Puigcerda to Ripoll - From Munich to Spain to France - CycleBlaze

May 14, 2024

Puigcerda to Ripoll

Why we freak out at train travel

So, one way I could report on today would be to say:

“The weather report was for rain all day so we decided to take the train from Puigcerda to Ripoll. The train was late so we arrived an hour and a half late into Ripoll.”

In fact that is an accurate statement— but absolutely fails to appropriately describe what a shit show the day really was. 

The night before we had looked at the weather and it was frustratingly bad all day: cold and rainy. We had a 63 k, 1000 meter day ahead of us so it was not a day we could power through quickly. We have never taken the train in Spain before, nor had I researched it comprehensively, but I knew we were on a regional line and thought it likely a regional line would allow bikes. At the hotel last night we asked Daniel at the front desk whether the train would allow bikes. He said yes and you just buy a ticket for yourself and the bike goes for free. He thought there would be a live human at the ticket office but wasn’t sure. (We were hoping not to have to figure out a new ticket-buying machine in Catalan).

Additional online research gave train departure times of 8:36, 10:36 or 1:36. 8:36 was too early for us, absent absolute necessity, so we opted for 10:36, thinking that if we got to the train station and there was a problem we could still do the ride if we had too. When we woke up to a cold and rainy morning we changed our minds and decided to go for 1:36 instead. The hotel allowed an unusually liberal noon check  out and I had done some more research and the Rodelies train line unequivocally allowed one bike each so I thought we were safe.

We had an easy morning and enjoyed a new country’s breakfast buffet. Given we have spent 200 nights or so in the last two years eating European buffet breakfasts we laugh at how much we struggle at times with the customs and machines. Today it was the coffee machine which refused to make Dave’s coffee, and for Jill, it was all the new Catalan teas. She couldn’t find a black one to save her life. A few days ago it was the egg- boiling machine where Dave accidentally boiled an already hard-boiled egg for me instead of selecting a raw egg from the raw egg bowl! Today we enjoyed a new Catalan gateau (cake) and that tomato bread I mentioned last night, only this time the buffet left the ingredients (whole tomatoes, garlic cloves, oil, salt and pepper) and you were expected to make it yourself. (Why we travel  — things are different).

We packed up and left for the train station at 12:45. It was raining pretty hard but it was a 5 minute ride through town. When we arrived we were relieved to see a live human at the open ticket counter. (It was a small station). She spoke no English and when we indicated our ticket needs  with bicycles she started shaking her head, which scared the crap out of me: I thought she was saying “no bicycles” and Dave thought she she was saying “train is full,” but after some belabored back and forth she pulls out her phone and says via google translate: “train is late.” A sigh of relief: We could live  with that and duly paid 4.90 euros per ticket and sat down to wait. 

And wait. And wait.

In the meantime we started watching the annunciator. A train due to arrive at 11:50 had not arrived (and in fact never did arive) and the trains due to depart that afternoon had some mysterious red words scrolling underneath the expected departure time. We couldn’t understand a word of it but it looked ominous when the word “suspendida” flashed in red print next to our train departure time.

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 In addition, the human tension in the station began to mount. In the span of half an hour Dave went up to the ticket counter lady and confirmed twice that the train was still coming. She indicated yes, she thought a train was coming but she didn’t know when! It had a bit of that Italian thing going on: que sera sera, or whatever the phrase would be in Catalan.

At that point we started to approach other people waiting to get a better understanding of what was going on. It was hard because people there really don’t understand English and we realize how relaxed we had gotten with people in Europe in the tourist industry understanding us quite well. I approached a young guy, probably college age,  and asked if he spoke English. He said yes and he spoke haltingly but well enough. It turns out that vandals in Barcelona, where the train was coming from, had stolen the copper wire in the transmission lines so the trains couldn’t travel until this was repaired. He then also said something we heard for the next hour from a number of locals:  that the Spanish government doesn’t care about Catalonia and will not spend money on the Catalan train system so it suffers and is unreliable. Dave was able to google the story about the copper theft. Allegedly the theft was perpetrated by Catalan separatists who were protesting the results of the latest election. We wound up speaking with or listening to conversations with 3 or 4 other groups of locals waiting including a guy that worked at the station who was extremely skeptical that ANY train would be able to arrive, let alone depart back to Ripoll. He mentioned the possibility of a bus, but of course that wasn't an option for us given we have big e-bikes. One passenger reported that when the train arrives it was actually going onto France and we should wait until it returned to the station to board for Ripoll.

