A Travellerspoint blog

April 2014

day 25 Toledo

Day of rest..


Today was a rest day proper. A day for doing odds and bods that I have been meaning to do for a while...
- A bit of bike tlc - adjusting the brakes, checking the tyres, cleaning as best I could the chain with a rag..oh for some degreaser.. Cleaning the rag. Cleaning the sink after cleaning the rag..(latter took the longest time of all the bike jobs)
- clothes washing! Pretty much everything is now clean and a little less stinky. The colour of the water that came off my bike kit..especially my mitts..yuck!
- route planning and checks for the next week*. The next 5 days are non stop so the details needed to be ironed out now at least to some extent, also reading up on where I am going.
- cutting labels off my kit. Bit of a random one, and I would love to say it was for some practical reason like weight saving and all that, but no. This has been a mission of mine for several weeks now, just needing some time and scissors, that goes back to a slightly unfortunate event. Early on into the trip I took a 'nature break' behind a tree as you do, got back on the bike and sped off again. After a while there was this itching and it wouldn't go away. For the whole ride I was there swearing at my shorts and the label that must be causing it, vowing death and destruction on all labels that had the misfortune to be on my kit. It actually turned out I had got some prickly grass caught in my shorts, but the vow could not now be broken.
Nb Since that occasion I am much more careful where I go.
- sleep. When on the bike or doing hard paced sightseeing you know you are tired but that's just the way it is. When you stop completely, the adrenaline wears off and you actually stop and look in the mirror, you realise how well and truely beyond tired you are physically and mentally. Am therefore not entirely convinced full rest days are good, but then again not sure carrying on without one every now and then is either! Anyway the chance to get extra sleep should always be taken.

Chores etc done, I headed out to the cathedral. After Madrid, I read up about the cathedral here and thought it might be worth a trip inside, especially in terms of seeing some el Greco works of art that this city is famed for. It could not be more different to Madrid cathedral...the latter minimal, bright and colourful, Toledo, dark and heavy with ornamentation. The level of intricacy on the carvings and decoration was awe inspiring..the main alter section apparently took ten years to make, the choir area five. Behind these was what caught my eye though..a bright influx of light from a well in the ceiling. Surrounding this well were angels directing the light down. The carvings themselves spilled down the back of the alter section from the ceiling to the floor. This was the 'Transparente' and for me it made the entry fee worthwhile. Other bits of interest were the 'treasury'- including the elaborate Custodian de Arfe..a processional piece made up from 18kg pure gold and 183kg for silver, and a crown or two made of emeralds, rubies and pearls - and the trip up to the bell tower. Here there were eight bells on the vestiges and one huge cracked bell in the centre. And of course and amazing view across the whole of the city.

Back on the streets afterwards, it seemed the day trippers had come back with force. Time to escape and hide out and sleep more.

  • I realise I haven't actually said much about my route planning or practise, aside from the odd reference. So I thought I'd put some words down about it. Feel free to switch off at this point and move on, though I feel (fear?) the below will say more about me that it will about any practical aspects.

So what do I use to get from one place to another..well there are 5 main tools
- Michelin maps - I have about 6 maps with me covering the whole of Spain. 5 live in my panniers, and the last lives in my map holder that attaches to my handlebar bag. I have highlighted my routes on them, colour coordinated of course...pink - suggested route (that I put together beforehand), blue - day trip, orange - last minute changes of which there are many. Yes yes I am sure I did have colour coordinated revision timetables as a kid. Even at work before leaving I discovered the auto customise on excel..produced some pretty colourful spreadsheets then I can tell you! Cough ..moving on quickly...The other skill for these maps is origami, to be able to squash it into the holder in a way you can actually see the route. Believe me it's harder than it sounds! Some days I 'jazz things up' by having the map sideways. Get me..living life on the edge! One day I'll really party and have it upside down.
- my garmin 800..mainly for recording but it also has all the courses (my suggested routes) that I had mapped on garmin connect to check the milage and elevation. So far I have not used the courses once. Well I tried half way through a ride, and it kept asking if I wanted to go back to the start! So I gave up on that one. Now, however I do get great satisfaction deleting these courses day by day. The garmin GPS map is quite handy for getting out of and into cities (when I already know where I am going). Satnav..not used so much anymore as it goes really complicated routes.
- my Nexus 7 tablet. More for preparation rather than en route. Using Google maps to check where accommodation is and routes in/out of city. Limited outside this as Google maps has old road numbers so they don't match reality.
- my phone..lives in my jersey pocket. Great for finding out where you are when the garmin satnav has got me lost then lost its gps signal.
- most important item though is post-it notes. I write out the road numbers, main place names and possible stop places for the day. I use these most..its like crib notes. Handy for those times you need to know the name of the road that the post-it itself is covering up...

