The End – Re-entry and Reflections

Re-entry

So we are back. If the build up to the trip was long, full of planning and, of course, growing anticipation, the re-entry was quick, low key and, frankly, depressing. We spent the first few days at home in a bit of a haze as we picked up some of the pieces that are an inevitable result of being away for so long. A car that won’t start, a (large) pile of mail, a big shop, untangling tax issues, getting Sky Sports back on the TV, putting the bins out etc.

After a few short hours back on the rock we were asking ourselves ‘have we really been away?’.

Despite the fact that we have been very lucky to arrive back at our home with all intact and well looked after by Katie and Josh (and Tom, Carly and Emily before them) we feel lost. Despite the fact that we have seen our parents and caught up with a few of our friends, with more to come, we feel subdued. Despite the fact that I have had a few sessions on the road bike with my mates, we feel disconnected from our previous life. Despite the fact that I have a really excellent job to look forward to at the end of the month, it is just so hard to drop into our previous existence.

One more trip
So, after a week or so of being home we do the inevitable and book a couple of nights in France and take the bike over for a final jaunt. We got the afternoon boat and stayed in St Malo overnight at the ‘Hotel de La Cite’ with the plan of cycling to Dinan the following day and returning the day after.

For the first leg, we got the little ‘Corsaire’ boat across the bay to Dinard from St Malo and set off along the ‘Voie Verte’ towards Dinan. We have taken this boat many times as it is probably the best way of getting out of St Malo if you are heading across the Rance.

We left the cycle path at Pleslin and cycled on the quiet (though undulating!) roads to a town called ‘Vilde Guingelan’, which we have been to many times. Nothing special about the town, but the bar does a great all in lunch for 12 euros. We just about manage the final 7k ride into Dinan.

The final knockings: A brief jaunt in France
The final knockings: A brief jaunt in France

This is, again, a place we have been many times and we are staying in the small but very reasonable ‘Café du Theatre’ for the third time. Claud gets safely put away in the garage and the evening is spend wandering around the historic town.

Wandering through the historic town of Dinan.
Wandering through the historic town of Dinan.

The following day we take the c 35k road route back into St Malo, with a coffee stop in the town of Chateauneuf. We elect to grab some lunch in St Servan, near the ferry terminal and while away the last hour or so reading our books in the sunshine.

The weather was perfect for riding and this allowed us to ride at our own pace, take our time and enjoy the scenery.

As the main tour ended rather abruptly, we both regarded this as the ending we had perhaps anticipated when we set off. This little excursion I think really helped us to make the transition from tandem tourists back to normal society (whatever that is!).

Reflections

Neither of us are sure how a 5 month tour in which we have visited 12 countries and 5 capital cities can be summed up in a few paragraphs, but we can attempt to set out a few reflections.

First, many people have asked us what our favourite place was. Whilst it is impossible to identify one specific place, we both agree that cycling the Danube was our favourite period. This was when we really got into the swing of cycle touring and over a period of 20 or so days cycled from Germany across Austria to Budapest. This really was how we had imagined it; nice cycling, picnics by the river and a decent bed at the end. The route was characterised by excellent cycle paths, beautiful scenery and many interesting places to visit, including cities such as Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest and historical sites such as the Mauthausen concentration camp.

The Danube - How it was supposed to be.
The Danube – How it was supposed to be.

This part of the tour was also by far the most social, as there were many other cyclists on the same route, including those on organised tours. Rather than being a nuisance, it was fun to regularly bump into people on the riverside or the hotel at the end of the day and swap war stories about the day’s activities.

Living the dream.....
Living the dream…..

The fact that the tour had a number of distinct phases, each with different characteristics was something which we feel really kept the interest levels up as we progressed; the early phase in Normandy, the enforced city breaks in Ghent, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, cycling the Rhine (when not underwater), staying in Frankfurt and visiting Berlin, cycling the Main, on to the Danube, the Coast of Croatia, Venice, the penultimate phase in Spain and the ultimately aborted phase along the South coast of England. Remarkably the places we visited came very close to those we had plotted out at the very inception of the tour; we only completely missed out Southern Spain and two of the Balearic Islands.

Hundreds of places, millions of memories.
Hundreds of places, millions of memories.

If I was asked about the worst part of the tour, it would have to be the fateful final stretch along the South coast of England. Though we were ultimately beaten by the undulating nature of the terrain and the weather, there were other factors. Awful cycle paths, dangerous road surfaces and passing through some pretty run-down places was not really what we expected. Neither was the cost of this short phase. Sure the route through the Romney marshes was a pleasant day, punctuated by traditional old English pubs, but the rest of it was not what we anticipated. Abandoning the tour in Brighton was the right move.

England's National Cycling Route 2 from Dover leaves a lot to be desired.....
England’s National Cycling Route 2 from Dover leaves a lot to be desired…..

Whilst we never set out to cycle the whole way, we can both be justifiably proud of how far we travelled and the different modes of transport we have employed. At times Claud travelled in style, whether on trains, ferries, trailers, removal vans or ultimately in a box being posted from Budapest to Girona.

One of Claud's many modes of transport.
One of Claud’s many modes of transport.

Probably posting Claud was our major achievement in terms of tour logistics; we had arrived in Budapest with no plan for the next stages, just a notion that we wanted to go to Spain. We thought that we may have to ditch Claud, but managed to find a way, with the help of some people on the way, to continue the tour.

As you would expect, we became better cycle tourers as time progressed; the sometimes daily rigmarole of unpacking and packing the bike became easier and our decision-making regarding route planning became better and allowed us to be more flexible. Our acquisition and use of maps improved, as did how we used the Garmin to check progress and get us through urban areas.

We gradually became competent as cycling-tourists.
We gradually became competent as cycling-tourists.

Our approach to booking accommodation also improved; we learnt we did not have to book all accommodation 10 days in advance (as we did at first) and we could be more flexible. We also learnt when we could simply rock up and find somewhere to stay and when it was better to book in advance. In particular, we learned that it was better to have a booking secured before you entered a large town or city if you were to avoid a couple of hours scrabbling around to find WiFi, booking somewhere and then find your hotel. Despite the majority of the tour being in the high season, we fortunately never came close to being destitute for the night!

It perhaps feels uncomfortable to mention the more difficult times, when you have given up work and are on the trip of a lifetime, but you cannot ignore them. There were some tough days, none more so than when Louise was badly hurt in our accident in Ghent. We were off the bike for two weeks and Louise was in considerable pain for a while after this. We were lucky we did not have to abandon after less than six weeks.

The outcome of a painful accident
The outcome of a painful accident

You simply have to accept that when you are away so long and you are staying in a variety of different environments, you will have bad days. These days come in many different forms; the elastic snapping after a long days cycling, tiredness, feeling homesick and wanting the comforts of home, lacking clean clothes, missing family; you name it. They will bubble up occasionally and you have to deal with them the best way you can. We occasionally took unscheduled rest days and also booked better accommodation when we were at a low ebb, which often did the trick.

The odd posh hotel was a useful boost for morale!
The odd posh hotel was a useful boost for morale!

When you are tandeming, you have to be aware of how each other is feeling; it is pointless setting off on a ride when one or the other of you is simply not up to it as this is a recipe for complete and utter disaster.

In many ways, these more difficult times help to define the tour. You got over them and moved on and the experience is made all the better for them. You can always laugh about them afterwards, indeed it is probably important that you do; we still laugh about Louise feeling upset because she felt ‘grubby’ at one point. Perhaps that is because we were.

Smiling through!
Smiling through!

The main thing we will take away are the million memories from 141 days of travelling; things we saw, people we met, places we visited. Too many to list, but things we will talk about and cherish for many years to come.

Finally, I suppose one of the main questions is ‘How has the experience changed us?’. We are undoubtedly changed by it, but perhaps in many small ways, rather than arriving back in Jersey as completely different people. I would say we have become more adventurous, more resilient and more inclined to stand up for ourselves in certain situations. Also our experience across Europe provides us with a broader perspective when issues of local interest arise.

A good example for me is having seen how cycling is embraced by many European countries and comparing this to the third rate treatment cyclists get at home. Unless Jersey (and from what I have seen the UK) includes cycling at the heart of transport planning and encourages mutual respect and sharing of facilities between various road users, cycling will never properly develop. It is no good making empty promises about encouraging cycling; it must be backed up by strong and consistent policy and investment in infrastructure. I won’t be holding my breath.

Many European towns and cities have first class cycling facilities.
Many European towns and cities have first class cycling facilities.

Our advice for anyone considering something similar would be ‘keep it flexible’. Any tour such as this will naturally move through different phases, from idyllic cycling by the river to long and gritty urban rides. Be prepared to change what you are doing and move on to the next phase when the current one naturally ends or you get fed up with it. I admit we sailed close to the wind a few times, but a rolling approach to our planning certainly worked for us.

Getting used to planning on the move.....
Getting used to planning on the move…..

So the end of the tour and the end of this Blog. Sincere thanks to those who have followed us, your support and comments have been much appreciated.

Would we do it again? Possibly. If we did, would we do it together? Definitely.

Early in the tour, but still one of our favourite photos.
Early in the tour, but still one of our favourite photos.

