Monday, September 01, 2008
madrid - alicante
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i am not sure if i should name this post "highway to hell", it was a 5 hour ride for a not very pretty part of the country. the downside in travelling relatively long distances over the weekend has to be the lack of time to take a more interesting road, however, there are a few highways that run through the iberian peninsula which are surrounded by impressive landscapes. on the way to alicante from madrid, one can enjoy the vast plains of the provinces of toledo and albacete in castilla la mancha. i like the scenery along this route for its colours, varied and suddenly changing as you ride through some of the most arid parts of the country. you can go from a vast piece of land where fiery red and ocres dominate the landscape to a combination of greens on the farms´fields and pastel tones in the sky during sunset. riding in the evening towards the south east of spain can be compared to walking in a museum admiring a series of paintings. of course, the experience would have been 10,000 times better on smaller roads going through the small towns and villages of the region... oh well, next time.
once in alicante its a tough choice. it is far from being my favourite part of the country. the east of spain, or rather what is known as "levante"(1), is famous for its rice. note it is important that you know, paella, not payella like some people insist in pronouncing, is typical from valencia, while in alicante, they are very proud of their rice, and if you see something that looks like a paella, it might just be a rice dish.
having said that, i have to say, the big problem with this area is tourism. cheap and absolutely massified tourism, both international and domestic. there are plenty of very popular destinations for english/german/scandinavian retired people combined with some of the most uneducated domestic crowd (this might sound horrible and elitist, but if you do go, and are a little knowledgeable in spanish culture, you will understand. the shoreline in some cities and towns have been developed and bombarded with huge skyscrapers, which makes a pretty crowded and horrible looking coast, but there are little oasis where you can escape this and immerse yourself in a beautiful enclave of tranquillity and natural beauty.
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i decided to go to cabo de palos on saturday. i took the n-332 south from alicante to cartagena. my biggest mistake was to do this during the month of august. if you really want to enjoy this area, its advisable to come during the second week of september, after everybody has returned to their cities of origin or during may, before everybody in spain decides to go on holiday at the same time. weather is a little colder, but still good enough to go for a dip in the sea, not to mention prices are almost half all over the place.
other than the ridiculous traffic i encountered on this road, the only highlight i could possibly mention are the salt mines you encounter in and around torrevieja. some say flamingos frequent the area, but i did not see any.
tired of traffic and roundabouts, as i passed san pedro del pinatar, i took the expressway to reach my final destination.
cabo de palos aint big, its a small village which is, in a way, the beginning of "la manga del mar menor" another over exploited and over developed tourist destination. if you are looking for a little privacy and lonely contemplation, you can ride along the marina in cabo de palos, towards the light house, make a right and you will find a place to park. from there you can walk and find a nice cove to swim in the mediterranean. you can go scuba diving in this area, if you are not, careful with the sea urchins... if you are, don expect the corals and marine life of the philippines, but its probably the best place to dive in spain.
i enjoyed my lunch at a relative´s so i wont be able to recommend any place, but i remember seeing small bars/restaurants at the marina, and the fish in the area is fantastic, so do give that a try.
the way back to alicante was done throught the expressway. i almost made it on time for dinner. had arranged a dinner with friends around playa de san juan before hitting the local bars.
we went to a place called italia & asia... being in alicante i reckon you should avoid this place. the starters were ridiculously small, i ordered a mushroom risotto as a main and it was ALSO so small it was not even big enough to be a side dish... the dessert was tasty, but again... small... i was so hungry by the end of dinner i wish i could have found one more place to have something else, but we headed to this bar called frontera where my hunger was killed by a couple of beers...
the bar was decorated with a biker theme, the band was pretty good as well... and the dj who played after the band was great as well. good, friendly atmosphere... great ingredients for a good night that made up for the horrible dinner.
the way back to madrid was done through the same route except for the last half, where i decided to take the toll way. much less traffic for not a very high price.
i also stopped for some food in a little town 14 km before reaching albacete. the place is chinchilla. very friendly people, great food and they seem to know their bikes. regardless of it being a really small town there is an apparently important motorcycling group. so don't be surprised to see plenty of bikes and bikers in town meeting up at the bar for a little gathering among friends.
again, travelling in spain can be a delicate thing during the last weekend of august, there are loads of people returning home from their summer holidays causing loads of congestion on the road, also watch out for careless drivers who don't respect bikes... this time i did not see as much traffic as i expected, the economical situation and fuel prices must have something to do, still... september is so much better for long trips.
on a last note... this is the first trip with the new 12" Z-bar... much more comfortable than the stock, i love the riding position although it feels a little more unstable when turns in speeds of 140 - 160 km/h. it is still fairly easy to handle, and hands are at shoulder height. also, removing the hand controls and using smaller buttons for lights and horn has proved to be very comfortable to and not only better looking. it might take a while to get used to the new situation of the buttons but it is definitely worth it. i´m seeing the bike turn into what i had in mind slowly :)