My mum loved the unique nature and birdlife in Gotland and this
was planned as a family excursion for her, Christopher and myself.
Christopher has a keen interest in medieval history and
Gotland has plenty of historical sites. In addition, I have an aunt with vast
local historical knowledge living in Visby, so this would make for the perfect
family excursion. At least that was the plan prior to mum’s cancer diagnosis. For
a long time we hoped our planned trip could go ahead, but when time draw closer,
we realised that she wouldn’t be able to come with us. She was still keen for
us – and especially for Christopher who had never been there – to go and
explore the island and have a good time.
Gotland can be very touristy during the high season, but we were given excellent recommendations by my aunt Siv. On her suggestion, we rode stretch of road in the south captured in the video below, arriving along the coast at Hoburgsgubben, a rock formation which, with some imagination, can be interpreted as a man, or perhaps a troll. We decided to video the journey, so we could show mum upon our return, and here it is now for everyone to enjoy:
In addition to this video, we took lots of photographs for mum, thinking that we at least could share our experience with her. Fortunately, we had time to show them to her before she passed away. As they were intended for mum, the main focus is nature, flowers and birds.
We don’t have one language in common, instead we speak three languages in between the three of us, Japanese, English and Spanish, as we take shelter in a local Spanish restaurant in Gracia. I had wanted to show my international friends the area in Barcelona where I used to live, before moving to Calafell. My plan for this evening included our normally pleasant weather – not a steady downpour. But the food is excellent and the company better still, despite some occasional confusion when we speak the wrong language to the wrong recipient. The bartender is amused by our group and absolutely thrilled when he learns that Selma is originally from Argentina and they even have a common home town. He brings us strawberry gazpacho to celebrate this. Selma orders Argentinian meat, Sono is excited by the idea of Spanish tapas and we share three little plates followed by three rather large cakes for desert. It’s been a busy week for them, when you come from Japan to spend a week in Catalunya then you must make the most of it. They have been riding in the Pyrenees together with Sue from WIMA GB and, in addition, managed to see some of what Barcelona has to offer in the culture department: Gaudi’s architecture and Picasso’s art. To complete the list, we managed some shopping for Spanish goods before dinner.
On my behalf, it’s been a couple of eventful weeks, moving houses, starting a new teaching position and in the midst of it all my WIMA friends from England and Japan basically arrived on my doorstep. Sue had rented a house up in the Pyrenees and I joined her for some amazing riding. We were lucky to be recommended a brilliant route by fellow bikers. It was 200 kilometres filled with twists and turns, it kept us busy until evening in fact, with various coffee and photo stops along the route. We started off in Col de Nargo and headed to Berga along route L-401, in the morning the road was quiet, but we soon met lots and lots of bikers, it was evident that the road was popular and we could see groups of bikers on different viewpoints along the route, as well as bikes passing us when we stopped for photos. Our return route took us up north approx. 20k and then back through the villages Saldes, Gosol, Tuixent and Sorribes. This road was not accepted by my GPS, possibly because some of the roads were tiny – my TomTom app does that sometimes, it overrules my choice of road. A small part of the route was on gravel, which reminded me that my bike isn’t suitable for gravel and I had better stay off it. Well, there are smooth gravel roads like the one to my parents’ house in Sweden (which is a piece of cake to ride), and this looked like that to begin with, but soon got loose and my road tyres were sliding. Arriving on tarmac made me both praise civilisation and wish I had a smaller, lighter bike with offroad tyres so I could do it all again. I can definitely see myself on a smaller bike in the future.
After the weekend, while I had to return to work, Sue was expecting our Japanese friends for a few days riding. However, our planned ride out to meet them as part of my return had to be drastically changed due to some very expected events. While lifting my very sleepy head to check the time early Monday morning (public holiday here so I wasn’t going to go to work anyway) I found out that it was 4:30am. I also found out that Sono had ended up on Mallorca instead of Barcelona and that Selma, who had arrived in Barcelona on a different flight, had been pickpocketed and lost all her money. They were on a tight schedule, since Japanese people hardly ever get more than a week off work consecutively, and their hire bikes were waiting for them. The decision was easy, I would await sunrise and head down from the mountains and try to help. I’m spoiled, being used to a completely different work culture. I would personally never even consider flying to another continent during a week’s holiday, but they must make do. I absolutely admire their ability to make the most of it and I would do whatever I could to make things easier for them.
