Archive for September, 2012

29 Sep 2012

No more riding. Yay!

3 Comments Spain, United Kingdom

Valencia is a beautiful city and confusing. Watching tourists (and probably locals) wander around with their maps held high, turning them this way and that, with absolutely no idea of where they are is part of the fun.

 

You need to be Sherlock Holmes to find your way around Valencia

 

With that in mind we set off on our ten minute journey to Spanish School with an hour to spare and we made it … only just. Paul has been grouped in with a bunch of Dutch students all less than half his age. They already speak fluent English, Dutch, German and at least one or two other languages and now want to learn Spanish. They have been studying Spanish on average for a grand total of six weeks vs Paul's 5 months …. which by my reckoning makes them about even! I of course am fluent. Gracias.

It's the end of the bike riding and it has been fun, tiring, dangerous, interesting and hot. Paul's bicycle is safely locked away in Valencia until he can decide what to do with it. I will be taking mine to Morocco next week because there is no way I am riding a camel. Not a chance.

We have popped across to London for a couple of days to catch up with Gillian and Jeanne aka those who want to eat …. and drink (all the time), chill out in Shepherd's Bush, but mainly to have a decent strong flat white.

Next stop Casablanca – play it again Sam

Gillian & Jeanne (smiling and thinking about breakfast)

 

Eating breakfast (and thinking about lunch)

 

River Cafe - divine food

 

River Cafe - keep it coming

 

 

 

24 Sep 2012

Barcelona and the road beyond

2 Comments Spain

A couple of nights in Barcelona was just what the doctor ordered. Nothing cultural, simply meandering Las Ramblas, El Born and Port Vell. And picking at Pinxchos, where you choose various tasty morsels skewered with toothpicks, direct from plates stacked high around the bar, then at the end of the night the bartender tallies up the toothpicks on your plate and gives you the bill. Oops I dropped one! Make that two. Joking of course. Cheap, fun eating.

 

Looking back from Sitges

 

We cycled to Sitges and forgot to look at the terrain map before we began. The forty kilometres felt like eighty and by the third mountain pass, dipping and climbing, we finally arrived wearier than expected. We settled in a small bar sipping Pisco Sours (with genuine Peruvian Pisco) with a couple of locals, had a one-sided conversation about Catalan independence, and why didn't we just give up on our Castellano, learn Catalan, move to Sitges and be done with it. Por Que? Not a chance.

 

 

Cycling to Tarragona was a little easier and the coastal towns between (UGLY) provide good incentive to keep pedalling.

Tarragona has a second century Roman ampitheatre right at the bottom of the old town overlooking the beach. Its pretty spectacular especially at night. The rest of Tarragona is a juxtaposition of bits of old Roman forum and walls and foundations all exposed amongst the more modern architecture of the town. It works well.

 

 
 
 

 

The Spanish do love their festivals and the Catalans are no exception. Any excuse to let off a few fireworks in dangerously close proximity to a large crowd — I could feel my fringe frizzle — burn a few effigies and sell truckloads of cerveza at 1 euro a pop. There has been one going on all week in Tarragona, all day long and right through the night until the wee hours of the morning.

Fun, but it's definitely time to move on.

Next stop Valencia, to sell a bicycle and learn some Spanish.

18 Sep 2012

Dali, Dali, Dali – welcome to España

5 Comments Spain

We tethered the bike to the back of the boat and watched wave after wave crash over it and then left it unused in Cadaques for a couple of days

 

Before I start on Dali, let's get to the Pyrenees. Okay, we cheated. There you have it. No apologies. We backtracked to Saint Cyprien and took a boat to Cadaques, bypassing the Pyrenees entirely, and for our punishment the boat never made it. The first crossing was already cancelled the day before because of high winds and that should have been an omen. Huge waves crashed over the boat, drenching everyone who was outside — fortunately not me, my woolly complexion doesn't take too kindly to salt water — and sloshing around inside the cabin. Paul who was white as a sheet was uttering something along the lines of, I knew we should have cycled. Just think the first man/alpaca finger puppet tandem crossing of the Pyrenees and now we are going to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. Commonsense overcame the captain and he radioed ahead and arranged for a bus to collect us from an earlier port.

 

 
 

Cadaques is beautiful, it's everything Collioure should have been but wasn't. Nice bars alongside a narrow road right on the waters edge. The road runs the whole way around port. Very pretty. There were still tourists, but somehow the atmosphere was much nicer and being the Spanish experts that we are there was none of that daily game we played in France after the waiter had taken our order Guess What We Just Ordered?

Plus, although I am undecided on whether it is a plus, unlike the French, the Spanish have no concept of time. Early in the evening, at 10pm (well before dinner time) we watched a band rehearsing on a large stage in the main town square. At 12.40 am(!) the show began and continued until 3.30am. There was no point in trying to sleep so we ventured back out to watch.

Surreal!

 

 
 

 

Which brings rather nicely to me to Dali. We walked over to the next cove to the Dali house in Portlligat. The house itself is wonderful, organically evolving over several decades, giant eggs on the roof, amazing views across the port, that sort of thing. And then there is the art — a couple of hours inside the house of Dali is akin to being inside the mind of Dali: it's exciting, surreal definitely, wacky yes, colourful hmmm and fun of course — it makes one want to drink, a lot!

 

 

Sadly we had to leave Cadaques, ears still ringing and Dali still knocking around inside our heads. Next stop Figueres for the Dali Museum naturally. Besides the museum, there is not much to do in Figueres. As it happens we stayed with a woman whose family profession through several generations was dentistry. They have very clean teeth and coincidentally her father-in-law was Dali's dentist.

