Day 70 – Ermua to Bilbao

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

chrome_2017-06-21_21-05-40

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..

steep

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 :

bks

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…. ūüôā 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

mntns

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 Рdropping 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 ūüė¶

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

ggnhm

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.

ftbrg

My pub is just up river a bit.

rioblbao

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 ūüôā

See you down the road.

 

 

Day 68 – Lekunberri to Lasarte-Oria

chrome_2017-06-20_00-35-12

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.

plazaola

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.

leitza

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;

tunnel

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;

andoain

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 ūüėČ

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.

lasarte

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.

trk1

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 ūüôā ¬†Though I did get ¬†Trek out today for a short ride.

chrome_2017-06-19_03-05-02

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.

mntn1trk1trk2trk3trk4

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

chrome_2017-06-18_04-15-11

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.

N240

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,

NA1300

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,

rvrtrek

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

The Ayestaran Hotel

hotel

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 64 – Pamplona

16 June

No cycling today. Previous ferry trips have just been a case of rock up, get a ticket, and get on board – there’s always room for a bike. They’ve also allowed foot passengers, and provided aircraft-style seats for those who don’t want a cabin. The ferry service from Santander and Bilbo (both run by Brittany Ferries, the only company running ferries from these two ports) don’t allow foot passengers on some service to the UK, and insist on a cabin for all passengers too – which means that they fill fast; I booked my ferry yesterday, expecting to get one on the 20th of June – first available was the 26th.

So I’ve got lots of time up my sleeve – Pamplona to San Sabastian, then along the coast to Bilbao, and then Santander, is around 300 km.

I booked an extra day here in Pamplona, leaving on the 17th.

Up early, showered and ready to explore by 8:00 am. Breakfast in the hotel was a ridiculous 10 euro – as it has no restaurant, it’d be the usual croissant and coffee at best, and that’s available at any cafe for around 2 euro. Armed with my tourist map, camera and wallet, I set off. To the right of the hotel is a huge pedestrian mall, which runs the length of the town, down to the Plaza de Castillo, a massive square lined with cafes and bars. I had a glass of OJ, a coffee and croissant for 3 Euro.

sqr

I threaded my way North through the narrow lanes of the old town to the river Arga, which throws a lazy horseshoe loop around the old town; it’s about a 20 metre drop from this side down to the river, and it’s a fortified wall all the way around to the right, passing behind the Bull Ring, to an old fortress. There’s a free pedestrian/bike lift there, which takes you down to the river’s edge; this strip is the “beach”, and has canoes for hire, a couple of pools for swimming, or, as lots of people were, you can swim in the river.

nrth

Back up in the lift. Not much to see in the fortress; it’s just a stone blockhouse, no museum attached.

frt

Onto the Bull Ring.

I got my jubilados discount and walked in, down the wide path the bulls follow into the arena. Just before the arena, he main door shuts, and you turn to face it; white-painted walls and the door become a sound and light show, immersing you in the Running Of The Bulls. All that was missing was the smell of bullshit – it was quite a thrilling show. Well done, Pamplona ūüôā

brun

The arena seats 19,000 people. When it was built, in 1924, Pamplona had a population of 30,000.  And bull fights sold out in minutes. Wow.

brng

The holding pens for the bulls have narrow fissures along all the walls, so small that I found it a tight squeeze to get in them – these are the places that the bull teasers hide when the bulls get cranky – and they rile them up a fair bit…..

Onto the Matador chapel, and the museum with the suits of lights, some ripped and badly blood stained (the bulls win, now and again), through the hospital, another sound and light show of a couple of bull fights, and out. The matadors certainly strut; they reminded me of exotic birds, prancing around, flashing their capes – but there’s lots of teasing,¬†lots of stabbing that goes on first, lots of tiring and confusing the animals first. Gotta feel sorry for the bulls – not something that should be allowed any more. They still do have bull fights here, though many places have banned them.

More walking, more sight-seeing. I’m saving the old town and the Castillo for tomorrow, so I strolled the parks and the pedestrian areas. The Spanish are masters of casual water management; fountains everywhere, along with small water features and trickling runs of water everywhere. Given the Summer heat, and the general dryness (I’ve had 2 wet days in the past 64), they do their best to provide little oases. probably the Moorish influence helps too.

bldg

 

I had a late lunch/early dinner around 4:00pm. No grog – I’m not really a beer drinker, and I had several with Roger yesterday, and I was just a touch seedy all day today…. ūüôā

ftn

An early night, and I’ll do more tomorrow.

See you down the road.

