Logroño Bike Ride

There’s a tourist office in Logroño right down the street from my apartment. It’s pretty excellent, mostly because they let you rent a bike for free as long as it’s returned by 6:00 pm. What service!

(You also have to be willing to ignore that the bikes are huge, heavy, and sans kickstands, but you get what you pay for, right?)

The tourist office also publishes a handy little book of the best hikes and bike rides throughout La Rioja, and while I have done some pretty epic hikes in Spain so far, I’d been wanting to do the one bike ride that goes through Logroño for months. The weather changed a few weeks ago, and when my friend visited from LA we decided to give it a try!

We didn’t get far. At all. But it was still gorgeous and we had a picnic by the lake, so really, we won.

I tried again the next weekend with my roommate. The issues with this route were the following:

  1. The information packet didn’t provide a more detailed map than the below. The first part was fine as it was on the well marked Camino, and the last leg was on the GR 99, but we were totally on our own from Navarette to Fuenmayor. We ended up lost and on the side of a highway for a while. Not ideal.
  2. The bike ride was labeled “bajo” and estimated it would take 2.5 hours to finish. WHAT! Whoever wrote such lies has CERTAINLY not done this bike ride! It took us a full six hours. SIX HOURS. We got back at 5:51, just barely returning the bikes in time. And easy? The entire ride was uphill, until one very steep hill at the VERY end of the journey. And we live in a mountainous region, so when I say uphill I mean huge inclines.

That aside, it was a gorgeous ride. It was obviously great exercise, and if I were to do it again, I think I’d enjoy it more because I’d be better prepared (i.e. bring more than one bottle of water and ANY food/sunscreen). Also I would definitely ride in the opposite of the suggested direction. It would be one huge hill to start and then mostly downhill the rest of the way. Also when we arrived in Fuenmayor we found a dirt road with a sign saying it would go to Navarrete, and whatever road that was meant to be was not nearly so well labeled coming from the other direction.

I’d recommend this ride, but only going from the other direction, and only if you’re prepared to make a full day of it. If you are, it’ll be gorgeous!

GR-93 San Millan de Cogolla to Anguiano Hike

So we left off with us making the decision to go home, and we were waiting for the bus in San Millan. And waiting. And, guess what? No bus appeared. Either we were in the wrong spot, or the online bus schedule was wrong, but it was clear there was no option but to walk to Anguiano, and catch the bus from there as originally planned. I’m not gonna lie, at this point I was pretty nervous. I stretched and thought about crying and finally decided to pretend I was on The Challenge and just power through.

On the bright side the bus stop was right by the monastery, which was so pretty in the morning.

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We had a huge day ahead of us, so we prepared with a huge breakfast. This slightly improved my mood, as did the chocolate Gareth started forcing me to eat at random intervals. And I am SO glad we did the second day. Yes, by the end I was limping along, positive I had irreparably damaged my knee, but the second day was so gorgeous. We walked through the forest for a few hours, and didn’t see a single other person. We walked on a mountain rim, and saw an amazing mountain pass, with a path through it. Probably we’ll need to come back one day to climb it, because it was incredible.

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After about four hours of walking we passed a town that had a bar that was miraculously open, and we stopped and had a snack and a glass of wine. Then we walked about five more minutes and saw a trail marker. I ran up to it, sure we had another hour or two at most, because I was naive, and the wine had improved my view of the world. I found that we were halfway. Halfway.

There’s no picture of this marker because honestly, the discovery stung a bit. We’d been taking it slow because of my knee and suddenly I was worried we were going to miss our bus back to Logroño. But the next hour or so was all on flat ground, and we passed through a town and then walked on a (really pretty) street for quite a while. It was a nice break, and still really gorgeous.

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Eventually Anguiano was in sight, but not before the path led us up a long and winding mountain. It was really incredible–we could see the trees with all their colors everywhere, the village across the river, and there were cows EVERYWHERE. Up until this point we had encountered many a cow, but always with enough room to just casually (or frantically, if you are me and not Gareth) walk by them. But now we were on a MUCH narrower path and there were about five cows just chilling along the way. We tried to herd them a bit before G climbed up a trail behind them and dropped a rock down. (To be clear NOT on them, just so the noise disturbed them and they moseyed away.) Then we were on the real and actual final stretch. We had to walk back down the mountain which was the final straw for my knee. Before the descent, however, there was a marker saying only 2 kilometers left, which gave me the motivation I needed to get it done. THAT SAID, that marker is a huge lie and it was much, much more than 2K. Just FYI.  I commandeered a stick as a crutch and hobbled along like a crippled 90 year old woman. Also I slipped and fell in mud/possibly poo hahaha. So imagine how amazing this trek was that I was STILL amazed by the beauty and so happy to be there.

