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Day 74 – Santander

Early in 2013 I decided to see my UK family, and also decided to see them every two years. My parents are now too elderly to make the trip to Oz, and my siblings don’t seem to want to make the trip more than once – they’ve all been to Australia, and have decided that it’s too hot, too far, etc….

So in 2013 I planned a visit; my partner, Rosalie has been to the UK with me, and our daughter Emily,  twice and didn’t really want to come again, so I soloed it; and rather than fly directly to Heathrow, I thought I’d see parts of Europe I’d never visited while I was a local: I’m a mountain bike cyclist, so I caught a plane to Budapest, and cycled to the UK. That trip is documented in ozblokeoneabike

That was a great trip; it gave me enough of a taste to do something similar in 2015 – though this time I started in Munich, with a couple of mates – Mariette O’Connell and her partner Ian Gay;  they left me in Budapest, where I hung a right and travelled ( again by bike) to Zagreb, then Rijeka, up and across Italy, through France to Carcassonne, then North to Dieppe. I then caught a ferry to Newhaven, and spent a few weeks with my family. This trip is documented in ozblokeonabikeagain

So; 2017, and it was time to visit famiy again.

I’m a reader, and  lot of what I like is detective fiction (not exclusively – I’m a big fan of Robert Jordan and that genre); I’m a big fan of Peter Robinson who writes novels based an a dour Yorkshire detective,  Alan Banks. We share more than a first name; we both like the North Yorkshire moors, single malts and Theakston’s Old Peculiar; we also share similar tastes in music. In one of his novels, he’s in a bar  where someone he knows is singing – he asks her to sing Finisterre; a song by June Tabor, which gives Santander a good plug.

This gave me a (very) romantic mental image of Santander and Northern Spain; Finisterre is, literally, “end of the world”… and the initial seeds that led to this trip,

I’d not seen Greece, or Albania, or Monte Negro, and I’d missed Dubrovnik and Split (Croatia) in 2015 – so I loosely planned this trip, starting in Athens, then heading up the coast to Split; ferry to Italy, cycle across, then a ferry from Genoa to Barcelona (I’d cycled most of the stretch between last time), Then Spain. and Portugal, to Santander – then a ferry to the UK, and a few weeks with my family.

I realised, once I neared Valencia, that the Southern Spanish coast was not for me; all beer and skittles, calamari and two veg, resorts, etc; about as foreign to an Aussie bloke as Pitt Street. Not my scene. Also that I didn’t have the time to “do” Portugal – So I cut North; and here I am. Santander.

A great city. In the late 50’s and 60’s it was the playground of the rich, the famous, and the royals; Queen Liz and Phil the Greek partied here heaps, before they were forced to keep a lower profile. It didn’t work for the Greek or Spanish royals – they’re long gone. Dunno how Liz and her mob of parasites survived, but they did.

So – my romantic vision of a small fishing port – gone. What we have is a vibrant place, strung along the coast.  As special as Cannes, or Nice, or Monaco – somehow the Spanish civil war relegated it to second rate…The old town was burnt to buggery in 1941 – as Santander was rebuilt, they pedestrianised most of the water’s edge. Makes a great place to promenade. Which they do. In droves. Babes in tiny bikinis, skateboarding; old fat blokes, strutting along, lots of 6 pack heroes, shirtless, trying to get noticed. All human life is here.

There’s way too much traffic – but that’s the times we live in; everyone has a car, and won’t walk. Time we stopped pandering to this ridiculous world view, surely.

I caught the tourist bus, which takes you around the beaches; not much to see in Santander itself.

Off the bus, and into the “new” old town. lunch at 3:00pm – Gamberies, bacalao and cake. I had a side dish of sardines – as you would…

I’d walked into town, mainly to find the ferry entrance – lucky I did, as it’s not straightforward. After lunch, I made my way back to the hotel – on the steep uphill stretches the town provides escalators 🙂

It’s now 7:00 pm. I’ll finish this, watch some junk online, then crash; no rush tomorrow, as the ferry does nt leave until 3:15. Bt this is my last post. Thanks for reading. I’ve had a ball cycling.

See you down the road.

Day 73 – Treto to Santander

I’m sitting on my hotel verandah, looking over the gardens to the hills behind Santander; glass of red in my hand, relaxed. Not sure how I feel; a little elated that I’ve managed this ride? Not really. A little sad? Nope. No real feelings at all – just glad to have made my hotel, and can enjoy a glass of Rioja.