So that's the fun of my planning. I guess actually I forgot one and that is my memory..I am actually getting a dab hand at memorising the routes especially in and out of the city (if its not too complex), and also the elevation graph (so I know how bad the hills are coming).

It is probably all a little excessive but its actually reassuring to have all of them. The biggest time taker is deciding which route to take..my original suggested route or something else...and that usually depends on my mood and my legs. So far I think I have only done the suggested route for the day perhaps once or twice, all the other have all had 'tweeks'. Tomorrow I think is pretty much as planned..back up into the hills towards the snow mountains.

Posted by louisebenn 10:43 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

day 24 Toledo/Madrid


I had read somewhere that for the physically challenged or the just plan lazy there was a lift from the new town of Toledo, up to the old city, which is perched on a hill. I had envisaged a kind of funicular type thing. But oh no, not Toledo...Toledo has escalators! A series of escalators at that, to take you up and down. I have never heard of escalators into and out of a city before, but now I have, and have ridden it down. Something new and exciting everyday eh!

So today's plan was a day trip to Madrid. It's a half hour train ride away from Toledo. And no, I didn't fancy cycling there..that was never in the plans..the Madrid plains look boring cycling plus, quite frankly, the size and scale of Madrid was daunting. (Having now been into the city and seen the seven lanes of traffic in the centre, I am feeling pretty justified in that, it was scary enough as a pedestrian).

Now Madrid..Madrid is quite fantastically bonkers, and I love it. I wasn't there for long but I am for sure going to go back for a proper look when I have more time and money. Getting off the train it all seemed quite normal. Until getting into the main station where it was like a tropical forest with palm trees and the like taking up most of the space, a few stalls scatteres among. In between you and the trees there is of course a fish pond....of terrapins. What else would one have in a train station eh?! And that kind of set the theme for the day. Everywhere you looked there was amazing buildings and visages, and awesomely quirky bits and pieces.

I had no real plan for the day. There was a few things that I had read were 'must see' but it was really a day of wandering about, getting lost and basically going where my feet and the interesting buildings took me. So I headed into the city centre via the back streets that ran parallel to the main road. Towards Plaza Mayor, and then on to the Cathedral and Palace. The cathedral is quite amazing..on the outside it is bright white marble/stone, and the inside reflects this brightness too. The main structure of it is quite traditional but the murals and the stain glass windows were fantastically coloured and bright, and almost modern in design and impact. It almost glowed with colour especially with the sun shining through. I was most impressed and in awe of it, I don't think I have been in another religious building with quite the same brightness, feel and atmosphere.

I wanted to head up into the dome to see the view across the city but they charged for this. As with going into the bright white Palace next door. Both things on my check list of things to do when I return. After this it was a meander back through the maze of streets and plazas, soaking up the atmosphere and all the different things and people about. There was always street music usually violin or accordion, which gave it all a very quintessential European city feel.

And then came the Parque del Buen Retiro. I was expecting just a park..the normal city park thing, you know? Oh no..not in Madrid, this park was a world unto itself. You could quite happily allocate a day or two to exploring it, it's that huge and has that much going on. There are different sections with different themes, so you'd have areas such as: ornate gardens, the boating pond with Romanesque statues and frames behind, a crystal palace, a terrapin pool (of course), outside 'gym' areas where all the local boys strutt their stuff, dark woods and trees, chess tables where the older men hang out, random roundabouts when there is no traffic except bikes/runners/skaters..the list goes on and on..

