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Travelling with the train in France turned out to be a pleasure. Even in the TGV one can make a reservation for bicycles and enter the train without having to disassemble anything.

We left Bordeaux late in the evening and got to Paris at 11pm. I was worried getting into a big city that late and having to figure out how to get to one’s destination. In the end we just cycled the last kilometers through Paris, which took us past the Notre Dame, and we enjoyed our nightly ride immensely.

Luckily I had contacted Laure some days before and we could stay at her and her partner Sasha’s place for a couple of nights.

The first day we made a long walk through the city, first following the Canal Saint Martin and then crossing Republique and le Marais until we found ourselves on the Seine once more.

The second day we tried to change the date of our return flight. Sort of a lost day that was saved by a Chinese dinner and our resilience, which we had trained since the beginning of the trip.

The third day we made a typical tourist circuit, which took us to the Tour Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe and finally to Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur.

There were a couple of musicians playing in front of it and we stayed almost half an hour to listen and to sing along.

Spring was finally arriving and one could see more and more flowers now even in northern Europe.

We changed location and stayed two nights at a hostel as some special surprise guests were coming to Paris for the party of the 30th birthday of Sasha.

It was nice to be invited to a party again. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities to go out within the past weeks and our last night out was in Seville. After some presents and a birthday cake, the volume was turned up and almost everybody was dancing. We got a crash course in modern French music and this was lasting until some neighbour was banging at the door, requesting that the volume should be turned down again. As it was almost three in the morning, we left soon afterwards to rest a little.

The next day we met Felipe, a friend with whom I stayed the last time when I was in Paris, just after the first big bicycle trip when I was coming back from New Zealand. As he is a father now, we stayed close to his home in a nice cafe, drank some delicious hot chocolate and later went to the park after his daughter and partner Carole had woken up from their siesta. It was a lot of fun chatting, while observing the communication going on between the children and the interaction in the play area.

The last night we made pizza which we accompanied with a bottle of Bordeaux wine and we could stay at Laure’s apartment once more.

Our last day in Paris was finally a sunny one and it was nice to see all the cafés filled with people as we were cycling back to the train station and a part of us wanted to stay and soak up the atmosphere a little more.

As we had made a good experience travelling with our bicycles by train, we once more boarded a TGV for the last chapter of mainland Europe for the time being. Next stop: Redon and la Bretagne.

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From Irun we cycled the last kilometers to the French border and crossed it hardly noticing. After sometime along the coast, the cycle route turns a bit inland and goes through beautiful pine forests and the sea can only sometimes be heard in the distance.

We stopped in Biarritz for lunch were from a bench on the higher promenade we could watch the Atlantic ocean again. And we agreed that it is a sight difficult to get tired of.

Our last stop along the coast, before heading inland to Bordeaux, was the dune du Pilat. One sand giant, that was also nibbling at the edges of our camping, that was just next to it.

Getting on the dune was a bit of work, climbing up the steep incline and the sand giving way almost as much as you moved upward. On top it was a lot easier to walk around as the sand was hardened by the latest rainfall.

The most fun was getting down again. With long strides and some jumping involved, one could let the inner kid roam freely without much worry of a hard fall.

We climbed up again after dinner and were rewarded with a lightshow of the finest. The sun was setting slowly and after it had sunk beneath the horizon it got even better.

We stayed one day more and then started towards Bordeaux where we had found a couchsurfing host and from where we would take a train to Paris.


Vía verde del aceite

This is how most of our days started along the old olive oil railway line. Camping was never hard to find between the millions of olive trees. It seems that the whole world could be supplied from here.

We wildcamped most of the time and often had some source of water nearby, that in one case was so inviting that someone was contemplating more than just a quick wash of hands and face.

The old train stations are converted into cafés or bicycle rental stations and offer some services like public toilets and water fountains to refill your bottles.

Zuheros was just one of the pretty villages along the route. We just had a look from below as we still had enough from hefty climbs from the “pueblos blancos”.

We enjoyed once more the absence of motorized traffic and the route has its charm with its tunnels, viaducts and breaches through the rocks.

This time we made it to Martos before the weather turned again with temperatures below zero during the night and hardly getting above five degrees during the day. It was the semana santa and accommodation was expensive almost everywhere. This was one of the reasons for not passing through Madrid. And as we wanted to have enough time to see France, we hopped on a bus from Jaen directly to the French border at Irun.

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Pueblos blancos

The “pueblos blancos” have their origins from the arabic influence in the region of Andalusia. The name comes from the whitewashed walls of its buildings. Our first stop was Arcos de la frontera where we arrived battered by the rain and crosswinds. On one of the last ascents, I leaned my bike against a roadsign to walk back and help Andrea with hers. When i came back, I found my bicycle lying on the ground pushed over by the wind. I checked the guitar through its bag and was certain that part of the corpus was broken. With this thought and unsure how to break the news to Andrea we made the last kilometers to our guest house. We even asked the owner if he knew a Luthier to fix it as Andrea had the same impression when checking the guitarbag. When we got to our room and had a look at the guitar, it turned out that we were mistaken and that part of the reinforcement of the bag itself had given us the false impression. Quiet relieved we kept the camp kitchen in its pannier and went for dinner in the restaurant and were pleasantly surprised. Starting with gazpacho, I had grilled vegetables and ended with a chocolate cake for dessert.

The downside for cyclists visiting these white villages is its location on the most promint part of a hill and entering at the end of a day often involves some pushing up the steep streets. But they look oh so pretty.

We had a small walk through the tiny historic center, which came as a relief for our tired legs. There were two viewpoints we visited, here the “Balcon de arcos”,

and the basilica.

It was a lovely day when we left Arcos de la frontera, although we were quiet tired and couldn’t enjoy it at first. It didn’t help that we had to climb out of the valley of the rio Guadalete. But then we left the rather busy main road and could ride side by side for most of the day as hardly any traffic passed. After stocking up supplies in Puerto Serrano, we entered the “Via Verde de la Sierra”. It wasn’t that hard to find a spot for the night, and we felt lucky to pitch our tent in these surroundings.

The next day it started to rain again, but we still made good progres as we were protected from the wind by the surrounding mountains. Getting closer to Olvera a passing mountainbiker told us that it would be difficult to pass some muddy parts ahead because of recent rainfall. He suggested an alternative route with just some “tiny hills”. These turned out to be a little heavy for us loaded touring cyclists and once out of the valley, the wind made progres real slow. The rain started to become a downpour and so we arrived in Olvera soaked to the bone and being cold.

When leaving Olvera, the skies had cleared a little and we could enjoy these view looking back while we made the first break of the day.

Towards Ronda was a beautiful road. Some hills were challenging but always rewarding.

We stayed with Salvador, a writer, in his house. We had decided that seven degrees during the day and temperatures below the freezing point during the night called for some different accommodation than a tent, with us already sneezing a lot.

We spend one day in Ronda to see some of its sights, most prominently the bridge spanning the narrow chasm formed by a river dividing the city and the plateau on which it’s nestled. When you cross the bridge it is hard to grasps it’s beauty, but there is a path leading down the other side from where one can appreciate its magnitude.

As the weather was still not improving we opted for a short intermezzo in Malaga to escape the rain and the cold for a while. Just to get a train back close to Ronda and to cycle the “Via Verde del aceite”.