Castro Marim on a Bicycle – one perfect day

Castro Marim on a Bicycle – one perfect day

Castro Marim on a Bicycle - 00a of 03 - RQ

It was my final day in the Algarve. I would be leaving the next day for two weeks in England where the temperature is 14 degrees rather than 34 and where something called ‘rain’ is still occurring with frequency. So, what better excuse for a full day out on the bikes.

The 2nd Saturday of the month is Castro Marim market day, which is not vastly different to any other monthly market in the Algarve, but we particularly like Castro Marim; for its sleepiness, castles and the fabulous Medieval Days festival which take place each August. I am always astonished how such a small and sedate town can pull off such a brilliantly orchestrated event.

Castro Marim on a Bicycle - 01 of 03 - RQ
We set off later than usual, as always full of good intentions and commitments to getting going before it gets too hot, but perpetually fail due to idleness, morning swims and lazy breakfasts on the terrace. It’s easy to slip into a slow pace of life when everything is just so damned good. We have recently taken to Instagram and so nowadays our every journey is punctuated by photo stops, where the ruined cottage is particularly picturesque and the flowers especially cascading. The usual route of choice is the Ecovia, a favourite place to cycle across saltpans and through quiet fields and trees, but today we are mavericks and took a turn off the N125 past Altura into the hinterland of Sao Bartholomeu towards Azinhal to sneak round the back, cut the corner of Vila Real and emerge in Castro Marim. It’s a lovely stretch of road for a bicycle – some undulation but nothing too painfully hilly. Whilst Keith loves the challenge of altitude with its steep climbs and death-defying downs, I prefer a more moderate terrain – too flat is dull and too much up and down is equally tedious. I’m not made for hills: I’m a plodder, a shire horse of the cycling world that can go on forever but not at great velocity.

Castro Marim on a Bicycle - 02 of 03 - RQ
Due to our typically tardy departure, we fortunately arrived in Castro Marim in time for lunch, which in the market is restricted to the limited menu of olives, bread and chicken straight from the grill. Although we eat little meat at home because we don’t feel the need, we have yet to take the full plunge into the veganism we feel to be a better way to live. To be honest, the existence of grilled chicken is not helping. We make verbal justifications about ‘protein’ and ‘energy loss’ due to cycling and we sit back and tuck in. I think I love this place because it reminds me of Morocco, which I also adore and almost lived in. Whilst taking in the smells, sights, singing and general atmosphere, we talk about how maybe, just maybe, the Algarve really is the perfect place for us. It has all the best of Europe with a dash of Morocco. We ponder whether we really could make the move further north, as we sometimes threaten to do in search of more (affordable) land and rain to make the growing easier. That’s for another day. Today we are glad to be here.

Castro Marim on a Bicycle - 03 of 03 - RQ

And then it is time for the beach on our meander home. The Eastern Algarve coastal stretch from Vila Real to Manta Rota really feels like a secret. I almost expect people to be whispering and tiptoeing around, just in case anyone else should get wind of the place. Today we stop at Altura and its beach, Algoa, but anywhere along here would serve us just as well. The sand, the sea, the long, long convivial lunches in the seafood restaurants; the mood is peaceful rather than hectic. Having transported our parasols in our panniers like masts this far, it’s time to set up camp on the sand for a snooze and a swim and to make some vague post-lunch plans about 2 month cycle rides around Portugal and lengthy trips to the Azores. Everything feels possible today.

Home beckons as I have to pack and the garden needs a watering, so off we pedal; a little sandy, a little sore and a lot tired. We have covered 60km in the heat, sometimes helped and hindered by a strong northerly wind. The final 10km are the hardest; the climb back up into the hills is too much for me at times. I send Keith off to make his way home at his own pace and I walk and freewheel my way back, enjoying it all in the isolation of the empty serra roads. It seems that today I may have enjoyed myself for too long because as I made my final approach to Casa Torta, I was met by Keith coming the other way in the car, having become worried about my extended absence, he having arrived home 15 minutes before. I don’t know what he was worrying about, I was getting there. Maybe he needs to chill out a bit.

