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Una marcha de bicis

6 Oct

A little while back, our friend Yani told us about a cycling event that was going to be put on by the mobile phone company, Movistar – these guys also sponsor a Pro Tour cycling team, so they’re pretty good folks.  What I thought was fantastic is that the event – what I would call a rally – would be noncompetitive so that anyone with a bike could come out, have shirts and cool blue lights to spruce up the bikes (since we’d ride at night) for all participants, and best of all – it was free!  This last feature is a nice thing, especially given the economic climate here – presumably more people were able to participate.

We met up with our friends, Ari and Yani, and rode through the city to the Río Manzanares.  This river runs through the southern part of the city where a multi-use trail allows cyclists, runners, and walkers to enjoy being outside and active…and the numerous cafés and bars allow them to refuel Spanish style, if they so choose, with a bocodillo con iberíco and una caña (ham sandwich and beer).

At the bike rally (la marcha de bicis) with our friends Ari & Yani (photo by A. Cannizzo).

We arrived at the staging area, picked up our gear, and awaited the start after our own proper Spanish-style refueling.  While we waited for the event to start, we installed our Movistar blue lights onto the valve stems of our tires (the centrifugal motion activated the light) and added our Movistar blue reflectors so that we looked as official as the other 3000 participants.  Then, approximately 10 minutes before the start of the ride, the skies opened up – and we had rain for the first time in months (for us, at least!)!  This rain was torrential and took out the big Movistar inflatable finish line arches while the riders huddled under trees, oohhing and aahhing as the arches deflated magnificently.  We finally gave up and decided to head home, after considering that our fellow participants might be a little crazy in the wet, dark conditions on the slick asphalt coated with oil and grime from the summer.

My favorite part of the evening was Yani’s description of us – como pollitos pasados por agua.  With the steamy pavement, I think I felt like a boiled chicken, too.

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People-watching

2 Sep

Yesterday, Justin and I decided to wander a bit on bikes into a nearby neighborhood that we have not explored but one other time.  We were interested in finding a reputed bike shop, as well as scoping out what other things were in the area – after being here for a year, we have a better idea of which grocery store chains that are good for certain things.  We also have a few items on our list for the boat that might be taken care of in one of the little ferreterías (hardware stores with really cool things like paella pans and aluminum coffee pots!), so we were in scoping-out mode.

The weather changed in Madrid overnight in the last two days, and we had woken up to 55 degrees or so, after seeing most mornings in August hover above 75 degrees.  We pulled out the armwarmers and used them with our normal clothes for our wandering ride.  It was lovely, to say the least.  We both love autumn.

After stopping for a coffee and cookie at a bakery, we found ourselves trying to decide if it made sense to go ahead and get both of our hair cut at the shop a few doors down from the bakery – we went in and were committed…the experience ended up being one of those surreal, fascinating experiences that leaves you laughing a bit – people are funny.

Justin’s haircut was done in about 2 minutes – a testament to the skill that the barber had (2 weeks earlier, Justin had persuaded me to “give it a go” with his shaver and scissors…I didn’t do too terribly bad, but it was an hour affair, plus all the follow-up when I found hairs sticking up later on that I had missed).  I, on the other hand, opted for some more highlights and a cut.  My stylist was super friendly, and we discussed 1) traveling, 2) American politics, 3) the differences in perception of minorities in America and Spain, 4) vegetarianism, and 5) how biking gives you really strong legs.  It counted as Spanish class for me.  While I was waiting with the foils in my hair, everyone in the salon participated in a discussion about bikes, bike brands, where the nearest bike shop was, and the Camino de Santiago, which is a popular route that many pilgrims take in northern Spain that can also be done on bikes.

