Art Breaks

Every now and then, we need to turn off the logic centre of our brains and agree to do something that is so absurd and ill conceived, you really can’t explain it to a normal rational person. Those times are where the best stories come from.

I have just returned home from such an adventure.

I have learned in life that there is no need to go to all the trouble of creating a “bucket list”, so long as I have friends who are diligent with creating their own and I’m ok with random adventures that weren’t previously even on my radar.

It turns out going to Spain and cycling the Camino De Santiago pilgrim’s trail was a bucket list item for a friend of mine, and in a moment of weakness I agreed to go along and even helped coerce a few others into joining us. Now let’s be clear, I don’t even own a bike. The sum total of my cycling experience in the last 10 years was spending 2 days on a bike last year during a tour of China. In my defence, I DID ride the stationary bike in the work gym a few times in the weeks leading up to this silliness, but in hindsight I’d have to say that didn’t really achieve an optimal level of conditioning.

To add to the absurdness of the venture, as soon as one of my good friends from the UK discovered I was going to Spain, she talked me into signing up for a 10km run in the Palma Marathon. I’m also not a runner. Well, not unless someone is chasing me, or the coffee shop is closing.

After all of these great ideas have been accounted for, the itinerary looks like this:

  • 4 days in Palma, Mallorca, where we will run the race and do some sightseeing;
  • From Palma to Pamplona, where we will pick up rented bikes and start cycling for 10 days in the direction of Santiago de Compostella, from where our flight home is booked.

As bookends, there is a day in Barcelona on either side as that is were our international flights arrive and depart from.

When we all gathered in Palma there were seven of us in a rented apartment by the time siblings and all were accounted for. We had a nice time in Palma, the uphill-both-ways 10 km run in the heat not withstanding. We had great meals we prepared ourselves, delicious wine, and a nice little day trip to Soller and Port de Soller.

The following are a few photos from my wanderings on Mallorca:

Nothing says Europe more clearly than a narrow alley adorned with a scooter!
Nothing says Europe more clearly than a narrow alley adorned with a scooter!
One of the things I loved about Spain was the consistently awesome plants and planters in the windows! From the smallest towns we cycled through, to the largest cities, the windows were cheery, and usually had at least a plant, if not an elaborate plater with bright flowers spilling out.
One of the things I loved about Spain was the consistently awesome plants and planters in the windows! From the smallest towns we cycled through, to the largest cities, the windows were cheery, and usually had at least a plant, if not an elaborate planter with bright flowers spilling out.
Plants consistently seemed to grow out of nowhere - out of stone walls, in this case a plaster wall...Rugged little greens!
Plants consistently seemed to grow out of nowhere – out of stone walls, in this case a plaster wall…Rugged little greens!
In Port de Soller there were stacks and stacks of nets drying in the sun. I liked the colors and lines.
In Port de Soller there were stacks and stacks of nets drying in the sun. I liked the colors and lines.

From Palma we headed to Pamplona, via Barcelona. We had long enough in Barcelona for a quick walk to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. It’s a pretty impressive building, with stairs and cascading fountains leading the eye up to the grand structure on the hill. We didn’t go in, as we didn’t have the time for that, but we enjoyed wandering the grounds and nearby parks.

The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya is a beautiful structure and well worth a visit. The fountains alone kept me well entertained for some time!
The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya is a beautiful structure and well worth a visit. The fountains alone kept me well entertained for some time!

From Barcelona we took a train to Pamplona, where we discovered the rented bikes had in fact been delivered to the hotel. No way to weasel out of the cycling now! The following morning we loaded up the bikes and set out in cold, but dry weather. It took us some time exploring the streets of Pamplona to locate an albergue that would issue us a Pilgrim’s Credential, the “passport” that would gain us access to the albergues, or hostels along the Camino de Santiago pilgrim’s path. It was afternoon before we officially hit the road, and came to the sobering conclusion that Spain is rather mountainous.

It quickly became apparent to me that it was a very good idea to take my big camera, rather than a more compact point and shoot, for two reasons; first, I had plausible grounds for whining that I had to carry extra weight on the hills, therefore I was slower; and secondly, it was expected that I would take frequent “art breaks” to take photos.

