A Travellerspoint blog

day 48 Castejon de Sos


distance: 90km
Total ascent: 1010m
Hours in the saddle: 3hrs 50
Terrain: down along a valley, over a blip, then up along a valley.

Last night I had the best meal so far on the trip. I went to the hotel across the road and had..a vat of chickpea, cod and potato soup/stew, mushroom cannelloni, rice pudding, bread and olives and a WHOLE bottle of wine..all for 14€!!! Sooo good food. Just to add I thought that I was just getting a glass of wine, as is norm but no! They left the bottle. And no I didn't drink the whole thing, I would have been on the floor! So if you are ever in Broto go to Hotel Pradas for food, its awesome and they are lovely there too.

After dinner, I needed to walk it off a little so I went up to the river. I hadn't noticed that the weather had cleared up and so when I got there there was a fantastic clear view of the huge monolith of a mountain that lay behind the town. It was a huge butch of a mountain, almost box like, with the snow covering following the stone striatas and had a raw look to it. An awe inspiring sight.

Last night was also a momentous one...for the first time on the trip I had to reach for another blanket rather than the usual shedding of the loads! What is the world coming too.

So yes it was cold, and in the morning more so and knowing that the first 40km of today's route was downhill, I piled the layers on. I think I had pretty much every layer on that I possibly could. And I needed it. The descent was pretty gentle, it was following the River Ara's flow through the valley. It was a very beautiful ride. The rocka were quite visable here and the striata and formations wereamazing. The higher mountains have the horizontal lines, but there were also some with curved.. quite like the Sydney Opera House. It was quite interesting too as there was several abandoned villages along the way. The villages that were left were medieval, set up on bumps overlooking the vales and mountains, usually with a new town lying below. The best example of that was at the bottom of that valley and a town called Ainsa, a beautiful village on an amazing spot overlooking the wide river and the huge mountain to the side.

After Ainsa the road slowly went up, and went towards another huge monolith of a mountain (or maybe it was several mountains merged?). I think the person who designed this road was a sadist...again the road was heading directly to this monster.. no signs of going round it. Gulp. It looked far too steep to go up, but it just kept heading straight for it. Til right at the last minute it banked right and went along up its feet. I mean I know there are turns away, I can see on the map, but I don't trust where exactly these turns will be and I always have a moment of self doubt that I read the route right. Its happened before...

So the half mountain climb started here..a 'steady' 8% er for the first 5km or so. After that it came down a little and for no real reason I felt like bombing it up the remainder. I would say 'sprint' but with panniers I am not sure that's possible. Not that I knew how far was left..it was one of those climbs when there is no clear cut finish. But it was quite fun anyway just to break up the pace. Then descending again. Gah! Have I said how much I hate descending with my panniers in the wind??!! The only thing I hate more is tunnels. No, that is not quite true..tunnels are fine, a little disorientating, but fine. Lorries in long tunnels that's what I hate. Tunnels are loud anyway, but lorries in tunnels..god. And then you have to trust them to give you enough space and not take you out. I remember when I was in the Alps last year, me and a friend were going through a tunnel and got overtaken by two lorries..who then proceeded to blast their horn for funs. Bloody hell! We nearly fell off in surprise. The b'st'rds! So since then I am a little paranoid.

Actually lorries were the bane of the last part of my route too. After the descent, I reached Campo and turned left to go up the next valley. A gorgeous narrow valley. Downside to gorgeous narrow valley being it is narrow. So the road was not large enough for a white line..it was big enough for two cars..just..but because of all the bends the cars took the middle line. You add lorries into the mix and its not a whole lot of fun. Eventually they disappeared and I could actually enjoy the ride. The valley narrowed in further until I was riding with vertical cliff faces reaching up to the skies either side of me. Absolutely amazing.

