‘The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see’ – Gilbert Chesterton
Underground baths, The Royal Alcazar, 5d2, 16-35L
It’s often difficult to recall parts of the trip – something triggers a memory and I float off into the Fjords or the Alps or the backstreets of Sicily. Like the perfume of a lost love or that one damned song that brings a tear to your eye or a grin to your face, memories usually sit below the surface and surprise you when you least expect it. The quote by Chesterton (above) made me ponder -especially as I came to write this post and discuss mass tourism.My abiding memories have been more about moments in time – nights spent chatting in the bar, shivering on the Furka pass, riding through fog and fire and some of the more bizarre happenings on ferries and in service stations. I remember the sunsets, the palaces, the architecture but they were a minor part of the experience. I’m not sure if I’m a ‘tourist’ or a ‘traveller’ and I wouldn’t look to pigeon hole myself as either – we have a habit of trying to be different to denigrate other’s experiences. I dislike tourist centres – way too busy and far too superficial with people arriving for their 15 minute slot, taking the obligatory selfie, posting it on social media and then moving on to the next attraction. I often wonder (and I include myself in this) as to whether we travel to actually ‘see’ or whether we want others to see we are travelling and having a ‘good time’. The two are very different of course and to each their own I guess.
View towards the Alhambra palace, 5d2, 16-35L
Heading East from Portugal into Spain was pleasant. I couldn’t get any accommodation remotely close to the City and I ended up about 10 miles out and even then it wasn’t strictly within my budget. Having parked up, offloaded all the panniers, locked the bike and completed three round trips to the room, I was shattered. I showered and headed down to the bar for a bite to eat as it was late. Now, English is my primary language. By primary, I mean only unless you include Latin but I doubt that anyone particularly wants to hear me recite ‘My Lady’s pet sparrow is dead’. Hell, even my Latin teacher didn’t want to hear me recite it.
The issue with being 10 miles out is that the hotel was in a non tourist area and so…no English. Not a problem. Looking at the menu and being bored of chorizo, I couldn’t work out what anything else was. The waitress spoke no English, I spoke no Spanish and so we started a game of charades as she, with a shy smile, tried to explain what each thing was. I was even more confused and she was getting more frustrated. Then an epiphany – she said ‘egg’. I repeated ‘egg’, she grinned and said ‘si si’. Giving a thumbs up I asked with open hands ‘egg errr’. She thought for a moment, then came the word ‘soup’. Egg soup I asked looking a bit baffled. ‘si si, egg soup!’ Now, I’m no prude when it comes to food but egg soup had me a bit concerned. Quickly weighing up that she probably wanted to go home and I needed to eat I plumped for it and gave another thumbs up.
It’s quite a long wait when you are waiting for egg soup. Downing a beer and water, I returned to the menu as though suddenly I may , matrix style, have downloaded Spanish into my brain but amazingly, I hadn’t. I ordered another beer. After what seemed like an eternity, she reappeared from the kitchen carrying a plate with a silver cover – I must admit to some trepidation that egg soup was going to be unveiled before my eyes but as she removed the cover with a big smile I was met with a tuna salad. I doubt there have been many times in the history of mankind that someone has (1) Felt an overwhelming sense of relief to see a tuna salad whilst (2) Being disappointed not to see egg soup.
The Cathedral de Sevilla, 5d2, 16-35L
I had to take 2 buses to get into Sevilla centre and it was a pleasant journey through the suburbs -seeing people off to work and school whilst Hawkwind hummed gently in my earphones. Took a while but it was a sunny day, clear skies and the temperature was rising.
Sevilla was quite beautiful and despite being busy with tourists, it was remarkably relaxed. I spent the full day there and I wished I had booked another night stay but unfortunately I had booked the following night in Cordoba and couldn’t cancel – a timely reminder not to plan too far in advance at all.
