Barcelona!

It was hard to leave that campsite in a rush but we had a fair distance to travel and I was hoping we could get to the city well before dark. Perhaps Brad felt the same because he was cycling really fast for the whole 80kms! Maybe he was just excited? He was enjoying the smooth, fast, direct roads, I was terrified by the amount of traffic, it’s speed and their beeping horns. I was missing the country lanes of France but neither of us could find any logical looking alternative routes. I haven’t got photos because we did very little stopping. About 30 km from Barcelona Brad saw a path alongside a river and decided that it was worth a try – ‘all rivers lead to the sea’ we followed this for 10 refreshingly safe kilometers. When this deposited us on a road again we were just about to resign ourselves to it when a man stopped us and urgently began speaking and gesturing to us. We could only communicate one word – ‘Barcelona?’ and from this we gathered that if we followed the dirt track under the bridge we were on, it would take us the whole 20 kms remaining to the city. It seemed too good to be true and very unlikely since the track was really rough, bumpy and potholed but we trusted our interpretation of his ernest gestures and amazingly it worked! 


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So here is the definitive photo of the day 🙂 and a nice way to end this trip. I am now the owner of a plane ticket from Barcelona to Bristol. Brad is heading back to New Zealand and I would have been on my own again so in a moment of weakness I bought the ticket. I haven’t travelled as far as I thought I would before I set off but I’ve travelled further than I expected to once I started!

The fast roads of Spain and my lack of any Spanish language put me off navigating on my own.

 The challenge of travelling alone was good for me but I much preferred to have company. Having someone who can encourage me to go that much further and take on hills that much higher made the trip much more of an adventure and having someone to camp with and chat to made it much more fun.

So we have spent a bit of time exploring the city and admiring some of the amazing buildings:

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And now, as great a city as it is, I’m totally ready to leave!

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Day two over the Pyrenees

From the Col de la Perche we descended a couple of hundred meters over about 20kms. It was really cold we could just about make out a sprinkling of snow on the highest hills.  The views were beautiful and it was great fun to be speeding through the landscape with hills all around. 


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We camped in Puigcerdà in a campsite which at 1200m altitude was still well within the mountains, we had frost on our tents in the morning. 

But the next day was bright and sunny and soon we soon warmed up climbing the next mountain pass. This photo was taken near the top just as my bike was falling over…

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We were well and truly in Spain now. It felt exciting to hear a new language all around and switch to saying ‘Hola!’ instead of ‘Bonjour!’ to the other cyclists we passed.

This climb was really long but not steep. I would guess the gradient was mostly about 5% (unlike the previous day when it was mostly about 10%) The road hugged the sides of the mountain and wound slowly slowly up to 1800 meters. Little signs every 100 meters gave reassuring signs of progress.

We had lunch at the summit enjoying the views and then started the descent. This was just as gradual as the climb so we were treated to the longest downhill I’ve experienced- 40 kilometers of effortless gliding through mountain scenery, a great pay off for the effort of the climb. It took us all the way to Ripoll where we thought we might camp. A little search of the town didn’t reveal anywhere though and it was still fairly early so we decided to carry on.

We could see a lake on Google maps just East of Vic so headed towards it hoping it would be a beautiful area and wondering if it might have campsites.

Spainish roads proved difficult to navigate though and we kept ending up on huge, terrifyingly fast and busy stretches some without access for bikes. We tried to follow signs for bike lanes. These would begin promisingly with a wide, well surfaced lane running adjacent to the main road but then would abruptly come to a dead end between a crash barrier and a rock face and force us to follow it back all the way we’d come. Others would point us off the route in entirely the wrong direction and at one point we found a track leading to the wrong side of a motorway. After a fair amount of this we finally had to accept the conclusion that these bike lanes were probably not bike lanes after all!

Somehow we managed to get closer to Vic but a bit later than we had intended. We came off the main roads and continued to make our way towards the lake through countryside. The the road began to climb again and I was getting pretty tired. No sign of any campsites but signs saying ‘Parador du turism’ which we chose to translate as ‘Tourists paradise’! so it seemed like a good thing to follow

I was moving very slowly up the steep roads, only 7km to go. According to Brad’s bike computer I was traveling at 7km an hour… 

We finally reached the top and had this beautiful view of the lake in the bottom of the gorge.

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This made all the effort worth it. We were really satisfied to have made it here and were ready to eat and  sleep. However it turned out that this ‘tourist’s paradise’ catered for the kind of tourist who plans ahead and has stacks of cash. There was one hotel. It was 4 stars (way out of budget) and fully booked. So as the sun was setting we pitched just off the road in the woods and started making dinner our dinner by the light of our head torches.

