miles rolling with small intermediate climbs. If it had been clearer, we would have been able to see the Mediterranean several times during our descents. Finally, we came to the top of our plateau and started another wicked 6 mile descent into Ponts.

We decided on one of the two hotels in town. Both were 2 stars. The room was OK and had a bath. But, we were charged to 'park' the bikes and the bed was terribly uncomfortable - not exactly what we needed after 86 miles on the road! Also, the hotel was the only place in town with dinner before 9:30 and we were famished. After our marginal dinner, we headed for sleep. Unfortunately, heavy truck traffic started below our window at 5:00 am!

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June 1 - Ponts to Manresa

Today we wanted to position ourselves to get to Montserrat tomorrow morning and the Mediterranean tomorrow night. So, we decided to get ourselves to Manresa.

We started out after breakfast and continued uphill for the first 20 miles. We had a quick bite to eat in Calaf, and then started paralleling the major road to Manresa. No bikes were allowed on the highway, so we had to stay on a small road that was mostly parallel.

It was a very scenic route that reminded me of Canada Road in San Mateo county that parallels highway 280. We went through a river canyon with a drop of several hundred feet to Manresa. This meant a little uphill and a lot of downhill. :) We passed several small villages, and as we dropped toward Manresa, Montserrat came into view. It is a huge, jagged, razor-edged mountain that seems to jut out of nowhere from the earth.

We settled at the Hotel Pere III for the night with bike storage in the shipping/receiving dock. They had a good half-board option that included beverages at dinner! I had lamb chops and Rick had Sepia - all we knew was that it was some sort of mariscos (seafood). I thought it was octopus, but it turned out to be cuttlefish.

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June 2 - Manresa to Castelldefels

We got out of Manresa early due to an earlier breakfast option (business hotel). We started up the white road toward Montserrat. It was a long climb to the pass over the mountain with sweeping views of the canyons below. We met several other cyclists out on the road. Once we reached the pass, the car traffic mostly continued straight over the pass, but the signs directed us left along the edge of the mountain. We went along and took several pictures. We also passed through a couple tunnels and several swarms of small insects that embedded themselves all over us.

Finally, we got to an intersection with a sign saying MONISTROL DE MONTSERRAT to turn left down the hill. Well, we went down about 5 miles and never saw the monastery. We got to the main highway, and the GPS said it was a couple kilometers ahead. So, we went on. Finally, we came to a funicular that went up the mountain. We decided we couldn't abandon the bikes to go up the mountain, so continued on toward the Mediterranean. We had a quick lunch after turning off the main road.

What remained after lunch was largely industrial, busy roads all the way to the coast, reminding us of the outskirts of Milan last year. We eventually got through to Castelldefels on the water - a pleasant town 10 miles or so southwest of Barcelona. We found one hotel that could take us for 2 nights (Hesperia) and a more swanky one for the third night.

After getting cleaned up and situated, we headed down to the beach for a walk and to scope out dinner spots. After our dance in the Mediterranean, we found a couple potential restaurants. We had cervezas 'a jarra' (on tap) overlooking the ocean before getting back to the hotel to dress for dinner.

At 8:30, we headed out - determined to eat at the first place that was open. The BBQ place across the street was abandoned for a rest day for the owner, and only one of our potentials had opened by 8:30, so it was selected by default. We had paella to start and I had chicken for the main course. Rick had steak. It was decent - especially for 9 Euros each. We are hoping the BBQ and paella place will be open tomorrow.

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June 3 - In Castelldefels and Montserrat

Today, we decided to take the train back to Montserrat to see the monastery. We found the town with that had the funicular on the train system map and bought tickets to go there. We transferred trains in Barcelona and continued up toward the mountain. We had an issue when the train skipped the town we wanted and went all the way to Manresa. When we got off, we could not exit the station due to insuficient funds on the tickets. I explained the dilemma to the station agent. He said we should have gone on the other train system and put us on a taxi to the monastery. 28 Euros later, we arrived safely with instructions for which train to take back.

The monastery was a huge commercial complex where you had to wade through dozens of eateries and shops and a modern facade to find any thousand-year-old relics. The basilica was quite impressive - as someone had to lug all the marble and gold up the mountain. But, it was a bit of a disappointment. We also need to look up the significance of the black madonna when we get home. There was no history of the monastery posted in plain view, nor was there any history of the black madonna.

We arrived back in town around 5:30 and spent a few minutes by the pool before getting cleaned up for dinner. Patricio's, the BBQ place was closed again, so we tried another of the 9 Euro restaurants by the water. It was a good, square meal again.

June 4 - Rest Day Today was reserved for laying on the beach and napping. It was a much-needed rest, even though Rick was a little bored a lot of the day! We watched 'Hitch' on the hotel movie system at the swanky Hotel Bel Air when we arrived. As it was a Saturday night, all the restaurants doubled their prices. So, we selected an indoor restaurant a little further from the boardwalk and had a really nice meal with a seafood paella and cheesecake, though it was a bit on the pricey side.

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June 5-6 - In Barcelona

On Sunday, we gathered our thing at the Hotel Bel Air and got on the train for the Sants station in Barcelona. By the time we got checked in to the Barcelo Sants Hotel, it was afternoon. We grabbed a quick sandwich near the station and headed out for sightseeing. We wanted to see the Gaudi cathedral, so we headed for the Gothic district, where we saw the cathedral on the map.

After about 10 minutes walking from the Metro station, we arrived at the Cathedral. The problem was that it was the main, Gothic cathedral and was completely shrouded in scaffolding. After some inquiry, we realized the cathedral we wanted was called the Sagrada Familia. We found that Metro station and headed over. We were greeted by a pleasant suprise when we emerged. It was open free for the day! However, the elevator was not functioning :(.

