Spain & Portugal Aug / Sept 2012
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I'm lying in a hospital bed wired up to lots of machines. They bleep a lot and there are a myriad flashing lights that could put the most hardcore of arcade games to shame. It makes me think of the flight deck of the Millennium Falcon and Star Wars for some reason, or maybe it's the meds making me hallucinate. I always had a thing for Princess Leia, but she doesn't appear in this drug induced dream I'm having right now which is a shame, I get Chewbacca instead! It seems that sometime during the previous few days - not sure how long ago, because time loses all proportion in here - I'd had a "significant" cardiac moment. Which is rather an inconvenient thing to happen seeing that our bike trips to Scotland in June, and Spain in August could now be in jeopardy. Both look very doubtful at the moment given the way I feel - think demolition ball in the chest and you'll be somewhere near. Options have been discussed between us all at visiting times and it's agreed that Scotland may look doubtful but I think I'll probably be ok for the Spain trip - nobody else agrees. The others; Wesley, Mrs Wesley and Wee Jim are doubtful, as are my doctors..... But, what do they know, we'll wait and see!
Fast forward 6 weeks after leaving hospital and against doctors orders I try the bike properly for the first time with a little 100 mile ride out, but getting back home is a real chore as I'm totally drained of all energy. I try again a week later and go a bit further - same result only worse, it's now the penny begins to drop as I slowly begin to realise that the docs and the others were probably right, these heart attack things are serious shit! The next time I'll ride the bike will be well into 2013. We've already cancelled Scotland and there's not much chance that I'll be able to handle the weight of a fully loaded bike for a 3 week Spanish tour by August. The next time I go see him, I ask my own GP about riding to Spain - he laughs! So, presented with this "fait accompli" Wee Jim and me start chatting about using the car for the trip as I really don't want to cancel it. She's been an absolute rock over the past few months and is truly looking forward to getting away to the sun for a while - and she deserves it after all the grief I've given her (my getting ill also meant having to cancel an imminent house move).
The thought of doing Spain inside a tin box doesn't exactly fill me with joy though - been there, done that - but reluctantly I've agreed that we should go by car, at least if anything happens Wee Jim can drive that but she can't ride the bike, so it makes good sense in th ecircumstances. Then in a moment of divine inspiration she suggests getting another sports car to do the trip in - as we'd done back in 2006 in our little Mk1 Eunos. No second asking is needed, so the search is on. I look at Westfields, Audi TTs & Honda S2000s - even the Mercedes SLK but none fit the bill as well as the MX5 so we decide on another . Fast forward another couple of weeks and we're driving over to Skipton in Yorkshire to pick up a two year old Velocity Red MX5 Mk3.5 Miyako, one of the Mazda special editions. The trip is back on in earnest and I'm once again genuinely looking forward to it.....Who wouldn't in this?
The seeds for this trip were first planted as long ago as last year when we were down in Andalucia, we'd met up with Wesley and Mrs Wesley at a villa we shared with them half way through their bike tour of Spain and Portugal, but for various reasons we were in a hire car back then. The roads down there are superb and I really began to wish I'd taken the bike, so when Wesley asked us if we'd like to do it with them again this year - but on two wheels this time - we thought it was a great idea. By late Sept a bigger bike - BMW R1200R - had been bought, the villa was booked shortly after that & most of the hotels & ferries by early March. We were very much looking forward to the trip and I was out riding whenever possible, covering lots of miles on the BMW to get my bum used to long days sat on a "hard on the posterior" motorbike seat once again. The last long bike trip Wee Jim and me had done was back in 2009 when we did Europe on the VFR800 - I'd done a long ride in British Columbia & Alberta, Canada in 2010 but that was solo. However, all that's now purely academic given the health issues.
Skipton Mazda were supposed to have changed all the oils & filters but they fibbed so I did it myself - if you want a job doing.......
Wesley saw sense and got shot of the uncomfortable Moto Guzzi Stelvio which he toured Spain on last year (the poor lad suffered on that) and has now bought himself another Honda CB1300, this one is the later semi faired, red framed version which is very nice.
