Helen Findlay

My adventures in Middle Europe and The Colonies. This blog contains my own views and opinions and does not represent those of my employers, or any other organisation with which I am involved. Remember, just because it isn't Singletrackworld, doesn't mean it isn't shite !

Friday, October 27, 2006

El aguila ha aterrizado

Left Edinburgh on Friday 13th October, an uneventful trip down to Epsom with the usual crawling traffic on the M25 past Heathrow. Greeted with good news and bad news, Janine has lost her job, but was up for a weeks holiday in France and Spain so wanted to drive down with me in the van. I am not sure if she would have made that decision again with the power of the retrospectoscope, it was a long way and we had to have some hard days driving. Sight-seeing was quite low on my list of priorities (1. getting there alive 2. riding my bike if possible 3. seeing some nice places)

Pleasant night out in London with Chris McMillan and his friend Luther. Got to check out his new flat near Clapham, in which he has just had a new bathroom installed, including a two man shower. Nice. Went to a meat frenzy restaurant and had BBQ and key lime pie, getting in some food stores for the long trip ahead.

Got away nice and early on the Dover-Calais ferry on monday, which only took an hour as la Manche was pan flat and foggy, and were in Rennes setting up our tent for about 5pm. This part of the trip was the only bit I had planned in any detail, so the navigation was pretty much flawless. The campsite was quite far from the town, so after an hours walk we found an Italian restaurant stranded in the sea of Creperies and hogged down some pizza and some French cidre. The region is known for its cidre, which is quite low alcohol and very refreshing, and doesn’t make you want to pick fights with Rangers fans.

Had kind of decided that getting a tent up and down is time consuming, and wanted to do a one day on/one day off tactic with driving, so we stayed 2 nights in Rennes. Tuesday we drove up to Mont Saint Michel and had a look around the famous monastery. A short look in my case, as I walked out to use the toilet and couldn’t get back in again. Oh well, I was needing a coffee, seen one medieval monastery seen them all. Wednesday was another long driving day, tried to choose a destination that would entertain Janine for a day, so that I could get a days bike riding in the Pyrenees.

Lourdes seemed the obvious choice as Janine collects tacky souvenirs, and Lourdes is the world capital of tasteless religious tat. Stopped for lunch at La Rochelle in an attempt to combine driving and seeing something, which was possibly a tactical error as I was getting very stressed and bad-tempered trying to drive into the town, and it was a bit rubbish. Went to a cool museum of animatronic puppet type things through history, all very odd and frankly a bit sinister. Was very worried the lights would all go out and the puppets would come for me. Back in the van and headed for Lourdes. Got there at 9pm, found a park in the centre and ventured a pied to find a hotel. First place we looked at was clean, quiet and only 30 euros each for two nights, easy decision. Quick North African meal, which I mostly slept through I was so tired and home to bed.

Thursday wasn’t looking great in terms of weather, clouds were gathering, but I was determined to get out on the bike so headed up the Col du Tourmalet. Remembered why I love riding in France so much, the drivers and passers-by yelling “allez !!” and “courage !!”. Needed it a fair bit, it was a tough climb and I really aren’t fit for that kind of thing right now, but made it up OK, then nearly froze to death on the way down the other side. Made a start up the Col D’Aspin, got about half way I reckon and couldn’t see the top as it was in rain clouds. Was gutted but had to come back down (and up and over the Tourmalet again from the other side) but it just wasn’t sensible to keep going. Got even more frozen coming down the Tourmalet again, by the time I got the van heater blasting away could hardly drive for shivering, but it got the tent dried in the back.

In Lourdes we did indeed experience a miracle. Was waiting in a bar while Janine visited some tasteless religious waxworks museum, and got chatted up by a French bloke. Not really interested or anything, but he was actually rather nice, and its always flattering to be asked !!

Friday another big driving day. I knew it was going to take longer than we thought to get over the Pyrenees, had reccied a campsite just south of Barcelona, with the plan to stay there two nights and take a day trip into the city the next day. First hold-up was at the Col de Puymorens, the tunnel was closed so had to drive up over the Col, an hour delay. Then we got to Bourg-Madam, the last French town where you cross the border over the river into Spain. The bridge was closed, which was so frustrating, you could see the “welcome to Spain” signs across the way. Followed the Deviation signs in a circle, then a figure 8, and realised we had no chance. I’m braver in French than I am in Spanish, so asked some mechanics in a garage for directions. Made my usual mistake that Janine observed, of asking in quite good French, to be greeted by a torrent of French words they assume I can understand. Once we had explained that the bridge was closed one of the mechanics scratched his head then said “attendez dix minuits” followed by some other French that I kinda got the gist of. He came back 10 minutes later in his car and beckoned to us to follow him. We then got an escort for about 5 km on the diversion across to Spain, until we picked up the signs to Barcelona. What a nice Frenchman. So if you car ever breaks down in the Pyrenees make sure you get it fixed at the garage in Bourg-Madam.

