Friday, May 3, 2013

Spain Day 1: Barcelona - Ainsa

Duration: 11h45m
Distance: 370 km
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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 :)


  1. Mihai,

    That is awesome... Man, wish I could have joined you guys... Keep the story coming....


  2. Sounds like you had a great trip...looking forward to learning more about it.


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