Monday, June 25, 2012

Cruising Down the River Sil: A weekend in Galicia

We went up to Galicia this weekend to some friends' estate near Monforte de Lemos. After years of talking about it, we finally did the river cruise up the canyon of the River Sil, along teh "Ribeira Sacra" wine region where the vineyards are planted in terraces set on nearly vertical canyon cliff walls along the northern banks. The river also marks the border between the provinces of  Lugo and Ourense. So it was fun to be able to say I walked from Lugo to Ourense and back, all before lunchtime!

 The grapevines are terraced into the canyon walls:
 The southern banks are lush with native hardwoods: chestnuts, oaks, walnuts. Pines and cypress trees abound, too.
 A lot of the vineyards are only accessible by boat from the river:
 Here Javi and I are on the river:

 One of the nicer old stone bodegas in the middle of the vineyard:

 You can see all sorts of faces and images in the rocks.

 For 60 years or more after the Spanish Civil War, most of the vineyards were abandoned and left to grow wild. But new movements in wine-making have brought vintners back to restoring and replanting the typical mencía grapes (for reds) and godellos (for whites).

And of course one motorcycle picture, my friend Javier Bolivar's BMW K1200GT, which I really like the idea of; extremely practical tourer:

And then we picked cherries and red currents before coming back to Madrid.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

III Annual Royal Enfield Meeting 2012

Last week the friends from held our 3rd annual get-together, this year in the Mediterranean town of Benicassím, in the province of Castellón de la Plana. It was a fabulous chance to see people I met last year at the get-together in Seville as well as to meet new people from Barcelona and Valencia. And especially for the chance to hit the road with my Royal Enfield buddies Pedro, Juan Manuel, Javier, and David, all five of us together as we rode the 500 km from Madrid to the coast. The back roads in Spain are spectacular, still in good condition, and thanks to the freeways, they're practically empty of car traffic.

Rolling hills, vinyards, olive groves, pine forests, breathtaking river canyons, mountain peaks, medieval castles on hilltops...these things all awaited us on this fabulous journey through the regions of Madrid, Cuenca, Teruel, Aragón, Castellón.
We started off at bright and early at 7:30 in Madrid, meeting at a bar for coffee and churros before our "arduous" journey. Javier swore he say city workers laying out the streets (he's convinced they roll them back up every night and put them out at the crack of dawn before people get up). Within  a half hour's ride out of Madrid (population 4.5 million) we found ourselves cruising along gently curving back roads through farms and fields and river valleys planted with corn and wheat.

The Royal Enfields ran like tops. Javier, Juan Manuel and I got up to 146kph on the new superhighway we took for the 86 km between Tarancón and Cuenca, so as to make up for time. VERY funny to see us three old farts on Bullets gunning it at 145 kph (downhill, with the wind behind us, of course!).
We stopped for lunch rather late, 

There was this one guy in the group (OK, it was me) who didn't fill up when the others did, having just filled up an hour earlier. That led to my running out of gas for the first time in my life. Ooops. I did in fact know I neede gas, that I was rapidly approaching 400 km without a fill-up on my 14 litre tank. But those last 60 km or so were on back roads through winding beautiful curvy countryside without a single gas station in sight.
Luckily David had a plastic gas bag with a nozzle, and it turned out we were only about 3 km from a gas station in the next town, so the setback was minor and quickly solved.
I made it up to them as best I could by buying them a round at the poolside bar at the hotel in Benicassím, where we had arrived just as evening was falling. The hotel was lovely, not at all the touristy ugly coastal stuff, but a peaceful place with lovely gardening and palm tress everywhere.

In the end we were plenty busy socializing and riding and didn't even use the swimming pool, and I didn't even manage to get a swim in the sea in until Sunday morning after seeing Pedro off.

Saturday we had our "official" route, 11 Bullets and 3 "others" all in a row going up through the hills, putt-putt-putt, on the way to the ancient walled city of Peñíscola.

There we had our aperitivo and then a copious lunch outdoors overlooking the sea. Steamed mussels, shrimp grilled in oilive oil and garlic, platters of fried fish, and then either paella or fideuá (I had the latter). Washed down with a lovely white wine. Desert. Coffee. Champagne.

To walk it off, we set off on foot to tour the town and the castle fortress where "Papa Luna" shacked up: he was elected Pope Benedict XIII (or an Antipope, as the Catholic Church later called him) in 1394 but there wa a lot of funny business, jurymandering and nationalistic bullshit from the Italians that  "invalidated" the line of succession of popes. At one point there were actually three different people claiming to be pope. Go figure.

By nightfall we were ready to ride back to the hotel, some 75 km away. Night riding is harder than you think, and more so when you don't know the roads and there's a lot of traffic. Still, I enjoyed the experience, and any chance to ride is a good one in my book.
Back in Benicassim the only place open for dinner was a pizzeria outdoors by the Med, which was fine by me since I had already eaten more calories than a family of 5 needs in a week.
On Sunday morning the four of us and three of our hosts rode up to the mountains to Morella for lunch. First stop was in the mountain village of Ares de Maestrat,

The mountasides in this area are all terraced for farming, from hundreds of years ago if not more.

Then one to Morella for lunch. Morella is a gorgeous old medieval walled city high in the mountains.

The lunch was chic and delicious and super cheap. We didn't have time to do any real exploring, though, so I'll have to go back with Javi one day soon, as I'm sure he'll like it, too.

There we bade goodbye to our hosts and friends, and set out through the hills to Aragón to Belchite, destroyed by bombing in the Spanish Civil War and left as a memorial. Creepy.

We were by then running late so we didn't stop in Cariñena, the famous red wine region. Drats!

Instead of turning south, we headed north up to Magallón and Borja (the Campo de Borja is another amazing wine region) but stopped in neither. They looked very interesting for a visit: medieval cities on hilltops. The Moncayo National Park is a mountainous wilderness area nearby, too, and would be nice to see in the early autumn.
Our destination was the old city of Tarazona, which we reached just as night fell. We had a hilarious time riding around the old city center asking people for directions to a easonable hotel. We got plenty of creative answers but none of them actually led to any hotels. So we went back to the highway trucker's hotel a mile out of town and had a light dinner before retiring for the evening.
On Monday morning we rode into Tarazona to see it in the light of day--it is beautiful and reminds me of Tuscany somehow. Lots there to see and do as you walk around.

The picture above is of a curious plaza de toros (bull ring) that's actually a six-sided apartment block.
We had breakfast at some outdoor tables across from the City Hall, wandered around, and then took to our bikes again for the last day of our journey.

Our road took us towards Soria but we didn't enter the city itself. Fierce cold headwinds made the going tough, if truth be told. I was wearing all three of my t-shirts and my rain paints just to keep out the cold.
We zipped down the highway to Almazán, another lovely medieval town with a Romanesque church and a Renaissance palace lining the main square. We had our lunch in a local restaurant;  I had the stewed rabbit, yum yum!

From there we took to the back roads again to wind our way down to Sigüenza. Gorgeous contryside. In Sigüenza we stopped for a coffee at the Parador, in the old castle above the city. The best view of the city is if you come in from the west on the CM-110. Note to self.

Back on the back roads to Jadraque, see gorgeous castle on hill.

We didn't stop at Hita but it must be well worth the visit. We connected up with the highway at Guadalajara and made our respective ways home. I was back by 7:30 pm or so.
Next year's get-together is in the old city of Granada, in the south.
Looking forward to  it already!