Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday, day of rest

Well if you people in offices get to spend your Fridays drinking beer and surfing the internet, why shouldn't we take it easy too?

We weren't quite ready to get back on the road this morning, so we decided to put in another day at Cervera to get another menu del dia for lunch, allow my washing to finish drying and generally gear ourselves up. Besides, we had been wanting to leave early this morning but in our excitement yesterday at having some internet access, we completely forgot to go grocery shopping.

We have been treated very well in Cervera - we had some nice cakes for breakfast, were well fed again today at lunchtime, and the place we're staying in is really nice, the lady who runs it is very sweet, she even took my damp washing off the windowsill this morning and reappeared with it this evening, all dried and ironed. It is actually a hostal we are staying in, not a hostel - there is a difference. For the benefit the nice young gentleman who asked what a pension was, and anybody else who is interested, here is an explanation of the various types of accommodation.

We had nice pizza for dinner. We're on our way again tomorrow morning, honest.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday 28th September: Menu del dia

Today was a short one. It was going to be longer, but we both felt like we were cycling through treacle - probably a combination of poor nutrition over the past few days, and quite a long day yesterday.

We stopped in Cervera around lunchtime and got ourselves a room in a hostel (which is nicer than the word "hostel" would suggest, it's just a nice little room with the skin of a dead goat on the floor). After freshening up a bit, we headed out to where we'd seen a sign for "menu del dia" for 8 euro - and had the meal we had been waiting for the past four days. A huge vat of noodle soup from which we were allowed to refill freely, followed by an enormous plate of chickpeas with vegetables and various meats (including a large hairy lump of pig fat which we ignored) - we stuffed ourselves silly, and then had to choose desserts. We didn't know what any of them were and the waitress was having trouble trying to explain them to us - so, bless her, she just brought out one of each for us. THAT was the meal we needed! Menu del dia seems to be what we need - very good value, includes drinks and bread and everything.

Tomorrow, instead of taking the boring straight road west out of Cervera, we're taking the scenic mountain route. Hopefully our legs will be ready for it.

Wednesday 27th September: Fruit Sandwiches


Apart from the beginning of the day our route has flattened out a little. There were even some stages where we made some progress. Tonight we finally found an open campsite and even had a decent meal. We met a lovely Yorkshire couple also camping here and joined them for dinner. No one seemed particulary impressed with Spain as a touring country but we are now looking forward to Portugal even more and we know one good campsite and restaurant to go to, which is great as they are just as we come in. Another week and we will be there.


Last night we had fruit sandwiches for dinner. The restaurant that had been open in Soncillo when we arrived, had closed by 7pm. The owners of the shop over the road sent us down the road to a restaurant that was supposedly 1km away. At 500m away, there was no sign of it (and the next day when we headed further down that way there was still no sign of it) so we went back into town, by which time most of the shops had closed and we were only able to buy bread. Combined with our standard payload of kiwis, pears, olives, etc. we were able to make ourselves a fine dinner. Pear sandwiches is surely what posh people eat at dinner parties, right? The food of gods.

Early today we reached the grand height of 1020m before dropping down into the next valley. It's pretty amazing to think that since leaving Bilbao, we had climbed over a kilometre.

Most of today was valleys. We stopped for a picnic by the River Ebro, which included the most revolting cheese ever made. it was sweet and yellow and had a nasty aftertaste and absolutely no redeeming features - I wish I remembered the name so I could recommend you never buy it. Even Poland didn't sink to such cheesy lows.

We encountered a bunch of English people shortly after leaving Soncillo, they were gathered outside a pub in a neighbouring village, looked like some kind of car club as there was a bunch of posh-looking cars parked nearby with "GB" stickers on. We don't see many English people on our travels so we said hello, and one by one they overtook us as we climbed up the hill, some honking and waving.

We reached our destination of Aguilar de Campoo at about 5pm. One good thing about Spain is that this is not too late for tourist offices to be open (in fact, they're often only just opening after siesta). So we found out that there was a campsite 2.5km out of town, and headed for that. What the lady in the tourist office failed to mention was that it was more like 4km out of town, half way up a mountainside. At least it was open... Fortunately the campsite had a restaurant so we didn't need to go back down for dinner.

