Category: Spain


Back to Blighty

Our last day in Spain dawned fine and bright. We packed the bikes up for the ferry back to Portsmouth, and headed off to a local supermarket to buy supplies for the trip. After stocking up with as much wine as we could carry (not  a lot!) and some food to sustain us, we took our last Continental ride of the trip.

The ferry was easy to see as the dock is right in the middle of town, but getting to it was a little more tricky. Luckily it only took us two attempts to find the right entry, and then lo and behold, we were stopped and asked for our passports for the first time since leaving home! How ironic that it should be as we attempted to return. Checked through security, we were directed to join the rest of the motorcycle riders by the ferry offices, and proceeded to check each other’s bikes out whilst having a good old natter.

The weather Gods were with us once again, as sun was now hidden behind clouds but the rain held off until just as we started boarding, phew. After the nice chaps from Brittany Ferries had strapped the bikes down securely we grabbed our overnight bags and victuals, and headed off to find our cabin. We settled ourselves in before heading off for a look around the boat, and surprise surprise, ended up in the bar! It was only because we had such a lovely view through the big picture window of Santander receding behind us, honest guv. That and the fact that they sold draught Strongbow, so we enjoyed our first pints since leaving England 🙂

It’s a 24 hour crossing from Santander to Portsmouth, so we had to find our entertainment where we could. Having checked out the film schedule to find nothing that interested us, and munched our way through some supplies in the cabin, we returned to our seats-with-a-view in the piano bar.

Of all the bars in all the world...

There was a full-sized grand piano, complete with suited chap tickling the ivories to give us some old classics, which we thought terribly civilised. In keeping with the mood we switched to cocktails, which had nothing to do with the realisation that we could sup generous Long Island Iced Teas for only 10 pence more than a pint of cider. These things always seem such a good idea at the time…

Later there was a quiz, by which time we’d acquired an extra team member in the form of one of the other bikers we’d been chatting to at the ferry port. Now neither of us are usually great at quizzes, but somehow we managed to win this one – perhaps it was the extra help that did it!

Later that same night, I went to the bar to buy a round of drinks, only to be accosted by a couple of gentlemen who were propping the bar up and getting happily pickled. They insisted on buying me a drink, despite my protestations that my husband was waiting for me. After a little while he came down to see what was holding me up, and they insisted on buying one for him, too. You can see where this is going, can’t you…? Eventually the bar closed on the handful of us left still standing, and we staggered off back to our cabin, somewhat the worse for wear.

Luckily the rolling of our gait was cancelled out by the rolling of the ship. I think that’s what I remember, anyway.

Of course these things never seem quite like such a good idea the next day. I’m lucky enough not to get hangovers very often, but this one was a humdinger. Tony managed to get some breakfast down, but I completely wimped out and just did my best to re-hydrate a little. We struggled out of the cabin once the call came to vacate, and headed down to the bikes. Before we knew it, we’d docked and were off and away, back on to British soil.

Still very fuzzy around the edges, after two months on the Continent our mantra was, “Ride on the left, ride on the left!”.

The lazy way to ride home

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To Santander

The following morning the weather looked marginally better, although I suspect that it was because we were looking at it with the benefit of a good nights sleep.

We checked the weather forecast which said that the bad weather would continue into the afternoon but would then clear up that evening, leaving fine weather the following day. A quick check of the map revealed that we were an easy 250 km ride from Santander, and with the ferry booking two days away, that meant that we didn’t have to ride through the storm. Easy choice, we could do it the following day in the dry (S: the fact that the bed was the most comfortable one we had slept in since leaving home may also have influenced our decision somewhat!). A quick word with our hosts via the wonders of Google Translate and we were booked in for an extra day.

We had a relaxing day, reading and, thanks to our hosts letting us use their internet connection, checking emails and blog writing.

By late afternoon it had stopped raining and the weather was beginning to brighten up, so we went for a walk to stretch our legs and explore the immediate area. The hostal was situated an a flat plain with the mountains in the background, giving us a great opportunity to see plenty of sky and cheer on the departing clouds.

Upon our return we were provided with a lovely meal and spent the evening with our hosts. I found it very frustrating not being able to speak more than a couple of words of Spanish and we resolved to ensure that we could at least speak enough to get by before we reach Mexico.

The following morning dawned dry and fairly sunny as promised, so we bade our farewells and set off towards Santander.

It was fine in the sun, but out of it the temperature dropped markedly and it was early afternoon before it warmed up appreciably.

