Vacation May 2009: Tour d'Iberia

After two succesfull trips last year, Erwin and I went this time to Spain and Portugal. Spain because Erwin loves it and can't get enough of it, I because I've never been there and Portugal because neither of us had been there. It turned out to be another great trip.
Trip statistics:
Visited/passed countries:The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar
Distance covered:8,934 km
Duration:20 days
Average distance/day:470 km (excl 1 non-travel day)
Min temperature:0 degrees Celcius
Max temperature:35 degrees Celcius
# speeding tickets:1
Least expensive room per night:20 euro
Most expensive room per night:75 euro
Least expensive fuel:0.856 euro / liter
Most expensive fuel:1.330 euro / liter
Min height:-5 mtr
Max height:2,150 mtr

The story:

Day 1: Sunday April 26

Distance: 1280km

The trip started wet and chilly. We reached Paris in 4 hours. In France the weather got better and we could pick up some speed. Until we ran into a laser trap. We were commanded by two motorcycle cops to a parking place and Erwin had to pay a 90 euro fine. Luckily for me, as second man, they weren't able to measure my speed at the same time.
The Pan behaved very bad with its new tires. Already at 150kmh it started to weave. Later this vacation, when the tires were more worn, it got better and speeds up to 180kmh weren't a (big) problem anymore.
When we approached the Spanish border it started to rain heavily. Just across the border, in Irún Spain, we found a nice hotel: Hotel Alcazar.


Day 2: Monday April 27

Distance: 488km

The first real vacation day. We started by following the coastal road along the Atlantic Ocean, which was great. Later we went further inland, rode along a lake formed by a dam and passed part of the Picos de Europa. At the end of the day we found a hotel in the small village Aniezo run by an English couple: Pension La Pisa. An Englishman who stayed there too told us that we had to ride the N152 to Andorra when we were in the neighbourhood, that road seemed to have been built especially for motorcycles. As it turned out we didn't get into the neighbourhood and this road stays for the time being on our wish list.

coastal road

Day 3: Tuesday April 28

Distance: 457km

Today we further explored the Picos. It's a beautiful mountain range and it was a great joy to ride through it. Even when temps dropped to 0 Celcius and we got some snow... Especially the N625 road is great.
We went on to Oviedo to have a look at the Cathedral of San Salvador, a nice piece of architecture.
Over the memorable roads AS310 and AS14 we rode further West. By now we were more or less in the middle of nowhere and it got later, darker, the weather wetter and the roads worse. We needed a hotel fast. When we stopped to deliberate our predicament Erwin saw by coincidence the sign of a hotel. The village O Cádavo didn't look like much, and the hotel maybe even less on the outside, but inside it was warm and kinda cosy. And the rooms were tidy, clean and cheap, so we stayed the night.


Day 4: Wednesday April 29

Distance: 404km

After a good nights rest we head on to the West of Northern Spain. First we visited Lugo. A town which still is surrounded by intact Roman walls. From close up the walls were impressive and it was not hard to imagine why they were able to stand the test of time for so long.
Next stop: A Coruña, a place bordering the ocean with its ancient Roman lighthouse, the Tower or Hercules.
The ancient Romans thought that Cape Finisterre was the westernmost part of the mainland of Europe and hence the end of the world as they knew it. For us it was yet another fine place to visit and make some nice pics. Pilgrims from Santiago de Compostela visit Finisterre too, we went the other way around, passing dozens of pilgrims in fluorescent clothing (like bikers tend to do lately). In the rainy Santiago de Compostela we had quick look at the gloomy cathedral and went further South in the direction of Portugal.
In Lérez Cendona we found hotel O Galo to stay the night.
The end of the world?

Day 5: Thursday April 30

Distance: 446km

First stop of today was Tui, a nice little town bordering Portugal. Then we left Spain for a couple of days and went to the Portugese city of Braga. After that we wanted to have a look at the big city of Porto. Here we got our first lesson this vacation of riding in big(ger) cities: it sucks. It's busy, hot, chaotic, you hardly can find a place to park the bike. We liked the open countryside better.
By now the news reached us of the attack on our Queen. In disbelief of such an idiotic act we went on.
Partly over the A25 (very suited for ZX12R's and the likes seen the wide curves) we went to the historic city of Coimbra. We wanted to see some of its sights, but since we couldn't find a suitable parking spot for the bikes here either we head on.
In the small village Condeixa-A-Velha we found a nice little hotel. We could park the bikes inside, but seen the width of them they didn't fit through the door. The hotel owner came up with plan B: across the street was this community building he had the keys of. Across the stage where the people had their plays and stuff we parked the bikes on the wooden floor. Knowing the bikes were well locked up we slept very good.

