Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer Report!


What a summer it has been! And what a year! I can hardly believe that our time in Spain is coming to an end. But the end of one adventure leads to the next one... as of late September, we will be moving back to Victoria with all sorts of projects and ideas to pursue. :)

But what have we been up to over the last two months? Let me catch you up! (Our lack of reliable internet and a rather non-stop pace has kept me from posting regularly, my apologies!)

After our bike trip from Granada to Santiago de Compostela, and then after our trip to Hungary/Serbia, we arrived back in Spain to spend a few days in Granada. And if you're keeping track of our timetable, that meant that we were in Granada IN JULY.

Luckily, the weather was unusually mild for the season and stayed below 40C (!!!) while we were there. And honestly, I can't complain too much as we were extremely fortunate to be staying with Joaquín and Rafa again who have a lovely above ground pool that makes all the difference in the heat :)

Following Nathan's concert, we took the bus north once again to go reclaim our bicycle and start the next leg of our bicycle journey. It seemed strange that we could cross the country, Granada to A Coruña, in one long day on the bus, when it took sixteen days by bike! But oh, the delight as we stepped off the bus and felt the cool ocean breeze.

We had a lovely time in A Coruna with a friend of Nathan's who gave us a great tour, introduced us to some of the acclaimed seafood dishes of the area, and invited us out with his friends who then also took us on a few tours in the following days.

A Coruña!

Seafood de Galicia :)

I may have eaten the most...

And then it was time to repack and start the next stage of our bicycle trip! 

The northern coast of Spain is delightful. We got to ride through Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, and Basque country. In general the weather was perfect (rarely exceeded 26C), although we did suffer through a few very wet days...The secondary highways were free of traffic and offered a delightful mix of small mountains and roads parallel to the coast. We even took a few little ferries that hop you from downtown in a few touristy cities to some of the outlying villages. We mostly camped, with the occasional hostel/hotel if it was raining or if we just felt like we deserved some pampering. :)

Unbelievable colours of the northern coast!

Cathedral Beach - when the tide goes down the caves really look and feel like you are in a cathedral

Another beautiful beach along our route...

However, not everything went EXACTLY to plan...
Mid-way through the Asturias region, our back wheel started to make a menacing creaking sound. A few years ago when we cycled Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, that same sound led to the explosion/implosion of our free-hub-body (the part that connects the wheel to the cogs: no free-hub-body means the pedals no longer turn the wheel). We were told at the time that it was something that NEVER happens to anyone, and as we had replaced that part before our trip to Spain, we figured we couldn't encounter the same problem again.

However, one glorious day, riding up and down some vibrant green mountains, spectacular views of the coast at each summit, we suddenly heard a terrible metalic sound and that was it. Our free-hub-body was down for the count once again. Luckily we happened to be in a little village when we broke down, and so it wasn't too much effort to find a rural taxi to take us to the next town that had a good bike shop.

However, riding a specialized tandem means it's not easy to get replacement parts. And after consulting with the bike shop (who unfortunately really couldn't help us at all) the fastest option we had was to air-mail the part from Oregon. But even the fastest option meant at least a 5-10 day wait for the part to fly, clear customs, and make its way through the Spanish courier system.

However, rather than allow the frustration to take over, we decided to take advantage of the forced break from the bike, and take some surfing lessons!

We signed up for 5 days of surfing at a school that was just a short walk away from a little campsite.  I was very excited to go surfing again after discovering last February that surfing is awesome! Nathan had never really gone surfing before, but he was willing to try it :)

We had the chance to try the surf at several different beaches as the lesson was located each day at the beach with the best conditions that day. The instructors were great and by the end of the week, Nathan was catching his first waves and I was learning how to turn and ride sideways instead of just riding a wave straight to the shore. We had one great moment where we both caught the same wave and rode towards shore together about a meter apart. If only we had a picture of that! :) Riding a wave in tandem! :D

And then finally, our component arrived! We lost a total of 10 days from our cycling itinerary, but the surfing was a great way to spend our break.