Home again

I am not sure I can believe it is the end of the tour and we have now arrived back at home some 141 days after we left in May. We have a few things lined up to do in October before I return to work, but ‘Eurotandemtour’ really ends here.

Wednesday 28th September

This was the day the wheels finally came off. In truth, we were both a bit stiff from our exertions the day before, but we decided we had to make the 40k ride to Brighton to maintain momentum towards Portsmouth.

We had anticipated a climb out of Eastbourne and did a bit of research about the best route to take. The climb to the top of Warren Hill was long and steep and involved quite a lot of pushing. Still, we were rewarded at the top with some spectacular views although we had to take them in in the midst of a hurricane.

A bit blowy at the top of Warren Hill!
A bit blowy at the top of Warren Hill!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had noted from my (fairly basic) map and Google maps that there was another climb a bit later. This turned into two.

When we descended into the village of East Dean, we realised there was a big climb out. We stopped in the village, mooched around the small farmers market and chatted to some of the locals. We were told about a path that ran through the village and took you to the top of the hill, so we shoved Claud up.

At this point the National Cycle Route 2 is on the A road and we descend into the Cuckmere valley for what we thought was our final climb of the day. The cycle route has an off-road variant at this point, which we took through fields and was pleasant enough, though involved plenty of pushing.

Plenty of hills between Eastbourne and Brighton - not all on roads!
Plenty of hills between Eastbourne and Brighton – not all on roads!

We descended into Seaford and stopped for lunch in a pleasant pub called the ‘Old Boot’. At this point we believed that all major climbing was done and we had a relatively flat, but windy, 20k ride into Brighton.

After about 10k on a decent cycle track, we hit the town of Newhaven. As the path took us around the harbour, it was clear that there was another climb ahead. This one was the worst of the lot; very long, pretty steep and entirely through a housing estate. Even when it entered a rough track at the top it was still going up; you generally know when you have climbed to the highest point in an area when you pass a telecommunications mast!

Still smiling, despite a difficult day.
Still smiling, despite a difficult day.

The descent into Peacehaven was horrible as it was on a very poor rutted track with many dangerous potholes. Even the designated route through the back streets of the town was in the most appalling pot-holed roads. We were both tired at this point, but surely it was now a nice run in to Brighton?

Sadly not. We had not really picked up on the undulating nature of the coast here, so the journey was a succession of climbs and descents, with a very strong head wind. The wind was strong enough to prevent you even freewheeling downhill.

We finally arrive in Brighton.
We finally arrive in Brighton.

Over lunch, we had made the wise decision to book a decent hotel. We got a deal on a night in the Jury’s Inn on the Waterfront, nice place with pool and steam etc. We were not too interested in the gym, however.

We were asked to wheel Claud across the very smart reception, which was fun, and Claud then gets wheeled into the post room safe and sound.

We are both tired and, as sometimes happens when you have over exerted, had become cold to the core. A swim in a warm pool and a session in the steam room really helped. We busted out normal budget to stay here, but it was a good move.

We find a pub to watch the Celtic Vs City game; a somewhat bizarre match in which City contrive to concede 3 goals but get 3 themselves. They did not play well at all for the first hour, but a point is no bad thing.

We wander back to the hotel and Brighton is clearly coming alive. Not for us though as we are clambering for our bed and some well deserved sleep.

Thursday 29th September, 2016.

Today signified the end of the tour. It didn’t really happen as I had imagined it, no fanfare, no welcome party, no crossing the line with arms outstretched in victory. No, just a quiet conversation in a pub.

If Wednesday was a bit of a disaster, today started in a worse manner. We awoke to strong wind and rain to go with our aching legs. We were just not up for it, something that was confirmed over breakfast when we watched cyclists along the seafront battle the wind.

All thoughts of cycling from Brighton abandoned for the day.......
All thoughts of cycling from Brighton abandoned for the day…….

We elect to stay another night and I do my usual trick of checking the rate on booking.com and seeing if the hotel can better it. Bizarrely they can only quote me a rate that is £25 more than I can get on the App. Even more bizarrely they tell me they cannot change the rate so, standing at the hotel reception, I book the room with booking.com on my phone. Surely they pay significant booking fee to booking.com? Crazy.

The next issue is how to get to Portsmouth. It is too far for us to aim at riding in one day (particularly in this weather) and we really want to get there on Friday as Emily is off from university and we want to see her.

A few options get discussed, including the train for all or part of the way, but Emily provides the answer. She gets us in touch with a ‘Man with a van’ she knows and we arrange for him to pick us all up and transport us with Claud to Portsmouth. Cheating I suppose, but the right call under the circumstances.

We mooched around Brighton, which is a lovely place and bought a few clothes to keep us going until we can get to the washing machine. My strategic purchase was some new underpants. It was time; it was only the stubborn understains that we’re holding my other pairs together.

All the fun of the fair on Brighton Pier!
All the fun of the fair on Brighton Pier!

We retired to a pub nearby to have a chat about the next steps on the tour. We had already booked ourselves into a hotel in Portsmouth until Monday morning to allow us to spend some time with Emily.

We discuss the next steps after that; the options are return home straight from Portsmouth or cycle down to Poole and leave from there. There is an added complication in that Emily has our car, which needs to go back soon anyway. If we leave from Portsmouth we can bring the car back.

My thoughts were that we should cycle to Poole through the New Forest, which would only take a few days. Louise feels we should go straight home from Portsmouth.

One thing is true; returning to England has been hideously expensive and we have just about burnt our allocated budget for the trip. Not only does Louise not fancy the cycling, based on the experience of the last few days, but feels that it would cost too much to stay in the UK for a longer period. This is undoubtedly true, England has been perhaps three times as expensive compared to some of our earlier travels. Neither of us can say this is particularly good value.

I admit I would have liked to carry on, but I would cycle all the way to Lands End given the chance! I don’t really want to go home, but accept that this is the point that it should all end.

The reality that the trip is nearly over hits me hard so I do the natural thing; get rather pissed on ‘Edinburgh Castle’ real ale.

Jolly japes on Brighton Pier!
Jolly japes on Brighton Pier!

Friday 30th September

We wake to clear sunny skies, though the wind remains formidable. I feel the weather is mocking me ‘ah ha! you could be cycling in this!’. But the decision is made. Regardless, we have the man and his van picking us up later to take us to Pompey.

I feel a bit flat this morning. OK, I deservedly have a bit of a hangover, but the thought of going home early next week does little to energise me.

In truth, we have a few things to look forward over the weekend and have a huge number of things to do at home before I start work early in November. We also have a trip to Manchester to look forward to later in the month.

Claud gets his own removal van!
Claud gets his own removal van!

Our man arrives and we load Claud into the back of the huge removal van for the hour and a half drive to Portsmouth. Emily calls us when we are 10 minutes away, she is at the hotel already, too exited to wait at home any longer.

Emily!
Emily!

It is great to see her after so long. We find a pub for lunch and later wander around Gunwharf Quays.

I try a suit on and realise the extent of my weight gain; I am certainly the largest I have ever been and this is going to take some shifting when I get home.

I am certainly going to have to get back on my road bike when I get back!

Saturday 1st October

A quiet day in Pompey, a bit of shopping and not much else.

I go to watch the football at Fratton Park, which I really enjoy. I walk to the ground and enjoy a beer in the excellent lounge they have there and chat to a few other supporters. Portsmouth’s demise has been as complete as it can be; they are now in the bottom tier of English football having graced the Premiership and won the FA Cup a few short years ago.

The impressive 17,000 crowd sadly saw Pompey go down 2-1 to Doncaster in a game played in the glorious Autumn sunshine. In truth, having gone 2-0 down in the first half an hour, Portsmouth had enough chances to draw level and even win the game, but it was not to be.

A visit to Fratton Park. Not quite the Allianz or Camp Nou, but an enjoyable experience.
A visit to Fratton Park. Not quite the Allianz or Camp Nou, but an enjoyable experience.

Sunday 2nd October

We drive to Southampton to see our good friend Jayne and her son Toby.

We sit chatting and watching the footy. The City game is on and they implode against Spurs, losing 2-0. City were poor right from the start and it is disappointing way for us to lose our 100% league record.

Emily drove us to and from Portsmouth and we turn it into a motorway driving lesson; as she has never driven on one before. She does very well, however we are taking the car back home tomorrow.

In the evening, we go for some food in Southsea in a bar call ‘Belle Isle’ we have been here before and we’re looking forward to it. The food was good but the evening was spoilt somewhat by the bar refusing to serve Emily as she had no ID on her.

She is 22 and has looked over-18 since she was 15! I recognise that bars have the right to ask anyone 25 and below for ID, but I just think this constant risk aversion has gone bonkers.

I think what annoyed me the most is the lack of any kind of pragmatism; we had a copy of her ID on our phone and I explained I was her father and how old she was. They would not accept either, so I am obviously a liar. Sure, Emily should have had her ID with her and rules are rules I guess, but we won’t be rushing back.

It got under my skin enough to write a hasty review on trip-advisor when I got back to the hotel. Probably not the right thing to do, it will probably get rejected anyway.