This tour is a 3 week jobbie, sailing from Plymouth to Santander and basically doing a little clockwise "lap" of Spain, returning to Bilbao after a week touring down the east side, a week in a villa and then another week or so moving back north, with a little diversion into Portugal thrown into the mix. We've tried this format of a week's road trip / week in a villa / week road trip a few times now and it works - very well. Our route this time looks something like this, the green markers show our overnight stops - the villa is the 'G' on the first map, and the hotel in the Picos de Europa mountains where we'll stay for two nights is 'G' on the second map.
The only downside of the trip is that we don't get to ride with Mr & Mrs W, as trying to keep car and bike together over the distance we're about to cover is just too much hassle. So, each day we go our own ways and meet up at the hotels in the afternoons - usually in the bar for a beer. Sometimes we see the bike parked up at a roadside cafe en route or they see the car so we stop & pass a pleasant half hour with some coffee and a cake.
Oh yeah! The videos. They're shot in HD so they can be watched in 720HD at full screen on Yoo Toob...........
Ferry and Santander to Abejar
The run down to the ferry at Plymouth is very nice. For once it's a sunny(ish) enough day so we get the hood down and head for our first night's hotel in a little village called Aylburton not far from Gloucester. We keep off the motorways and have a nice run down through the Welsh borders, on the way down we pop into Hereford to see my old mate, Jeff and his missus where we grab a cuppa tea and a bikkie. From there we drive to meet Mr & Mrs W at the hotel in Aylburton, we go via Symonds Yat in the Forest of Dean - all very lovely and scenic. The ferry crossing is about as good as crossing the Bay of Biscay can get - flat calm all the way. The ship is Brittany Ferry's flagship, "The Pont Aven". P&O gave up this route a while back, so Brittany now run the only ferries from the UK to Santander and Bilbao, and it has to be said that their ships are far nicer than the old bucket that P&O used to operate on this crossing
Sailing past the Hoe as we leave Plymouth Harbour
Heading into the English Channel & passing Drake's Island,
on Spanish soil, after 24 hours on board ship we start our first day's run down to the tiny village of Abejar
some 190 miles south of Santander. The day starts late as the ferry doesn't land
'til after mid-day and then it takes us an age to disembark and get on the road.
Wesley, on the bike, can filter past all the cars so he has a good head start on
us - helped by getting in behind an ambulance that's on blue lights & sirens going
thro the town, he follows it and gets out of there a lot quicker than we do! We decide to take the motorway out of town to leave it behind as quickly
as possible and get onto some good back roads.
Coffee and cake stop 1. We spotted the CB1300 parked up here so we knew there would be a Wesley
around somewhere and pulled in to join him and Mrs W.
Stop 2 - the CB1300 was spotted once again so we pulled into this lay-by for a natter. Well, there's
now't else to take photos of as yet - the good stuff comes later!
Mrs W's mascot - this little guy goes everywhere on the bike with them.
The first one they had was nicked from the bike in a multi storey car park in
Annecy on our Euro bike tour of 2005
Stop 3 - Another stop, once again the Honda was spotted as we were about to drive past - you kinda get the idea how
this bike / car thing works now right? This time coffee and an Iberian ham butty.
the time we reach Abejar, it's knocking on tea time but the Spanish don't eat
'til late - the restaurant at the hotel doesn't open til after 9pm and as Abejar
is such a tiny place, with nothing much else than the hotel, we do what any fine
Englishmen would do - we find the bar and drink beer! When we do
eventually get to eat - pork and chips (the Spanish love their pork!) - it's not
bad. Little do we know it's the last half decent meal we were to have in a hotel for a
while. Tomorrow we head for Puebla del Valverde via a little diversion off
route to the old town of Alberracin (in the top 10 most beautiful villages in
Spain) where we start to get into serious "middle of nowhere"
Click for video
Abejar to Pueblo del Valverde
This is where we start to see some of the "real" Spain. We don't bump into Mr & Mrs W today because our sat nav has taken us a different way - well, in truth our sat nav has got us lost and we find ourselves in this deserted, ramshackle but rather nice little village, which is well off the beaten track (almost everything here is this yellow stone) . They must have known we were coming because they put the flags out for us.