My GPS file utilty tells me I’ve cycled 3,715 km; I’m adding an arbitrary 85 km to that, to cover all the cycling I’ve done without the Garmin, while I’ve been in various towns and cities, and also to cover the countless times my Garmin has paused, because I’m off he bike, pushing it up hill. I ‘ve set it to stop once my speed drops below 3 kmph. Like today: I pushed it for nearly 40 minutes up a grade that I couldn’t be bothered trying to cycle; it was too steep initially, then I just decided to push for a while longer once it levelled slightly. So I’m claiming 3,800 km. I’ll not include the short ride from here to the ferry, which is about 5 km.

I was up early, thinking I’d get to Santander by midday, and check out the ferry setup. I’d mapped the route using maps.me, which said it was 43 km; and the first sign I saw said it was 41. It was more than 60…  I succeeded in getting way lost – twice 🙂

Showered, packed, downstairs for breakfast – two croissants, OJ, coffee, and a chocolate pastry – about the size of a generous sausage roll. Yum. Out the door, turn onto the N-634, and pedalled off in the light rain, and the early morning gloom; it was after 8:00am, but  much darker than usual; grey skies, low cloud. I had my lights on.

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“C” roads are marked with a yellow outline around the number. “N” roads have a red outline, while Autovias and such, where cyclists, carts, pedestrians and mopeds are banned, have a Blue outline; usually they are A-nnn, or E-nnn, or sometimes S-nnn; I’ve never bothered to work them out, as I’m not allowed to use them

So when I arrive at a roundabout, I’ll see town names on each exit (like above), with the different routes to get there; Blue, Yellow, and Red – at the next roundabout there might be blue as the first exit, for say, Santander, and the next exit will have a red sign, and the same destination. Easy – you follow your colour code to get where you want to be. You’ll often see all three colours at the same exit; that just means that further along the routes will split.

And that worked fine, and has worked fine, all through Spain.   I  pedalled along in the damp, up hill and down dale – some surprising little climbs – following the red signs for Santander and the N-634, through Cicero, and Sombrilla, and Gama, and… – the system stopped working at Solares. There was a roundabout, which had a Blue sign for Santander at the first exit, and there was a red sign for the N-634 straight ahead. I went straight ahead. Wrong. After about 5 km I began to think something was wrong, so I stopped at a petrol station, pulled out the tablet with Maps.me on, and checked.  Sure enough, the Blue motorway sign in Solares was the one I should have taken. I  can’t see my tablet in daylight – I need to get into a dark area, hence the stop at the petrol station – I bought an OJ, and went into the loo to check my maps)

Back, took the turn, and followed the signs to Heras – all in yellow; no red, no mention of the N-635 or N-634 until I entered San Salvador. All the towns between San Salvador and Santander are basically one long ribbon development; several roundabouts later, totally lost, I flagged down a cyclist who told me to follow him; we backtracked a few Km, and he left me at a roundabout, saying “Go straight”. Thanks, random guy. I’d still be wandering the suburbs without his help.

If I’d been allowed on the motorways, no worries; they were signposted to buggery and back. The assumption is that if you’re not on the motorway, then you know where you’re going. Not true, guys – lift your game. I got to the docks around 2:00pm, pulled into a bar, and used their wifi to work out where I was, and how to get to my hotel.  As I got here, the rain stopped…..

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Booked in, showered, walked down the street, grabbed a vegie burger and chips, then back here, to sit on the verandah, and chill; The big ride is done. Athens, to Santander. I’m quite pleased.

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Tomorrow is Sunday; Breakfast is from 8:00am, and I’ll then walk down to the docks to check out the ferry process, assuming I can on a Sunday; then I’ll walk the old town – I’m about 300 metres above it up the hill, , and about a km West of it – around 4 km to the ferry on foot, down steep streets and stairs, and about the same back. Should be fun.

See you down the road.

 

Day 72 – Bilbao to Trento

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I wish I knew how the hotel rating system works here – it seems to be totally random. The Bilbao hotel( two star) cost me 100 Euro a night, and did not include breakfast (though the receptionist gave me a 10 Euro discount this morning as I checked out). Tonight’s pub (one star)  is 50 Euros, and includes breakfast. It’s got all the same facilities, is in a major tourist area, and costs half. Amazing. Santander I booked a while back, as accommodation there is a bit scarce in the season – that’s cost me 100 a night, too.

I was awake at 6:30; breakfast was a cheese roll I bought yesterday, and half a litre of OJ. I opened the curtains – grey and gloomy, but no rain. I packed up, got the bike down in the lift – first one that’s been large enough to just wheel the bike in – paid the bill, and set off; North, over the footbridge, then along the Rio Bilbao, past the Guggenheim.. Lots of joggers/dog walkers/walkers; mostly women exercising. No commuters yet.

