Sunday, July 18, 2010

Moto Mania (part 1)

As you probably know, I am mental about motorized, two-wheeled things. I used to own two motorcycles back home, but sold them both before coming here. It didn't take long for the withdrawal to set in, and after a couple of weeks I had made arrangements to rent one for the last weekend in July. I settled on Andorra as my destination, an independent country on the border between France and Spain.

At this time I would like to take the opportunity to share a few of observations about driving in Spain:
  1. It isn't as difficult as I have been lead to believe.
  2. Roundabouts are awesome!
  3. The Spanish seem to have at least as much contempt for speed limits as Californians.
This is not to say that driving in Spain just like driving at home -- Far from it -- But adaptation comes naturally if you only pay attention to what other people are doing. The reality is that the rules of the road that matter are the unwritten ones. The rules that govern the flow of vehicular traffic are as cultural and  as those that govern fashion and diet. I think that the American perception that European drivers are particularly crazy arises from the failure to understand this. Other drivers will do things that seem unexpected with astonishing frequency; however, this is simply because (as a foreigner) you do not understand the normal flow of traffic. It is you, the foreigner, who are the unpredictable, crazy one.

Roundabouts are really quite marevlous because they allow you to choose between any of the available directions (there will be more than four) in an intersection -- including going back the way you came! And not only that, but you do not  have to make your choice in a split-second. You can remain in the roundabout for as long as it takes to become confident in your decision. This is most appreciated by people, such as yours truly, who are never sure of:
  1. Where the are,
  2. where they've been,
  3. or where they are going.
(The exception to this is that within the city of Barcelona there are stoplights in the in the roundabouts themselves, so it can take quite  a few minutes to complete a 180 degree arc). 

According to wiki-travel:
Between cities, drivers are required to have some rest every 2 hours they drive--there's a fine if you don't follow. It's unclear how it's enforced, however.

This might seem like a potential inconvenience, but it's actually quite useful for male motorists wishing to retain some shred of dignity: you are not lost, merely looking for a suitable place to take your mandatory two-hour break. I would like to assure the reader that during the entire weekend I remained within full compliance of this statute ;-) 

In the city it's pretty much impossible to get going very fast because of the congestion. In the country-side on the other hand, where the speed limit is typically a mere 90 kph, there was a 20-something driving a 118d hatch-back eager to go sailing past me at 140 on every long straight.

Look at this seedy fellow trying to rent a motorcycle. Can you believe they just let people like that ride those things in public? I don't trust him one bit.

I set off with a bit of a hang-over, having imprudently gone to the Belchica bar with friends to watch football the night before. I got a late start, and was not exactly in the best of spirits.

The desert a few miles north-west of Barcelona, taken while, *ahem*, looking for a suitable place for my mandatory rest period. Out in the desert in full leathers, it was (predictably) very hot. I decided, therefore, to take a few extra breaks.

After a period of time not exceeding two hours, I pulled into a sleepy town wishing for some lunch and a bit of a nap myself....

...and the idea of cold tomato soup had never seemed more appealing.

Octane in Europe seems to be a bit higher than at home, though perhaps they use a different scale.

By chance I had stopped to fill up at a rather auspicious petrol station. I could not help but go inside. The museum contained quite a few rare examples of classic motorcycles, but I won't bore you all by rambling on about the history and evolution of two-wheeled transportation in cryptic, technical jargon

...much. For example, this horizontally-opposed twin (above) has a completely-exposed over-head valve train. Note the lack of foot shifter. Below is a motorcycle powered not by a jet turbine, as it might appear, but a wankel rotary engine. It is described as being a rare and "largely untested" configuration.

Some things never change.
As I approached the Pyrenees, the weather became much less hot and much more moist. So moist, in fact, that I'm pretty sure it was raining. I arrived in Andorra at last, soggy and tired.

Andorra, it is claimed, is the only country in the world with two heads of state: one being the president of of France, and the other is the Spanish bishop of Urguell. So, after checking into the Hotel Coprinceps ("co-prince hotel"), I went for a bit of walk to take in my surroundings.

I look unhappy here because the US had just dropped out of the world cup :P Let's try this again...

I hate to end on a picture like that, so let's all take a look at the view from my hotel room. (To be continued..)

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