Cycling Spain with Jana Rihova

Cycling Spain with Jana Rihova

I have met many travellers over time, but I can honestly say I haven’t met anyone as fit, adventurous and inquisitive as Collingwood’s Jana Rihova.

Jana may well be the first person I have ever met to actually wear out a passport!

You may know Jana as the owner of SanDiego Italian Restaurant in Collingwood. If you don’t, you should meet soon.

The food is amazing in her restaurant, you certainly won’t go away hungry, and with some prompting, you can probably convince Jana to share a few amazing stories of her cycling adventures from places around the world that most of us only dream about visiting.

“Riding my bicycle gives me freedom, and I’m totally in a different world. Once I’m on the bike, I never want to stop riding!”

Jana has just returned with lot of stories and incredible photographs from another cycling adventure.

Having suitably recovered from her cycling marathon from North to South Vietnam, Jana has now completed an extensive exploration of Spain, viewing the sights and immersing herself into the country’s culture … and seeing it all from the seat of her bicycle.

Jana’s adventure began in Madrid and ended in Santiago de Compostella.


Madrid is the capital of Spain and the largest municipality in both the Community of Madrid and Spain as a whole. The city has more than 3.2 million residents.

From one of the largest Royal Palaces in Europe to Real Madrid’s stadium, there is so much to see and do a person has difficulty knowing where to start.

Paseo del Arte is one-kilometre stretch that is home to three of the best museums in the world, the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofía. The Puerta de Alcalá was built for Charles III in the 18th century, and is one of the most iconic monuments in Madrid.

Jana visited The Royal Palace of Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. The massive palace has 135,000 square metres of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms.


I took the train to Seville just in time to experience “Semana Santa” – the Holy Week.

My hotel was very close to the Cathedral, so I was in the middle of all the action. Over million people come to Seville to see the processions, which they go for the whole week, day and night. I lived my dream there to cycle and to be present to this special occasion. Didn’t sleep much there, because every procession is accompanied by a big, very loud band.

Jana took this photo of people walking through the historic streets of Seville, the capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region. The Gothic Seville Cathedral is the site of Christopher Columbus’s tomb and a minaret turned bell tower, the Giralda.

Sevilla – ‘Semana Santa’ or ‘Holy Week’ as it is often referred to in English is the week leading up to the Easter weekend.

Jana said thousands of people line the city streets to view the processions, saying that at times, because of the narrow streets, you couldn’t help but become a part of everything that is going on. Every procession features two floats from each of over 50 brotherhoods, known as ‘cofradías’, and every procession spans takes hours to make its way through the city streets, from the time it leaves its parish to when it returns. Processions follow a predetermined route throughout the city.

It is considered to be a lifetime honour for each of the ‘costaleros’ who are fortunate enough to carry the float.


From Seville, Jana moved to Cádiz, the ancient port city in the Andalucia region of southwestern Spain. Jana cycled around the city taking in the sights.


And since she was so close by, Jana locked up her bicycle and hopped on a bus to visit another destination on her bucket list, the Rock of Gibraltar, also known as the Pillars of Hercules. This part of Jana’s journey took her to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, near the southwestern tip of Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. The view is spectacular. The memories, incredible.

“From Cadiz I moved to Gibraltar, which is British. I didn’t cycle there, the island is too small, but every day I hiked their famous “Rock”, 426m high, which is occupied by the only living free primates in Europe – cinnamon coloured, tailless monkeys (macaques), natives of Morocco, Africa.”

Here, I jumped the boat and crossed the sea to land in Africa, Morocco, Tangier. I spent a day there and went back to Europe.


Ronda is a mountaintop city in Spain’s Malaga province. It is situated above a deep gorge providing breathtaking views from everywhere you look. The gorge, known as El Tajo, separates the city’s circa-15th-century new town from the old town.

“From Gibraltar I went to Ronda. There I had a great road bike and cycled the surroundings of this absolutely fantastic picturesque town. Wish had more time in there. The nature and the mountains which surround Ronda, are just amazing.”

Jana never lets her bicycle get out of sight!

Back to Madrid to Catch a Train!

“From Ronda moved back to Madrid , slept over night, next day took their super-fast train and went up north, to Pamplona . Pamplona was the starting point of my spectacular pilgrimage journey. Cycled “The Way”, “ St. James Way ”, “The French Way” – all those in one, El Camino de Santiago, pilgrimage route crossing the north of Spain from east to west, 800km, ending in Santiago de Compostella.