I slept quite well despite the amount of barking dogs and the uncertainty of camping wild. 

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The morning was beautiful. Sun was lighting up mist rising off the lake in huge clouds. A car pulled into the layby near us and a friendly old man came to speak to us. We could only tell him that we did not understand, that we didn’t speak Spanish and that we were about to ‘vamos’. He persevered to explain and we gathered by gesture that this was a hunting area and that the hunt was going to start soon. So we packed up fairly speedily! 

We laized at the top of the hill in the layby 

Needing to rest after all the climbing the day before. The hunters arrived with their guns and massive dogs with strange barks like whooping cough. They milled about for an hour or so before disappearing noisily into the woods apparently not concerned that they might have scared away their prey. 

We knew we weren’t going to move on that day so we decided to explore the area a bit instead. 


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It took a long time to find our way down to the waters edge but we finally managed it thanks to following an Austrian couple who had the same idea. 

I dived in with all my cycling clothes to give them and me a bit of a wash! It was the perfect spot to camp and we could see by the remains of fires that other people had done the same. The only snag was that we’d left our bikes at the monastery at what was probably the highest point of the area! So we had a LONG walk back up but a fun, steep ride down again. We set up our tents in view of a fisherman who didn’t seem to mind at all – a good sign. And we had an idyllic, free campsite complete with fire pit and swimming pool all to ourselves 🙂 great!

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Crossing the Pyrenees!

The last few days have been great! Brad is an excellent travel partner to have and though he’s faster than me I’m not too far behind  which is a relief. We’re covering ground fast and it’s a very different experience but I love it. 

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 Here is our first glimpse of the Pyrenees!

It makes all the difference to have someone to share the views and the dull roads and the great ones and the busy ones and the vast amounts of chocolate and cheese and bread (and cookies and ice cream and fruit and veg and pasta we eat A LOT!) 

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Riding along today I was struck by how much other people can help us achieve our goals without them even being fully aware of it. Brad thanked me for accompanying him today! But I am so grateful for being allowed to tag along with him! I would definitely not be on my way to Barcelona on my own. He has the ability to have unquestioning faith that somehow everything will turn out alright, we’ll find our way, there’ll be great views, we’ll cover massive distances and there’ll be a campsite open exactly when we want one. And so far this has miraculously been the case 🙂 

The road today was uphill for 60km and is a well used highway. I would not have enjoyed tackling it on my own with no one to share the pain or the reward but somehow with some one riding just ahead it’s fun. Even if they’re out of sight.


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I do look rather delirious here…

Another very lovely thing is drivers waving, clapping and giving thumbs up signs as they pass! It’s the best! I wonder if they know just how much that helps? It changes the road from a threatening, cold, faceless place to a friendly and supportive one. And makes me feel brave, bold and accomplished to have utter strangers acknowledging my efforts!

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Anyway I can’t imagine this is nearly as exciting to read about as when I feel helplessly lost and stressed! You’ll have to wait for Barcelona to get some of the juicy terrified Steph stuff! Brad will be flying back to New Zealand and I’m thinking about travelling on to Northern Spain so I can get a boat home. There’s sure to be some exciting stuff like a puncture half way up a mountain when I’m almost out of water on the wrong road  and an unseasonal blizzard picks up with the sound of not so distant wolves and inexplicable gun shots ringing out. That makes much better reading doesn’t it?:)

a different kind of touring…

Awake at 2.30 with 100km or more to ride tomorrow and the sound of a crazily busy and noisy road buzzing beeping bleeping and droning just a few 100metres from this campsite. What the hell is going on down there? In my imagination the road must be some kind of enormous spaghetti junction next to a huge 24hr building site next to the centre of a massive city. I never knew car horns came in so many different pitches and could be used in such a variety of ways. Maybe with long term study it could be deciphered as a sort of rudimentary language at least as rich as dolphin vocabulary (which is actually quite impressive) . I can’t imagine what would make anyone choose this place for a holiday resort they must all be insane or stupid or like us. Oh. 

So I’m now getting a very different flavour of bike touring. 90km a day is a short ride day. 120km is good. Busy roads are just a necessary evil and we’re aiming for mountains where the climbs are 7% for an entire day because the views will be amazing and the descents can be as long as 80km. We are using google maps to navigate and have no idea where we will sleep each night we’re just relying on finding campsites before we’re utterly shattered. A lot of campsites seem to be open till the 15th of oct so we have five more days which luckily is roughly when we hope to be in Barcelona. We should be at the Spanish border tomorrow- just three days after leaving st Marie de la mer!