Always amazes me in Europe how the smallest of villages have these grand churches - this old one is
beautiful but the nearby houses are falling down.
We drove for miles down roads like this, Taken around mid-day and it was incredibly bright.
Eventually we find our way to Alberracin, and as we approach the town we have our one and only cloudburst during the 3 weeks in Spain, it pours for all of 30 secs! The road into the town twists & turns through a gorge so we have a bit fun, well I do. Wee Jim is starting to look a bit green! The diversion from our route is well worth the effort as this is a stunning place & very old. We spend a while mooching about before climbing up to the old castle ruin which overlooks the town, it's getting hot now and very humid so it's slow going but we eventually make it up and grab some photos from the high viewpoint. On our way back down we find a little bar /cafe so stop for a bite to eat. Like most places in rural Spain they speak not a word of English but we manage to order an Iberian ham butty in our usual English fashion - by pointing at it - and it's good, excellent in fact!
Alberracin. The TV aerials look quite incongruous in such an old place
The whole town is a higgledy piggle of little alleyways and narrow cobbled streets - and it's steep.
From Alberracin we take the same road out as we came in on and set off for our hotel at Pueblo del Valverde - only to find that it's not actually in the town at all, but a couple of miles away in an isolated position near the railway station. Still, it looks like a decent, comfortable place to stay so we don't mind. It has a bar so we're happy sitting outside in the sunshine for an hour or two drinking beer and having a chat. The only annoyance is the piped music, it's some kind of pan pipe thing playing on a loop which after a while is really getting on our nerves. Wesley's ready for slashing his wrists! Once again we're starving but the restaurant doesn't open 'til 9pm so we have to wait but the free crisps, nuts & olives that always arrive with the drinks stave off the worst of the hunger pangs.
When the restaurant does open we're first in and the waitress soon turns up to take our order for this evening's gastronomic delight. They serve traditional Spanish fare here, which unfortunately for us consists largely of anything made from slimy pig fat - it appears to be something of a Spanish delicacy but believe me, it's shyte! We eat a bit of it because we're hungry and too polite to tell them it's crap but we we're heaving with each mouthful - think Bush Tucker Trial - in fact Mrs W goes back to their room and promptly chucks it all back up again, pity her money didn't come back so easily! Fortunately the salad starter thing had been quite substantial so at least we'd eaten something. Apart from that the hotel is lovely and the staff seem very nice and helpful. We're hoping brekky is better!
Pueblo del Valverde to Xativa
As we leave the hotel at Pueblo the following morning we ignore the sat nav & take a narrow, twisting road that climbs through mountains for about 30 miles . This is rugged landscape, it can't be described as 'beautiful' but it's certainly awe inspiring. The video camera is mounted in the screen of the car and set to go. It's only when we arrive at the hotel in Xativa that I discover nothing's recorded & I don't know why - which is worrying. I try it again and it works fine - and did for the rest of the trip. There's a design flaw in it though where the little LED light that indicates it's recording is at the front under the lens, instead of at the back where it can be seen. Can't think what was going through the designer's heads when they thought that one up! So unfortunately there are not many photos of the run to Xativa, as we were hoping to have most of it on HD video.
Stopped for a wee - Hey, I'm a bloke the world is my toilet.
The road continues like this from here, for over 40 miles all the way to Xativa
Xativa is a very nondescript little town, with a steep walk down to it from our hotel. We had planned to eat at the hotel but it took us an age to get served at the bar after we arrived, so we thought it best to give it a miss if that was an example of the service and walk into town instead. We wanted to have a mooch around there anyway.
Arty farty "contre jour" shot of a pavement bar in Xativa - we drank beer here
This little fella came out onto his balcony to welcome us to Xativa
Not sure what he was saying though because he was growling in Spanish
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