Viewpoint along the way

Day 6: Friday May 1

Distance: 488km

Labour Day, an official day off in Portugal and Spain. We noticed this immediately because the museum of Conimbriga with lots of ancient Roman artifacts was closed. So we moved on. First we passed in Soure a Templars(?) castle. For the more complete castle in Pombal we halted a little longer. Next stop was another castle: the one at Leiria, this one even bigger and more beautiful than the previous two. Then on to Fátima, not because were such devoted pilgrims, but because we were in the neighbourhood and wanted to see wat attracted all those people. We couldn't see much interesting over there and went on asap.
On to a good looking castle built in the middle of a river: castle Almourol. We made some pics and drove further, this time to the nice village of Sintra. We stopped for a moment, but the touristic bustle drove us away.
Over the highway we passed Lisbon. We wanted to visit this city too, but seen our bad experiences at Porto we decided to skip this one. At the West of Lisbon we went to Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of the mainland of Europe.
Over the more than 17km long bridge ponte de Vasco da Gama we left Lisbon behind us and ended up kinda in the middle of nowhere. It was time to find another hotel, but on the very long straight road we found only small villages with no or closed hotels. With the aid of the Zümo we at last found a nice hotel in Salvaterra de Magos: Residencial Nova Estrela.

View from castle of Leiria

Day 7: Saturday May 2

Distance: 330km

Today we drove first to Évora, a nice Portugese village. The next town was the so called marble town of Estremoz. A lot of marble has been used in the buildings and pavement, probably because it was a relatively cheap material because of the marble quarries in the vicinity.
When we later entered the town of Elvas we were totally surprised by the size and beauty of the old Roman aquaduct.
Elvas was the last town we visited in Portugal. First we planned to see more of Portugal, but the roads were getting kinda boring so we decided to go back to Spain. In the Spanish town of Badajoz we visited the old Moorish castle, the Alcazaba de Badajoz. This castle was a fine(?) example of how the Spaniards seem to restorate their cultural heritage: they don't hesitate to rebuild big parts of it. I don't know if I like this. Of course, you get a more complete image of how it has been, but it is all fake. It's maybe better to show pictures of how it must have been and leave the remnants alone?
The trip of today ended in Mérida (hotel Nueva España), a town with so much to see we stayed there for the whole next day.

Aquaduct at Elvas

Day 8: Sunday May 3

Distance: 0km

In Mérida we visited the museum and most of the ancient Roman archeological sites:
Temple of Diana

Day 9: Monday May 4

Distance: 416km

Today we wanted to visit the archeological site of Itálica, but unfortunately it was closed on a Monday. So we rode on to Sevilla after we washed the bikes. In the touristic Sevilla we had, amongst others, a look at the catheral. From Sevilla we rode through a beautiful landscape to Cortes de la Frontera. Here we didn't get a hotel, but a so called 'apartementos rurales': an apartment in the countryside: Los Naranjos. It was so nice and cheap that we stayed here for two nights.


Day 10: Tuesday May 5

Distance: 280km

From Cortes we drove to Tarifa, the southmost part of the mainland of Europe. Across the Straits of Gibraltar we could see Africa (Morocco). East of Tarifa lies the Mediterranean sea and West the Atlantic Ocean.
Next: Gibraltar, part of the British realm. For 11 euro we could climb the rock with our bikes. There we saw the monkeys and had some great views over the city and the sea.
Further along the coast (Costa del Sol), in Estepona, I had a real Dutch treat: a frikandel speciaal. Something so 'not done', I just had to do it :) Because a lot of Dutch go to the south of Spain to enjoy the sun and sea quite a lot of Dutch entrepreneurs have opened (food)shops overthere aimed especially at those people. Through the beautiful inland of the Costa we drove back to Cortes.


Day 11: Wednesday May 6

Distance: 342km

Over the scenic A369 we went to Antequera, to see the Dólmen, prehistoric remnants. Then the impressive El Torcal, a beautiful karst mountain range.
In Málaga we had a bite and a look at the cathedral. Further inland, in Órgiva, we found the nice hotel Mirasol to get some rest.

El Torcal

Day 12: Thursday May 7

Distance: 418km

From Órgiva we went into the Sierra Nevada. Over a road that got worse and worse we reached a hight of 2,150mtr. At that point you could enter the National Park by foot. Which we didn't, we had to take the same lousy road back. Down from the mountain we went to Granada, to see the Alhambra. Another disappointment: it was -of course- very busy and we had to wait until 7PM to be able to get into the main building. So we left and went to Córdoba. There we saw the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos castle and a little outside Córdoba the archaeological site of Madinat Al-Zahra.
In Cardeña we found a little hotel.

Madinat Al-Zahra

Day 13: Friday May 8

Distance: 383km

We washed the dirt and dust from our bikes for the second time. Over nice roads we rode to Toledo. When we came around a corner and saw Toledo lying in front of us we were surprised by the beauty of the city. We had a look at the cathedral and rode a circle round the historic city to enjoy the view.
Onward to a nightmare called Madrid. The capital of Spain was crowded and hot. We wanted a hotel in Madrid to have a base to view the city, but because of the busy traffic and the impossibility to park the bikes we couldn't find a decent one. Frustrated we left the stinking mess and found a reasonable hotel (Hostal San Francisco) in Las Rozas de Madrid, a town just outside Madrid. We decided to stay here for two nights, so we already had a hotel when we had visited Madrid the next day. In a restaurant nearby our hotel I drank my first Sangria, and I liked it :)


Day 14: Saturday May 9

Distance: 55km

Today we went to see an ex-collegue of us who lived with his wife and child in Madrid. They took us in their car to the center of Madrid where we had something to drink and eat. On foot the city looked a lot nicer. At the end of the afternoon a mini-storm broke out and wiped the terraces clean. Back in Las Rozas we had diner and some more Sangria.