There is NO WAY I would be doing this on my own. But with Brad and his relentless optimism and apparent fearlessness it’s quite fun! Although I do feel on the brink of being out of my depth and we have the pyrenees ahead…

We met two other cycle tourers at this campsite who are going the other way and have been on the road since August. They are heading for Italy next and have already been through France and Spain. They’re raising money for charity as they go and with a lucky bout of publicity at the start of their trip – a freind who works in Spanish tv they have managed to raise £1500 with out any more effort ( except for the effort it takes to ride 4000 km in two months!)

I said I’d mention their blog on my blog, that should increase their readership by at least 5 people and they’ll really start to see the cash come rolling in!

http://www.wheeldealtour.me

They asked me what made me get into bike touring – I couldn’t work out the answer! Now I want to reply ‘I had a bike, read a few blogs, quit my job and from there things just spun wildly out of control till I found myself here at 10pm in a wierd campsite in an undesirable corner of France with three guys I don’t know all talking about the fun they have racing each other up mountains and disc brakes and bike makes and other things I know nothing about!

But it does feel like more of an adventure!

So here’s a bit about the landscape we’ve come through. We rested in St Marie de la Mer for a day, catching up with reading and writing.

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This area has more dragonflies everywhere than I have ever seen. It’s like an infestation! This was covered in them, I’m not sure if you can see them in this photo:

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In the distance here you might be able to make out some pale white flecks just below the horizon. These are actually flamingos. Honest! This was just west of St. Marie de la Mer. A first for me to see them in the wild. We saw them fly over head too. Like long sticks with pink and black wings. Shame I didn’t get a photo of that really, you can always Google ‘flamingos in flight’ 😉

Carrying on west from here the hotels got bigger uglier more numerous and modern. The landscape stayed totally flat and the sun was out. We covered 120km fairly easily and then camped in a site which turned out to be infested with mosquitoes. I woke up with two massive growths on my head and loads of itchy bites every where, nice.

People, art and ancient architecture

After the night in the mountains I cycled down to Orange. This side of the mountains the landscape changed quite suddenly and became noticeable Mediterranean. It really felt like I had cycled to a different climate which was great. Lots of good smelling pine trees, tall thin cypres trees and even cacti in people’s gardens!

The landscape looked like a Cezanne painting. 

I stayed near Orange with this lovely retired couple Joseph and Elizabeth Dalstein.

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It was nice to meet their very friendly, playful dog and remember that not all dogs are out to bite my head off!

They have joined warm showers because their son is currently undertaking a huge tour of eastern Europe with his girlfriend and they have enjoyed using the website.

More French speaking practice- Elizabeth was very patient with me and restored my confidence 🙂 And she gave me a massive bar of chocolate when I left! I liked her 🙂

From Orange I went to Avignon. This was an exciting landmark as I’ve been before but by train years ago. I stopped for lunch with this lovely view of the bridge.

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I took my time as it’s all easy downhill from here all the way to the sea 🙂

Just as I was ready to cycle off again I realised I had a flat tyre. This turned out to be a real stroke of luck since as I was fixing it I met Brad another solo cycle tourer!

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Brad is from New Zealand and has been touring through Europe for 4 months. He has beautiful photos of mountain passes in Germany, Switzerland and Eastern France. It wad great to meet someone who I could share the experience of solo bike touring with. We both agreed that it was great for meeting random strangers but that it got quite lonely inbetween these times. We’d prefer company. Brad started his tour  with a friend who had had to give in because of a bad knee. So he’s been on his own for a couple of months. Well, I was heading to a warmshower host in Arles and Brad was having a rest day in Avignon so I cycled off alone again. After just a bit of posing by the ‘Palais des Papes’

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I felt more relaxed than ever thanks to meeting someone in the same position as me who was taking it all so much in his stride. So I enjoyed sight seeing, but as I was cycling out of town I was thinking what a shame it was that Brad and I had both said we want some company and then immediately parted company! Brad was planning to get to Barcelona which is is a place I had originally hoped to get to. I had said I was heading to St Marie de la Mer and suggested he came too but hadn’t thought to immediately suggest we ride together. It was getting late and I had quite a few kilometres to go to get to Arles and my host by now I also had quite a few kilometers to get back to Avignon. So I pushed on kicking myself the whole way!

But when I got to Eric’s place I was pleased. It was lovely. It’s actually a b & b that he has decorated himself beautifully. One of the rooms is done out to be a copy of Van Goghs painting, complete with the starry night painted on the ceiling!

