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Topic: Western France and Northern Spain, Sept. 2010  (Read 30646 times)

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GPS: SE London
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« on: October 24, 2010, 12:29:58 pm »

EDIT 28/07/2019: I tried to relink all my photos when Photobucket took held my pics hostage. I got to Day !! until I ran into difficulties. See final page for details.


I had been toying with the idea of a trip around the Baltic for something completely different. But, my wife longed for another visit to Spain. I had two years of Spanish in school, and as bad as my Spanish is, it still makes a big difference to our visit. We have more fun in Spain, because I can ask questions and we’re willing to venture into places were English is not spoken.

Our last trip to the Costa Verde was 20 years ago. We thought we’d revisit a couple of our favourite places (Llanes, Luarca) as well as stopping in towns we hadn’t had time for before (San Sebastian, Oviedo, La Coruña). And, we wanted to see more of Brittany, so a three-week trip was planned. And, I mean PLANNED.

Our traditional modus operandi has been to roll into our destination before 5 pm, then find a place to stay. This allows for a certain flexibility, but we had been disappointed in the past by full hotels. In particular, we had wanted to stay in Chartres, but had to move on to Dreux (which was also full) and finally Evreux before finding a place to stay, late and tired.

This time, with the help of the internet, I spent three months organising our trip. Every hotel was booked in advance, located on Google maps (even Street View) and itineraries printed for my tank bag. Google maps were printed with restaurant locations marked on them. In addition to Google, I relied heavily on the Michelin, Trip Advisor and Rough Guide sites.

My new FJR had just 1,200 miles on it. I changed the oil and washed and waxed it.

London had been enjoying two weeks of blazing sun when I checked the forecast for the first three days of our trip.

Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:14:44
Day One. London to Vernon. 6 September 2010. 305 miles.

Packing the night before and setting the alarm for 0430 allowed us to be on the road to Folkestone and the Channel Tunnel terminal by 0500. It was a dark, cool ride down the M20, but a pleasure to breeze through south London with so little traffic. We got through check-in with enough time to spare to allow our first continental breakfast. Surprisingly, the cappucino was pretty good.

As usual, the bikers were the last on the train and shared a carriage together. We were with a group of five forty-something Harley riders heading to eastern Austria for a biker’s meet they attend every year. The bikes ranged from full dressers with sat nav and chromium GB logos on the rear fender to a turbo-charged Fat Bob.

Le Shuttle 0700

Our destination was Vernon by lunchtime. We’ve been to France via the tunnel so many times, it’s a challenge to keep finding new first night stops. We’d never been to Giverny to see Monet’s garden and Joanna (the gorgeous blonde I travel with) is a keen gardener.

To get there with time left to view the garden required the Autoroute, so A16/A28 to exit 10 would still give us a bit of countryside to view. At Forges-les-Eaux I got lost.

My sat nav is a small compass I have taped to the map pocket on my tank bag. I print out the route with mileage between turns and it usually works pretty well. But, I missed my right on the D921 and had to stop for my first look at the map.

In the small town of La Feuillie, we stopped for petrol and coffee. The lady that ran the shop carefully filled my tank, then made our coffee. We relaxed in the sun and realised for the first time that we were in France.

In Lyon-la-Forét, we stopped for our first photograph.

I’ve been reading trip reports on this site for years. Orson really does set the standard. Fantastic shots, always with the bike in the shot and a fantastic, winding road in the background. Well, I tried on this trip. Honest. But... failed again.

Notarian, too. How do they do it? Do they actually turn around and go back for the shot? With a fully-loaded FJR and my wife on the back, it takes me a lot more than a whim to bother with an unnecessary u-turn! When the scenery turned nice, I’d try to sneak up on a shot, slowing... slowing... Nope! Past it! So, this is what you get:


Actually, this looked like a pretty nice area for a stopover. It is surrounded by forest and rolling hills and Rouen is not far away if you need some culture. We contined on down to Les Andelys.

I went out of my way to travel through Les Andelys, because I read that the view of Richard the Lionheart’s Chateau Gaillard overlooking the river Seine was one of the touring highpoints of the area. A little white ruin on a hill is what I saw. Trashed 400 years ago during religious wars. And scaffolding.

We got to Vernon in good time. I crossed the bridge and drove directly to the hotel, knowing just what it looked like from Google’s Street View. Amazing.

Google also showed me that the train station was quite nearby the Hotel d’Evreux (€69.20 b&b). My excellent plan was to walk to the train station where there was sure to be a taxi rank and take a cab across the river to Giverny. Indeed, there was a clearly marked taxi rank in front of the station. But, no taxis.

We started walking, keeping an eye out for a taxi. I saw two. They were parked with no one in the vehicle. Clearly, all Vernon taxi drivers were taking lunch. We ended up walking to Giverny.

Turns out, it was a lovely walk, specially created to keep the Monet tourists off the highway. And there were plenty of us, even on a Monday in September. We got to the town in about an hour. I said lunch has to come first and, conveniently, a woman running an art gallery advised us that the best place to eat was the Ancien Hotel Baudy. She wasn’t wrong.

It wasn’t cheap, though.

I’m a 63-year-old with late onset diabetes and heart disease. I knew before the start of this trip that I had another angiogram to look forward to when we returned to London. I have already had a two-artery, five-stent angioplasty. I made up my mind before this trip started that I was not going to look at the right-hand column of the menu. Old habits are hard to break. I thought a €13.60 omelette had better be good...

Well, it was the best damn omelette I’ve ever eaten. It was stuffed with confit of duck and potatos and mushrooms and who knows what else. It was delicious! And the Cotes du Rhone was excellent, too. We were off to a flying start.

I was ready to face Monet. The whole town was geared to Monet and art, and very tourist-oriented. Every other doorway was another gallery.

Notice this guy’s sign is in English.

Behind the Hotel Baudy (which wasn’t a hotel at all, but a restaurant, just like the Hotel de Ville is not a place where you can get a room, unless you’re the mayor) was a studio, which looked like a set-up to me rather than a working studio. But, hey, if it’s free, it’s for me.

Monet’s garden wasn’t free. And, except for the pond with all the famous water lilies, a bit of a disappointment. I wouldn’t like to go there on an August Saturday. The crowds! Anyway, I owe you one shot:

We walked back through Giverny. It was a lovely looking village. All ivy-covered stone houses. You could see why Monet would choose to live there. We stepped over a discarded Edith Piaf CD and headed down toward the Seine. It was overcast and rain was on the way. Wildflowers had been planted along the river banks and the whole way back to the bridge there was just the two of us. A zig-zagging walk through Vernon took us past lots of lace curtains and window boxes.

Notre Dame. Ancient stained glass next to modern in windows that had been blown out during WWII.

I’m guessing Vernon is a pretty sleepy town at the best of times, and on Monday it was dead. All the restaurants that I fancied were closed, including our hotel restaurant. We settled on a brasserie, but were told they were closing. The only place open in town was the pizza joint up the road, we were told. It was starting to rain.

All through my pizza, I was remembering how good that confit of duck omelette had been.
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:19:39
Day Two. Vernon to Saint-Malo. 7 September. 234 miles.

It rained heavily all night, but the sun was starting to break through Tuesday morning. The best thing about the Hotel d’Evreux was that I could see my bike through our room window. I could see I would likely need to take a towel to the seat. The hotel breakfast was standard fare and we quickly set off in the morning haze.

The green fields and chateaus were behind us quickly and rush hour in Évreux engulfed us. Conches-en-Ouche was not appearing on the road signs, so I guessed we wanted Caen and my compass confirmed the notion. As we approached 32 miles, I looked up and noticed a small signpost to “Les Conches”. The system was working and we were soon heading for Argentan.

In the forests southwest of Évreux, I had my first close call. We were moving along pretty quickly and I missed a badly signposted turn. At the next intersection, I pulled a u-turn. I had been the only other vehicle on the road, but as I accelerated back onto the highway, my rear view mirrors were full of Range Rover. I kept right, dropped a gear and accelerated as hard as I could. I got the obligatory honk and waved an apology, but reminded myself to be a bit more circumspect in future. Where the heck had he come from?

We arrived in Argentan in one piece.

As would be prove to be the norm, I missed the bypass and rode through the centre of town. It was time to stop for coffee, anyway.

The name rang a bell. Saving Private Ryan? Some war movie, anyway. I looked it up when I got home and this is what I found:

G.I.s with a Panther tank in Argentan

This is where we had our coffee:

Saint Germain marketplace

Argentan was bombed heavily on two separate occasions. This is from a doorway on the outside of the church:

As usual, we had driven around the bollards and parked in the marketplace. The beauty of touring in France and Spain (and Italy, but not on this occasion) is that you can park a motorcycle virtually anywhere. So, parking it in the market within sight of a cafe was a blessing, as you could just leave everything piled on the bike. The FJR (which hasn’t as yet earned a nickname) is just out of shot to the left.

We were in Domfront by lunchtime. I had street-viewed the town, predicting the time we would arrive. It looked like a dour working-class town. But, we parked on the main drag, then walked up the hill into the old town. It was nice. We had clear views of the surrounding countryside, a nice old castle ruin to visit, a look at the concrete church and my first tartine in Le Bistro St Julien.

A tartine is essentially an open-face grilled cheese sandwich with your choice of additions grilled on top of it. Mine had local ham, mushrooms, black pudding and onions with salad on the side. It was all I could eat. I also had my first Norman cider. It came in a ceramic bowl, rather than a glass and was delicious. Also, not too alcoholic.

Saint Julien, a 14th century church that was replaced in 1926 by a concrete structure.

The restaurant opposite. You can’t smoke in a French restaurant. The waitresses are standing outside for a smoke in the sun.

Le Bistro St. Julien, sharing the name of the street and the church, and specialising in tartines.

We were sitting outside in the sun. I was starting to get too hot in my black t-shirt and jeans when the sun disappeared behind a cloud and it got cold. Hmmm, better hot than cold, I thought.

We were back on the bike for the final stretch to Saint-Malo. The scenery was quite pleasant, and the farm villages had some pretty impressive buildings. But the run into our destination was spoilt by rain. I found an oak tree overhanging the roadside and we got our waterproofs on. Every RV and articulated lorry that I had passed during the last hour got by us again. The rain got heavier and so did the traffic as we entered the town.

