12th December 2010
Day 61 - Barcelona

Took a wonderful walk high up on the hills overlooking Barna with my couch surfing host Isabel. We had to take a Funicular railway up to the top, which after climbing a bit took us to just over 500 metres.

The view was stunning - when you could see around the mountain bikers doing the stupid thing of cycling all of the way up to the top. They really do look daft as hell in their skin tight lycra Please feel free to shoot me if any of you ever see me dressed like that!
Looking in the opposite direction (away from Barna) the landscape was beautiful. The cragged mountain of Monserrat dominated the horizon, and the dark green forested hills just kept going and going...

13th December 2010
Day 62 - Barcelona

My last day in the city before I head off again along the coast. I had to stay an extra day due to extra bike problems (!) but got it all fixed this lunchtime. There was a bike shop just around the corner where I initially bought the new wheel, and an English guy working in there kindly setup the gears for me! They had been totally out of alignment since I put the new wheel on.

I must have spent 2 hours yesterday afternoon trying to fix it myself (I am positive I made it worse) and this guy worked like magic, with the whole gear and brake things adjusted, setup, aligned, and then finally the tyres pumped up. Apparently I had them about 50% under-inflated... So much for thinking I knew what I was doing! Next time I will pay someone who knows their stuff to sort the bike out properly before I embark on another voyage of cycle discovery.

Had lunch with Maria (spaghetti & vegetables in a cream sauce - mmm...) fixed some computer stuff, put all my clothes through a Laundrette, drunk a few beers (why not, I'm on holiday! - or was it retirement?) including a Barcelona Stark Bier (Moritz Epidor at 7.2%) and went couch surf host hunting.

Leaving early tomorrow morning, as I would like to be on the road by 8:15am. I will cut the journey to Tarragona into 2 day if I can find somewhere to stay halfway. So, Valencia by Sunday/Monday and Murcia about a week later. Roll on Afffffrrriiiiiccccaaaaa!!! :-)

14th December 2010
Day 63 - Barcelona to Vilanova i la Geltrú 63km

It seemed to take a long time to get out of the city. In order to get around the airport (and because I had plenty of time today) I found a slightly longer route that took me through some of the suburbs of Barcelona. After about an hour I arrived at the sea. It is really wonderful cycling along the beach, but a little windy.

However... Unfortunately the coastal road climbs up high above the sea at times. The biggest ascent took me about 1 hour (of just climbing in my lowest gear) but after these 2600km I felt strong and it seemed to go relatively painlessly. The descent was both fun and scary at the same time. The other traffic was backed up behind me as I shot down the mountain, and cars were always pushing to get past me which makes it a little dangerous. As the bike is so heavy with all the bags it can accelerate very fast when freewheeling downhill, so I had to cling to the brakes all the way down.

I rolled up to my hotel in Vilanova, chilled out for a bit and then went out for a walk. I took my camera out with the vague idea of watching the sun set from the beach. It was amazing! As soon as the sun begins to set the temperature drops rapidly. I stood freezing half to death waiting for the colour of the sky to change, and when it did it was worth the wait.

15th December 2010
Day 64 - Vilanova i la Geltrú to Tarragona 60km

Started out lazily... As the distance wasn't so far I took my time and cycled as much as possible along the beach front. I stopped on the beach for some early lunch and had a chat with an elderly Dutch man who told me he once made the trip from Holland to Spain on a bike, but when he was just a bit younger!

I had to ride a little on the national road (busy with a lot of lorries) for some of the way, but with the GPS I can experiment a little with my route. No matter which turns I take it will always find me a way to get to where I want to go. I passed the remains of a Roman tower just before getting into Tarragona, and as the sun was bright it gave me the opportunity to try out the centre polarising filter that I bought whilst in Barcelona. Its a stupidly cheap on (€15 and plastic) but will at least allow me to try one out.

I am now sat in a bar in a little village about 7km outside of Tarragona wasting a few hours before my hosts for tonight get back from work. Anna and Nacho came on one of my tours in Munich just before I started this adventure and kindly offered me a place to stay if I ever passed through Tarragona. I will stay an extra day here so that tomorrow I can explore the city a little.

16th December 2010
Day 65 - Tarragona

After some amazing food last night and a good nights sleep I was ready to explore the town a little. Tarragona was once the capital city of the Hispania Tarraconensis, one of the three regions of the Roman Empire in the hispanic Mediterranean. The Roman ruins can be seen all over the city, and are now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I took a look around the Amphitheatre, which was built in the late 2nd century AD and would hold up to 15,000 people. Right in the middle of it are the ruins of a church built to honour some Christian leaders executed on the site in the year 259 AD.

