Cycling & Adventures in Pyrenees & Basque Country. July 2016.

Cycling Tour Pyrenees – Spain and France – Week One.

Day 1 Tuesday 19th July 2016.

After leaving home more than 30 hours ago with B1 and B2 fully packed and correct weight, we’ve landed in Barcelona and met C1. Then a drive north west and we’ve arrived in beautiful Ainsa, Aragon, Spain.

Exhausted but nothing a good beer, some tapas, some red Rioja wine, the full moon, and views of the Pyrenees couldn’t fix. #travel #travelbybike #spain #ainsa #pyrenees #food #tapas #rioja #wine #travelling

The story from here will be told by the bikes themselves M1 & M2.

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Train travel musings

Train travel and luggage – thought threads written as we cross from Italy to France. And a second sitting as we make our final train journey from Quimper to Paris.
The passing parade. Torino Italy to Nantes. Then Quimper to Paris.
So timely at Rennes and caught up in the great French train strike. Our train to Paris is cancelled. Hopefully we can get on one a bit later with the rest of the crowd stuck at the station!

The anxious morning start to catch the first train on the schedule for the day. Without this start our destination may not be reached. Every station is different. Some have electronic announcements but not in English. Others have the departure and arrival boards digitised. Others just have the yellow departure notices. Check our Train, find the platform and wait. Usually having to descend stairs and ascend onto platform, right arm very strong from carrying luggage up and down these stairs. Sometimes lucky to have a lift or escalator or even a side stair elevator to pop the luggage on. But usually the quickest is just to use the stairs. TIP travel lightly if travelling by train. I am taking less luggage each time. Scarves are great, shoes are a pain to select the right ones. My $10 Target jeans have been a hit. Nightly laundry in the shower keeps things in control and lessens the need for too much. Gutted as somewhere in Switzerland I have left my Icebreaker wool jumper. Has been such a great travel companion and I miss it. Maybe a good excuse to finally do some shopping in France.

Back to trains – often narrow doors and steps to enter carriage – another reason for travelling light. Always a sigh of relief when the train rolls out. We’re on it. Then a matter off knowing our change stations, times, platforms to negotiate the next 2-7 trains for the day depending on our destination.

Trains and Italy were an interesting mix. Plan was to travel from Lugano to Milan to Alba. Oops holiday and train to Milan was full plus there was a regional train strike. I had been warned of this frequent occurrence. Our day changed from one of train riding to a totally unplanned experience. First it was catch the Milan airport express bus – that at least would get us close to Milan. Alas no trains from airport to city. Even if we got to the city by bus there was every chance our next planned train to Alba was not going to be running. We’re at the airport and the queues are building at the car hire desks. Quick change of plans and we join the Avis/budget queue. No small cars left so off we trot in a lovely Citroen C5 from Milano airport. Thank goodness for GPS. For the next 3 days we happily explored Piedmontese from our farmhouse base in Alba. I think it was meant to happen that way. The hills were way too big and the roads too rough to enjoy cycling in the area. There were so many villages to explore in this beautiful wine region we were able to move around easily. Driver G became quite the European driver, only managing one small roundabout in the wrong direction and one one way street in the wrong direction. Not trusting Trano Italia any more we returned the car to Turin allowing plenty of time to leave the next morning still being unable to reserve a seat on the TGV to shoot us through to France. We were very relieved when the train rolled out of Turino, crossed the border into France and the French guard was very helpful.

Some trains slice through the countryside smoothly, silently fast, others, sway, groan, squeal, grind their way along. Some plush and comfortable others hard and tired. See your reflection in the window as you ponder the passing landscape.
Cars and cyclists waiting for us to pass at crossings. Shoppers shopping, children playing, washing flapping from balconies.