My study paid off as I rode into the old town, left, right, right and stopped in front of the Hotel Quic en Groigne.

I needed a beer, so we were quickly unpacked, changed and back on the street – exploring under our umbrellas.

This town has more bars and restaurants than any other place I can think of. All of them busy.

Last shot of the night. I was holding an umbrella and trying to steady the camera in the wind and rain, so, blurry. We liked Saint-Malo.

Tipping in France (or, making a very short story really long)

Why do all that research on restaurants if you don’t use it? We stumbled upon our first choice, Le Bistro de Jean, which looked full. It was, but the nice woman said we could come tomorrow night. We made a reservation and set off to find a place that could take us on this Tuesday night. Inkjet maps are not the best idea on a rainy night. Mine got more and more blurry as the second, then the third restaurant we tracked down turned out to be closed.

Finally, L’Entre Deux Verres took us in. It was an agreeable place, but very busy and we waited quite a while before food finally ended up on our table. It was worth the wait. I had more oysters, which were lovely, but the lamb and bean cocotte that came in a marmite pot (these are all new words to me, too) was delicious. The glass of Beaujolais Village was so delicious, I had three and asked to see the bottle.

We finally get to the point:

When the bill came, I asked if service was included, because I definitely want to leave a tip. Sometimes the bill or the menu will say if service is included, but not here. The waiter said, no, service was not included on the bill. I left the man €10, about 12.5%

Two days later, in Quimper, I asked the waiter if service was included. He took pains to explain to me that, in France, no matter where you go, service is ALWAYS included. He said if you liked the service, a mention and a thank you would be appreciated. Which sort of takes the edge off my recommendation for L’Entre Deux Verres.
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:28:26
Day Three. Saint-Malo.

20 years ago, we caught a ferry from Saint-Malo to Portsmouth and spent a few hours in the old town. We thought it worth revisiting, so planned for two nights in the Hotel Quic en Groigne. We were assured a newly modernised double room, so imagine my surprise when the very nice receptionist walked us to the back of the hotel, past the breakfast room and out the back to show us Cabin No. 3.

Cabin No. 3, Hotel Quic en Groigne, Saint-Malo and the gorgeous blonde I travel with.

I wondered to myself if this is where they hid the bikers? (I had asked for a parking place for a moto when I booked the room.) Well, it turned out to be one of the best rooms of the trip. No sexual athletes in the room next door, because there was no next door. (I have no idea what happened to Cabins No. 1 & 2.) And the tin roof was fun during the nightly downpour. The bed was new and huge. The bathroom was brand new, the shower was powerful and the drains worked. Very un-French.

The garage where I parked the bike also caused momentary concern. It was under the hotel. The ramp down had to be a 45° drop with not much room for turning at the bottom, but caused no problem in the end. Launching myself up and out of the garage into a sea of pedestrians when we left turned out not to be the drama I had anticipated.

It was a perfect place to stay in the quiet end of the old town. And, after a night of pouring rain, Tuesday morning was sunny. We found a cafe for breakfast.

French music.

Every cafe plays music, usually louder than is absolutely necessary and definitely at all times. The French seem to have a fondness for electronic dance music that features manufactured sounds that mimic cute animals noises, then loop the shit out of them. I can imagine that the videos feature very attractive, gamine Carla Bruni lookalikes in very little clothing. The pap we were forced to listen to made me long for the Joe Le Taxi days.

The cafe was also typical in that there was one person running the whole place – a problem if the place was packed. Our guy had to run from the shop twice to buy bread and something else from his neighbours. He was very pleasant, and the orange juice and croissants were freshly made.

We explored the harbour. You have a ferry port, a yacht harbour and moorings for a fishing fleet. On the other side of the sea wall, we found what I will call a groin (a low wall or sturdy timber barrier built out into the sea from a beach to check erosion and drifting).

Saint-Malo Harbour

Sea wall groin and the gorgeous blonde I travel with

Sea wall groin, Saint-Malo

We walked back along the beach from the harbour to the town and explored the fort that was approachable when the tide is out. Reentering the town, I could not pass a stand on the sea wall that was offering oysters. Cancale is a couple miles to the east of Saint-Malo and is where the local oysters come from.

Cancale oysters

The coffee was undrinkable, the bread stale and the wine dank. The oysters were wonderful.

We took another circuit of the town walls. It was a beautiful, if blustery day. An American woman, taking photos of the old town, announced to anyone within earshot, “Everything is so freaking CUTE!” I could not disagree. Saint-Malo is a nice place. We watched a ferry set sail, noticed that the tidal swimming pool had been refilled.

Tidal swimming pool

It was lunchtime. We decided on, what else, seafood.

Typical Saint-Malo seafood restaurant

and through the 12x zoom on my Panasonic DMC-TZ7

I already had oysters, so we went for a tiered plate of crab, langostines and prawns. Jo had a couple glasses of Alsatian riesling and I stuck to dry Normandy cider, which went really well with the shellfish. We were in pig heaven, stuffing ourselves and baking in the sun.

A walk was called for and we found the cathedral.

Cathédrale Saint-Vincent de Saint-Malo

And walked by the swimming pool, which was busy now.

We’d enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day, but noticed the weather was closing in. By dinner time, we were carrying umbrellas again.

Dinner at the Bistro de Jean was worthy of a place you cannot get into without a reservation. Our hostess was happy to help me with my French, explained the specials in English and I proceeded to order too much.

The main course was a local sausage. It was huge and delicious but after the huge lunch I was struggling. This was going to continue to be a problem for me on this trip. I wanted to try everything. I ended up leaving half my food on more than one occasion.

Overdoing it led to another of our problems on this trip: snoring.

Joanna was not very happy with me the next morning...
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:36:42
Day Four. Saint-Malo to Quimper. 129 miles.

The rain was coming down so heavily on Wednesday morning, I tried to take a picture of it out my cabin window. But, by the time we’d finished breakfast in the hotel, the rain had stopped. Still, we set off for Quimper in our waterproofs.

The bike purred in the cool air and we were soon lost somewhere south of Saint-Malo.

How had this happened? I’d studied the map before we left and followed the signs to Dinard. But, I confused Dinard and Dinan and ended up heading south earlier than I should have. We ended up doing more miles on the N176 instead of the rural miles that I’d planned for Joanna’s benefit. She doesn’t like the motorway, and who could blame her.

After a dull 83 miles through rolling countryside, we ended up having our coffee stop in Rostrenen. I couldn’t help but notice the relatively high number of alternative-looking types in the town. I wondered if it had anything to do with the music scene? I had read that there was a thriving traditional music industry in Brittany. So were all these people musicians, or was there a hippy commune outside of town? A long-haired biker sat down next to me. Conversation was difficult/brief but I learned he’d just returned from the Alps and the Pyrenees. Lots of rain, he said. Not encouraging, I thought.

We had time to kill before we could check into the Hotel Dupleix in Quimper at 3 pm earliest and not a lot of miles to cover today. We were encouraged to take a side trip to the fifteenth century Locronan by the Rough Guide. It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful rural villages in France. Roman Polanski covered the village’s streets in dirt to create an English village for the film Tess.

We parked up next to a Harley on the outskirts and walked into the village after finally stripping off our waterproofs for the day. The village was now a monument to tourism and twee was the only word that sprang to mind. We had a galette in the pictured restaurant. Normandy is famous for crepes (sweet) and galettes (savory). Ours came neatly folded into a square, made of whole wheat flower and containing basically a ham and egg breakfast in a pancake. It was good.

Locronan, Brittany

Locronan. It was warming up.

Still with time to kill and needing petrol, we headed west to Douarnenez, a harbour town. It was a nice ride through lovely countryside in the sun. The town was pleasant enough, but our feet never touched the ground until we found a petrol station.

So, in a lousy petrol station, on day 4 of a 22-day trip, my main credit card was refused.

I was once in a fancy restaurant in Orvieto with not enough cash to pay for our meal. I had three credit cards refused before the fourth finally coughed up. So I was not lacking for plastic on this trip. But I had made sure to notify all my credit card companies and banks that I would be abroad. I paid cash.

We got to Hotel Dupleix, Quimper, at 3 pm. I was offered garage parking, but as they didn’t mind that I’d parked in front of their entrance, I left the bike there. We had our first decent hotel room view of the trip.

Cathédrale Saint-Corentin de Quimper (and the FJR) from our hotel window

Cathédrale Saint-Corentin de Quimper

Cathédrale Saint-Corentin de Quimper

Quimper Old Town

Cathedral Square, the Museum of Fine Arts and a very nice Jules Verne carousel.

The old town was clustered at the base of the cathedral, intersected by canals. Quimper makes a large feature of flower boxes everywhere and the attractive centre was very busy. We enjoyed a drink in the cathedral square and did some people watching, then went to find a restaurant.

The best sounding place from my research turned out to be no longer there. Back and forth we walked before finally deciding that L’Jardin de l’Odet was now a pizza joint. We walked back to Restaurant Erwan (which appears on Google maps) but decided it was too early to eat, so popped in to the bar across the street for a couple.

Turned out to be an Irish pub. We immediately noticed what a wonderful change the music was from the electronic French “music” we’d been listening to for the past three days. And Brittany shares the Celtic music history of Ireland and Galicia in Spain. The instruments and music are very similar. So, we were in an Irish pub listening to Breton music. Nice.

I started with a local cider, but notice a couple of locals nursing their pints of Guinness. I ordered a Guinness, which was poured correctly and arrived at my table some time later. It didn’t taste as good as London Guinness and I found out why the locals were taking so long over their pints. €5.50.

Dinner in the Restaurant Erwan was very good. The decor was diabolical. Orange? Lots of garish orange? We didn’t comment on the original artwork, either, in case they had been painted by a friend of our very excellent waiter. This was the chap that explained French tipping etiquette to me. Definitely eat in the Erwan, but wear dark sunglasses.

We took a stroll through a super little garden behind the theatre, watched the huge grey mullet in the canal (not good for eating said our waiter) and enjoyed a beautiful sunset before hitting the sack.
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:44:56
Day Five. Quimper to La Rochelle. 10 September. 288 miles.