Can't you just picture the conversation?

  • “Mr Dali, sit still. Nurse hold that moustache please so I can look inside Mr Dali's mouth.”
  • “Mr Dali, I said sit still,” said the dentist peering inside Dali's mouth.
  • Garbled words emerge from Dali's clamped open mouth.
  • “My god, what is that? It's surreal.”
  • Dali pulls away, “What. What is it?”
  • “It's pink and it's dissolving, no, it's back again. Now it's shaped like a swan and it's dancing around your teeth.”
  • The nurse struggles to contain Dali's twitching moustache.
  • “Nope false alarm …. my mistake, so sorry, it's just your tongue.”

I told you Dali rattles around your head for a while. It'll wear off.

 

 
 

And then we visited the Dali museum for more of the same …. and he's still ratting around inside my head; my ears are running and my nose is ringing … Hehehe.

Time for a cerveza. Adios.

 

 

13 Sep 2012

All roads lead to the Pyrenees

2 Comments France
 

We arrived in Narbonne expecting great things and it was … well, incomplete: The gigantic Saint Just Cathedral — the centrepoint of the city — construction of which was started in the 12th century and to this day is still unfinished. The main canal, lined with restaurants was also boarded up — under construction. Let's hope it doesn't take 700 years to complete. We'll make a plan to come back in a few years (decades maybe) and see how they are going.

Next stop Leucate. A quaint B&B smack in the main old town square. Nice, but being September, even though the weather was perfect it was like someone turned out the lights. Hello, is anyone there? Hullo? The silence was deafening.

 

 
 
 

The following day was a dedicated beach day. We appropriated a towel and lazed on the warm mediterranean sand, occasionally plunging into perfectly calm waters, then cycled out to Port Leucate for the famed fresh seafood. It's a bizzare place. About 30 seafood restaurants line both sides of a pretty canal. The restaurants face out onto the carparks and only serve cold, freshly caught seafood: mussels, oysters, clams etc. No cooking is permitted. You choose your selection from a giant trough of water — Oui, oui, oui, non and oui. S'il vous plait. Merci. There's no beer or coke or coffee — only red or white wine. And you sit back, washing down delicious oysters with a glass of vin blanc and counting the Renaults, Peugeots and Citroens in the carpark. I hazard a guess it's every French mechanics idea of heaven.

 

 

And now here we are in Collioure, weary from the final mountain climb. Ol' legs of steel (his words) cursed a lot today — its lucky I have woolly ears. On the way up we met an old man, looking tired and wheeling a heavily laden bicycle up a mountain pass. We stopped and said bon jour (for the 632nd time this week) and he pointed in the direction we were headed and said one word; Espańa. It was irresistible; to which Paul replied non. You should have seen the look on his face. How do you say only joking in French or Spanish?

 

 
 

 

The whole way into Collioure, there they were like a Leviathan rising from the sea — the Pyrenees. For most of the day the tops of the Pyrenees were hidden in thick black cloud. At about 5pm the clouds lifted and Paul began cursing again.

Everyone has been whispering, you must go to Collioure, it's very special, and it is. The only problem is everyone has been whispering it to EVERYONE and now EVERYONE is in Collioure.

09 Sep 2012

Séte sail

2 Comments France
 
 

Séte (pronounced set) is short cycle from Montpellier. We have to share the highway for some of the way with trucks and cars, ducking off the road every now and then to let traffic pass or be squished. We have been trying to avoid the highways, but it is not always possible. By the time we arrive in Séte, Paul has an anxious expression, etched by the sun, that no amount of 50+ can hide.

It is a nice time to be in Séte. Most of the tourists have gone, but there is still enough life here to be interesting. Séte has a romantic feel about it. Bars and cafe's overlook canals (think Venice without the subsidence or Amsterdam minus the hashish). Locals sit sipping coffee or something stronger and when the weather is fine and the season is right, a spot of water jousting.

Crazy crazy French.

It's a sport originating in Séte in 1666 that rightfully should have ended there and then, but it hasn't. Two colourful rowboats face each other in the canal. A band strikes up … on the sidelines young women throw aside their champagne flutes and jump into the canal and bare their breasts to the oarsman and the crowd … the crowd roars … the boats charge. The jousters on raised platforms attached to the boats poise to attack. Their shields at the ready, their jousting sticks raised. They attack … and one or both of the jousters end up in the canal. This goes on ALL afternoon. If I have to watch one more bout I'll spit!

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I'll say it again: Crazy crazy French.
What next, bicycle jousting on the streets of Perth? Hmmmm not a bad idea.

We are staying on Monty's yacht with Sonja and Monty for a couple of nights. Monty is undertaking a painstaking restoration of the yacht, having spent the past few months replacing great sections of the steel hull, and now has all the detail work to do: kitchens, bathrooms, cabins and decking, electrics — a never ending list — before she is back to her former glory. Like many projects it is taking MUCH longer than they expected. They hope to be sailing back to the Canary Islands for the warmer winter. We'll see!

 

 
 

 

We jumped into Monty's Zodiac one evening on a short ride to explore all the unloved and submerged boats in the harbour and came back on the last drops of fuel, the engine sputtering and failing constantly, to a fiery red sunset.

 

 

For the rest of our stay the weather is glorious and there is little to do: Pick up a book … read for a while … lunch up on deck … an afternoon siesta.

While we never actually set sail, it was still a near perfect weekend.