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Spain 2008, 2009 & 2010

The "Espaa: Gua oficial de hoteles Espaa 2008" (or current year) published by Instituto de Turismo de Espaa is an invaluable lodging guide for Spain. The paperback is available in bookstores for around 14. We've always resented the bulk of the inexpensive book, but its completeness is compelling. Not absolutely every establishment is in the book, but it includes most places and a lot of specific information. For us, just knowing that there are a number of places vs none at all in a town is a huge help in route planning.
    When Bill picked up the 2008 edition he was delighted to discover a CD inside, even though there was no mention of it on the cover. Accolades came pouring out as soon as he loaded the disk as it ran quickly and he labeled it the most user friendly reference of its kind that he had ever found. Having hardcopy pages in the handle bar bag is much easier for finding lodging than having an electronic copy, so he tore out the pages for the region of Spain we'd be visiting in 2008 and pitched the book. We'll use the electronic version if our plans for Spain change in 2008.
    In 2009 & 2010 we continued using our 2008 electronic "Guia", supplementing it with online searching for additional hotels and additional information on hotels in the "Guia". The increasing presence of free wifi in hotel rooms and more hotels advertising online made it seem unimportant to buy a new version of the book. Two star hostals continue to be great values for us as they are generally quite a bit cheaper than actual hotels but have all of the features and comfort we need.

La Rambla
  We spent little time in Barcelona in 2008 though drew heavily on our experiences from 2003 and 2005. The main pedestrian area, the Rambla, in the the center of the city is delightful: the energy of the crowds in uplifting and the architectural details on the flanking buildings a visual delight.
    New since we were in Barcelona last time was the welcome Carrefour Express market on the left side of the street as you head up from the waterfront. It's nonstop hours make it easy to buy bottled water and general groceries while in the city center. We also paid a visit to the Anitga Ma Farmacia a little beyond the Carrefour where we are able to buy syringes preloaded with epinephrine--something we carry in our first aid kit should one of us unexpectedly develop a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting or other agent. And across the street from the farmacia on the left side of the little street Oscar Colom Canillas is the Self Naturista self-service vegetarian restaurant we enjoyed before. The food is tasty though not a great bargain but we appreciate the 'see before you buy' approach that their buffet line provides.
Lodging is always a challenge for us in Barcelona. We'd love to stay close to the center but though we've looked several places and stayed in 1, we haven't found anything we like. Online reviews of the affordable centrally located options tend to be rather negative, especially when discussing the noise level inside the rooms. I'm a very light sleeper and treasure a quiet room and Spain is one of the noisier country's at night in Europe. The second round of social life begins about midnight and we've had many a restlessness night sleep because of the night-owl habits of our neighbors and the people on the streets.
    To solve the lodging problem, we again headed southwest to the Cornell de Llobregat suburb for an Ibis hotel in the Accor chain. We love the cookie-cutter Ibis hotels because part of the cookie-cutter approach means we always sleep well.
    The nearly identical rooms in every country always deliver very good soundproofing, excellent beds, very reliable plumbing, and light blocking window coverings. Most of the Ibis rooms are a bit cramped but the ones at the Fira de Cornell are a bit larger than most, have large windows that open (unlike the windows in the Ibis high-rise at the other end of Barcelona), and have bath tubs instead of the standard Ibis shower stall. English news stations on the TV were a bonus though their WiFi price was up to 6.50 per hour, which must be used continuously. The 69 price for 2 made this an excellent value for Barcelona. The downside is the walk to the metro and transferring to a second line to get to the heart of the city, the Rambla. The industrial park neighborhood and 15 minute walk to a supermarket also detract a bit. The staff once again reluctantly stored our bikes in the luggage room. www.ibishotel.com; Tel: 34 93 475 17 77.
    Campanile, another French-based hotel chain, had plunked down a new high-rise hotel right next door to the Ibis we stayed. The Campanile was 79 for 2 on weekdays, 69 on weekends and had free WiFi. We've enjoyed Campanile's motel-styled units in France, which are much more spacious than Ibis rooms and usually provide a refrigerator, hot pot, and bath tub. The Campanile's are usually sited near freeway exits, which isn't the greatest for cyclotourists, though we found ourselves heading for the freeway exits in France just for the lodging options. We didn't inspect a room at the new Campanile to see how similar they are to the motel-styled rooms we've enjoyed. Campanile is just breaking into the Spanish market, so we expect to see more of them. This location unfortunately couldn't imagine an indoor spot to stash our bikes and their best offer was for us to paid 6 a day for a slot in their parking garage. They've only been open 2 months so perhaps they will yet find a better solution.  www.campanile.com.
    Barcelona is loaded with delights for tourists. Though we didn't do any sightseeing when there in 2008, we fondly remembered the Maritime Museum, the Miro Museum, the Picasso Museum, and searching out Gaudi's wonderful architecture.
But Barcelona isnt an easy city to breeze through in a couple of days and you cant count on stumbling across the sights you want to see. The distances between sights are great enough and the hours of operation unpredictable enough that it takes planning to sequence your visits to avoid disappointment.  Also be forewarned that Barcelona sightseeing is expensive, as it was too easy to spend $20 per person per day on our 2003 visit, day after day, taking in the range of wonderful sights. But only one paid sight didnt deliver, and that was the aquarium. The $13 entry fee was many times higher than the value of the visit--it just didnt have much that held our attention despite the rare excellent rating given by our Lonely Planet guide book.
    Hilltop Montserrat is worth a visit and it can be done as a day trip from Barcelona without your own wheels. For information: www.cremallerademontserrat.com; Tel: 902 31 2020. The train ride there from Placa Espanya is about and hour and a half, with trains leaving hourly starting at about 8:30 am. The last train  from Montserrat back to the city leaves at  6:15 pm. I'd plan on taking the first train out in the morning and the last 1 back at night. The package price starts at about 21. Look for brochures about the trip which may only be available from April to October. We stayed there a couple of nights on our way to Andorra in 2005 and enjoyed the walking.
Bikes in Barcelona 2008
    Since our last visit in 2005, Barcelona appears to have fallen in love with bicycles. The racks and racks of  cute "bicing.com" bikes are "look don't touch" for tourists; they are for Barcelona residents only for the cool price of 24/year. But there are at least a couple of central city options for bike tours or bikes for rent. BarcelonaBici at www.barcelonaturisme.cat (click on "English", then "Getting around the city"); Tel: 93 285 38 32. Their meeting point is Mirador de Colom near the port. They rent out bikes for 4.5/hr or 15/day and will give you a map of the city bike lanes and sightseeing tips.  Barcelona Vibes at Rambla 83 offers daily bike tours 18 and rentals. www.barcelonavibes.com; Tel: 93 310 3747. We didn't use either of these businesses because we had our own bikes but loved Barcelona's many new bike lanes.

