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 15: San Sebastian – Eibar. 70km.

Day 15: San Sebastian – Eibar. 70km.

Off into the mountains today in the morning sunshine. A hard day of hot and frequent climbs. Back to the love and and hate. Every revolution of the pedals hurts but it feels good to work that hard all the same. It’s a weird mental state to be in with such momentarily shifting inconsistency. Today I felt very strong and able to climb hills that I would not have managed a couple of weeks ago. The progress is quick. We are fitter than we were. My interest is not only in maintaining my own health, but also Keith’s as I may need him to donate me a kidney and need to keep him in good nick too. It’s OK, he has offered.

Photograph of Basque Country marshland with hills in background.
We cycled through stunning countryside and out along the Atlantic coast on the N-634, a fabulous cycling road frequented by large numbers of local Spanish road bikers doing what must be a circuit out of San Sebastian of around 100km or so. They didn’t have a full load, so we let some of them overtake us. Only some of them.

Photograph of Sarah with two bicycles leaning up against a dry stone wall on a roadside in Basque Country, Spain.

 

Photograph of Basque Country coast road with road right next to the sea.

Photograph of San Sebastian beach.

Today is our 4th last day of cycling. We feel sad about that. From feeling like we have forever ahead of us, it now feels near to the end.

Photograph of Sarah cycling up a deserted country road in Basque Country, Spain.

A photograph of hills, trees and distant mountains in Basque Country, Spain.

Photograph of Sarah on her bicycle from behind stopped at a junction in Basque Country, Spain.

Photograph of Basque Country coastline with hills and cliffs.

We climbed as high as 225m and biked through valleys with peaks around 500m on either side. Spectacular stuff. Home tonight is the extremely weird town of Eibar, positioned in the midst of the mountains in a narrow valley where everything is up. All the buildings are high rise and it is a bizarre mix of shiny new apartments and rundown tenements. There is a huge, shiny and almost entirely empty, El Corte Ingles department store selling washing machines and 4K TVs to nobody with a background musak of Dandy Warhols and The Housemartins. Weird, I tell ya. We stood in the empty store and stared at a 4K TV for a bit in trance-like awe, thinking that if we bought one of these (with Keith’s redundancy money), we would never leave the house again.

It is impossible to fathom why anyone would live in Eibar, but they do. Well, not at the moment they don’t as they mostly appear to have shut up their shops and gone on holiday for August, so it’s pretty deserted. Oh, and on one side of the valley is a massive, high rise nursing home full of balconies populated by elderly Spanish people overlooking the empty El Corte Ingles which they can’t go to, in amongst the high mountains, probably wondering how on earth they ended up here, or whether they have, in fact, died already.

Photograph of main town square and buildings in Eibar, Basque Country, Spain.
Photograph of a multi-storey run down building in Eiber, Basque Country, Spain.

We’re staying in the Unzaga Plaza Hotel which has been voted #1 out of #1 hotels in Eibar, which tells you all you need to know about everything.

Day 13: Biarritz. Rest day.

Day 13: Biarritz. Rest day.

Me: We should learn to surf.
Keith: I don’t want to.
Me: Why?
Keith: Because its completely bloody pointless.

Hard to argue with that, but I so want to be cool. Just for once.

Photograph of Biarritz beach and bay taken from top of cliff looking south.

 

It seems like everyone surfs here. Or pretends to. Unless you are an elderly lady who’s had ‘some work done’ who can’t surf because she has to look after her ridiculously small dog and her extensive collection of leopard print garments. Or one of the many gentlemen getting away with a specific shade of salmon pink trouser that would not be tolerated in Britain without homophobic comment being passed.

Photograph of surfers at dusk, Biarritz, France.

Today we had ice cream made by a ‘Champion du Monde’ in the ice cream field. As an ice cream maker myself, I was keen to see if his claims had any merit and if perhaps living in Biarritz could be achieved after all if I could open an ice cream shop to rival his (yet another use for Keith’s redundancy money). Suffice to say it’s back to the drawing board. We both had to concede that this could well be the best ice cream in the world. Rare and high praise not lightly given.

Photograph of two pots of Thierry Bamas ice cream on a Biarritz pavement.

 

The number of flavours were limited to about 14 – none of your messing about with fancy shit – and were just sublime. Keith had vanilla and blackcurrant and violet. I had raspberry sorbet and salted caramel. Divine. Biarritz is very much a French holiday resort as its not too easy to get to. Ryanair fly there from the UK. That would be worth suffering for a Thierry Bamas ice cream.