Since just after Ainsa, the sky was noticibly turning darker and the clouds lower, and I had the feeling I was racing the rain home. By the time I got to Castejon de Sos, you could barely see the hills at all. And when I got out of the shower about ten mins latter, it was torrential rain. Once it stopped I went for a wander along the town to see what's what. And another jaw dropping moment when I saw the clouds had disappeared revealing that we were pretty much surrounded by snowy mountains! Sneaky little buggers! They keep surprising me like that! I can even see them from my room. Its a fantastic sight. Aside from that there is not much here..apparently you come here to paraglide and jump of cliffs and fun things like that. I think I might just leave that to then ;)

Posted by louisebenn 11:07 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

day 47 Broto

First day in the Pyrenees


distance: 56km
Total ascent: 700 ish? (Not actually looked today)
Hours in the saddle: 2 hrs 45
Terrain: rolling and mountain

Back on the bike day. Well..after 3 hours on the train to get back on the route through the mountains. Getting the train itself was very straight forward..aside from taking the scenic route to the station. I found out last night that actually the bus is quicker than the train, but it was a matter of principle now after all the many trips to the train stations the last few days..I was going to go on a train dammit!!

There was one other cyclist heading up to the mountains, he had a very fancy bike, and a suitcase..obviously making a weekend of it. It sums up people in the cycling world very well..that bike perving comes way before you actually notice the person actually with the bike. When actually riding it's usually a persons colours, then his bike, then them, always with a wave, nod, smile and a hello..talk about multi tasking!!

I was asked last night by a friend of mine how I felt about going back on the bike..excited or reluctant..and in all honesty I didn't have an answer. I have been so concentrating on actually moving between the cities and getting back on track that I hadn't actually thought about the back on the bike bit. Or that's what I was telling myself. When touring to a set time frame, its not really something you can think about..thinking in general is overated..you just have to do it, regardless. Though having said that I think I was worried how it would go rather than wanting to/not wanting to ride. Which is why the plan was to go the 3 hrs to Jaca and ride, rather than stop and hour into the journey at Huesca and go from there. I just wasn't confident where I would be mentally and physically on the bike. I also wasn't that confident about the Pyrenees and the weather. So a short day to find my legs again.

Jaca is, I guess you would say, on the outskirts of the mountains proper..its in amongst the green 'hills' rather than the grey mountains. Until you spy the snowy mountains in the gaps of the hills, you don't fully appreciate what that means. I don't remember seeing that difference in the Alps but perhaps its there too. I had read a description of the Pyrenees somewhere..saying while the Alps are the more manicured mountains, the Pyrenees are more brutal and harsh. And when I first caught sight of the moody snow capped mountains half hidden by the low clouds..you can certainly see where that came from. There was something very ominous about these mountains, something foreboding. I don't know why but it was enough of a feeling that I was almost praying my road wouldn't take me up one of those monsters. On a few occasions it looked like I was going to be and I had to swallow a huge gulp. But luckily my road went up the bottom of one but then meandered up along the range rather than up the mountain itself. Once reassured I was not going to the monsters, I settled into a training mindset, putting the gears up and leaving them set no matter the gradient. Distracting myself by the games of finding the road ahead in the trees, and making out roadsigns (one I thought was dinosaurs crossing but was actually a q of cars; my favourite is one I always read as 'hello'- it's actually hielo -ice...but where's the fun in that?).

So all in all an alright ride, cold though, very cold. Weirdly it is about 15degrees so its not really but I am still trying to get my toes warm. Tomorrow lots of layers.

I am stopped in Broto tonight, small town on a beautiful blue white river ..not clear glacial blue like in the Pico's...at just over 1000m up. I think its more of a ski town as its virtually deserted, or perhaps sensible people don't come here til the summer when it's warmed up some. Seems really nice though and I would like to come back when the suns out. Its been dry all day, windy but dry, but back to rain again now..and here there have more lightning in the afternoon tomorrow. Very glad I will be long gone by then...it seems I will be avoiding storms for my whole time in the Spanish Pyrenees.

