Monday, May 31, 2010

Spain Sierra bike trip – Day 1

We organized a five-day bike trip with Bike Spain in Madrid. I found the company online and was impressed with their willingness to accommodate our small group of two and our schedule. They modified the schedule and the days so that we could fit in the tour in exactly between our two weekend visits to friends. This is my first ever bike trip that I haven’t organized myself, so I’m excited.

Today is by far the easiest day of the trip, as it involved no required biking. A staff member picked us up from our friends’ house and took us to the village of Soto del Real, about an hour north of Madrid. We got our bikes and equipment, went through the logistics, and were able to settle in to our hotel. We are staying at the Hotel Prado, a basic but clean and pleasant place with very friendly staff.

Soto del Real used to be called Chozas, which means shephard’s huts, because in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was nothing more than a collection of stone huts used by shepherds as they led flocks of merino sheep to and from Segovia. It’s a dry and rocky place, but at 900 meters above sea level, has more trees than Alcala de Henares, including juniper bushes, white maple, oak, pine and cypress.

After lunch (only 9 euros for a menu del dia at the Restaurant Miratoros) and an afternoon nap, I biked through town, then to the Cuenca Alta de Manzanares Regional Park, located on a mountain behind town. I think I saw the descendants of some of those original sheep, wide bodied sheep behind an old stone fence. Wildflowers filled the grasses, emitting a sweet scent. I rode up to the Casa de la Cerca del Cura. I’m not exactly sure what it is – a priest’s house, a monastery, a small church--but it was a stone religious building surrounded by huge boulders upon a promontory overlooking the village and the valley. It was peaceful there, with the only sounds being the wind, the birds and barking dogs. It was a nice place to enjoy the breeze, the sweet air, and the calm.

Meandering around town for some dinner supplies, I came across the fruteria DeMaria (calle real 23; tel: 91 847 86 00) with beautiful cherries, strawberries, apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots – a much appreciated antidote to the heavy, oily we’ve had so far. A nearby shop, Tahona (Virgen del Rosario), emitted a smell so sweet I had to go in. It was a bakery with fresh baked loaves that included some non-white options.

The center of town is small and pleasant, but apart from a few interesting stone buildings, not particularly striking. The residences around the town are quite nice – they look like what I’ve seen of houses in Arizona. Earthly colors in a dry landscape.

None of the towns we’ll be passing through on this bike tour has more than 10,000 inhabitants. I’m looking forward to experiencing some small town life.

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