07 September 2009


I just rode from Heidelberg to Spain, where I left the bike. It was really nice having the bike in Heidelberg with Stefan, but it is too cold to ride there in the winter, plus I want to go to Morocco next spring, so had to get the bike down to southern Spain before that. So here's the report:

Stefan was gone on the day I left, so I couldn't say goodbye (and no breakfast!). I rode an hour or so in the rain before stopping for breakfast in some backerei in some little town. Typically dreary, but they had great cookies and pretzel rolls, so I stocked up and headed back out.

After riding along the beautiful Danube a couple of times, I thought it would be nice to go see the source in Danauschingen in the Schwarzwald. It was kind of out of the way, but I didn't really have any plans anyway, so what the hell. The first thing I saw when pulling into town was the Cafe Reiter--nice! Sadly I was still full from breakfast so didn't go in...
So here is the source of the Danube; nice but a bit more fancy and dramatic than the source of the Mississippi. You can see a family down by the pool having a picnic lunch. As soon as I walked down there, they got up, packed up their stuff, and moved about 20 meters away. A little weird, but I figured they were German so didn't spend too much time trying to figure it out.
The wall next to the pool is covered with inscriptions in various languages, presumably extolling the virtue of the glorious Danube. Most of the inscriptions were quite old--from the 19th century, etc. A plaque also reported that one of the Roman emperors had visited the site, so it has been popular with tourists for quite a while obviously.So here is the mystery--the water spouting out from under the white pavillion is apparently what comes from the pool, which is the "source" of the Danube. So what is the big stream that the source flows into? Why isn't that stream called part of the Danube, with its source somewhere else? Was it as simple as someone deciding that they'd like to have the source of the Danube on their property, so that's what they called it? There's probabably some scientific/geographic rationale, but haven't heard it yet...
Here's a self-portrait before hitting the road again... I should apologize in advance for the few good pics in this post--like an idiot, I forgot one of my cameras, so I was afraid that the other one would run of juice or storage space, so I had to be kind of selective about what I took pictures of (OK, so it's not obvious so far...). The camera I forgot was the one I usually mount on my handlebars, so I didn't get any of those cool, blurry, shoot from the saddle shots this time.

After leaving Donauschingen, the next couple hundred kilometers were pretty boring as I headed toward the French border. Maybe I missed the "real" Schwarzwald, but overall I wasn't that impressed with the roads or scenery (although of course it was raining and kinda foggy this whole time). And it got even worse in France; I was still eager to take some pictures, though, so tried as hard as possible to find something notable--how about a dinosaur?
OK, kind of lame, but work with me...OK, shortly after the dinosaur sighting I turned onto a different road, and the scenery got much better--small mountains, forests, castles, this is more like it. I was riding down a road just on the west side of the French/Swiss border. I didn't really have a destination, but there weren't too many towns in this area, so I put my finger on the map and decided to head to the town of St. Claude, which looked like a mountain resort town. Here are some pix from along the way:

France is full of cool old churches like this:

Same church from down in the valley:

I thought this was a cool shot of the road; by the time I took the shot and put the camera in my pocket, the sun had gone behind a cloud and the moment was gone...
This little valley was really beautiful; there were some nicer shots back down the road a bit, but the road was really narrow and it wasn't safe to stop until here, so I took what I could get:

OK, so I finally arrived in St Claude after a very nice ride, although kind of exhausting--road was very twisty, and I was tired after riding all day.
Anyway, St-Claude was a major disappointment a great example of why sometimes you just ought to look at a guide-book before setting out in the morning. The place is in the mountains alright, but is hardly a resort town, it is pretty grimy and industrial. I rode right to the center, expecting to find a decent hotel, but it was not to be--only the Hotel du Poste or something, kind of a dump for 35 euro. Even worse, I had to walk all over town to find something other than a kebab stand open--finally found a pretty pricey restaurant, I think dinner cost more than the hotel, which doesn't happen too often. Here's a picture in the main square, my hotel is just off to the right:
I was a little worried about leaving the bike unguarded in the lot, since there were some locals around eating kebabs and drinking beer (suspicious characters, obviously!) but I put the cover on the bike and didn't have any problem.

