Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain: Yesterday afternoon I rolled into the pretty party town of Salamanca, somewhat tiredly after six days of cycling. It’s been a long, hard week since leaving Lisbon. I have already travelled halfway across Iberia in a diagonal direction and completed the first stage of TransEuropa 2011 ahead of “schedule” — if not exactly on plan. Body and bike are holding up well. Here’s the score so far:
Two months ago, while in Thailand on my son’s school break, I sketched out my route across Europe. It all felt so abstract, even fanciful then. I identified milestones and guesstimated mileage, providing for a 30% margin for detours and wrong turns on top of actual distances. Without any appreciation of the terrain and cycling circumstances I planned to reach Salamanca on June 13 after eight days and 679 kilometers [refer to TransEuropa Route page].
I actually reached Salamanca two days early after cycling 561 kilometers, despite getting busted by the police, navigating Portugal’s backroads maze, and that hellish ride to Castelo Branco on Day 3. Here’s the route I took to get to Salamanca:
STAGE 1 SUMMARY: Lisbon – Salamanca
Distance: 561.43 km
Climbing: 4,912 meters
Contender for best pastry/dessert in Europe so far: Tough call, but probably the pastel de nata at Antiga Confeita in Belem, a district of Lisbon. Two friends separately suggested I sample the custard tarts there. They’ve been making these delicious pasteis since 1837. By now I think they have the recipe right.
Contender for prettiest church in Europe so far: The Cathedral of Ciudad-Rodrigo.
Most popular blog posting so far: “Busted,” trailed by “When you’re going through hell…” The “foreplay!” post from the previous week was also quite popular. OK, I get it: this readership likes struggle and sex.
Tomorrow is Sunday, a national rest day. I figure I should get in on the act, too, since I do have some extra time on my hands. I will take a second rest day in Salamanca, giving me a chance to check out the tapas scene and a concert in the Plaza this evening, and to witness another bullfight in Iberia tomorrow. Spain’s first University was founded here in 1218, and ever since the city has been known for offering a good time.
Speaking of reputations, I now understand why Spain is renown as cyclist-friendly. I love it here. It’s easy. The roads are well maintained and well signposted; navigation is straight-forward. There’s scarce traffic on the secondary roads I take, but drivers are extremely respectful and cautious when they do pass. On my trip from Ciudad Rodrigo there were abundant service stations, restaurants, hostels and even SOS stations along the way. Plus, I have yet to encounter the local police.
Today I shaved for the first time in a week, organized laundry, and took care of housekeeping: bike maintenance, cleaning my water bottles with efferdent (the denture cleaner, a trick I learned last summer); restocking some provisions at a local supermarket (fruit, nuts, bread, chocolate). I made a faux-pas at the supermarket. I picked up fruit with my bare hands, not with plastic gloves like everyone else. I’m also planning the second leg of my journey, to San Sebastian, taking advantage of the wifi hotspot in the Plaza while sitting at an outdoor cafe for much of the afternoon.
Day 6 summary: Ciudad Rodrigo – Salamanca, Spain
Day 6 distance: 90.47 km
Day 6 ascent: 300m (guesstimation – GPS wasn’t cooperative)
Terrain: rolling hills, past many ranches. This is the heart of Spain’s fighting bull breeding area.
Weather: overcast and cool — perfect cycling conditions