 

 

Day 63 – Liedena to Pamplona

chrome_2017-06-14_22-22-39

Dinner was fine; vegie lasagna, fish and vegies, and flan and ice cream;  I waddled to my room, and slept well.

Breakfast was a shocker – one croissant, and a coffee. After I’d eaten that, I went to the snack bar and bought a chocolate pastry and a bottle of OJ.

On the road by 8:30 Рno rush as it was only 45 km to Pamplona.  I added five by heading the wrong way from the Hotel Рit took me a couple of  Km to note that my shadow was consistently on the wrong side. Checked the map, turned around, and back past the hotel, ont the start of a long uphill grind, following the NA-2420, which broadly follows the motorway.Practically no traffic; a few pilgrims, and several road cyclists.

I stopped for a breather at the top of the climb,

vista

and an English guy, Roger, caught up. He’d come over the mountains from France, and was heading my way – he was also my age, and our pace was similar, so we rode together to Pamplona.

cut

We got a little lost in the suburbs, finishing up in a place called Noain – practically a suburb of Pamplona, which is a much larger city than I expected. We found a hotel near the bullfighting Arena (two rooms) and after a shower we had a wander and a couple of beers. It’s really good just to sit and chat with a fellow cyclist after nearly 8 weeks of solitary cycling. We took a long walk to map our way out of town towards the North coast, found a restaurant, nattered, then back to the hotel. The blog is late, as I’d had a few beers, and it was late – I slept, and have written this this morning.

A very brief bromance – Roger had left by the time I surfaced, heading towards Bilbao. ¬†All I know is he’s Roger Clark, from the Cotswolds – travel well, Roger.

I’ve got several days before my ferry – it leaves Santander on the 26th June – so I had booked two extra nights here. I’ll possibly see Roger in Bilbao when I get there though – I’m on the first available ferry to the UK – it’s a busy service.

Here’s the street the bull run takes place in:-

bullrun

So. Two more days here. Lots to see.

 

See you dow the road.

Day 62 – Puente De Sabi√Īanigo to Liedena

A cyclist got hit by a car and died this morning on the N-330a, one of the roads I rode yesterday… and this morning. I don’t know where exactly, as it was just a news flash on the TV in the bar here. Worrying. There wasn’t the usual wide verge today, but even so, I never felt hassled by traffic – whoever it was must have been really unlucky – especially as there are signs like this everywhere

space

i stopped at the Hotel Mi Casa yesterday, and found out this morning that is is not quite in Sabinanigo proper. I don’t really care – I was so tired when i got there I was just happy to check in. My bike went in the store-room, and me to the bar for a refreshing ice-cold beer.

My room was fine, but nothing special. Dinner bed and breakfast cost me 65 Euro, which is reasonable. I had a thick vegetable soup as entree, cod, potatoes and beans for ¬†a main, and flan with ice cream as dessert. I could have eaten it twice ūüôā

A good nights sleep, up and ready for the road by 8:00 am – breakfast was the usual – cornflakes, croissant, cake, OJ and coffee. Five tables at breakfast; and five languages. Dutch, German, Spanish, French and English. It’s a small world.

I put the panniers on the bike, greased up with sunscreen, and started on the N-330a, which joined the N-330 at Los Allagares, and paralleled the A-23 motorway all the way to Jaca. I reached Jaca in just over an hour. Flat or slightly downhill all the way, the easiest cycling I’ve had in days.

After Jaca the road was renamed the N-240. It still paralleled  the A-23, and was still flat or downhill. This continued to Puenta La Reina de Jaca, where I crossed the river Aragon,

aragon

and had to climb for a while, up to Berdun – another of those villages that clings to a hilltop.

berdun

The N-240 is part of the Camino de Santiago, an 800+ Km walk. This is the official site – though the previous link gives a more realistic view, I reckon ūüôā As the first review says, for a lot of the time the pilgrims are sharing the verge – I passed several.

cs

A bloody long way to walk, and the accommodation is crappy/ I couldn’t imagine walking that far, mainly on roads, in the Spanish Summer. Yet thousands do….

The N-240 carried on, between the River Aragon valley and the A-23, until it becomes a very large lake – the Embalse de Yesa. The road then goes up and down a bit, as the old N-240 is at the bottom of the lake, and I had to push the Trek up one hill. As it’s a new road, I have no idea why they made it so up-and-down; probably to save money. ¬†This abandoned village sits at the start of the lake –

ruin

At the dam wall, some major upgrade is happening Рlots of huge trucks, earth movers, graders and such.  I got to Yesa, my planned stop relaxed, not really tired, but hot and thirsty.  I grabbed a beer at the Hostal, and asked for a room Рand was told no chance; all rooms for a 5 Km radius had been booked for weeks by the construction workers; the Hostal had even added a row of temporary rooms, portacabin  style, for the workers.