Monday 3rd October

So the day has arrived. We are booked on the all day ‘Condor Clipper’ ferry to Jersey.

We are bringing the car back, which means I have to cycle Claud on my own from the hotel and Louise and Emily bring the car.

The cycle across Portsmouth is not so bad, mainly on cycle tracks, but I do get some odd looks from the commuter cyclists.

Logistical problems coming home: One car, one tandem and only two people!
Logistical problems coming home: One car, one tandem and only two people!

The trip is long and boring, but at least the weather is calm and the ferry is decent.

After the obligatory stop in Guernsey, we arrive at St Helier Harbour, where we started on the 16th May.

Our logistical problem of a car and a tandem and only two people is resolved by leaving Claud behind in a safe bike rack at my former work.

It is great to see Katie and Josh again, but we are a bit knackered after a long day, so retire early. Lots of things to sort tomorrow, including going through 5 months mail, trying to get the car started  and picking Claud up.

There will be time for some reflection and perhaps one final blog posting to sum this up. However, we have achieved many of the things that we set out to. Sure, purists would perhaps point to less actual cycling than advertised, but we never pretended we were going to cycle the whole way.

We have seen places we wanted to see and have a million memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We also now both have the opportunity to change our lives through new jobs and a new perspective on life itself.

I am not sure we could have asked for any more.

Our final stats are:
Days: 141
Distance cycled: 2,661km
Trains caught: 14
Tram lines avoided: 0
Different beds slept in: 72
Countries visited: 12
Hospitals visited: 1
Bike shops visited: 6
Punctures 1
New bike tyres: 2
Number of big tanks seen: 36
Number of different beers sampled: 2,874

Cycling in the land of the Romney Gypsies

About Sunday night.

We wandered into the small town of Sandgate looking for a couple of beers and possibly some food.

We were told the ‘Earl of Clarendon’ pub was worth a visit and trudged up the hill to the place. They were not doing food, but it was a small quaint pub, which looked like it used to be somebody’s house.

There were only four of us in the place and we were eventually drawn into conversation with the other two, a retired couple who had just lost their dog and cat in the same week. And we then realised they were very pissed.

We were getting a bit fed up with conversing with them, particularly as the now dead dog kept repeatedly coming up along with some tears. Not from us obviously.

However, we were spectacularly rescued by the landlord. He had been sitting at the bar drinking and clearly knew the two drunken pensioners. He had chipped in once or twice and claimed to be French, though his cockney accent belied this.

I really don’t know what triggered this, but the next minute the Landlord is ranting about the Falklands war and how the British should not have sovereignty over the Islands and should never have entered into the war. Cringing I go to the loo, but by the time I return he is ranting about Dunkirk and the ‘cowardly’ action of the British Expeditionary Force. When our drunken friend dares to point out that the French army was a badly-led rabble in 1940, who couldn’t defend their own county, the landlord goes apoplectic.

It was like something out of a Monty Python sketch as, purple faced, he raged, ranted, and swore about the British bastards, the empire, the Falklands, you name it; anything anti-British.

We all made our excuses and left. Perhaps in the future he could just call time instead?

We walked some of the way back with our new drunken pensioner friends, until he needed to go for a wee on the beach…..

Having escaped, our thoughts turned to food. The local Thai place had been recommended, so we ventured in. We are greeted and order, to find that it is a family business and they all sit, along with the dog, on a settee watching the telly in the same room as you eat. It was like eating in front of the Royle family. As we take in our food, they discuss what is on the telly, the lack of customers and, horribly, how many movements the dog had on his walk.

We wonder how it is possible that we have never been to Sandgate before.

So, Monday morning. After a massive English breakfast and a bit of a wait until a heavy shower disappears, we are on the road.

A rain delayed start.
A rain delayed start.

The plan is to see if we can get the c 48k to Rye. With no maps and relying on the National Cycle Route 2 signage it is a bit of a leap into the unknown, but there are a few other places we could stop if we need to.

After a bit of a fractured start as we pick our way through Hythe, we get onto a path next to the Royal Military Canal. We were surprised to learn that this was built in 1804 for defence purposes against Napoleon, rather than to move goods by barge.

Bit of a fractured start as we pass through Hythe.
Bit of a fractured start as we pass through Hythe.

We then move onto a route which takes you across the flat but windy Romney marshes. The first stretch is a bit long, but we manage to find a pub to grab a coffee in a small village called St Mary on the Marsh.

A typical English pub in St Mary on the marsh.
A typical English pub in St Mary on the marsh.

We then follow the same kind of terrain, dotted with sheep feeding on the marsh grasses, to the town of Lydd, where we find some lunch.

As we cycle, we have a classic tandem moment; Louise asks if this the area is where the Gypsies are from. For a second I am puzzled, we are in Romney, Gypsies? ‘No Louise that will be the Romany Gypsies’.

The final stretch takes us towards the coast and past an Army firing range, which was in use. It was a surreal experience cycling along with heavy machine guns going off in the background.

On the way to Rye, we pass through Camber Sands with its trailer parks, Pontins and ‘BJs Beach Hotel’. It really looks a horrible dump, which at least encourages us to cycle faster.

We find The Ship Inn, our accommodation for the night, and stroll into Rye in search of Maps. We at least manage to find a cycle route map, not as detailed as we hoped but it will have to do.

Rye is a beautiful place, slightly spoiled by the fact that it appears to be inhabited entirely by posh people, many dressed like they are out on a hunt. When walking the High Street, all you can pick up are the ‘OK yars’ and ‘when we were in Tuscany’s.

Rye - Nice but bloody posh!
Rye – Nice but bloody posh!

So, as a kind of protest we eat in the chippy; every little helps.

I had posted a couple of photos of the Ship Inn on Facebook and Jasper from Cycle Nation, who fixed up Claud in Arnhem, comments to say he stayed there in August. Small world.

Jasper is obviously keen to follow us around Europe!
Jasper is obviously keen to follow us around Europe!

Today was an unexpectedly tough day, possibly one of the toughest of the tour so far.

Nothing to do with the comedic start where in the first hour we had taken the wrong route, then found the right route, but took it the wrong way, then broke the Garmin holder (fortunately not the Garmin!).

Once we started cycling the right way, the National Cycle Route 2 was good and well waymarked. The main problem for us was the very strong wind which was inevitably in our faces for the whole ride.

The National Cycle Route 2 was pretty good today - apart from the climb!
The National Cycle Route 2 was pretty good today – apart from the climb!

At a place called Pett Level we stopped for a break and had a chat to a couple of fellow cyclists who warned us that the next section was ‘undulating’ with ‘quite a climb at the end’; they were not kidding.

An undulating route and three steep climbs later we were at the top at c. 150 metres. The climbs were far too steep for us, so plenty of pushing. The views were fairly stunning though as we sat and caught our breath!

At the top - Though we never received the memo about this climb!
At the top – Though we never received the memo about this climb!

The rest of the ride through Hastings, stopping in Bexhill for lunch and on to Eastbourne should have been a doddle. However, the wind at this point was very strong, making it a real slog.

We had planned to stop for a coffee mid-morning but found ourselves on a path bounded by the sea one side and a railway line the other. We were trapped on this route for ages and the only cafe we came across had a snotty sign outside about the parking of bikes; therefore we starved out of principle.

Very windy on the exposed sea front.
Very windy on the exposed sea front.

We arrived at our hotel on the seafront completely knackered. Only 50k, but in tough conditions.

We are faced with a bit of a tough climb out of Eastbourne tomorrow so will perhaps need to moderate our distance. We have 3 days to get to Portsmouth.

We need to keep rolling………..

Tough day, but still smiling!
Tough day, but still smiling!

On the cycle bus to the UK

So yesterday the day arrived when we leave Europe after 133 days and head for the UK. Despite the fact that we still have some time left exploring the South of England, the adventure is drawing to a close.

I think this brings some mixed emotions; sadness that it is all coming to an end, excitement about the final stage in the UK and also looking forward to returning home again. High on the Stoker’s agenda is sleeping in our own bed!

In truth, we are both comfortable with our schedule for returning home; after a jaunt around the South Coast for a couple of weeks, it feels like it will be the right time.

There will be plenty of time for proper reflection, but we have done a huge amount since early May. The trip has been made up of a number of district phases each being slightly different. We even had one phase without the bike! Travelling the South Coast of England will be the last phase of an incredible journey.

Our final couple of days at the Camp site in Garriguella were spent mooching around on Claud.

We went to a local wine making cooperative and ask about a possible tour. Not only was this not possible apparently but we are told we have to phone someone to check availability. We were disappointed to be fobbed off in this way, so head for the winery opposite.

At the ‘Mas Luna’ winery the story could not be more different. Although we are the only people there, the very friendly lady offers to show us around. She takes us on our own private tour, explains the wine making process and takes us down the cellar. We then have a tasting session.

Glass of wine anyone?
Glass of wine anyone?

We find out that they do bigger tours out into the vineyards and even one to the site of an old military airfield in the area, which has been reclaimed for vine growing. We don’t have enough time to catch either of these, which is a pity, particularly as the airfield trip also includes visiting the massive military bunker on the site.

