Bike Across Europe 2012

Day 8 – Lumbier – Elizondo, Spain

lum-elizondo

66 EXTREMELY HARD MILES!

We woke up to nice weather so we decided to walk back into town to get some breakfast. After breakfast, we dried out the tent, packed, and once again got another late start ( 1 pm )! Today ended up being another day of a TON OF CLIMBING! We decided that we would take a route that was more north than west so that we could see the beauty of the Basque country side and have the opportunity to ride through this mountainous region. This decision proved to be a good one in terms of beauty but a bad one in terms of riding difficulty. We biked up and against a river most of the day, all the while biking in a very lush mountain region paralleling the French border. Because this area was so close to Pamplona, we saw many cyclists on the road doing all of the mountain climbs. Everybody was on their fancy bikes except for us. UGH! We stopped at a gas station and spoke to a cyclist in a small town and he recommended that we bike straight north into France ( over the lower section of the Pyrenees) and then further recommended that we bike back down to Spain/San Sebastian along the coast. Jeff did not want to do this as he knew it meant climbing more mountains and at least 5 more hours of riding for the day. I pushed for this and Jeff finally agreed. We spent the next five hours climbing endless mountains, biking in the heat, and then climbing so high that we were biking in the fog. The latter half of the day was spent biking in the lush green highlands of the mountains of the region AND biking in fog so think you could barely see your hand in front of you. Somehow when we landed in a tiny mountain town that was along the Camino de Santiago and found a very cheap hostal ( we could not find camping). We ended up getting a room with a bunk bed in it and sheets for us on the bed. They charged us €17 each. It was a typical hostel for lots of people who would be on the Camino to Santiago. All we really needed at this point ( 11 pm !) was food and a shower so this little hostal was a welcome relief. At this point we could tell we were in Basque country because all the houses were completely different than other places in Spain AND the language is completely different. The houses are very well and all display beautiful landscaping. On a side note: At this point our legs were so tired that Jeff and I could barely walk!

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Bike Across Europe 2012

Update – Europe 1

WE wanted to post a quick update on our status. We have now successfully made it to Vienna Austria and have now biked through Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Austria. Today we head to the the Czech Republic and will be in Prague by the 24th if all goes to plan. We will post updates to all days from our last post in a few days. Weather has not been good as Europe is having a very cold and rainy summer. But today we have sun so will finally ride in sunshine!
We have tons of pics and a gazillion crazy stories to post so stay tuned!

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Bike Across Europe 2012

A Brief Explanation of Bike Touring in Foreign Countries and FOOD! Europe 1

First of all, the type of distance bike riding that Jeff and I do would not necessarily be considered “bike touring.”  Bike touring typically involves a bike similar to a mountain bike that is packed with gear on both the front and the back.  It also involves riding 40-50 miles over the course of a 12-14 hour day.  Those who have biked with us across the USA know that we do not “bike tour.”  We, unfortunately” bike “race” on road bikes that are loaded with gear in the rear section.   Because of the fact that we have gotten stuck in many towns dealing with phone issues, we have been forced to bike ride as fast as possible in the shortest amount of time possible to our next destination.  Add to this the fact that Jeff thinks he is riding his own version of the Tour de France everyday ( no matter what country we are in) and you have a recipe for a fairly miserable riding experience.  The only saving grace is that we have had the opportunity to ride through some of the most spectacular places on the planet.  But for all intent and purposes, we have yet to “cycle tour.”  We are riding road bikes that have an added 50 lbs on them as fast as possible!   This is what happens when you are up against time deadlines ( we must make it to Vienna by June 20) and your husband rides as if he is a pro rider!