Never mind. The cold beer refreshed me, and I pushed on – Ten Km down the road I came to Liedena, which doesn’t have a hotel, but just past it is a large petrol station, and a huge Hostal/bar/cafe/restaurant, called Hotel Complejo Latorre. It must be mainly for the Winter snow traffic, I reckon – but it did have a room. I’ve booked in, and will get dinner and breakfast here too.

My Garmin claims I burned 2,800 calories today. I call BS. Yesterday, a much more physical and demanding ride, took about the same time, but was 55 Km as against today’s 87 Km. Yet yesterday it reckoned I burned 2100 calories. I know which one was harder – their calculation algorithm has too heavy a weighting for distance, and not enough for climbs. I’ve dropped them a note on this – who knows? they might give me a free bike computer….

It’s about 45 Km to Pamplona tomorrow. Should be an easy ride.

 

See you down the road.

 

Day 61 – Huesca to Sabinanigo

12th June.

Here’s a tip – Don’t try to cycle this route, as road works on the motorway around Puerto de Monrepos will prevent you from progressing. I was lucky; the road works were just beginning, and I managed to ride through. The Ayerbe road is the only route for cyclists now. Between Arguis and Puerto de Monrepos there is no road other than the motorway.

chrome_2017-06-13_00-41-15

Good Hotel, La Posada de la Luna. Great shower – it had about a dozen nozzles, a rainfall showerhead, and a hand spray. Almost needed a manual to use it. Up at 8:00, showered, ready for the road; breakfast was the usual bust – no cereal, bread, cheese and meat, and croissants and cake. I had two croissants and some cake, plus a banana, OJ and coffee. I was on the road North by 8:15. ¬†This is the first ¬†reference to Don Quixote I’ve seen, too.

dq

Another hot day ahead, with lots of climbing, so it could be a long one too.

mtn1

The N-330 runs North, alongside the new motorway, the A-23. The N-330 dances over, under and around the motorway, like an apprentice tailor sewing up their first seam. In a couple of places it actually becomes the motorway, but there was always a local road to take, renamed the N-330a, or N-330b.

This worked well, until  Arguis.

lke

At Arguis, the N-330 became the motorway, but there was an offshoot; ¬†the C-136 according to milestones on the roadside, ¬†or, on my tablet maps, and road signs, the N-330b. ¬†It’s a steep climb that goes on forever, and it finishes up way above the motorway, which disappears into a tunnel. The N-330b does the same – into a long tunnel (so dark in the middle that I got off and pushed). The tunnel was named as the Tunele de Mon Repos. When I hit daylight at the end, there was a big sign saying the road ahead as closed, and a huge dirt mound blocking the way ahead. The first indication of a closed road – right at the end; not the beginning. D’oh. I could see the motorway again, way down in the valley below, but no other roads. I checked my tablet maps, and my choices were non-existent; I could only retrace my riding almost to Huesca again, then take the Ayerbe to Pamplona road. I’d done three hours by then, most of it uphill.
Then a mountain biker appeared from the tunnel. He told me that the road was closed because of a couple of collapsed bits, but that a bike could still, with a bit of effort, get through to Puerto de Monrepos – he was a local, and that was his route. So I followed. He disappeared very quickly, and I plodded along, staying away from the edge.
shtrd
After about 5 km it became a very broken path, with huge earth movers and the like, working on the next bit of motorway. I pushed through the works, and rejoined the N-330. Phew.
It was scarily busy, as the motorway had  ended, but the next section was under construction
newbrge
so the verge was sometimes blocked; lots of traffic, and a very steep descent, with¬†a large drop into the gutter next to me. Here’s the view from the top of the descent; those are the Pyrenees in the distance.
mtn2
I crawled downhill for nearly 10 Km, being pushed about by the wind from passing trucks, and the occasional gust as I passed a cutting. At the bottom of the descent I took the road to Sabinanigo. One stop, as they were blowing up a cutting for yet more motorway. The N-330 road ¬†is much more peaceful, as the Pamplona stretch of motorway is complete and only local traffic uses the Sabinanigo road, at least in Summer. It runs along the base of the Pyrenees, and Sabinanigo is one of many Jindabynes; ski resorts with lots of accommodation – not much of it open in the Summer though. Tomorrow might be a long day; Pamplona is 140 Km away, and hotels are thin on the ground – there’s one 20 Km away, and another 80 km away. That’s the one I’ll head for.
I was hoping to reach Jaca, because I could make a great pun about how hard it was to get there, but I’m done.
I’m in the Hotel Mi Casa, and it has a restaurant, so I’m here for dinner and breakfast tomorrow. My room has a great view –
roomvw
I’m weary – 5 and a half hours to make 55 Km. Some serious hills today. I’ll sleep well.
See you down the road.