Other little mad Madrid things
- mini buses..literally a bus miniturised (as opposed to a minibus van thing) for about 5 people.
- random Icarus sculpture on the top of a building.
- a guy on his bicycle, with another bike strapped to his back. I am all for the n+1 philosophy with how many bikes you have, but usually for using just one at a time.
- huge scary babies head sculptures at the train station. No explanation. Just there. Just a bit freaky.

Coming back to Toledo, it all seemed quite quiet and refrained, a whole different world to where I had just been, but both as beautiful and charming in their own ways.

Side note: day 23 language explanation.
- origin: from the Spanish word mermelada or marmelade in English - referring to how this condement is made.
- Definition: To be slowly cooked over a number of hours, causing a thickening effect.
- Use: for example 'to feel mermelised'..to have a fuzzy and thick head or body after too many hours in the hot sun.
There..it does make sense ;)

Posted by louisebenn 10:42 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

day 23 with some actual words and sentances


Brain was a little on the futz after the ride yesterday. Anything that went in went directly out again, and so creative writing for the day had to be put on hold. Hmm creative writing is maybe not the right term..although perhaps it is now time to come clean and say that actually I am in the south still on the beach, cocktail in hand, making these up as I go along?

If only ;)

Anyway.. yesterday turned out to be a pretty cool day. Perhaps strangely, I really enjoyed it, especially the second half. It was hard, don't get me wrong, that's a lot of ups and alongs to do, especially with panniers and in hot conditions but still. First thing was the hardest, having to leave without coffee as it was before any of the cafes opened, and also knowing that in the first 30km there were 2 noticible ups, and then one big up to Puerto de San Vicente. After that I was in Castille-La Mancha, and the terrain changed to moor-like, with wild lavender all about. All the while those snowy mountains in view. First lunch (breakfast?) was had down in the valley, then straight back up again into the hills ..a big up then more undulating.
It was turning into a hot day but I kept my arm warmers on to prevent them from frying (my legs could be in front of the suns supernova and they still wouldn't react at all ). In hindsight I should have perhaps put on my new arm covers that the owner of the hostal in Caceres gave me, they were much thinner, but they were a little big also a very vibrant green (and one must colour coordinate, darling!). But mine seemed fine amd I didn't didn't over heat. At one point when it went to about 32° and the wind disappeared, I poured some water down my back. Just like a pro eh? My reaction however wasn't. A very girlie eek emerged. So glad there was no one there to hear it.

2nd stop for more coffee and fanta, at what was meant to be the end of big ups, then undulating all the way to Toledo. There were a few big up undulations in the last 10km which I thought were a little unnecessary. But then over the last one and got a view of the old city. Totally stunning. Had no idea what to expect. I had picked Toledo as it was practical...close to Madrid to day trip there, I could have a jaunt to the windmills in the south, and also on the right side to ride on after. So no real thought as to what it was like itself. As always, old bridge across the river, that pretty much surrounds the old city. Then the cathedral and alcalazar outlines above a mass of grey and brown, misty old urban buildings with other spires and turrets poking up. And surrounding areas, new city spiralled out along the rivers.

I made my way to the hostal via the ice cream stand, dumped my stuff, did some washing (apparently the city is quite controlled, there is no laundnrwtte alloqerd in the old city was, same with supermarkets). Then headed out for a quick wander. Maze as usual, and narrowness makes the houses seem quite high so you cannot see any spires etc as guides. Which is how I stumbled on the cathedral, so huge it was impossible to see how you can not see it coming but I didn't, and then a wander to the main plaza and the Judaria. My hostal has a roof terrace that overlooks the whole city..fantastic spot. Still much more I want to see but will have to wait for another day...as will looking into the cities obsession with swords and knives, and marzepan.

Today..after lots of coffee..Madrid...

Posted by louisebenn 23:34 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

day 23 Toledo

A hard day in the office


Distance: 173km
Elevation: 2336m
Hours in the saddle: 7hrs 40
Time to Toledo: 8hrs 15
Max temp:
Feeling: marmelised (not sure what that means but it seems to sum it up well)

Nuff said. Time for food.

Posted by louisebenn 10:44 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

day 22 Guadalupe

Back into the hills once more


distance: 125 km
Elevation: 1438m
Hours in the saddle: 5hrs
Terrain: rolling, undulating, up ups..