Cycle Touring Travel Tips

Cycle Touring Travel Tips

A few thoughts and tips gleaned from experience of long-distance bicycle touring. I will update as other thoughts come to mind. Any other ideas very welcome.

Water: Don’t underestimate how much you will need and how hard it might be to come across in rural areas and warm temperatures. Your bike bottle will not be enough. We had 2 x 1.5L bottles as well at all times. Lack of water can be bad for your health surprisingly quickly.

Ear plugs and eye patch: For a good night’s sleep in places with noisy buggers and crap curtains (such as tents).

Paper copies of maps: Your phone may have no signal, run out of battery or get stolen (like mine).

List of contact phone numbers: If your phone does end up out of action for whatever reason, how will you let people know? Most people don’t know other people’s numbers these days.

Pencil for drawing route on map. Rubber for changing it. Pen will just confuse you when it does change, which it will.

Solar charger and/or second battery: Necessary backup for phone if camping and can’t charge it (don’t leave it charging in the toilet block unattended even for a minute!). Keep both charger and phone charged whenever power is available. Sat nav. on a mobile phone uses a lot of juice and will run battery down very quickly.

Washing line and a few pegs. Weighs nothing and can be hung in campsites and hotel rooms anywhere. Washing-up liquid, clothes wash and shower gel are all largely interchangeable if necessary.

Assos Chamois Creme has saved me from serious chaffing on two long distance trips. Keith has never had problem but I always do. Same place each time: top, right-hand thigh.

Dr. Organic Aloe Vera gel: sunburn, chaffing, bites and general moisturiser; this stuff does the lot.

We never saw a cyclist make any hand signals to inform drivers where they were going. We did, but have no idea whether they were understood.

Kettle: If not taking camping cooking gear, I would seriously consider taking a travel kettle for coffee, cuppa soup and couscous. Cold food gets tedious and limited and buying coffee in cafes gets expensive. Most European rooms don’t have tea making facilities. You can boil water in campsite toilet blocks more easily and quickly than with gaz cooker (especially if it’s raining).

Cutlery and plates: Despite being a big Spork fan (I bought 24 of them and gave them to every member of my family and friends for Xmas one year), we used a 3 piece cutlery set from Decathlon which actually does a better job for not much more space. The knife on the Spork is not great. We have Light My Fire plate and bowl sets which we initially thought were a bit style over substance but have proved excellent as the bits fit inside one another and provide a chopping board and sealed tubs. Tea towel and sharp knife also worth taking.

As mentioned in previous posts, spreading the weight across the bike makes sense using both front and rear panniers. Having all the weight on the back makes getting up hills difficult because there is already a whopping great weight on the back of the bike: you. Also, when pushing the bike, having all weight on the rear makes it almost impossible to steer and control without it tipping over.

By far the best place to hunt for inspiration and ideas from some of the many people currently on the road I have found is Go Bicycle Touring, an epic collection of blogs and advice.

Go on, plan a little trip… Just a weekend, with a night out in a tent or a luxury hotel.

You know you want to…

 

Day 22: Santander. Waiting for a boat.

Day 22: Santander. Waiting for a boat.

Reader, you may recall that I said I had been to Northern Spain twice before, once to Bilbao on the occasion of the end of my marriage. Well, for balance, I think it only reasonable to confess that my first visit to this region was actually the honeymoon of said marriage. Weird, eh?

My Santander honeymoon was not your average romantic experience, partly due to the fact that we were camping and were accompanied by two children. The weather was awful, our campsite was a 45 minute walk from the city centre and we had no car (too expensive to bring it on the ferry). My son, was 2 years old and travelled in a 3 wheeler buggy which looked more like Steptoe’s wagon with tent, pans and general camping accoutrements hanging off it. We all four slept in a little tent, pitied by other campers who gave us flasks of tea and biscuits. It was utterly miserable. We couldn’t go home because we had to wait for the ferry. Much like today but much, much worse.

I should say that I have history of shit honeymoons: my first one was in a Youth Hostel in the Lake District with just the one child and, this time: a dog. My daughter has the dubious accolade at being present at both of her mother’s weddings and honeymoons. I’m not proud of this.