Then, other customers started coming in, including el jefe (the boss) of the salon who showed up with his son and daughter.  The man spoke in a booming voice that probably resonated all the way back to the coffee shop, but was friendly with his staff and told everyone about his vacation over the past month.  The excitement started when he was in the chair getting his hair cut, and his daughter decided she did not want her hair cut.  Round and round, he pleaded with her (in a rather booming voice) while the barber who was going to cut her hair stood in the room with a cape outstretched in his hand like he was a bullfighter.   The rest of us watched in amazement as the little girl ran out of the salon yelling “¡No lo quiero!” (I don’t want it!); we never saw her return while we were there.  Then, another little boy showed up in tears with his father – the barber was a bit more aggressive about going in with the shaver immediately and getting the hair cut done than he had been with his jefe’s daughter!

All in all, it was pretty entertaining, with lots of Spanish practice and certainly not something we expected or had sought out – without a doubt, these have been some of our favorite kinds of experiences that we’ve had during our time in Europe.  We laughed all the way home.

Looking for Vikings

21 Mar

March has been the month of travel for Justin, and he’s still not done.  We’re making the most of it, though, and took the opportunity to spend the weekend exploring Copenhagen, Denmark.  In our minds, Copenhagen has always been THE gold star for bike-friendly cities, although truthfully, we have been blown away by Holland and Sweden, too.  Copenhagen did not disappoint at all.

Scandinavia is such a change, too, in that we both feel tall and (me) fair-complexioned in Spain and Italy, but as we travel further north, we transition from feeling like we are in Lilliput to Brobdingnag in Gulliver’s Travels!

There ARE still vikings in Denmark!!!

Copenhagen is expensive, and consistently is cited as having one of the highest costs of living in Europe.  Our centrally-located hotel room was a “small double”, but probably was not bigger than some people’s closets…we had to turn sideways to get around the bed from the bathroom to the desk.  It was pleasant, though, with one of the best breakfast buffets that we have had in our European adventures, and we were able to conveniently rent bikes both days that we wandered Copenhagen.  After spending a few days in Malmö last spring, we expected sticker shock in restaurants and planned accordingly (or rather adjusted accordingly after having a nicer meal than anticipated on Friday night!).

That first evening was lovely, and we had an incredible dinner at the Norrebro Brygus that is a brewery restaurant with organic beers.  We showed up hungry, and glanced too quickly at the menu before deciding to “just go with the set menu”.  It was expensive, but absolutely fantastic.  We later lamented the five beers that accompanied the courses more the next morning – but it was well worth a stop, if you are in Copenhagen.

Um, we did drink five of those beers...with a fantastic dinner (Spain has taught us how to enjoy dinner for 3+ hours, though!).

Saturday was a day for exploring and wandering – we had a bit of a loose schedule, but wanted to make sure we saw sailboats, found some bike shops, got some riding in, saw the ”alternative-society” Christiania (Denmark’s nod at Amsterdam, although the city may try to integrate this area in the coming years), wandered the waterfront at Nyhavn and paid a visit to a caramel factory.  I had found a few boat chandleries that I thought might be fun to visit – our first stop was a dud (water damage in the building had closed the shop), but across the street from that shop was an Aigle store.  Aigle is a French company that makes the sailing dinghy boots that Justin and I both had when we raced for the University of Washington.  Mine are still intact and on our new-to-us boat, but Justin’s completely deteriorated, as might be expected from years of recent disuse, following years of very hard use.  They had newer models, in addition to a pair of what the salesperson referred to as “retro” boots…the exact same boots we both had!  As tempting as it was, Justin resisted buying the old-style boots, and since the store had none of the new style, zipper boots in his size, he bought a pair of padded hiking shorts (for dinghies…or sitting on the rail of a keelboat) instead.  We left the Aigle store on a mission to find an 87-year old man, “Luffe”, who supposedly ran a small chandlery in the basement of a building in the next town.

We watched some radio-controlled sailboats get ready to race.

We rode several miles north of Copenhagen along the coast, still enjoying our own bike lanes and following Danish bike etiquette of signaling and staying to the right (our heavy, 3-speed steel behemoths were no match for the myriad other bikes we saw on the roads and so we were passed now and again by roadies, tri-bikes, beautiful steel city bikes, Christiana bikes with a trailer upfront and everything in-between).

