Barcelona, at last

Day 17: Lloret de Mar to Barcelona, 75 km

We've been back from our trip for about a week now, and I never did get around to posting about its very lovely final days. So now that I'm procrastinating writing my thesis, I thought I would rectify the situation!

I have very fond memories of our ride into Barcelona from Lloret de Mar. Because we had covered so much ground riding into Lloret, we had only 75km to ride into Barcelona, giving us ample time to relax and enjoy the marvelous Mediterranean vistas.

The best part of this day was brought about by a somewhat frustrating incident. As we were cycling along a busy stretch of road, we overtook a quite elderly male cyclist. He wasn't going fast as we passed by him, but I don't think he liked the idea that two young women were outdoing him, since he immediately sped up and passed us right back. However, as soon as he did so, he slowed down again, so we passed him. This back-and-forth passing continued for a while, and was really starting to get on our nerves. This guy basically refused to let us be in front of him, even though he couldn't hold our pace. And he'd occasionally try to talk to us, even after it became apparent to him that we didn't speak any Spanish or Catalan. We became frustrated and decided to stop so that he could ride on ahead.

And this turned out to be the day's best decision: we happened to stop on a beautiful beach, where we hung out for the next couple hours swimming, drinking beers at the little seaside bar, and napping. This brought us tremendous joy: it felt like real--and well-deserved!--vacation.

The rest of the ride into Barcelona was easy-going. We entered the city on a bike path, which we followed right up to the place we were staying on the Av. Diagonal, a main road that, as the name suggests, cuts diagonally through the city. The setup of this road was great for cyclists and pedestrians: the two directions of traffic were divided by a wide pedestrian walkway and bike path lined with trees on each side. This street was packed with people; it was refreshing to arrive in such a lively city.

We stayed in Barcelona with Kieran, an old friend of Nicole's from New Zealand. We spent our time wandering the streets with Kieran and our native guío turistico Xavi, a friend of mine from school. Our stay in Barcelona was just what we wanted. We felt like we experienced what the city was all about without doing much of the touristy stuff which just tires us out. People sometimes wonder how a bike trip can qualify as vacation when it's so tiring. Right back at you, people: being a standard tourist is way more draining than cycling all day, trust me!

Some highlights from our stay included: eating at a restaurant where diners select their meals from a fresh seafood counter; having really yummy tapas and the best strawberry mojitos ever; and shopping! I'm usually not that into shopping, but everyone in Barcelona is so well-dressed that we felt a bit out of place. And the clothes there are so beautiful!

On our last night in Barcelona, Xavi took us out for a traditional Catalan meal followed by some bar-hopping that took us from the absinthe bar, to the dark forest bar, to the doorbell-only access bar, and finally a dance club with bad 80s music.

All in all, Barcelona treated us well and was the perfect ending to a super fun trip!

I've now uploaded photos from my SLR to my computer. I will post a link to them here shortly!

Thanks again to all of our hosts for making our trip so wonderful!

A long and lovely second-last day

Day 16: Corneilla-la-Rivière to Lloret de Mar, 175 km (!)

We left Rainer's home this morning in a particularly good mood, having just had a tasty breakfast of fresh pain du chocolat, croissants and baguette. I had just downloaded our new favorite song (I'm a bit embarrassed by how girly it is!) and we sung along with it playing through my phone as we left Corneilla. The wind was at our backs; it was shaping up to be a good day.

The first 40-or-so kilometers through the Pyrenees were fast and beautiful. We crossed the border into Spain without a problem just before noon. And that's when things started going downhill--unfortunately, only in the metaphorical sense. It turned out that our route was on a terrible highway (on which bikes were permitted) that was extremely desolate and not very pretty. Only about 90 km into our day were we able to find somewhere to grab something to eat and escape the heat for a while. The place had wifi, and when I checked my email, it turned out that our host for the night in Parafrugell, only about 30 km away, had cancelled. We frantically searched Warm Showers, contacting any host between where we were and Barcelona. Luckily, Javier and his wife Toni agreed to host us for the night in Lloret de Mar. However, by the time we got everything sorted it was almost 4pm and we still had about 80km to go!

