Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Road to Bolonia - Andalusia, Spain

Taking on the third leg of my bike tour started with a fresh morning in Vejer de la Frontera.  Giving my bike a thorough examination before leaving the hostel's small garage, I gave the merry couple that own Hostel Buenavista my fondest of farewells and set out southward.  Weaving my way through the ancient, white-walled paths of the hilltop town, I made a stop at a local corner store and made my first "road sandwich" of fresh "integral" bread with local ham and cheese.  After grabbing my sandwich supplies along with some fruits and other snacks, I settled down to enjoy my breakfast in Plaza de la Constitución.  With my stomach contently filled for the trip, I mounted my seat and made my way down, or so I thought!  I come upon more of the famous stucco walled wind mills that are icons of Vejer de la Frontera though so there was a small victory in my unintended detour!  Getting back on track and winding my way downhill on a more switchbacks than my trip uphill the day before.  Onward, I charged to the sea as a sailor would proclaim to the small hamlet of Barbate.  Whilst pedaling my way and seeing road signs of upcoming towns, I saw 'Barbate' and some number for the distance in kilometers.  As a good, imperial-measurement abiding American that I was at this point still, I knew roughly about how far that was or that is what I told myself.  Going about the ride, I past small villages and kept on my way on A-314 when I started to question my estimation earlier, but on cue I came to the "BARBATE" welcome traffic circle, which is a thing in Andalusia!  Knocking around the sleepy streets of Barbate, I found the central square with welcoming shade trees and hibiscus blossoms in bountiful numbers, so what a better place to grab a quick siesta?!  I was ahead of my planned schedule, so why not kick back and relax on of the many benches and listened to the subtle shuffle of activity of Barbate and dozed off for a few minutes.  Feeling refreshed and ready, I got back on my AWOL and continued on along the coast of the Atlantic bound for Bolonia.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Mapping out the route prior to even arriving in Spain, today's ride was intended to be enjoyable and carefree.  Insert my luck.  When I arrived to Zahara de los Atunes I met a challenge.  A "NO ENTRAR" with a bridge or where a bridge ought to be stood in my way.  One of the construction workers came walking up to me as I was assessing how I should get across and told me in broken English from afar "Go around way other!" I tried my best to convince him I just need to get to Bolonia which was quite literally over a small hill from this viewpoint, however, he did not budge on his stance.  Around I went, adding on about 25 additional kilometers that I did not plan for and to add to the fun, why not some inland heat?!  Despite all that, I saw parts of Spain and learned how strong my will can truly be.  Until I saw the main route into Bolonia as the sun edged westward.  Looking up to see more switchbacks, I decided I needed a proper meal and somewhere with WiFi to assess my life at this point and fortunately there was Hotel San Jose de Valle with a restaurant at the intersection of where I was coming from and where I needed to go.  After getting some additional calories back in the system, I started my uphill battle with CA-8202.  Now that I look at a aerial map of the road, I see that from above it is not all that intimidating, but, when you have a cart pulling back on you and a tired set of legs, this was the rock and I was Sisyphus.  Struggling upward, I would say it was the last 1,000 meters, a group of Spanish bicyclists came blasting down and all shouted me a few words of encouragement and all I could do in response at this point was nod my head.  Then I reached the top and from there, it was all downhill to the beach of Bolonia!  Despite the internal and physical tribulation this leg put on me, looking back on the prolonged ride, I now know how strong my body and mind can be and plus, I got to see the stock for the famous Spanish toros and more sunflowers bowing down to the summer sun.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Hidden Gem of Costa de la Luz - Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

