You can easily call it a mug's game: We only have four weeks to travel more than 13,000 kilometers. In the process, we cross the boundaries of nine countries. Beginning with a ride to Spain's sunny Seville, the site of the last World's Fair Exposition, and Gibraltar, we "strolled" back to Antwerp before embarking on a much-anticipated trip to the Arctic Cape.
A Day in France
It is not, of course, my first extended motorcycle trip. But around six o'clock in the morning, once I meet the highway, the prospect of such a long journey gives me the shivers. The cold weather on my way to Paris doesn't help alleviate the situation either. But the air is mixed with the bakery smells that greet me at French border and 'sfumato,' the smoky mist above the fields, which reminds me of Tuscany, Italy, one of the few European countries my tires won't touch this trip.
Once past Bordeaux, we enter the Landes - flat as a billiard table's felt and as stultifying as a Catholic talk show. The closer to the Spanish border we get, the more tiresome the route, and it appears we're not the only ones killing time. In a rural pastiche poured across a shadowed terrace on the French side of the border, the custom agents in Valcarlos indolently fan their playing cards while joking with the truckers passing through. When a busload of tourists draws up, the agents don't bat an eye. After all, with Union, there are no borders in Europe anymore.
In Pamplona and Logorno, vastly modernized during the last decade, we encounter new roads and sleek buildings. The roadsides between Soria and Aranda are blanketed in the most beautiful flowers. In the Dos Estrellas hostel where we take breakfast (an enormous tortilla and a good mug of coffee), we're told the spring was exceptionally wet. That explains the splendid array of colors.
The destination at the end of our third day is Salamanca, the renowned center of learning. The gateway to the dry Sierras, its ochre buildings rising from the banks of the Rio Tormes, Salamanca is a student city and it's quite obvious why. Bridges over the river connect their residential quarters with the old city center, where groups of students regularly fraternize with the tourists We can tell a party's in full swing by the number of weaving, wobbling drunks we have to dodge.
Making our way through the singing and shouting throng while looking out for the famous façade of the university is no easy task. And just like all tourists, when we do find it, we stop to ferret out a small sculpted frog hidden amid the rich decorations of this sandstone structure. According to legend, the faster a student finds the frog, the easier his studies will be. Finally spotting him, crouched on top of a skull at the right side of the doorway, I must presume the attainment of any future erudition shall be a tedious, and exceedingly laborious process.
Evening descended and the students slowly dispersed from the center of the square, a lovely sight with pine trees at its borders where the old and new cathedrals meet. Shadow crawl covered most of the burnished façades by the time we left the beautiful Art Deco Museum. One little girl lugging her tuba past the cathedral walls enters the music school. Its dark gate clangs behind her and the street is wrapped in a pall of silence. The only noise comes from rattling wings - the ever-present white storks of Salamanca.