Santander is a perfectly fine place to be but doesn’t have any spectacular landmarks aside from a stupendously ugly festival hall.

Photograph of the steps leading up to the Festival Hall in Santander, Spain. It is a very ugly building.

There are some nice buildings but disappointingly no llamas. This is more disappointing due to the fact that the city map advertises a place called ‘Las Llamas Parque‘. Hurray, I thought, something to do which involves animals (my favourite). No amount of Googling could reveal any information about the llamas. ‘Llamas’, it turns out is the Spanish for ‘name’ or ‘to call’. Nothing to do with spitty camel things. We then saw on the shopping channel in TV that you can call for free: ‘llamas gratis’ and chortled about getting a free llama with every cubic zirconium ring.

Photograph of a terrace of buildings in Santander, Spain.

Photograph of Sarah with Santander, Spain beach and sea in the background.

Other amusement for today was this unfortunately named women’s clothes shop. It’ll never take off in the UK, although Keith did suggest that I might be a 4×4 woman. I have no idea what he meant and didn’t ask.

Photograph of a Santander, Spain shop sign saying '4 by 4 Woman'.

Other learning is that sometimes things are not as expected. The glorious concoction below was in a photographed ice cream menu of the type popular in the 1970s: peach melba, banana split etc. It looked nice, so we ordered one. Ordering only one may have actually saved our lives. No ice cream in sight. It was a bucket of cream with honey, caramel sauce and nuts chucked in for good measure. One of us feels sick, the other one has developed diabetes. This might both be the same person.

Photograph of a blue ice cream dish full of whipped cream and walnuts and covered in sauce.

FYI: Nata =cream, not ice cream, regardless of its inclusion on an ice cream menu. Reading menus = a good idea. Idiot.

Apart from a visit to the €uro shop (Spanish Poundland) for gifts for the grandchildren – who wouldn’t want a Spain World Cup 2014 pencil case?, we went for walk north of the city to Cabo Major. Cue more photographs of spectacular coastline.

Photograph of rocky coastline near Santander, Spain.

Photograph of coastline, rocks, sea and lighthouse west of Santander, Spain.

We saw a fella with a snorkel and harpoon gun swimming off the rocks looking for his tea. We hung around hoping for a Johnny Weissmuller style encounter with him wrestling a fearsome sea creature but nothing doing. If you look closely, you will see him.

Photograph of the sea and a very small diver

Not a crocodile in sight.

Another evening, another mealtime totally out of sync with the Spanish food clock watching TV we can’t understand and considering phoning up to try and get a free llama. It is useful to know that watching a Jason Statham film dubbed into Spanish does not affect the overall experience one little bit.

Day 21: Noja – Santander. 55km.

Day 21: Noja – Santander. 55km.

Awoke in the Hotel Pelayo, the corridor of which looks a lot like the inside of a wardrobe my parents had when I was a child. For the past few nights, we’ve had the bolster style pillow which effectively means two people sharing one pillow. Where you and your end of the pillow go, there go I. Stupid idea. My own pillow is something I am looking forward to reacquainting myself with. I had made a case for bringing one of them (I’m a two pillow gal so this was evidence of ‘compromise’) with me, but this was vetoed in preference of something useful. Next time…

Despite a few bastard hills, the landscape is flatter here and more agricultural, which means we saw more goats in one morning than at any other time in the past 3 weeks, none of which would come over and speak to me.

We found our new house, but not sure if there’s enough room for Keith’s extensive payslip collection or the waffle maker.

Living out of 8 bags does make you wonder why on earth we choose to accumulate such large amounts of stuff. I have some interesting links about such matters which I shall no doubt ponder more philosophically on at a later date.

We ended up in Somo, which is just across the water from Santander. You can see it. You can see it. You can get a little boat to it.

After taking this picture, Keith said that I was a really good actor. I guess if a director wanting anyone to play the part of a lump of stone, they would just hire a lump of stone. Another career dream bites the dust.