Costa Brava
    This stretch of the Mediterranean coast from Barcelona to France is a pleasant journey. If you can spare the time, meander along the bike-friendly beach promenades and search out the inter-town gritty bike paths for a leisurely look at the entire beach scene. If you aren't in high season, check for prices at some of the package tourism hotels in the bigger resort towns. We did that and had a large though spare beach view room with a balcony for a steal. The buffet breakfast was included and the 7 buffet dinner was too good to pass up. Our self-prepared dinners are much cheaper but we enjoyed the cultural experience of dining with the package tourism folks and getting a glimpse of their travel style.
    Empries Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya on the coast south of Roses is a worthwhile stop for history buffs. It is the site of a partially excavated 6th c bce Greek colony and a later Roman city. The small museum presents the finds well and the site itself is pleasingly presented. When you are through with your visit, drop down to the water's edge for a nice bike path to continue your journey north.

The Pyrenees
    See our separate "Pyrenees" file under "Country Details".

Rio Tinto Mines (near Huelva in the SW)
Check-out www.parquemineroderiotinto.com or call 959590025 for information about visiting the now-closed mine complex. The museum is open 7days a week from 10:30 am- 7:00 pm with an hour closure being from 3 & 4. The replica of a Roman mine was closed for repairs when we were there in mid-April 2010 and there wasn't enough English splashed around to be useful but we still found it interesting. You need your own wheels to travel the 10 km to do the tour of the mine basins and to get to the start of the Railway for a trip on the train. We visited as a day trip from Huelva by departing Huelva at 9:30 by bus, arriving at Rio Tinto at 11:15 and hopped on our return bus at 2:15. Next time through we'll take the bikes and overnight at the hotel in town. That way we should be able to get to the mine itself and the train though we didn't confirm that bikes are allowed on their roads. We were told that advance reservations are necessary for the train.

