Friday, May 3, 2013

Spain Day 1: Barcelona - Ainsa

Duration: 11h45m
Distance: 370 km
Interactive map:

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We started the day pretty early at 4:30AM, since both Joe and I were pretty heavily jet lagged. We had an early breakfast (great diversity by the way at Hotel Numancia) and we were really ready to kick stands up by 8AM.

Numancia hotel parking. Ready to kick stands up.

After a short ride on the highway, where we were just getting used to the bikes and the speed of 120km/h seemed quite fast without the big wind shield I was used to on my Connie 14, we exited into road C-55 towards Montserrat. I missed a turn on my GPS (the first in many), just because the directions were given in kilometers and meters and they seemed a lot shorter than the miles I was used to.

We hit the first twisties just as we started the climb on BP-1121 towards Montserrat. The roads seemed narrower than in the US, cars seemed to take more road space and they seemed to go faster. I'm sure it was all an illusion due to the fact that I was seeing the speeds in km/h rather than mph.

Once up on the mountain, the monastery appeared big and imposing, and even though it was only 9AM, it was already getting crowded. We snapped a few pictures.

Open Google Street View at this location

Unfortunately we did not climb the last stint to the chapel on top of the mountain, which was available only by funicular railway (cremallera).

Little students in a school day trip to Montserrat :)

We continued on BP-1103 a super-twisty that goes north around the Montserrat mountain. Road surface is impeccable, however there might be traffic at times. We were lucky and didn't encounter much.

Soon we were pulling into Manresa, having been on the road for about 2 hours, it was definitely time for a little coffee. Normally I'm not a coffee drinker, but under special circumstances (like being jet-lagged and apparently Spain has good coffee), I indulged.

Joe introduced me to café cortado, which is an espresso 'cut' with milk (do not confuse it with the Italian caffe macchiato) -- a great way to shake some jet lag away.

I was soon to discover the other types of Spanish coffee: the espresso solo - exactly what it means, café con leche - coffee with milk similar to the Italian caffe latte, and the café Americano - typically a large coffee (size matters in the US) where espresso is mixed with water.

We continued towards Solsona on C-55. The road shows up as a thick red line on the map, which indicates it's a major non-freeway route. Indeed it's major, thus no fun. It's a 'transport' route, as Joe calls it. It takes you from A to B with no frills or thrills.

From Solsona, however, we took a much less important road, LV-4241. Now, that's the road I like. This one starts more bumpy, so you can feel its rough surface. Then it gets narrower as it starts climbing, turning into a strange kind of Spanish goat trail -- a one lane (no marking) narrow road, full of twisties and blind corners, until it takes you to a plateau surrounded by far away mountains.

Here we encounter the first surprise Spain was going to throw at us: just after Lladurs, we notice a herd of sheep on the side of the road, the shepherd and his dog. We stop immediately and start taking pictures and video the whole setup :) The little shepherd dog was impressive -- he was using minimum amount of energy to get the sheep to move his way.

Herd of sheep North of Llardus
Open Google Street View at this location

We continued North-West on L-401 towards Coll de Nargó. The road is amazing: one lane canyon road, cut in rock, blind corners, narrow, tunnels, perfect surface and not a car in sight.

Time to go a bit sporty, now that the bike started to feel a bit more familiar. Let's see how that front 21" tyre cuts into corners. I can tell you, it cuts absolutely fantastic. The bike is perfect for just this kind of a road. So predictable, so well balanced, perfect weight to flip around easily. The skinny tyres (Michelin Anakee 3) have amazing grip. The Tiger's rear tyre is thinner than my Connie's front tyre :)

Open Google Street View at this location

Open Google Street View at this location

In Coll de Nargó we had the first chance to experience the Spanish 'menu del dia' - menu of the day. This typically consists of a soup or salad or some kind of appetizer, a main course with a side dish, and a dessert. Also includes bread, water and wine (for 2 persons, you get a bottle of wine! -- shocking, I know). But the real shock is the price: 10-15 Eur per person, depending on restaurant location. The meals were always fresh, prepared the same day, typically a couple of hours earlier.

Unfortunately, being on a motorcycle, we wouldn't drink the wine (ok, maybe a glass each, a small glass during lunch), so we would pack the bottle of wine with us and drink it later on in the evening, once the steel horsies were parked for the day :)

After lunch, we went West towards Isona on L-511, then to Tremp on C-1412b. The road to Isona is just a feast of twisties. "There are just too many turns" as one of my buddies told me once about California Hwy 36 :)

We arrived in Tremp around 4:30PM, only to find the town empty, except for 3 guys on a terrace having a smoke at the local bar. Jet lag was demanding its price, so I quickly downed an espresso solo.