The motorways were boring but quick, and the only difficulties that we had were with strong crosswinds on many of the bridges once we had reached the coast. That and Sarah’s iPod joining Mip in committing Hari-Kari, so no more music on the move for her.

Getting into Santander was easy and we quickly found a hotel to stop in close to the sea front. It was their last available room, but Sarah was still able to negotiate us a deal along with secure parking for the bikes.

Once we were unpacked and sorted we set off on foot to explore Santander, and what a pleasant surprise it was.

A lot of ferry ports can be industrial or run down but this was neither, with a beautiful beach, sea front and impressive houses and gardens.

One house was having work done on it, as evident by the scaffolding around it. There was a sheet on the outside of the scaffolding, obviously in an effort to keep the dust and mess in, but it had been printed with an image of a house just to make it look prettier. To me examples of extra effort like that show that people have a pride in their town or surroundings, which is good to see.

Along the promenade we saw lots of obviously fairly well off Spaniards taking the air and several very well executed sculptures. One that caught my attention was a stone bench looking out to sea, with a permanent stone resident at one end and plenty of space for people to sit an keep him company.

After a paddle in the sea, we walked the one and a half miles to the old town and it was worth every step. There is a large square surrounded by shops, bars and cafes which was pleasantly full of people walking in the sunshine or relaxing with a drink. We had been recommended a restaurant by the hotel, but it was closed, and remained resolutely so as the evening progressed.

We sat at a cafe/bar on the edge of the square and Sarah tapped into their Wifi with her phone, finding an unusual wine museum restaurant nearby, Bodega Cigalena, which had great reviews on TripAdvisor. It was only a couple of minutes walk, and what an interesting place!

The walls and ceilings were covered with racks and shelves, filled with full bottles of wine and other vintner paraphernalia. The barman was of the good old fashioned kind, jolly, knowledgeable and happy to recommend suitable wines to taste whilst we were waiting for the restaurant proper to open.

Needless to say we had a fantastic night with brilliant food and wine, helped in no small degree by our waiter who was superb.

Going back to the hotel we were in good spirits, but this was tinged with an element of sadness at the thought of us having to leave tomorrow and return to England. We both would have much rather been riding south to catch the ferry to Morocco!

We awoke to a dry day with the sun gamely trying to burn off the mist that was rolling down off the mountains. A quick check of the weather forecast revealed that we were due some rain today, no, having read the forecast properly, lets make that lots of rain, and strong winds moving across the country later on in the day…

When we set off my father hadn’t been very well. He had insisted that we still make this trip as, in his words, “It’s bad enough that I’m not well, but I don’t want it on my conscience that I prevented you from making a trip of a lifetime”. Something for which I am very grateful. Thanks Dad.

Because of this, we knew that at some point we would have to come back home to see him, hence our decision to have a shakedown trip through Europe first before going to the Americas. That way we could be close to home in case we were needed. I’d had a telephone call from the consultant, and it was apparent that that time needed to be soon.

We had booked a ferry from Santander to Portsmouth in three days time so, with the bad weather looming, we decided that we were going to make a push and try to get as far as possible before it set in. This gave us the added benefit of being able to ride the last of the twisty N260 in the dry, particularly as much of the road sported ‘Slippery When Wet’ signs, and the regular cliff faces and drops didn’t give us much room for error on some of the bends!

Well I’m glad to say that the N260 lived up to it’s reputation, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves yet again.

At one small town the road was temporarily blocked by a procession of Morris Men dancing with their sticks, followed by a band.

We parked up to enjoy the spectacle and have a quick look around before setting off again, finding an artisan baker who had an interesting sign, and an ancient AMC two stroke motorcycle fitted with the biggest crash bars in the world!

Further on, we couldn’t resist stopping for refreshment at a beautiful bar restaurant in the curiously named town of Gavin.

Next stop was for petrol, and whilst filling up, we noticed some interesting cars across the road in a restaurant car park. We went to take a look and discovered it was a French sports car club, obviously out for a Sunday drive in the last of the sunshine. After a nosy at the cars, we  thought to have a bite to eat at the restaurant, but the owner was a miserable sod who refused to serve us. I think that he just didn’t like bikers as he was happy to serve a family that had arrived after us in a car. This was the only time that anything like this had happened since we had left the UK and I was pretty angry, however we left quietly and denied him our business.

A few kilometers further on we came across the La Trobada restaurant which was very friendly and cheaper to boot, bonus!

As we rode on westwards the scenery changed quite dramatically, with the ground being very barren and appearing to be made up of large pale grey rocks and scree.

Imagining it without the patchy vegetation, it looked as though it could have been a moonscape, or even a stage set from a Science Fiction movie.