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El Camino de Santiago runs pretty much along the route I’m taking, but once out of Bilbao it tends to drop down into valleys, then climb the other side – it’s more geared to walkers and mountain goats on this stretch than cyclists. But the first few km are the same;  El Camino shares a bike path (or is it the other ay round?) until it joins the N-634 out in the suburbs. Lots of hills to get out of the river valley; nice and cool though – a maximum of 23C here today, and showers – there was just enough rain not to bother with the wet gear until I was wet, then it would stop and I’d steam myself dry.

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Through Muskiz, which is a nasty heavy industry place. First really heavy industry I’ve seen, and I’m the worse for it. Stinky, smoky, and foul. I know we need these industries, but I’m sure the anti-pollution laws could be tightened, and enforced.

Out of Basque country, and into Cantabria.

Down to the coast at Miono – grey ocean, grey skies,showers – it didn’t look that enticing – but people were on the beach, and some were in the water.

Up hill and down dale to Laredo, a huge resort town; like the Gold Coast on steroids. dozens of high-rise hotel/apartments along the beach, and street after street of bars and restaurants, all pretty busy. The N-634 is well-marked, and I managed not to get lost. I though about stopping for lunch, but Trento was less than an hour away, so I carried on.

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The Hotel “Las Ruedas”  is great. My bike is locked up downstairs; my room has an ensuite, blackout curtains that actually cover the window; air conditioning, colour TV (not that I’ve watched much) and good wifi.

I had a quick shower, and a leisurely lunch – I was on the road for almost seven hours in total today, some of it a bit stressful – the N-634 is a bit narrow in places, and though the motorway takes lots of traffic, there’s still coaches, trucks and caravans. They tend to keep the 1.5 metre gap, but I tense up in heavy traffic – just can’t not…

Lunch 🙂 seafood pasta, Bocanao, rice pudding, a couple of glasses of red. I won’t need dinner.

So – that’s my penultimate day’s cycling. Santander is just 45 km down he road, so I won’t rush off tomorrow morning. More rain and cool weather is forecast, which might keep the weekend day trippers off the road. We’ll see.

See you down the road.

 

Day 71 – Rest day, Bilbao

Woke his morning to a foggy, damp world. The river is about 30 metres from the hotel, and was invisible; I could see the glow of car headlights, but not much else. Damp, and cool; it’s not expected to get over 22C today. That’s 15C cooler than yesterday.

The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant, and wanted 10 Euro for breakfast. Nope. I’d bought a litre of OJ late yesterday, which I drank before showering; then got dressed, and headed out. A nearby cafe provided coffee, omelette and toast for 4 Euro.  Much better value – and the second cup of coffee was free.

It was just after 9:00 am; the Guggenheim opens at 10:00 am, so I walked along the river bank towards it, watching the spruikers and souvenir sellers setting up.

The Guggenheim is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and is undergoing some renovations/refurbishment – not that they’re changing anything; it’s a protected building. It’s just getting a major overhaul; cleaned and repaired outside, and inside they’re redoing each level; new electrics, floors, paintwork, etc. It’s the second level’s turn currently, so only the ground floor and the third level are open.

And the inside is a bit of a disappointment; the building itself is a major work of art in its own right, but the first (ground) level is just admin; tickets, shop, security and cloakroom; the foyer is quite spectacular, but the only art on display is rolled rusty steel sheets; it looked like a scrap yard to my untutored eye.

The third level has several galleries, one currently dedicated to post-impressionism, one to pop art, and another to famous Spanish painters – though no Picasso’s, or Goya’s. The outside was more interesting than the inside. Maybe I’m just a Philistine, though.

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It took me an hour and a half to wander through the exhibits, then out to the river bank.

Bilbau is in a steep, narrow valley; on the East side of the river it’s barely three streets deep, and on the West side it climbs the hillside, but is still much less than  a kilometre wide. The river’s edge is a series of parks, down towards the docks – the way South is just an endless series of suburbs stretching 10 – 15 Km up the valley.

I’m heading North, then West, so I walked my way to the edge of town; I’ve got some serious climbing to start the day again. I walked for four hours, then found a restaurant/bar for a late lunch/early dinner – seafood pasta, grilled fish, chocolate cake and cream. I bought  a cheese roll on my way back to the hotel’ that’ll be breakfast.

Rain tomorrow, and a maximum of 21C. An amazing change in the weather. I’ve re-arranged my panniers so my rain gear is readily available. I’ll be on the road early, as it’s 70 plus Km to my next stop; the last stop before Santander.

