¡Iberian Espectacular! – Day 3

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June 4th, 2018 – Barcelona, Spain to Valencia, Spain: ~475 miles
It’s finally time for us to get on a bike!


Did you miss Days 1 and 2? Vy and I fly across the Atlantic and then walk around Barcelona a bit.


The corporate offices of BMW Spain are in Madrid, but they kindly arranged to have our bike ready at a dealership in Barcelona. I was told via email that the bike would be available at 8:30am, but the prior night I looked up the hours of the dealership and their website said the doors opened at 8am. I wanted to hit the road as early as possible, so I dragged Vy out of the hotel room early to get to the dealership at 7:55.

The location is a little odd as it’s flanked by unappealing apartments.

Turns out I was told 8:30am for a reason – while the dealership opens at 8, the gentleman who has the key to our bike doesn’t arrive until 8:30. Oops. An employee kindly gets us set up in the waiting area and grabs us a couple of drinks from the “Isetta Bar”. This is of course a riff on “Isetta Car”, the adorable Italian microcar that BMW ended up licensing. BMW’s variant was the world’s first production car to return 78 miles per gallon, which seems like a weird number to Americans but it corresponds to a much more reasonable milestone of 3L/100km across the pond.

The BMW Isetta ended up becoming the most popular single-cylinder car (can cars be “thumpers”?) ever with 161,728 examples sold.

I assumed Vy would be annoyed that we got to the dealership earlier than necessary, but she was enjoying the showroom more than I expected. Vy’s had a Mini Cooper since the model was re-introduced in 2002, but she’s just retired it and taken over a friend’s lease of a BMW i3 – she’s waiting for the next generation of electric cars before she buys – so this BMW/Mini shop was perfect for her.

So many things to not buy!

Don’t worry, we brought Baby Jack along for this trip, too.

I guess he’s sick of always being on the back.

As the clock hit 8:30am, our bike appeared! It’s a 2018 BMW R1200RS in “Frozen Bronze/Black Storm Metallic”. My first impression was that the paint color sounds a lot cooler than it looks. I was also a little surprised by the color of the bags. No matter what color of R1200RS you order, the bags will be in Matte Grey Metallic. As Vy will confirm, I’m no paragon of style, but I didn’t think the grey looked great with the bronze/black combo.

The US gets three color options. My personal favorite is the Light Grey Metallic/Magellan Grey Metallic with a red frame.

But the color of the bags wasn’t the most pressing issue. Vy and I are used to touring on ADV bikes, which typically have giant bags and a trunk. While the R1200RS can have three bags, they’re a little smaller than our usual fare – especially the trunk. The side bags ($1,172) hold 63 liters total. You can fit a full size helmet in either and there’s a clever shelf bottom that makes organization easier but it does take up a little bit of space. The top case ($954) stores 30 liters and is very valuable to Vy not just as luggage but also as a backrest. Still, the price difference between the top case and the side bags seems like it should be wider.

I almost had a disaster as I could not get my 15.6″ laptop to fit in the side bags. Thankfully, I was barely able to sneak it in the trunk. This is my “how the hell am I going to get everything in this luggage” face:

Spoiler alert: I didn’t fit everything. I ended up leaving a few items behind like my hat and flip flops.

After saying our goodbyes, we took off west for the village of Borja. Whenever I ride in a foreign country (especially with Vy and a whole bunch of luggage on the back), I take a few moments to see how traffic works before I attempt to split lanes.

Letting this guy be my guinea pig.

As I mentioned in the introduction, I feel at home on a BMW boxer. Plus, the drivetrain is just about perfect for this trip – the motor’s powerful enough that 870 pounds of bike/riders/gear won’t be a bother and the shaft drive means I don’t even have to worry about inspecting or cleaning a chain. We just have to ride and enjoy the sights.

With that said, there weren’t many sights to enjoy on this first leg. The overall plan was to do a lap of the Iberian Peninsula, staying near the coastline as much as possible. Borja was the one exception, and it required a 3 hour sprint to the interior of Spain. My biggest complaint from last year’s trip to the UK returned, as Spain likes speed cameras. My general policy was to hang out around the speed limit, wait for someone faster to go by, then play follow the leader.

Fun fact – as you can see from this sign, Spain is lined up on the Prime meridian, which is what sets Greenwich Mean Time. But for some reason, Spain is an hour ahead. It’s in the wrong time zone, and it throws off residents! The average Spaniard sleeps 53 minutes less per night than other Europeans.

Normally a 3 hour ride to start the day wouldn’t be a big deal, but if we didn’t get to our destination in Borja before siesta started, we’d have to wait 2-3 hours before it opened up again and that would ruin the schedule for the rest of the day. We chugged along the main highway, which happened to be a toll road. We spent about 200 miles on the toll road, so I knew I’d be paying a few bucks for the privilege. Still, I was shocked to see that the bill ended up being over €30!