And bike touring in countries where you cannot read any of the road signs nor can you read anything on the menus does have its challenges.  We have been asked by many people reading the blog if we are enjoying the food.  It is really hard to enjoy food in countries where salads cost $15 and fast food is NOT an option.   Food has been a constant challenge for us in the sense that we need to eat alot of food, we need to eat it fast,and it needs to be cheap.  Cheap, fast, and volume are NOT words that would describe eating in European countries. Fast food does not exist.  Cheap food does not exist. Eating lunch or dinner involves eating in a cafe or restaurant where they serve small amounts of food at a very high price and the service is usually very slow. But what does exist are utterly unbelievable pastry and bread stores that serve the most delectable croissants and tarts and bread known to man.  In Portugal these establishments were called Pastelerias. In Spain they were called Pastelerias or Confeiterias.  In France they are called Boulengeries or Patisseries. And these places are EVERYWHERE!  It is not like you have to go out of your way to find them.  They are on every corner of ever town and the bigger the town the bigger the selection of goodies! Eating breakfast has truly been the best experience of the trip thus far. Portuguese “pastelerias” featured croisaants with melted chocolate that simply oozed out of the croissant.  Spain had a new twist on pastries as they added chocolate to just about every thing they served.  We discovered chocolate covered churros in Spain.  These involved plates of fried churros and were served with huge cups of thick melted chocolate that was used for dipping.  OMG – the best eating experience ever!   France has now introduced us to more chocolate croissants but they have added endless baguettes of french bread, fresh fruit tarts topped with whipped cream, Meringue filled croissants and tarts, and Meringue “cookies” the size of small plates.   Jeff and I are now consistently eating up to 4 pastries every day/morning and we begin every bike ride by seeking out the local pastry joint.  Eating all of these carbs has definitely affected the waste line! I am justifying all of the pastry eating by rationalizing that you only live once and who knows when I will ever be able to enjoy these yummy deserts / pastries again!

On the topic of food I would also like to mention that all of the “real” food that we have eaten in Portugal, Spain, and France has been fresh food!  We were exposed to alot of french fries in Portugal but in general the food has always been locally grown and fresh.  No preservatives!  In the small towns in France they have a store for every type of food.  So if you want your meat you must go to the meat store.  For bread you go the bread store.  Vegies and fruits must be purchased at the produce store.  And cheese?  Well that too must also be purchased at its own location! The cheese in France is AMAZING!  We have been able to eat cheese that has come directly from the farm. The same is true with the meats!  I do not think it is like this is the bigger cities but in the small towns the people simply eat the food that is grown locally.  They bring their small wicker baskets to town and simply fill them with food from the local stores.  There are even artisans that make the baskets for people to use!  Truly an amazing way to live and I wish Americans could go back to living like this.

Back to eating lunch and dinner… Jeff and I have finally figured out that we need to simply buy baguettes of bread, a head of lettuce, and some local meat from the butcher and we can eat a meal that is filling and half the cost of eating in a cafe ( and 5x as fast).

But wait ….I have not addressed the ALCOHOL situation in these countries!   So in Portugal, Spain, and France the beer and wine are cheaper than soda ( coke) and are simply part of every eating experience. In Spain I saw people drinking beer with their pastries!  Jeff and I have finally started to experiment with the wines of the French regions we have been riding through and what an awesome experience that has been.  Full bottles of great wine are only $3-$5!!  The problem is that we cannot drink full bottles of wine AND we cannot take bottles with us on the bikes ( although we have seriously contemplated doing this) so we are always forced to leave bottles behind at cafes. In fact, there is so much wine in France ( at least in the regions where we have been riding) that there are large wine bottle recycing receptacles on almost every corner. We have noticed that people are constantly dumping copious amounts of bottles into these receptacles.  Have I mentioned how good the wine is???

And last but not least..this thing called “Siesta” –

So in Portugal, Spain, and France almost all of the stores ( from food to gift to clothes) close from 2-5 everyday!  This presents quite a challenge when you pull into a town dying of starvation only to find that you have hit the town during the “off” hours.  What is even more odd is that all of the people in a town simply disappear during these hours.  I have nicknamed it the “abduction hour’ as it seems as if all of the people are abducted by aliens and delivered back to earth 3 hours later.” We have now learned to plan a bit better in terms of carrying some food in case we get caught in town during siesta.   In addition to “siesta” we have also had to deal with the fact that all stores are closed all day on Sundays.

The moral of this post…. like all creatures in a new land we must learn to adapt to the new environment in order to survive.   Drink the wine, eat the bread, don’t eat between 2-5 pm, and no food on Sundays 🙂

Bike Across Europe 2012

Day 19 – Europe 1

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July 4. Entraygues-sur-Truyere to Chaud Aigues. –  65 miles