The gentle sway of the train often lulls you into a little nap as the bright green countryside flashes by. Unknown towns, villages, cities not to be visited this time. Farmers going about their business in the fields, cutting, raking, baling hay. Construction workers and building sites. Cows calmly chewing their cud in the field of ample pastures. Canola pods filling, barley heads swaying in the breeze, poppy flowers showing their weed status in the crops. Few fences, just lines in the earth where a field has been tilled and another is nearing harvest. A patchwork of agricultural production to marvel at from any high viewpoint. Steep terraced vineyards and 3 rows squeezed between the train line and the cycle track. Forests of soft and bright greens. Rare to not see a house or barn or village in the field of view. Little waste of land here. The richness and fullness of crops is astounding. Vegetables and orchards, a food bowl in every direction.

Over mountain passes, through tunnels, winding viaducts, following river valleys. Some valleys so tight there is a river, the train track and the road and no room for more.

Trains don’t always enter a town or city by the prettiest root with the backs of buildings along the line and often the practice walls for street artists. But the upside is most stations are pretty central so when you arrive a well chosen hotel is usually a short walk or a tram ride away. Then free of the burden of luggage, exploration by foot is easy. Underground trains, buses, trams and trolley buses are always fun to use and you get to feel as if you know your way around when hopping on and off these during exploration of the new destination.

Plan ahead, buy some snacks for the journey, grab a coffee when you can.
Love the sound and movement of a train. It’s a comfortable and relaxing way to travel. Cutting through the countryside regardless of traffic congestion. No anxiety about driving or parking.

Click clack rattity tat, click clack rattity tat, faster and faster, flashing by, top speed here we come, slowing again, squeal of metal, ding, ding over the crossings. Prochain arrete digital strip.
Fields of lettuce.
People sleeping, reading, watching, old, young, locals, travellers, luggage, prams, bicycles, shopping, dogs.
The “dooooing, dooong, doong” call to attention at French stations.
Our train guard proudly telling us his cousin lives in Sydney and showing us photos of her surfing.
Random thoughts written weeks apart! We love travelling Europe by train. We’ll do it again.

Travelling the Journey

Travel – thoughts of the journey.

The experiences of each day of travel create the journey. We plan and look forward to each fresh travel event and when the journey starts we live each day to its full. Walking, seeing, doing, watching, capturing, absorbing sights, sounds, smells tastes, textures, colours, new creativity, history, culture, art, music, people living in different lands speaking different languages. We take interest in what makes a land, it’s people, their foundations, history and traditions. What stirs them and how they celebrate.

I need to remind myself to do this everyday, even when at home back in the normal routine. Every day is part of my journey to be savoured and enjoyed and to participate in. I think it is the experiences of travel which adds to our appreciation of our own homes and daily lives. Travel renews our senses and reminds us to be present in each day, no matter how routine. It reminds us to appreciate everything we have and the people around us.

On the road we appreciate the kindness of strangers, the friendliness shown to us. The value of gesture, expression and tone of voice when communicating with the actual words only being 35% of the content. Proven when travelling and a common language is not found – we can still communicate. Amazing what a smile can do! We too can give a helping hand to others without understanding the words exchanged.

Today while cycling I heard the call out from a local watching us climb a hill “Bon courage”. It was heartwarming to see this man waving us on.

This tour of Europe 2014 is coming to a close. I have lots of words, thoughts and images to post to tell more of the tale. Time on the road has been full and busy. I will enjoy reliving some moments as I compile my posts.


Czech connections

Now Wednesday evening and the eve of our departure from Plzen and the Czech Republic. Our room here in Plzen at Pension U Salzmannu has been a great base to soak up some Czech food, beer, culture, and to be lost in a language rather beyond our Australian imagination. A few polite words of greeting and thanks are about all we can manage. Thank goodness for the helpful and friendly locals who have a ‘little’ English. Below our window is the tram stop – I love the sound of the trams as they rumble up the hill, squeal to a halt, ring their bell and roll off again. From the street our window can be seen as the one that is open with washing hanging off window handles to catch the sun and the breeze. Despite the chill in the evenings we love to leave the windows open. Partly to air our clothes of the ever present smoke from the bars and restaurants. Always a shock to non smoking Australians!

