Friday, June 04, 2010

Spain Sierra bike trip - day 5

El Escorial to Soto del Real – an additional 47 kilometers and we are done. The first half had its ups and downs, but wasn’t too bad. And the second half had a welcomingly consistent downward slope.

The sights weren’t quite as interesting as the past days. We went through a couple of non-descript towns, as well as the pleasant, lively town of Berecerril de la Sierra, and the town of Manzanares de Real, which has a large 15th century castle. Unfortunately, the castle was closed today due to a private event, but it’s still striking to see it appear on the horizon, then growing ever larger and more overpowering as we draw nearer. Castles, cobblestone streets, monasteries, churches and ruins of watchtowers, walls and road make clear on a daily basis the presence of human life many centuries ago. It forces me to remember that I’m part of only a small sliver of history, of which only fragments will be remembered, or considered important.

I enjoyed an afternoon drink at a bar on the plaza in Manzanares de Real, listening to the lively Spanish music coming from inside the bar, seeing the local life on the plaza, with multiple storks looking on from their nests on a nearby steeple.

We made use of the excellent public transportation system (a bus and a train) to get ourselves and our luggage from our end point of Soto del Real to the train station in Madrid. From here we’ll depart for Zaragoza.

The standard bike tour includes one more day, biking to Madrid. We cut that short in order to be able to see friends. I think I could have handled one more day. But 4-5 days is probably a good amount for me, unless there were to be rest days provided in between the bike days.

Overall, I enjoyed the tour a lot. I got a lot of exercise, was able to explore several small, out-of-the-way places and was able to take in the places much more vividly by biking through them. Since this is my first bike tour, I have nothing to compare it to. But my impressions were:

Route – very good. Took in a variety of sites. The evening stops were located in interesting places. The least interesting was Soto del Real, but that was a good base and the hotel was super friendly.

Roads: very good. While we did have to spend some time on highways, there was a lot of time on roads with little traffic and good scenery.

Outfitting: The bikes were new. The quality was OK. They had Shimano gears. A little extra outfitting (a mirror, a light, gloves, a bungee or two to make use of the rack, a set of directions for each of us) would have been helpful, as would have a more detailed introduction to bike care.

Instructions: I loved that the tour was self guided. And we did make it from start to end. But the instructions could have used more detail to dummy-proof them. We definitely put on some extra distance and encountered some confusion due to the directions. While the instructions indicated a few highlights of places to visit, some more details about the stops (a map of each evening stop would be great) and the things we passed would have been helpful.

Flexibility: Excellent. Bike Spain was really accommodating in helping to set up a tour that met the particular dates we were available. When we had some problems (Mark not feeling well, a forgotten bag) they were quick to help resolve them.

Hotels: Very good. Our least favorite (in El Escorial) was a hotel the tour company doesn’t usually use. Their standard hotel was booked up. The others were all comfortable, well-located and with friendly, accommodating staff.

I hope there will be another bike tour in my future and I’d definitely look into the offerings of Bike Spain for the next time around. Next time I’ll be looking for some child-friendly accommodations through (child trailer, bike seat, routes I can complete with a 40+ pound kid on board). I’m thinking my next bike trip, especially in a Spanish-speaking country, will be with my son.

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