Our quest to find Luffe was a failure, but after asking about him in another shop, it’s possible that his shop no longer existed…apparently Luffe is legendary, but in the sense that everyone knows OF him, but two of the people we asked had not seen him in a decade or more.

We rode back into town after warming up in a bakery, to see Christiania…this pretty much entailed walking the bikes through Pusher Street, where there were stalls set up to sell marijuana and hash (presumably).  Interestingly, some of the guides I had read said that they were no longer doing this, but really, I’m not sure what else people would have been selling, complete with signs saying “NO PHOTOGRAPHY”.  This area has its own government and set of basic rules (no selling property, no hard drugs, etc.), but the community may be short-lived, so the general consensus seems to be “see it now before it is too late!”  It was interesting, to say the least.  There was a tiny house in the middle of the street just outside Pusher Street, and the owner graciously allowed us to take a picture of his dog…what a life!

The dog was quite the spectator, and we have some close-ups of him. This picture shows a little better what Christiania is like, though...

Our remaining Saturday was spent checking out Nyhavn where although the idea of ice cream with “guf” (marshmallow), but it was too chilly for our tastes!  Instead, we enjoyed walking along the waterfront and then had dinner at La Galette, which serves buckwheat crepes – it was quite nice and definitely reasonably priced.

An incredible city to ride in - about 40% of the city uses the bike for commuting, and reputedly there is a ratio of 1:1 for bikes to people. Wow.

Sunday was more drizzly, but we were on the bikes to see Copenhagen’s famous “Little Mermaid” statue in the harbor.  I had to take more than a few deep breaths as a small group spent an eternity rotating through having each person in their group stand with the statue…but quite fluidly they managed to never leave the statue alone for the group of other visitors waiting to take a picture without these people.   I normally don’t get too riled up about these things (and really have become more patient, I promise!), but it was the most selfish and discourteous picture-hogging show at a landmark that I’ve seen…come on!  If they would have just crawled all over the statue, I would have felt compelled to photograph them, and then my pictures would have had a story (about picture-hogging, statue-crawling people), I guess.

The Little Mermaid - I think she's been restored several times (probably because of rowdy tourists climbing on her!).

Checking out the art in the parks.

The key agenda item for Sunday was to see three of the castles that were built by Danish monarchs over the years, and we saw everything from ruins that had been discovered under existing structures, to rooms of porcelain plates, to royal crowns with hundreds of real gems at three impressive palaces that boast residence in Copenhagen:

  • Rosenborg Castle
  • Christiansborg Palace
  • Amalienborg Castle

A guard at Amalienborg Palace. One of them started speaking Danish quite insistently towards us, and we suspect that he thought that Justin should not have been leaning on the castle!

(Note: Seeing these castles and learning more about the royal “Danes” were a nice segues from a tour I took last week at the Prado about the “Spanish” royals.  Essentially, it makes no sense to tag on an adjective like “Spanish” or “Danish” because the European royal family interbred and were everywhere and anywhere.  It’s a post in and of itself – completely fascinating!).

For lunch, we found the highly anticipated (for us!) Grød restaurant that specializes in porridge (oatmeal).  Ours was fantastic…Justin chose a more traditional oatmeal with apples, nuts and flaxseeds, and I decided on the “traditional Danish” porridge with rye, beer, apple compote and cream.  Both were delicious and have inspired us to pick it up a notch with our morning oatmeal routines!

For oatmeal aficionados like us, this was heaven!

I almost cried having to leave Copenhagen…but onto other adventures!

Critical elements – bicycles and pancakes

9 Feb

The Netherlands has a well-earned reputation for being a cyclist’s mecca.  The country is predominantly flat, has made tremendous investments in both pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, and apparently its population of people is dwarfed by its population of bicycles!  There is a famous national bicycle museum in Nijmegen, and after spending a day exploring Eindhoven, we drove 45 minutes north to spend the day checking out the history of the two-wheeled machine that has been a big part of our lives.

