Costa Brava Part 1

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June 27th 2019
Published: June 27th 2019
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May 16 and we are off to Girona, NE of Barcelona. We left my pack along with the 3kg Moroccan carpet (which Kelly has been carrying around since we bought it) along with miscellaneous other purchases at the Best Price Gràcia Hotel as we will be returning here in 10 days. There are three ways to get from Barcelona to Girona by train - high speed (38 mins) from Barcelona Sants station (17 euro to 31euro depending on the time of day - medium speed (1 hr 15 mins) from El Clot Aragó station (11 euro) and regional (1 hr 45 mins) also from El Clot Aragó for about 8 euro. We chose the medium speed train, although to be perfectly honest we did not even know about the high speed train til later.

Once in Girona it was an easy walk to the old town where we were renting an apartment for the night which gave us a chance to do laundry. We were looking forward to exploring the historic old town but were quickly put off by the number of tourists - guess what, there was a flower festival occurring - the Temps de Flores, which is one of Spain’s biggest flower festivals - incredibly imaginative floral arrangements everywhere. Fortunately we will be returning here after our bike trip so will a chance to explore more fully then. In the very short time we were in this town, we were very impressed with the two tapas bars we went to (Zanpanzar and Xibarri) - amazing pinxtos (tapas on pieces of bread) and held together with toothpicks. You just filled your plate from the tapas on the bar and then counted the toothpicks at the end to see what you owed!

When we were researching cycle trips in Spain, we discovered that self guided (where everything is provided and your bags are transported from hotel to hotel) were rather expensive so we decided to do the trip independently. We googled bike trips in the Costa Brava and decided to follow an itinerary that took us from Girona east to the Mediterranean and then north through coastal flatlands, ending up in Figueres which was a short train ride back to our starting point. Then it was just a case of renting bikes in Girona and booking hotels in each of the small towns as per the “official itinerary”. We were already travelling pretty light, but skinned that down even further to fit into the panniers provided by Girona Bike Breaks and left the wheelie suitcase in storage there.

Up til now, the weather had been great but on day one of the bike trip, we were faced with torrential rain and cool temperatures. So we elected to organize transport to take us to our first stop in Platja D’Aro, 43 kms away on the coast - wouldn’t you know it, but the rain stopped as soon as we were picked up. Oh well. The cloudy and rather cool weather meant that we couldn’t really appreciate the lengthy beach in Platja D’Aro but we did get to stretch our legs on a bit of the Cami de Ronda - a coastal footpath that was originally used by the civil guard to control smuggling, but is now a great walk way linking many of the small towns and coves along the coast. Promenading in this town was rather interesting - obviously quite the holiday destination and all the stores were rather high end. The bars seemed to focus on cocktails (10 euros!!) and expensive Sangria - it seemed that wine was not a common beverage here.

After a fabulous breakfast at our hotel (Bell Repos) it was off for the first real day of cycling - a whole 25 kms to the coastal village of Calella de Palafrugell. Doing this trip independently also meant that we did not have any real maps other than on the iPhone and some internet maps. There is a cycle network of sorts (Pirinexus) in the NE of Spain but we were to find that actual signage was few and far between and in the upcoming days we did have a few “lost” sessions. However, on this first day we managed rather well. The first 10km or so was on paved cycle paths along side the coastal highway to the town of Palamos and then we were on “the little train route” - a well signposted greenway which took us to the seaside village of Calella de Palafrugell. Apart from getting a bit wet, we arrived uneventfully at Camping La Siesta in Calella. Here we had a tiny cabin in the most amazing resort camping/holiday area I have ever seen (we were later to realize that these are rather common in this area). I have since tried to google to get some information but no luck - camping sites, various sized bungalows, mobile homes, one of the most well stocked grocery stores we had seen to date, swimming pools, medical clinic, bakery.... and the list goes on. It was a short walk to the village itself - back to the land of winding, narrow streets and white washed houses - apparently it is still a working fishing village with many tourist oriented shops and hotels. We also managed to explore a bit more of the Cami De Ronda before it started to rain lightly again. Lunch was takeaway roast chicken and patatas bravas while dinner was pasta and a great bottle of white wine (2 euro!) from the grocery store and cooked in our little cabin.