… on the way to Pamplona

“Pamplona was my starting point of my journey to Santiago de Compostella. I became a pilgrim for next 21 days (full 19 days in the bike saddle) and travelled the pilgrim’s road for 800km. Camino de Santiago is called “The Way“ or “St.James Way“ and the “French Way“ (there are lots of Caminos, not only one, the one I did) and it has been travelled by pilgrims for over 1200 years. All Caminos end in Santiago de Compostella, in Cathedral, where St. James is buried. Camino is not an easy task, it’s very, very hard job, but it’s absolutely beautiful and fantastic. People from all over the world do it. All people are friendly, the towns and villages on the way are old and one has a feeling that time stopped there few centuries ago. Camino is an experience. Once in a life time. I went through everything – I cycled through snow storm, fog, rain, hail and beautiful sunshine. All of those troubles were forgotten, because the experience, the vistas, the nature and people made up for all of it. Camino is fantastic. Would do anytime, again.”

“Pamplona is famous for San Fermin – Enzierro – running through the streets with the bulls, the event takes place once a year. So I walked the streets with the bulls! Not for real, of course, I just walked the street where they run and imagined what it would be like if they were actually there with me!”

The Pamplona Bull Run is scheduled for July and starts bright and early at 8:00 a.m. Six bulls and four oxen are released on the cobbled streets of the old town of Pamplona, thundering along Calle de Santo Domingo, Plaza Consistorial, Calle Mercaderes, Calle Estafeta, and finally the Plaza de Toros, the Arena. Every year it is estimated that up to 3,000 people run with the bulls. Many will have scars to wear home as souvenirs. At least you don’t have to declare those souvenirs when you board the plane for the flight home, if you can sit down that is!

For those wanting to see this spectacle, it is advised that the only safe viewing place is from a balcony.

imagining what it must be like to run with the bulls!

“Me and the bicycle on the way from Pamplona to Estella, from up in the mountains.”

beautiful city of Pamplona

On The Road Again

“here Camino goes along the road and I still have 463km to Santiago de Compostella …”

Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago known as the Way of Saint James. Jana researched and learned of the network of the pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Tradition says that the remains of the saint are buried at this location. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. As Jana discovered, this journey is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts, herself being one.

Pilgrims arrive from all parts of the world to walk the Camino de Santiago trails across Europe. This has been happening for centuries as they make their way to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north-west of Spain.


Leon is rich in historical and architectural heritage. Many festivals are held throughout the year. Leon’s location on the French Way of the Camino de Santiago, ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, makes it a must-see for domestic and international tourists.

Some of the Leon’s most prominent historical buildings are the Cathedral, the finest example of French-style classic Gothic architecture in Spain, the Basilica of San Isidoro, one of the most important Romanesque churches in Spain and resting place of Leon’s medieval monarchs, the Monastery of San Marcos, a prime example of plateresque and Renaissance Spanish architecture, and the Casa Botines, a Modernist creation of the architect Antoni Gaudí.

Santa María de León Cathedral, also called The House of Light or the Pulchra Leonina is situated in the city of León in north-western Spain. It was built on the site of previous Roman baths of the 2nd century which, 800 years later, king Ordoño II converted into a palace.

Casa de Tepa

“Casa de Tepa is name of a hotel in Astorga, 18th century palace, when Napoleon came to Astorga to help French troops in the city siege, he stayed at this home after the conquest.”

“This was my hotel at Casa de Tepa. It is hard to describe the feeling you have when you are met with this history. Napoleon stayed in this house when he was fighting in Spain and it was my hotel. This was truly an amazing place to visit.”

Snow tires and a seat warmer were not advertised in the brochure!

“Here I was riding up in the mountains. It was very quiet and remote, and cold! I got caught in a snow storm. It was so cold there I couldn’t hold my bike’s handlebar because my fingers were going numb! I had to stop and warm up my hands and fingers so I could continue and after a few meters I had to stop again.”

“I was really looking forward to this part of my cycling trip. This is the famous “Iron Cross” – where all pilgrims stop and leave their stone which they bring from their own country. The legend is the stone consists all sins, wishes and dreams, so, I as well carried a small stone from the shores of Georgian Bay, all the way to Spain.”

Santiago de Compostella

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region. It is where the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route concludes.

“Finally I am at the end of my journey!!!! Santiago de Compostella – the square in front of the Cathedral, where everybody goes first. All pilgrims that finish that day, meet here, in front of the Cathedral. Then everybody goes to get their certificate of accomplishment.”

“The end of Camino de Santiago happens in front of Santiago de Compostella Cathedral. Everybody goes there first (above photos), some people are crying, everybody hugs each other, some are just resting right on the square, all facing the Cathedral. It’s a key point of huge accomplishment, I would say.”

Where will Jana travel to on her next vacation? You can ask, but she likes to keep that information to herself. We’ll find out eventually!

Lunch Along The Way

“… taking a break for lunch along the way … delicious lamb, salad, fries, bread, and a welcoming cup of tea. My bike is close by!”

Oh, and when you visit Jana at SanDiego Italian Restaurant in Collingwood, I recommend ordering the Shrimp special. I like it with Penne alla vodka!

CLICK HERE to read all about Jana’s cycling tour of Vietnam

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