We ended up camping about three spots away from a retired Yorkshire couple, Cynthia and Frank, who were staying in a camper van and making day cycling trips around the area. Frank came over to chat as we were pitching up, told us that there were loads of red squirrels around and that the restaurant had a menu de dia at 8:30pm that night. That's the kind of information we like! We saw some excellent squirrels - too dark and too far away to take pictures unfortunately, but they were lovely. They make little chirpy noises as they wave their tails around, it's very sweet. At 8:30 we headed for the restaurant and had dinner with Cynthia and Frank, in what was the best meal we have had since getting into Spain (well, OK, compared to "salty plateful of grease", "nibbling on tinned sardines" and "fruit sandwiches" you can't really go wrong, but it was nice).

It's nice to occasionally run into somebody who speaks your language, and they certainly seemed to be having an interesting time travelling the world with their camper van. Nice to find somebody else who agrees about Spain being very difficult for food. Apparently Portugal is much easier, and we were enthused by descriptions such as "piri-piri chicken everywhere" and "the cakes are lovely". We also went away with a campsite and restaurant recommendation (mmm wild boar casserole) for Braganca, which will be our first stop in Portugal in a few days time.

Tuesday 26th September: Vertical kilometre


We're quite high up, although not quite sure how high. On Monday we travelled from Balmaseda to Espinosa de los Monteros, where we found a campsite, tried to camp, but for some reason or other, were not allowed to. (See, we are actually trying to use our new tent, just not having much luck). However, they did have cheap rooms at the campsite, (it would have been even cheaper if Dgym hadn't inadvertently pretended we were over 30), with free wifi in the room. Pretty nice.

Today we didn't come very far, at least not in the horizontal plane, and got to Soncillo, where we are staying in a very nice guest house. Vertically, we've come quite a way. We've had a lovely descent or two but also climbed a fair bit - over all we have gone up. The sun is pretty harsh, we're grabbing shady spots wherever we can and getting through a lot of suncream.

The eating situation is slightly awkward, they don't seem so keen on it here. It seems to be a choice between nibbling on raciones and sandwiches in a bar, not really a sustaining meal for a cyclist, or going to a cafe and having platos combinados - described as potatoes, eggs and chorizo, for example, but turns out to be an extremely greasy salty plate of fried egg & chips with chorizo. We did find a proper restaurant last night but it was about 25euro a dish, way out of our budget. We're getting by anyway, and supplementing the bar food with tins of sweetcorn, olives and lots of fruit.

There are a lot of flies up here, which is pretty annoying, they seem to gather particularly in the bars and eating areas. (Right now I would really like to sit down to a nice big roast dinner without flies swarming around my head).

The views have been lovely. We've been cycling past / around a set of mountains which are covered in forest, and topped by sheer cliff faces - which, at the start of yesterday, seemed a long way off and very high up. They now seem pretty close and not so far up at all. It's hard work climbing up, but the views are spectacular and very much worth it.

The cycling experience is similar to France - we get lots of people waving at us and saying hello, and drivers honking their horns in encouragement (at least I hope it's encouragement). The people are friendly, we know pretty much no Spanish but that doesn't stop anybody chatting to us! We had a nice chat with a deaf-mute bloke this morning, actually the most coherent conversation we've had here, as he was obviously good at using alternative means of communication.


Today we did a bit more up and a bit more down. After one climb we were actually looking down on the tops of the cliffs that had seemed so very far away and so very far up yesterday. Unfortunately the town we ended up in was very small and we failed to get any food before finding out that the only restaurant shut early and was staying shut. We made do with what we had - pear sandwiches. Not a great ending to an otherwise very pleasant day.

Monday 25th September: Hard work and good results


Today we continued up the valley on the hardest part of the journey yet. The hills are really deceptive here - we have been caught out at the brow of hills to find that the road isn't flat or going down as we had percieved but is still ascending. It only really sunk in exactly what we had achieved when we got to the top of the longest hill and looked back to see a stunning view beneath us.

The sun and the long ascents without any shade made for some tough conditions, but thankfully it was mostly quite cloudy and the sense of accomplishment and an orange at the top of the hill made it all worth while.

