23 Aug Bikes, Antonio, Espana!
I first discovered Spain almost 20 years ago on my first trip to Europe. Starting in Amsterdam, I biked my way south escaping the colder weather. When I arrived in Spain, I felt an instant connection to the people. Biking out of France, and right into a wall of mountains in the Pyrenees, coupled with a rain storm, a stranger took me in after I knocked on the door and asked about hotels: “we’re on unofficial hostel.” He was also a chef who provided warm jammies and a week-long tour of his beautiful region of Vigo.
After this initial reception, I stayed in Spain for a month visiting the big hot spots: San Sebastian, Bilbao, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Barcelona. My next encounter with a Spaniard was similar.
I met Antonio in Edinburgh, Scotland. Jolly is the best way to describe this guy.
In the hostel bar, served drinks by an equally jolly Scottish bartender named Stttt–erttttt (Stewart in English), Antonio was travelling with his friend. Over too many beers, we patched together some Spanish and English and became as close to friends as two people can be without sharing the same language.
Afterwards, we naturally became Facebook friends, and … here I am hanging out in Spain as a guest in his home.
This really gives me faith in humanity — that such basic trust and connections don’t need words. And what is more, when I arrived, Antonio revealed that two weeks before, his father passed away. I hope in some tiny way my visit can help.
Antonio lives in a suburb of Madrid called Mostoles which consists of chunks of apartment buildings with cafes in the ground floor; old men play cards and scream at one another on the weekends.
As it turns out Antonio is on vacation during my visit. So, some days I ride (I brought my road bike) and we meet in small town afterwards, or, Antonio has become my saviour rescuing me after a few mishaps, one including a suffocatingly hot day and another day of mechanical failure: during a 10% descent, the brakes burned a hole through the tire and tube. Bang! I thought someone was shot!
North of Madrid, the mountains around Segovia and El Escorial, are epic climbs. On one ride, I rode an hour curving up switchbacks on a 10% grade. Each pedal stroke was laboured. And, grabbing for a lower gear was pointless: I was already in it.
The other part of this trip is the food (pictures later!) Having a bevvie at the bar, tapas come for free as long as you’re drinking, and the variety is dizzying: Octopus, potatoes with ground pork, homemade fries mixed with a fried egg, tortilla (which is really a potato frittata), croquetas (deep fried béchamel sauce and chicken or chorizo), deep fried peppers, or just gobs of sausage on bread. I wasn’t a fan of the deep fried pig skins– it curls and snaps when heated and tastes like liver potato chips, if there were ever a thing. I also got to visit The Oldest Restaurant in the world in Madrid dating back to 1725, according to the Guinness Record Books. http://www.botin.es/?q=en “Wow, I hope it didn’t taste too mouldy,” was P’s comment. Nope, it was all new stuff. Suckling pig is a Madrid specialty that is so juicy and intense. Has a touch of gamey-taste.
I’ve also managed to squeeze in a few historical towns: Segovia has one of the largest remaining Roman Aqueducts in the world –it’s so big it reminds me of the colosseum in Rome–while nearby La Granja de S. IIdefonso Royal Palace http://www.patrimonionacional.es/en/real-sitio/palacios/8287 makes Versailles look like a cabin. Spain’s history is impossibly deep: civil war, Kings and Queens, dictators, world conquests and subjugation, torture, terrorists…
Two weeks is nearly finished. Phef. I’m cultural and literally ready to explode.