From Asturias we continued on through Cantabria and on to Basque country. It was fascinating to see how the language changed, as there are many minority languages that are still very present in different regions of Spain. We loved Asturias – it was so green and tranquil, and had a very easy-going feel about it. Cantabria was also lovely, but seemed to be overwhelmed with tourists! It was actually very difficult to find a campsite as it is a very popular summer destination for Spaniards. And it was very interesting to be in Basque country again as 5 years ago we walked part of the northern route of the Camino de Santiago. It was neat to revisit a few of the places we had been to on foot years ago.

Little ferry boat!

Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa! We spent a day visiting this museum :)

Leaving Bilboa this route was crazy steep! There were no signs, but the random path our GPS directed us to might have reached close to 18%. But it was obviously worth it :)

Finally we arrived in Irún. Including our pilgrimage to Santiago, we had completed almost 2,000 kilometers by bicycle at that point. And we had arrived at the starting point of our next and final phase of our bike trip: the Transpirinaica!

TRANSPIRINAICA (crossing the Pyrenees: Irún to Barcelona)
To ride through the Pyrenees is a dream of many cyclists. There are tons of blogs that document the many different routes you can take, and the different challenges you can confront. There are so many options and so many mountain passes that you could easily spend a month or more exclusively in the mountains.

We decided on a route that kept mostly in the Spanish Pyrenees, but would have us crossing over into France on various occasions. One pass we really wanted to do in France was the Tourmalet (part of the Tour de France), so we knew we would spend at least a few days in France.
Each pass (puerto in Spanish) was its own adventure. :)

Col de Saint-Ignace: 169m
Tiny pass, but officially counts as an entrance to the Pyrenees :)

Otxondo: 602m
We saw a TON of other cyclists and everyone gaves us smiles or a thumbs up to see us riding on a tandem, and because we were entering the Pyrenees as “cicloturistas” (cycle tourists), rather than riding with no luggage which is much more the norm.

Izpegi: 690m:
One of our absolute favourites, even though it was a small mountain. It was a lovely switchback ascent, and the downhill was spectacular! We felt like we were flying as we descended into a valley on a road that hugged a cliff with no barriers and panoramic views of the valley for miles!

Ibañeta: 1057m
This was our first “ bigger” mountain pass. And as we had done Izpegi that morning, and then spent a few hours in a valley looking for a new pair of sunglasses for me, we started this one later in the day. This pass taught us that morning legs are the best legs for a big mountain pass. And that if you are hungry enough, even eating jam straight out of the jar tastes amazing!

Remendia: 1040m
This pass felt rather easy as after Ibañeta, we didn´t lose much altitude. A bit tired from the day before (especially me...) we stopped in a village part way up and I took a nap in the shade before we carried on to the summit. :) On our way down we stopped at a random restaurant/bar on the side of the road and not only had a fantastic meal, but also waited out a sudden and rather extreme rain storm that caught us by surprise.

There were a lot of cows, horses, and sheep along the side of the road, or sometimes on the road throughout all of the Pyrenees.

Col de la Pierre St Martin: 1802m
This one started really steep. Some intense switchbacks for a few kilometers and then the rest of the uphill continues with an easier grade. A bit of my asthema came back to haunt me on those switchbacks, which was a good reminder, I suppose, of how important it is to focus on calm breathing while going uphill. It was a cold and misty ascent, but one of the best moments was when we were almost at the top and suddenly a group of tourist appeared out of the mist and started cheering us on as if we were in the Tour de France! It was amazing how much energy and general happiness they gave us with their cheers!

You can´t really see them... but our cheering group is below there in the mist!

Along the descent we passed by this river that was such a cool colour!

A loving-life photo as we crossed a valley on a beautiful bike-only road :)

Col du Tourmalet: 2,115m
We were excited, but also nervous about doing Tourmalet. Yes, we´d been “training” for over a month, and yes, we knew we wanted to do it, but still, to take on a hill from the Tour de France and do it with a fully loaded bike? Our fully loaded tandem is not exactly the same as the ultralite carbon bikes most people take up Tourmalet...

However, after a good breakfast, and with high hopes that we would clear the clouds in the valley as we wound our way up the mountain, we set out. We had all day, and we were determined we would make it to the top even if it took us 5 or 6 hours to summit.