The Velorama was truly impressive.  It boasts a collection of over 200 bicycles in all configurations and focuses on the historical role of the bicycle.  The curator talked to us for a few minutes before we set out to look at the collection, which spanned three floors of a historical building along the riverfront in Nijmegen.  One of the most interesting things he mentioned was the role of the bicycle for the feminist movement…because the bicycle helped to pave the way for trousers to be an accepted article of clothing for women to wear!

The museum had authentic bicycles and obvious “transition” pieces that served as trial-and-error attempts to engineer what we now think of as the “bicycle”.  A separate area showed fascinating examples of different approaches for gearing and allowed you to operate the mechanisms to better understand how components functioned.  I had not realized the importance of the invention of the bicycle chain (having taken this integral piece of equipment for granted, except for the one time I had one break on me as I was crossing traffic!).  Without this critical piece of equipment, we would likely all be riding high wheels still, as the larger rear wheel is necessary for adequate propulsion in an arrangement where the pedals are placed on a fixed point in a wheel!

Some of the more interesting things we saw are in the gallery below:

After spending time in the museum, we walked around Nijmegen to explore the city.  The city is over 2,000 years old and the oldest city in the Netherlands.  Situated along the banks of the Waal River, a tributary to the Rhine, it’s easy to see how the city is an important port for transiting ships.  We watched several barges seemingly fly by on the river, obviously helped along with significant current.

Even chillier by the water (note the ice)!

The doors and shutters of several of the buildings were fantastic!

We loved the splashes of unexpected color on the buildings.

Our favorite discovery of the Netherlands, however, was the cuisine…we enjoyed the salty, black licorice and the chewy waffle cookies (and I thoroughly enjoyed the Kibbeling or fried cod I found at a market!), but our absolute favorite food was the Dutch pancakes.  I now have a pamphlet with all of the pancake houses in the Netherlands (“Waar pannenkoeken eten?”) so that I am ready when we return (we will!).

An apple pancake (on a plate that is larger than a dinner plate!).

Dutch syrup or "treacle".

Going Dutch

8 Feb

Going Dutch: a term that indicates that each person participating in a group activity pays for himself, rather than any one person paying for anyone else, particularly in a restaurant bill.

Although, we didn’t exactly “go Dutch”, we did one better and took off to the Netherlands to see the country.  Holland has a reputation for people who know how to be frugal and make ends meet, at least according to the history that I read on the Ryanair flight on the way to Düsseldorf to meet Justin for a weekend exploring Eindhoven and Nijmegen.  Our plan for the weekend was to see a bit of the Netherlands via car, adding another country to our list of European countries visited (we’re at 11 so far…).

The Ryanair flight for me was an experience in and of itself, and probably warrants its own blog post.  Suffice to say that what I had heard was true – the flights are quite full, a bit uncomfortable with no recline buttons to be found, and the poor flight attendants spend all their time trying to sell you drinks, food, lottery tickets and perfume.  However, both of my flights departed on-time and arrived early, and the arrivals triggered the trumpeting announcement of a lovely Irish woman’s recorded voice stating that the company had the best record for all the European airlines with an on-time arrival rate of over 90%.  Their model apparently works quite well, as the company has been extremely successful.  I certainly appreciated what I received for my 70 € ($92) roundtrip fare.

Our first day in Holland greeted us with a frigid blast of winter – temperatures hovering at 0 degrees Fahrenheit!  We set out to find breakfast in Eindhoven, and after noticing several other people out on bikes, we decided we would rent bikes at the train station, too.  We quickly learned that excursions needed to be spaced out with frequent warm-up breaks.  My hands have never hurt so badly, actually.

I expected this, but seeing this many bikes outside the train station was still incredible.

We rented our bikes for 7.50 € for the day and were off to explore!

One of the things we wanted to do was to check out an incredible skating and swimming facility.  We purchased a skate-swim combo pass (perhaps this is a normal combination in Holland?), and we spent the next several hours entertaining ourselves on ice and swim slides (we did a few laps, too).

The ice stadium was incredible, with several rinks - we chose to skate outside with the speed skaters on the inner loop of our rink. They simply flew by us.