Day 55 – Utrillas to Belchite

chrome_2017-06-07_01-56-41

Well – dinner last night was a bust; no vegetarian entree, so I skipped that. Had the Emparador with vegie for a main – fish was overcooked and greasy, the vegies mush – and the dessert was a creme caramel – must have been a week old. And they charged me for a glass of wine. If you’re travelling this way, ¬†Utrillas is a place to stop at briefly, then move on. The room was OK, but the wifi dodgy – and every time you lost connection, you had to go downstairs to log on to the main server…

And breakfast; served to me – one croissant, one small cake, one cup of coffee, and fake OJ. The radio was at full volume, ditto the TV. If you view my trip as a living thing, I’ve just found it’s arsehole…… The Hotel Villa de Utrillas rates itself as three stars. I’d struggle to give it two. The room and en suite were OK, but the rest (though the staff were good) was way below par, given the general standard I’ve met in Spain.

Back to my room, which overlooks the local primary school, and i awoke to the sounds of children and parent (mostly mums, though there were one or two dads) gathering ¬†at the gate, which ¬†didn’t open till 9:00 am, when a tocsin sounded. ¬†Showered, got my bike gear on, and hit the road around 9:30 am. Cool, almost to the point where I needed a jumper, but the sky was clear, and I knew I’d warm up quickly.

Which I did. A rapid drop through town on the N-420 to a roundabout, then a long, slow grind on the A-222; uphill, just spinning in granny. The climb ended at La Hoz de la vieja,

la hoz

which I translated as Gran’s house – probably very badly – it’s a crack in a valley, houses built into the cliff face, with a mediaeval castle lurking above. A very picturesque, but dying town, again; half the places were boarded up, or looking abandoned.

Then a long, cruisy section up in the high country, up and down a bit, but nothing too arduous, and long sections of just not pedaling, cycling along gentle downhills at around 25 Km an hour.

Then, around a corner, a fantastic vista – Banjo said it best – “I saw the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended” – a long steady drop onto the plain. Glorious views, and no pedaling until Lecera.

plain1

plain2

I had about thirteen Km to go to Belchite, and was averaging 25 Km an hour as I approached Lecera; then it all turned to custard. A headwind sprang up, gusting at me, and very, very strong; it blew me from one side of the road to the other, nearly knocking me off my bike. No traffic, so I didn’t get squashed, luckily. I slowed to a crawl, struggling to keep on the verge – traffic on one side, a couple of metres fall on the other. I eventually made Belchite, stopping to take a couple of pictures at the ruined seminary just before the town.

semin

I turned off the A-222 into Belchite new town, and found the hotel – as it’s council run, it was shut between 1:00pm and 5:00pm – it was just on 3:00pm as I got there, so I stopped at a nearby bar, had a toasted cheese sandwich and a beer, and waited. The receptionist finally opened up the Hotel Oleum at 5:30, and I booked in. Fabulous place – big rooms, great bathroom, good wifi. No dinner, but there are a couple of restaurants in town, and breakfast is provided. I’d recommend it if you’re in the area.

I booked in for two nights.

Belchite was on the frontline during the Spanish Civil war; for nearly a year the place was besieged, and blown to buggery and back. At the end, when the Fascists under Franco finally claimed it, they built a new Belchite beside the old, and just left the old as a reminder of war; all they did was remove the corpses. So Belchite old town is an amazing legacy of the stupidity of war. Well worth visiting. Here’s one web resource to start you off:

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-ruins-of-belchite

Places like this fascinate me way more than the ancient ruins in Athens. They strike me in a place that I see as relevant, almost current; a reminder of how absofuckinglutely dumb we are, fighting pointless wars, killing and maiming many, many thousands, all to no purpose when looked back at in 30-50 years time.

Dinner was at the same cafe/restaurant I ate while waiting for the hotel to open. Seafood paella, followed by Emparador and a green salad. Utrillas should send their cooks here to learn. A great meal. I’ll eat here tomorrow night, too.

I’m the only person in the hotel. Freaky. And, given its historical importance, astonishing. ¬†People should be queueing to get here.