Grabbing Churros and hot chocolate out of a window stall, I joined the queue for tickets for the Royal Alcazar – didn’t have to wait too long. I can usually take or leave places like this but the Alcazar was truly fantastic. Amazing sets of rooms, gardens, water features, underground baths and stunning architecture. It is, like much of Spain as mentioned in previous posts, a blend of Middle Eastern and Western influences. It works well. I stopped in the gardens for a while as it was so relaxing – sat on a stone bench watching water slowly flow down an open channel to a pond of carp. I can still feel the warmth on my skin (and the ache in my shoulder from the riding…) even now. After a quick call home since it was my birthday, I left the Alcazar behind and walked to the Plaza de Espana which is a colossal building – even with a super wide angle I couldn’t fit it into a single frame.
Plaza de Espana, 5d2, 16-35L
Stopping for a plate of tapas and a much deserved birthday beer in the afternoon sunset, the streets were filling – seemed to be some football game on with a lot of German fans in one bar chanting. I wandered the streets for a few hours after that, taking in the Barrio Alto (narrow cobbled streets of the Jewish quarter), the cigarette factory made famous from many operas and at one point found myself (for a reason that still escapes me) inside the University buildings. Eventually I found myself back at the Alcazar and since the ridiculous queue for the Cathedral had all but disappeared, I headed inside. This is a massive building with rafters at cloud level. Not as awe inspiring as Santiago or Jeronimos but worth seeing none the less. The climb up the tower is tiring – even more so at the end of a long day but it affords great views of the roof of the Cathedral and a panorama of the city. It’s equivalent to about 13 flights of stairs but it is on uneven stone. Please don’t try this in high heels like some were – I think there were a few sore feet and bent ankles both going up and coming down.
View from the tower of the Cathedral in Sevilla, 5d2, 16-35L
About 90 minutes later I was back at the hotel which was hosting a reception for a wedding. So lots of screaming kids running around at a thousand miles an hour, bowls of punch and huddles of people outside smoking. A scene that was probably being repeated a thousand times over around the world.
I had an uncomfortable nights sleep due to people returning to their rooms slightly the worse for wear in the early hours – well, throughout the night. Last time I looked at the clock was about 5am and with a deep yawn I pulled the curtain back to see dark skies and torrential rain.
It’s not much fun carrying two panniers a considerable distance through pouring rain and then having to fit to the bike, unlock the bike and put the gear on. I was soaked before I even sat on the seat. Waving goodbye to Sevilla I headed for Cordoba – an uneventful journey through torrential rain. By the end of the afternoon I had arrived in Cordoba which was flooded. The rain had not stopped and in fact had worsened. My gear had held up to the wet but since it isn’t a pro shell, it was heavy and soaking. I had a hell of a job finding my B+B in Cordoba, it was down cobbled one way streets and I rode around several times before noticing a small sign on a wall. I was pretty relieved to get off the bike if I am honest – I ached and mentally I was fatigued through lack of sleep and concentrating on the flooded roads. By the time I had parked in their underground garage, showered and dumped my gear in the room, there was a break in the storm and I headed out in to the streets of Cordoba.
The walls of Cordoba, 5d2, 16-35L
Cordoba is famed for two main things – the walled church/mosque and the gardens in peoples houses that are opened at certain times to the public. I made a beeline for the walls, the sun broke through and I had a pleasant hour seeing the church/mosque – yet mother example of the fusion of Western and Middle Eastern architecture (as a result of whoever was in control at that time). It is very odd seeing this mix and yet in many ways it works. If you see just the inventiveness of humanity rather than religion it makes sense I guess.
Fusion, 5d2, 16-35L
Bridge, Cordoba, 5d2, 16-35L
The gardens are dotted all over Cordoba and I followed one of the routes, stopping occasionally to go into someones back garden to have a look. They are obviously proud of their gardens and many have a little shop where they try to earn a little income to support their horticultural efforts.
