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Friday, May 31, 2019

Mallorca and Girona: Thoughts

After the hype from Brad Silverberg, I had high expectations from Mallorca and they were exceeded. I was impressed by the prices, the friendliness of people (especially Linus and Karsten), and how perpetually friendly the drivers were in Mallorca. The cycling was first class, and Brad was prescient in predicting that I'd get bored right around the 1 week mark. If I'd thought about the trip or planned it better I would have gotten in Cap de Formentor as well within our 6 days. Port de Soller was great if a bit touristy (but much less so than Pollenca), and we ate superbly throughout the trip.

Without similar guidance for Girona, I almost expected to be let down. For a couple of days I wondered if I should have organized a point-to-point tour instead, especially since Mike's knee was doing better and he was more able to keep up with my cycling. But as the days wore on Girona made a bigger and bigger impression on me until by the end of the trip I was starting to think that this was a place where I could retire to.

Girona had all the attributes of a city that I liked in California: lots of different riding variety with very few repeats. It even had attributes that I didn't have in the Bay Area, such as easy access to the Pyrenees (when the snow's melted) either by train or even just by riding to it, because it was so close! If you wanted an easy short tour, you could take the train over to the French border and ride back with the wind at your back (easily accomplished in 2 days, or 1 long day).

Girona also has all the European conveniences and qualities that make Europe a far better place to live in general than the USA. The city was clean, you could walk from downtown and never need a car, and the prices were reasonable, unlikely many other places in Europe. I could definitely see myself living there for a long stay, and never getting bored of the cycling. I do not say this lightly, as I've been a Bay Area advocate for almost the entirety of my residence in the USA since 1988.

One of the big concerns for a Bay Area cyclist is that of course, the best time to visit Spain also coincides with the best time to ride in California, because their climates are so similar! On the other hand, if you've lived in the Bay Area for awhile, you've probably done all the local rides, so this is a chance to explore a new place. The climbs in Mallorca and Girona are also much more gentle than Bay Area climbs, so if you've had a difficult winter season (like I did), then it's a great place to go to get back in shape, as the number of "training camp" type bike tours on offer indicate. So I'd say you should go if you'd like something different and maybe even gentler. Non-cycling partners would have plenty to do as well, with a lot of options from cooking classes, food tours, to visiting the museums celebrating famous artists like Picasso and Dali. This trip put Spain on my map in a way that wasn't there before, and I was very glad that Brad sold it as hard as he did!

Overall, we spent $550 each on the round-trip flight to Barcelona, and $200 each on the round-trip flight to Mallorca (because we brought our own bikes). On the ground, we spent about $1000 each on hotels, and about $800 or so on food, tours, and other miscellaneous. That meant that the entire cost of the trip including flights was around $2500 per person. Scott Hess likes to make fun of me by saying that my trips aren't that cheap compared with guided tours, but for comparison, the Trek Tours charges $2000 per person for 6 night tours in Mallorca and the same for Girona without including the price of the plane ticket (though including a rental bike, so you'd have saved about $320 on the flights). So for the cost of less than one of the Trek Tours (and surprisingly enough, Trek wasn't the most expensive trip --- do a Google search and you'll discover $4000 6 day 5 night tours --- I had no idea people spent that much on cycling trips), we got 2 tours plus 3 nights in Barcelona and the misc activities, etc. Independent Cycle Touring literally saves a thousand dollars on each trip.

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