 Vejer de la Frontera was my destination for my second bike leg of #WorldTour2015 from the provincial capital of Cadiz.  I had discovered this place while reading about her sister city Chefchaouen, Morocco, and then quickly adjusted my route to make a stop here.  Now, after reading more about the hilltop town, I knew this would be a challenge for me on my bicycle and I was right.  After branching from the smooth and near-level comforts of N-340, I looked up at the final stretch of my ride for the day.  Up to a steep hillside that this road clung to as it zigzagged into the trees that is!  Before I began my ascent, I gave my legs a small pity break for I knew this was going to be a long haul in the afternoon sun with temperatures still holding on to the 90°F/33°C heat and my water was going to need some rationing to make the trek to the top.  After a few mental words of encouragement, I began pedaling my way up slow and steady... for the first half.  Starting strong in some of the higher gears, I found myself in the lowest of the lowest and was still struggling with my cart's weight pulling back and the sun's heating beating down.  Accepting a minor defeat, I stepped off my bicycle for the first time and push my way up for a few minutes.  Stretching out my leg muscles gave me a new found octane boost to power my way up the last few bends and another form of "boost" came from cars passing by and shouting words of encouragement too!  On the last switch-back, I was blessed with this phenomenal view of the old city of Vejer de la Frontera.  At that moment, I forgot all those curses I was thinking as I was struggling up the dreaded northwestern face of this "hill" to reach stark white houses, the ancient fortress, and more importantly - fresh spring water!  Then began the wonder of Vejer de la Frontera.  

Once I recharged my water bottles from one of the public drinking fountains, I eagerly began my explorations - up more hills!  If there is one thing that Vejer de la Frontera has in bountiful amounts, hills should be placed at the top of that list!  Second to the number of hills would be delicious restaurants although I could settle for a tie between those two for I ate my little heart's desires to the fullest potential during my short stay!  The local area is known for fruit production and raising the famous Spanish fighting bulls, in turn, the local dishes were delicious to indescribable proportions and wonderfully fresh.  Making my night's stay at a small, cozy hostel aptly named "Buenavista", the happy owner took me to what I would consider to be the 'best view in town' - the rooftop!  After having him explain the history of the area VERY SLOWLY in Spanish, I gathered the agriculture importance of this city and saw all the fields sprawling below endlessly as the sun set behind us.  At his recommendation, he sent me to a friend's restaurant nearby and called ahead to make sure I was well taken care of for my dinner after a long day's ride.  When I arrived, I was welcomed by this tiny woman with a smile one could see from space, throwing every greeting in the Spanish language at me at Mach 3!  After ushering me to my window seat with a bottle of local red wine waiting for me already, I knew I was in for a treat!  I did not have to do anything except sit there and eat every tasty plate that was placed in front of me.  This is an example of how speaking the local's language and wanting to understand and experience the culture when abroad can make all the difference in being a tourist and living as a traveler!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Toro de Osborne - Conil de la Frontera

As I was finding my to Vejer de la Frontera along N-340 through the outskirts of Conil, a pleasant surprise presented itself between the trees as I looked up.  This was my first up close encounter with the famous Osborne bulls!  Once used as methods of advertising the Osborne family's sherry which led to various controversies locally and with EU regulations. Today, these 50 foot silhouettes stand as a symbol of Spain, but some will argue that they are representing Andalusian culture more than Spanish!  There are 91 of these bulls scattered out through most of Spain, and when I say 'most of Spain', do not expect to find them in areas such as Catalonia or the Basque country!   Luckily for me, I the routes I followed along my cycling adventures in Andalusia took me past others of the region, but this one will always be the most memorable one for me.  As I was snapping shots of the bull and the towers of the wind farm nearby, a Dutch couple travelling on motorcycle also veered off N-340 onto the pullout to see this bull for a few moments.  The wife asked me about my biking trek and then they shared some of their grapes with me as we all admired the Cadiz countryside and the sentry watching over the fields and rolling hills.

