Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Madrid, finally!

We are finally here in the big city... our last stretch of cycling and we are adjusting to that. After leaving Barcelona we continued down the coast a couple of days. Since September has passed, finding a campground has been a bit of a gamble but on the coast we were pretty lucky. More scenic, hilly riding and pit stops that many times would coincide with viewing a Roman arch or ruin. We got to ride through the hometown of Gaudi and briefly saw the town of Tarragon. Our sightseeing has been a bit limited, as we have 2 bikes loaded down with everything and Scott´s had to ditch the kickstand. His bike was weighted down so much it was bending his frame. So, one of us would have to bikesit and take turns seeing something- same with grocery shopping- it has been so fun when we have actually gotten to pick stuff out together and figure out the mystery meats.

We turned inland near Reus and started up into the deserted hills. The whole time we went through this area we didn´t see any other tourists, let alone many people at all. The landscape many times looked like something out of a Dr.Seuss book, the geology is amazing- many times the hills looked to have been sculpted and small, incredibly old towns have been built up around these higher areas, with worn red rock showing through to become parts of walls, streets, roofs. There were also many Mesa Verde-esque cliff dwellings- some looked just as old and some looked like they may have heating and indoor plumbing!

Our map that tricked us about the camping before didn´t even try to pretend that there was camping anywhere near us, so it was interesting riding throughout the day, wondering where we would sleep that night. Our first was in a almond/olive tree farm. We had noticed (with not a little relief) that there were no cats really in this part of the country, then as the workers left and the sun set, we first heard, then saw at least two packs of wild dogs running around. They actually seemed harmless enough- just to be playing, but as Scott was outside fixing his spoke he did ask for the pepper spray. Other nights were spent in the forest, off the road and hidden from sight. I had read in our guidebook that hunting season here has offically started so Scott and I wore whatever our brightest clothing was, making interesting fashion statements when combined with out ¨woodsy¨look of not bathing for a few days, and riding pretty hard over the hills.

One thing we realized, a little too late, as it turned out, was that we couldn´t find supermarkets as readily as in other places, and therefore couldn´t get one day´s supplies at a time like we had been. Because of this, we ended up having some interesting meals, including stale bread and warm turkey baloney for breakfast, and stale bread with condensed mild (not reccomended, and possibly to be added to the weird food entry). Even when we did find stores, they had very little of what we were looking for. For example, one had every kind of oil you may ever want or need, and PLENTY of fresh rabbit, but that was about it. Many didn´t even have bread or produce, and we really wondered where the locals got this stuff. We figured there must be hidden places in people´s basements, dealing bread and carrots, making sure those dirty people on bikes didn´t see the transactions. We even tried to follow a few who seemed to be carrying fresh baguettes, but they just walked a little faster and clutched their precious bread closer to them. We did see a bread deal go down at a gas station, so maybe they are travelling vendors. We were sitting under the overhang waiting in vain for the rain to stop and we saw that alot of townspeople were milling around. It was not because of the Scott and Sarah show, which we were used to by then, but the bread guy pulled up and made deals from the trunk, then sped off while everyone walked home with their bread.

We decided that we deserved a night in a pension after many nights of camping in the woods, and a full day of riding in the rain. That was probably the most challenging day for me, and I ALMOST wished that we were back on the Barcelona freeway at night, on the wrong side. Almost. Poor Scott was trying to encourage me to just make it to the next town, but for a while I thought it sounded SO much more reasonable to huddle under a dirty tarp in the mud and feel sorry for myself. It didn´t help that the roadsign people don´t seem to share the same measurement system, so we would be riding and see that the next town was 25 K away, then 6 K later, it would all of a sudden be 32 K away. Just writing this, even now it doesn´t seem like such a big deal, but at the time I was thinking that there should be some legal action taken against whoever was responsible that hopefully involved them riding this distance on a bike in the rain. The rain itself was needed here, and the swelling clear streams and lakes were beautiful so I tried to be happy about it. I was happy that we had left Barcelona when we did though, we saw that the rains there were flooding the metro and washing cars into the sea, and in other parts of the country there was 4 cm of snow!

The area a couple days out of Madrid was really breathtaking, in many ways. There were many valleys and dramatic cliffs- mostly pine but everywhere there was the bright yellow of changing aspen set against the red, white, blue and purple of the hills. We had the roads to ourselves for the most part, so we got to look around, and breath deeply the smell of fresh rain and wild lavender.

The pension we stayed at was an interesting experience. It was the only place to stay in town, and run by a family who also ran the attached grocery store. We got a room in their house and the son, Ricardo did all of the transactions- it seemed that he was the little brother and was forced to do everthing. Five minutes after he showed us where to store our bikes, he took our money for the room, then 20 min. later was in the family grocery store chopping up a hambone, then picking out muffins for us, with a smile the whole time. We haven´t been able to make warm food since we have the wrong kind of stove here, so we feasted on canned peas and peaches while watching Spanish TV, in complete bliss. I don´t know if it was because we hadn´t seen TV for a while, but we were thoroughly entertained by a cooking show, and the way that Spanish news reporters wander around in frantic circles. We ended up staying in another pension the next night, we liked it so much (and REALLY didn´t feel like asking to sleep in someone´s muddy yard). We stayed in Tendilla, which I think must be some distant relatives, and stayed above a bar. We were thinking of going out to eat at the restaraunt, but it didn´t even open until 9:30 which was WAY past our bedtime, making us realize how much we would have to adjust! One funny thing about sleeping in the pensions was how out of place we felt. I felt like all of our stuff, including ourselves got 100 times dirtier and smellier as soon as we were indoors in a clean environment. The first night I could barely sleep and I described it as similar to when my family used to let our dog in on Christmas. He was an outdoor dog, and very obedient, so he would come in, but sort of cower in the corner and wait to go outside again. Being on a bed felt pretty foreign! I got over that pretty fast, though and now that we are in Madrid it feels so nice to be staying in our friends´cozy apartment. We plan on seeing and doing as much as we can here, and there is plenty. We hit the Prado the day after we got here, but will have to go again as we had celebrated our arrival the night before until the wee hours and all the potraits seemed to be looking at me and saying, ¨wow, Sarah- you should be in bed¨.

If anyone knows of places we must see or go to, let us know...there seems to be an endless supply, though I was dissapointed to see that Scott and I missed the international road sign convention here last week- (really!) I would have had some questions and perhaps some constructive criticism for them :)


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4:25 AM  
Blogger Nades said...

I miss you guys. I hope you're finding yourselves. Because without you guys here, I've lost myself.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Brian Patrick said...

Now that you are safely ensconsed in Madrid, might I recommend a refreshing and virid cocktail?

Do say hello to La Fee Verte for me darlings,

B. \

1:11 PM  

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