Tag Archives: cycling

Getting Out Of The City

Right-i-o, it’s been a while. The truth is that my extended vacation around Brazil earlier in the year has left me on the back foot ever since in terms of catching up with work! So there’s a lesson for any freelancers out there… never ever go on holiday. It’s just not worth it.

One thing I did find time for was exploring outside of Barcelona. I guess it’s only natural that after several years in a place you are going to get bored of it, so it made sense for me this year to take the opportunity to step outside the city whenever possible…. here’s a list of the day trips and weekends away I enjoyed in 2014.

Sant Feliu to Girona Bike Ride (May)

Four guys, four bikes and not much of a plan, is always a great recipe for adventure and so it was we set off from Barcelona by bus to Sant Feliu, our rented bikes in the hold, after much arguing with a particularly miserable driver. Here we made our way along the so called “Green-Way” or “The Carrilet”, a one time rail track that has been turned into a cycling path, along which several of the old stations had been converted into wine bars. It was slightly uphill to Girona, our final destination, but with a beery picnic midway through, we found the energy to cover the 35km or so, passing through many a beautiful field and several picturesque villages en route. At the end of the ride there was just time for a nap in the hostel before heading out to explore the (disappointingly sleepy) Girona nightlife. Still we managed to have fun!

Trip Score: 8/10

The awesome foursome on the "Green Way" to Girona

The awesome foursome on the “Green Way” to Girona

Tossa de Mar Romantic Weekend (September)

I’ve stared enviously as way too many photos of stunning Costa Brava coves for way too long, whilst barely stepping foot on “The Wild Coast”. It was time to rectify that with a romantic weekend with my gf. As I was paying I selected the “economical” one star Windsor Hotel, which despite its budget pretensions had a wonderful swimming pool, a slap up breakfast buffet and a great location just near the old fortress and city beach. The sun refused to shine on our first day so we took advantage of the tennis courts at the hotel’s sister accommodation up the road, and followed that up with a pool photo shoot (had to test out the new camera!). On the second day we hiked along the coast through beautiful pine forest overlooking those photogenic craggy Costa Brava bays, finally arriving at the delightful Cala Pola for a sunbathe and a swim. By night and we dined like kings with nearly every restaurant offering a four course menu for €11 to €17. A resounding success.

Trip Score: 9/10

A typically craggy cove on the Costa Brava

A typically craggy cove on the Costa Brava

Sitges Birthday Weekend (September)

My girlfriend and I were kindly put up for one night at the four star Alenti Hotel, in one of the biggest and most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on. Sadly – despite it being my birthday – the weather Gods were on poor form indeed with a deluge of Biblical proportions preventing any fun exploring on our first day. On our second the skies brightened up and we took a long walk northwards, past a gay nudist beach, over the marina and took a second breakfast (some delicious pastries appropriated from our first breakfast at Alenti… now slightly squashed!) on a patch of grass watching surfers riding the waves on a rough bay. There was time on the way back to stop off for a very VIP soft drink lounging on an Ibiza-style club couch overlooking the sea at restaurant Vivero, which was a nice highlight of a too short weekend. (For more on Sitges check out this post about the town’s raucous Carnival celebrations).

Trip Score: 7/10

Looking back over Sitges

Looking back over Sitges

Return To Tossa (November)

An invitation to check out the sensational Casa Granados was one we couldn’t refuse, even if we’d been to Tossa just a few weeks beforehand! Plus it was my girlfriend’s birthday and how better to spoil her than in this luxurious four star mansion that once belonged to the famous Catalan musician Enric Granados? The place is classy indeed, with a curvaceous pool, open air bar with views over Tossa and rooms tastefully decorated with every mod con. Sadly at this time of year not only are the days short but the town was closed for business pretty much… we struggled to even find a restaurant open on a Saturday night! Although in the end we did find a nice one and it even was showing La Liga… my girlfriend was delighted. She forgave me after I ran her a hot bath in our hotel suite and we enjoyed some midnight Cava and chocolates.