Reaping the Sun - Chiclana de la Frontera, Spain

As Vittorio and I went to Conil de la Frontera, we passed the hilltop town of Chiclana with a stark white church on the top of the prominence which caught my inquisitive eye.  When it came time for my departure from the city of Cadiz, I made my way along a few dirt service roads to the beacon of Chiclana de la Frontera.  I quickly learned as I saw the hill crested with churches from afar that in the labyrinth of the old city, those churches would not be easily found!  After reaching the white domed church, which was closed for visitation sadly, I enjoyed the ride downhill!  As I crossed from city life to the rural outskirts, a sweet smell came to me as I pedaled southward.  This aroma was something that I had never experienced before but as I kept cycling along, I did recognize the sounds of a combine at work!  I am not too sure what they thought of me on my bicycle with a loaded trailer stopped on the shoulder of the road watching them make their harvest of sunflower seeds, but I was enjoying every second of it!  This was the first time in my life that I was able to watch how sunflowers were harvested and I was quite intrigued judging by the smile I could feel growing especially after the combine driver gave me a wave as he spun around to finish up the field.  I do love exploring the cities of the world, but my heart still yearns to see the life of the countryside where the fields cover the earth like a patchwork quilt of golds, greens and amber at this time of year.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cathedral of the Americas - Cadiz, Spain

Crowning the skyline of the peninsula, the central gilded dome shines bright with her two sentry towers standing watch over breaking waves of the Atlantic and the bustle in the plaza below.  As I rounded the bend from La Caleta on my bicycle, the cathedral rose above the pastel oceanfront houses.  Winding my way there, the towers only rose higher as did the sounds of musicians playing, singers serenading the passing sight-seers, and dancers tapping about the cobblestones as I entered the Cathedral Plaza with my face hurting from my smile brimming across my face.  Before stepping inside what would be my first cathedral visit in Spain, I took a few minutes to take everything in around me while I enjoyed a cup of coffee with a full view of the happenings of the plaza from the flamenco dancers to the children waving down to family from the church tower above! Then after my caffeine dose of the day had been resolved, the true adventure began and I made my way to the entry point.  For a few euro, five if I recall correctly, you can visit the entire interior to include the massive crypt and make the serpentine climb to the top of the Levante Tower. 

Once I passed the queue, my architecture adrenaline was peaking within milliseconds!  Firstly, this cathedral's construction spanned nearly 120 years and over those years were significant changes in design styles and construction.  With all of that, 'Catedral de Santa Cruz de Cadiz' was intended to be styled in the fad of Acerco's time which was baroque.  But, as he passed and other architects came and went, the cathedral has touches of rococo and mostly completed with neoclassical elements.  Although, with that extensive mixture of architectural aspects, the beauty of each of them blends perfectly together to create this celestial cathedral.  I was already in awe as I made my first few steps, but when the choir chamber came into view I was even more excited when the pipes and trumpets of the organ met my eyes!  After making two rounds of the interior (had to make sure I got my money's worth!), I made my way to the base of the Levante Tower.  To my surprise, the tower is not climbed by the traditional winding stairs but a ramp!  As one nears the top of the tower, there is a "fun" sensation in the shins!  But, the trek up the spiraling path is beyond worth the climb!  A full view of the ancient peninsula city along with ocean views and a direct look into the whole harbor!  Best part of the tower tour, you are among all the bells and if you are lucky and the hands pass over to the new hour, you can hear the big ones!  For my first cathedral exploration, I could not have asked for a better day and a better place to do so!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Spain's Oldest City - Cádiz, Spain