Here is how a typical day would go over the 10 days we cycled: Up at 6:30 or 7:00, as the albergues required you to leave by 8:00am. Sometimes there was breakfast at the albergue, other times we would find something in the village or town before we hit the trail. We would usually stop for a coffee mid-morning, and then a late lunch, at which time we would decide how many more km we had in us and pick a destination for the night. Once we arrived in the town were we would stay, we would get registered in an albergue, have the most awesome shower of our lives, then have dinner. Go to bed, repeat!

For perspective, here is a screen shot of the route we followed. We used the awesome app maps.me that gave us offline access to routing and pinning features as we travelled.
For perspective, here is a screen shot of the route we followed. We used the awesome app, maps.me, that gave us offline access to routing and pinning features as we travelled. We covered approximately 400km between Pamplona and Leon.

The weather wasn’t always very cooperative, we saw rain and high winds a fair bit so there were days the camera didn’t come out of the pannier, but I did manage to get a few shots that give a bit of an idea of some of the sights we saw. I will confess, on the very steep bits there was nothing but our own misery to photograph, so the photos may seem more airy and flat than I have portrayed in this narrative!

This was such a typical sight. The spire of the church would be the firs thing to come into view, then the rest of the town, draped around the hill. A welcome sight, when that was where we planned to sleep for the night!
This was a typical sight. The spire of the church would be the first thing to come into view, then the rest of the town draped around the hill. A welcome sight, when that was where we planned to sleep for the night!
Many towns were accessed by either a bridge into town, or a bridge out of town. Some of the bridges were quite picturesque, particularly on a nice sunny day!
Many towns were accessed by either a bridge into town, or a bridge out of town. Some of the bridges were quite picturesque, particularly on a nice sunny day!
We spotted this awesome example of engineering just outside Burgos. Apparently it is a structure from an Arab trade route, and has quite an extensive footprint of caves and tunnels in the hillside.
We spotted this awesome example of engineering just outside Burgos. Apparently it is a structure from an Arab trade route, and has quite an extensive footprint of caves and tunnels in the hillside. The photo isn’t as clear as I would like, since it was a rainy day, but the structure is so interesting, I’m willing to work through the photo quality issue!
So confusing, what speed IS it? 130? 150? 155?
So confusing, what speed IS it? 130? 150? 155?
We finally got to the flat bit (250km between Burgos and Leon), only to realize that when all the windmills are pointing in the direction you are headed, the winds may not be in your favour! In between the vast expanses of fields, very organized forests have been planted. I understand they are there as a windbreak and to minimize erosion.
We finally got to the flat bit (250km between Burgos and Leon), only to realize that when all the windmills are pointing in the direction you are headed, the winds may not be in your favour! In between the vast expanses of fields, very organized forests have been planted. I understand they are there as a windbreak and to minimize erosion.
I may have taken an unseemly number of photos of doors and windows, this particular one had a gentleman in the shot as well!
I may have taken an unseemly number of photos of doors and windows, this particular one had a gentleman in the shot as well! These doors make up one of the entrances to the cathedral in Leon.

We finally arrived in Leon, 250km short of Santiago de Compostella. We left our bikes there for the rental company to pick up, and took the train to Santiago in order to make our flight.

I think most of us wish to go back to Leon, and walk the remainder of the trail in the future. Cycling is not really the best way to do the trail, and not only because I’m not a fan of cycling! The trail is not intended for cycling, it is made for walkers, particularly the steep sections. Taking a bike on the trail is slow going, and the alternative is taking the highway, which isn’t really in the spirit of the pilgrimage. I had embarked on this trip with the idea that I would have a great deal of time for contemplation and clarity of thought. Instead I was mostly trying to not die, navigating on-ramps and off-ramps, steep hills, and sharp switchbacks. There is also the social aspect that is missed when you don’t walk. Many of the walkers meet others, walk together, see the same people over and over and form bonds. Cycling the route puts you out of sync with others, and you do not make the same connections and bonds as the walkers do.

All that said, it was an adventure, and I saw parts of Spain I would have not seen otherwise, so it’s going in the books as another adventure, and I can confidently inform you that I have not run out to purchase a bike upon my return home!

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