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A Bike Tour In Spain: Visiting Granada

Posted January 6th, 2011

It’s nearly 9am before we get out of our tent and start packing up the bikes.

Leaving Our Pine Woods Campsite

The later-than-usual start drives Friedel crazy in particular. Even though it’s winter and there’s no light until 8:30am, she’s been awake for at least 2 hours and would have liked to be on the road far earlier. “We’re losing the whole day,” she grumbles (we haven’t had a coffee yet either). Andrew has wisely learned to ignore these comments.

Soon we are on the road, climbing up hills, through villages and alongside relics of the past, like this wash house. We stop and wonder when the last time was that anyone had to use it? You can see the washboards are worn, and the water still runs through the basins.

Old Fashioned Wash House

We go higher still, until we reach a peak and admire the morning sun lighting up the mountains north of Granada. By now, even Friedel admits it’s hard to be grumpy when you have a view like this. We have them almost every day in this part of Spain.

Mountains North Of Granada

It’s lunchtime before we reach the city itself. Although there was only 30km between our campsite and Granada, this last 30km seems to take ages to navigate. City traffic is almost always a bit stressful and it’s easy to get lost, which we do. Several times.

This means it’s early afternoon when we reach the main reason for our stop here; a visit to the Alhambra – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the low tourist season and mid week but there are still tons of people here and tickets to the most spectacular part of the Alhambra are sold out. We have to settle for a walk around the gardens, but they’re still pretty impressive.

There are ornately carved door and window frames.

Amazing Old Doors and Carved Stone

Beautiful archways.

Beautiful Archways

And quite the view over the surrounding houses – which look more like a village than the large city of Granada.

View from the Alhambra

As the sun fades away, we snap a few last shots in the glowing afternoon light.

Fading Light At The Alhambra

And we wander home in darkness, past sights that are unmistakably Spanish.

Hams For Sale In Spain

A Bike Tour In Spain: Mud & Mountains

Posted January 4th, 2011

“Go back, go back!”

Andrew is shouting but it’s too late. Friedel is already in the midst of the mud that’s washed over the back roads of Andalucia during the recent heavy rains. Once across the worst of the mess, we stop to inspect the damage.

From the front it doesn’t look too bad….

Muddy tires in Andalucia

But from the side it’s obvious we’re in trouble.

Muddy mess

These wheels aren’t going anywhere. The good news is that we’ve managed to plug our wheels full of mud next to an irrigation channel, so after a mere 30 minutes of “spray treatment” using our water bottles as pressure washers, we’re able to hit the road again. On we roll, through olive groves, and past castles.

Olive Groves north of Jaen

Castle of Berrecuo

We stop briefly in Jaen for a night, to see the city and admire the cathedral.

Jaen Cathedral

Then it’s out early the next morning, following a bike route to Granada suggested to us by cyclists from Jaen. Pedro and Andres, we’re sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet you, but we wouldn’t have found this beautiful road without you!

Andalucia is mountainous. There’s hardly a flat stretch to be found and the climb out of Jaen towards Granada proves to be one of the tougher ascents of the trip. At our hill-climbing speed of about 5km/hour, we see Jaen slowly shrink out of view behind us.

Jaen shrinking out of view

After an hour, we reach a small plateau. It feels like we are cycling in the sky itself.

Cycling In The Sky

We look at this local map, and we quickly realize our climbing is far form over. To paraphrase a quote from the Wizard of Oz: “Toto, we’re not in flat Holland anymore!”

Hills on the map

Time for some sustenance. At this local bakery, we pick up a bag full of muffins and half a kilogram of coconut macaroons. Our cyclists’ appetites have returned!

Spanish Bakery

On the way out of town, we can’t stop marvelling at the small-town life that we see all around us. Sometimes it feels like Spain is in a time warp (in a good way), with images that have been all but lost in other parts of Europe, like these two little girls going to do the morning shopping.

Girls going to do the shopping

As the day progresses, it only gets more interesting. Our road runs out. Literally…

The road runs out

We get our first view of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Sierra Nevadas

And we climb ever higher, stopping to admire the views. Andalucia is hard work on a bike, but the scenery is your reward.

Olive Groves for miles

B&W impression of Andalucia

And there are some friendly locals too :)

Cute Dog

The mountains keep coming. They’re steep and long enough that it’s soon clear we can’t cycle from Jaen to Granada (a distance of 90km) in a day. Instead, we find a spot in a pine forest to set up camp. Andrew cooks supper by lamplight, and we rest our legs for the next day’s adventures.

Andrew cooking supper

A Bike Tour In Spain: Quiet Christmas Cycling

Posted December 30th, 2010

It’s Christmas Day. The roads are silent. The skies are blue.

It’s the perfect chance to get out the tripod, put the camera in the middle of the road and snap a rare shot of the two of us together…

Just The Two Of Us

Despite cycling many thousands of kilometers together (yes, we still enjoy each other’s company, and no, we don’t know how that’s possible either), we have very few photographs together. Most of our photos look something like this…

Cycling Through Olive Groves In Spain

As it’s Christmas Day, we’re on the lookout for any excuse to treat ourselves. So much cycling has made our noses extra sensitive to any hint of food, so when we smell the aromas of food coming from a small bar we screech to a halt.

Inside, we’re soon sitting down to a plate of Spanish bar food.

Christmas Lunch

It’s hardly the typical turkey dinner. Instead, we tuck into a feast of pork – the meat of choice here in Spain. There’s chorizo on bread, deep fried chorizo and a few token chicken wings, topped with a handful of french fries. The name of the bar should have given it away. The sign outside reads: ‘Bar Chorizo’.

There’s just one thing missing….

Andrew brings the wine

Ahhhh, that’s better! With a glass of wine in one hand, we work our way through our meal. It’s all good, but the olives in particular are wonderful.