Just above the Amphitheatre are Roman gardens, with examples of the many types of plants, fruit, herbs etc, grown during the time of the Roman Empire. I would love to see it in Spring or Summer, to see what they are supposed to look like, because right now it is obviously the wrong time of year.

The evening was spent drinking good wine and chatting about all sorts with Nacho and Anna. I had a really good time here!

17th December 2010
Day 66 - Tarragona to Deltebre 97km

Ooof... what a day... Unfortunately the Spanish have a rather unique way of road planning. As it is virtually impossible to find dedicated cycle paths in Spain I am often forced to use the National roads, and they are a dangerous place to be! For obvious reasons bicycles are not allowed on the Autopista`s (autobahn/autostrada/motorway etc) so I must use the Autovia`s, the National roads which have a "hard shoulder" (as we call them in English) (an emergency lane) in which I am permitted to cycle if there is no other possible alternative. However, between Tarragona and Amposta for just about 10km the Autovia merges with the Autopista (so I cant use it) and the only other option (for cycles, mopeds, tractors and all the other things not allowed on the Autopista) is to go through the mountains...

The climb was pretty horrific. I ascended about 600 metres, with the gradient (according to the road signs) hitting 12-15% incline. It took me about 3 hours just to cover about 18-20km, and all of it up hill. It got so bad at times that I was forced to push the bike instead of riding it.

The views from the top were stunning however, and the downward part of it was scary stuff! The problem was that the mountain ascent had taken so long that I was in danger of getting stuck up there after dark. I had to really push hard to get to Deltebre before dark. I had left at 8:15am and I finally arrived at 5:15pm... and with only 2 breaks of about 10 minutes each. My legs are gonna hurt tomorrow! I am couch surfing tonight with a super cool couple who have just returned from travelling around India, something I would seriously love to do - just not on a bike...

18th December 2010
Day 67 - Deltebre to Oropesa 107km

Ouch. My legs were like jelly from the start... Deltebre sits on the river Ebre and is totally surrounded by rice paddies. I cycled a route that crisscrossed through the rice fields (now barren after the harvest time) and travelled on down the coast. The lack of coastal roads all the way meant I had to cycle about half the journey on the National road again.

Hours of slow ascents up to about 200-300 metres wind slightly inland and through some smaller hills before finally dropping down again to the coast. I arrived into Oropessa again at 5:15pm, but because of cloudy weather it was much darker. I am couch surfing again tonight with Mónica, Cristian, and 3 dogs - including a 15 month old Great Dane. That is one seriously big dog!!! My host had arranged a little dinner party for the evening, and it was great to meet more people and eat more good food :-)

19th December 2010
Day 68 - Oropesa to Valencia 112km

One of the biggest rides yet. 112km, and incredibly I had the feeling that I could have done another 20! My legs are feeling stronger every day (when the mountains aren't turning them to jelly) and I rode as much as I could along the beach roads. I passed through Benicassim, a large holiday resort with a famous European musical festival, and cycled along the promenades in the light rain that had been falling since last night.

I have been using my GPS for maps ever since Holland (and ever since my paper maps were disintegrating in the rain) and I was very lucky, because I found the hotel with about 5 minutes left of battery power. Couch Surfing is a lot of fun, and I love to talk/drink/socialise with my hosts, but that means I tend not to get much work done. So I have booked into a cheaper hotel for 2 nights to force myself to catch up with my admin work. Hopefully with a day or two my website should be fully updated, and maybe even the first of the new galleries I have been creating will be up online.



20th December 2010
Day 69 - Valencia

I spent the morning dutifully fulfilling that promise to myself to get some stuff done! Google maps is proving really useful for general route planning, and especially the Terrain View (to help avoid the mountains) and Street View (to help check out what the roads will look like). After a lot of hassle getting into the city I had a little walk around. I didn't really know where to go, but I went to a central square in the old part of town and explored the side streets, took a beer or two and then headed back to the hotel to watch some downloaded films and relax with a bottle of wine.

21st December 2010
Day 70 - Valencia to Gandia 87km

After the long time it took to cycle through the city I settled into the usual rhythm and got on with things. Much of todays travel was through a nature reserve on a slim piece of land that separates the sea from inland wetlands. I thought that this would have been a nice trip, but failed to anticipate the creatures that might live in the reserve... Millions, no billions of tiny flies, swarm by the road side. I got covered in them! I had to keep my head down, because if I looked up all I would get was a face full of flies.

After the reserve ended it was just orange groves all the way to Gandia and I took the smaller roads rather than the National one. The scenery is really beautiful here, with the Mediterranean on one side and high craggy mountains on the other. This evening I am couch surfing with some students living in Gandia. They treated me to a wonderful home cooked stuffed aubergines, tortilla and some amazing walnut bread.