See you down the road.

Day 54 – Allepuz to Utrillas

chrome_2017-06-06_01-39-25

I timed yesterday’s stop just about right – an hour after I’d booked in, the heavens opened and the wind picked up to a serious blow – and the rain didn’t stop untill after I’d fallen asleep around 11:00pm.

The Hostal Venta Liara had a bar/dining room downstairs; I went down just after 8:00 pm, and was told dinner would be late – not served till after 9:00 pm. this was communicated by a mixture of mime and Spanglish; Muy tardes, senor…. So I had a glass of red; the bloke behind the bar poured the remnants of a bottle into a glass, then reached for an entirely different bottle to top the glass up. I managed to stop him ¬†in time, and sat at a table with my half a glass. There were four blokes in working gear playing cards in one corner, several others around the bar, and two couples in their 50s chatting – I felt almost like a local, though I understood three fifths of bugger all, really.

Around 9:00pm the place started to fill up; a couple of young blokes, a group of family members – mum, dad, gran, several young children and two couples. As Allepuz has a population of about fifty, most of the town had to be here.

I’d had my glass refilled – both reds were quite drinkable – and at 9:30 I got my entree – I’d ordered by guesswork and mime from the woman running the place – vegetable soup – mainly barley, carrots and onion, followed by ¬†poached fish with a vegetable medley, and a cherry cheesecake for dessert. The soup was homemade, and wonderful – the fish was well cooked, and the vegies tasty, and the cheesecake was a shop-bought thing – OK, but not special. I went upstairs around 10:15, and most of the other people hadn’t started to eat yet. The Spanish do like to chat.

My room was up in the attic – fell asleep to the sound of rain on the pantiles, and the wind howling around the roof. Well fed, warm and snuggly, I slept well.

It was cloudy and just drizzling gently when I woke; showered, packed, and went downstairs for breakfast. Some of the working men had stayed over, and were drinking expresso – I got a cafe Americano, which is like twice the volume, but half the strength.

Breakfast was served to me; no juice, just three slices of hard bread, two pots of jam, and two slices of cake. Unimpressive, especially as dinner was such a pleasant affair. Paid the bill – 45 Euro. Dinner, bed and breakfast, plus a beer on arrival and two generous glasses of red. A bargain.

No chance of getting lost; the road towards Utrillas started about fifty metres South of the Hostal, and was clearly marked as the A-228. A cold start – I had my woolen gloves on, and the drizzle was chilly – it stopped after about an hour. The A-228 is bit narrow, and not in the best repair, but in 30 Km i saw less than a dozen vehicles, so no problems with traffic. The road was fairly level for 25 Km; ploughed fields, others planted with a grain crop, a couple of piggeries and chook farms. Lots of pilgrim paths crisscrossing the landscape – this hut is a resting spot for one of the walks.

hut1

Lots of abandoned farms and hamlets. I can’t blame them for leaving – I’d move if I lived here.

ruins1ruins2

The last five Km before meeting the N-420 were a steady climb; not as steep as those I’ve tackled in the past two days. The peak was at 1409 metres.

peak

Shortly after joining the N-420 I hit the edge of the High Sierra – the ridge was lined with wind turbines as far as the eye could see – there must have been at least a thousand, all turning away.

windtbn

Two quick, steep descents and into Utrillas. This area was a big coal mining community – all now closed. The Spanish have more sense than the Aussie government, though I wonder why ours is so keen to keep digging the stuff up. Blind Freddie can see renewables are the way to go. Remember this, and vote the buggers out next year.

So the town is dying, visibly. Lots of homes for sale, lots of badly maintained places, lots of ruins. The hotel/restaurant is on one side of the main street, and there is a small supermarket opposite. Not much else of note. I took a walk; there is a museum, but it was shut on Mondays. As was the church,  as was the mosque.

utrillas1

I’ve booked dinner, bed and breakfast – dinner at 9:00 again. That’s three nights in a row – maybe I’m acclimatising…. My room is clean, the shower is hot, and the wifi seems to be working OK now – it took me three trips to reception (¬†I’m on the second floor) to get it sorted out. It’s a two stage process; log on to the “principal” at reception, and then onto Villa “n” where n is your floor number once you are in your room. It’s about the weirdest setup I’ve come across yet, and no two hotels have had the same method. There’s got to be a business opening there, surely.

It’s lucky I decided to stop at the Hostal Venta Liara last night – this is the first hotel I’ve come across since there. I’ll report on dinner and breakfast in tomorrow’s post – I’m still 120 Km away from Zaragosa.

See you down the road/