Monday, August 02, 2010

France: South West

So over the Pyranees we went into France. There wasnt even a sign to indicate the border, we only knew for sure we were in France when people started greeting us with Bonjour rather than ola.

The Pyranees and Spain well behind us
 We spent a few day biking through French Basque country, avoiding the rain and eating heaps of the tastiest, softest, freshest pastries I have ever had. We then got to Salies de Bearn which was to be the starting place for Stage 18 of the Tour de France.

The chaos before the race
The Tour was nuts. The night before the town was pretty much deserted, then in the morning the Tour Caravan rolled in with all the support crews and hundreds of sponsors vehicles. It was about 4 hours of watching sponsors and officials speeding up and down the road before the cyclists zipped past.

The front line of the Tour de France
The day after the Tour did the stage we followed their lead and managed to get 123kms of the 198km stage done in a day... but we stopped for a longer lunch and many more snacks than Lance did.

Farms, trees and the occasional pretty town... thats rural France

So we hit St Emilion. which is a old town in the middle of the Bordeaux wine region. This made for nice rolling hills and plenty of wine tastings. We took a day to explore the area on our bikes with none of our gear on, it was so much lighter and easier!

The view from St Emilion over the vineyards

From St Emilion we rode another big day to Perigeux. Then from Perigeux north into the Dordogne region, more hills than we normally like, but lots of really nice town and chateaux.

Just a 7th century church in a field of sunflowers...

We then looked at a map a realized that we cant possibly do bike the 1000 odd kiliometers to Germany and have time to explore there, so are now taking the odd train and about to bike through the Loire Valley from here in Tours. Oh, and we have now hit 2000kms of cycling, I dont know about you, but I am impressed!

Confloens: One of many pretty towns.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spain: The top

Here is the latest installment on our Europe by Bike adventure. I am on a french keyboard, so apologies for the more frequent typos. We spent a few nights in Burgos, caught the town festival which was tasty, then made a very tough decision to go North. We had wanted to go West to Galacia, having even already got a map, but with only a few months left Germany wasn;t getting any closer.

The North of Castile y Leon was very pretty, and hilly. We were very happy with some well placed canyons and gorges which went through, rather than over, the hills.

Handy Gorge
We then crossed over into Cantabria, and we started really seeing the green of Spain. It was so so so much greener, heaps of trees, grass growing in the empty sections  rather than dust.

The hills of Cantabria

Luckily we had been on a massive plateu, so although it was pretty tough biking up to the passes, we had some nice downhills to the coast.

Bikes on a Boat in Santander

We spent a few nights in Santander, then to Laredo for a few nights and the WORLD CUP FINAL. We had wanted to be in a big city for the final, but I reckon we couldnt have handled much more than the big party Laredo threw. Good times all round. Everyone was super stoked.

CastroUrbaniles... pretty boats and a good Kebab

One of many crowded beaches along the coast

We then cruised along the coast, which wasnt nearly flat enough, to Bilbao. The Guggenheim Museum was very very very awesome. I have always been sceptical of contemporary art, but the stuff here was amazing, it messed with you senses and looked really cool. I cant possibly do it justice by telling you about it, either go to the Museum or ask me in person so I can use my arms while talking.

The Guggenheim
From Bilbao we snuck over to Barcelona to see a friend and check out the city. It was big, fun, tasty and international.
Sagra Familia catherdral in Barcelona
So back to the bikes in Bilbao; we cruised along the coast; spent some time in San Sabastion and Irun: then went inland to Navarra for about an hour before heading to France over the Pyranees.

The Basque Coast

Well; actually the foothills of the Pyranees; but I will claim it! So now we are in France. No more really good jamon, lomo and chorizo. No more Cruzcampo, Mahou or Estrella. I will miss tapas... Spain was, and is, freaking awesome, we loved it. But if you are going to bike there, be warned it is rather mountainous.

Mountain bike path in Navarra to avoid a motorway.
I will post on France in a while. Right now I am going to call Mum and Dad. They should be out of bed....

Friday, July 02, 2010

Spain: The bottom and the middle

 So we left the farm in Villanueva de San Juan just under a month ago. Since then we haven´t seen too many internet cafes so I have been slow in getting any photos up, but here they are, and there are heaps.

After the farm we road to Carmona, which is 20kms from Sevilla. We opted not to tackle the big city roads, and instead spent the night here then bussed in to town. We had no where to sleep until we found a super friendly shepard just outside town that was more than happy for us to camp with his sheep.

Our first night free camping near Carmona
 We spent a few night in Seville, had fun just hanging out and recovering after our first days ride. Staying in an 15th century convent which is now a very reasonably priced hotel in the historic centre and exploring the Alcazar and other interesting things.

Seville by night
From Seville/Carmona we continued through Andalusia towards Cordoba. We camped the night half way between at a campsite which was unfairly located atop a steep hill.

Our bikes between Seville and Cordoba

Yellow Flowers! and a castle. Near Almodovar del Rio
 We spent a few nights in Cordoba, got some bells for our bikes so we could communicate better on the road, and watched some more world cup games. After that we headed north into the mountains. We biked for a few days, sleeping in a random bar in the mountains, meeting some locals who gave us an awesome lunch of ham from his own farm, trying not to get too hot and struggling to find the All Whites on TV anywhere.

