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Barcelona – Beauty and the beast

Like all big cities Barcelona has parts that are beautiful and parts that are ugly,  but Barcelona does both with gusto and style.

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The centre of Barcelona was always busy.

It has had a love affair with architecture and architects for centuries,  and at various times the wealth to build beautiful and extravagant creations.  But the downside is the need to house all the people attracted to the honeypot,  resulting in some of the most densely populated suburbs in Europe – mile after drab mile of square apartment blocks with no grass or trees.

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Barcelona from Park Guell by Gaudi.

We rode in from the north,  on a hilly and scenic coastal road with not much traffic except in the concrete resort towns that are the curse of the Mediterranean.  Our AirB@B was in the hills which form the city’s western backdrop, and a bike path along a river took us most of the way there.    

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Lloret del Mar a Russian resort town.

The B@B was up four flights of narrow stairs in an irregularly shaped, pinkish block of flats built as social housing in 1948, but was light and sunny with views out to the Med and the hills. Our delightful host and her two Slovakian flatmates were all students.

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Of course we had to see the works of Gaudi and took a great “Free Tour” walk unexpectedly led by an Australian (now firmly settled in Spain). The city has many Gaudi works of course ; he was decidedly fashionable and had many wealthy industrialists commission him to build or upgrade their houses. There is a theory that some of his works were heavily influenced by the dwellings carved out of caves in Capadocia, Turkey, where we were in April, and both Laurie and I could see this could be true. He was an intensely religious man but his desire to intertwine Christian and natual symbols rather than subjugate nature makes him seem interestingly pagan.

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The old town is full of crooked and narrow streets with crooked and narrow houses . The Jews were expelled in the 1200s but the Jewish quarter still has its own character, and there are still Roman ruins and remains incorporated into later buildings.

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True to its Catholic heritage Barcelona has not one but three Basilicas ranging from 800 years old to the still unfinished Gaudi basilica.

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There are more museums than we could possibly see but the Museum of Design and Museum of Music were particularly interesting.

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The Park Guell designed by Gaudi (which was really an attempt to design an estate for the wealthy and was a spectacular commercial failure,  hence never finished) was extraordinary. Its creativity and elegance contrasts sharply with the dense drab apartment blocks which pack it in on three sides.

Of course much of our time in Barcelona was spent packing bikes and sorting gear to try and keep under 60kg of weight. We managed, and it was with a huge mix of feelings that we caught a taxi through the autumn drizzle to the airport for the last stage of our amazing journey…

A Day in Arles

It was fortunate that we had a free day in Arles as today all attractions in France are free entry and Arles has plenty. We visited the Roman arena which was a huge structure that was rescued from urbanisation and is once again used for events such as bull fighting. It was a magnificent building with a great view over the nearby Rhone river.
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We also visited the Reattau Museum which had a great collection including drawing and paintings by Picasso, lots of great photographs and heaps more. It was all housed in a very atmospheric building that was once the main Priory for the Knights of Malta.

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Sunday, 20 September 2015 at 19:15

We also visited the Roman baths and theatre as well as the Cloisters all of which were elegantly restored. After lunch we visited the Museum of Antiquities which has a great display including a 2000 year old boat they had recovered from the Rhone river.

Col de Ornorn, Allemont to Corps

We left the comfort of our Warmshowers host Claude and Claire for what we thought would be an easier day, after 3 days of big climbs.  It started with a long downhill run from Allemont between towering dramatic mountain sides. We then started to climb over the Col de Ornon but it was only 1450mts. The country changed once through the imposing narrow gorge the other side of Ornon. The mountain-sides were barer, without the cover of fir trees.
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Just before La Mure we turned left and climbed another big hill before decending to join the main road which took us on another hilly route to Corps. Corps was surrounded by very high impressive bastions of white shaly peaks that looked very mystical with dark clouds swirling about them.
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Corps itself was an interesting medieval town famous as a place in which Napoleon stayed when returning from exile. It was a collection of old multi-storey stone render houses separated by narrow laneways.

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We camped in the cute little municipal camp ground and took ourselves out for a very nice dinner at the Poste Hotel. We opted for the full menu, which in the end included 7 courses. It was a classic old French style restaurant with a very old flat card music machine that they started now and again. At times there was also a chorus of dogs that were kept at the diners’ feet under their table.

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Col du Glandon

Today our plan was to ride from La Chambre to Allemont, via Col du Glandon (1924m) 50km

It was a crisp clear cold morning and the sun did not shine in to our side of the valley until 9am so we were slow getting underway. The climbing started 2 km from the village and continued to get steeper for the entire 20km. Nearing the top we got a great view of Mont Blanc to the north as the clouds opened.

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The view south once over the top revealed more wild looking mountains and a large reservoir. We chatted to some of the friendly English speaking cyclists at the top, they were all riding nice road bikes and thought we were crazy with our luggage.

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The last few km averaging over 10% really made it tough with all our gear.
Continuing on we cruised down past the reservoir stopping to watch two large Rams repeatedly backing and charging each other, not stopping until they both had bloodied heads. There were several more climbs, one quite steep and then it was a glorious run down to the home of another Warmshowers host we had arranged to stay with. We met Claude on the road below his village house as he was riding his bike down to his veggie garden to collect vegetables for our dinner. Claude and Claire are both lovely warm people with 4 children. The two young boys were very cute and we briefly met the delightful 16 year old Julia on her way to school in Grenoble. Both Claude and Claire work as teachers and love the mountains, getting into lots of climbing and cross country skiing. They gave us a cycling route for the following day that involved climbing up to Alpe d’Heuz on a back road from their village, joining the traditional route part way up and continuing on to the Col de la Sarenne and down around to Le Bourg – d ‘Oisans and home. They suggested that if we did this we stay another night which we readily agreed to. More on this tomorrow!

In the meantime Claude and Claire have cooked us a fabulous meal and our comfortable loft room has amazing mountain views (and a sociable cat to share the bed with).