Whilst chatting, we find out the reason for the military bunkers we passed on the way back from Figueres a day earlier. 10,000 were constructed in this area by Franco after the Spanish Civil War to protect the border from attacks by either Germany or France.

Thursday sees our last day at the ‘Camping du Calamitie ‘ and we clear up the chalet before embarking on the c 15k ride to Roses.

The ride to Roses is a straightforward route on a road, which has a space for cyclists beyond a white line at the side. These are helpful for keeping out if the way of the traffic, but you do have to be careful as there is often debris, particularly glass, which you need try to avoid. They can also be a bit dodgy when you approach a right turn, particularly when some idiot decides to cut you up.

The ride has a bit of a grinding climb, but we quickly find ourselves in Roses. Although I have been here before, this was fully some 30 years ago and the place is barely recognisable from those days. It is much larger for a start and we are both surprised at how busy it is compared to the other places we have been to in this area over the last few weeks.

The beautiful sandy beach at Roses
The beautiful sandy beach at Roses

We have chosen the hotel Marian as it is the location that the bus picks us up on Saturday morning. The hotel caters for cyclists and we are informed there are 30 staying there. Claud gets his own cage. We meet a party of about 10 who have come from the UK on the bus and will leave with us on Saturday morning.

Our time in Roses is spent doing the sort of things you do in a resort, lunch, swim and stroll into town along the sea front. We take a couple of short rides to local beaches for a swim, but no more than that.

View from the lunch table.
View from the lunch table.

We also manage a bit of planning for the next few days. As we are likely to be knackered when we get turfed off the bus in Dover on Sunday morning, we settle for a short ride to Folkestone. Although we have no maps as yet, the Sustrans National Cycle Route 2 starts about 300 yards from where we get dropped off. This runs all the way to the West county and we hope to follow it to Portsmouth and then possibly on to Southampton and Poole, depending on where we get the boat home from.

We estimate it will take us 4-5 days to get to Portsmouth. We will stay there a few days and decide how best to get home from there.

So Saturday arrives and our trip to the UK on the ‘Euro-bike-express’ bus. As the name suggests, this is a bus service especially for bikes and travels the length of the UK all the way down to Roses and back again on a weekly schedule during the summer. The bikes fit in a large trailer at the back.

The Euro Bike Express arrives.
The Euro Bike Express arrives.

We have to turn the handlebars 90 degrees in advance, but apart from that, there is little other preparation required.

The bus arrives at the appointed hour for the 20 hour journey to Dover. There are only a few to get off so the orderly process of loading on the bikes begins quickly. There are a number of vertical racks for the road bikes and some stand up racks on a second level of the trailer.

Claud needs to be manhandled onto the second level and gets safely strapped in, the only casualty being the flag pole, which gets a bit bent on the process. Not really a problem; we had to ditch the original flag pole in Budapest and had since improvised by using an extending fly swatter that we bought in L’Estartit (we took the swatty bit off obv.).

Loading Claud onto the trailer.
Loading Claud onto the trailer.

The rest of the bikes get loaded on in a manner that appears to be a bit heavy handed. I wince when someone’s rear mech bangs on the side of the trailer as it is being loaded; I am so glad it was not my Pinarello!

All loaded on and we pile on the coach and get well looked after by the guys on board. The coach stops in a number of places to pick people up and, despite being somewhat dated, has decent facilities; reclining seats, air con, food service, toilet etc. The main downside is that it does not have WiFi, so bang goes my chances of listening to the City game.

The guys running the bus do a good job and periodically we stop to load on a few more cyclists and their bikes. Some of the pickup stops are in industrial estate-type places and at very early hours in the morning; not something either of us would fancy.

Speaking to people on the bus, there are some long journeys home. One guy is going to the North East and will then climb in in his car and drive to Scotland. Someone else is getting off with us to Dover and like us cycling to Folkestone; they are then catching a train to London, crossing London, catching a train to Oxford and then cycling home. This is hard core stuff, but we wonder whether there are simpler ways to travel with your bike, perhaps not.

We eat the microwaved meal we have ordered, which is OK under the circumstances, and settle down for some sleep. Remarkably we sleep for a good few hours, although as always sleep is constantly broken by stops or just the movement of the coach.

Earlier today as we get close to Calais, the impact of France’s heightened security level and the migrant crisis becomes apparent. First, there is a massive double fence adorned with barbed wire which seems to run for miles along the road to the port. Second, when we get to the port, troops with machine guns are evident everywhere; a clear sign of the times.

After clearing passport control we are on the ferry for the c 1.5 hour journey to Dover. England is our 12th country, though it feels a bit like cheating to count it; but we are going to anyway.

Dover comes into view. England will be our 12th country since May.
Dover comes into view. England will be our 12th country since May.

We both feel fresher than we thought, but are still glad we elected for a short ride to Folkestone today. We are sure to be very tired mid-afternoon.

We get deposited in the dockside at Dover with two other riders; some bloke and an older lady who, it turns out, is the person who needs to get to Oxford. The bloke tells us the National Cycle Route 2 to Folkestone is ‘Rolling’ with some ‘rough tracks across the Downs’.

We put Claud back together and leave together with the older lady as we are heading in the same direction.

Our initial experience of the National Cycle Route 2 I think sums up all that is wrong with the British attitude to cyclists. We have seen countries that have put cyclists at the heart of transport planning and some who have made cyclists first priority in this regard. Clearly the UK, like Jersey, has still to promote cyclists from being forth or fifth class citizens.

First, the route out of Dover, though a dedicated cycle path has been obstructed, first by building works and then later by road works. The road works don’t really affect the cycle lane, it is just that the Authority has decided to put all the road signs in the lane, making it impassable. We have to push the majority of the way out of Dover.

The cycle path out of Dover. Impassable due to road work signage.
The cycle path out of Dover. Impassable due to road work signage.

Second, the cycle path which crosses the downs is of an extremely poor quality, Tarmac stretches that are badly damaged and some very poor rough stone stretches. Some of it is awful; we had to stop and get off countless times.

National Cycle Route 2: Even some Of the good parts of it resemble a farm track.
National Cycle Route 2: Even some
Of the good parts of it resemble a farm track.

You cannot blame Sustrans (the organisation trying to develop a cycle network), it relies on volunteers and is almost certainly given virtually zero funds. It is the culture it is working within; on this evidence, the U.K. has a lot to learn from the likes of Belgium, Germany and even Hungary.

The poor lady we are cycling with has to push most of the way. She must be in her 70s so we wait for her a few times, but in the end have to leave her behind. Chapeau to her though, she is making a long journey on her own having spent a week cycling in Spain.

We get some respite at the Battle of Britain memorial just outside Folkestone. We stop and have a wander around the site of some former coastal guns to take in the enormous contribution of the 3,000 ‘few’ to WWII. A couple of big planes keep me amused.

A quiet moment in front of the names of 3,000 Battle of Britain heroes.
A quiet moment in front of the names of 3,000 Battle of Britain heroes.

Final comedy on the route to Folkestone/ Sandgate is that we have to share the path with a local half marathon coming the other way. It was like swimming against the tide.

We get to the Ship Inn, knackered for a beer, the papers and a Sunday roast. We will rest up here today and then decide on the next steps tomorrow.

A map of any sort would be handy…..

This Spitfire kept me amused at the Battle of Britain memorial.
This Spitfire kept me amused at the Battle of Britain memorial.

 

‘Ferry du Comedie’ and ‘Camping de Calamitie’

Saturday 17th September

We spend the morning relaxing in Joan’s house. We pack our stuff and read our books for a while. I take an extended swim in the pool.

Again, we find ourselves indebted to Joan and Sandra. They both have busy lives but have welcomed us into their fantastic home with warmth. They have given us the run of their place and taken us out on impromptu tours to boot. They have promised to come to Jersey next year; I hope they can make it. If we can make them feel half as welcome as they have made us, I will be happy.

As a result of having a relaxing morning we arrive at the ferry as laid back as we can be. The terminal has got WiFi so I can catch the commentary of Man City’s 4-0 demolition of Bournemouth; they really are playing well at the moment.

For some reason the ferry people open the gate to allow vehicles on the quayside and then proceed to make us wait for an hour in the gathering rain clouds before we get on. We leave much later than the published 5:00pm.

When we get to our cabin the stoker Is unhappy; she had thought she had got us a bigger cabin when we checked in, but this is just the standard rabbit hutch we had on the way over. We go to reception to try and change, but they are having none of it.

We spend the evening watching the film ‘Eye in the Sky’ on the iPad; we had rented this a while ago and had to watch it on the boat otherwise we would have run out of time. We finished watching this entertaining film with an hour to spare. We like to live on the edge.

Sunday18th September

There is something quite hilarious about the Trasmediterrania ferry company. I realise the ferry is not very busy, but the crew appear to be fairly clueless and the boat is quite frankly a dog’s breakfast.

The really funny thing is the approach to arrival times. Our paperwork had two arrival times in Barcelona: 07:00 and 09:30. We sought to clarify this when first on board and were told ‘between 09:00 and 10:00’. When I get up in the morning a sign on reception tells us we will arrive at 10:15am. The ‘Ferry de Comedie’ for sure.