We didn’t catch the little boat from Somo to Santander because that would be cheating. Apparently. We cycled another 20km through industrial wasteland, death defying dual carriageways and hills just so that after 1150km or 711 miles, we could take this picture of our inauspicious, grey, betwixt factory and railtrack arrival at our final destination:

We get to our final hostel and it’s time for me to find out if that black stuff which has clung limpet like to my right leg for the past three weeks is actually bike grease or varicose veins. It’s time for my gloves, which despite daily washing, have stunk of feet since the first few days, to hit the bin. It’s time to return to a life where wiping your sweat with a tea towel tucked into your shorts is not a frequent necessity. It’s time to return to a life of wearing pants (not ever with cycle shorts, see: chaffing).

We’re in Santander for a couple of days waiting for our ferry back to the UK.

Enough time to try and work out how to look forward positively to a return to that other life rather than the low which often accompanies the end of a holiday. If we’re going to have lots of adventures we need to get that sorted or spend half our lives miserable and wishing we were somewhere else, in which case it would be less painful just to stay at home.

We’ve also got to start thinking about our new circumstances and what that means.

Goodbye Sainsbury’s; hello Aldi.

Day 20: Noja. Rest day.

Day 20: Noja. Rest day.

Photograph of a plastic flower in the reception area of the Hotel Pelayo, Noja, Spain.

We’re staying in the one star Hotel Pelayo where even the plastic flowers are dying (sellotape). The WiFi only works on Reception when sat in a chair which smells of dog. Other than that, it’s clean, friendly, helpful and near the fabulous beach.

Breakfast on a bench in the middle of town followed by coffee in a cafe where I managed to order three cups of coffee for the two of us. Spanish not really improving.

Photograph of Keith sitting on a bench with orange juice, yogurts and cakes next to him.

 

We mutually confessed that when cycling we have each had a particular song that comes into our heads. Mine is ‘Love is a Battlefield’ by Pat Benatar (mostly for the ‘we are strong’ affirmation as I pile up yet another hill). Keith’s is ‘On the Road Again’ by Whitesnake. These choices age us perfectly but are no reflection on our general musical taste. Keith also owned up to Queen’s ‘I Want to Ride my Bicycle’ but as long as that doesn’t get lodged in my head for our final ride tomorrow, I’ll forgive him.

We walked along the coast for a few km up to another fabulous beach. Today the weather was unusually stable and hot all day.

Photograph of Northern Spanish coastline with rocks and crystal clear blue sea.

Photograph of sea and distant rocky headlands at Cantabria, Spain.

 

This Cantabrian coast has been a revelation for its stunning scenery and crystal clear sea. It rivals anywhere in the Mediterranean, but don’t come here expecting anyone to speak English, because they don’t. This is a Spanish resort full of Spanish families.

Photograph of a crowded beach and blue sea beyond at Noja, Spain.

Photograph of rocky bay, sandy beach and blue sea at Noja, Spain.

Photograph of Keith and Sarah on the beach at Noja with the sea and coastline behind them.

The tide goes out to reveal lots of shallow pools full of fish which nibble your legs, crabs and safe water for kids.

Photograph of wide sandy beach, turquoise sea and green covered cliffs in the distance at Noja, Cantabria.

 

Following in from our Best Ice Cream in the World experience in Biarritz, we came across Michelin star frozen yogurt in Noja. Not sure entirely about the credentials of this, but it tasted alright.

Photograph of two tubs of frozen yogurt on some grass, Noja, Spain.

Mostly today we have been thinking we should spend Keith’s redundancy money on a camper, wondering how the hell we are going to cope with going home and not have double nap days on beaches. We have spent this money several times over.

We had yet another chicken picnic overlooking the beach with wine so bad it needed diluting with orange juice. The orange juice cost more than the wine.

Last day of cycling tomorrow which makes us both sad. The pace of life without a car, job or home is so slow, stress-free and frankly joyful. Not entirely sustainable perhaps, but if we accept that it’s not, then we have no hope of striving to live differently. The challenge is how to keep hold of pieces of these experiences when we return home to a world where people would rather write emails than have a double nap day. A life on the fringes of the norm is not a surprising, or unusual, concept for us autistics, who find the physical and social elements of typical existence both overwhelming and partly pointless.

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.