Breakfast in the Hotel Dupleix proved why the reason I only have breakfast in a hotel is if we want to make a fast getaway and it’s inconvenient to go out. I’ll bet they don’t drink their own coffee. The dispensing machines are... well, enough said.

We were very quickly out of town and on the N165 heading southeast. I hoped Joanna would not notice the signs to Carnac. I mean, once you’ve hugged the monoliths at Stonehenge... besides, I’d seen pictures on the internet.

We were at Nantes by coffee time, so I plowed on into town. I knew there was an old town/cathedral near the river, so we followed the river to a likely spot. I circled the one way systems a couple of times before I decided on a cafe. We parked ten feet from our table. You’ve got to love motorcycles.

Coffee finished, we left town and realised we’d missed the best part. Oh, well. Nantes was never going to be more than a pit stop. I wanted to get back to La Rochelle.

Jo and I had spent a wonderful evening there many years ago. A plateau de fruits de mer by at the harbour side while we watched a sailboat fashion show to the electronic strains of Jean Michel Jarre. Spotlights picked up each yacht, catamaran and trimaran as it entered through the harbour walls, did a pirouette and sailed out. The French know how to do a fashion show.

I planned for two nights in a nice, quiet hotel. Too many holiday nights have been spoiled by shouts from the street below. On Google maps, I found a likely place on the other side of a park from the old town and paid the price three months in advance. Checking the hotel’s website the day before we left London, I saw that we’d saved about €60.

With a nice park in front of the hotel, they put us in a room overlooking the car park. Well, it wasn’t the worst view we’d have on this trip and at least I got a good look at my bike. And, it was very quiet a night. Even with air conditioning, my wife insists on sleeping with the window open. “Ooo... stuffy!”

View from our room in the Novotel, La Rochelle.

It was a nice room. We were getting used to this. The last night of our previous trip to Dubrovnik, we stayed in a four-star hotel in Dijon. His and her’s white terrycloth bathrobes were a nice touch. I thought, why wait until the last night? Like I said, one could get used to this.

We decided to avail ourselves of the hotel laundry. We will wash underwear (I even pack a tiny clothes line and pegs) but jeans are a problem and I’d been wearing my bike gear since Monday. We sent a couple pairs of jeans, t-shirts and a dress shirt. €24. Hey, the high life ain’t cheap!

Changed and refreshed, we hit La Rochelle. Having to walk through the park to get into the old town turned out to be a nice touch. The town, itself, was not as glamorous as I’d remembered, hence this is my first photo:

Bronze on the harbour wall, La Rochelle

The town was, however, very lively and fun. I’d made sure to arrange a Friday and Saturday night there and we went in search of a restaurant I’d read about on the beach. They were booked for Friday and Saturday night, but we could have Saturday lunch. Done!

There was some sort of French television shindig going on around the harbour. Two of the places on my list were closed for private parties. Marquees had been set up along the harbour with groups of fans clamouring for autographs. It was party time.

We went in search of a fourth choice. Les Flots on the harbour had a table outside for us. It was getting quite cool, but the heat lamps worked well. Our meal was excellent, but Les Flots was truely taking the piss with their wine list. I didn’t see anything for less than €25 and prices shot up astronomically from there. I told the sommelier what we were eating and asked for a recommendation between €30-€40. He sold me a Colombard at the top of my range that was decidedly average. Oh, well, the brochette of veal sweetbreads with local langoustines was excellent.

Walking off dinner took us into the bustling bar area north of the harbour. I have no idea which bar we were in, but it was packed with locals and one of the earthier types started chatting up Joanna. He offered her something from a bottle he had in a bag, which (to my amazement) she drank. My wife was rolling. Jo said buy the man a drink, so I offered him a fiver. To my surprise, he returned from the bar with my change. I really was just a spectator here.

Anyway, we escaped with our lives and Jo finally decided she was ready for bed. We slept the sleep of the dead.
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:47:34
Day Six. La Rochelle. 11 September.

We were a little bit worse for wear Saturday morning as we set out for another day of fun.

Exploring away from the harbour for the first time, we stumbled into Cathédrale Saint-Louis de la Rochelle and had breakfast in a little family-run cafe, the bashful son serving us on a non-school day.

Cathédral Saint-Louis de la Rochelle

Then, we found one of the trip’s high points for me, the Saturday market. There was a large indoor market surrounded by temporary outdoor market stalls. The range and quality of produce was a marvelous sight. It made our local supermarket look like a corner shop. Local cheeses, sausages and fruit and vegetables I’d never seen before, like flat peaches. Cuts of meat and types of fresh fish you would never see in a British market. It was certainly whetting my appetite for lunch.

Saturday market, La Rochelle

It was getting quite hot, so we made a detour back to the hotel on the way to the restaurant to change into something more suitable.

When I made the reservation the night before, I was wearing the finest apparel that motorcycle touring allows. Now, as I stood before the maitre’d of the Restaurant Richard et Christopher Coutanceau, I had on my loudest Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts and flip-flops. “I hope I’m not over dressed,” I asked the man. He was not that amused by my irony. “I suppose as it’s lunchtime...” he said. (I was not that bothered, frankly. I figured that if they turned us away, they’d be saving me a lot of money.)

Anyway, when I was sat at the table with the table cloth covering my partial nudity, I felt not too out of place. This was a very posh place. They handed us English menus. We paused for a second to admire the panoramic view of La Rochelle harbour and take in the rest of the restaurant.

One large table was a party of television people, we guessed. They were passing around a MacBook Air and having a Skype conversation with the face we could see on the screen. They were a bit loud. Between us and the sea sat a foursome. The older chap knew his wine and was giving the younger chap the benefit of his vast knowledge. Another foursome featured husband and wife and mom and pop. Pop was a dead ringer for Judd Hirsch. To our left sat a very posh, elderly couple. She had some sort of lap dog making a fuss at her feet. We never saw it.

Service was professional and brusque. I turned down the wine list, saying we had too much to drink the night before, thereby saving us a fortune, and we ordered from the cheapest menu. €55. I had not yet tired of oysters, having gone the summer without one. This is what I got:

Medley d’huitres, Restaurant Coutanceau

They were probably from the Ile de Ré oyster beds, five miles to the west. There were little clams and small shrimps hidden in the froth. Pretentious? You bet! Delicious? Yeah. My glass of white was very carefully poured at the table, lest I get one drop more than 125 ml (€8). It, too, was delicious.

Not pretty, but delicious, meat and veg

I swooned over my steak as I watched the drama unfold at the wine connoisseur’s table. They all had red wine glasses the size of goldfish bowls in front of them. The older chap called for the sommelier. They had a lengthy discussion and another bottle of red was produced. New table, new glasses, new bottle cradle. Bottle uncorked and allowed to breath. Satisfied, the old bottle was taken away. I was dying to have a taste of the discarded wine and know what it cost. My glass of red was very nice.

Unfortunately, Joanna was not enjoying herself as much as I was. She said her food was very nice, but she was uncomfortable with the ambiance. A bit overwhelming, sitting among these wealthy French people and besuited staff.

We took a long walk along the shoreline, checking out the nude sunbathers. Well, I was. I mean, what are dark sunglasses for? Exhausted, we headed back to the Novotel for a nap.

Dinner at Chez Fred was an anticlimax. It was a bit disappointing and we were tired. Too much fun, too much food. We were going to have to learn to pace ourselves. I even took a blood sugar reading to see how much damage I was doing to myself. I was relieved to see a normal result. All the walking was doing me a favour.

I was looking forward to getting on the bike again.

La Rochelle towers from the aquarium.

La Rochelle, Quai Duperré
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:52:04
Day Seven. La Rochelle to San Sebastian. 12 September. 265 miles.

I stopped to pay my bill on the way out of the Novotel La Rochelle. Even though I had prepaid for my room, it cost me €54.70 to leave. Laundry, breakfast and an ill-advised stop at the bar on Friday night. Nevermind, we were on our way to sunny Spain!

First, we had to negotiate a few autoroute toll plazas. What a palaver. Jo and I were getting into a routine: I would roll up to the pay window and hit the kill switch, leaving the bike in gear while Jo handed the ticket to the collector. I remove my gloves and hand them to Jo, fish the money out of my wallet, put the change back in my pocket, fire the bike up and head to the curb to rearrange everything so as not to hold up the traffic behind me. It was a nuisance, but worked pretty well. It was much more difficult in rainy weather wearing waterproofs. Man, what a pain that is, having to shove wet fingers back into gloves...

One toll plaza in near Bordeaux we had to go through twice. I would look for the symbol that showed a toll booth attendant, rather than a credit card or automatic change machine. Bikes pay less than cars, but unless you get an attendant, how do they know? At Bordeaux, there is no attendant. Cards only. And the sign on the toll booth says “Cars. Bordeaux. €33.” WTF?! And you get no receipt, so I had no clue what I had just paid. I had to look at my statement when I got back home to find I’d paid £6.14.

Anyway, we didn’t quite get to Spain before it was time for lunch and we were near Bayonne.

Disappointly, we had to park almost 30 feet away from our table on this occasion:

Parking in Bayonne.

After a delicious salade gourmande and a petit Kronnenbourg we were soon crossing the border. We had spent a lunch hour in San Sebastian 20 years ago and were determined to return. I planned for two nights in the Hotel Amara Plaza, rivaling La Rochelle as the most expensive stop on our trip.

We rode straight to it and were quickly ensconced in air-conditioned luxury. And what a view!

The view from our hotel room, San Sebastian.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. You could see the river and a bunch of building sites. The best thing about the hotel, aside from the tranquil luxury, was that it afforded us a much needed walk to and from the fun bits. We were soon exploring along with the other tourists on this Sunday afternoon.

Looking toward Mount Urgull, San Sebastian

We were heading to the Old Quarter and the lure of the pintxo (tapas) bars. I was fully expecting this to be the high point of our trip. Instead, we found the low point.

ETA, the Basque separatist group had just declared a cease fire and were planning to engage in political action rather than militant action. Basque groups from all over the region had decended upon the old town in their colours and were having a piss up in the streets. This photo does not begin to show how congested the streets were.

