Day 19: Castro-Urdiales – Noja. 49km.

Day 19: Castro-Urdiales – Noja. 49km.

After all the festivities and chaos of yesterday, we emerge from our pension to a spotlessly clean Castro. Not a single piece of debris from the revelries of several thousand people remains. Impressive.

Photograph of Sarah standing next to her bicycle, eating breakfast off the top of a pile of pallets in Castro Urdiales.

Breakfast is chocolate brownie resting on a stack of pallets. My Dad would have been proud (he bought and sold the things).

The road is not our friend today. The hills are long – several km of relentless, slow climbs. Legs are strong again and again I don’t have to walk up any. Keith never gets off and walks; he has more gears/strength of character (take your pick). Hating the hills is hard when they take you to such magnificent heights and views. It’s been spectacular again and I didn’t think I would ever be able to cycle in such surroundings. If I can do this, so can most. I’m not fit, motivated or dedicated. I have dodgy ankles and can barely walk at times and couldn’t run for even a minute, but the bike makes it possible.

Photograph of Sarah cycling along coast road with sea and mountains in the background.

Photograph of a long straight road in between Spanish countryside.

We lunch in Laredo; another picnic on another bench and carry on through kinder (flat) marshlands to our next resting place at Noja. Noja is a predominantly Spanish holiday town with a fabulous beach.

Photograph of Noja beach.

We sit on the fabulous beach and have another dinner picnic. Keith rubs his bare chest and huge flakes of skin come off and drift in the wind towards the people behind us. He is peeling. He can’t help it; he’s a ginger. One of the requirements for any friend or partner should be that being by their side makes you look more tanned/thinner/prettier etc. I have chosen well in the tanned department; Keith picked well for the prettier and thinner. He regularly asks whether he is the whitest person on the beach. Usually, if I search hard enough I can find someone paler (a child, perhaps, wearing sunblock) and point them out to him to make him feel better. Sometimes that is really hard to do and takes a lot of work on my part, but hey, that’s love.

Photograph of grass and dunes behind beach at Noja, Spain.

 

Photograph of sea and beach at Noja, Spain.

Day 18: Bilbao – Castro-Urdiales. 38km.

Day 18: Bilbao – Castro-Urdiales. 38km.

Today we met a man on a 5000km, 3 month trip from Portugal, through Spain, France and on his way back to Portugal. I wish I had taken his photo. He had an ancient mountain bike with a pull along shopping trolley tied behind it. He was wearing plimsolls and a high vis jacket. He said that the bit where he had cycled to Andorra through the Pyrenees had been a ‘bit hard’. He had slept on beaches and along the roadside probably spending hardly any money. We felt somewhat inadequate and soft. He was a good 10 years younger than us and we are not very brave: this was the only justification we could muster.

Photograph of Sarah lying on the bed in hotel room in Bilbao.

We’re following the route of the Camino de Santiago still and passing increasing numbers of pilgrims both on foot and by bike. The walking stuff looks really hard and I’m ashamed to admit that it makes me pleased that there are bikers walking up more hills than I am. Perhaps a pilgrimage wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Photograph of an empty Spanish coast road snaking through the hillsides.

We are still on the N-634 that took us out of San Sebastian. It is a cyclists dream of a road; some good climbs, some great downs (56.8km/hr is our record) and stunning scenery. Still a lot of local road cyclists about – as with pretty much everywhere, they are overwhelmingly male. It is a rare sight indeed to see a woman. I guess they couldn’t handle her beating them up the hills.

Photograph of people along harbourside drinking and eating.

We arrive in Castro-Urdiales to find more crazy shit going on, the nature of which at first is not possible to determine. After investigation (Google), it transpires that we have happened once again on festivities in Northern Spain. Today is the Marmita; a competition to see which group can cook the best stew of tuna, potatoes and peppers in a pot under a gazebo in the main square. Each group has its own t-shirts printed and their own plastic dustbin full of sangria (yup) to help the culinary process along.

In preparation for this cook-off, the town had a massive party last night, so everyone is already hungover. Once the cooking (and eating) has finished, there is some singing, team canoe racing, a climb a greasy pole and fall in the sea competition and in the evening, an outdoor gig with that famous Beatles tribute band, Los Cheatles. I wish I had the imagination to make this shit up, but I don’t.

In contrast to France, which always seems to us to be empty of people in the streets, Spain appears to always be full. And they are always talking and bumping into people they know. Obviously, making sweeping statements about entire race’s personality traits is verging on racism, but the Spanish do seem a sociable bunch. Maybe they’re all related to each other as they have historically had large families. Is that racist? Not sure.