This evening we found a campsite that wouldn't let us camp, but gave us a room instead for 23 euro. That includes breakfast and internet access from our room. We even got a decent dinner which is very hard to do here because they have nothing but ham, cheese and fish. This time we went to a grocers to get some fruit and vegetables into our diet. I long for a proper meal, quite how a country's most famous and only available dish can be "unvaried nibbles is beyond me and beyond a joke. Still, the cycling is excellent and we are getting by.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sunday 24th September: Hilly


Arriving anywhere new on a Sunday tends to be a problem. The good news was that we already had a map, the bad news was that it is thirty years old, and a very strong head wind was making us work hard at going downhill. The hills have been massive and the views have been worth it. We have however stopped because of hunger, lots of bars are open and they seem to have tapas at the counter but we have yet to figure out how to get a full meal. The town we have stopped in is very picturesque and hopefully we will be posting some pictures.

I am becoming a little concerned about the size of my thighs, but I still have a way to go before they make me look any odder. A small mercy.


Sunday was an early start, forced upon us by the ferry's arrival at 8am local time (7am according to our body clocks) and the awakening made no more pleasant by the fact that it came only about three hours after the drunken howling chav-monkeys had finally left us in peace, so we were not exactly chirpy when we rolled off the ferry.

Having looked at our map and got a rough idea of where to go first, we headed out of the ferry port and started to look for signs to the towns along the route. It was then we began to notice something a little disturbing - the roads on the map were different to what we were seeing, and the town names on the signposts kind of corresponded to what was on the map, but were spelt differently, sometimes recognisably and sometimes not. We had been vaguely aware that the map was old enough to have a "50p" price tag stuck on it - but on closer inspection noted that it was older than both of us, and had celebrated its thirtieth birthday this year. (This is what happens when you borrow maps off your dad ;) During those thirty years, roads had become motorways and, according to a local, town names had changed. There is a local language here, I think it's Basque, perhaps that has something to do with the different version of town names. Well, once we figured that out things weren't so bad, and we started off for Balmaseda (formerly known as Valmaseda).

Misty mountains It was not the most favourable of cycling days. Northern Spain is quite mountainous, so we knew there was going to be a fair bit of climbing ahead, although its nature was a little surprising. The gradients are of the evil kind that are so gentle, you think it's flat - yet you're spinning away in your lowest gear and wondering what's wrong with your bicycle that it's so much hard work. And then you look behind you and see you have indeed been climbing quite a lot. We even managed to find a cycle path, which we followed for a while, although it suddenly ended and spat us out onto the left hand side of the road, perhaps not the best thing to do!

Mediaeval bridge The weather is not brilliant, it's windy as hell and the rainstorms have been coming and going all day. However, the scenery is lovely. We ended up in Balmaseda around lunchtime, the first thing we saw there was an attractive church and lovely narrow streets full of beautiful old buildings. Dgym wandered off to look around and a young girl of about ten came to talk to me, she spoke a little English and told me her name (wish I could remember it) and that she lived here. Charmed by the town and seriously lacking in sleep, we resolved to stop and try to stay the night. Unfortunately there was no campsite nearby, but we found a pension for 33euro and it's pretty nice.

Saturday 23rd September: Blergh


Mum, hel and I went into Chichester at lunchtime on Friday and got caught in a fantastic downpour. At least we all had coats on but our trousers, socks and shoes got soaked through. The weather dried up quicker than my shoes so when we set off for Portsmouth the sun was shining on me and my new plastic bag socks.

The ferry left a little late and the sea has been a little choppy but so far so good.

We spent all day on a ferry, which can be a bit dull but we did at least see some dolphins.


It's not far from Bosham to Portsmouth, and our ferry departed at 21:15 so we didn't leave until late afternoon, and spent most of the day in Bosham, apart from a short trip to Chichester during which it rained so hard we were soon wading through water three inches deep and getting our trousers and shoes thoroughly soaked through.

The ride to Portsmouth took us high up, overlooking the coast. We rolled down into Portsmouth, which is a beautiful city of submerged shopping trolleys, smashed phone boxes, and drunk teenagers who found Dgym's trike hilarious. Oh, and a nice friendly bloke on a bike who helped us find the ferry port. Unfortunately the ferry is... well, let's just say if somebody put that much human scum in a boat all at once and sent it out to sea, you'd hope the intention might be to sink it, not inflict it on Spain. We were woken up all night by drunken chavs shouting, whooping and fighting, and some drunk Spanish bloke trying to batter our door down. Our Saturday evenings entertainment was tone-deaf karaoke from a nearby cabin, courtesy of someone who knew approximately one eighth of the words to various Madonna songs. Throughout the trip there was a human zoo outside our door. And P&O, bless their naive little souls, kept announcing their cheap booze deals / competitions with free drinks as prizes. Nice one guys.

