Trinidad, Cuba. This year's destination?

18th December 2008 to 1st January 2009
Voyage Out - Weymouth to the Med for Christmas and the New Year

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

We made it to Weymouth station with only 15 minutes to spare, a bit close for the stoker’s liking. It was nice of Janet to come and see us off.

With the tandem fitted nicely into the bike space we settled in for a relaxing journey to London. Maybe cycling across London and then Paris is a risky way to start a journey. Riding a heavily laden tandem after a year’s break requires getting used to.

Both cities have made some concessions to cyclists. We survived with only minor complaints from the stoker who coped well as usual with the management’s odd exuberance.

Stuart came to see us off on Eurostar and we were soon in the tunnel and only three hours later crossing a damp Paris.

At Paris Austerlitz rail station we disassembled the tandem and boarded the Elipsos sleeper train. We travelled in the best class, mainly to provide room for the tandem. It was very pleasant and highly recommended.

We arrived in Barcelona at 9am and assembled the tandem in the sunshine. We then had a pleasant 30 minute cycle ride to our pre-booked apartment. Lynda was waiting to let us in.

For those who would like more details of the journey and how we transported the tandem we have posted an account. You can read it by clicking Transporting Bikes

We now had a two week unplanned stay in Barcelona waiting for our ship to Cuba. We cycled out almost every day and it was pleasant to be able to see the city in a leisurely way.

Our “apartment” is an unusual place. Rita, the stoker’s sister, wrote that if it was unusual it would suit us well and it did. It is one of those large square mobile homes sometimes seen causing traffic chaos on the back of lorries. It must have been craned onto the roof of this five storey block. It provided us with all mod cons and a large roof terrace.

We were near to Sants rail station and it was an ideal place for us to access everywhere by tandem. There were also good local shops and a market.

We were lucky during our stay to have seven days of glorious sunshine and only three days of rain. We visited many of the inner city tourist sites and, as you can see from the pictures, went to as many of the Gaudí sites as we could find. Barcelona also has an extensive yacht harbour and some very nice beaches. On most days we went off on the tandem to visit one of the sites, having a picnic lunch along the way. On several days this was near the beach which is pleasantly uncrowded at this time of year.

 The stoker with Gaudí’s lizard at Park Güell

Cycling in Barcelona is quite an experience. They have taken a lead from Paris and introduced “street bicycles” which they have named “bicing”. Residents pay 30 cents for up to two hours use of a bike. They can pick one up and drop it off at any of the many stands. Unfortunately this is not available to tourists.

To support this investment the city has built numerous cycle routes. We sometimes found them in the most unlikely places. On pavements was not unusual but down the centre of dual carriageways, either on the reservation or the road, was also common and worked well. Wherever there were cycle lanes there were also traffic lights for cyclists, and we often had priority over motor vehicles.

The infrastructure is really only half the story. Unlike in the UK there is a live and let live attitude. It was unusual to see drivers here behaving like Clarkson. We often wondered how UK drivers have been allowed to become among the worst and most dangerous in Europe. We also fail to understand why we can cycle almost anywhere here without upsetting anyone, pedestrians, drivers, motor cyclists or other cyclists. At home people are just so inflexible.

We soon got the hang of cycling here and enjoyed it, doing up to 30km a day. If the road is clear cyclists do not stop at traffic lights. Cycling on the pavements and promenades is perfectly acceptable and no one minded us. We found three rules seem to apply. Pass other bikes left to left which was easy for a sailor. Avoid pedestrians at all times even when they walk on cycle routes. Thirdly, if you break the rules, e.g. by jumping the lights, any incident is your fault. When we did make the odd mistake we found the “injured” party friendly and forgiving, the tandem can be a bit unwieldy in a tight spot. Perhaps the most difficult thing for us was making sure we found a dropped kerb in time. The consequences of getting this wrong was unpleasant in either going up or down mode,

Suburban Barcelona is a great antidote to an English Christmas. There was little sign of the overt waste, drunkenness and misplaced nostalgia we had left behind. This is all the more surprising for a Catholic country infamous for the inquisition, but on the other hand perhaps that is why and the religious significance has not been forgotten.

Christmas dinner coming out of the oven

We spent Christmas Day walking in the lovely Park Güell. It was laid out by Gaudí and has many of his structures and artefacts. The sun shone and we had a picnic at the highest place.

We free wheeled back to the apartment. The management then fully exploited local produce and the apartment’s facilities. He excelled himself to produce a full vegetarian roast dinner.

We also enjoyed talking on the phone to every member of our family.

We do have a cautionary tale. We were robbed and it was very cleverly done. We were having a picnic by the sea near the Olympic Port. We sat on a bench with the tandem parked against the sea wall opposite. The pannier with the lunch in it was beside us. We were asked for directions by a crook whose accomplice stole the pannier. We quickly realised it was gone and set off on the tandem. Predictably we did not find the thieves. After thirty minutes of looking we returned to the crime scene. Searching nearby we found the bag and all its contents dumped over a wall.

There was not much of value but the pannier itself would have been difficult to replace here as the Spaniards do not appear to go in for cycle touring. We would also have missed the clothes in it. We don’t think we are that gullible and have had few problems with security in the past. These people are very clever and we will do our best to avoid being taken in in the future.

During our stay in Barcelona we have been watching the progress around the Mediterranean of the Melfi Iberia. We have been in touch with both Strand Travel and by phone with the shipping agent. We have been told to join the ship on 2nd January in the huge Barcelona commercial port. Our next blog will chart the voyage, so long as we find the ship.

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