And the delightful surprise was that, after hauling our loaded bike across Spain for more than 2,000kms, and having already climbed several moderate-hard passes, we found Tourmalet to be challenging, but not impossible at all! As it is over 19kms of continuous uphill with grades up to 10%, it was not easy, but it was actually a lot of fun! In the end it took us 3 hours (including our 2 well-deserved snack breaks ;) And we did make it out of at least one level of clouds which meant we had a good view after all. Honestly, the worst part of Tourmalet was that we were FREEZING on the descent. Despite wearing all our layers, plus plastic ponchos, we were so sweaty and chilled from riding through clouds that riding downhill through the clouds again was very very cold!

Tourmalet!!! We made it!!!

Col d´Aspin: 1490m
This pass was great. The grade was easy (5 – 6%), the weather was beautiful, and we felt great having completed Tourmalet. Since the grade is easy on this pass, there were many families cycling this hill, including parents with small children! The downhill was very enjoyable. After our last cold descent, it was very nice to have a descent that was a perfect temperature.

Col de Peyresourde: 1569m
This pass went well. And upon our descent, we arrived in a little village that was in the middle of a big festival. Banners, decorations, a parade, people everywhere! We were unsure of how difficult the next pass would be, and decided to camp early and be ready for an early start the next day.

Col du Portillon: 1293m
Several times on this trip we have found that the “difficult passes” that we prepare for are not actually that hard, and then suddenly a small mountain we thought was going to be moderate is suddenly super steep and difficult. We crossed Portillón on our way back into Spain, and even though it was only 10kms of uphill, it was very steep with no breaks! I think this day was our shortest riding day (kilometer-wise) in weeks because we were so exhausted after that climb! The views during the downhill were some of the most spectacular we had seen up to that point, which definitely made the climb worth the effort :)

Port de la Bonaigua: 2072m
This pass was very pleasant. Although we did have a little more traffic as we had to take a “national” road, the grade was easy and the weather was lovely. We really noticed on this climb that our stamina and standards had changed a lot... as most of this hill was at 7 or 8%, which previously had been moderately difficult to maintain for more than an hour, but this now felt like an easy grade that we could do all day!

El Cantó: 1720m
El Cantó was also a great climb. It was mostly an “easy” grade, although it had a few steep ramps/switchbacks that were really cool. As it was a clear sunny day we had some wonderful views. The only problem was that we could not find any shade that day! Normally we find a picnic spot, or at least a patch of grass with some trees to take a break from the sun on hot days, but there was literally no convenient spot to stop in the shade all day. After a spectacular descent, we finally took refuge in a restaurant where we had one of the best meals we´ve had in weeks! But too much sun, too much heat, and a serious climb took its toll, and Nathan ended up with sunstroke. :( Which meant we had to stop for a few days and hide from the sun, and seriously re-hydrate... but after a few days we are as good as new again!

And that brings us up to date! We are a few days out of Barcelona, which is the final destination of this bike trip. We have several mountain passes to go, but the majority of our Transpirinaica is already complete!

I hope you are all doing well and enjoying a wonderful summer. For those of you in Victoria, I guess we´ll be seeing you in less than a month!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Camino de Santiago and a trip to Hungary and Serbia


It has been a whirlwind last month!

We cycled the Camino de Santiago from Granada to Santiago de Compostela. Photos and stories in my facebook album. I am hoping that link will let you see all the photos and descriptions even if you don´t have facebook.

After our cycling trip, we went to Hungary for a few weeks for a music course and a concert that Nathan was singing in. We had a wonderful time visiting with some Hungarian friends that we met while they lived in Victoria last winter, and even got to attend their wedding!

We also snuck in a quick trip to Serbia to visit a very good friend of Nathan´s in Novi Sad.

Now we are already back in Spain. Nathan has a concert in Granada, and then we will go back north to collect our bicycle and then continue the next stage of our cycling trip!

And now a few more photos and best wishes to you all!


Sometimes there were English version of menus... most of the time our Hungarian friends had to translate for us. This was a particularly interesting list of items we could order....

The Esterhazy Palace where Haydn worked for 20 years!

The little garden where we had breakfast with our friend Aliz and Zoltan while we were in Fertod

Novi Sad, Serbia!

Back to Hungary where our stop was the tiniest quietest train station we had ever seen :)

Us at Aliz and Zoltan´s wedding in a tiny town in Hungary. The lamp post made us feel like we had found a tiny piece of Narnia in the middle of a pretty Hungarian forest :)