Two words can describe today’s ride: uphill and brutal! I found an amazing tea store in the small town of Entraygues owned by an English woman and so treated myself to 2 pots ( 4 cups ) of amazing tea before we started what would be the hardest ride of the trip to date. The English woman was able to help us resolve more cell phone/ipad issues so by the time we left Entraygues it was almost 1 pm and we had scheduled an 80 mile ride for the day.  I pushed Jeff to agree to a day off but he insisted we get as many miles in as possible as the forecast for the weather was thunder storms for the next 3 days.  We left under very cloudy skies and a light rain with temps in the 80’s.  I thought that we were scheduled to follow the same river we had rode next to the day before.  Unfortunately, we had to follow another river which resulted in a 10 mile climb with a 3000 foot gain.  This climb started the second we left our small campground and the misery did not end for almost 3.5 hours.  I say misery as I was the one carrying the tent today AND my left quad decided at the beginning of the ride to cramp horribly.  Couple that with extreme back and neck pain and you just have a truly crappy riding experience. Luckily the pain was softened a bit by the beauty of the landscape we were biking through. Our journey has led us into our first real mountain range in France.  This region, called the Cantral region, is lush with pine trees as well as endless valleys of grass lands filled with cows and other agriculture.  Jeff and I spent the day riding with our mouths open.  Riding in France is simply amazing.  We made it almost 40 miles without stopping ( the hardest 40 of the trip) and ended up in a town of what seemed to be only 20 people.  Luckily there was a small store open that sold bread and cheese and coke so we were able to put some type of food in our bodies before continuing the journey.  We were scheduled to make it to the small,historical town of Sauges but did not quite make it.  This is because 15 miles after leaving our lunch stop we descended almost 1000 feet and landed in the small geo-thermal village of Chaudes-Aigues.  Jeff waited for me at the bottom of this incredible descent and while there he met a young man who told him that the small town was famous for its geothermal hot springs.  In fact, the young man worked at the local geo-thermal spa and hotel ( which was across the street from where Jeff was waiting for me) and explained to Jeff  that the hot water was being pumped into the hotel from the volcanic region that was 30 miles to the north of us.  Jeff and I were supposed to make a right turn to continue on our journey but instead I suggested that we take a look at this lovely little hotel with a gigantic hot spring inside.  Have I mentioned that while we say on the side of the road debating what to do rain was starting to fall quite hard and it was thundering and lighting everywhere around us?  Couple this with the fact that my right quad hurt so bad I could barely peddle and I was ready to call it quits for the day!)  It was already 730 pm and the spa was scheduled to close at 8pm so we were denied being able to use the geo thermal springs for the day.  But I did convince Jeff that we needed to stop and before he could say “no” we were booked at this small hotel for 2 nights!  Luckily the place is very cheap ( only 65 euros – yes that is cheap! and tomorrow I will treat my legs, neck, and lower back  to a much needed hot spring treatment!

Bike Across Europe 2012

Let’s Talk About Spain and Portugal ! Europe 1

Spain

 

 

So Jeff has been writing many of these posts but I ( Cindy) am back to try to provide a bit more details about our journey. First of all, Portugal and Spain were exceptionally beautiful.  Portuguese people speak Portuguese which is not like spanish at all so we spent most of our time there not understanding any of the language.  Luckily, many people take English in high school and so we were able to meet alot of people who helped us with ordering meals and purchasing products.  I must also say that Portuguese people are very happy people, very generous, empathetic.  They would always say hi to us and greet us warmly.  The situation with my phone was totally random and in no way indicative of the people.  Portugal is a 1st world country filled with some of the most amazing architecture I have ever seen. With endless elaborate churches and other catholic structures built in the 1400-1500’s, it is a place that absolutely must be visited.  However, if you plan on biking the northern coast of Portugal from Portugal to Spain be prepared for endless hills.  We encountered only one stretch of flat roads and this was in a National Park where we rode along a 20 mile bike path lined with sand dunes on the ocean side and pine forest on the opposite side.  Truly amazing.  The park was called the North Coast National Park     (http://www.manorhouses.com/parks/northcoast.html).  On the negative side, i will say that most of the roads that we traveled in Portugal were somewhat crowded and the roads were not in very good condition.

A few notes on Spain:

We had the opportunity to ride north from Portugal to the northern coast of Spain and across this coast to France.  The northern coast of Spain is exceptionally mountainous and hilly and one of the lushest places I have ever seen.  I hope that many of the pictures that we have posted ( please click the link for the flickr pics) show the true beauty of this area.  What the pics do not show is the challenging riding conditions.  Very steep hills and absolutely no flat areas.  Endless climbing.  Truly like the Tour de Spain! Unfortunately I have to report that the people in the regions through which we traveled ( Galicia , Cantabria, Astorias, Basque Country) were not very nice.  Very few people ever smiled and the men ( the older men especially) were VERY bitter people.  It seemed to be a very male dominated society. I would say that we never truly felt welcomed or accepted. It also appears that Spanish people are VERY loud ( these are not quite people).  They love their bars and their cigarettes and their soccer!