See you down the road.

Day 70 – Ermua to Bilbao

Ten weeks on the road. Wow. And it’s the Solstice. Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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No getting lost today; the hotel sits on the N-634, which splits this poor town, choking it with fumes and traffic. Why anyone chooses to live here amazes me. Just past the hotel is the old town; a tiny square, a huge church, and a couple of restaurants/bars. Everything else is jammed along the narrow ridge the town is built on – Railway one side, Motorway/steep valley the other, and the N-634 splitting the town along the ridge; high-rise units, a few shops, and massive pollution. It would have been a pleasant place a hundred years back – the internal combustion engine has ruined it.

The skylight in my room wasn’t that much of a hassle; I woke around 7:30 am. Trains also stopped overnight – I vaguely felt one just as I woke up. No rush today. I tried to find a hotel half way between Lasarte and Bilbao; this was the best I could do. It only leaves 45 km to the Spanish Hobbit’s home – Bilbao Baggins.

I’d stay here at the Hotel Villa de Ermua anytime. Big comfy rooms, very new; great bathroom, superb wifi, and decent food – if you’re not too fussy. Every room is booked between now and mid september; it sits on the Camino, is roughly half way between San Sebastian and Bilbao, and is in the middle of several other, not quite so famous or popular, walking tracks. There’s also some quite heavy industry in and around the town. As I pedalled along yesterday, I’d often see walkers/pilgrims way down in the valley below. They must have strong legs; constantly climbing up. then down, for days and days….

Breakfast was OK – fresh orange juice – the waitress squeezed the oranges as I watched; coffee, and a croissant. I’d had a large pizza last night, so that was enough to get me on the road. Two minutes of flat, then the climb out of the valley..

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It’s not often that you look down to the seventh floor of a ten storey high-rise apartment block; I doubt that the first couple of floors ever see the sun.

I’m glad I stopped where I did yesterday; this climb would have killed me. Even today, after a good nights sleep, it hurt – my legs are leaden from yesterday’s efforts. The road is busy, too; with the motorway just there, I’d expected much less traffic. Still, it was mostly safe enough – every couple of km there was a sign like this :

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Now most of us could hazard a guess at the bottom line, and translate it reasonably well. No, it doesn’t say cyclists are in the way…. 🙂 The line above is in Basque. WTF the root of this language is I have no idea.  Totally untranslatable. Most people here are trilingual; Spanish, Basque, and another – usually English, but often French or German. I truly can’t see Basque hanging on – it’s like Welsh, or Celtic – doomed to die through lack of interest, or lack of speakers. Mind you, the Basque are very passionate about their part of the world; they make us Yorkshire folk seem like moderates….

At the top of the climb, the view opens up

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and I dropped into the Rio Bilbao valley. Like the climb, the first couple of km was an 8% drop; it then levelled out, and ran ever so gently down hill to Bilbao – dropping 200 metres over forty  km.

The valley is fertile, and narrow. Lots of small towns, lots of light-to-medium industry, so lots of traffic. There was usually a reasonable road shoulder to ride along, but every now and again the road would thread through a small town, and the shoulder vanished; building walls had less than a metre separation from the road. I just played it steady; if in doubt, stop, and wait for a safe gap. Likewise with slip lanes coming onto the N-634; stop, check, and go if clear. I saw several roadside monuments to dead heroic cyclists…

It was hot. I checked the temperature when I got to Bilbao – 38C. Leaden legs, too; yesterday ate up some physical reserves, and they don’t refresh as fast as they used too 😦

Bilbao’s suburbs are pretty endless. It took forever to reach the city centre, and there’s the Guggenheim, next to the river.

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Onto the North shore, which is a good twenty metres higher than the South shore; it took me a while to find a bridge back across – my hotel is on the Southern side, next to the Town Hall.

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My pub is just up river a bit.

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I checked in, glad of the air conditioning; the lift was huge, and I took my bike up to my room.

Washed my cycling gear, probably for the last time; only two more days cycling to go – not sure how I feel about that; sad? elated? Dunno. Then a quick shower, check with reception about local places to eat, then left, past the town hall, and into the Cafe Varona. A good choice. Fish soup, a grilled piece of some sort of fish, cheesecake and coffee. Wine included. 14 Euro. It took a couple of hours to get fed – no rush is the Spanish motto – then back to the hotel. The digital temperature sign outside the own hall claimed it was 45C. Possibly, as it’s on a huge tarred roundabout, with little shade. Too hot for me, anyway; back to my room to write this.

