As we are spending a year bike touring, we will have flown with our bikes as baggage six times, which means we would have set them up and broken them down twelve times as follows:
From no-nonsense simplicity to gastronomical science, Madrid takes its food reputation, and by food I mean meat, very seriously. Whether it be a slice of jamon between two bits of bread or tender slivers of beef blowtorched to the minute level of char, you can be sure this is a city where meat in all its forms, cuts and history, is glorified to an almost revered state.
As we rode into Madrid one of the first things we saw was a gigantic banner hanging from City Hall simply stating “Refugees Welcome”. It was a heartwarming yet sober reminder of the Syrian crisis on the forefront of the international arena, that is currently dividing countries, politics and people.
Ever since France we had been cycling just ahead of the leaves changing colour. The last few Spanish towns had only one or two trees changing, glimpses of yellow and red, but this was the first real sighting of the full Autumn spectacle.
Bárdenas Reales is a semi-desert landscape covering over 42,000 hectares in southeast Navarre. Made up of clay, chalk and sandstone, years of erosion has sculpted almost lunar effects, full of gullies, plateaux and cliffs. The first thing we came across were abandoned cave houses cut into the cliffs, now housing swallows in the hundreds.
We left the Spanish coastline, making our way inland towards Pamplona. The map showed nothing but mountains all around us so we were expecting hellish inclines. Instead the inclines never appeared as the road simply followed the river, weaving between the hills, leaving perfectly flat riding for us to enjoy.
“This Spanish city holds the second highest Michelin stars per capita in the world with fifteen stars awarded across eight restaurants for their exceptional and outstanding cuisine,” Cleave paraphrased as we researched which direction we should next cycle to. My ears immediately pricked up. Say what now? How soon can we get there?
After our unconventional night we rode off into the sleepy morning for the final push into the bustling sophistication of Bordeaux. Despite our sleeping arrangements we were in good spirits and looking forward to smashing out the last 25km so we could find breakfast. Flying over the bridge and onto the River Garonne promenade we were greeted by the stuff of foodie dreams. Bordeaux’s Marche des Quai, a fresh food market on every Sunday, selling everything from freshly shucked oysters to stacked piles of warm baguettes to char-grilled prawns.
It’s amazing when travelling without plans, how your luck can turn in an instant. Sometimes it’s an unbelievable cup runneth over with golden moments and lucky breaks. Other times… well. This was definitely a cup not even remotely runneth over moment. We started in the lap of luxury and ended 12 hours later squatting in a car park. Yup. But let’s start this from the beginning…
Six months on the road! Six months of travelling on two bikes, eleven countries (thirteen but we’re not counting our two hours in Bosnia or Vatican City), over 5,000 kilometers and 417 hours, 48 minutes and 47 seconds, give or take, with our butts in the saddle. For two people who didn’t ride bikes, who didn’t even own bikes, we are absolutely loving this way of travelling.
Cycling the west coast of France is a Beginner Bike Tourer’s dream. Information is plentiful on how to complete this journey though I’m sure I can whittle it down for you into five easy steps.
We were excited to get straight to a week of holidaying with the family we ended up riding for eleven days straight without a break, arriving at Sennen Cove TWO days earlier than expected. Awesome! However since we didn’t have wifi or a phone we had no way of letting our family know this. Small detail. Our plan was to set up at our campsite, have a well-earned shower, ride onto their holiday cottage and see if they were home. If not we would hang out on their doorstep until they turned up. We were going to surprise them good.
Riding in the south of England is tricky as you can either live dangerously on busy A roads or spend hours detouring to avoid them. Traversing North/South is easy as you can follow quiet B roads but as soon as you try to cut vertically across the country the roads turn into a mess of dirt tracks, farm driveways and dead ends. Our destination was Land’s End, England’s southwestward point, situated at the very end of Cornwall and used as a traditional cycling end point.
London engulfed us as we stepped off the platform at St Pancras, commuters pouring out the train doors and through exits, swirling around us as if we were stones in a fast flowing river. We waited on the side until the ebb slowed, making our way single file, following wheelchair access signs to lifts that would take us above ground.
We had signed up to TrustedHousesitters, a house sitting website in the hopes of meeting new people and experiences while being able to slow down with some home comforts. After a few applications, a flurry of emails and a Skype call later we had secured our very first housesit in the east of England in the small town of Beccles. Meet our adorable housesitting charges, two very cute furry faces: Emmie and Oscar!