A day trip to Prague was a definite highlight. Our third visit to this beautiful city. A great feeling to be familiar with this place and be able to navigate directly to some of our favourite spots and to discover some new places. The old city is just beyond description. Wonders around every corner and if you can stay off the main tourist drag and avoid the tour groups with good timing it is so rewarding. David Cerny’s emotive, political statements through sculpture are treasures to be found and discovered. My first visit to Prague 4 years ago overwhelmed me when I entered Vaclavske nam and relised this was the place where my father was committed to hang in the mock trials of the early 1950’s. Fortunately the regime had to suffice with ‘in absentia’ and he lived to see Australia as his new home. This visit the emotion hit me at the John Lennon wall as we left our message for peace and acknowledged those who took a stand for freedom.

Today in Plzen a mixed day of riding the trams to their limits to explore all corners, discovering hot chocolate to die for at Andel cafe (needed a spoon to eat it), being front row at the town hall as the Czech President Milos Zeman emerged to greet the public, discovering the size of Skoda and what they make, viewing a strange collection of modern art, eating goulash, pork, duck and apple strudel with a bottle of Bohemian Sekt.

Ahhhh Czech you are in my blood!

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Plzen, Czech beer capital!

Sunday afternoon in a bar (where else would I be in plzen?) enjoying a glass of Habanske red wine (yes I’m having a short break from Pilsener beer!) The day has ended in Australia where my 3 sons have all sent heartfelt greetings to me for Mother’s Day. They have already moved into their new week. The time difference creates odd moments like this. Friends on Facebook have read their greetings before I have seen it! Thankyou boys and love you all heaps.

Back to Pilzen – why are we here? Hadn’t been here before and wanted to explore more of Czech ( the land of my father). It’s also pretty renowned for it’s beer.

Travelling in by train from Germany caused the usual flutter of my heart as we crossed into Czech. Now the border is not noticeable, no stopping, no sign. Very different from my father’s last years spent in his homeland. A time of turmoil and oppression. I am drawn to this land as it forms one deep root of the family tree and yet most of it is still a mystery. The history, the culture, the land, the people, the language – I learn a little more with each visit.

Staggering production figures, huge copper kettles, 5 week brew, triple heat, massive influence on the world beer market. Local restaurants serve unpasteurised tank beer.

Staggering production figures, huge copper kettles, 5 week brew, triple heat, massive influence on the world beer market. Local restaurants serve unpasteurised tank beer.



Cobbles and Schnitzel

Cobbled streets, uneven, the noise made by car tyres rolling over the cobbles always reminds me of some cloak and dagger spy movie. Narrow streets in old towns, roads meeting in a … Platz sometimes confusing to decide on a path to follow. Arnulfsplatz today had 8 choices of streets to exit by! The upper reaches of the Danube meeting the Regen. A long river cruiser docking in the lock. A ‘bowl’ of coffee this morning and by afternoon I’ve changed my order to a macchiato. A challenge with ordering food from a menu not understood but helpful wait staff try to find the English words to explain. Traditional Bavarian beer garden serving Schnitzel large enough to feed 2 and have some left to take home for the neighbours dog. Icecream shops a popular stop as are the small cafés and bars. People walking and riding bikes, very few cars in the old town. Beautiful Regensburg.Image

Bavarian Sausage und beer


Bavarian Sausage und beer

Guten Tag. Sitting on the banks of the Danube in Regensburg after way too many hours sitting in a plane. Taking in the sites and immersing ourselves back into Europe. The best sausage und beer at Historische Wurstkuchl – the oldest sausage inn in the world – been serving them up for over 500 years! This isn’t the inn just the building we’re looking up at! Soft greens of European trees, bird life, history, architecture, languages not spoken, happy hash house harriers running along the banks of the river trying to follow their maps. Oops then the same ones running past again, lost? Kayakers trialling the Strudel (whirlpools) under the Old Stone Bridge. Beer tavern, more good food and finally a great sleep. Points to me for the first accom booking – a 5 star private apartment in old town 50 m to river. Success on this one. Regensburg, Germany a beautiful old city UNESCO world heritage site listed in 2006.