Barcelona: Tibidabo, 24 Hours of Vespas, and Montserrat (Part 2 of 3). August 14–21, 2019.
In part two around Barcelona, Anita rents a Vespa and we take to the hills to visit Tibidabo, Team Vespa’s garage, and Montserrat!
It turned out Anita accidentally booked the wrong day for her rental, but Vespa Soul assured us a GTS 300 would be returned at noon. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to wander across the street and pick up a bocadillo de jamón ibérico to tide us over.
You can always smell the ham shops as you walk by, there’s a very distinct aged scent that reminds me of a musty cave, but savory.
When we returned to the rental shop the bike still hadn’t come in.
“He said he called again and it should be here in a minute,” Anita mused, “but I think the minutes are different here than in Holland.”
A bit of backstory: In August of 2018, Anita flew to Boston, borrowed Fred’s GTS, and Bagel and the two of us rode our 3 Vespas to AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days in Ohio to speak in a presentation about our Pakistan moto trip, then slowly rode back to Boston via Canada (maybe one day I’ll get to blogging about that trip, and our shared miles in Thailand too). I guess Anita liked the Vespa GTS enough that she wanted to rent the same bike so we could ride together in Spain!
Enric messaged me a suggested route to visit their garage, so we set off following his directions.
Now that I was spending more time riding, there were a few things worth noting:
1. Everyone on a bike anticipates lights and they’re already on the throttle before the light changes.
2: The gasoline pumps are green here, but they’re black in the US and diesel pumps are green. I unknowingly tried to fill my tank with diesel, because it’s labeled “gasóleo” while gasoline in the green pump was labeled “Sin Plomo 95″ – Unleaded 95. I was confused about why the pump didn’t seem to fit until the man in the car behind me helped clarify for my first fill up. Travel sure keeps you humble.
3. My navigator of choice, Google Maps, was an extra thrill because the voiceover pronounced street names with the worst, most hilarious American accent! My Spanish is muy mal but sometimes I could barely navigate from trying not to laugh at Google’s voiceover!
The road to Tibidabo was smooth and switchy, and marvelously cooling in the heat of August. As Anita and I climbed the mountain towards a distant spired structure, I couldn’t help wondering why anyone here would find Disneyland appealing. Their own castles, towers, and church spires were the real deal, and there were amusement park rides up here too! And they overlook Barcelona! What an amazing place to put a park. They even piped the Harry Potter soundtrack into the street leading up to the attraction.
After taking some photos and only getting slightly lost, we made our way to the garage in Sabadell.
It turns out I hadn’t just found Enric and Bel through a shared interest in Vespas. They raced Vespas. They were part of Team Vespa Barcelona, an organization that puts together 24-hour endurance races for Vespas and Lambrettas at an annual international event held in Zaragoza. You can find out more at Vespa the Resistance 24h!
I “raced” a smallframe for a few hundred miles over 2 days for CORSette (it’s not legal to race on public roads so if you’re ever asked we participated in a “rally not a race”), but this was a whole other beast.
They gave me and Anita a tour of their shop and garage, which I relished.
Whenever someone asks if I like wrenching on bikes, I respond that I like to ride running bikes so I do what I need to. I do enjoy learning different terminology in different languages though. In Hong Kong, the “cruciform” of a Vespa transmission is called a “Ten-character piece” because the character for “10” is shaped like a cross, and the “Christmas tree” is a simply non-denominational tree. In Spain, the case is called a melon, so when you split the case you crack the melon.
These are small amusements I save up for when I have to fix a bike instead of just riding it.
Enric and Bel were planning their own 10-day trip across the Alps, and were in the shop that day to get their bikes ready: a Yamaha XT600e and a Honda NX650 Dominator, both from the early 90s (“Awesome bikes,” Bel enthused). They hated to backtrack so the plan was to take the overnight ferry to Italy and ride home on mountain trails. I totally understand, I hate backtracking too!
The year previous, they took a ride through the Pyrenees—my next destination. They immediately recommended I book ahead due to vacation season in Europe.
For those wondering where Bel’s shirt went in all the photos, it was 30+ degrees Celsius that day. Perhaps it’s a cultural difference too, I felt like I noticed a lot of shirtless Spanish men on hot days.
We had a late start and were leisurely touring the garage so by the time we rolled up to Montserrat (Anita’s pick, she had visited many years before as a student) it was past 7pm and the sun was beginning to dip below the mountains. We hovered around the entrance, unsure if we needed to pay a fee, until an older man simply waved us past the barriers.
An unexpected perk to arriving so late in the day was that all the behemoth tour buses had already come and gone. It felt like we had the entire cathedral to ourselves!
The downside of arriving so late was that everything in the village was closed or closing. The bocadillo was hours ago and I was running on a few nibbles of cheese samples from that day’s farmers market (I thought being lactose intolerant would rule out the local buffalo cheese, but every stall had one wheel with a bright “sin lactosa” sticker on it), and we were getting hungry.
Dusk fell as we left the abbey for the closest town. At the plaza—always at the plaza—we deciphered some Catalan signs, parked the bikes, and spied on the food of other outdoor diners. Ca la Rosa looked tasty but in the end, it was so bustling only the bar next door had seats for us.
It was a regular kind of place but I was thankful for a cheap glass of wine and whatever fried things the kitchen could rustle up. Anita reviewed her photos for social media. I booked accommodations for my ride ahead as per Enric’s suggestion. We each sat quietly with our phones, a small haven of peace in the hubbub.
Only a pile of olive pits and fried crumbs remained when we gathered ourselves to make the highway ride back to Barcelona. I was nervous because others had warned against taking highways—Spanish drivers speed like crazy, they said—but we agreed it was late and the highway would save half an hour.
My nervousness vanished as we pulled onto the ramp and twisted open the throttle. The highway was in beautiful maintenance, a smooth, well-lit ribbon delivering us to Barcelona. We kept up fine, and I was overcome with a fantastic sense of contentment. As long as I’m behind the handlebars, I’m home. The signs could be in Spanish, Thai, English, or some other language, but the road is the road and when I’m on it, I know myself. It was wonderfully zen.
Only once we arrived at Anita’s hostel did I discover she could barely see most of the way back from squinting in the wind, because the rental had no visor or windscreen!
Anyway, I couldn’t wait to take this out of the city and into the mountains.