Nearby was a lake with very low water levels, and I think that there must have been some hot springs somewhere as we occasionally got wafts of a strong sulphurous smell, and neither of us had been eating eggs (S: the odd sign for thermal spas was a bit of a clue, as well!).

It was late afternoon when we joined a motorway, and as we rode along, the skies were getting darker and darker. We were doing the old “Shall we, shan’t we, stop and put our waterproofs on” thing, when the first few large, heavy rain drops hit us, so it was straight onto the hard shoulder. Unfortunately not quite quickly enough – by the time that we had waterproofed up, it was lashing it down and we were both rather damp. We should have stopped earlier, but then hindsight is always 20/20.

The winds were picking up but that wasn’t too bad, it was the sudden gusts that actually pushed the bikes across the road which made riding a bit fraught and tiring.

It was getting late and we decided that the best thing was to find somewhere to stop for the night. It was a good call as I’d had enough wind induced moments for the day, having had a particularly close call on a bridge when the wind nearly gusted me into the armco barrier. I don’t mind admitting that it scared me, which caused me to tense up, which of course just made things worse.

Without Mip to help us with the finer detail we took a wrong turn in the confusion of a multi-motorway junction just outside Pamplona, and ended up on a scenic tour of an industrial estate whilst trying to work out how to go back on ourselves. Eventually we made it back en route, and started looking for a promising place to pull off and find somewhere to stay for the night. Pamplona is the city famed for it’s annual spectacle of the Running of the Bulls, which meant there should be a lot of hotels around the town and it’s surrounds, but deciding on the best exit from the motorway to find them wasn’t proving to be the easiest of things, what with the rain, traffic and our general tiredness. Eventually we just picked an exit, left the motorway, and started looking for somewhere to stay, but with no luck, everywhere seemed to be closed.

In Iza on the outskirts of Pamplona, we saw a small sign for a hostal pointing up a side road. After a bit of a trek and a few wrong turns, we eventually came across a converted barn and farmhouse which looked lovely. The owner heard the bikes and came out. They had no guests, so we were welcome to stay and park our bikes in their garage. Excellent.

The Hostal Rural Huartearena was built into the hillside and their garage was basically most of the ground floor. It was massive and just the sort of thing that I dream of having one day, being immaculate, painted, heated and lit. I was feeling bad about us and the bikes dripping water all over the floor, but they weren’t bothered and let us hang up our gear to dry.

Our hosts were very friendly, the accomodation superb, and the home cooked evening meal wonderful, so when we retired to bed, we were both very happy, warm, dry bikers 🙂

We slept like logs at the Borda El Vilar Casa Rural and awoke refreshed to be greeted by another fantastic sunny day. Throwing open the windows revealed a wonderful view of the Pyrenees with the sun burning off the morning mist from the wooded slopes. Beautiful.

Suddenly there was movement outside the window and a cute kitten jumped onto our windowsill, purring and investigating everything, as cats are wont to do.

The previous night we had done our usual washing of socks, etc and, as they were still slightly damp, Sarah decided to lay them out on the window sill to dry in the morning sunshine.

In a flash the kitten forgot it’s search for Rich in Rabbit and snatched a sock off the window sill. It was only Sarah’s quick reactions in grabbing the other end of the rapidly disappearing sock that foiled it’s plan. There then ensued a right royal tug of war with neither contestant willing to give in easily. Luckily Sarah’s persistance won the day and I had to stop laughing long enough to remove the other sock before the kitten grabbed that one instead.

Our friend’s cat treacle used to have a penchant for catching and killing socks. She recently passed away at the ripe old age of 21 if my memory serves correctly, and it was great to see that her spirit was living on in this Spanish kitten.

After a delicious but simple breakfast of local produced ham and cheese, we re-loaded the bikes, were waved off by our friendly host and rejoined the N260 towards Sort.

Its fair to say that after the fun that I had had the previous day I was eagerly looking forward to riding my little V7 along the next section of the N260.

After a few kilometers we saw a beautiful valley with a stunning bright blue lake, that gave us a wonderful excuse to stop and stretch our legs.

A short distance further on there was a wild mushroom market with stalls selling all sorts of wierd and wonderful fungi. I love the taste of wild mushrooms and so we just had to stop and investigate. We had a coffee at a nearby cafe and learnt that the whole area was in the throes of a gastronimic festival to celebrate their local produce, these very mushrooms.

We set off again and, after refuelling with cheap petrol at only 1.13 Euros a litre :-), we threw ourselves into enjoying the ride.