Photograph of small rowing boats in Castro Urdiales harbour.

Photograph of professional racing canoes at Castro Urdiales harbour.

The weather, as usual, is changeable from hour to hour from teeming rain to clear blue skies. No one seems to let it bother them; they just carry a brolly and carry on with their day. The temperature is warm regardless so being wet doesn’t seem so much of a problem.

Castro itself is a delight. The town with its oversized church overlooking the harbour surrounded by golden sandy beaches and green mountains is idyllic.

Photograph across the harbour at Castro Urdiales.

 

These photographs are all taken on the same afternoon despite the variation in sky colour.

Photograph of church in Castro Urdiales.

 

 

Photograph of lots of sailing boats sitting in Castro Urdiales harbour.

We had tapas in a little bar, being able to determine whether each one was meat or fish from the barmaid was the limit of our mutual language overlap. That was good enough. The ones with the wiggly legs sticking out are fish (squid), so we avoid those for Keith’s sake; he can do tinned salmon and a bit of battered cod, but fish legs are not open to negotiation.

Photograph from behind of a couple on a bench on promenade at Castro Urdiales. He is sitting up and she is laying across her lap.

We see this couple; her with her head on his lap, and it makes us laugh as this is how we sit on benches. I fall asleep and Keith ‘protects’ (his word) me. After almost 3 weeks in each other’s company 24/7, we are as happy and utterly in love as ever, perhaps even more so. I hope these two feel the same.

Photograph of empty promenade at Castro Urdiales, except for a chocolate and churros van.

Our day ends with churros and chocolate from this churreria on the seafront. We discuss buying a caravan and converting it into a churreria and selling churros and chocolate at festivals around the UK. We then realise we would hate it for the following reasons: cleaning up oil, being very hot cooking hot oil, being in a caravan all day, working really hard. We conclude that we just like the idea of churros and chocolate. This has been a very fruitful analysis and saved us spending Keith’s redundancy money on a churreria. A lucky escape.

Day 17: Bilbao. Rest day.

Day 17: Bilbao. Rest day.

We’re having a lot of rest days. The trip was planned to leave leeway for breakdowns, disasters and general cock-ups so that we could still make it in time for our ferry home. So far, we haven’t had any and Spain hasn’t been so badly mountainous as we feared, so we have basically arrived early and are pootling along to Santander having meta-holidays along the way.

Photograph of satirical poster from Bilbao Festival written in Basque.

We have arrived in Bilbao on the eve of their week long festival, Aste Nagusia, which celebrates all things Basque. Presided over by Marijaia, the festival involves groups from areas around the city building bars along the riverfront which are decorated in mostly political artwork. These are all organised independently by communities and neighbourhoods and involve a huge amount of work.

Photograph of poster for Bilbao Festival showing papier mache model of a woman.

 

Even Scotland gets a look in as their Basque comrades identify with the fight for independence. The effort that is put into these pop up tavernas by local people is quite amazing. I can’t think of anything on this scale that happens in the UK.

Photograph of Basque bar sign depicting satirical political figures.

There must be 20 or more of these bars which sell the must-have drink at Basque festivals called Kalimotxo: red wine and coke. Have to say I’m glad not to be sticking round for that hangover. Jeez.

They also have a character called, Gargantua, who is an enormous figure of a villager with a slide hidden inside, so children are ‘swallowed’ into his mouth and emerge down the slide out of his bum. Who pays for the therapy?

Photograph of river in Bilbao with lit up festival stalls along each side.

 

We went off on the Metro during the day to the Eastbourne of Bilbao; a suburb called Getxo. It’s all gentile, full of big houses and elderly people on benches who don’t like to get too close.

Photograph of a large house in Bilbao.

Photograph of Sarah sitting alone on a line of benches only big enough for one person.

We found the Viscaya Bridge which you can walk across, 60m in the air. I may have considered this with extreme terror until seeing that the walkway is slatted – you can see through the gaps. Step too far for even my bravest self.

Photograph of bridge in Bilbao.

See the sky through those gaps. And you have to pay. Madness. Does not compute.
Photograph of the underside of bridge in Bilbao.

We’ve really enjoyed Bilbao. It’s been calm and easy going compared to the craziness of San Sebastian. Apart from the insanely fast pace of the joggers and cyclists along the riverside (hard-core, these Basques), it’s been a really laid back kind of place, although when the red wine/coke combo kicks in, that could be a very different story. Time to get the hell out of here before the party starts. Story of our lives.