Garden, Cordoba, 5d2, 16-35L
They were very busy though – small gardens but with a lot of tourists all trying to get through the doors. I stopped after a few – the rain was starting again and I needed to eat. I ended up soaked again (to the skin) and huddled in a fast food tapas style place int he centre. I wasn’t in the mood for culinary delights and the place did the job. The ache in my shoulder had re-appeared and it was a tricky nights sleep due to this as well as being next to a lift that seemed to be in use all night long. I was glad to get out the next morning – I wasn’t so happy about the torrential rain again though. Pulling out of the garage, the streets had turned to rivers and visibility was very poor. I only had to cover 120 miles but it was all on main roads and thoroughly miserable – spray, cold…and my gear was still wet from the previous day. Took quite some time with water everywhere and with the ancient mariner ringing in my head along with the rain in spain falls mainly on the plain, I hunkered down behind the screen and just got on with it. There isn’t a direct route from Cordoba to Granada, I headed East on the E5 and then turned South on the E902 through Jaen.I had booked two nights (three days) in Granada as I had been told it was very good. My accommodation was quite some distance outside the centre again (due mainly to exorbitant costs of staying anywhere even close). My gear started letting water in just before I arrived at an industrial estate about 7 miles out of Granada. A cheap chain hotel but it had secure parking and at that point I was glad just to stop. I left a trail of water right up to the room, my gear was dripping everywhere and over the next two days it wouldn’t dry out and left a puddle wherever I put it.
Good shower though so I took the chance to wash all my clothes. This didn’t take long of course since I had only one change of clothes with me but they had liquid soap so it made it far easier.
View from the walls of the Alhambra, 5d2, 16-35L
I don’t have much to say about Granada really that is very positive. I didn’t enjoy my time there – it is just swarming with selfie stick wielding tourists and poor service as a result. The Alhambra palace is ok but you are sheep herded through with all the inevitable pushing and shoving and camera flashes. The gardens were not a patch on an English stately home and after the exquisite architecture of Cordoba, Sevilla and Santiago, the Alhambra was a ‘meh’ moment. 3 days of rain didn’t help either. Granada was the reason for the quote at the start of this post.
Views of the Mosaics in the Alhambra, 5d2, 16-35L
It was in Granada that I had a wake up call on one of the problems with travelling. You may recall in my first post that I had a novel back up solution for photos and video? I checked my backups one night in Granada and my novel solution hadn’t worked – files were missing and after a couple of hours of playing about, I gave up and jumped on the bike and went to a local computer superstore to buy a cheap netbook. Problem was, this meant I had to dump some items out of the stuffed top box to make room. I don’t recall what I ditched in the waste bin. Obviously didn’t need it since I can’t remember what it was.
So in terms of central Spain – Sevilla is fab, spend a few days there, Cordoba is a day trip really unless you really like small gardens and Granada will be entirely dependent on how much you want to see the Alhambra. Day trip it if you can from somewhere else and take a sanity pill before you go to help cope with the tourist throng.
It was still raining on the morning I left Granada and there was 390 miles to cover in gear that was still wet. Squeezing my helmet on was unpleasant – the liner was still sodden and I felt the water run down my back. Imagine sticking your head into a squeegee if you haven’t ridden in the wet like this. My next target was the Pyrenees but with a detour to Belchite – a place that few see since it is out in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t go from Granada to Belchite and then to the Pyrenees in a day so I decided to head through the Sierra Nevada, head East along the coast and then turn North at Valencia and see how far I could get to Belchite before finding somewhere to sleep.
Abandoned Water Mill, Cordoba, 5d2, 16-35L
Central Spain has some stunning scenery – long roads sweeping through lush green valleys that stretch to the horizon. I had never realised Spain was like that (in parts) and it lifted the first few hours of the trip as the rain pelted down. My gear had given up – my crotch was wet, my gloves had let water in and I felt chilly. It took a lot of concentration in that first 150 miles over the hills and mountains. I stopped at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere. A casual look from the road and you would imagine the place was deserted and derelict. The station was run down, all the shelves were bare and a portly unshaven guy sat bored behind a makeshift desk which was the only piece of furniture left in the place.. I spent an hour there, the rain was bouncing off the road and despite it being about 11am, it was like dusk with the black clouds. He made me a coffee and our conversation was purely about the rain. Well, I say conversation, he pointed at the sky, pointed at me, smiled and then said ‘aqua’. I motioned with my hands and sighed. We both sipped our coffee. No one else came past in that hour.
