2 October 2011
This would likely be my last day of high mountain riding on this beautiful sunny 67th morning of my Turkey motorcycle tour. I was determined to make the most of the less than 500 miles remaining to get to the ferry port and terminal in Bilbao.
It wasn’t far from Andorra la Vella to the Spanish border. I’d long wanted to ride through the Pyrenees and had several routes already plotted in the GPS software. I opted for the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, heading north west towards Pamplona.
Traffic was fairly heavy on this Sunday morning and the ride to the border was a slow one. The traffic headed to Andorra from Spain was much heavier though, with a long line of cars waiting patiently at the border.
It seems they stop all vehicles departing Andorra for Spain, probably to check that any duty free purchases are not in excess of allowed limits. I pulled over in case they wanted to search the Family Truckster but was waved through.
I’d ridden in Spain before and was looking forward to reacquainting myself with high quality road surfaces and polite, motorcycle friendly drivers (they all move over to the far right of the road allowing bikes a clear and swift passage).
It wasn’t long before I was on a typically great Spanish road. Even though I was in the mountains these roads were not as steep or tight as they had been in the Dolomites and the Alps. But there were some great sweeping, fast bends begging for me to get my knee down. Today, particularly after stopping for an espresso in Sort, I was in sync with the terrain and road, and riding well. This, for me anyway, is what is most enjoyable about motorcycle touring. Within the first 100 miles I’d been over three passes of 1,700m, 2,000m and 1,600m.
There were a few sections of switchback, hairpin turns but not too many and because the terrain is not as steep, the turns are not to tight and in many ways a doddle compared to what I’d ridden in the past week or so. Perhaps I was well practised so at least it felt like I leaned the Family Truckster over further, even though I didn’t quite get my knee down.
Even though I enjoy the high Alpine passes like the Stelvio, Grossglockner, Col de la Bonette and Col du Galibier, I probably like riding the fast bends a little more. Spain has more of these on offer and a few tight, high bits also just to make sure you are on your game.
The scenery was very different to the Alps also. Not better or worse but just different. No unmelted snow adjacent to the roads but I recall seeing something that might have been a glacier in the distance – but only once. Even though Spain is broke, it seems they can still maintain their roads and keep petrol taxes low. When you take into account Spain’s great food and good value accommodation (by Western European standards), it could be the premier motorcycle touring destination in Europe.
The road from Sort to Vielha e Mijaran was fantastic and had absolutely everything. I stopped to catch my breath in Vielha e Mijaran and got these photos …
I’ll come back here again one day to do this ride again, and to experience the French side of the Pyrenees.
I hadn’t really set a target destination for the day. I planned to just ride and stop when I’d had enough. At around 1540 I stopped at Broto to consult the map and consider the location of my overnight stay. Jaca perhaps – it wasn’t too much further.
I arrived there at 1635 and saw a sign for Pamplona – only 107km. That’s not much more than an hour. I always wanted to visit Pamplona, so I’ll press on. Can still make it with enough light to have a quick look around.
And I need to get some photos for the blog.
I hadn’t stopped much today even though the scenery was excellent. Once for coffee late morning and then for a late lunch.
But after so many days, all these mountains were starting to look a bit the same to me. So no photos of mountain passes or scenery today. I didn’t even stop or later research the names of the passes I crossed. I just wanted to enjoy the riding experience. How slack have I become!
Not that they weren’t worthy of the same respect and attention I’d given the Dolomites or the Alps.
At least I had the video running so I have a record – just give me some time to catch up on the editing and posting on You Tube.
I took the short road to Pamplona from Jaca – more like a motorway but at least there were some good bends from time to time. And I passed a huge dam; Embalse de Yesa, also known as the Sea of the Pyrenees.
I arrived in Pamplona around 1750 and within the next 30 minutes had selected and checked into my hotel for the night. By 1900 I was out on the streets walking around.
Pamplona is famous for the running of the bulls and I’d often seen the images of this highlight of the San Fermín festival, held annually in July, broadcast on the TV news in Australia – not that I would ever have the courage to run with the bulls.
So I had a mental picture of what Pamplona would be like. But it was so much more. This is a very old and large fortress city. The old town has narrow cobbled streets lined with 3-4 storey buildings on either side, occasionally making way for a plaza or square. When the bulls thunder through these narrow man made canyons it must be terrifying with nowhere to take cover.
But as with many cities I’ve passed through in the latter stages of this adventure, I simply haven’t allowed enough time to take in all the sights and history on offer. After it became too dark for photos I parked up in a bar for a few beers and then wines – at the same time sampling several Pincho’s, a Basque version of Tapas, but typically spiked with a skewer or toothpick.
Pincho’s are great and much better value than Tapas in my view (I had tapas for lunch in Andorra la Vella). At about 1.50 or 2.00 euros each these cost little more than a packet of nuts/chips and 3-4 are all you need. I’m a big fan and had them for lunch yesterday, dinner last night, lunch today and dinner again tonight. They are great with beer, wine, coffee, water etc – why haven’t I heard of these before?
So, true to form, I’ve written more today to make up for my absence of photo’s. Here’s a few glimpses of Pamplona – definitely worth a visit to this part of the world. I certainly be back.
Tomorrow would be a low mileage day – it was not that much further to the Bilbao ferry port and terminal. My Turkey motorcycle tour was almost over.
Distance travelled today 290 miles (467km), cumulative 10,750 miles (17,300km).