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Ireland – part one

Arriving at Rosslare in Ireland, it was already late and getting cold. With all the supplies we got from Lawrence and Marina, we had already feasted during the crossing and now only needed to find a place for the night which we found in a campground just five kilometers down the road.

The first days were spent getting used to the country. The first stretch isn’t that interesting to be honest and after a couple of days we decided to hop on a bus to get to the west coast quicker. We got off at Skibbereen and made our way to Schull. We heard of a Film Festival going on there and spend two afternoons watching short films. A pleasant break from the cycling routine.

I had to get some recordings done for the songs we did with Emilio and Gustavo back in Rosario. A quick internet research put me in contact with Paul, who ran the closest recording studio. Close to Glengarriff, we sat up camp in his beautiful garden and soon after got to work.

It took a while longer and it was already evening until everything was done. Andrea made a quick dinner and then we were off towards the village for our first pub visit in Ireland.

We walked along the main road and entered the only pub with music coming out if it. We ordered some Beamish and Murphy’s and took the only two remaining seats on the bar. In the pause after the song had finished, the man next to me suddenly started singing. At first being rather surprised, we quickly got into the atmosphere and were witness to some other rather bizarre musical interludes.

At the end of the evening we sat down with the two musicians, Marie and John, and talked about music and our travels. Later they invited us to come by their house later that week and visit the highest pub in the country.

First though we cycled out the sheep’s head and parts of the Beara peninsula. In case you’re wondering why the sun is shining in most pictures, we are extremely lucky with the weather.

There are a lot of views which you could just frame and hang on a wall.

The rhododendrons were introduced in the second half of the eighteenth century when plants were brought to britain from all over the world. On Ireland they thrive so splendidly that they now face a serious threat to the native vegetation but look pretty beautiful while doing so.

Cycling through Eyeries was a pleasure. It was a day of a wedding celebration at the local pub and the whole village was dressed in their finest. All the man in beautiful blue suits and as there was noone to be seen that didn’t belong to the party, it felt like cycling through a film set. In the afternoon we stopped at the Ardgroom Stone circle. Later the scene was taken over by a herd of cows with their calfs. Usually we get interested look or blank stares when we cycle past but this time we felt it was time to take our leave as the looks were clearly stating that we were on their turf.

We made our way to the house of Marie and John the next day and could stay in the cottage next to their house. We had a typical Irish dish for dinner and went to bed early after five days continuously in the saddle. On the first Sunday of each month there is a music session in the Highest pub of Ireland, the “top of coom”. Half of the people gathered chipped in a song, a poem or a story and with the more famous songs the whole pub was singing along like “The wild rover”, “The leaving of Liverpool” or “Waltzing Matilda”.

Our hosts Marie and John playing a song together. The instrument Marie is playing here is called a hurdy-gurdy.

After the session we talked with some of the other contributors of the evening and shared a couple of Guinness.

The next day we cycled to Killarney where we stayed in a hostel. The Killarney national park has a lot to offer and we saw only a fraction of it.

Muckross Abbey is a mysterious place and its ruin illuminated beautifully on a sunny day.

A small hike took us first to a small pool of water on top of the hill before descending to the Torc waterfall.

When we arrived at the campground near Banna, we half jokingly put on our swimming dress before hitting the beach. What a surprise it was to see a hundred people already in the water despite its rather cold temperatures. After being in the water up to our hips we weren’t sure for how long we could stand it. But after finally taking a complete dip in the waves, we felt quiet alright for another while.

This was only the first half of our Ireland experience. We have crossed into county Clare by now and will have another three weeks to explore the northern half of Ireland.

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The morning started with a walk downhill. We had met Reja from Germany the night before. And as we were going in the same direction, we decided to continue together. The road made a huge detour to the next bridge and so we just cut across a field and made use of the vast network of bridleways and public right of way paths to get us to a footbridge over the Wye and into Wales. This turned out to be quiet an adventure because of fallen trees blocking the way and a rather steep and rocky section at the end.

On the other side of the river lies Tintern with its impressive abbey.

After Tintern we had to climb out of the Wye valley to continue our way westward. We cycled to Usk together where our short time as a trio already came to an end. Reja wanted to choose a flatter route closer to the coast, while we were heading farther North.

It was a pleasant ride through the country side. And I decided I want to become a tree designer in Wales when I grow up.

After a hefty push uphill, we cycled along the Brecon canal until we reached our destination for the day.

We stayed with Rachel and Luke close to Abergavenny. Rachel is a successful athlet, having just competed at the commonwealth games on the gold coast in track racing. Now they are planning their honeymoon: a bike ride from New York to Los Angeles.

They made a great BBQ cook up for us. Mushrooms with nuts and cheese, couscous with dried tomatoes and there were quiet a few more items on the buffet. For desert we tried homemade scones with marmelade and cream. Thus established to be trustworthy, we followed their advice to have a look at the “big pit” mining site at Blaenavon.