We weren't too excited about the rest of our ride when we set off in the heat. But things quickly took a turn for the best: the first part of our route turned out to be a beautiful road through the mountains and forest with a long, winding climb, which had to have been at least 7km long. It was no wonder that we saw so many cyclists in this route: the view was amazing (pictures don't do it justice) the road smooth, and only maybe five cars passed by the whole time we were up there. We had an equally windy, dizzying descent into a small town and then rode the last 30-40 km into Lloret de Mar. Part of this was the most amazing highway ever--huge, with a wide shoulder, no traffic, and mostly downhill. We had one more steep ascent before finally reaching Lloret.

All in all, this had to be one of my favorite cycling days of our trip. There's nothing quite like seeing amazing views when the sun is low and you're up high on your bike, going fast. In the end, we were very happy that our original Warm Showers host cancelled!

In Lloret de Mar, another touristy seaside town, our host Toni recommended a restaurant where we had a bottle if wine, bread, olives, sausage, mussels, veal and crème brûle, all for only 15€ each! A well deserved treat :)

Headwinds and gravel roads into Catalonia

Day 15: Valras-Plage to Corneilla-la-Rivière, 108 km

This was probably our worst day of cycling yet. The first twenty or so kilometers were ok, along a nice bike path and through beach towns very similar to Valras-Plage. Afterwards, though, we were on bad roads for about 10 km, and then a gravel road for about 15. That gravel road was the worst. Even though it was very beautiful, with bodies on water on both sides, we were unable to enjoy the view, since the whole time we were focused on finding the least bumpy part of the path. The vibrations hurt our hands and it was generally unpleasant. We were glad when it finally ended, and had lunch in Port-la-Nouvelle.

We were happy to be free from the gravel road after lunch, but we were met instead with a strong headwind and a busy road with a not-so-nice view. Heading into Corneilla-la-Rivière the wind was especially strong--fortunately we only had to deal with it for the last 10 minutes or so of our ride.

Corneilla-la-Rivière is a small Catalan town of just over 1000. Our host Rainer took us to his garden a few minutes' drive away from his house, where we had so many tasty things: muscat from the region, barbecued beef and sausages, ratatouille, salad, and of course fresh baguette and cheese. We have been eating well here!

Today we cycle into Spain! Hopefully crossing the Pyrenees will be ok!

Riding through the south of France

Day 11: Voreppe to Montélimar, 145 km
Day 12: Montélimar to Montpellier, 156 km
Day 13: rest in Montpellier
Day 14: Montpellier to Valras-Plage, 89

Sometimes I can't get over how awesome cycle touring is. On Friday we had a fast 145 km ride through the French countryside. We were surrounded by mountains and rolling hills all day, with the occasional castle or ancient ruin here and there. It felt like most of the day we were either going downhill or on flats. At times, we were consistently riding at 40 km/h, and our average speed was 25 km/h. And at the end of the day we didn't even feel tired! It's crazy how quickly our bodies can adapt to so much cycling. As Nicole says, you just do it and your body is forced to deal with it. She's right!

Even on Saturday, when we rode from Montélimar to Montpellier--not the prettiest route with a good deal of traffic--we enjoyed ourselves very much. Again, the 156 km we rode didn't feel very difficult, and we did the first 100 km in a flash, before stopping for a longish break from the heat. It feels so good to get a lot of cycling in!

Our trip is winding down a bit now. We had a day off in Montpellier, where our host Florent showed us around town in the morning and we went swimming in the afternoon at le Pont du Diable and wandered around the small town nearby.