It’s now 6:00 pm. I’ll crash early, and spend tomorrow exploring; I’m not sure I have the energy to get out and mingle this afternoon – it’s still way too hot, and by 9:00pm I’ll be looking to crash anyway. The plan for tomorrow is to walk my way out of town, then do the Guggenheim, then lunch, then – whatever 🙂

See you down the road.

 

 

Day 69 – Lasarte-Oria to Ermua

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Neither places in the top ten of “must see”Spanish places, right? Right.

I got up at 6:00am, showered and packed by 7:00am.  It’s going to be hot – 37C or more, and humid as it can get. So – skip breakfast – rubbish anyway – and hit the road.

First problem. I’m in Basque country. Alphabet, language – they change. My map shows Anglicised place names – the signs at roundabouts and junctions don’t. I’m looking for the N–635, and it doesn’t get a mention anywhere. Nor do the towns that are on my route – Usurbil, Aginaga – I’m lost.

I looped  around the town a couple of times

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and was reduced to asking random passersby if they speak English, and can help me.

A middle-aged female school teacher could, and did. She pointed me West.

An hour and a half spent just trying to get out-of-town; such is life. Now I’m a reasonably smart guy – can read a map, can follow directions, and have a decent grasp of where North is, etcetera so it’s not my fault here. whoever is in charge of road signage should hang their heads in shame’ they get paid to do a decent job, but have fucked it up totally.

The first mention of the N-635 i about 8 km out of Lasarte. If you’re here – head for the river, and follow the red cycle path. It’ll get you started.

There is a motorway that connects San Iago in the West, via Santander, Bilbao and San Sebastian, to Bordeaux. I’d assumed that  most traffic would follow this – but sadly, the N-635 has become a cult ocean road, and gets more traffic than it should. Trucks and such are not a worry – but there are lots of campervans, and they don’t seem to know the 1.5 metre rule, or just have not driven a large vehicle before – some scary moments.

And a couple of massive climbs. In 37C heat. I drank two full camelbacks – about 5 litres – plus a litre of OJ, plus a beer at the bar I stopped at for lunch, in Deba – tuna and chili roll, plus an omelette. Here’s a shot of the beach 🙂

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Deba to Ermua, where I’m staying, is basically a long uphill grind. In full sun. With no respite. I walked the last uphill stretch, and it wasn’t that steep – but I was out of water, and out of legs.

The hotel is OK, but my room has a huge skylight – and no way of covering it – I’ll be awake at dawn. Ermua is a crappy little town – even wiki struggles to say anything positive about it. It’s split by the N-635, the old highway, which is really busy to the point where pedestrian crossings are on traffic lights, there’s a railway to the North, and  the motorway to the South. It’s grimy and dirty. Hopefully Bilbao will be better.

I’m not cross, or whatever – just very tired. I had to draw on deep reserves today. It was a struggle – but hey!! the reserves were there when needed.

See you down the road.

Day 68 – Lekunberri to Lasarte-Oria

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The Lekunberri Hotel has a massive woodpile, and skis hanging on the wall – they obviously get cold Winters. Summers are pretty warm too – It’s not yet July, and its expected to reach 37C here today; possibly warmer near the coast, and certainly a lot more humid. Dunno if I could live here; Perisher Winters, and Brisbane Summers – a bit too extreme for me.

Rosalie rang this morning, just before I was going to get breakfast; we had a good chat – she’s had a weekend in Sydney, and is now planning for new carpets and kitchen floorings. She keeps busy…. I’m constantly amazed that she’s my partner – dunno what she sees in me. In her, I see  the woman who completes me…..

I was the only one at breakfast, OJ, coffee, cornflakes and an omelette. The waitress made me a huge cheese roll for my ride, too.

Packed the bike, and made sure I had my lights on the bike; some of the tunnels are very long – one is 2.7 km. The tunnels are supposed to be lit, but you never know. My front light is very bright, with seven tiny LEDs, but has no lens – it’s a “be seen” light, not a “see” one – but its much better than nothing. Down the street, chuck a left onto the Plazaola track, and off we go, North.

The first five km are gently uphill – it’s an old railway line, so it is very gentle. The track is loose gravel over packed dirt; great for walking, but it got very potholed along the way, and the gravel accumulated in odd spots, making the tyres slide. Three tunnels in the first 5 km – the first was a couple of hundred metres, and not lit; the second was a bit longer, and there was a switch on the wall as you entered, which turned the lights on – not brightly; about 10 watts, I reckon. The third was slightly shorter, and not lit at all.