A note on soccer…

Who knew that soccer was so popular in Europe!!! Holy heck!  For the last few weeks the Euro Cup has been going on.  In both Portugal and Spain, people gather in town squares where the local government brings in gigantic big screen TV’s.  Thousands of people gather to watch what is their version of the super bowl.  It is such a site to see! The last day we were in Spain the Spanish soccer team won the semi final match and advanced to the finals. In the town where we were staying hundreds of people ran into the streets screaming and setting off fireworks after the win.  In addition, the streets were filled with people honking their horns and shouting out of their car windows. It was quite a celebration. The scary thing about this is that all of the people who have been in the bars drinking during the game all leave and drive their cars on the road while drunk! Jeff and I were actually quite happy that we were NOT in Spain last week when they won the entire Euro Cup.    That would have really been crazy!

A few notes about the regions of Spain:

Each of the regions that we traveled through each had their own languages!  These were in fact separate languages from Spanish!  The language differences were quite noticeable in Galicia and the Basque Country.  In fact, most of the people in the Basque region do not even speak Spanish!  And even the Spanish spoken in Northern Spain sounds NOTHING like the central and south american Spanish Jeff and I are so used to speaking and hearing.  They do not say their “c’s” and instead pronounce every “c” with a “th.”  Needless to say, between the different dialects spoken in the northern regions and the crazy version of Spanish, it was once again another version of “lost in translation!”  Keep in mind that the Basque region of Spain ( north east region) also extends into France so we had the opportunity to discover more of the Basque country when we entered France.  We will get to France in the next post!

Bike Across Europe 2012

Day 18 – Europe 1

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July 3. Cahors to Entraygues-sur-Truyere. 81 miles
This day was in the first high country, and then followed the Lot river.

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July 3. Cahors to Entraygues-sur-Truyere. – 85 miles

Began the day late again ( 12:30) as Jeff was trying to deal with phone and ipad issues all morning from our campground.  About 10 miles into the ride I decided that we came to a junction and I decided to go left while Jeff thought we should go right.  Let me make it clear that i simply veered right while Jeff yelled from behind that we should “possibly” go right.  He never made it clear that going right was the correct way to go on the route that he had chosen the day before.  So we turned to the left away from the river we had been following for the last 10 miles.  About 5 miles later after we had been climbing for a good 45 minutes Jeff stopped and explained that we on the wrong route ( this route went up and over the mountains instead of following the river).  He decided against going back to the junctions and suggested we continue on the route we were on.  I will say at this point that he was a bit unhappy with me as he knew the other route would avoid some serious hills and mountains. We continued our journey on the new route.  Unfortunately this route was very brutal.  We basically rode through a high desert forest     ( about 3000- feet) that looked very similar to the areas in the back country of New Mexico. We “landed” in the large town of Figeac after 4 hours tired, hot, and dehydrated.  We spent almost an hour and a half at the local McDonalds  ( the first one we have really seen in France ) and spent way to much money on Big Macs ( we were $17 in the hole after leaving this wonderful place – food not cheap in Europe!) and set off on the next part of our journey.  In order to go back to the river we were originally supposed to be riding along we had to go back over a small mountain and then down ( a 5 mile deviation) but the extra miles were well worth it!  Once we hit the river we rode almost 30-35 miles riding along a small one lane rode with NO cars and utterly spectacular scenery.  Jeff and I were simply in awe for the latter half of the ride.  He was beyond upset with me for messing up the earlier part of the ride but the beauty of the back half of the ride helped to ease the tension a bit.   At some point I will need to do an entire post on simply touring with your spouse and getting lost.  Let’s just say that distance riding in foreign countries while constantly getting lost can put some serious strains on a marriage!  But I digress.. we made it to our town around 930 pm just as it was getting dark and found a spectacular municipal campground along the river we had been following.  The town was small but definitely some type of tourist destination as it was full of local artisan shops and a beautiful chateau and cathedral ( although not crowded at all).  We were not able to eat dinner as everything was closed but thanks to the purchase earlier in the day of a baguette of bread, 2 carrots, and an old bag of chips we at least were able to eat something before collapsing into our tent for the evening.  Another great day in France!

Bike Across Europe 2012

Day 17 – Europe 1

July 2. Agen to Cahors. 63 miles.
This day was in the Cahors wine region. Endless vineyards, rolling hills, and dairy cows!  The riding today was once again not flat but instead consisted of going up and down small grades.  Small roads, few cars, and endless wine! We also found one of the best Boulongeries so far!  I love French pastries!

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