Here's another excerpt of my upcoming book. Hope you enjoy it...
My first ever time across a border into Spain was at the wheel of a sleek grey French Peugeot – albeit a rented one. My wife Roz and I were travelling, rather cautiously, along the N1 from Bayonne towards the pretty coastal town of Ribadesella. We were visiting Spain for a week. It was to provide a break from my riding, to climb a few mountains and to give Roz a first-hand glimpse of Segovia’s famous acueducto, built rather meticulously by the Romans during the 1st century A.D.
Having seen more of France from a bicycle seat than my own country, not to mention a fervent interest in French history long before my first turn of a pedal in Europe, I didn’t know too much about its Pyrenean neighbour Spain. Even the Vuelta a España seemed to pale into insignificance compared to its charismatic rival Le Tour de France.
As it still does! Then again, doesn’t every other bicycle race? Other than the captivating beauty of Penelope Cruz, a very lifeless Charlton Heston on the back of a horse in the movie El Cid, a few Year 8 student projects on Isabella of Spain, and above all, George Orwell’s fascinating novel Homage to Catalonia, I was rather inept when it came to recalling information on Spanish history, politics, culture, and particularly cycling.
Growing up in an Anglo-Saxon household and on a diet of Hollywood movies, there never seemed to be too much made about the significance of Spain. In fact, the Spanish seemed to be portrayed as either villains or at the very least, second-best. I remember a swashbuckling Errol Flynn making a mess of the Spanish Armada. The Moors always seemed to be the bad guys when it came to fighting the Christians, Cortés virtually singlehandedly destroyed a race of people and its culture, while Catherine of Aragon was so unwanted by her English husband King Henry VIII an entire new religion was created just so he could divorce her.
Today, historians are even questioning if Spaniard Christopher Columbus was in fact the first explorer to discover the Americas after all. That honour has since been bestowed on Viking sailor Leif Eriksson who even 500 years before Columbus was born, dropped anchor and set foot on North American soil.
Suffice to say early historical records didn’t treat Spain too kindly over the years while events in the 20th century didn’t make things any better. At least countries like Germany and Italy were able to rid themselves of fascist dictators following the horrific events of World War II. Meanwhile, the Spanish people were plagued by civil war until 1939. For the next 36 years they were forced to live under dictatorial rule until Head of State Francisco Franco died in 1975.