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I went to sleep pretty early and was all set to move on first thing that morning. Eric was shocked to hear I wasn’t planning to explore the city. He explained it was a ‘living museum’ full of ancient monuments and beautiful buildings. He gave me a map and some directions and I had a fantastic day exploring. I was so pleased I did because it was amazing! In the centre of town is a  the remains of a huge Roman theatre and amphitheatre


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I loved visiting the amphitheatre it was amazing to read about it’s history. It is under slow renovation having lost some of the original stone as it was once used as quarry to build many of the local houses.

A couple of hundred years ago it was inhabited as a sort of small fortified town.

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Because of all this some of the original seating is missing which is why there is at the moment some slightly ugly scaffolding stuff.

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There’s still plenty to look at though.

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I also realised that this was an important town for Van Gogh. His café at night painting was made here. Me and thousands of other tourists have seen the very café in question.

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From browsing postcards I learnt that he went from here on to St Marie de la Mer where he painted this:

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I love this painting and photographed it when I was in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. So I’m following in his footsteps! Which is very exciting but probably means I’ll end up penniless and insane…

By 4pm it was really time to make a move and get to the coast… I had a very tedious flat ride ahead of me but the great news was that Brad had decided to make his way to St Marie de la Mer so we could both have some company for a while. 

Which allowed me to take this terrible photo!

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What a couple of bozos…

St Marie de la Mer!

Je suis ici! J’ai finis!

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And just in time for a beautiful sunset

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This morning I’ve had a quick dip in the sea and I’ll have a little look around the town later. First impressions are a little underwhelming to be honest but I’m happy to have made it this far. 

But, i have a lot of catching up to do on this blog! So here goes:

I left françios and Marc’s house quite early the next morning, I wanted to make up for the short ride and cover some ground.The road out from their house is initially very long and straight and flat and so didn’t feel like it was going to be a very interesting ride.

At the pretty town of Aoust-sur-Sye I crossed the river ‘La Drôme’

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Here my route took a eastward turn through fields of lavender and Happily it took me directly towards the mountains I’d seen from my picnic and that I’d been staring at for so long. It then turned into one of the most scenic rides of my trip.
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As I rode up through wooded nature reserve I decided to stop at the roadside for lunch. As I was sitting there this mantid flew into view, I didn’t even know these lived in France! The amateur entomologist in me was very excited!


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Back to the road and up into the mountains…

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It was a bit dangerous to stop and take photos on the narrow road so they aren’t great pictures!

The road kept climbing upwards in zigzags like this so didn’t get too steep. It’s one of my favourite types of ride. Slowly but surely making progress uphill through trees and then down the other side (Which I like even more!) Woodland and glimpses of mountain, riding downhill with hardly any traffic- it’s the best kind of road to be on.

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I hadn’t cycled very far but I was enjoying being in the mountains so I was really pleased to see a campsite sign. And what a great view to have from a tent!

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 I was the only one there, and though I was happy to be in the mountains it felt pretty lonely and I decided that really I’d prefer to be traveling with someone. But I had another warmshower host for the following night and the end of my trip was in sight.

A short ride

From that idyllic campsite I didn’t cycle far. I stayed to enjoy the sun and the scenery and left about 2pm in the end. I stopped for a picnic with this view:

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 I was excited to be getting closer to the mountains excited seen from a distance for a while now.

 I had taken advantage of the free WiFi at Pont d’ain and organised quite a few warmshower hosts feeling like I needed the company. So I felt a bit guilty arriving at Françios and Marc’s house after only 3 hours on the bike! 

I made the mistake of trying to explain this in French when I arrived despite the fact that I don’t know the word for ‘guilty’ or how to say: ‘I have not been on my bike long today…’ -what tense is this?! 

So with this start, my French speaking confidence and abilities evaporated and we ended up speaking mostly English for the rest of the time. It was very kind of them but I felt a bit disappointed in myself!

Anyway at least it meant I found out a bit about them! Together they run a record label for modern gospel music. Marc plays several different instruments and Françios sings. Marc spent two months cycling all the way from their home to Armenia this summer to raise money for school children there. He has a book full of interesting photos from his trip and a website about it here:

 www.aventure-en-solidaire.net

They also showed me this amazing video clip of a couplewho have spent the last 9 years exploring the world by bike and have even had two children en route!

Mundubicyclette Andoni-Alice – YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/user/mundubicyclette

They made sure I was well fed and I regretted having gorged on pack of biscuits before arriving at their house!


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Françios even gave me some speciality homemade energy cake to take with me when I left! How lovely!