Day 15: Sunday May 10

Distance: 477km

First stop of today was the immense historical residence of the king of Spain: El Escorial. Next we went to the nearby Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), a contraversial, but nevertheless worth seeing piece of work. We had to wait a while until the fog lifted a bit to see the gigantic cross.
In the busy Segovia we had a look at the well preserved aquaduct.
After Segovia we headed into the mountains and saw a great diversity of landscapes. When it got later and we needed a hotel we found ourselves again in the middle of nowhere and we had a hard time to find one. At last we found one in Molina de Aragón: Hostal Avenida. It had the smallest room we've seen this vacation and the toilet and showers were inconveniently on the hallway. Still we took it, desperate as we were. In Molina I had my first experience with a Spanish casino. This is not a gambling establishment, but more a big bar/restaurant. On the outside you couldn't see what it was and I guess only the locals know how to find one. We more or less stumbled upon it because it had a menu posted outside. In this casino I had the biggest piece of meat I've ever eaten :)


Day 16: Monday May 11

Distance: 411km

In the morning we visited the tower of Aragón that was located on a hill just outside the village. Later we had a typical Spanish breakfast with tortilla de patatas (not to be confused with the Mexican tortilla) and we drove for many kilometers over a plateau that lied more than 1,400 meters above sealevel. For us low country inhabitants a remarkable event.
After another nice ride through the Spanish countryside we ended up in Tarragona, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The hotel we found (Hotel Astari) was so nice we decided to stay here for two nights and we would go to Barcelona from here.


Day 17: Tuesday May 12

Distance: 273km

Today the visit of Barcelona. I feared the worst after the other big city hassle, but it wasn't too bad. When we wanted to refuel in Barcelona we first had to ask the pump operator kindly to switch on the fuelpump. An indication of the high crime rate in Barcelona. In Barcelona we had a look at the Olympic village, at a couple of houses designed by Gaudi and we stopped at his Sagrada Familia, a crazy cathedral. To have a view over Barcelona from above we drove over the steepest roads to an amusement park on top of the Tibidabo mountain. As a true big city, Barcelona was covered in smog, but still we had a nice view.
In the evening we went back to Tarragona.

On top of the Tibidabo

Day 18: Wednesday May 13

Distance: 465km

From Tarragona we went inland to Montserrat. A nice route, but tourism has hit Montserrat as well, with payed parking etc. On we went. Along the way we passed a crashed car, the driver under a blanket beside it. For us a sign to remember that our hobby isn't without dangers.
Further down the road we passed Castellfollit de la Roca, a village nicely placed on a rock, and the historic town of Besalú with its nice bridge.
In the afternoon we regretfully left Spain and entered France. In Béziers we found Hotel Imperator, a three star hotel, but seen the fact that the toilet was placed in a cupboard two stars seemed enough for me.


Day 19: Thursday May 14

Distance: 450km

From Béziers we drove to Nîmes. Here we visited the arena which is still in use for bullfighting. Through the nice southern departments of France we went to Grenoble. On the highway we were passed by 2 French motorcycle cops at high speed with flashing lights. Even then they had the time to greet us with their right leg. Or were they thanking Erwin for his contribution? :)
In Saint Pierre de Chartreuse, a village nearby Grenoble, we stayed at the hotel Beau Site. Here we played pool with some Belgians who had been walking in the mountains. Thanks to me we lost. "Oh, that black ball mústn't go in that pocket? Now they tell me...".


Day 20: Friday May 15

Distance: 1068km

Alas! All things must come to an end, and so our vacation too. From Saint Pierre we went asap home. We had a lot of rain and it was cold on the highway. Nothing worth mentioning happened along the way, or it must be the fact that Erwin and I both were photographed while speeding. A big flash from the front blinded us, but we didn't care since we don't have license plates in front :)
At 20.30 uur I stopped the engine of the Pan at home, cold, wet and miserable, but with good memories.

Saint Pierre de Chartreuse


Spain an Portugal were a nice surprise for me as biker. I had expected hilly, hot and dry countries, but I got al kinds of weather and terrain. The people were nice and friendly and the food was good. Both countries are relatively cheap. What more can you ask for?
As for the hardware:
At first the Pan handled terrible on the highway. When the tires wore handling got better. Shifting gears down got more difficult along the way. I had to blip the throttle to make the transition smooth. Wear of the gearbox, or something else?
Because the TomTom routes of Erwin looked different on the Zümo Erwin lead the way during this vacation. So I didn't use the Zümo to nivigate, but just for checking the roads and surroundings, for tracking our route and for playing music on the more boring stretches. The music played through the bluetooth was single channel and quite lousy, but better than nothing. I think I'm going to by an A2DP adapter to be able to play stereo music.
The Zümo rebooted once by itself and once it totally locked up and I had to remove the battery to restart it again.

Couple of fine bikes

Go here for all the pics of this trip!

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