At each, I had to stop on entry; the transition from the full glare of the Spanish sun to the dark of the tunnel virtually blinded me, and I had to wait a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. My front light let me see the tunnel walls, and the floor, but not much else.  Slow and steady was the way to go.

At Uitzi someone has bought the old station house, and 500 metres of track, so it’s onto the road, then swing back onto the track, immediately into the 2.7 km tunnel.  It’s lit – but not brightly, and in some sections there are four or more dead lights, giving 50 or more metres of almost pitch black. My light proved very helpful. It’s a long way to travel underground, too; the roof leaked in several paces, showering me in cold water, and the leaks caused the floor to get ridged and rutty, and potholed;  these were very difficult to see. I didn’t walk, but pedalled very slowly.

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On to Leitza; lots and lots of tunnels – which on one hand is great – the trail is pretty much level, and from Leitza is very gently downhill, so pedalling is easy – but the track is narrow, rutted, potholed and gravelly – it’s not a place for making a big mile – especially as it is well used by walkers, who are not impressed to be passed by a bike at 20 kmph – not me; but I saw a couple of younger riders do just that.

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I lost count of the tunnels. many were now not lit, or vandals had smashed the switches, or so many bulbs had blown that the lights were useless;

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some of the tunnels are so short you can see the light at the other end, but at each I stopped, waited for my eyes to adjust, then proceeded. Slow progress – but hey – fantastic scenery, and the only thing I saw with an engine was a tractor.

This trail is a brilliant piece of engineering. The ore must have been worth a fortune back in the day, as building this line was a major feat; several dozen tunnels, a few bridges, lots of cuttings. The bicycle/walker groups have done an amazing restoration job, too; they have even provided fresh water every few km – a little filtration system at permanent flows down the rock faces.

Into Andoain;

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the first big town since , well, Pamplona; Lekunberri was the last biggish place, and that was tiny – smaller than Bredbo.  I’m now into Basque country; Signs are now in Spanish and Basque. Basque has way too many Zs and xs to be pronounceable, but the natives are friendly enough.

The rail line got lost here – absorbed by suburbia. it ends at a steep road, dropping down to a basilica; there is an escalator coming up from it, rather than a pavement – truly 😉

The Plazaola does sort of continue on, and I followed it – on a separate bike path, safely away from traffic – to Urnieta, where I turned left to head for Lasarte-Oria. San Sebastian was straight ahead, but hotels were very expensive (Yes, I can afford them, but it I’m a Yorkshireman at heart – it grates to pay more than a service is worth), and I’ll see heaps of the coast in the next few days. My pub in Lasarte is one-third of the cost of something similar in San Sebastian.

I had to push for two km though – Urnieta is in a valley, and Lasarte is in the next one West – so there was a huge hill to climb; too steep for me.

I left Lekunberri at 9:00 am, and got here at 3:00 pm – yet my garmin shows 3 hours and 48 minutes. The elapsed time was almost 6 hours; not much of it spent stopped, either – every tunnel caused me to lose satellite contact. There was one 2.7 km tunnel, and three or four of 600 metres or more, plus lots around the 200 metre mark – I reckon there’s at least another 7 km of distance not accounted for.

Lasarte is nothing special; just a small town near the coast. It’s handy for the San Sebastian To Bilbao/Santiago motorway, and near an airport, so it’s a route centre – cheap(ish) hotels, not too far from stuff. Walking from the hotel to town earlier I noticed lots of huge blocks of units – all facing due West. Piss poor planning.

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Tomorrow I head West – dunno how far I’ll get. The coast road is the one I’ll follow – the N-634. It’s a lot up and down, like the coast road from Tomakin to Bateman’s Bay. I’ll hopefully get halfway to Bilbao.

I’ve had a truly fantastic day’s cycling; possibly the best of the trip to date – though I’ll reflect on that for a while.

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I do know it made me open up my bucket list, add the Plazaola, and then cross it off as “done”. It was that good – you had to be there…

See you down the road.

 

Day 67 – Lekunberri

I know – another rest day 🙂  Though I did get  Trek out today for a short ride.

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The hotel Ayestaran has a pretty fine restaurant. I had mushroom risotto as an entree, Hake in an amazing sauce for a main, and a piece of pie and ice cream for dessert. I swear I’m gaining weight, not losing it. I slept well. The Spanish late dining style meant it was after 11:00 pm when I got to bed, and I woke at 7:30.

Breakfast was the same old, though this time I also got a freshly fried egg – very welcome. That, along with a bowl of cornflakes, a strawberry yoghurt and OJ was enough – dinner wasn’t that long ago.