Today we cycled out to Valras-Plage, a small seaside town on the south coast of France. A lot of our way was on a beautiful bike path along the coast, and it was quite the leisurely ride. Florent helped us navigate our way out of Montpellier in the morning, which was awesome, since that city is not easy to get around by bike! We stopped in Sète for some tielle, a pastry filled with squid and tomato, a specialty of this region. We arrived here in Valras-Plage at around 3 pm, went swimming in the sea, ate on a patio and had ice cream. And tonight we are doing something quite luxurious: we are staying in a hotel! It really feels like we're on vacation now!

Only three short cycling days and we're in Barcelona!

Frankfurt to Barcelona by bike

Day 1: Frankfurt Airport to Jörg and Andrea's, 24 km
Heading out from Wiesloch. Thanks, Carol!
Day 2: Frankfurt to Wiesloch, 102 km
Day 3: Wiesloch to Pforzheim, 72 km
Day 4: Pforzheim to Villingen-Schwinningen, 150 km

Day 5: Villingen-Schwinningen to Freienstein, 95 km 
Day 6: Freienstein to Bern, 153 km 
Day 7: rest in Bern 
Day 8: Bern to Lausanne, 105 km 

Day 9: Lausanne to Corbonod, 110 km
Day 10: Corbonod to Voreppe, 102 km 

It's been a week into my tour from Frankfurt to Barcelona and I've hardly had a spare moment to write. I wondered whether it's even worth keeping a blog for this trip, but decided to do it, even if my posts are few and far between. This trip has been fantastic so far, and I want to share my experience with you, my reader, as well as my future self! 

Nicole and I decided not to bring a tent with us on this tour and instead stay with people along the way. So far, this has worked out quite well for us, although it requires an amount of planning that we're not used to. Also, with a tent, you can easily stop early if the weather's bad or you want to stay in a place a bit longer, or ride later into the day if the wind is at your back or you have lots of energy. Without, it is important to get to where you need to go every night, which takes away some of the spontaneity of cycle touring. But it certainly has its benefits. In addition to the comfort of daily showers, home-cooked meals and warm beds, this way of cycle touring allows you to meet some great people. Most of our hosts have been from Warm Showers, an online hospitality community for touring cyclists. Nicole and I are constantly impressed by how great a concept this is. Every host we have had has been so warm and inviting, truly making is feel at home in their home. And because Warm Showers is a site specifically for cycle tourists, there is always common ground between us and our hosts: it's fun to swap stories about cycle touring, share routes and get to know like-minded people!Cycling through Germany and Switzerland was pretty great. Unlike Canada, these countries have extensive biking infrastructure, allowing us to ride along bicycle paths a lot of the time. It is possible to cross Germany only using the bike paths, but we used roads a good deal as well, since the bike paths are sometimes unpaved and often poorly signed, making it frustrating to get to our destination.  

Yesterday we crossed the border into France and, so far, it has been beautiful! We cycled today from a small village called Corbonod to a another called  Voreppe. We are in some serious mountains now, and today was probably the most fun day of riding yet. We had a few ridiculously long and, in parts, insanely steep climbs, but also some amazing descents. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video would be worth at least a million: I wish I had one in order to show you how insane these descents are! The hills are steep, the road is winding, the view is spectacular--and you get to take it all in at 70km/h. An experience at once terrifying and exhilarating!Right now, we are relaxing in the home of our second French hosts, Alain and Thérèse. Being here makes me really wish I knew how to speak French. Nicole was in French immersion, so she has been the one doing most of the communicating since we entered the French part of Switzerland. I'm actually surprised by how much of the conversation I can understand--almost all of it--but it's so frustrating not to be able to join in. In a way, it would almost be better not to understand a thing, so at least I wouldn't know what I was missing. In any case, I am inspired anew to refresh my French language skills. Perhaps a course in Toronto? In the meantime, Nicole has been doing an excellent job as my teacher and translator! :) 

The plan from here is to ride almost directly south to the coast and then follow it to Barcelona, where we hope to arrive by July 12th. I will try to post as often as I am able!