Seville 2010
Ciclos  Mateos (bike shop), Carretera Carmona, 86B-41008, Sevilla; Tel: 954 35 87 77; ciclosmateos@telefonica.netwww.ciclosmateossevilla.com  no English spoken here but Bill took his bike and his pile of high quality parts to be installed  in 2010 (including a new bottom bracket) and came away smiling 24 hrs later.
Hotel Plaza Santa Lucia, www.hotelplazasantalucia.com  good location on edge of old town, relatively quiet, bikes kept in locked garage, small rooms, no English on the TV, English spoken at the desk.

    We enjoyed biking in Spain. The motorists are considerate and in some areas there are suitably lightly traveled roads.
    Bikes can sometimes be put on the trains in Spain, but its challenging to sort out when and where. In Madrid, bikes can travel on the metro only on Sunday and only during restricted hours. In Barcelona we could put our bikes on the commuter lines going in and out of the city without consideration of the time of day. In Malaga in the south, bikes were never allowed on the commuter lines.  One train clerk gave us a small photocopy of the Spanish train lines, which was invaluable at ticket windows when trying to determine which legs of train lines would accept bikes with the non-English speaking clerks.
    In 2009 our understanding of bike/train evolved to: bikes are never allowed on high speed trains; always allowed on non-high speed (regional) trains. We weren't however willing to risk a tightly planned schedule on this understanding. "Ask and ask again" is our approach when contemplating a train hop.
    Spain is very committed to expanding its high-speed train network, seemingly with the goal to eventually replacing all of the slow regional trains with them. Unfortunately, bikes cannot board the high speed trains, so using the trains to escape a high-wind or other urgent situation is shrinking as an option. For that reason, Spain is becoming a less desirable cycling venue for us as all of the roads in some areas tend to also be high speed truck routes with fewer back roads than many countries.
    We asked once in 2009 about bikes on buses and we didn't understand the words but the body language suggested it was up to the driver's discretion.

Bike Routes in SW Spain, near Huelva   2010
    North from Huelva. When we took a bus from Huelva 70 km north to the Rio Tinto mines, we spotted a bike path. When inquiring at the tourist info office in Huelva the next day, the best they could do was give us a glossy brochure of photos about the route but no information on how to get on it. The cover of the little brochure called it "Va Verde: Los Molinos de Agua." It showed the southern tip of the route at San Juan del Puerto train station (about 10+ km north east of Huelva) and the northern end at Valverde del Camino, at 36 km. The glimpses we saw of the path made it look worth pursuing.
     West from Huelva. We rode a delightful though unsigned route out of Huelva many miles west towards Portugal. Tourist info in Huelva offered us a glossy brochure entitled "Aljaraque, Plano Callejero" when we pressed for more information about bike routes and that was all we had to go on. Follow the green dotted line on this 'map' indicating the "Via Mulitmodal Huelva-La Bota." Ask about the bridge out of Huelva that has a bike lane on it to get you started. After leaving the long, low bridge continue on the water side of the bridge to cross more water on a second, shorter bridge. Do NOT take the right turn across the road onto the grit path that will lead you into a village if you then turn left. That is effectively dead-end for bikes. This route will take you across a wet-lands area to Punta Umbria. Because of robust headwinds, we short-cutted the route and turned west near Punta del Sebe instead of going east southeast to Punta Umbria. We were able to turn right onto an unpainted sidewalk/bike route (vs the green-painted bike route) and be out of traffic for many more miles as we headed due west. 

Just in case you were biking along in central Spain and noticed all of those relatively neatly spaced oak trees growing in the grasslands, an article from the US Forest Service will answer most if not all of your questions about it. We were puzzled as it didn't appear that the trees were being cut for firewood (no stumps), the trunks didn't seem large enough for great lumber, the first ones we saw weren't cork oaks, and acorns are marginally edible but it all looked so intention. http://gis.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr126/psw_gtr126_05_huntsinger.pdf


    Bathtubs are the norm if you enjoy a soak but keep testing the temperature as it fills to make sure there is sufficient hot water.
    You can get terrific deals on lovely hotel rooms in the resort areas in off season.

More Details in Our Travel Logs
2003:  22
2004:  1,2,3,4,16,17,18,19,20
2005:  1,2
2008:  11
2009:  14

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