Where were we? Or rather, where was Paul Gentle? The observant amongst you – well, the ones who listened to Episode 015 of The Cycling Europe Podcast – will remember that Paul didn’t make it quite as far as Nordkapp, for fairly obvious reasons. But he did make it as far as Nice in France and will hopefully one day soon return to complete the journey. But here in the written world of these CyclingEurope.org posts (as opposed to the spoken world of podcasts), Paul has just arrived in Valencia.
- To catch up on the story so far, take a few moments to read his previous two reports from the cycling front line:
…and here’s part 3. Over to you Paul.
After a blissfully chilled out Valentine’s weekend with my girlfriend, Mel, who had flown out to Valencia to meet me, it was sad to say goodbye on Monday morning, and motivate myself to start cycling again. Before the weekend, it had been two and a half weeks since we’d seen each other last, when I left Bristol. It would be another six weeks until we planned to meet again in Budapest, which was roughly the halfway point on my cycle from Tarifa to Nordkapp. That seemed like an intimidatingly long way, both in time and distance.
The fact that I also had immediately to negotiate my way through city centre traffic that morning (never a nice prospect for a cyclist), didn’t help with the motivation. Once I did get rolling, I found that a series of well-marked cycle paths helped me out of Valencia’s suburbs quite easily. It felt like a safe and easy escape from the city centre, although far from a pleasant one. For such a beautiful and green city, that featured a tranquil five-mile long park (the Jardín del Turia) running from its heart right down to its sandy beach, the outskirts of Valencia were fairly ugly. It took me a while to get away from its industrial clutches, and when I eventually had managed to do so, I seemed to get stuck in a maze of empty car packs and unfinished buildings, that appeared to be related to a nearby port that I could see on the map. I was so delighted to break free of this grey sprawl and finally get back to some nice landscape, at the seaside resort of Canet d’en Berenguer, that I decided to call it a day. I booked myself into a little chalet on a virtually-empty campsite.
The village of Canet d’en Berenguer set the tone for the rest of week three of my cycle tour, by being a pleasant seaside town with no-one there. For most of Tuesday, I meandered my way along the east coast, passing boarded up cafes, restaurants, hotels and holiday parks. Occasionally I shared the promenade next to the sea with a dog walker or two, but often I had the coastline to myself. The windows of every premises I encountered were in darkness, and for most of the morning, so was the sky. On the way into Moncofa I was hit by my first rain of the trip so far, but happily found my first open cafe of the day just a few moments later. By the time I’d finished my mid-morning coffee, the rain had cleared.
I love being by the seaside. Even out-of-season and at their sleepiest, these villages held a certain charm for me, and it was easy to imagine what they’d be like in the months of real sunshine, beaming with happy summer vibes.
Although I spent a large chunk of time cycling next to the sea, I was always slightly disappointed when my navigation app guided me inland. At first I turned off the sound and ignored it, blissfully carrying on next to the water. This almost always ended up with me reaching an impassable river, marsh or stretch of beach, and turning back on myself, so eventually I resigned myself to the fact that the app might know better than me, and followed it more closely.
My forays inland were rewarded by a nice park in Castellón de la Plana, and a completely unexpected bit of cycle path just after Benicassim. This Via Verde del Mar took me along another old railway track, which at some places had been cut deep into rock that walled both sides of me.
The Serra d’Irta Natural Park provided a nice break from the seaside towns, and was the greenest section I’d seen in a while. It was a lovely remote and traffic-free spot, although the surface was far too rough for my touring bike in several places. After the park, the seaside towns resumed, and apart from the fascinating town of Tarragona, with its Roman amphitheatre, they continued almost all the way to Barcelona.
Each resort I visited seemed a bit busier than the last, with a few more people, restaurants that were open, and high-rise hotels. They also usually had a cycle path somewhere not too far from the sea. Although the paths were getting slightly busier the further north I went, it was still very quiet and I had plenty of space to cycle. I should stress that this was in late February, and it was nice and warm, but not too scorching. I should imagine the crowds that flock here during the hotter months (and their cars) would make this particular stretch a much less pleasant cycling experience!
At Gavà Mar, I turned inland and away from the beach for the final time that week. For the next 20km, I edged myself through the suburbs of Barcelona, heading for the tall Venetian towers in the Plaça d’Espanya, which seemed to me like the point where the more functional buildings of the outskirts gave way to the spectacular buildings dotted around the heart of the city.
I reached Las Ramblas (the main tourist-heavy boulevard in the middle of town) as Friday afternoon drew to a close, and it felt almost like I was finishing “work” for the weekend, after the Monday-Friday cycle, and before a three night stay in Barcelona.
Reaching Barcelona felt like a bit of a landmark. For the first time it dawned on me that I had covered a fair bit of ground since Tarifa, and whatever happened now, I could at least relax in the knowledge that I’d successfully managed to complete a fairly significant trip. I was just about still capable of this cycle touring lark, even if it was a slower process, and made me ache more than it used to.
On the Saturday I fancied a few beers to celebrate this minor landmark, and luckily enough I had an old friend in town to drink them with. My former housemate Ray had moved to Barcelona a few years previously, and in that time had gained a good grasp of the Spanish language, and an even more impressive knowledge of the local bars and eateries. We spent Saturday afternoon visiting many of these around the Gòtic area, while having a good catch up. It was great to visit a few lesser-known spots of Barcelona (like the hidden Roman columns of the Temple d’August), and frequent a large number of tucked-away chorizo and wine outlets, that I either wouldn’t have found otherwise, or would have been too intimidated to venture into.
To shake off the previous night’s enthusiastic wine-consumption, I had a long stroll along the beach on Sunday morning, ate a couple of empanadas at the Passeig de Joan de Borbó Farmer’s Market, and started to plan next week’s cycle. After a slow crawl through the south of Spain during the first two weeks, I’d moved solidly into the north during the third week of cycling, and France would soon be on the horizon…
You can also see Paul’s route via the website DataMinister.com.