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…)


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,


and walked back along the river –


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.

El -Camino

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.


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.


Day 16 – Fogie to Shkoder


Yes, I know; I’d planned to get into Monte Negro today, but….

I woke at 6:00, showered, packed my bags and handed the key in around 7:00am. I scored a free short black – no breakfast available, but I’d saved an apple, which I ate before riding off.

The SH1 lost it’s one metre divide shortly after setting off, which made me a little nervous, and also made me concentrate on staying close to the right edge of the road, rather than enjoying the view. A cool start, around 14C, and the road fairly level – just a slight head wind.

Three hours of steady pedalling. I dithered at the roundabout into Shkoder; left to Monte Negro, or into Shkoder? There was some light rain happening, so I pulled into a cafe and had a coffee while I thought.

I still had about 8,000 Lek, I had no Monte Negran cash – didn’t even know what they used  (turns out it’s Euros). I had a lot of laundry – hand washing stuff doesn’t get it really clean. It was now around 10:30 am, so I decided to take an early mark, and take a last look at Albanian life – in the cities, anyway.

Right in the middle of town is a large roundabout with a fountain in it’s centre. There was a Raiffeisen bank on one edge, so I pulled in and asked about currency for Monte Negro, Euros, from the first ATM outside. Sure enough, and it was that easy. Above the bank is a high-rise four star hotel, but behind me was a red brick hotel, called, imaginatively enough, the red brick hotel. 5,500 Lek got me a room, breakfast, and my laundry washed and ironed – it’s just been delivered to my room.Which is a great room; here’s the view from it’s window.


Once booked in and laundry organised, I took a walk. Took a look at the castlecastle, but I really couldn’t face the climb up to it. I’m not walking well, and it took me 50 minutes to get to the road leading up to it.


So; back into the centre. Lots of street vendors –


some with little to sell, really. A mosque or two:-


and endless rows of really shitty social (?) housing. Here’s a typical one –


Every other shop is a cafe – few of which serve food; just beers and coffee. Hundreds and hundreds of men sit at these – obviously unemployed – and watch the world walk by. Those that aren’t in the cafes are sat in groups under trees in the parks. I think I’m the only non-local in town too.

I found a bakery that made me two cheese and cucumber rolls – the only other food I could find was from the kebab shops, and I could no longer afford a restaurant – down to 700 lek after a couple of coffees, a glass of red and the two rolls, plus donations to some of the beggars – dozens of them, all with a child or two under the age of four. Not much social security here.

Just East of my hotel is the university, and a suburb surrounding it bubbling with youth and vitality. There is hope.

I’ll be glad to get to the coast again, and not just for a wider range of foods that I can eat. Albania has scenery coming out of it’s watoozie, but has massive pollution, an amazing litter problem, and poverty like you cannot believe. I’ve had some great cycling days here though; dunno if I’ll see solitude on this trip like I did in the mountains between Bourazani and Fier. And it’s on track to join the EC – the four poorest countries (PIGS) will become PAIGS. I Don’t know how Germany and France will hold it all together, especially as Britain is leaving.

See you down the road.


Day 14 – Elbasan to Tirana


The hotel didn’t do breakfasts. Amazing – unemployment up the wazoo, and a major hotel can’t be arsed doing breakfasts. Two cafe’s nearby, one actually inside the hotel lobby – and neither could arrange something like a franchise, The two cafe’s were not open either – it was 7:00 am when I left. No wonder the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

It was 7:00 am because there were only net curtains on my room’s windows, so I was awake predawn as the day broke. I’d also had a great night’s sleep, and was ready for the chase.

A quick ride along the pedestrian precinct showed I could get coffee, but nothing more substantial; one street vendor was selling stuff from his stall, but it looked a bit cut-me-own-throat Dibbler Dibbler to me. So; to the spar. One breadroll, two thick slices of cheese, and an OJ. Ate/drank then at the roadside, then headed out of town. Busy traffic.

I was taking the SH3, the old Tirana road – there is a brand shiny new motorway, but not for cyclists. So I had to backtrack 5km, into the industrial area – and the pollution was vile. Coal dust, smoke, heavy industry crap, all in the air – and we had to breathe it. Yuk


The SH3 looks a bit intimidating on maps, and rightly so. It’s a brute; climbs hard and steep, 270 degree bends, and it’s relentless. 21km of climb, all steep – some outrageously so. A great grind; just get into granny, and think deep thoughts I stopped on a couple of levelish bits to take photos, but otherwise just pedalled away.


At the crest – 3 hours later – i had a well earned beer.


The road followed the ridge for a couple of  ks, then all that height disappeared in a swooping downhill rush into Mushqeta. The motorway also ended here; one side had been completed, so that became the SH3, which I followed into Tirana, Dunno what happens when the motorway is completed; there seemed to be no other road towards the capital.

Tirana has over 800,000 people, many, many vehicles, and the infrastructure in the centre of a medieval town. Absolute chaos. I stopped at the hotel Illiriya on the edge of the centre, but they wanted 60 Euros, or 70 with breakfast. First world prices. I moved on and found the Hotel Relax, opposite the parliament, next to the old city wall ( long gone, marked with three rows of cobblestones). 40 euro with breakfast. I booked in, had a quick shower, and had a wander around the town centre.

wallParks and greenery; the last remnants of the old city walls are now part of a tree lined walkway;

bkeat one end is a shopping mall – 5 storeys of boutiques etc, with a supermarket in the basement; it made Civic look very 3rd rate. at the other end is the main square; fenced off for renovations. Ah well.

I found another green oasis behind my hotel; the river Lana runs through the middle of town, channeled like Sullivans Sullivans Creek; there was a tiny park with a bar/restaurant., next to a long disused medieval bridge


I had a seafood pizza and a couple of beers, then back to my room.

I ache, pretty much everywhere. I thought that by now I’d be over that, but it’s a very slow process. The climbs are not kind to my body – legs and lungs are fine, but the rest of my infrastructure is hurting; I was walking like Lurch again this arvo;  I need a few days of flat cruising, which hopefully I’ll get in the next few days. A tempting alternative is coming up – at Bari, in Monte Negro ( about 3 -4 days hence) I can take a ferry to Alcona Italy. I’ll have a think about it over the next day or so.

See you down the road.