Swilling the Pyrenees

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by SWILL, Sep 25, 2017.

  1. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Location:
    New Freedom, PA
    So for several years now I've been wanting to do a big ride for my 50th birthday. I thought it best to leave my first international motorcycle rental, route and hotel planning up to the experts. So I booked the September 2017 Pyrenees Extreme with Edelweiss Bike Travel to join 15 strangers on a high mileage, low luggage trek through Spain and France. The coast-to-coast-and-back ride started in Barcelona, headed west to the Atlantic Ocean, then zig-zagged back through France and Spain to return to the Mediterranean Sea. I just returned from it and figured I'd document the adventure here. Enjoy!
    #1
  2. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2011
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    Location:
    New Freedom, PA
    Day 1:

    Get on a plane and fly across the pond.

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    Check in to a nice hotel in Castelldefels (castle on the hill).

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    Go for a walk on the beach.

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    #2
    RedDogAlberta likes this.
  3. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Day 2 (Part 1):

    I spent the day on a site seeing tour of Barcelona, Spain. My city tour guide Pierre (also one of our bike tour guides) was very knowledgeable of the city and introduced me to reliable public transportation and some great sights. This being an "extreme" tour meant more miles and less stops, so I wanted to see as much as possible on this day, before we started the riding.

    We observed many wonderful foods on display at La Boqueria, an open market on the popular La Rambla.

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    Pierre and I enjoying a delicious lunch of mussels, lobster and roasted peppers at The Chipiron Tapas Fish Bar.

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    No motorcycles yet, but hang in there.
    #3
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  4. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

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    Day 2 (Part 2):

    What I most enjoyed visiting were the old churches. As a Christian and an architectural engineer, I found them to be very inspiring and humbly sacred.

    Looking up inside the Sagrada Familia; the still unfinished masterpiece of architect Antonia Gaudi that started in 1914.

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    The Cathedral of Bercelona. Like all churches should, the design makes a visitor want to look up.

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    Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar (St. Mary of the Sea). I found it interesting that some of the crypts were identified with skull and cross bones. Maybe they were pirate priests.

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    After returning to the hotel, I met the other 13 riders and tour guide, attended the orientation meeting and was issued my almost-new white BMW R1200GS. I couldn't wait to start my ultimate test drive on the water cooled version, expecting to enjoy the upgrade from my 2005 model at home.
    #4
  5. third eye

    third eye back road loon

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2010
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    239
    Location:
    Concord, CA
    following this, interested in doing this tour someday
    #5
  6. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Location:
    Edmonton, Alberta
    This is going to be good.
    #6
  7. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Day 3 (Part 1):

    We 14 guests and 2 guides (from 8 different countries) were up for a light 7:00 AM breakfast, a quick 8:00 AM briefing, and then had our bikes packed and ready for a 9:00 AM departure. This is going to be awesome!!

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    We made an almost 4000' elevation change by mid-morning for a quick stop at the amazing Abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat. Inside was the black Madonna, claimed to be made by Saint Luke and delivered to the site by Saint Peter. We didn't have time to wait in line to see the relic, so I snapped a few photos of the mountains and the monastary courtyard, then it was time to hit the road.

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    The roads were incredible with uphills and downhills and twists and turns everywhere. The pace was fast, but traveling with some excellent riders I found my skill, confidence in the bike, and speed increasing everyday. Except in the cities, we had very little traffic to deal with. It helped that the cagers expected us, and politely permitted us to pass whenever we wanted.

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    Lunch stop was at Cardona Castle where we enjoyed some delicious anchovy, olive and roasted pepper tapas. Apparently the original building owner gained his wealth from the nearby salt mine, which is still being harvested in the valley below.

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    #7
  8. bovine

    bovine Been here awhile

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    Dec 31, 2006
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    107
    Location:
    Louisville,Kentucky
    Keep it coming, and be safe.
    #8
  9. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Location:
    New Freedom, PA
    Day 3 (Part 2):

    I was constantly amazed by the majestic mountains of the Pyrenees. Only during our stops (like the photo below) could their vastness and magnitude be intentionally observed. While riding, one really needed to stay focused on the road and be prepared for the next corner. There was little room for rider error with narrow roads, tight corners, free roaming livestock, bicyclists and very few guard rails.

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    We took the scenic routes, so there were very few places for bathroom breaks with indoor plumbing. In fact, I only remember seeing one fast food restaurant the entire time I was there. So as my Canadian friend is demonstrating in the photo below; when you gotta go, you gotta go. I'm just glad I'm a guy.

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    Our stop for the night was at my favorite hotel of the trip, the lovely Monastir De Avellanes. Before dinner I enjoyed a quiet walk around the grounds and observed the church, vineyards and olive trees.

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    After dinner, my new Brazilian friends invited me in sharing a chimarrao of Yerba-mate (a traditional South American tea brewed in a gourd and filtered through a stainless-steel screened straw). I was honored to join them in passing the bowl.

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    #9
  10. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
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    65,730
    Thanks for taking us along :thumb How long's the tour?
    #10
  11. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

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    9 days. About 1500 miles.
    #11
  12. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Day 4 (Part 1):

    A cool thing about roads in this peaked frontier is that sometimes it was easier to construct routes through the mountains than it was is to go around them. Even cooler is riding through them.

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    Coffee is one of my other guilty pleasures. Sipping on a sweet black beverage while reminiscing the prior ride became a mid-morning and mid-afternoon ritual.

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    Panta d'Escales, a resevior near Sopeira Spain, created just one of many visual distractions while riding. Luckily we found a spot to pull over and snap some photos.

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    Dropoffs, ledges and overhangs appeared frequently as we snaked deeper into the man-carved mountains. A few times I felt the urge to duck so I wouldn't hit my head on the mountains above.