My $35 lesson – avoid the toll roads! Thankfully, this would be the only day where we were truly in a rush and required to use the “autopista”.

You may also remember from the introduction that Vy and I wanted to see a painting called Ecce Homo. It’s a 1930s painting of Jesus on a church wall that started deteriorating, and in 2012 a local artist apparently got permission from the church to restore it. It went poorly:

The original, the effects of time, and the “restoration”.

Local public reaction was full of scorn, but as the story made its way around the internet most people just found it funny and a bit sad. It’s somehow become a tourist attraction and we wanted to see what the fuss was about. Vy’s Lonely Planet book said that the church was open until 2pm, so I thought we were OK when we pulled in at 1:25pm. Turns out the book listed peak season hours, and the church was actually supposed to close at 1:30pm. The sweet lady who was supervising seemed annoyed with our late arrival at first but after we explained that we had come from California she was kind enough to keep things open for a few minutes longer so we could walk around. I figured she’d try to kick us out after 5 or 10 minutes but she generously showed us around for half an hour.

Ever since this sleepy little church has become popular, they’ve started asking for a €2 donation per visitor.

Continue past the booth and you’ll enter the nave.

It’s pleasant, but the sign on the right shows why everyone really comes here.

Funny how there was no protection on it when the painting was good, but now that it’s garbage it’s almost treated like the Mona Lisa. The plastic covering creates lots of glare and reflection so it’s difficult to get a good photo, but it’s a weird thing to see in person – do the ends justify the means? The local economy has been revitalized, but it’s a shame that this is the reason why.

The painting got picked up by international news sources in 2012 and within 4 years the church had seen over 160,000 visitors.

Vy attempts to place a pin in Los Angeles.

The painting has its own Facebook page, and our nice host asked if we’d pose for a photo to be shared:

The more I learn, the crazier it gets: there are two different local wineries that are in a legal battle to see which one can use an image of the painting on their labels. In March 2016, they opened up a museum full of interactive exhibits dedicated to the painting.

Baby Jack and Vy do their best Jesus impressions. Is this sacrilegious? I honestly have no idea.

The craziest thing of all might have been in August of 2016 when an OPERA about the whole saga premiered:

They’re really embracing it! The painting has also been given the nicknames of Potato Jesus and Ecce Mono (Behold the Monkey)

I thought the whole thing was lunacy, but it was raining and dreary when Vy and I entered the church. When we were done, it was sunny and beautiful. Maybe Potato Jesus is real, for he had blessed us.

Borja is about 45 minutes northwest of Zaragoza.

The church is up on a hill a few klicks out of town. On our way back through Borja, Vy noticed this hotel sign. She thought it was hysterical and we had to stop for a photo.

This logo is all over the place.

We headed south to the next stop Vy had planned – the town of Albarracin.

Vy loves flowers!

There is apparently an organization called “The Most Beautiful Villages of Spain“, and Albarracin is rightfully on the list.

We did a lap of town on the bike, but this town is best explored on foot.

After the Spanish Civil War, the town was almost entirely destroyed. Authorities decided to invest in a rebuild of the community with traditional methods and they made everything pink by using local clay.

Our walk took us by this combination of a Lada Niva (which I liked) and a cat (which Vy liked).

Even the manhole covers are fancy here!

We quickly stopped by the local tourism office, and the employee on duty told us that the best view of town would require a hike up to the top of the hill – that was music to Vy’s ears.

Baby Jack needed a breather after his hike.

These girls were turning a cardboard box into an imaginary car. It was refreshing to see kids hanging out without electronics involved. Of course, I say that with a phone glued to one hand and my camera glued to the other…

Apparently the tourism employee knew what she was talking about. The view was worth the trek!

We continued south towards Valencia, our planned destination for the night.

This would be Baby Jack’s spot for the trip.

I could get used to this.

We stopped in Teruel for dinner, but after walking to our dinner location I realized I had left the saddlebags unlocked. I went back to lock them, leaving Vy at the table for a few moments. While I was gone, she took this picture. At first I thought she was just amused/disgusted by the bugs, but I later saw the little figurines in the corner. A couple of women were taking photos of the figures in different spots, and one of the locations just happened to be near the helmet so Vy snapped a pic.

Hope Vy’s not giving me some sort of hint…

I had not learned my lesson yet and got some more beer. It wasn’t very good.

We were randomly joined at dinner by a riding club that called themselves “Team Mudéjar Teruel”.

Vy took this opportunity to remind me that she could have been on a K1600GT, living in the lap of luxury.

Mudéjar translates to “tamed”, and it refers to the regional architectural style.

Looks like they know how to have a good time together – they post some of their rides online.

The beer may not have been any good, but the food was excellent. Vy and I got back on the road towards Valencia, excited that we would soon be back on the coast.

Catching sunset on the road.

Southern Spain, here we come!

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