Calle Mayor, San Sebastian

What you can’t see in the photo is the ground, which was COVERED in litter. Plastic bags, discarded food containers, broken glass (and me in flip-flops). They had been having fun all day and turned the charming old quarter into a SH*T HOLE. We made a bee-line for the river to get the heck outta Dodge. The area we were heading into was called, ominously, Gros.

Well, Gros was cleaner, but the weather that had been deteriorating all day finally burst into a thunder shower and further dampened my spirits. I was not a happy camper. Plus, I could not locate Alona Berri, the number one pintxos bar on my list. In fact, hardly anything was open on this Sunday.

We found a working class, neighbourhood bar and they had nice looking tapas spread the length of the bar. Now we’re talking. Thinking this was our lot for the night, we had more to eat than we should, watching Independence Day on the telly behind the bar. Venturing back outside, we saw that the town was starting to open up! Places that had been shuttered a moment before were now glowing in neon. We’d stuffed ourselves only to find that the top places were only feet away from us. Hmmm...

Bar Bergara across the street had very attractive-looking inventions on their counter. You might even say, irresistable. And I started getting into the red wine, where previously I had been sticking to beer. I never had a bad drop of red in Spain. And the price was generally cheaper than France.

Having learned our lesson in La Rochelle, we called it a night before we got too greedy and took the long walk back to our hotel in the rain.
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:55:03
Day Eight. San Sebastian. Monday

Monday morning, we walked to the street via the hotel cafeteria. Somehow, the smoke was easier to tolerate in the evening than first thing in the morning. Everybody smokes. Everywhere. It’s like watching Mad Men. Even France makes you stand on the street if you need a cigarette. Oh, well, when in Spain. In the old town the day before, we’d bought ourselves a couple of cigars, just waiting for the opportune time to smoke them. Not yet...

On the Playa de la Concha, we found a cafe overlooking the beach. Tractors had cleaned and dragged the beach overnight. It looked beautiful. Several people were having a morning swim as we watched from our table. I asked the enthusiastic Spanish waitress for revueltos (scrambled eggs). She recommended a dish she said was very nice and brought me a typical English fry up.

Breakfast on the Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian

Then we were off for an afternoon of culture. Joanna wanted to go to the Museo Chillida-Leku. Eduardo Chillida was a Spanish sculptor who had an entire park laid out on the outskirts of San Sebastian. We just had to figure out how to get there. A cabbie at the hotel said it would be about €20. Jo wanted to take the bus. Which bus? What direction? When do we get off? Will the driver take cash? Jeeze, I can really work myself up into a state. In the end, it was easy and cost €2.70, which was a bargain considering the length of the trip.

The museum was wonderful, helped no end by the gorgeous day we were enjoying. Chillida spaced out his sculptures over a few acres of hilly, grassy countryside and put the smaller stuff in a beautiful house in the middle of the grounds. You were actually encouraged to touch the work outside. They said it helped the metal age. Photographing the large pieces, you could create art of your own. It was a very nice experience, and I’m not big on museums.

Museo Chillida-Leku



Museo Chillida-Leku Gallery

Playa de la Concha looking toward the Town Hall (left), San Sebastian

There has never been a reported case of skin cancer in San Sebastian

The bus dropped us off in town where we started and we walked toward the old quarter. It was lunchtime, and I wanted to see if the pintxo bar centre had been cleaned up from yesterday’s festivities. Well, it was spotless. Kudos to the city cleaning crews. You could not find a fag end on the pavement. Confidence restored, we found Bar La Cepa. You have to be looking for this place. It’s attractiveness is not going to draw you in.

Bar La Cepa (left), San Sebastian

Jo does not eat red meat, so I got myself a 1/2 portion of Jabugo ham and we shared pimientos de Gernika and a Spanish tortilla made with bacalao (salt cod). Everything was delicious. I asked the waitress what a speciality of the house might be and she recommended something I couldn’t understand. ‘Ees berry good!” Okay, bring it on! I thought. “Bueno!” I said.

It turned out to be huge wild mushrooms, sliced and sauted in garlic. They were absolutely delicious. The friendly French woman next to us had big eyes for our mushrooms, so Jo offered her a taste. Delicious, she agreed. They were sort of slimey in a Chinese manner. Wonderful. The thrill lost a little edge when I got the bill. The hongos a la plancha were €20. Wow!

We walked off the bill strolling around Mount Urgull and headed back to the hotel for a nap to get ready for our last night in pintxos heaven. This was one of the mistakes I made in my trip planning. I should have allowed at least three nights in San Sebastian and included a weekend. I would, however, have to find a cheaper place to stay. I could do a week here, easy. Bring lots of sun block and get some use out of the beaches. Limit myself to one pintxo per bar... no, that’s impossible.

Anyway, we went back to Gros for our last night, because Jo had a bridge she fancied walking across. Hey, as good a reason as any! There were lots of others out for their evening promenade as we made our way to the beach.

Evening promenade, Gros, San Sebastian

We watched the surfers in the setting sun.

Gros, San Sebastian

And we had our best meal in San Sebastian in Mil Catas. This place won the last pintxos championship for one of their creations. In fact, when doing my research, I had noticed a chap on the internet who offered guided tours of the pintxo bars in San Sebastian. He was at Mil Catas, dropping off a group of tourists on their final stop.

The best thing we had, and everything was first class, was a tomato salad. It was like I had never tasted a tomato before. What is the rubbish we buy in the supermarket? I had razor clams, ox tail, something that translates as ‘Roasted egg yolk and crisps Irati’ that was a little bit of heaven, scallops and langostines. Everything was treated in a special way, nothing was obvious, but nothing was pretentious, either. Just bloody good.

If I could return to just one place, it would be Mil Catas.
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 19:58:58
Day Nine. San Sebastian to Las Arenas de Cabrales. 189 miles.

We had breakfast in the hotel cafeteria, much cheaper than eating in the hotel breakfast room and the orange juice was still fresh squeezed. Wondering if I could squeeze past the barrier in the underground car park proved moot when I found parking included on my hotel bill. I brought the bike up to the hotel entrance and we were packed and on the motorway in no time, headed toward the Picos de Europa.

We had 143 miles of slab to do before we got to the nice bit. Cabezon de la Sal was just off the A8 and we looked for a likely spot for lunch. Giving the Irish bar a miss, we settled on an authentic-looking place. We sat in the sun on the terrace, the first customers. I explained to the lad that we wanted to eat. Much discussion in bad English and even worse Spanish ensued until he could make me understand that until 1:30, we had to eat inside. It was 1 pm, so inside we trooped.

The music was too loud and there were televisions on every wall. We found the quietest corner we could and the waitress eventually discovered us. She was great, running the place by herself. She pushed another table over to us when she realised we’d taken up all the space with our gear. Then, piled way too much food on our table. (Top tip: if you like the same food as your partner in Spain, just order for one as there’s plenty for two on the plate.) Unfortunately, Jo and I eat different things. I left half my pulpo a la Gallega.

Back on the road, the scenery started to get interesting. The Picos are not very high compared to other European ranges, but dramatic nevertheless. We were headed for Carmona, a small village where we’d enjoyed a wonderful meal in a beautiful old hotel smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

We reached Carmona and didn’t really recognise the place. We even back tracked to San Pedro to see if that was the place we’d been, but the cobbles, inclines and deadends defeated me and we retreated back to the CA-182. I asked for cider in the Posada El Puente (Carmona) and was disappointed when it came in a store bottle instead of being “the real thing”.

Back on the road and remembering the quest for a “proper biking photograph” I stopped for a couple of feeble attempts:

CA-182 near Carmona, Picos de Europa

CA-182 (before Carmona) and the bikey girl I travel with

All of this made a very pleasant change from the city life we’d enjoyed up until now. Still, I was glad I chose the larger Las Arenas de Cabrales to spend three nights in and not Carmona. I guess I’m just a city boy at heart. We were in our room in Hotel Naranjo de Bulnes and showered by 3 pm.

The view from our room, Las Arenas de Cabrales.

We went to check out the town. There was a small square off the town’s main drag where you could sit quietly. We sat outside the Sidrería Calluenga and ordered the regional specialities: sidra y queso de Cabrales. Cabrales cheese is made from a combination of cow and goat milk and aged in the local limestone caves. It is a very pungent, tangy blue cheese. A little goes a long way, and we got a brick of it.

The local cider was €2 for a 750 ml bottle. At first, it seems a bargain. However, in order to avoid a stunning headache the next day, you must “break” the cider. To do this, you hold a large glass at arm’s length down by your knee at a 45° angle. Then, you hold the bottle as high as you dare and start to pour. The cider hits the inside of the glass and is aerated so that it’s drinkable. Even waiters that do it for you tend to leave much of the contents of the bottle on the ground.

The table next to me had a contraption on top of the bottle that spritzed the cider into a glass, saving the aggro. Less authentic, maybe, but you got a lot more in your glass!

The sidra was real pucker up gear, very tart. Okay, I can check sidra y queso de Cabrales off my list.

Riding into town along the AS-114, we followed the River Cares. It’s a beautiful ride, the temptation being to enjoy the bends instead of sightseeing. We noticed a cafe on the river just before reaching Arenas and decided to walk back to it. But, as we left town, walking along the highway became more and more risky, especially as it was getting darker.

After maybe three miles, we gave up and stopped into a family-oriented place on the outskirts of Arenas. We got smiles, beers and free tapas. The children were playing in the adjacent field. We probably should have stayed longer, but I wanted to get back into town before dark.

Dinner was in a busy restaurant on the main drag. The bar was watching football and the tables were busy with card players. Jo had roasted peppers covered with slices of manchego cheese and I had thin strips of veal with gravy and fried potatos. Delicious and to bed.
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 20:00:45
Day Ten. Las Arenas de Cabrales. Wednesday.

Wednesday was shaping up to be a beautiful day. We did one of the side trips on my list for our stay in Arenas. We rode up the AS-264 to Poncebos, where you park and take the new funicular up the mountain to Bulnes.