We then took a sneaky little bus for a few kms over the hardest part of the mountain... this is a holiday after all! We were then out of Andalusia and onto our second map: Castille - La Mancha, the home of Don Quijote, unending flat plains, windmills and castles. We plotted a route to Toledo over the flattest ground we could find and made really good time, the best day being 99kms!

Somewhere in Castille-La Mancha

Windmills in La Mancha... just like Don Quixote!

The beautiful sight of Toledo as we came over the last hill.
We reached Toledo a few days later and relaxed for a few days. The highlight being in an Irish pub full of Italians while the All Whites smashed them... a draw was as good as a win for NZ as far as everyone in that bar was concerned.

Madrid, so many people!
We then got on our bikes and headed towards Madrid.... about 20kms into the ride Stephs derailer snapped off! As good as our bike repair skills are this was way beyond just wiring something back together. So we jumped on a bus to Madrid, thankful to not have to navigate the freeways and streets of the massive city. We spent a few days appreciating the massive diverse city: Mexican food, modern art and NZ almost making to to the second round of the world cup.

From Madrid by train to Segovia, with its awesome Alcazar (Palace/Fortress) and Roman Aqueduct.

The very impressive Roman Aquaduct in Segovia

Pretty people in Segovia
From Segovia we rode towards Burgos, which is about 230kms. It took us three days, with one night camping in a small forest just outside for a small town, we were lucky to catch the owner (or some dude who we think was the owner..) and got permission, which is always nice. And a night in the park of another town after we met the Mayor in the bar and he said it was all good! This is all in Castille y Leon, our 4th province. It is so so so so green compared to everywhere else we have been, its really refreshing.

One of the many pretty, quiet and not too steep roads we travel on.

Free camping in a forest near San Miguel de Benuy
 So we got to Burgos two days ago after some really good riding through gorges, rolling hills, small towns and even the odd forest and park. And thats it. Currently we are back in Madrid for a few days to see a friend, before heading back to Burgos to get our bikes and head.... East, West or North... not sure which yet!

One last picture to show you how hard core we are.....

1000kms!!! and counting.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Spain: Ronda

Our first big bike adventure was a couple of days ago, we rode from here on the farm to Ronda, which is about 60km´s away. On the map it looked loke a pretty easy ride, but unfortunatley I don´t have a topographical map, so we weren´t aware of the mountains we were going to ride over. Aside from the tough ride, insane heat and lack of a big breakfast it was an awesome ride.
View towards Pruna and Olvera from Sierra del Tablón
Southern Spain consists mostly of the Province of Andalusia, and we got a good tast for it riding through many small villages, over the mountain ranges and around fields of grain, olives and pastures. For me the best part is not the amazing scenery but the numerous tight little villages, the Moorish ruins, and massive churches everywhere. Its totally unlike NZ in that so much has happened in such a small space.. the Romans, the Moors, the Catholic influnce... and much more.


We passed through many cool towns, Olvera was atop a hill with a big church and good ice cream... Setenil de las Bodegas was built in to a cliff and had excellent meats.. and even the little towns that to a local were probably little nothings (like Geraldine..? ) seemed to us to be pretty and exciting with there plazas, narrow streets and refreshing little cafes.
The edge of Ronda.
We got into Ronda at about 8pm.. it was a long day, but we took lots of breaks and a long siesta along the way... also it was also our first big ride and it got to 38 degrees! We got a room at a nice little pension (cheap hotel) then went out and got some good tapas.
Steph and I looking over the edge. Its a good 80m down.
The next day we did some proper exploring around town. It was a little touristy, but for good reason. The town is situated on top of an 80m cliff, with part of it on another out crop connected by an big old bridge.
The gorge that runs through Ronda.
The town was built by the Moors back when the controlled this place. The Islamic history is really really interesting.. Andalusia is named from al Andalu and the locals say oholallah (sp?), which means the same as inshallah (God willing).
The "New Bridge" that spans the gorge. Built in the
So we rode back from Ronda a few nights later, and were stoked to discover the first 40kms of the return leg was generally downhill. So we got to Pruna, which is 20kms from the farm, in time for a late breakfast. We are not so sore and are looking forward to starting our big trip, during our siestas on the farm we are looking at different routes and places to visit.

Thats all for now, next time I post will be in a few weeks, probably from Seville, or Cordoba... or somewhere else in Europe..


Spain: Villanueva de San Juan

Steph and I are in Spain! We arrived here on the farm near Villanueva de San Juan via Malaga. We were one night and a day in Malaga, but that was spent putting out bikes together and fixing flat tyres... we saw a little bit of the town, and had a nice seafood dinner. From there is was a 1.5hr train to Almargen where we were picked up by a friend of the farms owner and dropped here. In case you were wondering, we found this farm on, we look after the farm and have a free place to stay. Win win.