Coming from Rota, I had mapped out my route and with prior research, thought to myself that the trek to Cádiz would be quick and easy!  Well, naturally, the world does not operate on making the first day of my bike tour go as planned.  I read numerous forums and research about using roads in Spain for bicycles.  As long as it is not an Autopista or a high interchange area of an autovista, bicycles are allowed to go along their merry way.  Not in all cases.  N-443 proved that point quite quickly as bicycles are not allowed due to the bridge which then made what was going to be a 'less than four hours' ride into an eight hour spin.  Although, aside from the tribulations of getting to the ancient city of Cádiz, the struggle made the enjoyment of the area all the more valuable!  Once I passed through the city gates, I eagerly followed la Avenida del Puerto to my host's apartment for it was all downhill!  My host for the night, Vittorio, was truly incredible!  Once I arrived and enjoyed a small siesta as per the Spanish culture, took me out on his moto for a quick glance at the city and then we enjoyed the last few hours of beach time before heading to Casa Manteca.  The Spanish version of a 'hole-in-the-wall', this place was a corner bar themed with the history of bullfighting and had a great stock of local Sherry!  The next morning, I began my wanderings about the city with no set agenda for the day.  Riding about aimlessly, I discovered the unexpected!  The botanical gardens took me by the greatest surprise with the boundless beauty of this public park!  Pictured below in the enter is the southern end of the park that runs along the sea wall of the northwestern corner of the peninsula.  After knocking around the cobblestones on my bicycle, the time of day came for lunch and no better place to do that is on some random street in the heart of the city by which ever one smells the most appealing!  While sitting there enjoying my Iberian pork and house beer, I let the hubbub of activity surround me on all sides.  I caught the first image of the post from my table as the crowds were dispersing to head home for the soon-to-be siesta time.  But, before I headed back to relax myself, I found the public market and scouted out the various vendors for the fruit that look the most savory and the best deal for the day.  This was the day that I felt I absorbed the Spanish life to the fullest as I made my entire purchase of apples, bananas, oranges, and a cluster of grapes all in the native tongue!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Iglesia Mayor Prioral - El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain

As I nervously began my trek from Rota to Cadiz, in a land I have never been before and learning to wean myself off of technology and more importantly - GPS, I found my to the city center where I also discover 'la Iglesia Mayor Prioral' or Priory Church in the heart of El Puerto de Santa Maria.  After numerous traffic circles with limited signage and getting slightly lost in the single direction streets that were only wide enough for the standard European compact car and a pedestrian, which I was much wider than the average individual walking with my bike trailer in tow!  Needless to say, there were a few close calls on my way down to Plaza de España.  Once I say the opening of the plaza, I caught glimpse of a large tour group and a fair number of them had their cameras pointed up into the air and that had me wondering what they were so entranced by and then out of the simple stucco houses came a massive sandstone facade to my left.  Then I knew what had their attention for it had mine as well!  What I was looking at was what would be considered the main entrance known as the 'Door of Forgiveness', dating back to the original building of the current structure in 1486 - before Columbus set sail to "find India".  The doors were undergoing restoration but from what I could see, they were truly a piece of art!  As I continued on, I wanted to explore the interior of the church in the worst way but my stomach was telling me something was much more important and that was food.  I chose the cafe nearest the open door to the church for it was the closest and the aroma coming from the little cafe was quite appealing.  While I sat and enjoyed a cup of coffee and my meal, I scanned the entire face of the church looking at me in amazement of all the detail surrounding the door yet the barren walls of the outermost exterior but the more elaborate inner.  Reason being... various styles of architecture over numerous centuries.  This church is a museum of architectural styles from 1486 to the late 1600's which spanned the great eras of Gothic, Baroque and the height of the Spanish Plateresque styles.  Once I finished up my recovery meal, I was ready to see what await inside!  Stepping over the large threshold of the centuries old door, I was in awe of what I had just ventured into on the beginning of my World Tour.  Knowing that people had been bending knee to worship in this church as long as the Discovery of the Americas was amazing enough, but the beauty of the nave was beyond powerful!  As I was new to exploring Spain, I was taken by surprise by the organ and how variant it was from what I am accustomed to seeing and playing!  I was aware of how the Spanish love their trumpets, but the ornate decorations and amount of painting was a whole new concept to me!  All in all, this was most definitely a pleasant surprise for me to stumble upon on my first break along my bicycle tour of Europe!