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the lying marker

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At the end of the final trail there was a gate to the bridge that would let us cross the river into town. We were done, except for the last cow in our way. Gareth went to herd it and discovered that no, it was not a cow. IT WAS A BULL. He attempted to tell me this in a calm and reassuring manner, which my brain interpreted as him calmly telling me to GTFO of there. So in about .5 seconds I had slid between the fence that was keeping us all in and was dangling on the mountain ledge. G walked over, asked WHAT I was doing and if I would please come out so we could carry on walking. Oops. In reality this guy seemed way less interested in us than any of the cows were. That said, Gareth and I have made some cow enemies over the years…

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Anyway, we went through the gate, into safety, across the bridge, and INTO ANGUIANO!

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The bus stop back to Logroño is right by the bridge and there was a bar about a minute farther down the road. Again it wasn’t a time they were serving any food, but it was the only place open. So they offered to make us some bocadillos, and we played cards and drank wine for a few hours until our bus. It was pretty excellent.

I cannot recommend this hike enough. It was INCREDIBLY gorgeous, had a seriously diverse landscape–sometimes we were in mountains, sometimes in the forest, by a river, or passing through a small village. Other than our start, mid, and end points, we only saw four other people the entire time, and they were all working on the land. We had the entire trail to ourselves, and that was as amazing as it sounds.

Pertinent Information:

It was SUPER well marked, though we did get lost once and it was pretty much the worst. We had just spent about 45 minutes going down a long, winding road to the bottom of a mountain. And then the trail seemed to be taking us straight back up, just on a direct/steeper trail. I was so sure it was a shortcut to get down to where we were from the top, but G ran ahead on the road we were on and there wasn’t another marker anywhere nearby us. So we took the incredibly steep trail, which led us… back where we started. It was pretty disheartening. We debated going back down the long, easy way, but I couldn’t imagine sinking another 45 minutes into it, and we were back down the steep path in about 20 minutes. And discovered the trail continued straight ahead, behind the road we had been on. We didn’t think to look down the edge of the road, but that’s where the next marker was. BUT other than that, we didn’t miss a beat and I can’t get over these trails Spain just has built in everywhere, no maps needed!

The buses to/from Logroño and Anguiano were super easy. We bought the tickets on each bus, and slept during the rides. The way there was about an hour and fifteen minutes and the way back was 45. I have no clue what the bus situation in San Millan is, and if you figure it out please let me know!

GR-93 Ezcaray to San Millan de Cogolla Hike

A few weeks ago Gareth came back to Logroño so we could work on our new goal to do all the best northern Spanish hikes, and do a few days of the GR-93. I heard about this route before coming to Spain and it was at the top of my list because it was supposed to offer amazing views with tons of fall foliage–basically all this New England girl could ever want. Spoiler alert, it delivered.

The portion we would be doing would start from Ezcaray, with a night in San Millan de Cogolla, and the bus back to Logroño from Anguiano.

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Day One

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Day Two

We left Logroño Friday morning on the only early bus (6:45 am) and we arrived in Ezcaray at 7:30 am. It was dark. It was FREEZING. Apparently it’s much colder in Ezcaray than the surrounding areas, which on the plus side means come winter there’s skiing, and on the terrible side means we were dropped off on the outskirts of a freezing, empty, dark town. Guys it was so cold. We walked the most intuitive way, and ended up in the town center. No food places were open yet, but there was a tiny shop open that served coffee and tea. We went inside and pooled all the clothes we had to try to warm up (read, I stole every article of clothing Gareth wasn’t wearing, and one he was). We had tea, watched Spanish news tear into Trump, and then when the sun came out and a few other shops opened, left to find breakfast. Also in the light of day this was one of the prettiest little villages I’ve seen so far!

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The great thing about this hike, and all Spanish hikes I’ve experienced thus far, is that they are all very well marked with paint. This route was red and white, and it became a game (though not a fun one because my competition was not nearly on my level), to see the markers first.