AS-264 to Poncebos. Obligatory bike shot

And just over the guard rail

Bulnes is a tiny hamlet of 20 inhabitants. In 2001, a funicular was completed, so instead of a 2.5 hour slog up the mountain, you could ride through a 2.2 kilometer tunnel up 400 meters in 7 minutes. Suddenly, Bulnes was full of young families and pensioners, including Joanna and I. The idea was to ride the funicular up the mountain, then walk down. A lot of people have the same idea, hence the fare structure: €15.80 one way, €18.90 return.

This turned out to be the single best day of the trip.

When we reached the car park at Poncebos, cars were being turned away. Full at 10:30 on a chilly Wednesday morning. But right in front, there was an empty motorcycle bay. We got stripped for action, filling our previously empty panniers with gear, and joined the queue for the ride up.

As we waited for the funicular, we realised we were freezing and hoped the day would warm up quick.

A lot of fuss was made by environmentalists before the funicular was finished. But, you wouldn’t know the funicular was there, except for the terminals at the top and bottom of the run. This is the view you got:

The view from the Poncebos to Bulnes Funicular

The main transformation was Bulnes, which was now a tourist hot spot. Bored girls sitting in giftshops and bored girls waiting on tables, where before there had been hardy mountaineers huddled over tins of Sterno.

The walk from the funicular to the village. I’m guessing these three bought roundtrip tickets.

The Bar Bulnes (white umbrellas), Bulnes hamlet

Well, for a city guy who was facing angioplasty upon his return to reality, I thought Bulnes was perfect. We had an hour to kill before lunch, so we walked out of the village towards the trail to the Jou de Cabrones Refuge. We followed an Alsatian up the path that looked just like our dear departed Bess and found a couple Spaniards listening to an old guy who they said was a native of Bulnes.

A native of Bulnes

I missed much, but could understand that he was telling them that the ruined fort/church in Bulnes had been there longer than the harbour villages on the coast. And he said something about the war, which I took to mean the Civil War. Mainly, I wondered what it must be like to be walking up and down that mountain for 70+ years.

We caught up again with the Spanish couple, who were sharing a laugh over the Cabrones Refuge sign. I could see the man was pleased that I knew what the joke was about, but I was more interested in the map bug:

The Jou de Cabrones Refuge map bug (more later)

The route home, but after lunch

Lunch in Bar Bulnes

Walking back to Bar Bulnes, I noticed cows and snails. They were on the menu, so that’s what I had: a filet of veal, pan-fried with potatos, and caracoles, snails cooked in oil and paprika. Dipping the veal in the snail juice made for a delicious mouthful. I felt sorry for Joanna with her mountainous plateful of patatas bravas, but she won’t eat veal or snails.

Walking off lunch

We really needed the walk back down the mountain. I won’t boor you with the hundreds of photos I took. I even took a photo of the signpost, which said the walk to Poncebos would take one hour. It took us two and a half, but we stopped often to admire the scenery, the animal life and and the variety of flowers. I’ll just show you these, which are either seed bugs or fire bugs, but not the same as the map bug.

Fire bugs? Seed bugs?

The walk turned out to be fairly strenuous. There were quite a few uphill climbs in what was meant to be a descent.  I was extremely pleased to see the bar they had thoughtfully built at our destination.

The car park overflow.

I took the long way home as we continued to enjoy the fine day. We rode east to Sotres, then turned around when the road became a track.

Near Sotres, Picos de Europa

We were back in Las Arenas by 6 pm. We parked the bike, walked to the hotel and it started to rain.
Posted on: 24-10-2010, 20:07:57
Day Eleven. Las Arenas to Llanes and Ribadesella.

The view from our room
Notice the angle of the window above. This was the reason that I got doused with water at 4 am. It started raining heavily and I was laying beneath the open window. Rude! I spent the rest of the night trying to avoid the wet patch.

The view that greeted us in the morning caused mixed emotions. While we weren’t too thrilled about the day’s prospects, we were grateful that we’d chosen yesterday to go up the mountain, which we could no longer see.

View from our room. Not a day for mountain climbing

We went out for breakfast and it looked like the day might be brightening, so we decided to take a trip to Llanes, one of our favourite, picturesque harbour towns from 20 years ago.

This was another item to check off our list of things to do on this trip. Last night, I’d checked off another: fabada. This is a regional speciality and I had enjoyed a fabulous version of it on my last trip. We tried a different restaurant than the previous night, opting for the one across the street. Two sisters and a husband seemed to be running the place and the service and atmosphere were wonderful. The fabada was not. Could have been from a tin. Didn’t even keep the receipt, so I can’t warn you off the place. Oh, well.

Llanes was another disappointment. After a 23-mile ride along wet roads in patchy fog and light rain through what would have otherwise been excellent scenery, we rode into the construction zone that used to be Llanes. The roads were dug up or barricaded, deviations almost everywhere and there was no water in the harbour. It was being rebuilt. Still, there were large groups of wandering tourists struggling to stay out of the roads while searching for the holiday they had booked from a glossy brochure.

I put a foot down long enough to take a photograph of a vacant sandy beach, then we got the heck outta town. Ribadesella was another 20 miles along the coast to the west. Llanes may well be worth visiting in another 20 years.

Ribadesella was much better. We rode along the harbour’s edge to a dead end parking area and stripped off our waterproofs. Then we followed a path leading to a fort overlooking the harbour and overcast views out to sea.

Ribadesella, Asturias

We walked the length of the harbour (to the bridge you can see in the photo above) working up an appetite in the process.

Ribadesella Harbour

The harbour was lined with restaurants, cafes and bars, all serving fresh fish. In the end, we chose the first restaurant we’d seen, closest to the bike. It may well have been the most expensive restaurant on the seafront. I checked another item off my list: navajas (razor clams).

Langostino y navajas, Ribadesella

Jo had merluza, filets of hake in a parsley sauce with langostines. Our meals were excellent, so I paid the bill happily. We were in a pretty cheerful mood as we got back into all our gear and headed back into the
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« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2010, 12:33:58 pm »

Day Sixteen. La Coruña. Tueday.

Once again avoiding a hotel breakfast, we strolled a couple blocks in the direction of the old town and found a cafe with hams hanging over the bar. He didn’t do eggs, so I had a ham sandwich, maybe the best one ever. Fantastic ham, which I would expect in a place hung with ham. Once again I felt sorry for Joanna and her reluctance to eat meat.

The neighbourhood was typical of La Coruña, a city past its prime and in a state of decay. Graffiti was everywhere, some of it pretty interesting, and old buildings fell to ruin.
Old guy keeping an eye on you
Your correspondent in La Coruña
Seen better days

On our walk to the Torre de Hercules, a 1900-year-old, still-functioning Roman lighthouse, took us first past the Museo de Bellas Artes. Again, we had the place to ourselves. While Jo spent most of her time in the room with the Goya etchings, I took photos of the rather nice building.
Museo de Bellas Artes, La Coruña
There seemed to be something cruel or horrible going on in each one of these paintings, including the hanging of an English priest (fourth from left).
The guards seemed pleased I was shooting the building rather than the paintings...
... but I got one of those, too.

We continued our walk in the ever increasing heat, past newly groomed beaches and around the headland. I didn’t want to pay to suffer the climb up the tower, so we listened to a Spanish piper, instead.
Torre de Hercules, La Coruña

It was that hot that I bought a couple bottles of cold water while we waited for the street car to take us around to the Restaurant Domus for lunch and a nice view of the town.
Street car to the Restaurant Domus
Restaurant Domus
City beach

Duck, veal, salad and Albariño in air-conditioned luxury. Once again, we dined alone, leaving when the first of the Spaniards arrived at 2:30 pm.

We walked off lunch by checking out the new part of town near the Parque de Santa Margarita after strolling past the harbour and the fabled (and really disappointing) City of Glass, the row of buildings facing the harbour.
Not sky behind this building
Parque de Santa Margarita to the left

I needed a nap, so we hot-footed it back to the hotel and only re-emerged for dinner. In a stunning lack of adventure, we went back to the Calle de Franja and chose another of the many restaurants there. The dining room in the back of the bar was pretty spartan, the guy next to us was chain-smoking as he ate and the tv’s were pretty loud, but the meal was delicious – pulpo a la Gallega, tortilla and Albariño.

One last lap around the deserted Plaza de Maria Pita and we’d had enough.
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« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2010, 12:41:04 pm »

Day Seventeen. La Coruña to León.

We lay in bed listening the the woman in the next room. Dithering. High heels on marble floors. Back and forth, back and forth... well, we wanted an early start anyway.

The breakfast room in the Zenit Coruña was busy. We did a tour of the buffet counter and then left to go to the cafe next door, saving about €18 and getting a better view. Then we were on the autovia to León.

Watching television in San Sebastian we had seen that miners were striking and worse in Ponferrada. They had barricaded the main A6 autovia and set fire to the barricades. This is were we were headed today, a week later. Fingers crossed.

I had to stop before Lugo and get into my waterproofs, even though it was not raining. It was cold. There, that’s better. We got off the motorway as planned at Ponferrada on the CL-631. It was gray. I was reminded of Wales coal mining country. Then, not much further up the road, we saw the coal mine head and the heaps of coal. Then we saw the miners in, I’m guessing, Palacios del Sil.

They and their wives were marching and massing just outside the town and I think we got through just before the action started.

Miles down the road, the terrain got more agricultural. We stopped in (I guess) Cabrillanes at a posada for lunch.
Lunch in the posada, Cabrillanes?

Sitting next to us was an English couple. They had to be since it was only 1:30 pm and we were the only diners in the place. We said hello and remarked that it had been a while since hearing an English voice. They, too, were on their way to León, but we never saw them again.
CL-623 to Los Barrios de Luna
Ermita de Pruneda, CL-623. You can just make out my bike ...
... parked right next to the dump
The scenery was some of the most beautiful on the trip. CL-632

At the Barrios de Luna Reservoir, I made the decision to take the AP-66 into León instead of meandering all the way to town on the CL-632. The choice saved me an hour and cost me €13. That’s one expensive stretch of road! Still, I was anxious to see our hotel for the night – our one and only Parador of the trip.

