Week 5: Toulouse to Barcelona
Halfway up the Col du Perthus, a gentle mountain pass in the Pyrenees, Milla and I pulled over for a drinks break. What should have been a few quick sips of water soon became a half hour debrief as we realised we were about to leave France and weren’t ready to say au revoir just yet. Since leaving the citadel of Carcassone, we had noticed gradual changes in our surroundings. Architecture, car number plates, language and food; it was clear that we were moving into Catalonia and the border with Spain lay ahead. We had spent 28 days pedalling through the heart of France and loved every minute. Well, almost every minute!
And so our Spanish adventure began, as we crossed the unmanned border and rolled downhill into La Jonquera just before dusk. The main drag of La Jonquera was ugly and chockablock with lorries. In fact, it felt quite Latin American with unsympathetic single storey concrete buildings and brash shop signs like “American Style”. But the following day we were soon cycling through olive groves, vineyards and sleepy villages with the red and yellow striped Catalan flag draped from balconies. Yellow ribbons in support of jailed pro-independence politicians were on display too – spray-painted onto speed bumps and lamp posts. I even saw a polystyrene swimming pool noodle bent into the shape.
We followed the Costa Brava as best we could cycling through some large resorts such as Platja d’Aro. But early May was low season and Platja d’Aro’s beachfront was soulless; a place of closed white shutters and handymen and cleaners preparing apartments and villas for the upcoming holiday season.
Just as we were yearning for the quintessential French countryside we embarked on one of the cycling highlights of our trip so far, as we rode a breathtaking 18km coastal stretch from Sant Feliu de Guixols to Tossa de Mar. The contour lines on our GPS were intimidating but the thumbs up, looks of amazement and shouts of encouragement from the passing lycra brigade on their pencil-thin road bikes and support vehicles were morale-boosting and appreciated by two novice cycle tourers on matching yellow bikes, their panniers full to the brim.
Barcelona started to feel very close. We were actually going to do this! And under a brooding sky on Friday 17th May, after too many kilometres on the hard shoulder of a dual carriageway, we finally reached the Catalan capital and just in time for Milla to surprise our friend Charlotte on her hen party.
Milla had a wonderful time in Barcelona, partying into the early hours of Sunday morning. I, on the other hand, attempted to make a start on our burgeoning to-do list – source maps, buy charging wire, spatula, folding knife, replacement shoes, new handlebar bag, large zip up laundry bags to keep our panniers in the hold luggage – it goes on and was much harder to complete than you’d expect in a huge international city. When it came to our last day in Spain, the hens had gone, and Milla and I got our heads down to make sure we were ready for Peru – and the less said about carrying two boxed up bikes five blocks back to our rented apartment the better!