View of Granada, 5d2, 16-35L
Shoving my head back into wet gloves and my squeegee helmet was done with determination. I told myself that this was ‘real’ motorbike travel and how lucky I was to be here at all. Didn’t help to be honest and as the rain continued to pour and the skies got darker I started to wonder if I would have to change my plans for how far I could get. People get nervous riding in the rain and I don’t know why – you just alter your riding style to suit. I ploughed on, over the countryside and hills, overtaking the odd lorry and watching the odometer slowly tick away.
I’m not sure what happened next – I was approaching a roundabout, leaned right at maybe 30mph to take the soft bend and then the bike stood bolt upright and I was on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately the oncoming HGV was far enough away to stop in time. Frantic hand gestures from him (understandably) as I pedalled the bike backwards due to the drop at the edge of the road. I stopped about 30 minutes later at a cafe to check the bike over. Had i touched the brake? I still wasn’t entirely used to the bike, was it debris or oil on the road? I will never know but it gave me serious pause for thought.
Nursing another coffee as I sat there in soaking wet clothes I decided that it was pointless beating myself up over it and just to plough on. Checked tyre pressures at the garage, did some hard braking in the car park just to confirm the brakes and suspension were ok. I still had a long way to go and I was feeling tired but then the clouds began to clear, the sun poked through and the rain eased to a drizzle. I hit the main roads and the rain stopped altogether and within an hour it was bright sunshine and warm. By the time I approached Valencia it was hot and sunny and I was opening my jacket up to let air in. How strange the weather can be! At speed and in the warm, the gear was even beginning to dry a little.
Cathedral of Sevilla, 5d2, 16-35L
I got lost on the ring road around Valencia. I was looking for the A-23 to head North but somehow ended up in the city centre. Late afternoon, tired and still soggy but in harsh sunlight. Multi lane highways and roundabouts was about the last thing I needed but I managed to find the route out – the sat nav was doing cartwheels and was of little use as it auto corrected itself every 20 seconds. Anyone who has been lost and seen the sat nav constantly flashing ‘re-calculating’ will know exactly how i felt.
I pulled in at a petrol station, jumped on t’internet and found a truck stop offering B+B for 8 euros only 30 miles away and booked it. Great, not long to go. Warm, sunny, swigging water and devouring a cheese sandwich I stretched my legs before getting back to the bike. I hadn’t realised however that Spanish main roads are not the same as English ones in terms of exits – exits are strictly one directional and so you have to be on the right side of the road to get to your exit (i.e. if your exit is on the northbound side and you’re on southbound then you have to go farther away and then exit and come back up the correct side). Took me several passes of that damned garage over the next 90 minutes before I worked this out…
The truck stop was basic as you would expect and there was a cheap three course platter which I wolfed down. Nothing else to do that evening other than try and work out why my headlights weren’t working – the dash had lit up when I was approaching the truck stop with an ‘FLamp!’ failure. Blown bulb I guessed although I couldn’t rule out water damage.
I watched a bit of TV that evening in the bar area – Valencia was flooded as were several other cities. People in canoes and water gushing from storm drains. Didn’t come as a surprise to me although the barman seemed surprised. As my head hit the pillow, I thought about the day to come – Belchite was about 2 hours away and then I could head for a garage to get a bulb and then on to the Pyrenees. Seemed like a good plan. It was until the Policia turned up the following morning.
Tired, wet, hot, 5d2, 16-35L, just North of Valencia