So a long day planned for today, not the longest for sure but the first of a few longer ones. A warm up for tomorrow if you will.

Today I think I got the clothes combo right. You wouldn't think it would be difficult but it really is! The temperature varies so much between when you set off in the morning to lunchtime, to with the wind, to on descents. It's also surprising how much the temperature difference between sun and shade/cloud and is. It literally is a 10 ° drop. So you have to be prepared for all. Personally I am no good when overheated so err on the side of cold. Before I had tried the jersey, arm warmers, wind gilet combo and that kind of worked but it was a very sweaty and so v cold option. Today was that but with my base layer underneath, and it worked. 8° when I started but I was all nice and toasty. I actually couldn't believe my garmin for saying it was that cold, felt fine to me. Even when it went toward 25 later on, it was still a good combo, not overly too hot on the ups but stopped the coldnness seeping in on the descents.

Anyway enough about my wardrobe dilemmas...so today..hmm well I have to say I zoned out for the first 40kms or so, and so missed any scenery etc that went by..it's a side effect of knowing you are in for a long haul day plus it was fairly rolling so nothing to keep me awake. I did notice soon after leaving Caceres, when I went down a no bike road, that there was a whole seperate road in place for cyclists! So the road I had gone on mirrored the motorway, and then you had a little road in between just for cyclists. All very impressive. Only lasted til the first town though..I guess there is a mass of bike commuters from there or something.

I woke up briefly for Trujillo, which provided an amazing outline on a hill on this rolling terrain, then onto Zorito, where there was some stunning straight descents unfortunately interrupted by the very annoying speed bumps and mini bumps. I only really woke up proper after this as the issue of food arose. I needed to eat before the 3 big ups that I knew were coming. Logrosan fitted the bill, though it was quite a dire 20km ride from Zorita. It wasn't tough terrain or anything just not the most interesting cycling through a high valley. Though I kept an eye on the big hills on my left as I knew that was what was coming soon.

A coffee, fanta and bocadillo de queso y tomate later and off into the hills I went! I have missed proper hills over the last few days. You know where you are with hills, all you need is to get into rhythm, then let the scenery distract you until you reach the top. No chance of zoning out here. So while I was wary of these climbs as they were at the end of the route and in the mid day heat, they were the best bit of the ride.

After the second climb I was expecting to be able to see my target for the day..Guadalupe, as I knew it was on an up, but nothing! I could only see more hills and trees. Quite disappointing. It only came into view on the last corner and then only being able to see the outskirts of a town. Zipping through the streets towards the centre to town, I suddenly spied what all the fuss was about this place.. The Royal Monestry. Wow. That stopped me in my tracks. As did the hundreds of day trippers. Best tactic head for the hostel and recoup before braving them again.

Where I am staying is a gorgeous place. Its run by an old couple who are very sweet and lovely. The room itself..well there is a fab set of welcome pressies on the table..a chocolate fig bonbon thing, sweeties, and a little bottle of local booze! Oh plus a random CD, but have no idea what to do with this. I also have a balcony overlooking the hills. Lovely couple also gave me a couple of guide books for the area, which made me want to stay and explore as it seems an amazing area.

As well as the monestry, there is also a very impressive viaduct just before you come into town. Apparently it was built about 40 or so years ago, becoming the most expensive constructions made for this railway line for which no train has ever passed. The timing was bad ..they finished building it as the use of trains to transport goods in Spain rapidly declined. Doh.

Sitting in the Plaza Mayor with my first chorros y chocolate..god I needed that sugar fix..when the day trippers had gone was very relaxing. There was the strange site of people bringing their horses to church, and 'parking' them by the cafes while they had a chat.

Tomorrow is a long and hard day. Slightly nervous as to how it will go. Applying the 'don't think of the whole' technique and make sure rest/food stops are taken etc.

Side note..both arm and leg tan lines are such that I cannot wear any of my tops (except my long sleeve) or my off bike shorts without looking a bit daft. Oh well, I think I have given up on trying to remotely look anything close to acceptable anyway.

Side note 2..I did notice that on some mountains to the north there was snow! I thought it was initially sun reflection, but no, there is snow on them thar hills. Not sure where that was yet, will check it later on this evening.

Posted by louisebenn 10:35 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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