We took some photos and then sat in the park to admire the eclectic creation. The cathedral was designed by the infamous Barcelona architect Gaudi. It is still under construction following major setbacks during the Spanish civil war. It is a Gothic style with lots of tall spires (many topped with fruits...hmmm). The front door features sculptures depicting scenes from the early life of Christ and the rear door the passion of Christ. The interior seems to be held up by a forest of stone trees. Very interesting - a huge undertaking. The mosquitoes also enjoyed their chance to eat our shoulders alive!

We returned to the hotel and cleaned up for dinner. There was nothing near the hotel, so we got back on the Metro and found an outdoor cafe a short walk from the Placa Catalunya. We had a nice meal there. I tried a Catalunya sausage for main course.

On Monday, we had intended to see the Picasso museum, but it was closed. So, we called Air France to inquire about early check-in. The gentleman we spoke with said it was possible and recommende, since we had such an early flight the next morning. So, we took our bikes and one bag to the airport on the train.

When we arrived, we were refused early check-in - told it was impossible. We were told we should leave our bikes in the lockers and take a taxi to the airport as the trains didn't start running until 1/2 hour prior to our flight.

There was a small problem - the lockers would never fit a bike. The largest ones would not even fit a large suitcase. So, we bought bike boxes, packed our bikes up and went back to the hotel. We were told to speak with the night bellman about a taxi. We had him arrange for a 'special taxi' to handle our giant boxes at 4:30 am the next morning.

We spent the afternoon having lunch at a tapas bar called Pinoxto that my friend Rachel had recommended. Then, we went to the modern art museum near the university. They had a strange but interesting exhibit of an artist named Alys from Belgium who makes his home in Mexico City. It basically focused on the idiosyncracies and ills of urban life.

We returned to the hotel to clean up for dinner. We set out to eat at a restaurant on Placa Reial that was recommended by my parents - the name started with Quince. We arrived at about 8:20 - 10 minutes before their start of dinner, and there were already 300 people in line. So, hoping to cash in on our prior experience with Basque cuisine, we walked back to an Euskal restaurant we had seen earlier in the day.

It was pricey and a bit disappointing as they had mostly Catalan dishes. But, they did have some good wine (Sangre del Torro), salad, and Basque sausages. The main courses were so-so. I ordered Arroz Negro (a paella dish 'seasoned' with octopus ink - think oil slick), and Rick ordered garlic chicken.

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Addendum - Leaving Thoughts:

We arrived intact at the airport via the 'special taxi' - a minivan. After paying our 40 Euro fee, we checked in. After a very hurried transfer in Paris, we were ready for the 12 hour flight home. It was made more paletteable by the personal video monitors with choices of movies and games. We were picked up at SFO by our friend Erika and were home by 2:00 in the afternoon.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip. While we traveled, I was reading from James in the New Testament (in my micro-sized King James version issued at my baby dedication). I was especially struck by the verses at the end of Chapter 4 - "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.' But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."

It is after meditating on these verses, that I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to complete this journey and all the other adventures we've had. Each one is truly by the grace of God, made possible - not by our own ingenius planning, or our fitness, or our great equipment. And, by that grace, we hope to have more adventures together as husband and wife.

As for my final thoughts....

I loved the mountains - just like last year. We should have spent more time in the mountains and less on either side.

We could have planned for more milage. I am gradually getting stronger - even with lots of climbing.

Both countries were beautiful, and there was a gentle transition between the cultures in the mountains - where other than the language differences, things were largely similar.

In France, nearly every meal started wtih soup, and not a single hotel had a bathtub or bidet. In Spain, every meal started with salad with hard-boiled egg, tuna and olives amongst other things. Nearly every room had a tub and a bidet. So much for cultural assumptions!

We did not meet a single rude person in France, and everyone who could speak English was willing. The Spanish people we met were all friendly, too. Though, it seemed many did not love speaking Spanish, and prefered their regional Catalan language. In France, people loved to see us on the bicycles - and many shouted Allez! Allez! to us as we passed. Men, especially, seemed to be enamored with me on the bike. Restauranteurs were quick to offer us water for our bottles, and hotels leapt to accomodate the bikes. In the mountains of Spain, we were equally treated as in France. But, in the lowlands, we were respected and tolerated rather than revered.

Finding lunch in Spain was tricky. The bar/restaurants that serve pleasant lunches in Italy and France were replaced by smoke-filled rooms of old men in Spain. The seemed to serve a full lunch to the young, working men that came in, but were only able to offer sandwiches out on the patio most places. And, the only women to be found were behind the counters. Where were all the women?

Also, in France at the evening meal, the wine was always poured in my glass first. But, in Spain, they either asked who to pour the wine for or just automatically poured in Rick's glass. It seems there might have been a slight undercurrent of chauvanism in Spain.

The scenery in both countries was spectacular and different. As usual, we found the city life interesting. But, we found our true place in the country. We loved the small town people and their simple hospitality. We tried lots of new things - duck fat, ray fish, cuttlefish (sepia), paella with octopus ink, and various new cheeses and sausages. I stayed away from the liver products. I don't think I'll ever become a fois gras convert! Overall, the house wines were better in Italy. We did have a couple good higher-priced wines.

By all accounts, it was a grand adventure and a wonderful honeymoon. There was plenty of time fore riding and experiencing culture - but also time for long afternoon naps in each other's arms - watching the laundry drying in the windwows.

I can still be swept back in an instant by particular smells - pine trees, coffee roasting, bread baking. Even foul scents like passing diesel trucks, cigarette smoke and manure can bring memories from the trip. It is funny how I tend to attach memories to my sense of smell.