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The first day was amazing. We basically hiked up a mountain, down a mountain, walked through the town, and back up the next mountain. Did anyone else, as a kid, ever see mountains or hills in the distance and really want to climb them just to see what was on the other side? That’s what this was like. And these villages… I honestly didn’t know people lived in villages so small. I’m still not sure they DO because we never actually saw any people in the smallest ones. To be honest, we didn’t see many people in the larger ones either. It was strange. We didn’t prepare well, and only had a little bit of food for the journey, so every time we did see a person we asked if there was anywhere to buy any food and the answer was always no. Even in San Millan de Cogolla, the much more populated village where we spent the night, the nearest supermarket was 5 kilometers from town. What!

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Right at the end of the first day, my knee started hurting. I injured in a million years ago doing gymnastics, and we have worked out a deal where basically if I don’t use it, it won’t bother me. So I don’t do lunges or high impact activities, and it pretends it’s a fully functioning knee. But descending five different mountains in about six hours was pretty much its breaking point, and I hobbled the rest of the way into San Millan.

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San Millan, it has to be said, is COMPLETELY gorgeous. The walk in is along a river and a really cool stone wall/orchard. The village is fairly big, and has a few different monasteries (one of which houses the first record of written Spanish), and we saw more than five people just out and about, which is a real crowd in smaller Spanish villages. You might say San Millan was hoppin’. (But you shouldn’t because it was still only about five people.)

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In my research I couldn’t find anywhere in San Millan to stay, but I found a few options on airbnb in Berceo, which was only 1.5 kilometers away. The only downside is you have to walk down a fairly busy street, which was fine during the day, but after seeing the way people were whipping by at night, and how dark it was, we played it safe and had dinner at the one restaurant in Berceo instead of heading back to San Millan.

Berceo kind of freaked me out at first. There was no one around. Small Spanish villages often feel like ghost towns, or like you accidentally just wandered into Roanoke. Add to that the fact that there was nowhere to buy any sort of groceries or pharmacy related items, my knee was killing me, we were trapped and couldn’t safely get to San Millan, I started feeling like we were in a horror movie. We found the one dinner place, and were two of about four patrons there when we arrived at 8:00. They told us the kitchen was open yet, because this is Spain and 8:00 is still way too early for dinner, but they were super nice and gave us snacks while we waited.

So we played cards–side note, the most common deck of cards here only has 40 cards in a pack! There aren’t any face cards, and the whole thing is pretty confusing. We invented a bastardized version of golf, drank some more wine (which helped me switch from thinking we were in a horror movie to a tiny romantic village), and by the time the first of our three courses arrived, I was feeling much better.

Better mentally that is, physically my knee was at about a code red/black. Whichever is worse. We went to sleep knowing that we might not be able to continue the next day, and planned to walk to the bus stop in San Millan to assess how I felt and potentially go back to Logroño. There were only two buses from San Millan, one in the morning and one at night, and the smaller villages we were passing through didn’t even have people, let alone bus service. So we woke up early, walked to the bus stop assessed. I decided I was being insane and if I could barely walk for five minutes, a seven hour hike up and down a bunch of mountains was a terrible idea.

Read Part Two here!

Asturian Hike and Road Trip

I arrived in Spain the day before orientation, but two weeks before work actually began. I knew I wanted to fit in a trip or two, but wasn’t exactly sure where to go. South of France? Stay in Spain? I also didn’t want to miss much of San Mateo, or any job interviews, and it seemed like everyone was going out every night in a desperate bid to avoid being friendless and alone.

I mapped out a trip to Asturias that would have lasted about three days, but we cut it down to two days, one night to avoid leaving Brady for too long/being away from all the action in Logroño. This worked fine, but was a LOT of driving. I basically lied to Gareth about the length of every leg of the trip, mostly because my brain refused to accept the fact that driving many miles/kilometers amounts to many hours in the car. Sorry Gareth. You can look below and see the actual estimates. Oops.

We rented a car in Logroño and drove to the Ikea in Bilbao first. I needed some things to set up my room–a mattress pad (fun fact, my bed is actually two twin mattresses of DIFFERENT HEIGHTS pushed together, which is even less comfortable than it sounds), a desk, a mirror, and some plants, obvs. My room is now amazing.

