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 :)

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