The simple life.

Joe was looking for cigars, but everything was closed, so we sat down on the terrace and started chatting with the 3 guys.

Then something amazing happens -- the clock strikes 5 o'clock and in minutes the whole central square fills with people: babies pushed in strollers, toddlers running, screaming, playing, riding their bicycles or toy motorcycles, moms chatting and gossiping, dads playing with the kids, having a drink or a smoke on the terrace, and people simply enjoying another beautiful afternoon outdoors in their beautiful small community. And then it strikes me "the simple life!!!". This is it! That's how life is supposed to be lived! Forget about the rat race, the never-ending meetings and rush you have every day in the office. Forget about the long work hours, the coming home at 7 in the evening only to put your kid in bed. These people have figured it out, it's the social aspect and family aspect that matters. It's so beautiful, it puts a tear in my eye (I seem to get emotional when sleep deprived) :)

I'm having a second espresso. Joe buys his cigars from the Tabacs shop, which is now open, and we continue West.

Little did we know that what came next was one of those 0.001% motorcycle roads, that so many call "the best road in the world". Enter the mighty C-1311, Tremp - Puente de Montañana. What a truly exceptional piece of tarmac. I read reviews about this road in my research prior to the trip. People were raving about it, but the reviews don't do it justice. I saw videos motorcyclists took of it and they don't do it justice. I looked at it on Google Street View, but helas, no... they only way to really experience the sheer awesomeness of this road is to ride it.

Later this holiday, we rode this road twice more, just because we could. It was so amazing! :)

In Puente de Montañana, Catalunya ends and Aragon starts. Welcome Aragon. We continued West on N-230 to Bernabarre, then N-123 to Graus. It was getting late into the day and none of us had any desire for riding at night, but before we pull into a Hostal, we had to throw in one more twist. This came in as the tiny forest road HUV-6441 to Tierrantona. What a little jewel of a road. A tiny narrow one lane road in the middle of nowhere, up on the ridge of a mountain. This really reminded my of California's Forest Road 23S16, only with much better pavement and equally great scenery. However, the road was marked and had a dashed central line. Ironic! Two motorcycles could barely pass each other, but the central marking line was present :)

Open Google Street View at this location

Before it got dark we made it into Ainsa to Hostal Dos Rios, where a single room was 34 Eur or 38 Eur with breakfast. Are you kidding me? Yes, please! It was a perfectly decent room, with full bathroom and bidet, but more about those in a later post :)

We had just evaded a nasty storm, so we watched the sunset through the thick clouds.

We parked the bikes in the hotel's locked indoor private parking, and then we went for dinner. Another menu del dia, where we ate a three course with bottle of tinto for 16 Eur each -- apparently, prices go up for dinner :)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spain Day 0: Getting to Barcelona

It's time for a holiday. Joe and I are flying today to Barcelona for a motorcycle tour through the Pyrenees. The next 8 days will be spent in the saddle of a Triumph Tiger 800 XC going up and down the Pyrenees passes.

We booked the flights (~1000 USD) and rental bikes (also ~1000 USD) a few months in advance. We both flew from SFO to Barcelona via Newark and rented the bikes from

The flight from SFO to Newark was about 5 hours on United airlines. Typical to US domestic flights, this flight was pretty lame: "long live mercantilism" - everything was to purchase... beer, wine, other spirits, so called food (or better yet some dry cold sandwiches, crackers or snacks -- yummy). Even watching TV was to be paid for and I'm not even mentioning movies. They didn't have enough supplies on the plane and at some point they ran out of milk and water. Indeed, who needs water?! :-p

In Newark we had a 2 hour stop, just enough to grab dinner. The second flight was about 8 hours long (overnight flight). Although it was still on United, this flight was slightly better: still no free alcohol (although pretty much all non-US airlines I flew with do serve it freely), but at least there was free entertainment TV, movies, meals and water... shocking :)