And, what a place! If you ever want to stay in a museum, stay in the Hostal de San Marcos, León. I like to take a photo out the window of every hotel I stay in. I have never taken so many pictures of the hotel, itself.
Hostal de San Marcos, León
I’ll spare you the other 20 shots
He was sitting in front of the hostal, which is on the Pilgrim’s Trail to Santiago. I know what this guy feels like!

I had read good things about the tapas in the old town. We were out of pintxo territory now, and now heading back into tapas territory. After La Coruña, I found León to be quite uplifting. This was a vibrant city and I cheered up as we sought our first refreshment of the day: cava for Joanna, an Anís de Chinchón for Jerry – don’t spare the hielo.
Refreshment in the old town

We walked through the barrio, then down the main shopping drag toward the cathedral, observing and being observed by the cafe society as we passed.

The Catedral de León was the most amazing building on our whole trip, and my poxey fotos can’t do it justice. León really is worth a visit and I should have allowed a couple nights there, at least.
Catedral de León
Catedral de León
Catedral de León
Catedral de León

Not far from the cathedral, we found a proper Spanish Plaza Mayor, too.
Plaza Mayor, León

This was a great place for relaxing and people watching. Whole families were enjoying the evening. Plenty of kids were playing in the square. Free tapas. We sat until it started to get cold, then walked to warm ourselves up. I looked for restaurants on my list, but my Google map printout was not detailed enough and the old town was a real rabbit warren of streets.

We finally found a likely square and did an eeny-meeny. The meal was a disappointment. Not bad, just not up to the standard we’d grown to expect. So, come to León for atmosphere, but eat chiparones in La Coruña.
The view from our hotel room terrace showed my bike was where I left it ...
... and the moon was full.
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« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2010, 12:46:04 pm »

Day Eighteen. León to Logroño. 232 miles.

Today officially began our home stretch. Until now, we had spent two or three nights in every town except Vernon and Quimper. Now, we were packing every morning and moving on. If it’s Thursday, it must be Logroño.

In order to facilitate an early departure, we took breakfast in the parador’s dining room. It was huge and it was busy. The gentleman in the black Armani suit took my room number (me in my Ace Cafe t-shirt and black jeans) and we set about exploring the wonders of a parador buffet breakfast.

The place was busy and full of rich people. Nevermind, I filled my plate. There was an amazing variety of different things to choose from and you know what? Every one of them was mediocre. Ham, sausage, tortilla – all decidely average. Orange juice was not fresh squeezed. The melon was hard. What a disappointment. This little lot for two came to €40.37. Unbelievable.

Well, at least our room was very nice, but next time we stay in León, it will be somewhere else.

León must have set the record for number of roundabouts on the route out of town and I think we caught every single red light. Eventually, we were on the autovia and I was again wearing my waterproofs against the cold. At the filling station south of Burgos an hour and a half later, I finally took them off. We were now heading south on the N234 to do a little mountain work before hitting Tapas Town.

I had read about The Trail of the Elephants in Logroño, so-called because that’s how you walk by the end of the evening after visiting as many of the 50 tapas bars as you could in a very small area of the medieval old town. But that was later. Now, we were having coffee in Salas de los Infantes.

We sat outside with our coffees and kept an eye on the bike across the street. We and it were attracting a lot of attention from the locals. I don’t know why, quite a few touring bikes passed as we sat there, and we were headed to a national park region.
Sierra de la Demanda
Sierra de la Demanda
Let no beauty spot go unlittered...

We were enjoying the scenery, but I was taking some punishment. We had enjoyed some pretty fabulous roads on this trip, but this was not one of them. Bring a motocross bike or a softly sprung tourer. Sports bikers would be severely punished.

We rounded a corner and my jaw dropped. This was the Mansilla Reservoir. I have since read that Mansilla de la Sierra was rebuilt some 300 meters up the hill and the old town flooded by the dam. Every September and October, the locals get to see where they used to live. I wonder what that feels like? Made me feel guilty taking a shower.
Mansilla de la Sierra old town.

After the reservoir, the scenery started getting more attractive, the river wider. We stopped at a village called Venta de Viniegra for lunch at the hotel. The dining room was busy, which was a surprise as we were getting used to dining alone at lunch. But, a van came to collect many of the patrons, so I guess they were workers on a lunch hour. A few of them looked like indios from Mexico. I wondered if they were miners?
Venta de Viniegra

After lunch, an amazing thing happened. Somebody repaired the road! The entire trip out of La Demanda was on a road so conducive to speed, that I had to turn around to take a photo of Las Cuevas.
Las Cuevas, Sierra de la Demanda, LR-113

We weren’t far now from Logroño. Leaving the beauty of La Demanda behind, we quickly got into urban and industrial Rioja wine country. I was looking forward to this – as soon as I could find the damn hotel!

I had more trouble finding this place than any other on the trip. First, I overshot my turnoff into town, so I was coming in from the east instead of the west. I recognised nothing from my Google research. Stopping to look at my printout did me no favours. I couldn’t get my bearings, even after studying the map and compass. The hotel was even signposted, but suggested I drive down through a heavily congested pedestrian precinct.

I was getting so perturbed, I almost failed to notice the blood-red water flowing from the town’s water fountains. Apparently, it was the end of Rioja Wine Week in Logroño and the fountains were coloured to suit. I did three laps of exactly the same circuit before plowing though the pedestians on 11th of June Street. Fierce glares would have greeted me in London, but these people just gathered their children and parted like it was a common experience. There was the hotel.

We unloaded and I went to park in a public parking lot a 100 meters away. I was finally bridling at paying for hotel parking and the motorcycle bay here was free.

Our room in the Hotel Portales was dark and smaller than we were getting used to, with a view to an air shaft, but the location couldn’t be more convenient for our evening’s entertainment. We stepped out into a fiesta atmosphere. The first square we came to had a band playing Spanish rockabilly. Good, too, but I thought we should do some sightseeing before it got too dark to take photos.
Upmarket graffiti in Logroño
Calle del Marqués de San Nicolás
Iglesia de Santa María de Palacio
Altar detail

Photos taken, we went to find the tapas trail. At first I was disappointed. This couldn’t be the place I’d been reading about. Could it? All the top places on my list were shut. Most places were shuttered. I studied my map to make sure we were in the right place. Finally, thirst forced me to sit and people watch.

About 7:30 pm shutters began to open and neon lights spark into life. I had worried needlessly, the action was about to start.

The first place we tried had so many tempting things on the bar, it took great restraint to just have two tapas each. Each tapa came with an accompanying glass of wine – a small glass to be sure, but filled with delicious Rioja. This bar had a price list on the wall that must have had a bottle from every vineyard in the Rioja region, priced from €0.50 to €2.40 top whack.

We had to force ourselves to leave and try someplace else.

With so many tapas bars confined to such a small area, each place specialises in one or two items.
Bar Ángel, 12 Calle del Laurel.

This place was one of our favourites. They served a two-inch high stack of mushrooms, skewered on a toothpick with a shrimp on top. I can’t tell you how delicious it was. They all got grilled and served at once. We waited patiently with the rest of the crowd for the next batch to be ready.

Most bars had space for standing inside and a service window on the street. Very few had tables. The idea was you kept moving on to the next place.

The alleys quickly filled with like-minded people. It got quite loud and very crowded. The side-by-side baby pushchairs were real traffic cloggers. By 10:30, we’d had enough. The glasses of Rioja really add up quick when you’re getting a glass with each happy meal.

We bailed out early and enjoyed some the the music tents before calling it quits for the night.

You’d need a week in Logroño, and a lot more stamina than I have, to fully explore this tapas mecca.
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« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2010, 12:50:08 pm »

Day Nineteen. Logroño to Saint-Emilion. 264 miles.

(Sing) On the road again!

My head was surprisingly clear this morning. I had planned on breakfast in the hotel, since we would need to get an early start today. We had the Pyrenees to cross and a very complex route through the French countryside to negotiate today. A long day, even if it wasn’t that many miles.

So, I was pleased to find out that I could order eggs from the nice lady overseeing the hotel breakfast room this morning. She also had to teach me how to use the coffee machine. I’d not seen one like this before: you had to choose a coffee lozenge (Colombian for me) then stick it in a slot before pressing a button. I’d been trying to rip it open, thinking it was instant.

For all that, it made yet another lousy cup of hotel coffee. But, my eggs were excellent, so that cheered me up. There was no cheering up Joanna, who would be happy never to eat another breakfast in a hotel.

I could see it was wet outside, so I took a towel when I went to collect the bike. It was bone dry. In Logroño, they even hose down the streets after the crowds have gone home. I managed to rescue my bike from the guy hosing down the car park.

Following signs to Pamplona, I managed to pick up the N-111 instead of the A-12, so the first few miles out of Logroño were scenic and sedate. We passed dozens of pilgrims making their trek to Santiago, young and old with back packs and walking sticks.

At the entrance to the A-12, we saw a policeman with his trophy for the day – he’d stopped a young guy in an Audi R8. At what speed? I wondered. We kept to the speed limit and were soon skirting counter-clockwise around Pamplona, where I made my major mistake of the day.

Following signs to France, I managed to miss the desired N-135 and found myself on the N-121a, instead. When the road forked (121a? 121b?) I went with a. It started to rain and I stopped to put on my waterproofs and finally have a look at the map. Whoa! I’d invested way too many miles in this route to correct, so I decided toll roads were the new plan.

The rain started pounding down. The traffic came to a halt. I filtered through the stopped cages and juggernauts until my path was blocked, then down the wrong side of the double yellow until I came to the head of the traffic. Two juggernauts stood side-by-side. I decided it was a Spanish road protest and, watching the Guarda Civil on the far side of the road standing by his vehicle very closely, I proceeded ever so cautiously to leave the queue behind.

Excellent! I increased my speed, crested the hill and saw what the problem was: two juggernauts had collided and overturned, spilling their loads and contents of their cabs across the road. Only one lane on my side of the road was available and juggernauts were headed toward me in it.

I braked as hard as I dare in the pouring rain, noticing the diesel slick as I did, and just managed to come to a stop before the oncoming traffic turned back to their side of the road.

The Guarda Civil flagged me through as though I belonged there. No drama at all.