The other thing that feels nice about Biarritz is that alongside all the hoards of tourists, it’s a real town with real residents, even if they are a bit bonkers. It’s a bit like Brighton with sand. The market was packed on a Sunday morning. As not very brave travellers, we are frequently beaten by markets and other local establishments that have rules that we don’t know. We often queue for ages and appear to be overlooked only to discover that their was a ‘system’, despite the fact that it looked like the last thing that could ever possibly be in existence was a ‘system’. More often than not, we give up and scuttle off to a supermarket where we can pick up what we need without having to speak to anyone or get it wrong, but feeling like complete failures for our ineptitude at basic level intrepidness and bad about not supporting local tradespeople. If they would only form an orderly queue like civilised people, this wouldn’t have to happen. Perhaps we should move here and teach them a thing or two. Moving to warm, sunny places is a bit of theme in our lives.

Photograph of interior of Biarritz market with stalls and lots of people.

Photograph of vegetables on market stall in Biarritz Market, France.

But today wasn’t one of those days that we would be beaten by locally grown agricultural products. Today I win at markets. And it feels good. Small victories are claimed by cowards.

Today we also win at Basque cake. They come in three flavours: custard, chocolate and cherry, so we had all three. As Keith says in times of such deliberation: ‘It’s not an ‘or’ situation; it’s an ‘and’.’

Photograph of three Gateaux Basques cakes on a plate.

The cakes are ground almond based so super squidgy and moist. All were good, but custard just too sweet.

Biarritz being on the Atlantic is therefore tidal, so at certain times of the day,the beautiful golden sand beach of the main bay disappears.

Photograph of Biarritz surf beach on a sunny day with swimmers and surfers in the sea.
And all of the thousands of people have to find somewhere to tan their beautiful selves, so they pop round the corner to the town beach which doesn’t all get swallowed in sea. This was all a bit much for us (me, mainly). Too busy, too noisy, too visually overwhelming. Some of these people must have been before and know what it’s like, and come back for more year after year. This is puzzling. We do not comprehend such behaviour. We conclude that some people like to sit this close to other people and don’t get stressed about stepping on other people’s towels or losing their kids. They actually find it relaxing and fun. We are not those people. We have to live in a world populated by these people. This is harder than you may think. I am in awe of those people and wish I was that laid back.

Photograph of a packed beach in Biarritz, France.

We spent our final evening here watching CSI on telly and wishing we didn’t have to get back on the road tomorrow. Tomorrow means Spain, which means poor maps, poor planning, mountains and horror stories about how hard it is to get into San Sebastian on a bicycle.

This is happening

This is happening

It’s strange how big changes in life come about.

There you are dreaming, planning, wishing for years and years about how things might be different, but never really able to fully comprehend what it would feel like when they actually were different because it always felt so far away; like for most people, it was  always ‘one day’, always ‘not today’. A bit more off the mortgage, a bit more in the bank (we’ve only owned our own house together for a year). For us, it was always about the money; the perceived security, rarely about the quality. We were apart from weeks on end, often miserable.

Within the past 3 months, its all changed. I have a genetic kidney disease that I didn’t know I had and which might not allow me to be riding my bike and eating KFC until I’m 103 like I had planned, my youngest child turns 18 years of age, Keith has taken voluntary redundancy and is, as from this week, unemployed for the first time in 30 years.

It’s fair to say that Keith and I are quite different people (despite sharing an autism diagnosis). Keith is what you might call ‘risk averse’. ‘I’m an engineer’, he says, ‘ I have to look for the reasons that something might not work’. And he does, frequently. I, on the other hand, am a kind of low attention span Dill the Dog, always diving with 100% enthusiasm into some new, short-lived and often ill-conceived passion. Keith has mainly led a solitary life, doing the same job. I have had over 30 jobs, 2 kids, 2 marriages and a whole string of ‘life events’ (polite phrase for ‘poor choices’). We believe that somewhere in between the pair of us is a perfectly functioning human being.

So, we find ourselves in this new position. Overnight our income has halved, our time together has multiplied from sometimes zero hours a week to 24/7 and our sense of security has vanished.

And today we’re off on an 800 mile bike trip which we planned way before we knew that any of this was going to happen.

We have two choices here. Panic. Or just shut up and get on with it. We’ll start with the latter and reserve the right to shift to the former if we feel like it.