On the Road: Motorcycle Touring from Madrid to Lisbon

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Jerry and Ann Larsen's 1,650 mile motorcycle touring experience from Madrid to Lisbon included a stop in Trujillo at the statue of Francisco Pizarro.
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Once seats of power, old castles are now popular tourist attractions.
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Even on modern paved roads in urban areas, Medieval architectural features like these battlements are close at hand.
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Rooftops provided a spectacular view of the region's mountains and rivers.

It is impossible with words and pictures to convey the feeling of sitting on two wheels, with a 110 horsepower motor propelling you and your wife through the twisting mountain roads, passing deep valleys and magnificent landscapes. We were on our third motorcycle touring trip with IMT starting in Spain during the last 14 months, traveling from Madrid to Lisbon. For those who are unfamiliar with Lisbon, it is the capital of Portugal and was the destination of most of the characters in the movie, “Casablanca” because of its status of neutrality. We stayed in the Paradores Hotels about half the time, which are hotels with luxury accommodation in castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings. Many are over 500 years old and it is amazing seeing the beautiful architecture and unique construction of each hotel. I am a 50 year Master Mason and a Knights Templar, so this trip was really interesting because of the many Templar churches and exhibits. As we stayed in ancient walled cities, you realize that war isn’t a new thing. The Templar exhibit pointed out that pagan Christianity was against war and war wasn’t acceptable until the church sanctioned it.

On our first day, we rode toward the Guadarrama Mountains on our way to Segovia. After passing through Nanacerrada, which has several ski stations, we rode through the “seven turns”  (switchbacks) that zigzag down through the verdant foliage. In Segovia we saw the Roman aqueduct that was built around the second half of the 1st century Classical era and the early years of the 2nd century. It is 90 feet high and still carrying water as of two years ago. We spent the night in the walled city of Avila, whose wall was started in 1090. Parts of “El Cid” were filmed here. We continued on to the Portuguese border passing cork trees with their red trunks that had been stripped to make purses and jewelry.

The ride continued through the Sierra de Gredos Mountains with their tight turns and spectacular scenery. We arrived in Ciudad Rodrigo, a walled medieval town just 16 miles from the border. Then it was on to Porto, Portugal via the Serra da Lapa and Serra de Leomil Mountains and along the Douro River which is beautiful, but very busy with traffic. Here we had a rest day and got to finally see the Atlantic Ocean. Leaving for Obidos, we headed into the Serra da Estrela Mountains, which makes Deal’s Gap seem like a straight line. We had to take a detour which lead us up a 45-degree narrow road with three switchbacks, until we hit a stop sign at the top, which I flew through and the road dropped 45 degrees in the opposite direction and 90 degrees to the right. WOW! I was feathering my clutch with the engine running over 4500 rpm’s; this was my skilled riding course for the day. These roads are famous motorcycle routes.

We spent the night in a nunnery which was built in 1830, but because of politics, a nun never slept here. From Obidos we followed the coast through a series of small Portuguese towns. I had a luncheon of Octopus in Ericeria, which was wonderful, on the Atlantic beach at a surfing area. We arrived in Queluz, where we had a rest day, and then travelled into Lisbon via high speed rail. Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and a very busy city, with many historical sites. Ann and I had deep fried sardines for lunch in the old section of the city. Leaving Queluz we headed over the Vasco de Gama Bridge that crosses the Tejo River. This bridge is the longest bridge in Europe and the ninth longest in the world and fun to ride over. On our way to Merida we stopped in Evora, which is a United Nations world Heritage Site. It is considered Portugal’s showpiece of medieval architecture and boasts a Roman temple, cathedral, Moorish arches, and a 16th century university. After seeing all the Roman ruins and roads in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and England, you realize how much of the earth the Roman’s did control. Merida is built upon Roman ruins; they are all over the city and actually inside some buildings.

Soon we were on our way to Jarandilla de La Vera with a picture stop in Trujillo in front of a statue of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who conquered the Incas in Peru. The horse has one hoof up, meaning he died of wounds from battle. Romans, Visigoths and the Moors had settled in the town before the Christians conquered it in 1232. There is a 10th century castle which was built by the Moorish armies on Roman foundations. It has a history which dates back a full 600 years before the birth of Christ. We continue on to Jarandilla de La Vera passing through a beautiful mountain pass to the Yuste Monastery, where Spanish King Carlos I retired to in 1556 with his 60 servants. 

Then it was on to Toledo via one of Spain’s great motorcycle roads, which means narrow, twisty, winding and in the mountains. Toledo is the ancient capital of Spain and was a center of Knights Templar. Here I purchase the stamp of the Templar; the emblem of the order is two knights mounted on the same horse (representing the duel vocation of the order – religious and military) with the inscription in Latin “sigilum militum Xpisti” – (stamp of Christ’s militia). We visited the Knights Templar exhibition, La Mancha Tapestries, and the Cathedral. We left Madrid passing historical windmills and riding through some of the most beautiful country we have ever seen twisting up and down in the mountains and through the valleys. It was a fitting way to end a wonderful motorcycle touring experience. MC

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