Apart from making sure this works with train times, we are not too bothered when we arrive, but I should imagine that a level of certainty about arrival time is important to some passengers. I think if the much-maligned Condor service in Jersey adopted this approach there would be a riot.

We can see Barcelona looming and we start to gird ourselves for what it expected to be a horrendous journey. Cycle to Barcelona Clot station, battle our way down five flights of stairs and then fight for a place on the train to Figueres. We had decided to get the faster train to here and cycle the c 15k to the campsite at Garriguella.

What transpired was an almost perfect journey which I think shows how far we have come as travellers since we began May.

To start, we had prepared well; we knew the train times and we planned to stop and grab some decent food before we got on the train. It sounds odd but we also prepared ourselves mentally for the journey. We discussed that it could be a bit of a nightmare and we resolved to remain calm and, above all, not rush.

It all went like clockwork. We cycled across Barcelona to the station, a trip that was all on a dedicated cycle lane. Outside the station we purchased some hot chicken baguettes from a bar and made sure we were stocked up with water.

As we knew the times of the trains we were able to tackle the flights of stairs carefully and methodically before getting our tickets and depositing ourselves on the platform with 10 minutes to spare.

The wait for the train is always the most anxious time; if the train is full we may well have a problem getting Claud on. As it happened we managed to haul the bike on and get it strapped in quickly without too much hassle. Although the train was quite full we were able to sit closeby and enjoy the hour and a half ride to Figueres.

The 15k cycle passed uneventfully; there was a bit of a climb in the middle but the route we selected to Garriguella was all on quiet roads.

We arrive at the campsite and get our little chalet which will be our home for the next four days.

As expected, the campsite is pretty deserted and is being manned by a skeleton staff. The ‘Supermarcedo’ (i.e. small half empty shop) appears closed but a sign in the door tells you to go to the bar if you want anything. This is how the system works; there are so few people on the site that the barman opens the shop on request. We pick up a few bits and then have a beer by the massive pool with the four other people staying at the site.

It is amazing how quickly we get into domestic bliss; sitting outside having prepared a meal, which we have not done since Normandy in May. We even have a cat, having been adopted by a small kitten who takes over the place and won’t leave.

Monday 19th September

We are beginning to call the campsite the ‘Camping de Calamity’; it shuts next Monday and I thing the family that runs it have gone into shut down mode.

We wake up and have no running water which is a bit of a problem as we both really need a shower after a couple of days travelling. I go to reception and in less than pigeon Spanish manage to get over that the ‘agua’ is ‘kaput’. The water gets magically restored, but the boiler has gone out which means another trip to reception. I am trying to work out what Spanish for boiler is, but am saved when a new receptionist appears who speaks English. Shortly after, we are showered.

We take the bike into the small town of  Garriguella to pick up some provisions. The town appears to have two small identical shops opposite each other. We just about get what we need, but need to pick up a few bits from the camp shop.

We arrive at the camp bar to find it open, but deserted. One of the Dutch party of four tells us that the barman has had to go somewhere and if we want a drink or anything we have to go to reception. I trudge over and it is clear the receptionist has no clue that she is the emergency bar person. She obliges, however and opens the shop for us, despite not knowing any of the prices and not being able to find the beer in the bar.

In truth, we like the quietness and are amused by the Fawlty Towers approach to the running of the camp. This is the perfect way to finish our stint in Spain. The only downside is that the WiFi is comically poor, despite having paid extra for access in the chalet.

We finish the evening with Barbecue; something we have not done for a very long time.

The cat has now completely moved in, particularly as Louise has now fed it. It has made itself a bed in the spare room and is clearly here for the duration.

Tuesday 20th September

We awake to thick cloud and cooler temperatures. It has been much cooler here since we arrived with quite a strong wind for the first couple of days. We even have a blanket on our bed, which is amazing considering 10 days ago it was so hot in this area we couldn’t contemplate riding.

We elect to take a ride to Figueres where there is a market.

It is a bit of a sharp climb out, but we are rewarded with a long descent into Figueres. We mooch around the market and pick up a few bits of food for the evening’s Barbecue. The ride back involves a longer climb, but we have done it once fully loaded, so it is a doddle.

We stop at the top and take a few photos. It is here I notice there is a complex of military bunkers, very similar to those WWII German bunkers in Jersey. You can see why the bunkers are located here, with great views to the coast, but I must admit I don’t understand the history as to why they are there. I know Spain was (barely) neutral in WWII and wonder whether these bunkers were more to do with the Spanish civil war. Some googling required methinks.

We don’t do much else today. Louise rests up and I sit by the pool drinking beer and chatting to the guy that runs the bar. Nice chap and we are even joined later by a couple from Wales and a group of four from the Netherlands. Christ, you can’t move in this place.

Later we Barbecue (perhaps better described as incinerate) our food and decide to retire early.

We hope to visit a wine making place tomorrow in the next village, see how that goes. One more day here then it is off to the coast followed by the long journey to the UK.

The end of our journey is closing in.

A long wait to get on the ferry, followed by the arrival time lottery!
A long wait to get on the ferry, followed by the arrival time lottery!

A few days in beautiful Menorca

Monday 12th September

On Monday we see the downside of staying in a big city hotel.

We cannot extend our check out time, just as there was no room for Claud and being turned away from breakfast on the first day because nobody had given us the essential breakfast tickets. I realise it is part and parcel of being in a more bustling environment, particularly when you are one of the cursed ‘booking.com’ people, but the lack of any kind of personal touch still rankles. It feels like they give no consideration to any of our requests, asking to extend checkout is simply refused and when we go to put our luggage in store for the day we find the luggage room massive; plenty of room for a bike, they just couldn’t be bothered.

Claud appears to have survived three nights in the streets of Barcelona and we have a day to kill as our boat to Menorca is not until 11:00pm.

We head for the ‘Mare Magnum’ shopping centre on the harbour, largely as it is air conditioned inside. I wander the shops whilst Louise has her hair done, fair swap methinks.

We take a boat tour of the harbour which is interesting, particularly sailing close to the massive cruise ships moored alongside.

After lunch, we find ourselves in that ‘stateless’ position where we have no room to go to, so we sit around the hotel and read our books.

We venture out a bit later and find some kind of concert on the harbour front. This is mainly attended by youngsters drinking cans of Estrella, but I think we fitted in OK.

We fitted in well at the concert in Barcelona!
We fitted in well at the concert in Barcelona!

We kill another hour in the hotel and set off for the Ferry on Claud. It is dark and this is the first time that we have had to use the lights – another item ticked off the ‘used’ list.

We have to hang around a while at the harbour terminal as there are about three huge boats all being loaded at the same time. With our large ‘Mao’ sign on the front of Claud, there was no danger of being put on the wrong boat!

Waiting to get on the ferry - can't miss where we are going to!
Waiting to get on the ferry – can’t miss where we are going to!

Cycling on board is a bit hairy but we are the only bike and viewed with curious interest. Claud gets strapped in.

The ferry is large, but quite empty. It has a range of food places and a number of bars, including a ‘disco bar’ all with a few people sprinkled across them. The duty free shop is virtually empty. I understand it is rammed earlier in the season with people from all over Spain coming to the Island for their holidays.

We crash in our cabin and set the alarm for 6:45 am so we can get some breakfast before the scheduled 07:30 arrival.

Tuesday 13th September

We awake on Tuesday with Menorca in sight, but it still seems we are a long way from the huge Mahon harbour. After about an hour, there is an announcement that the boat will arrive at 09:30am! Still no idea why it is 2 hours late.

We get off the boat at Mahon to find Joan waiting for us. Fortunately he can see the harbour from his home and his office, so the delay has not caused him too much inconvenience.

We know that Joan’s house is close to the harbour and I remembered there was a bit of a hill involved, so we set off on the bike with Joan following in his car.

This turned into a bit of a comedy moment. The ‘hill’ was actually a 100m climb broken into a series of sharp and sometimes long hills. As we had not bothered to discard any of our luggage into Joan’s car (my fault apparently) it became a struggle. The pressure was on though as Joan was behind us and occasionally passed us to take a photo. We felt compelled to continue and not get off, which we managed only to arrive knackered and sweating profusely.

We grind up the hill; Joan takes photos and laughs.... a lot!
We grind up the hill; Joan takes photos and laughs…. a lot!

We spent the rest of the day at Joan’s house, either in the pool or asleep. We were quite tired from the journey and it was very hot.

Later, Sandra (Joan’s wife)  took us on a tour to the beach area of Santa Tomas and later we all go to a local bar in the town of Ferriers for some tapas. The food is excellent and it is great to be somewhere that is really local.

Santa Tomas
Santa Tomas

This is helped by the fact that the Barcelona Vs Celtic Champions League game is on TV. Barcelona win 7-0 with a Messi hat-trick. Errm, perhaps we could have had one or two of this goals at the Camp Nou on Saturday?

Wednesday 14th September

On Wednesday took our first proper bike trip in Menorca. Nothing too adventurous, just a mooch along massive harbour and a visit to one of the many forts on the Island – Fort Marlborough.