A successful day skating for me - nothing broken, plus I was able to move past "choppy skater with hand hatchet" mode.

After skating, we were incredulous at the indoor swim park that we wandered into – we expected a state-of-the-art lap swimming facility (the European Diving Championships seemed to be going on during the time we were there), but we were absolutely not expecting four speedy, wedgie-making slides.  We had a blast, especially flying down one slide that emptied into a large tub where you flew round and round, until gravity won the war, depositing you through a hole in the bottom into a pool below.  I felt like I was getting flushed down a toilet.  One time, Justin departed into the slide, I patiently waited my turn until my greenlight and then pushed off…only to be shot into the toilet where I saw Justin giggling wildly while still flying around the tub!  I think we were both surprised!

After our afternoon of skating and swimming, we rode back into the town center checking out different buildings before finding our hotel to warm-up in.

This is one of the museums in Eindhoven - we did not have a chance to visit, but loved the interesting design.

Our favorite Dutch word, hands down = “slagroom”.  What do you think that might mean?

Slagroom is "whipped cream". A woman in a cafe tried to pantomime this to us unsuccessfully and finally told us, "Slagroom is slagroom."

An incredible, spur-of-the-moment day…and a fantastic precursor to Day 2…more bikes and pancakes!

 

La Vuelta – una vez mas!

11 Sep

For the last day of our friend Bill’s visit, we shamelessly dragged him to the final stage of the Vuelta – well, not exactly “dragged” since he’s a good sport, appreciates things done well and sees interesting things in everything.  And he rides bikes now and again!

The lead-up to watching several laps of the final stage of the Vuelta was pretty good, though:

  • Bus ride to show Bill the Torre Picasso building where Justin works and the stadium where the professional soccer team Real Madrid plays (Estadio Santiago Bernabéu) – the games are starting again, and with binoculars, Justin could watch from his office!

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu - home of Real Madrid!

  • Metro ride to the Puerta del Sol, the center of Spain.  Literally, as in THE “kilómetro cero” (kilometer zero) of Spain is in the square.  Everything is measured from this point.

Kilómetro Cero - who knew that everything started here?

  • Coffee at the 400-year-old Plaza Mayor, a busy square with cafés, shops and many people – an excellent people watching site.

Plaza Mayor - 400 years old and still hopping!

  • Finding the kukuxumusu shop (from the Basque language – “the kiss of the flea”) on Calle Mayor to buy some funny tee shirts.  Although we didn’t buy everything that made us laugh (ahem), I did find some great gifts.
  • A walk through the grounds of the Palacio Real de Madrid or Royal Palace of Spain.  Although the king and queen of Spain don’t live there anymore, the building is used for official events (…that need 3,000 rooms, apparently).

The Spanish Royal Palace - impressive, but not where King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia really live.

  • A stop for Bill to pick up a lovely flamenco dress, in pink, for his beautiful daughter, Zoe.
  • A much-needed granizado recharge (also called granitas in the States – fruit juice that has been frozen and continually stirred so that the juice becomes a slushie).  Granizados here are fantastic.

Two weeks ago, Justin and I watched the finish of the El Escorial Vuelta stage – we really enjoyed watching the hilltop finish, but it was over so quickly.  In contrast, the grand finale stage for the Vuelta a España was set up so that the riders started just north of the city and rode into the heart of Madrid onto a circuit.  Then, after doing 10 laps around the circuit, the racers would finish the stage and the tour.  Because of the 10 laps, we would have many opportunities to see the racers.  As a reminder, the Vuelta is one of the three major European tours – the Tour of Italy (Giro d’Italia), Tour of France (Tour de France) and the Tour of Spain (Vuelta a España), so all of the big professional teams send riders.  We enjoyed getting to cheer the riders on again with other spectators (it’s hard not to love, “Venga venga!”), and there was a lot of Spanish pride because the rider who won the general classification (GC) was a Spaniard – Juan José Cobo had a fantastic showing in one of the most difficult grand tours ever.

Pre-race entertainment.

Parade lap for Cobo (in red).

These guys go really fast on the flats.