Day 12: Hossegor – Biarritz. 49km.

Day 12: Hossegor – Biarritz. 49km.

Even I hate me right now. I’m writing this on the beach at Biarritz. Which, much to my surprise is quite reminiscent of Newquay.

We saw our first sight of the Pyrenees today. That’s where we’re heading after a week of being spoiled with virtually zero altitude.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 01

The ride into Biarritz wasn’t all great due to big, noisy roads through Bayonne, but it was a short day for us so felt good to get there not too shattered. Learned a lot on this trip about how far is enough to cycle in a day. Busy road through Bayonne but pretty flat and warm.

Lovely apartment (budget blown, it was all we could find), so lovely we decided to stay an extra day and commit to eating sand for a week. It was the fridge that did it. So, Le Grand Large becomes home for two days. They even have a clothes airer so no need for the washing line strangling you in the night when you go for a wee.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 02The view from our balcony. We are so happy. We would like to live here forever. Having done my customary search of estate agents (major interest and subject of expertise of mine. Just call me Jasmine), buying anything more substantial than a doormat for our nonexistent home is not going to be possible in Biarritz.
Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 03

As usual I have one leg covered in bike grease. No amount of swanky French seaside resort will change that. This means that I’m not finding a particularly warm welcome from hotel receptionists. Sweat, grease and an eternal bad hair day (no French woman would ever been seen in such disarray) probably explain it. Sometimes I send Keith in as they seem kinder to him. Sweat being manly and all that maybe. Keith is delighted for any opportunity to appear manly as, by his own admission, it is not an adjective that frequently features in any description of him. I’m considering having a tattoo if bike grease on my leg as memento, but then I would just look like I had a dirty leg forever.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 04

Spent the afternoon and evening wandering around Biarritz. Its an odd, ramshackle little town, smaller than I expected and more messy – alleys, tiny beaches and rocks sticking out the sea rather than a pristine, glamorous promenade. It is reminiscent of Newquay, as I said, or Ilfracombe, apart from the sun, house prices and leathery elderly ladies.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 05

 

We had a luxury dinner on our balcony complete with €2 fizzy wine (its usually €1 but this is Biarritz, dahling). We mostly picnic because it’s cheaper and doesn’t involve communicating with anyone. Our mutual list of food choices is fairly limited: Keith has a whole bunch of stuff that he won’t eat through preference – fish, anything with anything which may have come into any kind of contact with vinegar – and I am affected negatively by a load of foods – namely, caffeine, sugar, sweeteners, sugar/carbs of all kinds. You will see that I often ignore my issues with sugar and stuff my face with it, which causes several subsequent hours of mental and physical discomfort. Luckily for us, not only are we both perfectly happy to eat the same foods for weeks at a time, the few mutually available foods we have are all things that we love.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 06

 

We spent the evening wandering round town. It’s packed. So many people everywhere. Nice to be somewhere with a bit of life after roadside motels and rural houses. Getting our bearings and starting to like this place. Its has a bit of the feel of Brighton to it. Bit quirky, lots of crazy characters but small enough to feel at home in.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 07

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 08

Our night ended watching a spectacular electrical storm over the Bay of Biscay with lightning flashes literally every few seconds. Delighted to be here. Feels like a proper holiday today.

Day 10: Arcachon – Mimizan. 65km.

Day 10: Arcachon – Mimizan. 65km.

Jess asked if I was enjoying myself and I found it hard to answer conclusively one way or the other. It varies literally from moment to moment. Some moments every rotation of my legs feels like too much effort and I just want to stop, cry and go home. A few seconds later, the sun comes out, we go past a pretty house, buy a cake, pick up speed down a hill and I feel like I could do this forever. And back and forth it goes minute by minute. Keith feels the same at different moments.

Today started as a bit more of a ‘please can I go home now?’ day. We were sluggish and took ages to leave the ‘non-smoking’ design hotel with ashtrays on the balconies so you can puff your fag smoke into your neighbour’s bedroom. Grumpy? Never. It was wet, grey and the joy of flat, straight roads turned into utter tedium a couple of days ago.

We ended up in Gastes, which is on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage route and seemed a popular place to pass through. We had lunch in the rain under a tree by the lake.

Photograph of lake beach at Hourtin, France.

Photograph of Sarah sitting under a tree next to a lake and two bicycles in France.

This lake had the two most bored looking, female lifeguards I have ever seen. Someone must have sold them the idea of California, surfers, Baywatch, and they got the short straw of an empty, rainy lake in France. Although, the dead-looking woman having a nap could have given then something to do. I am at least tidy when I sleep.