May 19 and day 2 of cycling - and we woke to a dry sky although there were huge black clouds lurking. Our destination was the medieval town of Toroella de Montgri, 40kms away. We got a bit discombobulated once we got to the larger town of Palafrugell and we ended up on a relatively quiet 2 lane highway til we picked up bike signs in the medieval village of Pals (many of the towns and villages in this area seem to be medieval). We are finding that each area has their own local bike routes and signage but it does not necessarily tie in with the Pirinexus route. In addition we are finding that does not seem to pick up gravel cycle paths. We are riding on a mixture of paved bike trails, paved roads, dirt and gravel farm roads with poppies, wheat fields and olive trees as distracting photo stops. And it is totally flat, except when we detour to any of the towns which were built on small hills to avoid flooding. One challenge when booking hotels while travelling with a bike, is that the hotel needs to have secure bike storage. The Vila Bella in Toroella had only four rooms above a very fancy restaurant - and our bikes were stored in one of the dining rooms - complete with crystal chandelier. As it was a Sunday, NOTHING was open and it was like a ghost town. You can only wander around deserted cobbled streets for so long, so we cycled another 7km to the coast and the town of L’Estartit.
This appears to be package holiday land with a lot of long stay tourists, many cycling around - without helmets!!!!!

Day 3 of cycling and it was actually sunny and warm so instead of making a beeline for our destination (Castelló d’Empuries) we took time to smell the roses. We went a teeny bit out of our way to have anchovies in the coastal town of L’Escala and delicious pastries in the village of Pere de la Pescadore. Leaving the latter, we got totallly lost and ended up on a busy two lane highway. So we back tracked to the square where we had eaten the pastries and actually paid attention to the very useful cycle map posted there - and this sent us on quiet country roads through farmland and wet lands until we finally reached the Hotel Casa Clara only two hours later than expected. Once again our bikes got to sleep inside the restaurant of the hotel. We are now rather close to the French border and can see the Pyrenees to the northwest. While we are the only hotel guests right now, apparently it fills up with French on the weekends. In addition, it has been unseasonably cold this year. We actually had two nights here which allowed us an easy day of exploring the next day (if we felt like it). The market vendors that we had seen when leaving Toroella on Monday morning were now set up in Castelló behind the cathedral - there are scheduled market days in all the small towns. Then it was off to ride to Empuriabrava and hopefully some beach time. The town was designed after the waterway towns in Florida and actually has 24kms of navigable waterways - basically every house has a boat tied up in front of it. It is also home to a large skydiving Center AND a wind tunnel. For anyone who has no idea what a wind tunnel is - from :A wind tunnel is a facility where thanks to the latest technology and 4 high-power turbines continuous adjustable vertical air flow is generated. This allows anyone to recreate the feeling of freefall in a safe space and supervised at all times by highly qualified instructors. In other words, indoor skydiving without parachutes or a long aeroplane ride to altitude.

As neither of us had even flown in a wind tunnel, it seemed like a sensible activity to do! Flying in the tunnel involved about 15 minutes of brief instruction before gearing up in jumpsuits and helmets for our 2 one minute flights with an instructor who was standing on the bottom mat and holding on to us as much as needed to keep us stationary and stable in the air flow. Neither of us mentioned anything about being experienced skydivers until afterwards, when we felt that had done well enough (whew) that we should be honest! Our instructor said he had a feeling we were not total newbies.

We had one of our more interesting dinners in Castelló d’Empuries. Most places have a set menu and sometimes we just get one meal and split it. But the deal in this particular restaurant was that EACH diner had to have their own meal (apps, main, dessert and a drink). So we ordered 2 items off the regular menu to share (1/2 chicken and a tomato/mozzarella salad). I was pretty positive we clarified “uno” meaning one, so we were very surprised when we each got chicken and salad. But 1/2 litre of wine was only 2.95 euro so in the end we only paid 2 euro more than if we had ordered two set menus. It was a huge amount of chicken and at least the waiter understood when I told him “para llevar” which means takeaway - that was lunch the next day........


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