At Fort Marlborough.
At Fort Marlborough.

This is an interesting place and one of a number on Menorca which many years ago was a key strategic location in the Mediterranean due to its large natural harbour.

We take the audio tour to guide us round and it explains the purpose of the fort and some of the history of Menorca. Over the last 200 years or so Menorca has been occupied by Spain, Britain, France, Britain (again) and finally Spain again. This series of different rulers has shaped the island’s culture, architecture and language; the Menorcan dialect includes many words from both English and French.

Jolly japes at fort Marlborough!
Jolly japes at fort Marlborough!

By the time we leave the fort the sun has emerged from the clouds, so we decide to have a swim in the sea. We are told there is a rocky area up the road which is good for swimming but when we arrive we find a couple sitting on the rocks with no clothes on. We decide not to join them. Apparently there are a number of places for nudists in Menorca, often part of or just next to public beaches. This is the third time we have accidentally stumbled across nudists in Europe; perhaps there really is as least one good reason for Brexit.

On the way to the Fort we had stopped on the harbour side in Mahon for a coffee and some breakfast. As we arrive, a huge cruise ship arrives and docks very close to us. 20 minutes later the area has gone from a quiet area to a seething mass of people and coaches as a couple of thousand people arrive. You can see how these visits give a boost to the economy of the Island.

On the way back we stop at the town of Es Castle which is a town created by the English with a former barracks and parade ground in the centre. By this time it is very hot so we make the climb back to the house and immerse ourselves in Joan’s pool.

In the evening we go for a meal with Joan and Sandra by the harbour at Es Castel. This is a beautiful setting and we eat at a restaurant that is owned by Sandra’s cousin. The highlight is us sharing a large Scorpion fish for main course, cut into large pieces and grilled with garlic. It really was something else. We are well looked after and enjoy chatting to Joan and Sandra immensely. We try to persuade them to come to Jersey next summer as we certainly won’t be going away!

Eating Scorpion fish with Joan and Sandra
Eating Scorpion fish with Joan and Sandra

The second highlight of the evening comes when Joan gets his iPad out and gets the last 25 minutes of City’s Champions league game on his sports app. We see the last two goals in a 4-0 victory; City have now won 7 games on the trot so I think we need to stay away until next May to continue the good luck!

Thursday 15th September

On Thursday, the plan was to take the short ride to the massive La Mola Fort, which is quite close to where we are staying.

We leave late, which has the benefit that we leave under the cloud cover which has rolled in late morning.

Though short, the ride has a couple of decent hills, which are made all the harder by the gears slipping drastically near the top of one. The gears had been slipping intermittently since Girona and I should have got them checked out in L’Estartit, but I settled for a good clean and some lubrication instead. Mistake. This was a massive slip from the top to the bottom of the block and causes some choice language from the stoker. I need to get this sorted before we leave Menorca.

We visit to La Mola which a massive fort protecting the mouth of the harbour. It is so big you have the option of renting a golf buggy to tour the site. We elect to walk and take the audio tour. The fort is a magnificent structure but we find the audio tour goes into too much detail about the construction of the barioisnparts of the building, rather than the history of the site. To be honest, I am quite relieved when the battery on my listening device conks out after about 20 minutes.

La Mola - Built to protect Mahon harbour
La Mola – Built to protect Mahon harbour

When we return I am keen to sort Claud out. Joan gives me a tip for a decent bike shop, though it is about 10k away. I cycle Claud alone and when I arrive and explain the problem their initial response is that they may be too busy to sort it. Sandra arrives and, after a few words, someone is looking at the the rear mech and tutting. After about 10 minutes of looking, grunting and adjusting, Claud is declared fit. It seems this has been another spin off from having Claud boxed up, the rear mech was a bit loose and just needed some adjustment. The ride home confirmed that all is well again and the shop charged me 4€; which proves the value of a little local knowledge.

We spend the evening indoors with Sandra, the highlight being watching the last 30 minutes of Utd being beat by Feyenoord. I think I am beginning to enjoy Thursday nights!

Friday 16th September

We left early in the morning and dropped down into Mahon for a mooch. The plan was to look around Mahon and then perhaps cycle to one of the beaches for a swim.

Claud gets a good parking spot in the middle of Mahon
Claud gets a good parking spot in the middle of Mahon

Whilst in Mahon I have a haircut. I hate having haircuts, but it was time according to Louise. A decent shearing I think, made all the more entertaining by Joan sticking his head in halfway through for some banter with the three brothers that run the shop. I smile gamely, though I don’t really follow why they are pointing at me and laughing.

To make it worse, when I emerge with my new hair do someone on Facebook says I look like Gary Barlow. Have I put on THAT much weight?

Gary Barlow? You are having a laugh.......
Gary Barlow? You are having a laugh…….

By this time it is roasting hot and all thoughts of a long cycle to the beach are abandoned. Instead, we make our way to the old fish market for a cheeky beer.

This is another example of an old building being put to fantastic use. Half of it still functions as a fish market and the other half has been converted to an eating area with a range of different stalls selling fish, paella and all kinds of tapas that can be washed down with a glass of wine or beer. As we leave it is well mobbed, even though it is early for lunch in these parts.

We elect to climb the hill home and jump in the pool, a bit lazy maybe, but cycling in these temperatures is not a barrel of laughs.

In the evening I have an nice moment at the Ferrieres FC stadium when I bump into four of the young Menorca players from the 2015 Island games in Jersey. I looked after the Menorca team during that week, which is when I met Joan. The guys come over and chat for a while before their training session, which strengthens my view from their time in Jersey that their behaviour and manners are a credit to their Island. Not bad footballers either as they scooped the bronze medal at the games.

The Island Games 2015 - I looked after the Menorca team with Joan (centre) the manager and Biel (left) coach.
The Island Games 2015 – I looked after the Menorca team with Joan (centre) the manager and Biel (left) coach.

We leave Menorca on Saturday on the ferry and have mapped out the next few stops before the coach journey to England a week later  we will take a train from Barcelona and head for a few days in a camp site in the foot of the Pyrenees before moving to Rosas on the coast, where we will pick up the bus.

The end of the journey is nearing, but there are a few cycle rides left in us yet.

image

Barcelona

On Saturday morning we decided to go to La Rambla and visit the market hall, which is a highly recommended place in Barcelona.

We take the Metro and get a travel card which is 10€ for 10 journeys, which can be used by more than one person on a number of forms of transport in the city.

It is hot and understandably very busy. The market would be really a really cool place to look around and stop and have a drink and some food. The food stalls look excellent and sit alongside other stalls selling a vast range of local produce. However, it is so busy it is difficult to stop anywhere as you simply get carried along with the crowd. We therefore decide not to hang around.

We stroll through the gothic part of the city and take in some of the sights, including the cathederal.

We settle down in an Irish bar to watch the Manchester derby. It is fairly quiet, but there is a group of United fans in, shouting the odds as usual. We grab a quiet corner, but our allegiance to City is soon evident as City take a 2-0 lead, which is cut to 2-1 before half time. I can’t stand these games; I am so nervous I spend the whole second half just wanting the game to end, which it finally does and we have won 2-1. A good win and bragging rights for the next few months, a process which begins immediately on social media.

The main event of the day, however, is going to the Camp Nou stadium to watch Barcelona play newly-promoted Alaves. We learn from the mistakes we made when visiting Bayern Munich earlier on this trip and do some research beforehand. The advice is clear, you should go there early and get the metro to the ‘Les Corts’ stop which gives you a walk to the ground and a choice of bars to have some food and a drink before the game. We set off from the centre of Barcelona about two and a half hours before kick off and this advice works well; there are not too many people around and plenty of choice for food and drink.

At the Camp Nou stadium.
At the Camp Nou stadium.

We find our seats early and settle in for the game. I am disappointed when the team is announced; No Messi, Suarez(L), Iniesta or Picque, who are the top stars. Regardless, I still think Barca are going to win heavily.

It turns out somewhat differently. Despite dominating the game, Barca struggle to make any kind of impact. By half time they are 1-0 down and even after the introduction of their star players in the second half, they contrive to lose the game 2-1.

Frankly, though Barca is kind of my Spanish team, I am not bothered about the result; it has been a great experience. If it had been City getting beat like that, I would have been grumpy for quite some time afterwards.

I feel that the omission of the main star players, particularly Messi, highlights an interesting dilemma for clubs such as Barca. Don’t get me wrong, first and foremost they are a football team and the manager must have the ability to choose the team he believes will win the game.

However, Barcelona FC is a key tourist attraction for the city and people come from all over the world to see their star players. With seemingly over 50% of replica shirts on sale or being worn having the name ‘Messi’ on the back, his omission produces an interesting dynamic. The club is selling itself on the back of its investment in these players, so supporters and particularly tourists surely have the right to complain if they are omitted from the team?

Admittedly, we are tourists but are also football fans and the attraction to us was watching a great team and great players. However, I still find it intriguing to see the hordes of tourists who show little interest in the football itself. People bedecked in kit from the shop, taking selfies, videoing the game, chatting to each other or even asleep during the game. It was just like being at Old Trafford; prawn sandwich anyone?