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From Bilbao we headed to Asturias, first to the Mirador del Fitu. This was up some windy mountain roads, and I was 99% convinced I was getting us nowhere but lost until we finally arrived at a parking lot. The view from below the stairs was impressive enough, and once we climbed up, we were looking at one of the best views I’ve ever seen. We hung around soaking it in for a while before heading down to start the journey to the Covadonga lakes.

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Note that if you’re following the same route, it’s fastest to continue driving the same direction you were going to get to the Mirador. We discovered this only after we had retraced our path down the mountain and got GPS signal back. We had to turn around and head back up which added like 20 minutes to the total driving time and did nothing to help my car sickness.

Also note that the drive up to the Covadonga Lakes is sketchy as hell. You are on the outside of a mountain road the whole way, and the drop offs are ridiculous. It was terrifying, especially with a Brit driving whose natural instincts were to do everything backwards. But, if you can get up there without dying, it’s so worth it. There’s free parking, the views were gorgeous, and you’re right in the mountains. There’s a lot to explore and a hike around the lake if you have time–we didn’t do the hike but still found enough to do to fill about an hour. It was pretty great and I highly recommend if you’re into lakes/mountains. Maybe find someone non-British to drive, though.

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From the lakes we drove to Las Arenas, where we spent the night. The Ruta del Cares starts from Poncebos, but I had a hard time finding accommodation, so we stayed the next town over.  We woke up at like 7am (before the entirety of Las Arenas/the sun), and drove the 15 minutes to the start of the hike. Again there was another free parking lot at the start of the trail. We had coffee/tea at a restaurant/hotel that was right there, and then we were on our way!

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The hike was amazing. It was like being in another world, just up on the edge of a mountain. We started really early so we only passed a few other people on the way.

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It is high. There’s really no getting around that, much as I hated it. But if you stay on the inside of the trail, you can’t really see the drop off, and it feels pretty okay. The biggest problem was on the way back, when we were on the outside and virtually none of the couples we passed would separate long enough to let us pass by without being forced to the very edge of the cliff. Tip: if you are on a narrow path with a million foot drop off, detach from your SO long enough to let the people on the outside comfortably pass. It’s basic human decency.

The trail is meant to be 3 hours each way, but we did it in 2.5 there and 2.75 back without trying too hard. The very beginning is the only real elevation, so it’s a pretty steep 20 minute climb. This was harder on the way down because it’s really easy to skid and the consequences of falling are pretty much life ending. So slower was good at that part, but after that bit the walk was flat and super easy.

You go from Asturias to Castilla y Leon, and you end at a tiny, tiny pueblo called Caín. It’s a few houses, I think four restaurants that cater to hikers, and a gift shop that looks pretty stuck in time. We got there before lunch, and had to wait for about an hour for any food to be ready. But then we got to have our second menu del dia of the trip, and man am I obsessed. You basically get bread, two large/medium sized plates, water/coffee/tea, dessert, and a BOTTLE OF WINE for like 10 euros. They have this in Logroño but it’s like twice as expensive and not as cost effective as pincho hopping.

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After a big meal and a half a bottle of wine each, we headed back. This time it was much busier because the after lunch crowd all left around the same time, but even though it took longer it felt much faster. Maybe because of all the wine?

Notes for other people with a very rational fear of heights… there are only two points that really freaked me out–the two bridges. One is where the path has kind of given way. It’s really short and you can be over it in about 5 seconds, but there’s a point where the bottom is a grate you can look through the get a clear idea of how very heigh you are. I would suggest not looking. The second bridge was way worse because you cross from one side to the other and that is long and really high and I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Otherwise, if you stick to the inside you can virtually never see the drop and can pretend it doesn’t exist.

We finished the hike, and started the long drive back to Logroño. Did you know that road tolls in Spain are like 20 euros every time? Because we did not and that is something worth including in the old budget. Also gas is ridiculously expensive in Europe, but I think that’s more commonly known. We pulled over into some weird industrial space and I had my first lesson (of this decade) on how to drive stick. It was pretty easy but there weren’t any other cars around and I think that made a prettttty big difference. I can tell you this much, I didn’t like it. I don’t why you’d choose to make driving more complicated, but that’s just me (being logical).

We arrived home and collapsed in a heap of exhaustion. It was a lot of driving. Again, sorry G. But also totally worth it. (So, also you’re welcome.)