So, I met with Selma and we tried to locate the rental place. Firstly, I feared that the place didn’t exist and that their booking offer was fraudulent. Luckily, it turned out that the company had not announced that they had moved place and changed phone number and we did track them down in the end. When we finally arrived, and explained Sono’s predicament, the owner kindly offered to keep the place open until 4pm. I had already offered Sono to take my bike up to the Pyrenees if she wouldn’t make it, but since her booking couldn’t be cancelled we were still hoping she would be able to make it – and she did – literally in the last minute her taxi arrived. I was very happy to contribute to making their arrival in Barcelona a little less stressful and be able to escort them out of Barcelona and on their way up to the Pyrenees, no doubt they were tired after their long flight to Europe and their respective mishaps, and I wanted them to have a smooth start to their riding at least.
While they enjoyed the mountains, I returned to work. We had scheduled to meet up again on Friday, Sono’s last day in Europe and in the restaurant in Gracia we closed the circle. Selma’s flight was a couple of days later so we made plans for the weekend – we learned that we both have a passion for books so we spent Saturday morning in bookshops. I was amazed to learn that she was named after a Swedish author, Selma Lagerlöf and I secretly sought out a Spanish edition of one of her books as a present. Selma, the author, is native to my region in Sweden and her house Mårbacka is now an impressive museum and celebration of the author’s life. She was also the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not a bad character to be named after, I must say!
Since Selma had dreamed about having dinner next to the sea, we had to make this happen for Saturday night, and then we did the same for Sunday lunch but here in Calafell. I was happy to welcome her as my fist visitor to my village and we were both quite surprised as we stumbled upon a local charity ride in support of children with Dravet Syndrome here in Calafell harbour, “Rolling for Kids”, it was called. We had an interesting chat with the organisers and showed our support before continuing our Sunday stroll along the beach, our feet in the water and the sun in our faces. We shared a typical Spanish three course Sunday lunch before Selma had to return to Barcelona.
Later the same day, while reflecting on the recent events during my evening tea on my balcony, I felt a sincere happiness to be part of WIMA. There are a lot of barriers and discord in the world, that is for sure, but I’ve had the time of my life together with people I wouldn’t have met without WIMA – considering the four of us come from four different countries and three different continents – to me this is amazing networking and great WIMA spirit.
I never thought I would have to mark myself safe on Facebook but now I have. It was hard to understand what was happening in my city and when a friend texted me to ask if I was ok, telling me a van had driven on to La Rambla and into people, I didn’t think much of it at first. We even continued chatting for a bit, until the next friend contacted me, and I realised that I should get in touch with my parents and read the news – in that order.
There wasn’t much information to begin with but during the afternoon I was following the live updates and got more and more information. At first it was believed that the attack could be related to the anti-tourist movement here in Barcelona – they have carried out aggressive attacks before – so it seemed to fit the bill. La Rambla is the most touristic place in Barcelona, after all. Little by little, the picture got clearer and it was clarified a terror attack by ISIS and nothing to do at all with the anti-tourist movement, you know the rest I suppose – it has been all over the news. It is also known that what happened at La Rambla, and later on the promenade in Cambrils, were just shadows of what was planned by the terror cell in Ripoll, if something had not gone wrong when they attempted to build bombs.