Posted by louisebenn 11:12 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

day 46 Zaragoza

Public transport detour to avoid the storms day 2


Today was vastly different to yesterday. And yes yes Tuesday is always different to Wednesday but you know what I mean. I think I have said this before but there are some days where you really shouldn't try to get anything done, it just won't happen and you'll end up wanting to crumple in a heap on the floor and just stay there. Having said that it wasn't all like that..there were some very random moments that I took in but I just didn't have the humour to appreciate them fully then.

Little things like the quirkyness of my hostal..I got there about 10am, was let in to the hall and clambered up to the first floor where it was, to have the door opened by a lady in her nighty and dressing gown. I wondered for a moment if I was in the right place but she ushered me in, and I blathered at her in pseudo Spanish. She just looked at me, didn't say a word, walked to a room and opened it. It had just been vacated so she set about changing the bed. Very aware she hadn't even got up yet I tried to say I'd hunt leave my stuff and come back later but she just carried on. 6 blankets later bed made, me awkwardly standing by. Still not a word from the woman. Later on I worked out that her family lived on that floor of the building. The main room was at one end, the kitchen was randomly half way down the hall in the middle of the 'guestrooms', and their bedrooms down the far end. It was a most peculiar arrangement. It was also the most creaky building and am sure my bed was on a slope as I kept finding myself sliding toward the edge. Having said that the room was huge and brighter than the rest of the floor put together..so I can't complain.

Even my tiredness was funny looking back..as usual my linguistics ability of any kind deserted me. Which is not great when trying to ask people about getting to Zaragoza. For some reason, I kept muddling Zaragoza with Segovia and coming up with some random destination. I knew I was doing it but I couldn't seem to get it right...just kept spouting 'zaragovia' or something similar. No wonder the poor ticket sellers looked confused and quickly handed me over to another desk. I kept trying with the Spanish though and when I got a sentence out I was happy. Only to have my jaw drop when they fired back instructions at brakeneck speed. Back to wanting to sit on the floor again. Complete waste of time lol.

But c'est la vie. And in the end the journey was pretty straight forward. In the morning I went to the bus station, asked for a tickets, got it, waited, put bike on coach (no plastico needed), and bob's your uncle. Easy peasie.

Today you could see the storm more, it was pissing it down in Pamplona when I left and the wind was oooof! When I arrived in Zaragoza the rain had gone, dark clouds still threatened but the wind was there, and then some! According to the forcast the 'normal' wind was about 25 kph and the gusts around 60. Walking out of the train station I was nearly blown away. I tried cycling but my bike with the panniers is like having a sail attached so I ended up going sideways. Back to walking it was. Weirdly it was hot and muggy too, so I was glad to get to my hostal and change.

So Zaragoza...so after having a wander and sorting my train ticket for tomorrow..I did the usual just pottering , getting lost and seeing where the pretty buildings took me. I have to say I really like it here. It's very light and airy and open, even in the clouds and wind. It reminds me a little of Madrid as it's also quite quirky and you're never quite sure what is going to be round the next corner. I love the Plaza del Pilar, which is where I am sat now with a beer (as the sun finally made an appearance). Its a long Plaza with the cathedral one end, a basilica in the middle, and some quirky art works the other end. I think this is the first city I have been in where the cathedral doesn't take centre stage, the basilica does. It is amazing, almost palace like with 10 mini domes with green, yellow, blue and white tiles, others with green copper, and then the main dome in the centre. Goose bump moment just now when choral singing was randomly played out of it, though that could be the cold wind. I could quite happily sit here for hours looking at the basilica with my beer. But alas alack things to do...tomorrow to get ready for..

I am also back on the Rio Ebro, Zaragoza is upstream from Haro and the Santo Domingo area (which weirdly isn't that far away..I guess that says it all about how zig zag and all over the place my route is.) It runs behind the basilica and looks more impressive here than when I last saw it.