Once again, I didn't really have a plan for this day, either, so I had to figure out where I was going. St-Claude kind of turned me off of France, so I decided that I would do a dash all the way across France and stay in either Biarritz or San Sebastian on the Atlantic coast--this was almost a thousand kilometers, so a long way, especially on small roads, but the route led through all kinds of tiny towns and I didn't really see any reason to overnight in any of them, so I decided to do the dash.
So I started off from St-Claude along some excellent curvy mountain roads before hopping on the autobahn toward Lyon and beyond for a couple of hours. My dear readers know that I almost always avoid the autobahn, but I had some serious ground to cover today, and moreover there was what looked to be an excellent route along some small roads west of Lyon, but no good small roads to get that far, so autobahn it was...
After leaving the autobahn at Massiac the ride was really one of the best ever, along tiny French country roads, through valleys and forests and fields and towns and past castles and along rivers, all the way to the rather parched wheatfields down in southwestern France as I approached Biarritz. I rode through Murat, Aurillac, Figeac, Cahors, Villeneuve-sur-Lot...I passed through lots of cool little towns and in restrospect I should have stayed in one of them instead of blitzing across France like I did. By the time I made this realization it was too late of course, as I was on the toll autobahn again as I approached the coast. Of course during all of this riding I have very little time for pictures so all of the beautiful places shall go unmemorialized...I only snapped this one picture when I got a little lost in a little town somewhere:
I'm not sure why I chose San Sebastian rather than Biarritz, both sounded pretty good, but Biarritz sounded a bit more glam, so I took a pass on it. I finally got to San Sebastian about 21:00, just before dark. But the picture below wasn't take then, but at about 10:00 the next morning. San Sebastian is a beach town, but the weather was awful for the two days I was there--about 50 degrees (F) and raining almost non-stop. Nice town, but...

Not many people spoke English, and none of the bookstores had an English/Spanish phrasebook. Weird. But the old town was really cool, with dozens of tapas joints with bars groaning under plates of delicious tapas, with hams hanging from the ceilings and excellent red wine. It was nice, but I got kind of bored wandering around the old town, which is not that big. I had planned on going to Biarritz to check it out, but between the rain and the dreary toll road I had to take to get there, I decided to pass, and instead spent the time in San Sebastian walking around, eating, and drinking. Was nice but would have been much more fun with someone else.
AUG 30
Again, no real plan today, other than wanting to ride through the Pyrenees. I thought I would maybe go to Ainsa, which was supposedly a cool walled medieval town near the mountains--perfect! It was only a couple of inches away on the map, so I didn't think it would take more than a couple of hours--it was maybe 20% of the distance I'd covered on the run into San Sebastian.

First decision was to skip Pamplona--it doesn't sound like anything too special when the bulls aren't running, so I decided there was no reason to go. I picked a couple of tiny towns in the mountains as waypoints and let the GPS take charge.

In the morning for some reason I felt really nervous on the bike, don't know why, maybe it was the really narrow twisty mountain roads, but I've done those a lot so it must have been something else. Whatever the reason, I rode like a granny all morning long until I loosened up a bit after lunch (although I still rode really cautiously...). Here is one of the little Basque towns I rode through in the morning. People didn't seem particularly friendly, and maybe that's one of the reasons I felt kind of weird...

There were lots of good views, although not as many as you would think, and moreover no where to stop on the really narrow roads, so I didn't get very many pix. Here's one I took at an overlook where I stopped for lunch:

Here is another little Basque town:

This is probably the curviest road I rode on the whole trip, although this part is not the curviest. You can see parts of the road in the picture below. A few miles back it was much curvier, the GPS track looked like a plate of spaghetti! But again, few places to stop so no pix...

Here's the overlook where I took the last shot. Does the sepia tone make my bike look like a classic?

OK, here's a typical little town, nothing special other than the fact that there was a place to stop!

Anyway, the ride to Ainsa took much longer than I expected, mainly because I was on tiny mountain roads the whole time, and riding them very slowly. I guess I finally arrived in Ainsa by about 17:00 or 18:00 after a full day's ride.

Ainsa is an incredibly photogenic place--a walled medieval city at the foot of a beautiful mountain. At first I missed the old town--it is at the top of the hill, and the new town is at the bottom--and was kind of unimpressed with the town. Nonetheless I found a decent hotel right in the center for about 35 euro, with a balcony and a view of the mountain. Only once I had checked into this hotel did I ride up the hill and find the old town, where there were several fancier hotels.