No, the close call was yet to happen:

I arrived at the junction with the autovia/autoroute at the Spanish/French border. Still in the pissing rain, I ran up the onramp, expecting a long merging lane. A hundred meters up the road, the lane came to an abrupt end, I could not enter the motorway as a gigantic juggernaut was bearing down on me and he was not going to change direction. I slowed and rode the hard shoulder until it was clear to tuck in behind him.

I calmed down by the time we got to Bordeaux. It was rush hour, still raining and traffic was mad. We were joined in the urban mayhem by a couple on an R6 who had clearly not planned for rain. They finally tired of doing the speed limit with us and zoomed off to find shelter.

Saint-Emilion came as a relief. A beautiful French town dedicated to wine and tourism.
Out our hotel window, Saint-Emilion
Restaurant Le Tertre. I can’t recommend it highly enough
Bordeaux wine country, Saint-Emilion
Town detail
Clothes washing pool
Skyline, Saint-Emilion

We walked and walked in and around this pretty little town. Guide books and the hotel had recommended our restaurant for the night, so we made a reservation upon arrival and a good thing we did. Many were turned away on this Friday night.

I had a couple of pretty awful glasses of Saint-Emilion in the cafe and bar we tried, so I was grateful that the wine serve with our meal was delicious. I got spoiled, frankly, by the consistent quality of Spanish wines we’d been drinking for the past 12 days. I was surprised that I got served such rubbish in this wine town.

Anyway, in Le Tertre I managed to use snail tongs without launching one of the little buggers across the room. They were cooked with ham and sausage stuffing a la bordelaise (it says here) and the grilled sirloin steak was tasty and tender.

I’d go back to Le Tertre, except one night in Saint-Emilion was enough for us.
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« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2010, 12:53:12 pm »

Day Twenty. Saint-Emilion to Amboise. 234 miles.

Breakfast in the Auberge de la Commanderie was actually pretty good. At least Joanna drank her coffee.

The rag I keep under my bike saddle was already saturated and couldn’t cope with the morning’s dew, so I started the day with a slightly damp back side.

It was cool, bright and clear. Traffic was heavy heading toward Libourne this Saturday morning. The intention was to pass through the city and pick up the N10 to Angouleme, but I latched onto the first Angouleme sign I saw and we ended up meandering though villages all the way up the D674.

Some shifting around on the pillion seat suggested it was time for our coffee stop as we entered Voeuil-et-Giget. Le Don Camillo seemed closed, but the Spanish host accommodated us with a couple soup bowls of coffee and a rather large bill. Admiring his collection of wine bottles and watching his preparations, I was rather disappointed that we were too early for lunch.
Le Don Camillo, Voeuil-et-Giget

Jo found a reason to stroll off and it took me a while to get us back on the road.

This time picking up the N10, we made good time through pretty unspectacular scenery. It was lunchtime and we were approaching Poitiers. Jo and I had spent a few fruitless hours there many years ago, trying and failing to find a hotel room. Conventions, apparently. I didn’t fancy the hassle for lunch, so we stopped just shy of the city in Vivonne.

The town was pretty enough, with a tree-lined park opposite the restaurant we spotted. Lunch was pretty unremarkable, but I couldn’t help but notice our young African waiter, who was getting plenty of advice from Madam while he served us. I noticed because he was pretty much the first black man we’d seen in the last three weeks. I also couldn’t help but notice the elderly French man on his mobile phone. His two female companions kept shushing him because he was pretty much shouting down his new-fangled invention all through lunch.

As we left the restaurant, it started to rain. So we were delayed as we had to unpack the rain gear and return to the restaurant’s terrace to put everything on.

I worked up a sweat trying to back my bike off the gravel parking spot out into moving traffic. I had to get off the bike to pull it into the street, hoping that the cars would stop when they saw me. God, that thing is heavy when it’s fully loaded. There was no drama in the end.

We were further delayed when I noticed that the tank was empty and I had to unzip most of the rain gear to pay the attendant at the filling station next door to the restaurant. Jacket zipped up. Rain jacket zipped up. Glove liners on. Gloves on. Finally away. Nothing is bloody easy. I was sweating and cursing under my breath. The rain stopped five minutes later.

We hammered up the N10 to Tour, crossing the Loire and heading east to Amboise, our destination for the night. We were returning to the same hotel we’d stayed in during our previous visit in June, 2003. Any hotel that will let you pull your bike into their courtyard overnight for free is okay with me. (Well, things change: this time parking was up the street in a covered garage, €3.)

For me, the best part of visiting Amboise is the approach along the river on the D952. Today, the sun was breaking through a gap in the clouds and lighting the town up like a little jewel, the bridge crossing the Loire and the Chateau creating quite a picture. No turnouts and heavy traffic mean you don’t get a photo. You’ll just have to take the trip yourself! (Or, you can cheat and Google one up.)

The reason for the return was A) Joanna wanted to visit Clos Lucé where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last days. They have a lot of exhibits dedicated to his work and a park were many of his inventions have been recreated. And B) it was easy to fit Amboise into my travel plan.
Clos Lucé, Amboise, Loire Valley
Leonardo da Vinci invented the pedal boat, apparently

We spent hours walking around the Chateau on our previous visit and, after you’ve seen that and Leo’s pad, there’s not much else to do, except walk. We went to the river, checking out restaurants along the way. Our first choice for the night was fully booked. I didn’t like the looks of the second choice, so we settled on Le Lion d’Or opposite the river. That’s when we spotted these guys:
This is not my idea of sport-touring

Who takes the initiative in a group like this? How many that start the trip, finish the trip? In the time it took them to organise themselves, jockey for position and cross the bridge, I’d have been halfway to Tours. Well, different strokes...
Also not my idea of sport-touring, but certainly worth a photo

Having sorted our restaurant, we went to find a glass of local plonk. Vouvray is just the other side of the bridge. So, I had a glass of that, standing at the bar in Chez Bruno. It was that good, I had to have another. Joanna was drinking a glass of Marie Louise sparkling white. This, too, was delicious and they were offering bottles to take away at €8. A steal. If I had been driving, I’d have bought a couple cases. We didn’t even have room for a bottle on the bike. Damn shame.
Amboise, the Chateau and the gorgeous blonde I travel with

We went for another walkabout and followed the noise of internal combustion engines.
Rally stage and much local excitement

There was music and speeches. I thought I recognised a couple pretty famous names painted on the car windows, but I don’t follow rally car sport that closely. It was dinner time.

We were feeling pretty jolly when we arrived at the Lion d’Or. They seated us in the American ghetto, as we could tell from the conversations all around us. At the table next to us turned out to be a very nice couple who lived 10 miles from where I grew up. It made a nice change to have a conversation with strangers over a very nice meal.

We hit the sack relatively early. In the middle of the night, I got up to shut the window that overlooked the street. Joanna didn’t complain.
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« Reply #6 on: October 24, 2010, 12:56:56 pm »

Day Twenty-one. Amboise to Chartres. 100 miles.

Another hotel breakfast, another disappointment. This time, the only table available was next to the coffee machine and I had someone’s ass on my shoulder most of my meal. Oh, man, can I be grumpy in the morning.

We didn’t have much ground to cover this morning, so I planned a visit to Chateau de Chenonceaux just nine miles to the south on the River Cher. It was maybe the coldest morning of the trip, but it was sunny and I kept the speed down and the heated handlebar grips on.

We got to Chenonceaux by 10 am and the place was already buzzing. I had no idea this would be such a big tourist operation. They even had a special motorcycle park with rails to keep the bikes separated. It was cold enough to wear my leather, but I left my tank bag on the bike (just keeping my cash and passports with me). We spent a lot more time in this place than I would have guessed and I must say it is worth a visit.
Chateau de Chenonceaux, north view
Chateau de Chenonceaux, River Cher, east view
This shot is across the width of the hallway that crosses the river, bottom level in the shot above

My photos do not show you how crowded it was in the rooms of this fabulous building. I kept wanting to flee, but there was another room that just had to be seen.
Tapestry detail. Many of the rooms had tapestries that covered entire walls
Bedroom ceiling painting
Each large room had a flower arrangement design to suit the room. I don’t mind saying that they were a main attraction for me. All the flowers were grown on the grounds, I believe.
Rich people’s bric-a-brac
One of the many kitchen rooms

Then, we spent as long walking around the grounds as we spent in the house. It’s quite the place, as long as you can deal with the crowds.

Feeling we’d spent enough money on the Chateau, we shunned their cafeteria and found a hotel bar in town for coffee. Again, we were surrounded by North American accents. It was a nice place to sit, but time was pressing now, so we hot-footed it back to the bike and were on the road again.

We got just 30 miles up the road and it was lunchtime. Blois was a lunchtime stop in the past, but it was pretty dead this Sunday afternoon. I parked near the terrace of a nice looking restaurant and we had our helmets off when Joanna said, “It’s Japanese.” She’ll eat Japanese in London, but not in France. Back on the bike.

I saw a traditional brasserie on a roundabout and pulled up on the pavement opposite, following the “park anywhere you want” motorcycle guidelines. Inside, the couple next to us were English and the waiter had a good-natured laugh at my French. We were getting closer to home.

I had just finished my rather delicious omelette when a commotion started outside. A couple cars had stopped at the lights on the fairly major roundabout. The occupants all jumped out and started dancing to blaring Arab music. As the lights changed, they got back into their cars, but not before one of the lads took out his automatic pistol and fired five or six shots into the air. A wedding, obviously.

They were gone and I was hoping he was shooting blanks. Jeeze.

An hour and a half later, we were in Chartres. The last time we were in town, all the hotels were booked and we ended in Evreux for the night. Chartres was the reason I had booked all my hotels in advance for this trip, and I must say it worked a treat. We were in the Hotel Chatelet, which had turned us away three years ago. I’m glad we persisted. Chartres was a nice place, and the staff in this hotel were very pleasant and helpful.