In other news:
I think I am addicted to frozen yogurt, never had it at home but here I have it whenever I see a yoghurt shop. I try and think of it as healthy as I have it with fresh strawberries and pineapple. Yum. It is restricted to one a day though that has been wavered on occasions.

Two random bruises have appeared on my left hand, one on the lower back of my thumb and the other on the ball of my thumb on the palm side. I thought it was impossible to bruise the palm but apparently not. No idea how they got there but they are quite impressive. I did originally think there was three new bruises but one turned out to be chocolate.

Posted by louisebenn 12:07 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

day 45 Pamplona


As you can see from the title I am not in the mountains after all. I spent a LOT of time last night debating about whether to go into the storm or not. It was tricky as I had no idea about the type of mountain storms they have here or indeed any idea about cycling and storms.

Time to consult the oracle that is Google... Cycling and lightning...discus! It sounds a really stupid thing to look up, but I wanted to cycle but not if it was dangerous or cause extra problems...it is a 'holiday' after all. So I found a couple of good articles, main points were as follows
- start looking for shelter as soon as you hear thunder or when it is 10km away (using 3 seconds per km rule). Shelter being a house not a tree. Sit and wait it out until thunder is back to being a good distance away for however long that takes.
- lower your elevation as much as possible. If you are up a hill/mountain come down it
- research your route and weather, and plan accordingly.

Taking those points against what I knew for my planned route:
- the route I was on was not the most populated. There were villages but not regularly past a certain point.
- there was three mountain peaks
- looking at the forecast along the route..while the beginning and end only seemed to have storms early afternoon, mid points had lightning forecast all day.

All in all not looking great..if there was lightning and I got off and got shelter, there was no telling how long I would have to be there for for it to pass through.

But I still wasn't 100% convinced..so I decided on a test..a test of the weather forecast against reality. So from 9 onwards rain was predicted in San Sebastian, previously I had seen storms predicted but that seemed to have gone. So 9 came and went, 10 also..and nothing. But then...Big rain and thunder and lightning!! Holy crap-a-doodle!!! Not get me on the bike for life nor money after that!!

So with a little more confidence in what the forecast was saying I looked further into it..and the storms would continue on my path the whole of the next day too :( not great. Time for an intense rethink as I had to keep moving east to keep to the schedule. It hurt, I tell you that. My poor brain. Anyway the outcome was to public transport it in a parallel route for those two days. Research into the where and how and all sorted.

Obviously things wouldn't go smoothly..ha! Where is the fun in that. I slept badly and the train I was planning on taking was leaving early. Before 7 I was making my way down the road to the station, only to find it wasn't the right station. Hoik across town to the other station, to find by very very diluted rapid Spanish speak that actually no, no bikes allowed. Fine. Bus. Back across town to down the road from the first train station for the bus station. Eventually find the ticket person, buy the ticket, all fine. But. 'Need to wrap the bike up'. 'With what?! This is all I have?!' 'Plastico, try the supermarket down the road'. 'Fine'. It's not even half 7 in the morning, the bus goes at half 8, nothing is open. This was turning into a version of the krypton factor! Eventually a market opened, I tried to explain what I needed and she gave me some black bin liners. It would have to do. When I got back to the bus station, my bus had just come in..and I grabbed the driver, and in probably the most pathetic Spanish ever explained that me and the bike were going with him, and pointing at the black bags. I think the pathetic talking, and the generally pathetic and disheveled and tired look worked, he just tapped my shoulder and told me it was all ok. We put it on the bus with no plastico at all.

Sitting on the bus..and relaxxxx..still no rain outside but the lowest cloud I have ever seen. We were not high up at all but the countryside was covered in dense cloud. An hour or so later and we are in Pamplona. Its a funny old place..obviously I have no expectations of it as I was not meant to come here..apart from the bulls I know nothing. The lonely planet has a funny description of it..along the lines of if you come outside the bull festival, you can't help but feel you have missed the party. I thought that was an odd thing to say but I can actually understand it now. It's actually a very quiet and sedate town...quite pretty in an understated way. Although I have to say most of it probably passed me by as I was so knackered by the early start and travelling. Usual getting lost meandering walking took place, though it is a hard place to get lost in. Plus sleeping and more planning. This public transport thing is quite stressful, but I think that's only because of the bike.