Here are some shots from walking around the old town:
Here are two shots which are basically the same, but I photoshopped the one into black & white, which I prefer--what do you think?
While in Ainsa I took a day trip to Torla, a nearby medieval town in the mountains; I didn't have much time there, but it looked nice, and the mountains are beautiful, so I'd like to go back.
The top one is so bright I thought I'd tone it down a bit, see below for a more faded look; not sure which I like better...

After a couple of days in Ainsa I decided it was time to hit the road again, to Segovia. I had planned to spend a night in Zaragossa, but the extra day in Ainsa didn't leave time for that, so we'll save that for a future trip. I rode south out of Ainsa, along a really beautiful lake/river:

I got on the highway before Zaragossa and stayed on it for a couple of hundred kilometers before exiting toward a national park area of some sort, with lots of little roads. Here is just another random castle I saw not far from the park, I thought it was pretty cool-looking:

Anway, a little further I entered the park itself, although it was kind of hard to tell where, as the signs were a bit dodgy and the GPS was whacked. I headed about 15 kilometers down a gravel road which dead-ended in a cow pasture, here's a shot.
No way out of there, so I turned around, and headed back, this time turned on the right road, which was about a 40-50 km long gravel road. The road was actually pretty good, but some ruts and loose stuff, so I was glad to get off of it finally. At this end of this gravel road was a village where the entire houses, including the roofs, were made of stone. It was pretty cool-looking, here's a shot:

But the day was still young! I kept going and found some tiny paved roads through the mountains, here is a vista from one of them:

Finally I got out of these tiny roads and got on one of the best roads I've been on in a long time--an excellent road through the mountains, with fantastic views like this, and lots of curves.

But the day's ride was still far from over--I had no idea, but apparently Segovia is not far from some rather large mountains--about 2000 meters, with ski resorts, etc. So I rode right through these mountains in the early evening and had a great ride, very twisty (sorry, no pix!). Finally, not long before dark, I pulled into Segovia.

Once again, I pulled into the center of town (or what the GPS calls the center of town) before looking for a hotel, and found the Hotel Aqueduct about 100 meters from the, well, acqueduct. Got the last room in the place with a balcony overlooking said structure and headed out for dinner and some beer, or actually wine, or actually sangria. It was getting dark when I finished dinner, so took a bunch of shots, which I think turned out pretty well.  Here is a shot from my hotel balcony, the others are from walking around town after dinner:

Segovia is certainly a photogenic city, and in fact I was so taken by the part of town by the acquaduct that I didn't realize that the main part of the old town was somewhere else, up the hill by the Alcazar.  I found out about the Alcazar in the morning and walked up there; the old town was nice but kind of like the other old towns that I would see.

It is not very far at all from Segovia to Toledo, so I decided to make a detour to Avila, another "ancient walled city".  It was basically autobahn to Avila, so boring, but the town was pretty cool, although I didn't spend much time there.  Here are a few pix:

From Avila it was a short ride to Toledo...kind of boring ride.  I got into Toledo and my trusty GPS guided me right up to the center, the Alcazar.  When I hit the Alcazar I stopped the bike, looked around, and found a hotel right across the street for 50 Euro.  OK place, but I suspect they had security problems because they said that for security reasons they didn't take credit cards and they didn't have any spare keys to the rooms (so don't lose yours).  Walked all around the old town, but was kind of board, very touristy with about a billion pocket knives and such (Toledo steel and all) but I just could get excited about buying anything, so I didn't (other than some cigars).  Here is a shot of from my hotel room at night, that building on the left is the Alcazar:

OK, next day rode of Toledo headed for Sevilla. I took all really small roads, but now I've forgotten which ones, but here are some pix:

The picture above shows the bunch of nothing that I saw during most of this ride.  Below is something a bit more attractive, but still there wasn't too much to see....

Here is my bike safely parked in old town Seville.  The GPS brought me right to the center, but to a place where there were basically all one-way streets so I couldn't get out.  Circled about four times trying to figure this out, finally stopped at a cheap (50 euro) pension and stayed there.  Was pretty hot, so I'd been hoping for a pool, realized later there was a hotel with a pool about 100 meters away.  Oh well.  Seville was pretty cool, very nice city, but pretty hot.  Would like to go back at some point...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wot a moto'wanker' lol