Gone to the Beach - Rota, Spain

Arriving to Europe ahead of schedule, I had some time to kill!  What a better way to let time pass other than spending it on the beach trying to acquire any bit of skin tone possible!?  Well lathered in SPF30, I took on the beaches throughout the day, but nothing compared to how the typical Spaniard does the beach!  Around 2 o'clock, the hillside town of Rota nearly closes down entirely and everyone grabs their towel and beach chair in their arms then makes their way down to the sand for the next five or six hours.  I learned then that they while return to work for a small evening shift, close up shop again, and then return to the beach if they choose and watch the sunset while the children play some more!  Or, they go out on the town until near-sunrise the next day!  As my internal clock was trying to figure itself out, I was amazed by the fact at 10 in the morning, I nearly had a private beach with perfect weather!  The advantage over them sleeping in late from the night's activities that I feel some enjoy too much...  Of the two that I was fortunate enough to enjoy were El Rompidillo, pictured above, which I thought was the most scenic of the beaches with the old town surrounding the outer reaches of the sandy playground.  La Costilla is where you went if you wanted fun in the sun - or in the Atlantic!  My last night in Rota, I was blessed with the chance to watch the sun set over the Atlantic (quite the change for I am used to seeing sunrises over said ocean) on a rooftop where I had the most remarkable barbeque and great company to share the great sunset!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Finding Our Lady of the O - Rota, Spain

Once I had my bicycle back together, I began exploring immediately!  I found my way to the old town and meandered up a nearby hill to scout out what I could see within the skyline.  A bell tower adorned with a cross caught my eye and I then headed down hill to check it out!  Easier said than done.  Once I rode down along the shoreline drive, the maze of old streets began.  Finding my once easily spotted features became impossible in the narrow streets with buildings three stories high.  Not only that, a majority of the streets are one direction and I found myself much further from where I needed to be quite quickly!  After going in a few odd shaped circles, I decided to go the a way that I had not tried yet - the wrong way down a one way "path".  There was no way that cars could possibly use this street as narrow as it was but to my surprise about half way down comes a compact car.  I lucked out and came onto a large doorway and ducked in to let them pass by without an issue!  Then, after that, I continued down to come upon a plaza that I had not encountered yet and made my way down a few bending streets.  Behold!  What I had been searching for had finally been found after what seemed to be hours!  

But, naturally with my luck, I made this discovery during the siesta time and would have to come back in a few hours to see what await on the inside!  In the meantime, I found other ways that were more legal for my return route and decided to acquire some Spanish sun on the beach with a friend.  After our time on the beach, we headed back to her top floor apartment to relax when the sound of horse hooves filled the air.  I got excited as a kid on Christmas morning after we realized it was a wedding carriage!  Scrambling to get to my camera on the polished marble floor, I was skating in a fury to and fro!  In the end, I missed my opportunity to see the carriage in action but later found it at the church!  Sure enough, the couple that were ridding down the cobblestone streets earlier were committing their vows to each other when I passed through the old wooden doors of the Church of Our Lady of the O.  As I entered the church, the mix of architectural styles surprised me of what seemed to be a simple Hispanola Gothic style exterior.  The interior held styles from Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque all meshing together in their own way throughout the nave and side chapels.  Notably, the chapel pictured above is the one that truly captivated my attention as I was lost in the elaborate tile work and finite detail of all this incredible place held within it's small space.  Stepping out into the grand interior of the nave but remaining undetected from the ongoing wedding ceremony, the altar was what caught my eye from the opposite end of the sanctuary!  Tremendous craftsmanship went into the detailed paneling that fills the sanctuary with a warm feeling of the rich tones of the wood contrasting to the stone vaults hanging high above the witnesses to the marriage to two young Spaniards on their happiest day.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Fiesta de la Utra - Rota, Spain