Posted by louisebenn 10:25 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

day 44 San Seb rest day


Ah rest days....quite a productive one too! Found a bike shop and got a few bits, pottered around the old town, found and internet shop and uploaded my garmin. I wandered over to the second smaller beach which is apparently more of a sufers hangout, and indeed there were some hot surfers all wetsuited up and ready to go. Not entirely sure why though as the sea was as flat as a pancake. I also bought a pair of decent shoes aka trainers as the others stank to high heaven and were falling apart. They are quite noticible trainers..perhaps a subconscious ploy to get people looking at my feet rather than my bad tan lines?!? Not just luminescent pink but two shades of luminescent pink, with luminescent yellow insoles to 'match'. They are not really my colour but there were a couple of things that sold them to me..very very light, very very comfortable and a big big seller..they have in built odour eaters in them! They are so comfy..I didn't realise how uncomfy my old shoes were until I put these on. My feet are now very happy.

To test them out I walked down the length of the whole promenade of La Playa de la Concha. It was actually quite a way, and there was all kinds of interesting things to see. For a start I should say it was blissfully quiet..all the afternoon hoards of people from yesterday had gone back to work and so there was only a scant few about. They seem to take week days as an opportunity to do some work on a beach..it took me a little while to figure out but they are effectively shovelling up sand from one part of the beach and moving it to another part a couple of hundred meters down. Talk about a never ending job!!! But I guess they have their reasons and its better than importing the sand in as I have heard is done in some places.
I passed also Wimbledon tennis club..I didn't check to see of they had any strawberries and cream. At the end of the cove there is a sculpture(s) to mark the edge of the city with the sea and wind. 'El Piene del vento' (Combe of the wind) is three curved steel sculptures anchored to the rocks and surrounded by the sea. the spot also gives you a great view back tot he main city and the beach.

I also looked to see if I could get my haircut..but of the ones that were open, they wanted to charge €52 !! No way was I going to pay that, so haircut will have to keep for now.

It was a really nice restful day. However there was a cloud hanging over me somewhat. Literally. I had seen the forecast for tomorrow. Now tomorrow is back on the bike and into the Pyrenees and it is also a pretty decent length ride too. A day when you really want the weather with you. But that is not to be for me. Rain and storms. All day. Rain is not great..at home I loathe the idea of starting a ride in the rain, if it rains when you are out that's fair game but voluntarily going out in rain..its just insane. Touring, especially touring on a deadline, doesn't give you a choice but to harden up and stop being a wuss. But storms..well thats another matter entirely. Obviously being on a mountain on a metal bike is not really where you want to be if there is lightning about. So all day I have been pondering over routes and alternatives..whether there is public transport (there's not)...even whether it is better the French side of the mountains (it is certainly less windy). On last check it seems that the storm has dissipated a little so if I leave early I should be able to out run it to the mountains. All that race pacing will pay off hopefully...see? I knew I was training for something! But I will stick to the main roads though just in case.

In preparation for the rain, I have snuck my bike into my pension room from outside on the street. Thinking about it now, it is perhaps not the most logical thing to do..she's going to get wet anyway tomorrow, so what's the difference? I have no idea, but I feel a lot better that she is here with me. That reminds me, the guy at the bike shop really liked her and offered to buy her from me. I think he has been around tourist bikes and mountain bikes too much! Nah, she's a good little bike, nothing fancy but she's turned out to be quite hardy and actually perfect for this touring job. I am already planning things to fix on her, like new bar tape, when I get home as a reward.

Posted by louisebenn 10:39 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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