Atlantic sunset We spent quite a lot of time in the cabin, due to the turbulence of the Atlantic Ocean, I found it very hard to sit or stand anywhere inside the boat without feeling queasy. It was nice to stand out on deck for a while, very windy but we saw a couple of dolphins splashing around.

Thursday 21st September: Let the hippying resume


We are finally back on the road again after two months spent eating curry, apple crumble and all the other stuff we missed, visiting everybody (it was nice to see you all) - and we even got to see the biggest garden spade in the world. We managed to time things quite nicely to see our littlest nephew figure out the whole walking thing - when we came back in July, he was at the standing for a couple of seconds before falling on his bum kind of stage, and we don't claim to have anything to do with this but by the time we left he was a pro. I started with the online freelancing, which has gone very well and reinforces our belief that we can support ourselves just fine in a foreign country. We also both revived our rusty sewing skills and made lovely little cases for our lovely little laptops.

We bought our new tent, the Terra Nova LaserLarge, tested it out and found it to be a dwelling of great size and luxury. Well, it's both bigger and lighter than the last one, and Dgym's feet don't stick out the end, which is a big plus.

We are now on our way to Portugal. Yesterday we cycled from Guildford to Bosham (on the south coast, near Chichester). This afternoon we will ride to Portsmouth, from which we will board the ferry. Thirty hours later (yes, thirty) we will arrive in Bilbao, on the north coast of Spain, and will doubtless struggle our way up plenty of mountains in order to reach our destination which is Somewhere In Portugal. The precise location of Somewhere is not yet known, but it will most likely be in the North or Central parts, definitely not in the expensive southern Algarve regions. Basically, we will come in from a north-easterly kind of direction, and keep going until we find somewhere we like the look of. We will then use our vast knowledge of Portuguese ("piri-piri" is all we know, and surely all we need) to get ourselves a long term let for the winter. You will all then come out and visit us when you want a nice break from your freezy British winter.

If we like Portugal, we might spend next year looking for a house to buy there. If we don't, we might spend some more time in Slovakia and maybe buy somewhere there instead. We really liked what we saw of Slovakia.

The ride yesterday was pretty harsh. We have ridden to Bosham before so we knew what was in store, the biggest challenge being the South Downs ridge, which is unavoidable. The road that goes up the Downs, just after South Harting, is the worst kind of climb, in that they didn't bother to make it nice and gently winding up the hill - it just goes straight up. The gradient must be at least 14% and it goes on for about half a mile. I know cars that probably wouldn't get up there. Last time we pushed our bikes up. This time Dgym had a bike he couldn't really push, and I was determined not to have to push mine (it's harder work anyway with that kind of load) so we did cycle up but we would stop every 100 yards or so towards the top. Dgym does that all the time because it's easy on the trike, but it's the first time I've had to stop. It was great to have made it up there, but maybe next time we'll manage to find a nice route over the Downs. (The climb up the other side of that particular hill is really good actually - it's drawn out over enough distance that it's pleasantly challenging rather than insane).

Once over the Downs, we were suddenly hit by a strong headwind. The forecast had been for a 25mph headwind but we hadn't really felt it until then. Fortunately, the hills were mostly over by then so we just struggled on into Bosham with thoughts of a nice hot shower and a long sleep.


We made a good start today - we left a full half an hour earlier than last time and only had half the distance to cover. No description of a trip vould be complete without at least ten things being nice, so the weathear was nice, some of the roads were nice and feeling the strength being sapped from your legs at an alarming rate due to a general lack of fitness was nice. There are some good hills the way we went and it didn't matter how steep they were it was still better than endless flat, I wonder how long that sentiment will last. It could be that we end up becoming fed up of hills, mountains, flats and everything in between which might be as good a point to stop as any. then we will have to either fly or sail and I think hel will take a lot of convincing on either front.