Dave and I started to review our options and they were problematic. There were two additional train departures after ours at 4:36 and 7:06. If they went we could hop on on of those but at that point we were pretty skeptical as to whether those trains would ever arrive. We thought about going back to our hotel- we were pretty sure it would have a room- and then try for the train again early in the morning, get off in Ripoll, and ride to our next destination, which is Olot. It would mean blowing off our already-paid for night in Ripoll and would result in a pretty full and stressful day. Setting aside the annoying expense part, we were concerned the trains would not be running even tomorrow and we would wind up cycling anyway, only now a day late. (We are due in Girona this coming weekend to meet friends and do a Trek Travel trip with them so we have a bit of a schedule to keep).

At that point Dave said, maybe we just get on our bikes and ride now. We could start out and maybe find a place on the road if we couldn’t get all 63 km of the way to Ripoll. I started checking other towns on our route for accommodations; there were some but they were at least 50 km away. It was now almost 3 pm, we’d had no lunch but on the positive end of things, the weather had cleared. If we started riding we’d have to find something to eat so I madly started researching groceries and cafes nearby. (The train cafe was closed, of course). Somebody walked into the station with a coffee so Dave asked where he got it and he immediately nipped out to a bakery  down the street and brought back a cafe con leche (Spanish latte) and a croissant.  Just as I’m chowing down on my last bites a train suddenly arrives without announcement. Everybody starts scrambling out of the station and madly boarding in sort of a maniacal way.  We were unsure whether to board or not given the info we had been given that the train was going on to France first before turning around and returning. We start asking but there are no conductors or rail employees anywhere so we just decided to board and hope for best. It was a scene. Some random guy helped me with my bike. The train departed with no announcement and we ultimately determined  it’s going to Ripoll, and not France. Yippee!

It was a lovely ride through great countryside on a very nice, newer train with reasonable bike spaces and roll on boarding. We were relieved and happy. The experience also gave us a window on the Catalan political situation. There has been a strong Catalan separatist movement in the past few years and earlier this week there was an election in which the local  separatist party lost ground in the elections, although the winning party did not receive enough votes to form a government and would need to form a coalition. A big part of the dispute involves whether Catalan supporters should be granted amnesty for past political but nevertheless illegal acts.

We had the train car all to ourselves until a couple of stops before Ripoll when a group of 30 or so teenagers all boarded and filled up our car. We figured it was some sort of school outing as there were a couple of teachers trying to keep the kids calm. It was an uphill battle. 

The calm before the invasion.
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And then we had company.
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When we disembarked at Ripoll close to 5 pm we were also thrilled that the small train station had a working lift system; the lifts were small so Dave had to take the bikes one at a time and pull the front wheel up to get the bikes inside.   I would have great difficulty doing that myself. 

Our hotel, La Trobada, was a bit of a contradiction. It was billed as a 4* “boutique” hotel and more expensive than other places have been in the region (151 euros without breakfast). It was quite nice but our room was tiny and we were at the end of the hall and the WiFi didn’t work in the room. Up to this point we have had no problem with WiFi so we have just stopped worrying about it, so this was mildly annoying. The WiFi would work a little bit if the door to the hallway was open and you stood at the door. We asked if we could switch rooms and, although they were nice about it they said there were no other rooms in our category so they couldn’t switch. Since there were probably 5 rooms occupied in the entire hotel, this was pretty lame. In order to get a bathtub, I had to order the “Romance package,” which meant there was fake rose petals all over our bed and in the tub. We cracked up about that but honestly, we would rather have had working WiFi!

Jill is such a romantic fool 😍
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As noted numerous times, dining out in Europe can be frustrating on Sundays and Mondays as most restaurants are closed on these days, but we also have discovered that Tuesdays can be equally problematic, at least that's been the case in the Catalonia. The hotel desk clerk recommended a couple of places she was sure we're open, but the first one we tried was closed so we wandered around and found La Piazetta, a basic Italian sort of place. We sat down and were mostly ignored by the lone waitress. Our expectations were not very high. However, we were delighted when our appetizer of cod carpaccio arrived along with a delightful pizza sized flat bread. The cod was excellent. This was followed by a very serviceable pizza. We ordered a bottle of wine and the waitress brought us their house wine which was pretty darn good, especially given it cost us only 7 Euros! Our expectations were definitely exceeded.

We had survived the day.

Today's ride: 4 km (2 miles)
Total: 593 km (368 miles)

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Scott AndersonWell, there’s a day to look back on and savor. Glad it worked out!

Those separatists! They’ve been at it a long time. We biked through the region going the other direction into Spain seven years ago, right on the day when the secession vote was held. It was quite a scene, with secessionist flags hanging out of windows everywhere you looked and police monitoring the polling station. They really don’t want to be part of Spain any more.
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4 weeks ago
Betsy EvansQuite a day! I challenge you to find a Spanish flag hanging in Catalonia. As far as I can tell, there are none. 🇪🇸
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4 weeks ago