The route took me through what is apparently prime grape-growing terrain as I found enormous vineyards and the occasional imposing structure of a large bodega. These often had large parking lots and I presume that when the weather is right winery tours must be a significant activity in the region. But although the sun was out, the weather was again cold and I saw relatively few wine tourists.
The land at first reminded me a great deal of California, with fairly dry vegetation between mountain ranges. But gradually the terrain sloped up to a high exposed plateau cut through every few miles by river valleys. The cycling was not particularly fast since in the plateau sections I faced a brisk headwind and each river valley involved a steady climb to get back out the other side.
I spent a night at an inexpensive hotel (seems they’re often called hostals) in Briviesca then rode on to Burgos the next day where I enjoyed a dorm room to myself at the local campground. I had planned to sleep in my tent, but it looked like another cold night. I took a quick look around Burgos in the morning and then rode over more beautiful high plateau to Aranda de Duero where I found a room in another hostal above a restaurant.
At Aranda I had to decide whether to go back east around the Sierra de Guadarrama or head southwest to go over the pass from Segovia. I decided to take the more direct route via Segovia. However I wasn’t keen to spend a night in the cold mountains again, nor was the traffic getting into Madrid appealing. So I chose to adulterate the “bike tour” part of my trip by catching the commuter train from Segovia into Madrid.
If I were a purist about biking, catching the train would not be an option, but this trip is not about setting records or proving anything. Not that I can quite put into words what it is about, but catching the train over the pass and into the city seemed consonant with the overall feeling of exploring the world by bike.
Segovia is another beautiful, fairy-tale city with a great cathedral, winding narrow streets, ancient walls, and an enormous aqueduct reaching into the old town. I was very tempted to spend a few nights there, but decided to keep moving since I was planning to take a few days off in Madrid.
For others considering mixing bike and train travel in Spain, getting a bike on the Cercanias commuter train is a simple question of finding a space for it and pushing it on — no extra charge. There were very few passengers out of Segovia, so this was simple. However, arriving in downtown Madrid was a very different question. Upon entering the city, the train goes underground and starts to feel more like a subway: crowds of people getting on and off during short station stops. If I were to do the trip again I would have gotten off the train in the outskirts of the city. Instead I took it all the way to the central station of Atocha. I then had to wrestle my fully loaded bike out of the train as a crowd of people tried to push their way on before the doors closed. Once off the train the only way I could find to get out was via an escalator. There must have been elevators somewhere, but I didn’t find them. Another passenger offered to help me hold my bike on the escalator and up we went. Then I found that my ticket from Segovia, while valid, would not open the turnstile doors to get out. Again, my fellow passenger came to my assistance, using his ticket to open the turnstile, then holding it open as we squeezed both of ourselves and the bike through.
Once out of the train station, finding my way was straightforward although Madrid seems to have none of the bike-friendly amenities of the northern Spanish towns.
My stay in Madrid has been wonderful. I’ve stayed with Bradley, a cellist with the Madrid orchestra, his wife Pilar, a nurse, and their son Sebastian, who’s studying nuclear engineering. Bradley took me to the Prado museum where we saw an astounding number of great paintings and an acquaintance of his snuck us into the Hermitage special exhibit. I also happened to arrive in town with excellent timing since Bradley was able to get me a ticket to the dress rehearsal of the Madrid Opera‘s production of Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District by Shostokovich.
Now that I’ve spent a wonderful few days here enjoying the city and friends and overdosing on art, it’s about time to continue. I’ve sketched out a route to Algeciras and will start biking again tomorrow morning (Sunday).