Suitcases by the Saxo-Bank team bus. It makes me wonder how nice it feels to be done with a three week race?

La Vuelta!

28 Aug

Believe it or not summer is on it’s way out here in Madrid.  On Friday the high was only 79 and Saturday morning started a pleasant 52 degrees.  It’s doesn’t look like we’ll hit much above 90 again this year.  Hooray!  With the fine weather, a weekend, and the Vuelta a Espana finishing not far to west of Madrid we headed out for a bike ride / orienteering adventure.

There are a lot of fountains in Madrid.

It was only supposed to be 50km from our place to the race finish, but when I printed off the directions from Google Maps, it was 3 pages long!  We’ve mostly figured out how to get across to the other side of the city and found ourselves well on our way west soon after.  Unfortunately, the only direct road out to the finish at the monastery, San Lorenzo El Escorial was more or less a freeway, so we made our way zig and zagging north and south of the freeway, until we had no choice.

By that time we are well out of the city and the speed limit was actually pretty low due to the twisty road.  Just in time for lunch we arrived at the base of the final climb for the stage.

A pleasant outdoor restaurant was located there, just after the tunnel (where Rene Taarmae attacked if you happened to have been watching the TV).  While we sat in the shade, taking our time, the team buses started to arrive with Garmin-Cervelo, and Team Sky parking just up the road from us.

Full bellies and water bottles topped off we started up the final climb.  Everything was marked and barricaded to stop the cars, but we could still ride on the course.  There were still 3 hours until the racers would arrive.  It was quite a sight when we reached the base of the final steep climb.

Up! Straight up!

The road was perfectly straight for the last 750m or so, but the road was more like a wall.  People had difficultly walking up.  The thing that surprised me was that 75% of the final climb was cobbled.  Not smooth at all.  Like bone-jarring cobbles if you were going anywhere over 10mph (which we weren’t so…).  I was frankly amazed that we were able to do this, but we started riding up the climb, barriers on both sides, the road was barely wide enough for a large car.  As we started climbing people along the barriers started cheering “vamo, vamo” and “venga, venga” and of course, for Chris, “una chica!” – Chris was ony “chica” I saw on the climb that afternoon.

La chica on the climb.

Going up.

With a compact crank and a 36-26 we were both standing for nearly the entire climb.  About 500m from the finish, right about the point where “Purito” attacked, the road pitched up to 27 or 28%.  Supposedly this was the steepest grade ever featured in a Grand Tour.  The rest of the climb remained easily at 20% or greater, except for the occasional road crossing that leveled out briefly for the width of two narrow lanes.  We stopped a couple of times to take pictures and really the climb wasn’t that long, but man, I can’t imagine attacking up that climb after racing a 100 miles over 3 other rated climbs.  Ouch!

About 1.5 hours before the finish we staked our claim at the 150m to go sign.  From there it seemed likely the race would already be decided and we could wait comfortably in the shade with a little less crowding.

I kept watching my phone for updates to see when the riders were approaching, but the obvious sign was the helicopter overhead coming straight at us, following the leaders up the climb.  Sure enough, as everyone predicted, Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez was first to the top, then a long line of “climbers” followed, then minutes would go by before another rider would appear.

Purito

Scarponi

Fuglsang

Saxo struggling

Eventually, Tom Boonen made his way up, and the crowd quickly dispersed.  There were only 3 Skil-Shimano riders close behind him.

Making our way back down the climb was a bit more adventure.  It was cobbled, it was steep, the cars were going nowhere fast, in a long traffic jam, but as we carefully navigated our way to the bottom, Danny Moreno flew by down the hill between the two opposing lanes of traffic.  Briefly I had some open space and tried to see if I could coast as fast over the cobbles.  My hands went numb in about 30 seconds and Danny was long gone.  Chris on the other hand, found herself riding down the bottom of the climb with Bradley Wiggins.  All in all, a pretty neat experience and to finish off the day really easily, we coasted straight to the train station at the bottom of the climb, hopped on a train and rode for an hour back into the city.

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