And the olives...

They’re totally different from the olives you get in a jar. They’re home made. Slightly salty (but not as salty as commercial olives). A little garlicky. Crunchy. Delicious!!

Fuelled by this lunch, we climb our way to the town of Arjonilla. The first thing we see is this church.

Arjoniila Church

The mosaics catch our eye, so we stop to have a closer look.

Arjonilla Church

Then it’s off down the old-fashioned main street. One thing we’ve noticed in small Spanish towns is that there are hardly any chain shops. It’s all mom-and-pop operations. Of course today, being Christmas, everything is closed.

Typical Spanish Small Town

The water fountain is open, of course. There’s always a drinking fountain in towns in Spain. Sometimes you have to hunt for it a bit, but it’s always there and it’s very convenient if you’re passing through on a bike! We fill up all our bottles because we know we’ll be camping that night.

Collecting Water from a town fountain

Cycling out of town, we pass field after field of olive groves. We’ll later learn that 70% of land in this area is given over to olive production. It follows then that our camping spot for the night will be in an olive grove. There’s little other choice. Around 5pm (about an hour before dark), we spot this trail and Andrew goes to investigate.

Up This Path?

Since the roads are so quiet (we’ve barely seen a car in the past hour), it’s no problem to get off the road without anyone seeing us. Soon our bikes are tucked under an olive tree for the night.

Bikes Under An Olive Tree

Our tent is also set up and we make the preparations for the evening. Slicing vegetables for supper. Pumping up the sleeping mats. Finding our long johns (it’s cold up here at night).

Tent Set Up For Christmas

We’re not in our house for Christmas, but we are home. After about 500 nights in our tent, it always feels like home.

A Bike Tour In Spain: Crossing Rivers On Christmas Eve

Posted December 27th, 2010

We never dreamed we’d be crossing water in our bare feet on Christmas Eve, but we were…

The day started normally enough, with a coffee at a local bar. This is an essential way to start the day if you are bike touring in Spain.

Coffee In Spain

Then it was off to the TransAndalus trail. We had high hopes of riding the back roads under bright blue, sunny skies. We forgot to count on the effects of the recent heavy rains. By the time we got to the newly created river, we’d bumped through too many mud puddles to turn back. Too much energy had been invested. Instead, we stripped off our socks and shoes and waded in…

Preparing to Wade

Friedel went first (there’s a video coming later of her screaming her way through the cold water). Then Andrew dipped his toes in…

TransAndalus Trail

The last time we had to do something similar was in Kyrgyzstan.

Fording Rivers in Kyrgyzstan

Back in Andalucia, the water seemed as cold as in Kyrgyzstan. We were grateful for a few small islands in the river that provided a refuge.

TransAndalus Trail

This wasn’t the last adventure we would have on the trail. We splashed through endless puddles and walked our bikes down plenty of rocky, washed out tracks.

Friedel walking her bike

Washed Out Tracks

A river runs through it

And eventually we emerged – several hours later, tired and dirty but feeling satisfied – onto a beautiful and normal road. We had covered about 10km in 3 hours but we didn’t mind. For us, bike touring is not about the distance but the fun you have along the way.

Normal road!!

What a great Christmas Eve.

A Bike Tour In Spain: False Starts

Posted December 24th, 2010

This is the first in a series of journal entries from our bike tour of Andalucia, Spain in December, 2010. We provide links to later entries at the bottom of this post.

Our carefully planned winter bike tour of Spain turns out to be one of false starts.

The flight is cancelled because there is too much snow. We unpack our bikes from their bags, rebook the ticket and bike home through the winter storm.

Kids Biking In The Snow

Three days later we try again. Now the snow is so thick we can’t leave home by riding our bikes. We push instead. Our normal 15 minute ride takes nearly an hour. Despite this, we do get to the airport in time and – even more amazingly – the plane actually goes.

We land in Madrid to perfect temperatures and our new Santos bikes have arrived in perfect condition, despite only packing our bicycles in plastic bags.

The next day – after a train journey to the town of Talavera de la Reina – we start cycling and for the first day, we actually have decent weather. We cruise down the hills.

Cruising Down Hills In Spain

We admire the olive harvest.

olive groves

Olive Harvest

And we stop for many cups of coffee. At just €1 each they are cheap and a good way to meet the locals. “Frío! Frío!” exclaims one elderly Spanish mama as she serves us our cafe con leche (coffee with milk) in a tiny village.

Cafe Con Leche

“Cold! Cold!”

Yes, she’s right. It’s cold by Spanish standards. But we prefer cooler weather for cycling so we’re quite happy. As long as it doesn’t rain, we think. Maybe just the thought of rain was enough to tempt fate because soon the heavens open on our heads.

This is our second false start. We have already lost 3 days of our trip to flight delays and now we will lose another 3 because the pounding rain and winds make it impossible to cycle very far. One day we manage just 30km before collapsing exhausted in a hotel.

When we do manage to cycle, it’s a bit of a struggle. But somehow – between the storms – we snap some nice photos.

We wave at the sheep, huddled against buildings for protection against the driving wind and rain.

Sheep in Andalucia

We enjoy the open, quiet roads (there is barely a car to be seen).

Open Roads of Andalucia

And we cheer when we reach the border with Andalucia.

The border between Andalucia and the Extremadura

Now it’s Christmas Eve and we’re promised sun for the next few days. We’re off to cycle some trails, and we hope that we can find some wild camping opportunities.

While we’re out in the wilderness, we next have to think about how to shorten our trip, because with all these delays the original plan of a 1,200km loop is now impossible.

After this entry, go on to Quiet Christmas Cycling, Mud & Mountains, Visiting Granada, Where Will We Sleep?, Cycling In A Painting and Reaching The Peak