Photograph of Sarah lying asleep on the ground next to a lake and bicycles.

We headed to Mimizan and ate cake. Realised we are rubbish food bloggers as we keep eating things before we photograph them. Not today. Ta dah! Cake:

Photograph of two French patisserie cakes in a box

They were so good. I once tried to blag my way on to a Level 4 Patisserie course at college as I just wanted to know how to make this kind of thing without learning the boring cooking stuff. Surprisingly, my claim that I had had a student vegetarian cookery book published (true – check link) didn’t cut it. Another scheme bites the dust and I have to pay for cakes like everyone else. Bugger.

Photograph of Sarah eating cake with a plastic spoon.

We stopped after 65km today which was weird because we could still walk and function, unlike every previous day. Stayed at a chambres d’hotes, La Renardiere, run by an Irish family. Gorgeous place in the countryside. The style of the house shows that we are now in Basque country, where the roofs are flatter and the buildings timbered.

Photograph of Aquitaine France country house

Photograph of French country house in Aquitaine France

It was nice to have a whole evening to just sit, even if it was spent, like so many others, in the frantic and frustrating search for mobile data signal and then accommodation for the next few days. Both are proving time consuming and difficult to find.

The business of life takes up a lot of time when everything has to be carried and there are no cookers, fridge or spare clothes. We have settled into a daily evening routine where I sort the food and plan the next day’s route and bed, whilst Keith has taken on the clothes washing with gusto, fashioning a washing line in every place we stay like some kind of industrial laundry. Makes you realise how little stuff you need. But then everyone knows that. It’s been a least a week since I’ve used my waffle maker, and I’m surviving. Sometimes you just have to be brave.

We steal soap, sugar and washing-up liquid to fill our little pots. In only 10 days this is what we have turned into. Come Armageddon, we will be ready. Keith will be a non-anti semetic Mel Gibson. I will be Tina Turner. I shall paint my bike matt black in preparation. Oh… my bike is already matt black. I am ready… I have washing-up liquid. Let the games begin.

 

Day 8: Hourtin- Arcachon. 116km.

Day 8: Hourtin- Arcachon. 116km.

So, it turns out that I really can’t count distances on maps. Way too far today, we were wrecked.

Started the day with a measly breakfast of peanut butter and jam bread. We’d never had both together before, but today, in the spirit of adventure, we gave it a go. It was better than expected but I won’t bother again. How many times have I said that in my life?

Photograph of canal entering Lake Hourtin with small motor boats lining each side.

Pretty much all cycle path today. Most of it through pine forests.

Photograph of a long straight cycle path through a forest with a signpost to various villages.

Some crazy stretches barely wide enough for a bike and so rough we were bouncing about trying not to come off into the sand.

The paths are busy near civilisation but are virtually empty in between.

Sarah cycling along a narrow cycle path in Aquitaine, France.

Two punctures for me today. Mid-forest repairs by the resident mechanic. My job is to feed him biscuits while he works.

Photograph of Keith fixing a bicycle puncture in a forest in France.

 

Photograph of Keith fixing a puncture in a shaded forest in France.The route south ran along the edge of this inland lake (its not the sea) near Hourtin.

Photograph of Lake Hourtin river beach and lake in background.
It also runs parallel to one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline with some well known surfing beaches, such as Lacanau where we had chorizo and cheese sandwiches for lunch as a variation from ham and cheese coz we’re just crazy like that.

Photograph of Arcachon seafront with promenade.

The last part of today’s ride was horrible. We had blown the budget by booking into the last room in the whole of Arcachon, which was a 4 star nonsense affair on an industrial estate outside of town on the other side of a dual carriageway. Not fun. Arrived at 7.30pm after 10 and half hours on the road. Never have I been so happy to see a weird plastic moulded wall in my life.

Interior photograph of Best Western Arcachon hotel room wall which is white moulded plastic.

Don’t ask. The rest of the room is purple. We’re at the Best Western Design and Spa Hotel. I am always suspicious of anywhere that states so definitively that it is a ‘design’ establishment. It means its going to be tacky and have tried too hard. This place is no exception. Someone has written a review on Tripadvisor wondering if the owner had a plastic moulding factory that was low on business as the place is full of Gaudi-like wobbly walls. My first thought was what a nightmare they’d be to dust. I don’t know why, its not as if I ever dust.

Most excitingly, our new home has a fridge. As of this moment, we have nothing to put in it.