Trip Score: 8/10

The Catalan flag flying over Tossa

The Catalan flag flying over Tossa

Tearing Around Tarragona (December)

La Liga de los Ciclistas Extraordinarios reconvened in December for what was supposed to be a pleasant, easy-going jaunt around Tarragona and the surrounding countryside. Luckily the bike rental company issued us with mountain bikes as we sped off to see the celebrated Puente del Diablo (awesome UNESCO-listed Roman aqueduct outside the city) and found ourselves dirt tracking over flooded and rocky roads and over thigh-burning hills. We really should have worn helmets, because the going was treacherous and tough indeed. After lunch on top of the aqueduct (reminiscent of the four musketeers’ breakfast on the bastion) we fumbled our way through the forest to the coast with just 45 mins or so to go before sunset. My rather sensible suggestion that, as we didn’t have any lights or even high visibility clothing, we should get back to Tarragona before dark was heavily derided and so we went, cycling along the wet sand, in the opposite direction to Waikiki beach. Entry is through some wooded rocks only but we cycled as far as we could, then clambered down into this beautiful bay, just in time for sunset and a well deserved beer and some photos. The journey home was hardly pleasant or safe, but hey we made it. As in Girona, there was time for a nap and then a big night out. Great times!

Trip Score: 9/10

We ate our lunch on top of this, the Devil's Bridge

We ate our lunch on top of this, the Devil’s Bridge

So there you go, a few trips to imitate or not as you please, but hopefully some inspiration at least to go and see the great sights surrounding Barcelona in every direction. More weekend and day trip ideas right here.

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Saddle up: Bicing and Biking in Barcelona

Forgive us Barcelonistas if we gave Londoners a patronising smile as they waxed lyrical about the whole Boris Bikes scheme that seemed to have Brits in fits of ecstasy not so long ago. Here in Barcelona we’ve had a city bike scheme since 2007. I’m not trying to say that makes us cooler than them (well maybe a little bit), and in fact even us BCN-dwelling folk must doff our caps off to the residents of Amsterdam who first came up with the idea waaaaaaaayyyy back in 1965 (Google the Provo movement for more!). These days it seems every major city has one, from Montreal to Melbourne.

Barcelona’s city bike scheme is called Bicing (pronounced “bee-sing”) and if you haven’t seen the red and white critters, either stationary at their, erm, stations, or on the move, then you must have been walking around the city with a labrador and white cane. They’re everywhere, kinda nifty and cool looking and it must be said damn practical. Simply turn up to a station hold your Bicing card up to the thingamebobby and then wait for said thingamebobby to alert you which number bike you can grab from the rack. After that you’ve got 30 minutes (I believe!) to make your journey and deposit your two-wheeled wonder at a different designated parade.

Apart from a 45 euro annual fee for the card itself and charges if you spend longer than the 30 mins on a journey, the bikes are free and the fact that you don’t have to lock them up and worry about them (thieves are the plight of Barcelona!) makes them very handy. Are there any draw backs? Damn right they are!

The biggest drawback, as far as travellers are concerned, is that you need to have a NIE number (probably need a separate post on that… but it’s an ID number for foreigners that requires a bit of running around to obtain) to get a Bicing card, which basically makes them inaccessible to the casual tourist. Although, if that happens to be you, then Barcelona is full of bike shops where you can hire bikes, so don’t fret!

For those living here who are able to get the card the biggest irritations are:

a) no f@ckin’ bicycles at your nearest station! And yes you’re always in a hurry when that happens
b) no space left at the station nearest your destination, cue cycling around for ages trying to find an empty slot and running another 20 minutes late
c) getting a really crap bike with no breaks and a saddle jammed so high only a giraffe could pedal it.
d) station refusing to accept your bike, in which case you have to phone the non-English-speaking support staff and see what they can do. Cue practicing your Spanish!