So that was another hour late, and already thinking about not pressing on to Vilanova del Gitru (heard of it ?). But as it was still light and we seemed fairly close we passed the last sign on the map for a camping. We may have been close but we then hit awful traffic, roads funnelling from three lanes into one, every red traffic light in Spain and again arrived at our target town at 9pm, after leaving at 9 that morning. I was shattered, and the directions for the camping were “off the C32 towards Taragoza” so we had assumed it would be a small town and really obvious. Vilanova del Gitru turns out to be huge, with big industrial bits and masses of hotels. Quick 10 minute stop to calm my nerves and I managed to find a map in a hotel, with campsites marked. A few more wrong turns, some dodgy driving from me, having to get out of the car to read road signs in the dark, it was all going on. Got to the campsite 10pm, but luckily Spain is one of those countries where people stay up late, and the fact that I was clearly going to cry or kill the caretaker swayed him to open up the desk for us. The reception manny couldn’t have been nicer. Janine then had what was nearly the best idea of the holiday “lets get a beer before we try and put the tent up”. Wise words. Stumbled out of the campsite bar at midnight, (Spain is such a civilized country) got the tent up, cooked some cassolet that I was too tired to eat and collapsed in bed.

At this stage I was starting to suffer a bit from accumulated tiredness and hallucinations, not helped by sleeping on an airbed that was slowly going down overnight. Got up the next day at the first crack of 10am and headed on the train to Barcelona. We had lucked in seriously in that the campsite was only 2km walk from a train station. I sleepwalked through a lot of the day, we had lunch in a fantastic restaurant called Raj at the back of the markets in the Ramblas Janine had been recommended, we had to wait an hour for a table but it was worth it, went for a walk and came back. Looked at the Sagrado Familias, but got there 8 minutes before closing so I decided not to spend 8 euros on a quick peak. Depressed ourselves trying on clothes in Spanish shops which are not cut for stodgy kiwi girls, then arrived at the Gaudi house 30 minutes before closing, and again I decided to save myself 16.50 euros on something I was too tired to enjoy and went for a wee sit down.

Couple more vino rosso and back on the train to Vilanova. Pack up camp and drive Monday to a nothing town called Sagunt that is rumoured to have a Roman Amphitheatre. We can see it on the hill but of course we get there too late to look at it, and of course its Sunday so the place, which lacks charm anyway, has tumbleweeds blowing through it. Find a very cheap hotel. Janine: “I’m not wasting 20 euros on this dump” and the day is rescued a bit when we find a waitress in a bar who speaks English, takes pity on us and cooks us up some nice pasta and salad.

Now its Monday (my birthday) and the hallucinations have started creeping back in. I could have sworn Murcia is only 2-3 hours drive from Sagunt. Perhaps it is if you follow the pay road signs, and don’t duck off the motorway cos you think see an A road that seems to lead to Alicante and on down the coast. It did, via fracking Poland. And hundreds of road works. OK, that one was my fault, but you have to make snap decisions when you are driving, and I always figure that getting off too early is a more easily fixable mistake than staying on too long.

Arrived at Campasol finally at last about 2pm that day, hit the supermarket and headed for Petra’s sister Helen’s house. Quick cup of tea and headed for the villa, which I was thrilled to find is a veritable palace. All brand new, large double room with spare bed, twin room, fold down bed in the lounge, terrace at the front, at the back and roof terrace. Tele with no reception but a DVD player. I have books to read, and there is a book exchange in the town every second Tuesday. Loads of signs on the noticeboards for Spanish lessons (and kittens, I am soooo tempted) so will get stuck into that once I have settled in.

Take Janine straight up to the Hot Springs, to find that the developers have got hold of that too, and have started making a huge concrete pool, lets hope it takes as long to build as anything else around here. The pools the local people have dug out by hand are still there, with the naked German bloke that seems to come as standard. We hid in one of the colder pools until he had gone and taken his willy with him. Pleased to report the main pool is as hot and cosy as before.

Campasol itself I have to say is not the most picturesque of towns. Its still being built so lacks foilage, and they are extending the motorway down to Mazarron and are working on the road through the middle of the town just now. The bit I am in is finished, and has a view out over all the surrounding hills, so when you get here its nice. Once you get off the main roads the cycling is great, lots of quiet well maintained hilly roads, and polite drivers.

Looks like I will have a part-time job in December helping with the Christmas mail. Cos Campasol isn’t finished yet and hasn’t been handed over to local government there is no mail delivery service. You pay 5.50 a month to register at the pub, they collect the mail from Mazzaron and sort it, and it can be collected at the pub 4-5 each day.

Spending this week reccying the roads, and quite enjoying having the time on my own. Helen lives about 100 metres away with her husband Bill and sister-in-law Ellen so there is always company close at hand. Helen has been really nice and is looking out for me. We are all going to a Halloween party in the local restaurant on the 30th.

James arrives on the 31st for a couple of weeks, if he doesn’t crash and break something racing in Turkey. The Downhillracer.com guys from Glasgow are staying in El Berro next week with their bikes so will hook up with them for some offroad action. There are plenty of folk threatening to come out and visit in January and February for training camps, so I won’t be short of company. Have noticed that you can get cheap flights from Murcia to Edinburgh with Jet2.com so might pop back for a weekend in December if I can find anything dirt cheap enough.

Like my drive down, this blog is now going on far too long, so will save and head up to the internet café to plug in the laptop and get it posted.

Will take some pictures and get them posted next time its pure blue skies. Has been a bit cloudy the last few days, I even had to wear arm-warmers on a descent yesterday.


P.S Its 2,146 miles to Campasol from Edinburgh, or 3434 km if you want a bigger number. It cost 63 euros in toll roads, £60 on the ferry for two people. Not sure about the diesel bill, will work that out soon, but we didn’t go as direct as I would if the goal had merely been to get here.