After the game we again take the advice we had picked up beforehand; find a bar and watch the Spanish football highlights for an hour or so to let the crowds dissipate. This works well and we have quiet Metro trip back to the hotel, though we arrive well past our normal bedtime.

As a result, we arise late on Sunday and decide to take in a few sights.

We take the metro to the huge Basilica De La Sagrada Famila one of the most recognisable landmarks in Barcelona, which is still under construction and has been for many years. We take a few photos, but decide not to go in; the queue is long and you really need to have booked on line to avoid this.

The Basilica De La Sagrada Familia - one of the most recognisable sights in Barcelona.
The Basilica De La Sagrada Familia – one of the most recognisable sights in Barcelona.

We move on to see the Casa Batllo building, described as a ‘Gaudi masterpiece’ and again elect to take a few photos outside rather than go in. We are both a bit tired so just mooch around the city before finding somewhere for a long lunch.

We spend the rest of the day either asleep or in the cool of our room reading our books. Perhaps we could have done more,  but we are tired and it is a bit hot.

Today, we see the downside of staying in a big city hotel.

We cannot extend our check out time, just as there was no room for Claud and being turned away from breakfast on the first day because nobody had given us the apparently essential breakfast tickets.

I realise it is part and parcel of being in a more bustling environment, particularly when you are one of the cursed ‘booking.com’ people, but the lack of any kind of personal touch still rankles. It feels like they give no consideration to any of our requests, asking to extend checkout is simply refused and when we go to put our luggage in store for the day we find the luggage room massive; plenty of room for a bike, they just couldn’t be bothered.

Claud appears to have survived three nights in the streets of Barcelona and we have a day to kill as our boat to Menorca is not until 11:00pm.

We head for the ‘Mare Magnum’ shopping centre on the harbour, largely as it is air conditioned inside. I wander the shops whilst Louise has her hair done, fair swap methinks.

We take a boat tour of the harbour which is interesting, particularly sailing close to the massive cruise ships moored alongside.

Barcelona harbour trip!
Barcelona harbour trip!

After lunch, we find ourselves in that ‘stateless’ position where we have no room to go to, so we sit around the hotel and read our books.

The overnight ‘Transmediterania’ service will get us into Menorca at 07:30 on Tuesday. We are looking forward to a few days here and hope to take a few bike trips to explore the Island.

We will catch the Transmediterania ferry to Menorca this evening.
We will catch the Transmediterania ferry to Menorca this evening.

Cycling has been a bit stop-start since we hit Spain; It is perhaps time to pick it up again.

A dream come true to visit the Camp Nou stadium.
A dream come true to visit the Camp Nou stadium.

On to Barcelona

So, we made it to Barcelona and find ourselves transported from the quiet, sedate surroundings of a seaside resort to the frenzied pace of a major city.

On Thursday, the weather had cooled enough to venture out on Claud.

I had spent an hour cleaning and doing a few jobs on Claud and wanted to test him out. We just took a spin around the resort, saw a few bits we have never seen before and went for swim in the sea, which was quite lively for a change with some decent waves.

A little bit of surf at the beach.
A little bit of surf at the beach.

On the way back we visit the sight that L’Estarit has become famous for in recent times; yes the vending machine which dispenses drinks, chocolates, crisps and an excellent selection of sex toys. It had made the Daily Mail at some point earlier in the month and was now being regularly visited by people like us for a photo. We just about had to queue.

We take our turn to get a picture at the famous vending machine. No, we did not make a purchase.
We take our turn to get a picture at the famous vending machine. No, we did not make a purchase.

We go for a quick drink at Harvey’s bar and discover that one of the team there had their bike nicked overnight. Lucky Claud is locked away in a room.

Later, we spend some time putting our plans together for the next day. We have to set the route for the cycle to the train station, decide which station to get off at in Barcelona and then get across the city to our hotel.

On Friday we set off early for the 25k ride to Flaca station, the nearest one from L’Estarit. We take the published cycle route for most of the journey.

There is a pretty good cycle network in this area; most of it is flat and you have the benefit of passing through a number of small medieval villages. Much of the route is on rough track which is used a lot by farm vehicles which is just about OK for us, but I wouldn’t fancy it in the wet.

The last section we decide to take the main road, which initially involves a hefty climb; Christ I am unfit. Although a very busy road, it does have the benefit of having a white line at the side with enough room to cycle in; so it is not that hairy.

We get to the station for our first experience of travelling on Spanish trains with Claud. Bikes travel free and there is an area on the middle of the train for them we are told. The lady at the ticket fest seems unconcerned they we have a tandem.

Unfortunately, by the time we have hauled Claud up two flights of steps to the platform, we have missed the train to Barcelona and have to wait 40 minutes for the next one.

When it arrives, we find the bike area and access is simple on a special ramp at platform level; no lifting up to the train. I find a space that will just about fit Claud and strap him in. As I am doing this, a woman starts speaking to me loudly and quickly in Spanish. It looks like she is objecting to something, so I ignore her. You really have to be single-minded with these things; get a space for Claud somewhere, anywhere, and only budge if it is someone in a uniform asking you.

Got Claud strapped in, despite the protestations of the lady passenger.
Got Claud strapped in, despite the protestations of the lady passenger.

I later discover that the area for bikes is further up the carriage but only consists of a couple of hooks to hang normal bikes. Claud would not fit in this area so the space I found was the only option. Again, this shows that travelling on quiet trains is essential if you have a tandem; if that area would have been busy, we would have struggled.

On the train, both Louise and I become nervous about what will greet us at the other end. We know the station we have chosen (Barcelona Clot) is underground but it is near our hotel. Also, we have no idea how we will get across the city.

As intrepid adventurers, it feels wrong to be apprehensive about such things. I suppose we have had varying experiences of trains and cities with Claud, which does not help. When you know what you may be facing it is often worse than blindly going into a new situation. But we were both really nervous; Will we get on the train? Can we get out of the station? How will we get across the city? These questions keep circling in my mind for the whole journey; good job we are not trying to climb Everest or something!

Getting out of Barcelona Clot station was fairly hellish, Claud would not fit in the lift and we had to hump him up three flights of stairs before we saw daylight. Still we managed even though we needed a bit of a rest at the top.

If getting out of the station was difficult, the cycle across the city was pretty good really. Some very good cycle lanes separated from the traffic took us to with in spitting distance of the hotel and the Garmin did the rest. The route even took us through the impressive Parc de Cuitadella on the way.

We pass through Parc de Cuitadella on the way.
We pass through Parc de Cuitadella on the way.

Our hotel, the Hotel Oasis, is well positioned for the harbour and our ferry trip on Monday. We get allocated the usual ‘booking.com’ room (small, no balcony, dodgy air con), but it is fine for the city.

The major problem is the hotel has no place for bikes and we are directed to the public bike rack in the square opposite. As I am unhappy with this, I ask a bike hire shop nearby whether they can think of anywhere more secure I can leave Claud, but draw a blank. So he ends up on the street in Barcelona, double locked, but vulnerable. I will see if I can find a better place tomorrow.

Claud on the streets of Barcelona for the night.
Claud on the streets of Barcelona for the night.

We find something to eat in a nearby restaurant, where we are named and shamed as cheapskates. We sit outside and ask for the menu of the day (three courses with wine for 11.50€) to be told that for some reason you can only have this menu indoors. So, now clearly marked out to all the other diners as tightwads, we venture inside to eat with all the other naughty people.

Inside was nice and cool, the staff were great and the food was excellent. They even grabbed some money back by charging an arm and a leg for the beers we had ordered whilst outside.

By now it is early evening and we do what we usually do on the first night in a big city; wander around aimlessly. Still, we have a good look around the old part of the city and later get to the harbour area and pick out ferry tickets up.

Today we will pick a sight to see first thing, before going to watch Barcelona play football in the evening. Between that there is the small matter of the Manchester derby to watch.

A busy day ahead.

Feeling hot hot hot!

Monday 5th September

Despite the predicted cooler temperature on Monday, it is still hot when we set off on Claud at about 9:00am.

We cycle the 20k or so to L’Escala with a stop in a bar on the way where we consume a large bottle of cold water.

When we get to the beach at L’Escala is is clear Louise has been affected by the heat. She needs to lie down in the shade for a while and doesn’t feel too good.

The truth is that the heat we have experienced over the last few days makes riding very difficult. To ride in anything like sensible temperatures you would really need to set out at 6:00am, stop riding at 11:00am and probably not start again until 8:00pm.

We have a fractious few hours at L’Escala. Louise really does not feel that good and we wait until about 5:30pm to ride back with a couple of water stops on the way. It is still roasting even at this time.

This is the day that we begin to think that the cycling part of the tour may be over; we are not enjoying riding at all in this heat and  unless the temperature drops significantly, I can’t see this changing. Our broad plan to ride to Menorca and then further South through Spain feels like it needs reviewing.

On the positive side, earlier in the day we had booked tickets for the Barcelona game at the weekend. I have always wanted to see a game at the Camp Nou, so this will be another item off the bucket list.