In mitigation a) and b) happen on rather predictable routes, so you should soon learn when to expect a surfeit / shortage of bikes on the stops you regularly use, and line up some back up plans, or allow for extra time on those journeys. For c) I saw the other day that you obviously have a short time limit simply to return the bike to the station and pick another one (some Catalan geezer tested the brakes of about five before finally driving off and letting me take the space he had vacated!). And d) doesn’t happen often.

Having finally got my own card the other day I must say the pros are definitely outweighing the cons, esp. now as the summer is arriving and I don’t want to be stuck in the metro!

As mentioned, if you are not eligible for a run on the Bicing system then simply rent a set of wheels and set forth. Barcelona is a fantastic city for biking around (flat, great weather, amazing districts!) and if you’re not sure where to go then there’s a gazillion backpacker-style companies that offer guided tours on two wheels – and even the odd hip alternative bike tour if you know where to look!

Or why not go the whole hog and head off on a cycling holiday of Catalonia, maybe taking in Sitges (flat) and Montserrat (mountainous). Nothing like returning from your hols with thighs of iron.

Barcelona’s First Alternative Bike Tours!

Dear amigos, sorry for taking my eye of the blogging ball… been a bit busy recently getting a new project off the ground!

Yep, after nearly a year slogging away as an impoverished travel writer/blogger I’ve decided to try and supplement my income with something that might actually get me away from my desk and into that fabulous Barcelona sunlight.

Naturally, being a lazy bugger, the criteria for any income supplementation couldn’t involve anything resembling real work and thus the idea of Barcelona’s first alternative bike tour was born!

The concept is that, instead of taking a group of twenty wide-eyed college kids around the Gothic Quarter and Gaudi’s life works, I would focus on taking small groups of arguably more discerning tourists and show them some of the districts and sights that oft get overlooked thanks to the overpowering attractions of Guell and La Sagrada Familia – not to mention the beach!

On a research mission in Poblenou

To begin with I’m focusing on Poblenou, and have spent the last several weeks reading up on the district’s attractions… and there are surprisingly lots of them! Torre Agbar is the obvious one, but the Encants flea market, Parc Central de Poblenou, Parc Diagonal, the amazing neo-classical cemetery and plenty of renovated factories from Barcelona’s industrial era means there’s plenty to see and talk about. And the simple pleasure of a pedal down Rambla de Poblenou shouldn’t be overlooked either! (Bikes really are the best way of getting around Barcelona, especially this large but largely traffic free district).

The Encants fleamarket, below Torre AgbarI’m also keen to fuse sightseeing with interactive experiences to make the tour less tour-like, and more like just an amazing afternoon taking part in what Barcelona has to offer. Unfortunately this is proving slightly trickier than I would have liked, although I have set up agreements for a recycled fashion presentation with Demano and Spanish farm house cheese tasting with La Formatgeria La Seu… still working on an agreement to borrow cameras from the Lomo shop but you can’t force people to work with you unfortunately! Hopefully they’ll come round…

Anyhow the website is up – Steel Donkey Bike Tours – named in part after the endangered national animal of Catalonia, the donkey (hoping if things go well we can raise some money and adopt some of the handsome fellas!) and the flyers are being printed as we speak.

Los chicos in Parc DiagonalI ran a trial tour last Saturday with some friends and you can see the photos on our Facebook group… by all means become a fan!

Our amigos at Barcelona Life have been kind enough to give us some great coverage on their bike tours of Barcelona article so we’re all set! If you have a blog and want to run an article about the tour, I can of course offer you a free (wheeling) sample. Just get in contact.

UPDATE: These tours are now in the (far more) responsible hands of BCN.Travel, with awesome new itineraries run by local professional guides. The concept of a small group alternative tour remains though, so if you’re looking for a more behind the scenes, off the beaten path experience then check them out. The tours are also proving very popular on Tripadvisor, where they won certificates of excellence in 2013 and 2014 (and look likely to do so in 2015)!