I was just as impressed with Chartres Cathedral as I had been with the one in León. The stained glass was beautiful. It was small, but perfectly formed. We were also very lucky to be treated to some sort of evensong mini-mass, a call and response affair between two priests with fine voices. Such sound in such surroundings, it’s easy to get into the spirit of things.
Chartres Cathedral from our hotel window
Chartres Cathedral, north side entrance
Chartres Cathedral detail
Chartres Cathedral detail
Chartres Cathedral detail
Chartres Cathedral detail
Chartres Cathedral detail

The by now routine search for a restaurant followed. France is worse than Spain on a Sunday. Everything on our list was shut
Le Moulin de Ponceau, shut on Sunday

We ended up in a hotel restaurant, the first one we saw opposite the cathedral. We weren’t expecting anything more than a large bill, so were pleased when the food was good and the bill reasonable. Even the infant in the pram the size of a table next to us behaved himself. (Turned out the parents were guests of the hotel.)

It was raining again as we returned to our hotel.
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« Reply #7 on: October 24, 2010, 01:00:33 pm »

Day Twenty-Two. Chartres to London. 300 miles.

I was looking forward to my own bed tonight, but we weren’t home yet. Last trip, my closest call came two miles from home. I still had 300 miles to negotiate and it was raining as we left Chartres.

I planned a little detour to avoid the N124 and pass through Nogent-le-Roi, because of something I’d read somewhere. And it was a pretty little town, indeed. But I was not in the mood to stop. It was too early and road deviations had me in a cranky mood. I had to turn around after five miles when my compass suggested I was on the wrong road out of town.

Soon we were passing through Dreux and Evreux, getting to be familiar names. I got by Rouen without any problem, managing to keep to the by-pass this time and we were soon on the A28 to Abbeville. We were beginning to get down the wet weather toll booth routine by now. I think they should just let bikes through for free on wet days. I mean, why hold up those car drivers unnecessarily?

I had planned to stop near Abbeville for lunch. The Auberge du Colvert was on the D928 south of Abbeville and I could get there from exit 3 without having to go through the town. I just wasn’t sure if it was open on a Monday. We found the place so easily, it was like I’d been driving to it all my life, and it was open.

We have had so many bad “last meals in France” I didn’t have my hopes up. But, what a treat! This place is going to be firmly marked on my route plans in the future. There was no English spoken here, this was France. My steak with peppercorn sauce was perfect, one of the best on the trip. A nice send off.

We got to Calais early and the Shuttle put us on the next train, no extra charge.
Le Shuttle, Calais

We shared a car with three Beemers and a Buell. The couple on the 2003 BMW were from Maine. They had purchased the bike in Scotland, toured Europe for (was it three weeks or months? I’ll have to check with Joanna). They were leaving the bike with a friend in Yorkshire who was going to sell it for them. They figured it was cheaper than renting. The bike ran perfect, they said.

We would have chatted more, but as soon as they were on the train, they got out their phones and were elsewhere. The chap had a pocket on the leg of his chaps for his PDA. They had a bluetooth intercom and sat nav. I didn’t get to see their iPads or laptops, but it would explain the extra bag on the topbox. Nice couple, though.

When we hit the M20, the other bikers were off, as I stuck close to the speed limit. The rush hour traffic I feared never materialised and we got home without a hitch.

A perfect end to a pretty damn near perfect trip.
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« Reply #8 on: October 24, 2010, 02:38:48 pm »


niice... ur giv'n Team Orson a run for their money.

What a nice civilized tour, roughing it in Style...
I heard great things about Oviedo from a friend of mine, seems like there's a lot of public art all over town like he said. Too bad you didn't make it to Bilbao and check out the Guggenheim.
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« Reply #9 on: October 24, 2010, 05:40:35 pm »

ur giv'n Team Orson a run for their money. ... Too bad you didn't make it to Bilbao and check out the Guggenheim.

Thanks. High praise, indeed.

We flew to Bilbao and spent three nights in January 2005, going especially to see the Guggenheim. Bilbao is another place where you can do a great pintxos crawl. Nice town. I even did a trip report and now can't remember where I posted it!  Headscratch
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« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2010, 07:03:19 pm »

Awesome stuff here, FJR-UK.   Bigok   Thanks for taking the time and effort to share it with us.

Like Notarian's ride earlier this summer, this ride report takes a couple of visits to soak it all in.

You took some beautiful photographs, too.  And I completely agree with you about Orson (and Daniel Kalal, and XLR8).  How do they get "those shots"?  I think some people just see them intuitively (I do not see them intuitively, but rather treat the subject of ride report photography like a relationship with a woman.  Each day it's wise to get up and immediately apologize to your significant other just to get it out of the way; each ride report I begin with an apology for not being Orson, and proceed to load my mediocre shots and get on about my business.   Lol)  Anyhow no apologies needed for your pics; they're great stuff.   Thumbsup

It seems like if you're not on the Spanish schedule (i.e. lunch at 2:30pm, dinner at ten pm) you have Spain pretty much to yourself!   Bigsmile  Worth knowing.

Thanks again.

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« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2010, 12:57:42 am »

Thanks for a fabulous ride report. What you have just done has long been a fantasy of mine, but one I'll likely never realise. At least now I know a bit more of what it looks like.

Thanks again.
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« Reply #12 on: October 25, 2010, 03:25:04 am »

Back on the road and remembering the quest for a “proper biking photograph” I stopped for a couple of feeble attempts:


While I may capture "biking photographs", my photos are at a distinct disadvantage to yours in capturing "Life's Rich Pageant" of European culture. When my riding stops, so do my photos it seems, while your photos are just beginning  Thumbsup

Love the food descriptions and pictures  Drool Pity the European traveler who doesn't have an adventurous palate  Smile

Thanks for the great detail  Bigok


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« Reply #13 on: October 25, 2010, 04:24:37 am »

Very nice report

Thanks for posting...
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« Reply #14 on: October 25, 2010, 05:42:56 am »

Thanks for taking the time and effort to share it with us.

My pleasure.

A trip report like this serves a couple purposes for me. First, it helps make the trip longer. We were only on the road for three weeks, but from the time I booked my first hotel to the time I finished writing this report took five months!

Also, it's a memory exercise. It makes me try and remember exactly what the heck I got up to for three weeks. I have trouble remembering what I had for dinner yesterday. (I exaggerate, it was lamb shank.)

Joanna keeps a diary when we're on the road and updates it every night before we turn out the lights. I tend to remember the trip from my snapshots. (5+ gigabytes on this trip – I wonder what I saved on film processing?) I may have to start taking photos of every meal, every receipt, every sign I stop to read...

I don't think I took as many rubbish photographs when I was shooting on film.

Anyway, thank you for the compliment.  Smile


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« Reply #15 on: October 25, 2010, 05:52:39 am »

Superb, superb report! Clap

Ride / travel narrative = I was travelling along with you and, being a lover of fine food, greatly enjoyed the 'Tour de Cuisine'. Normandy cidre is the best on a hot day, goes with all foods and the low alcohol content means you can a drink at lunch and still continue with the ride. Selections in the French outdoor markets are amazing.

Not being a lover of riding cities, I have a tendency to avoid them unless they are about the size of Vernon. Since your route is similar to a couple of my previous rides, your pictures and descriptions are much appreciated in seeing what I missed. Like Orson I have a tendency not to take many photos after a day's ride and in doing so miss much in having pictures of what touring is about when off the bike.

3 weeks at a pace and quality that gives time spent for on and off the bike equal pleasure - well done and nicely researched.

As 'Smoothie' says, "the ride report takes a couple of visits to soak it all in."

Anyone who has toured Europe can identify with the ritual of paying the motorway tolls and often waiting in lengthy queues to do so. 'Wait in line, gloves off, rooting around for coins (can't be done with gloves on = dropping a few is a nightmare), out of the toll booth and pull over to the side to put the gloves on... I don't do many toll roads in France but have found the best bet is to buy a 20 euro prepaid ticket even though I may have a few euros left on it = I didn't average 100 mph on a boring motorway to get somewhere quickly only to waste the speed advantage sitting in a line waiting to pay for that time advantage. Especially if its raining or melting in 100F.

You missed the N135 out of Pampalona which is a shame, but understandable given a total lack of sign posting when travelling west to east on the ring road. I went about 8 miles past the turn off and doubled back. Sure enough, it is sign posted coming from the east - go figure. Its another 15 miles until you see another sign leading you onto the N135 and is easily missed. Guess you'll just have to try again next year! If so, there's a less frequented road off N135 that parallels it - the N138 and well worth it.

You had a fab trip. Again, well done indeed and thanks for taking us along!  Beerchug


(ps) Please tell the gorgeous blond you travel with if she fancies a bike ride and you can't make it, that I don't snore.  Bigsmile


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« Reply #16 on: October 25, 2010, 06:20:51 am »

You missed the N135 out of Pampalona which is a shame, but understandable given a total lack of sign posting ...

Ahhh! Thank you very much for clearing up the mystery of the phantom highway! I though I must have gone to sleep for a few miles to miss such a major road.

I didn't try too hard to find it for a couple reasons. We did a Pyrenees trip in 2007, so I had a good idea what I was missing, and it was starting to rain. In the rain, I'd rather be on a motorway, frankly.

I used to travel with an SLR and lenses in a camera bag that rode in my tank bag. I missed a lot of shots because it was such a damn nuisance to lug around. I've got a camera that slips in a pocket now, and I take a lot of pictures that I would have otherwise missed. (I didn't realise until after the trip that the camera actually has a "food shot" setting on it!)

Toll booths: yes, you understand. What you didn't mention is riding in to one on a wet day and also having to watch that you're not stopping on a diesel slick and having your foot slide out from under you. I was also leaving the bike in gear and hitting the kill switch so the bike wouldn't roll while I was fiddling with my wallet.

Jo and I got the teamwork down pat by the end of the trip. Who needs bluetooth intercoms? (The pre-paid ticket is a good tip. I'll look into that next trip.)

By the way, I'll mention your proposition to the gorgeous blonde I travel with. But, be warned. She snores, too.  Twofinger
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« Reply #17 on: October 25, 2010, 06:27:12 am »

Thanks for the great detail

Are you sure?  Lol

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« Reply #18 on: October 25, 2010, 01:09:44 pm »


I only made it this far; I can't look no more; it's just TOO GOOD.

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« Reply #19 on: October 25, 2010, 01:21:56 pm »

Great report.

"See, it's kinda like some STN threads. When the pot stops steaming, hissing, spitting, and spewing, it's usually done." -ConPilot1
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