Back to my room – the corridor floor is just on a slight slant – it’s an old building. Hemingway stayed here around the time I was born; he liked this area. There is a Hemingway trail, which I’ve been following by accident;  He fought at Belchite, in the civil war, and later spent time in Huesca, Yesa, Pamplona and here, in Lekunberri.

I got my bike gear on, and rode off to find the caves. And failed. My maps have road numbers, but every road I found had a name, not a number. It’s hilly as, and it wouldn’t take much to get hopelessly lost, so I just followed a couple of trails to a village I knew the name of, then dropped down onto a trail that took me back to Lekunberri. Really pretty country though.

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So – no caves. I decided to ride the first few Km of tomorrow’s trail, along the old railway line – there’s a dodgy bit at Uitza – back in the day, when the line became disused, someone bought the Uitza station building, and 500 metres of the track, so you have to detour along a road. Not too difficult, but forewarned is forearmed. I also found that the track, at least as far as Uitza, is slightly uphill. Coming back I didn’t need to pedal at all.

It’s Sunday, and a beautiful day, so the track was busy – lots of walkers, some with dogs, hundreds of mountain bikers, and even a few couples pushing prams. Great to see.

Back to Lekunberri, and on the main street there was a marching group of drummers, making a great sound. I stopped at the hotel, and put my bike away – it’s great to ride a naked bike; it’s like having a couple of free  gears – and the drummers also stopped. I chatted to a couple who spoke some English – they were off to the old town square, where there was a political rally about this part of Navarra becoming part of the Basque country. I followed along, had a beer, and bought a T-shirt.

Back to the hotel, for  late, and leisurely lunch. Same menu as at dinner last night, and the restaurant isn’t open for Sunday dinner. I ordered the same meal as last night, and it was just as good. I’ve resisted the need for a nanna nap, and am back in my room, writing this. I’ll watch some stuff online, and crash early – the trail for tomorrow is loose gravel and dirt, so it isn’t fast. It also only goes as far as Andoain, which leaves about 20 Km to San Sebastian.

I’ve checked hotel priced on the coast – they’re about 30% more than those up here in the hills. Such is life.

See you down the road.

 

 

 

Day 66 – Pamplona to Lekunberri

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A short ride, but all uphill, and into a strong headwind. Just what I needed after  couple of rest days. I could have carried on, as I’m now at the top of the ranges and it’s mostly downhill to the coast, but I have nine days before my ferry trip to Southampton; rather than spend those all at the coast, I thought I’d explore a small town that’s well off the tourist track. There are caves nearby, and I’ll play tourist. It’s also on the edge of Navarra, almost in Basque country.

Up and showered by 8:00am. I went to the storage room and checked tyre pressures, and greased the chain. Back to the 5th floor, packed the panniers, checked the room carefully – I’ve been here for three days, and my gear got  spread about a bit more than usual.  There was some OJ still in the fridge this morning, so I drank that, and headed down to get breakfast in  a local cafe.

The lift wasn’t working. I rang reception, and it took them ten minutes or so to sort it out; There’s  a fire door in front of the lift on each floor, and if that isn’t shut, no lift.  It was the one on the 6th floor – one of the hotel staff had to walk up the stairs, checking each floor.

I left my panniers in the lobby, up to the first floor, where the bike storage is, and carried it down the stairs.

It’s Saturday, and none of the cafes were open yet, so no breakfast. I’d had  tapas for dinner,  and wasn’t that hungry; I expected  to get something on my way out of Pamplona. Once over the river, heading North on the N-240A, I stopped at two cafes – both had sweet sugary things, and I wanted savoury. I decided to push on until I got hungry enough to eat whatever was offered;  I obviously wasn’t hungry if I could afford to be picky.

The N-240A is arrow straight to Erice de Iza, and just gently uphill.

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From there to Irurtzun is climbs and falls, but generally uphill still. I found a cafe in Irurtzun, and had a mushroom omelette and coffee around 11:00. The N-240A is part of the old highway to San Sebastian; as there is a new motorway that runs there, the old highway is just used by local traffic, or slow  moving stuff; tractors, scooters, and cyclists.

At Irurtzun I took a right onto the NA-1300,

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the antigua carretera a San Sebastian – the motorway which made it a byway follows the same route through the valley, but is generally much higher up the valley’s side, or disappearing into tunnels, and doesn’t intrude much at all  – which climbed all the way to Lekunberri, following the Larraun river up towards its source. Not a really hard climb, but constant; no traffic at all except for other cyclists and a couple of motorbikes. I stopped to admire the view here and there,

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and saw some pretty large fish in the river – no idea what they were though.