We will stay in Barcelona for a few nights and then travel to Menorca. Our friend, Joan, will be there but of course he and his wife will be working. He has offered to let us stay at his house in Mahon, which is beautiful. We have stayed there before, but are a little concerned that it may be hassle for them. Perhaps we feel like the people you meet on holiday who then turn up on your doorstep unexpectedly – ‘Only me!’. Joan soon dispels this fear with a few words in a message – they are such lovely people and we are so looking forward to seeing them again.

Tuesday 6th September

Rather rashly I have purchased some flip-flops. I just don’t get on with the things, but I have had enough of my feet getting burned or damaged on stones and I am fed up with my socks getting full of sand. I think an investment of 5€ was worth the risk.

This purchase just proves that I can’t get on with the things; I actually can’t make them ‘flip-flop’. For some reason I can’t work my left foot properly to make the ‘flop’ sound. Much to Louise’s mirth I walk along with my feet going ‘flip, …. flip, …. flip’. Never mind, I shall persevere for a while longer.

I simply can't get on with these things. Flop-Flops on my feet.
I simply can’t get on with these things. Flop-Flops on my feet.

Again, on Tuesday it is far too hot to ride, so we have a kind of admin day with the main objective of putting a plan together for the next couple of weeks. We broadly decide that we will take the bike to Barcelona and then take a return trip to Menorca and then head our way back home back to France.

We book a hotel in Barcelona and then the overnight ferry from Barcelona to Mahon, where we will spend 5 days before returning to Barcelona.

We were hopeful that we could catch the ‘European Bike Express’ bus service which takes bikes from Rosas (just north of L’Estartit) up into France. The timings appear to work and it would be a really convenient option, but we are thwarted when we discover that you can only book the transport back to the UK and cannot, apparently, get off at one of the many stops in France. This seems odd, but our emails to the company meet with a fairly prickly response just reiterating in rather impenetrable language that it is for ‘UK customers only’.

As we develop our plans we are acutely aware that we need to make sure that the experience here does not lead us into binning cycling all together. We are taking Claud to Menorca in the hope that the weather cools sufficiently to enable us to do a few rides. My limited research into cycling on the Island identifies that, whilst mountain bike paths predominate, there is a decent cycle network on the quieter rural roads.

The planning session takes place on the usual chaotic circumstances.
The planning session takes place on the usual chaotic circumstances.

Part of the planning exercise involved us staying in L’Estartit for an additional night, which we get a decent rate for. I find it is always worth showing them the ‘booking.com’ rate when negotiating these things, it appears to sharpen the pencil.

The day was still far to hot to contemplate cycling or anything else really. I do manage to spend an hour or so in the shade of the hotel garden cleaning Claud and sorting out a few of the minor issues we have had. The gears are still a worry, but we will need a bike shop for that.

It is somewhat frustrating and we do feel that we have got into a lazy routine that we need to shake ourselves out of. We had planned to to some sort of circuit every day, but have only managed to get out once since we arrived. The truth is that we just need to accept the weather and roll with it. Our attempts to cycle in the heat have been fairly horrendous so far and we have no wish to repeat the exercise.

Wednesday 7th September

As it is yet again too hot to cycle (the temperature reaches 39 degrees) we potter about the town and spend some time by the hotel pool.

It is here I have a brainwave, admittedly of a very small number in my life, but I will take the credit for this one.

The European Bike Express coach service from Rosas can’t drop us off in France, so why don’t we go all the way to the UK? If we get dropped off in Dover, we can cycle though Kent and into Sussex and on to Hampshire and the boat home. Plus, it would be our 12th country.

The more we discuss it, the more sensible an idea it becomes; as we have found out, piling on a bus is a convenient way to travel, particularly if we can get Claud in the trailer. So we book a trip from Spain to Dover and our last cycling leg in late September will be the South Coast of England.

We get a few jobs done, including a (thankfully) brief conversation with the bank to unblock my debit card for the third time.

Heat or no heat, we agree that we need to take Claud out tomorrow. If it is still boiling hot we will do a short one to a village closeby, if it is cooler we may do a longer one. On Friday we will have to cycle the 20k or so to the station wherever the weather.

As frustrating as it may be, we are staying in a lovely seaside resort and still managing to amuse ourselves. The plans we have now set until the end of this month have given us a lift and will get us back on the road.

For one thing is for sure, the heat will not be a problem when we get to the South of England! Thankfully we still have our rain gear.

This tandem tour is back on.

Too bloody hot for cycling!
Too bloody hot for cycling!

On familiar territory.

On Friday’s planning session we decide not to try and get to Menorca for the Fiesta. A real shame but it would have meant compressing timescales by about a week and a potentially a lot of rushing about. In truth, the ride we had in the searing heat earlier in the day told us that we can’t stretch ourselves too far in terms of distance.

Speaking of that, the other item on the agenda for the planning meeting was the plan for Saturday’s ride. We wanted to get to L’Estartit, but, although only 50k away, we had planned to stop overnight on the way. As we were struggling to find accommodation, we took the rash decision (bearing in mind the heat and our level of fitness) to go all the way to L’Estartit and we book a hotel for five  nights.

We have booked a decent chunk of time in L’Estartit as we plan to use It as a base for a number of circular rides. There are many old villages in the area and other resort towns to visit. Oh, and it is pretty flat.

On Saturday we off at 9:00am, the plan being to head out from Sant Filiu de Guixols and pick up the cycle paths on the way. After an hour of riding on the roads, we do pick up an off road cycle path that tales us as far as Pallafrugell. By the time we coffee stop here it is already melting hot.

We head across the town seeking the cycle path that should take us all the way to Pals, our designated stop for lunch. We thought we had lucked out when we picked the path up quickly with Pals signposted as ‘9k’.

However 2k in we arrive at a main
road and all signage for the cycle path has vanished. We therefore press ahead on a busy road all the way to Pals. We did see the cycle path again when it crossed the road, but by then it was too late, we were taking the direct route.

Plenty of rest stops required - our red faces are a testiment to in the heat.
Plenty of rest stops required – our red faces are a testiment to in the heat.

We arrive in Pals, really tired and extremely hot; Louise in particular is struggling. I come up with a plan for Louise to take a taxi with the luggage for the rest of the 17k with me following on Claud, but she will have none of it.

We take a long lunch in an excellent air conditioned restaurant we have been to before. We are now in familiar territory. The paella is excellent, but more importantly, this allows us to cool down and rehydrate. My only complaint was that my request to have our bidon filled with water resulted in being directed to the tap in the toilets. Let’s see what TripAdvisor make of that!

Over lunch, the practice for the Italian Grands Prix is being shown on a large TV. As this includes lots of close up shots of the drivers in their helmets, Louise begins to pass comment on the state of their eyebrows. The main conclusion is that they all apparently need some sort of eyebrow treatment. Phillipe Massa comes out the worst, too bushy is the verdict; Good job he is retiring at the end of this season.

After lunch Louise is still adamant she will not climb in a taxi and cannot be persuaded otherwise. We know the terrain very well in this area, the cycle route to L’Estartit takes you through quiet roads and charming mediaeval villages, but is longer than the direct route. As it is still boiling hot by the time we leave, we elect to take the direct route on the main road and break the journey up.

Therefore we basically time trial the 10k to Torroella de Montgri where we stop for a cooling drink and follow this with the final 7k into L’Estartit on a familiar off road cycle path. We arrive in L’Estartit and have a quick beer in ‘Harvey’s’ bar and chat to a couple of people there we have met on previous visits.

Harvey's Bar - Final stop for rehydration!
Harvey’s Bar – Final stop for rehydration!

We have used this bar quite often in the past, mainly as it shows all the footy, and the people running it have been really nice. Like many bars run by British people, as well as catering for visitors like us, it provides a focal point for the many UK expats who live in the area. A proper ‘El Dorado’ experience.

Our Hotel, the ‘Santa Anna’ is right in the middle of the town, has a pool and our room has air conditioning (a must here) and a small balcony. Claud gets his own room, the decor is nice and the staff really friendly; I think we are going to like it here.

Since we have started booking ‘resort’ hotels, we have joked that those who have booked with ‘booking.com’ get the scummiest rooms. Not exactly true, but it is probably true that you are not high up the pecking order for decent rooms when you book in this way. I can’t say we have had any complaints bearing in mind what we have paid.

A 'Booking.com'- sized balcony!
A ‘Booking.com’- sized balcony!

After some food at Harvey’s, we are in bed early, both knackered.

Sumday was sensibly designated a rest day off the bike, so we get up late and go for a swim in the sea.

The main thing we manage to do is to sketch out out a plan for the next few days; we will leave here on Thursday and get the train to Barcelona. We hope to catch a Barcelona game on Saturday before getting the boat to Menorca. This still leaves us with the issue of what to do after Menorca and what route to take home. Something we are going to have to to resolve pretty soon.

We watch England win their first World Cup qualifier with a very late winning goal. In truth,  it was a subdued performance and not much better than those in the Euros in June.

On Monday the weather is expected to be somewhat cooler, so we aim to do a circuit to L’Escala on the coast, via a few small towns.

It is good to be on familiar territory.

Decent view from the breakfast table at the Santa Anna hotel.
Decent view from the breakfast table at the Santa Anna hotel.

 

Our Blog