We arrived in Barcelona at 9AM on Thursday, got through the passport control quickly, got some Euros from an ATM and then caught a taxi to Hotel Numancia (trip fare including airport tax and tip was 30 Eur). In Europe tipping is not expected, unlike the US. You tip if you want to or if the service was really extraordinary, or simply if you want to get rid of coins. If you do chose to leave tip, it's usually to round up to either the next integer or to the next 5 Eur. Personally, I hate coins, so I typically just leave all the coins I have as tip. Therefore, a taxi fare of 28.65 Eur, becomes 30 Eur to me or a 11.30 meal becomes 12 Eur. The same in restaurants, bars, etc... If you do tip  more than 10%, people will be extremely gracious for it, and definitely consider you American :)

The bad news came at the hotel reception, where they informed us we could only check-in as of 3PM. The plan was to take a quick 1-2 hours nap until noon, then spend the day roaming about Barcelona. Instead, we started with the roaming about part.

Since we needed the exercise, we chose to walk to Sagrada Familia (about 4kms or 2.5miles). It is then we discovered just how many motorcycles and scooters are in Barcelona. A lot!!! I would estimate the total number in the hundreds of thousands. On every street corner there were tens and tens of such parked vehicles. Most street corners had a designated parking areas for them, but people would park them just about anywhere on the sidewalks. Of course parking for motorcycles and scooters is free. I snapped a few pictures of more emblematic models we encountered.

Royal Enfield. Must be from the '60s by the looks of it.

Vespa PX125. Notice the spare wheel :)

Walking along the Carrer de Provença towards La Sagrada Familia, we first notice the crowd. It was only around 11AM, but the crowd was already massive. We approached the intersection and only then we notice the reason why people were crowding around: La Pedrera, the famous Gaudi stone house. It was impressive.

Queues of tourists flocking around the house.

Impressive embroidery on the balconies. Looks like lace, yet it's solid metal.

Close after Pedrera, we founnd a Triumph dealer. It was a must, so we entered to check out the beauties. It was impressive how many bikes they could cram into a small space. We were also a bit shocked by the prices. They were comparable with US prices, although slightly higher, but they were in Euros. Given that the exchange rate at the time was 1 Eur = 1.31 USD, the bikes in Europe (or Spain at least) are at least 1/3 more expensive than in the US. That's a lot!

Joe inspecting the Triumph beauties.

The modern classic - Triumph Bonneville

The bad boy - Rocket III Roadster for only 18.595 Eur

We made it to Sagrada Familia and we encountered the crowds again. This time we didn't go inside the church (I would go later to visit it after the motorcycle tour). The construction is still going on and unfortunately, the facade is still partially covered and flanked by high-rising cranes.

A hippy was making soap balloons in front of Sagrada Familia and kids were going crazy. I couldn't help myself and I paid extra attention to my pockets and backpack -- these events where people open their eyes and shut their awareness are perfect opportunities for pickpockets. I have to admit though, I have not seen any pick pockets in my entire holiday.

Around 7PM, Anton, the owner of, came by the hotel and delivered the two Tigers. I liked the bike the moment I saw it. It was looking pristine with less than 8000km on board. Anton showed us the ins and outs, as wells as different adjustments we could make. He also installed the GPS mounts and my own Adaptive mount that I had brought with me from home. I have a velcro-covered mount where I can attach any velcro-covered device. I keep my iPhone on it usually with Google Maps or a GPS tracker application (I use Trails -- that's how I recorded the tracks on the interactive map

The two Tigers ready to roll.

Anton recommended a small restaurant/bar on the corner (La Perla) and a rice dish with a Catalan name that I cannot remember anymore.

We went there for dinner and were surprised to find a small hole in the wall kind of place, yet with fantastic food and great atmosphere. We ordered some tapas and pints. And that's where my Spanish lessons started. Joe explained that I had to start with the basics. So the first word was caña -- pint. For whatever reason I kept confusing the word with cuña -- cradle. So later on this holiday, I would of course, go to a bartender and order victoriously "Quiero una cuña, por favor!" :-). She would look at me funny and reply in English "I beg your pardon...", but more about that later :)

The rice dish Anton recommended was simply delicious. It was a combination of the French bouillabaisse with the Spanish Paella, or in other words it was something of a more soupy paella with crab, fish, mussels and chicken. The wine of choice would be red, or simply called tinto. It doesn't matter you eat white meat or dark, Spaniards, I noticed, will always have tinto. We had some house tinto, which went really well with the rice dish.

It was getting late for our jet lagged bodies, so we called it the night, excited about the adventures, which were awaiting the following days.

I already started to enjoy Spain :)