The N260 is a fantastic biking road with everything from motorway quality wide tarmac to twisty mountain hairpins, with some truely amazing scenery.

I think that the pictures speak volumes.

After another tiring but exhilerating day, we stopped in the town of Fiscal and found a room at the Hostel Rio Ara, where the staff were very friendly and let us put our bikes into their secure garage free of charge.

Not the best or cleanest place that we have stayed at, but it was certainly the cheapest so far and totally adequate for us to get our heads down and have an early start in the morning. Well, early for us, anyway!

Andorra

We left Limoux without the assistance of the SatNav. MIP had not come back to life, despite Sarah searching the manual and Garmin website to find a solution to the problem, along with leaving it on charge overnight. Not particularly impressive for an expensive bit of kit that was less than two months old. Fortunately it was more of an inconvenience than a disaster as we had a map of France that included bits of the adjoining countries, and the laptop still had the Garmin mapping software working on it. It highlighted that we always need to have a map and a compass as a backup, particularly for when we are going to be in the more remote areas.

We set off heading for Andorra and found the wonderful twisty D613 heading into the Pyrenees.

After many enjoyable miles with hardly another vehicle in sight, we stopped for a break at Col de Chioula (altitude 1431 metres), and grabbed something to eat at the nearby refuge.

Sitting there in the sunshine I was struck by how different the place would be in a few months time, when the green slopes would be covered in snow and skiers, and how much our experience of the places that we pass through are just snapshots of those few moments in time and could be very different on another day.

Suitably refreshed we set off, joining the more major N20 at Ax les Thermes, and continuing on into Andorra.

I didn’t know much about the Principality of Andorra other than that, as it is not part of the European Union, it has gained fame as a giant duty free shop and as the alleged source of smuggled goods into Europe. The font of knowledge that is Wikipedia informed me that it is the sixth smallest nation in Europe, that it’s capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in Europe, being at an elevation of 1023 metres, and that it’s citizens have the 2nd highest human life expectancy in the world — 82 years. Of course I had to look up who had pipped Andorra to number one, it’s Macau at 84 years.

One thing that Wikipedia did not say was how wonderful the Andorran roads are. Mile upon twisty mile of perfect tarmac, marred only by having to dodge the occasional herd of horses and stray cows standing in the carriageway halfway around a hairpin bend, and avoiding the steaming momentos so kindly left by those beasties.

We stopped for the cheapest fuel so far, 0.94 Euro per litre, but the experience was marred by the pump attendant short changing me by giving me change for 15 Euros when I had given him a 20 Euro note. As soon as he saw me looking at my change he hurridly gave me another 5 Euros and made himself scarce. His whole manner made me suspect that it was deliberate, particularly as the Euro is not our home currency (S: and who’s ever heard of a 15 Euro note?!).

The capital was incredibly busy, with mile after mile of roadworks and heavy traffic. Even though the time was getting on we didn’t see anywhere that we fancied stopping for the night and so kept on going.

Before we knew it we were at the border with Spain. There was a massive queue of cars being searched by lots of customs officials, obviously after the smugglers as there are quite strict limits on what can be brought into an EU country from outside. I can only presume that, as we were on bikes, our restricted carrying capacity meant that we were of no interest – we were waved straight through without a second glance.

We rode into Spain, and after an inadverdant circuit of the first town we encountered and a minor meltdown from a tired Sarah, we headed off Westwards. We hadn’t decided whether to stay in Spain or to go back across to France, so took a road that would allow us to choose several miles further along at the aptly named Sort. Thus we stumbled upon one of the best roads of our trip, the fabulous N260.

Sarah had got her second wind and was riding brilliantly, it was great to see her obviously having a great time. She just seemed to flow the V7 effortlessly from one bend to the next, which was beautiful to watch but hard work to keep up with. (S: of course this had to be the one time that the camera wouldn’t film as it was full, darn it!). Despite the ride being so enjoyable, eventually we were both starting to feel tired and wanting to stop for the night – it had been a long day.

After several more kilometers of uninhabited and gorgeous twisties, we had just about resigned ourselves to have to push on to Sort to find a hotel for the night when we spotted a ‘Casa Rural’  sign as we flew past. We had no idea what a Casa Rural was, but the picture of a bed on the sign looked promising!

One U-turn and a small backtrack later, we turned into a very steep track and rode up up to find a beautiful house which overlooked the valley. It turned out to be a wonderful little B&B – the owner came out, was happy for us to stay the night, and even rustled up an evening meal for us as we had next to no food.

The place was lovely and had a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere, just what we wanted after a long, exhilarating, but tiring ride.