The Ayestaran Hotel

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in Lekunberri is over a century old, but my  bathroom is new – the rest is all old wood, creaky floors and huge fireplaces. The promised swimming pool was empty for maintenance, which is a bit of a bugger, as it”s hot. I showered, had a nanna nap, and walked the town. It’s a bit smaller than Jindabyne, and not as touristy, but has a similar feel – high country, with lots of walking tracks, and snow fields not too far away. Everyone lives in units; some of the blocks are way old, with tiny windows. Winters here are harsh, and long.

I lucked in, too. Around 1900 they found a seam of rich iron ore in a place nearby called Plazaola, and they built a railway to take the ore to San Sebastian, the nearest port. by 1920 the railway stretched from San Sebastian to Pamplona, and was in use for freight, ore and passengers until 1953 – no idea what happened then, but the line was abandoned. In recent times the rails have been torn up, the tunnels lit, the track graded and signposted, and it is now a Via Verde – a hiking and cycling track from here to the coast. The  EEC and Eurovelo are slowly extending it back towards Irurtzun and Pamplona, and will make it part of Eurovelo 1 – but for now it’s  rideable from here. So I’ll cycle that on Monday. Should be fun.

See you down the road.

Day 65 – Pamplona

17th June 2017

No cycling today. Again. My legs are wondering what’s happened……

OK. The Bull running thing is just part of the Festival San Fermin – which starts on the 6th of July, and attracts 1,000,000 (that’s right, folks – ONE MILLION) visitors. Thank (insert deity of choice) I’m here before that; mind you, preparations are already underway – My hotel will more than double its price over the next three weeks….

No rush this morning; got up around 8:00am, abluted, and went West out of the hotel. Breakfast at one of the many cafes – OJ, coffee, and a toasted mushroom omelette sandwich – they do amazing tapas stuff.

Two years back, Mariette, Ian and I found a fortress on the banks of the Danube, designed to be proof against explosives, artillery, bombs, etc. The Eastern edge of Pamplona has a star-shaped citadel based on the same model; massive earth banks covering everything, moats and narrow entries, designed to be killing fields – all the biz that was current in 14th Century warfare. (Nothing much changes – it must have cost a motza back then, just as “defence” costs us now. And it’s all just fuel to the war mongering companies…)

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So – Pamplona had the river to the North and East, This huge citadel to the West – but oh dear; they forgot, or ran over budget for, the South. Guess where the enemies came from?

Anyhoo – the citadel is still there, untarnished – a testament to the quality of the military contractors back then.  Wish I could say the same about our umpteen billion dollar jet fighters, that can ony fly on cool days, and try to choke our pilots to death – I’m sure there’s value there though 🙂

A useless thing, realIy, as the one time it was challenged, it yielded.

There’s no museum. It’s just a huge park now. Probably the best use for it.

I’ve said before that every city is divided , or split, by some feature, and one side is OK, the other not so. the river Arga is the divisor here; North is suburbs and industry. The high ground on the South bank is the old town, and the civic centre. From the citadel I walked South, making sure my route towards San Sebastian was clear. I crossed a 12th century bridge,

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and walked back along the river –

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I knew there were a couple of lifts back up to the old town, so no worries about the stroll – or, in my case, lurch – though I am slowly getting better at this walking business. Back into the old town, I walked the El Camino trail back to my hotel. The trail is marked by these steel discs, planted among the cobbles every 10 metres or so.

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The El Camino is sooooo trendy; I must have seen hundreds of Japanese, Chinese, American, European and others, all with staffs, huge backpacks and other stuff, all doing the “El Camino”. or a part of it – it’s become trendy, folks – at least it provides a tourist dollar, as I’m sure there’s no god involved. They also sneer at cyclists. Not very Christian – or maybe it is….

A siesta at the hotel. Back out around 5:00pm – still hot, around 30C. Into the old town for tapas and a glass of red. Tapas is a bit of a ritual, and also luck – some places have more flies than plates of food, and staff hygiene is non-existent. Luckily, I got my immune system empowered in Albania, so I’m pretty much germ proof for now – at some personal cost, I might add; immunity ain’t cheap. I still draw the line at flies though. I found a small. quiet bar and had a few bites –  tuna and chilli, egg and mushroom, and a “vegetal” – heaps of food, washed down with a glass of red. Just one – Roger has really hit my alcohol tolerance 🙂

A last stroll through the old town, and back here by 7:00 pm.

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A short ride tomorrow; as it’s the weekend, and getting close to San Fermin, I’ve booked two nights in a pub about 40 Km North of here. I’ve got ten days to do 300 Km, so no rush.

See you down the road.