The entrance to the farm... this photo is deceptively green.
The farm itself is not so large and sits in a beautiful Andalusian valley. Surrounded by lots of olive groves, dry hills and the occasional non-olive tree. We are currently responsible for about 6 dogs, 14 chickens, a large plot of potatoes and some tomoatoes. There are apricots for the pickin, and we are prepping the house to be painted. But when you are getting up at 10am, and siesta is for 4 hours in the afternoon, you don´t have so much time for work...
Two of the dogs we look after... good dirty outside farm dogs.
Before we left Portland we got outselves a couple of touring bikes, panniers and all, so that after our little farm stay, we can head north and explore Europe. They have come in really handy here too as the closest town is 3kms away. Although I say we are in Villanueva de San Juan, which is a small village about 3kms away(population approx. 500), Algarmitas is a flatter and easier ride. It has about 5 bars, a supermarket and about 500 people as well.
Algámitas, our local town.
We head there for a Cruzcampo (the local brew) or a tinto de verano (red wine and lemonade) and to get some food every couple of days. Tractors, horses and old people are always cruising the streets which is fun. Most of the people in the towns are either retired or children as there isn´t much work here.
The view from our bedroom door.
So thats abou it really. We are just hanging out on the farm, eating dinner at 11pm, learning a little Spanish, biking to nearby villages for a drink, and trying to stay cool (its 35+ degrees every day!). Sometime within the next few weeks we will be heading off on our big biking adventure... if anyone knows any nice flat routes from the south of Spain to Dusseldorf in Germany (we fly out from there September 8th), do let me know.
Looking down the driveway along the valley.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

USA: Florida

Hello all. So we have left Toronto. No more Canada for us for a while. All we saw was Ontario and a little of Montreal, but we loved it, and Toronto was really good to us. I am now a Blue Jays / Raptors fan, which I hear makes for promising starts of seasons, but disappointing finishes..

Anyway... after Toronto we went to Florida, 5 days in North Miami Beach, and then a night down in Key Lago. Miami was fun, the beach is awesome, the hotels and bars super fancy and the city pretty neat.

Little Havana in Miami.

View from the front of our place in Miami Beach.

Miami Beach proper.. looking North to Ft. Lauderdale (I think)
 The highlight by far for me was visiting the Everglades National Park. Its a super massive wetlands in the south of Florida with a whole bunch of wild life. We only did a small hike, but saw so many fish, turtles, big birds... and most excitedly, alligators. There was no barrier between the track and all this wildlife, but luckily the alligators are nocturnal and were happy to bask in the sun, rather than try and eat us.
In the Everglades.

Real Alligators. Real Close. No Fence.
That's about it really. My writing skills are getting worse by the minute... Now Steph and I are in Portland, and are packing up our new touring bikes into boxes and getting ready for a flight to Malaga on Wednesday. Come Friday we will be relaxing on our farm near Villanueva de San Juan, Spain for about six weeks before embarking on our first long distance bike ride... we aren't really sure what we are getting into, but I am sure it will be awesome.

Adios Amigos!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Canada: Toronto, Haliburton Highlands

College and Ossington, near Little Italy. That's how I tell a local where I live, Toronto is all about the intersections. Dundas and Young, Bloor and Bathurst, Concord and our Driveway, all the big ones. We moved to Toronto about 9 months ago to make our fortunes and to experience a hard winter. We found a nice studio basement apartment and jobs relatively quickly but are yet to go to an (ice) hockey game. Toronto has been fun, and the winter surprisingly mild (or maybe we are just tougher than we thought). We have discovered some neat things here and had some fun exploring the city, and also getting away to Montreal, and around the States.

Our street with a little bit of snow

Looking towards downtown from China Town

Toronto Raptors game. I was going to be a fan, until I went to one game where they just didn't want to win.. it was embarrassing.
 One of the highlights for me was getting away to Cottage Country (the Haliburton Highlands) and getting some snow shoeing and dog sledding done. Everyone in Toronto always talks about their Cottage, or that they are off to Cottage Country, and as far as I know, Cottage Country is everything in Ontario north of Toronto... I am not sure how the locals feel about that, but it is pretty. There are no mountains though, and I usually associate pretty nature with mountains, but the rocks, lakes and trees made up for it. Dog sledding was by far the most awesome part. Those dogs can pull! And they love it too which was nice. We got to drive the sleds, yelling commands at the dogs and everything.

Our Siberian Husky Team. 5 dogs: Cosmo, Angel, Governor, Dragon and Firefly.

One of the lead dogs, I think his name is Cosmo.

I'm standing on a lake! Next to an Ice Road!

So now that Steph and I have quit our jobs I can tell you what we are doing next... if I knew. We are for sure leaving Toronto by the end of April and heading to the States (Florida and Oregon) to see the family then we hope to head to Europe and see what adventures we can find. I am sure once we are adventuring and not just living somewhere then this blog will be a little more up to date.


PS What! A post on Toronto without a picture of the CN Tower, Ice Skating or a TTC Street Car! Well, I don't actually have any awesome photos of those thing. But here is a nice show of Queen St.

Queen St looking West past the old Town Hall