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    #12
  13. bovine

    bovine Been here awhile

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    Dec 31, 2006
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    Location:
    Louisville,Kentucky
    Looks like they could use a little rain to refill the reservior.
    #13
  14. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

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    New Freedom, PA
    Day 4 (Part 2):

    This was my first visit to Europe. I've always heard the Alps where the most beautiful mountains in the world, but I really can't imagine anything better than what I'm experiencing in the Pyrenees. Edelweiss offers tours in many different locations but I'm very happy I chose this one. The long riding days and no support vans on their "Ride4Fun" tours may not be for everyone, but this one was perfect for me.

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    Pamplona, Spain (famous for the running of the bulls) was my favorite city on the tour. Thankfully we stayed two nights in this hotel, so we could experience twice as much of it's lively activity and family friendly charm.

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    Below is a scallop shell shaped marker on the street identifying the famous Camino de Santiago (The Way to St. James). This pilgrims path leads west from Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela in northwest Spain. I enjoyed the movie "The Way" and recently read the book "The Way is Made by Walking", both containing wonderful stories of this trail. I was only able to walk a few blocks of it, but love the idea of making such a journey. However for this trip, my pilgrimage rolls on two wheels instead of striding on two feet.

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    #14
  15. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

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    Day 5 (Part 1):

    What a view! Pictures just don't do this place justice. I was constantly amazed by the endless mountains and how they created such expansive valleys below. When I ponder all that's within range of this single photo (people, animals, insects, plants, organisms. elements, etc), I'm confirmed of my belief in a creator.

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    A sign mentioning the traditional start of the French Way (Camino de Santiago from France). At least that's what a google search says.

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    We arrive in San Sebastian, the Basc capitol on the Atlantic Ocean. This mid-day stop marks the middle of the trip. From here we do a u-turn and head back east towards the Mediterranean.

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    Lunch at Nagusia Lau in San Sebastian was the best of the trip. I narrowed my tapas selection down to (clockwise from high noon) 1-lox and cream cheese, 2-smoked salmon, seafood spread, anchovy and shrimp, 3-tuna salad stuffed jalapeno pepper, and 4-ham, black sausage and egg. Delicious.

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    #15
  16. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

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    Day 5 (Part 2):

    Below is my helmet-mounted camera documenting my only close call of the trip. Luckily, I was well on the inside of a tight turn when a truck coming the other direction needed part of my lane. Thankfully there were no accident's on the tour, even with our advanced speeds, fearless over-takings and extreme riding style.

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    Back in Pamplona, Spain, I had the opportunity to visit the cathedral. History dates it's first of several demolitions and reconstructions to 924 AD and its last in 1803. You just can't experience this kind of history where I come from.

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    The Festival San Fermin (Running of the Bulls) occurred a few months prior to our visit so we didn't get to witness the cities famed test of manhood. However I did find this friendly, albeit stuffed, toro that allowed me to take a selfie.

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    Our last night in Pamplona was celebrated with a few late-night snacks and beverages at a nearby pub. Notice the aged ham hanging above the bar.

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    #16
  17. Olirider

    Olirider Been here awhile

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    Subscribed !
    It's always interesting to read RR from 1rst time in Europe American fellows.
    Keep the good work up.

    Compared to the Alps, the Pyrenees are much smaller but not less beautiful.
    There is also a big difference between the Spanish and French sides. The Spanish one is much drier.
    #17
  18. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

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    Day 6 (Part 1):

    Fill 'er up. We stopped for gas about twice a day. Petro was more expensive than in the US, but by how much I'm not sure since calculating it meant converting to Euros and to liters. Edelweiss tour price covered everything but gas, lunch, and coffee stops. Breakfast and Dinner were at each hotel.

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    Today's route leaves Pamplona and heads to France. At the lunch stop, I gazed back at the steep rocky mountains we just cut through.

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    Traffic circles were common in town centers, like this one in Laruns, France. They really are more efficient than traffic lights when drivers understand and follow the rules.

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    #18
  19. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

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    Day 6 (Part 2):

    My rented bike and the legendary Col d' Aubisque; a popular peak on the Tour de France. We also experienced our first day of rain, so our wise tour guide slowed the pace.... well maybe just a little.

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    I switched to "rain mode" and the icon bike of world travel didn't miss a beat. Ride mode settings will be a nice option when I eventually upgrade from my '05 GS at home.

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    Our first night in France was at a nice hotel that catered to bicyclist. France had a different vibe than Spain; the architectural, language, attitude and coffee differences were clearly identified, even if the actual border crossings were not.

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    #19
  20. SWILL

    SWILL Adventurer

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    Day 7 (Part 1):

    Another popular pass on the Tour de France, Col du Tourmalet, peaks at 6939 feet above sea level. As you can see, the weather on this mountain matched our tour title: EXTREME. About a mile prior to this stop the rain turned to snow and the temperatures dropped to 30 degrees F. The group agreed to continue, despite the hinted concern from the tour guide. No one was going to accuse us of wussing out!

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    After a few tip overs and the inability for those parked facing uphill to start moving without assistance, the tour guide directed us to have several guys surround each bike and walk it up and around the next turn, until they were all lined up and facing downhill on the straight away. The group quickly and generously worked together to make sure everyone had the help needed. Biker helping biker teamwork at its finest. Just as we were ready to get the convoy going, a snow plow came through and cleared the road.

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    It wasn't too far down the mountain until the snow turned back into rain. We made a quick stop to calm down from all of the excitement and split back up into our two groups.

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    Without fences, it wasn't uncommon to see livestock on the roads. This group of alpacas (or are they llamas?, I can't tell the difference) seemed friendly enough, but I sure wouldn't want to meet them while flying through the middle of a sharp turn.

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    #20