Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Day 2: The hills start here

Prades, France to Puigcerda, Spain

90km, 1700m of climb

It was difficult leaving Prades; my hosts Antoinette and Miro had a fantastic vegetable and fruit garden, and I was told I could take all the peaches, nectarines, figs and tomatoes I wanted. The limit was really the amount I could carry, of course. Like all little French towns in the area, they have their own stream from which to get potable water. I’ll dig up some photos later.

I’d now be following the Route de Cols.


The bulk of the day was spent climbing Col de la Perche, which is only 1500m, but very drawn out. It is also more difficult when it is very hot out; whereas the previous day it was just 30+, today it was 40+. No, really. It was that hot. And the peak is barely signed, what a letdown.

I can’t say enough about the courtesy of the French drivers. Some of the route is on the N116, which has a maximum speed limit of 110 and has a shoulder of maybe 30cm in some places. With one exception (Dutch plates), I never felt that cars weren’t giving me enough room. I would much rather bike on the N116 than on the bike lane on Lyon St. in Ottawa.

The Catalan graffiti continued too. Lots of signs had the French crossed out and the Catalan spray painted over top, or just “CAT” written over top.

So far, there were very few other cyclists. And the only tourists I’d seen were French or Spanish.

I ended up in a situation in the afternoon where I would have continued a little longer, but there was a large col (du Puymoren) coming up, and quit so I’d have it first thing in the morning. So Bourg Madame (population 300)  it was supposed to be. The first hotel was closed (as it was vacation season, they do that here). The next one was full because the first one was closed.  Then I wandered around, found the tourist information which was closed (as it was Sunday and visitors do not visit on Sundays), and there wasn’t a map or a listing of gites or anything useful.

Here’s an interesting experience if you haven’t had it before: try having a discussion in  foreign language with someone on the street who happens to have dimentia. See how long it takes to figure out that communication barrier is because they think they’re talking about something completely different.

Somehow, I hadn’t realized how close this was to the Spanish border. Puigcerda is actually much larger, and has lots of hotels, so my panic was for nothing. Immediately across the border, I talked to a police officer who was dealing with a road closure. I started talking to him in French (as I speak no Spanish), but he said he didn’t speak any, but he switched to English which was really a far better language for him. The strange thing is if he’d gotten the right angle, he could have spit into France, yet spoke none of their language. And you can easily cross that border without being aware.

So I found a dingy two-star hotel with wallpaper that would make your eyes bleed, took a shower and went into the town.

I’ve found it difficult to eat on this trip. Back in Barcelona, I bought a large jar of Nutella as per tradition, and haven’t been able to stomach the idea of eating anything like it.  It sounds revolting. I hope this doesn’t last long.

Puigcedra is a pretty large city, and they happened to be having a very large festival. “Half of Barcelona is here, you’re lucky to have a room at all”, the guy at the checkin counter said (in English, he too spoke no French). I was interested in seeing the festival; it featured some live music on a big stage and thousands of people. I had dinner in restaurant on a charming square (but they are all charming, no?), and waited for the parade to start.

Another interesting foreigner experience is attending a festival whose reason is unclear. There were people wandering around drunk in home made tshirts with Spanish writing, and some times groups would break out into song and dance.

The parade was lacklustre. Worldwide, parades need to be attended by various community groups such as baton twirlers, martial arts groups and the fire brigade. This was a bit different, though, as the fire brigade display had a simulated fire going on on the float.  And there was lots of drinking going on by the people on the floats.  There was strange cultural mixture as the last floats intermigled American movie themes (copyright-infringing Toy Story characters, mobsters).  The music was a mixture of English and Spanish, but the crowd would only sing and dance to the Spanish music. Why not just stick with the Spnish?

And it isn’t clear to me what the point was to all of this, and if it really was great enough to warrant travel from Barcelona, it says something about Barcelona.

I haven’t been keeping close track, but I think I’ve been drinking ten litres of water per day.

And tomorrow starts off with Col Puymoren!



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