Upon my arrival in Rota, I was expecting a small and quiet little coastal town with sleepy streets.  Little did I know, the night I arrived the entire city was preparing for their annual festival celebrating 'urta a la roteña' which is a very popular fish dish for the city.  Needless to say, the city was filled with everything but tranquility!  The old quarter of the town was decorated with lights, paper lanterns and sequin fish hanging all throughout the streets.  Being the fiesta was about the 'urta', what a better way to celebrate it than have a food tasting competition between all the various restaurants of Rota!  Using the fish in traditional ways to modern and even cross-cultural, the aroma of fish, spices, and more filled the salty air and of course, I tried more than I probably should have!  Aside from the food, there was a small carnival for all the children to partake on rides and bungee jump on a trampoline, which I will admit I wanted to do in the worst way!  All in all, I found a pleasant surprise in what I thought was going to be a quiet, little sea town of Rota.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

First day on Spanish Streets - Rota, Spain

Stepping out onto the streets of coastal Spain and seeking new sites to discover, mostly everything was new to me.  I say that because a few friends that have been stationed at the Naval Base in Rota told me about "the hands in the middle of a circle - you can't miss them" as a landmark to find places that they recommended and sure enough, the hands are an easy find and impossible to miss!  Aside from that abstract art, I found the streets themselves very beautiful yet strange.  Having spent most of my time here in Europe in the German-speaking world with precise engineering and efficiency in their cities, the streets were a new twist for me to wander about!  For the first night after landing, I stayed at a hostel that was "beach front".  I thought it was just a way to attract people because the price I paid for a night's stay could not be beach front.  I stand corrected.  The picture centered below is the street that the hostel is on and ends at the beach!  While winding around the corners of the maze that is Rota, I came across some creative graffiti which I can appreciate for the artistic value that it holds far more so than the American attempts of (illegal) street art.  On a final note, the picture below and to the left was taken on the street leading out to the Puerto de Rota and the lighthouse.  Two of my friends got me a birthday card that fits me perfectly and they told me I HAD to take it with me and take pictures of the card in strange and unique places and that was the first of any snapshots of the card to come for World Tour 2015!

Beginning of my WorldTour2015 - Rota, Spain

As the time has come for the end of my active service in the United States Navy, I have begun what numerous people have stated as a "trip of a lifetime".  Driving away from Augusta, Georgia, early in the morning with my new Specialized AWOL and all the belongings that I will have with me one this trek in the back of my car and my roommate of the past three years and best friend throughout my entire Naval career, we set out for Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Upon arrival to Pope Air Force Base which was going to be the first leg of my journey to Europe, I learned the real regulations for flying with a bicycle and had to get a quick breakdown of my brand new bicycle.  Not being all to comfortable doing the disassemble myself, we headed to the city proper to get someone that knew what they were doing have at my AWOL.  After making a few phone calls, Hawley's Bicycle World said they could help me out and Jen is the one that came to my rescue!  She worked her magic and got my ride in parts and wrapped up for the journey ahead!  After that, I was on my way to Dover, Delaware, to cross the pond to the Iberian peninsula.  Once on the ground on a late afternoon in Rota, Spain, I was ready to get ready for the WORLD TOUR!  But, that would have to wait being the bicycle shop in Rota had closed for the day.  The next morning, I lugged the long and awkward box bearing my beloved bicycle up the winding and hilly streets to Antonio's Bicycle's, I was one the last step to having my bike set to begin WT2015!  In closing of this post, I am excited to tell the upcoming tales of my travels for I created this blog when I joined the Navy to share my stories throughout my six years and now comes the biggest adventure of my life!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Giraffe-ing Around - Columbia, South Carolina

My roommates and I made an morning adventure of going to the Palmetto State's capital zoo on my last weekend in the South.  Out of the whole zoo, my favorite were the giraffes!  First and foremost, feeding this characters is always an amusing part to visiting a zoo.  Secondly, they are one of the most expressive animals and are slightly awkward!