We had passed Ripoll on our camping holiday a week prior to the terror attack – it is a beautiful little town by the foot of the mountains. We were coming down from the Pyrenees, where we had met horrible rainstorms unexpectedly and had to splash out on a hotel. We were riding the lovely road N-260 towards Figueres and stopped in Ripoll for a stroll and a coffee. By then, the weather had changed and was now fantastic, blue sky and sunshine, and after the weather the previous day we truly enjoyed feeling the warmth from the sun. Life was beautiful and we were looking forward to some more sunshine and, in addition, culture – Figueres is Salvador Dalí’s home town and, while I’m not an art connoisseur by any means, he is my favourite artist. After enjoying the surroundings of Figueres, seeing Dalí’s house in Portlligat, and enjoying the night tour with complementary cava at the Dalí Theatre-Museum. Apart from the fact that I had smashed an egg in my top case, I’m inclined to say that it was a brilliant substitute plan and saved us freezing our bums off. After this detour, we returned to the mountains and what we had set out to do, namely check out the little Spanish enclave Livia and the tax haven Andorra. While I’ve passed the Pyrenees many times on my way to WIMA rallies further north, I have never really had time to criss-cross and take the small roads and go exploring. Now was the time for that and we fully enjoyed it.
Although Andorra is full of motorcycle gear shops, we resisted temptation and made a mental note to return next year when our helmets will need replacing – I had saved 200 euros buying my current helmet there a few years back. I did buy Christopher a packet of Haribo, though, which he was very excited about.
Our original plan was to stay up in the Pyrenees for a couple of weeks but, after finding out about the local annual festivity in our neighbourhood Gracía, we decided to cut our travels short and take advantage of this festival on our doorstep. We also had a long to-do-list since our illegal let has come to an end and we have, for some dubious reasons, been asked to move out at the end of this month. This put us in a bit of a tight spot but we thought we could find a solution for this as well as dealing with some more paperwork and getting the bike serviced all during the week of the festival. This is the background to why we happened to be in the city the afternoon of the terror attack – because of the Festa de Gracía and the boring to-do-list. The festival was amazing, we arrived back on the opening day and I struggled quite a lot to manoeuvre the bike towards our street – the streets were packed with people and dodging pedestrians in party mood, with the bike fully loaded and with Christopher on the pillion seat, was quite a challenge. But as soon as we had parked and unloaded the bike we were in party mood too – we had passed the Ghostbusters installment, complete with Mr Stay Puffed, the ghost busters, Zuul and her monsters so we knew we were up for something good. Never in my wildest imagination could I have imagined something grand like this, 22 streets were fully decorated according to themes like King Kong, the jungle, Alpine village, hell, the metamorphis of the butterfly, candy shop, etc. There were stages with live bands on a number of streets and squares and, in addition, outdoor clubs and bars in every corner. All the entertainment was free, everyone was happy. We got ourselves a couple of reusable festival cups and joined the party.
However, on Thursday afternoon the whole city went quiet, all we could hear was the police helicopter, that and the beeping of messages coming in asking if we were ok. Our flatmates, who had been studying in the living room, were also inundated with messages. They switched the TV on to discover what was happening. The festival noise that we had heard through our open window was gone, the streets were empty, the lights off, the bars closed. It felt surreal and the only way we could deal with that was to leave the house and go out. The purpose of terror is to make people afraid and to make them change their lives because of their fear. Therefore, we decided that we would do what we had planned, i.e. go out for drinks. A few other people had the same plan as us and there were a few bars open who catered for us – but the city was quiet and Barcelona is never ever quiet, not at any time day or night is it quiet. The following day we joined the masses for a minute of silence at Placa Catalunya, paying our respect to the dead and injured. Now the reality felt a bit more real, there were no speeches, no words were uttered, the only thing that finally broke the silence was the spontaneous clapping of the people and the chanting of “No tinc por” – which is Catalan for “I’m not afraid”. This is important I believe, to never give power to evil forces, regardless of what form they take, never let them make you afraid. So, we decided to not head back up into the mountains but rather take advantage of what we have in this beautiful city during our last week here. Although most of the things on my to-to-list are still undone due to the general state of things here, it seems like we have landed ourselves a winter contract for a flat in a seaside village. We’re finally getting out of the rut of illegal flatshares and have something for ourselves. I look forward to that. If that wasn’t good enough, for the first time ever my bike will have a garage.