Before going underground one is equipped with the necessary items to survive in a mine.

Our guide John had worked in the mines for over twenty years. And although he still considers it a lucky day when he got a job at the mine, he feels like he was done a favor when the they finally closed down. Enabling him to give tours today in a good state of health.

It was a short cycling day after the visit underground. It started to rain and the evening was rather sad, pitching our tent on a vacant camping site with the reception already closed. Luckily the weather cleared until the morning and we had a good day of cycling, lost of climbing included.

After being on the road for five days, we found ourselves on a campground next to a little stream and a nice bench with table next to our tent. It looked like a good opportunity to take a day off. We celebrated a bit after those hills with a cider and creamy mushroom pasta and the next day with an apple pie to restore our energies.

Over the next days we’ll continue to cycle through Wales until Pembroke from where we plan to take the ferry to Ireland.

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After a nice warmshowers experience in Plymouth, we cycled up the Plym valley. It was an excellent ride on a sunny day and we met quite a few cyclists who were keen to recommend the best ale, campsite, route etc. As we were climbing, the temperatures dropped and we steered towards the yha Dartmoor instead of camping in the wild. Even so this meant some more climbing to get there.

We rested our legs the following day and decided to stay another night to explore the national park with its tors,

and the remains of settlements of the bronze age. Maybe the climate was different then, otherwise it would be strange why Dartmoor national park is full of stone circles, stone rows and dolmen.

The Dartmoor ponies are a special breed of this area. Even with a grown horse, one has to kneel down to be on eye level. The tiny size probably helps in these environments with heavy winds, cold and hardly any shelter.

Dartmoor is quiet barren but there are some quaint little villages in the vicinity which were a welcome place to restock and rest.

A lot of these had inns, pubs and churches like you’d imagine while reading a story set in this area.

One thing I imagined before coming to the south of England were its country lanes lined with trees and hedges and it was a pleasure cycling these.

On such roads we travelled until we reached Okehampton where we stayed with Tim from warmshowers. We arrived early and took the time to visit the remains of the castle.

After a quick stop at the supermarket we drove a little outside of town to have another walk through the moor before having dinner, which Tim had already prepared beforehand.

Bath was our next stop where we went to by train. We wanted to visit Paul, a cyclist whom I met in central and South America. He was soon to be off for holidays in Spain, so we choose this quicker way to get there to see him before. It was great to see him and catch up while tasting several ales and ciders.

The next day, spring arrived and we went for a walk from Paul’s house to Alexandra park from where one has a great view over the city.

The center was busy with people wearing their summer dresses and with ice cream cones in their hands. We made a picknick in a small park behind the Royal Crescent before having a look at it.

A former rail line, connecting Bath with Bristol, was converted into one of the first cycle paths of England and was also the beginning of the national cycle network “Sustrans”. It was a short ride into Bristol where we stayed at the Yha once more. We had enjoyed the few days off in Bath a lot and felt more like cycling than to explore another city. So over the Severn bridge we went to Chepstow and into Wales the next day.

Entry fees are quiet high in Britain. Mostly we are content with a quick look from the outside while having one or two cookies, like here in front of Chepstow castle.

We then cycled north along the Wye river and up, untill we reached our campsite for the night.

With a good view to end the day.

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We arrived in Redon in the afternoon and passed the time, until our host Anne arrived, in the lovely cafe of the train station.

Anne works in the tourist office and was so kind to show us around town before we bought the ingredients for dinner.

We made some crepes, which we accompanied with apple cider. Both very typical for the Bretagne.

The next day we rejoined the Velodyssee, which was running along the canal between Nantes and Brest.

It had its straight stretches but had enough diversity to make it an interesting ride.

We conquered some castles along the way, but decided it would be too much work to maintain one.

Another welcome diversion were the beautiful little towns, like Josselin here.

As we arrived too late to visit the castle, we at least had a good look from the outside.

There are enough beautiful places to make a break with tables and benches. And from time to time, if one is lucky, with a small garden of spices to enhance one’s sandwich.

Typical sights are the locks, from which there are more than a hundred. Often with a nice garden and trees in front of the guardian’s house, who seem to take pride in maintaining these old premises.

The campsites were beautiful too. These were mostly smaller ones and had a more familiar atmosphere. At one of these sites next to the lake of Guerledan we tasted some local beer.

Food and drink were delicious and even on a Sunday afternoon you don’t have to despair if you are left without baguette.

Christophe from warmshowers was so kind to let us camp in his garden the next day. There were so many beautiful spots around the old water mill. In the end we set up camp below this apple tree.

In the morning we drank tea out of mugs he made himself and he told us a bit about his passion for pottery.

We were lucky to find a host in Morlaix which was a really lovely time with Catherine and Michel. In the evening we played some songs on the guitar and piano with the family. And while Andrea was singing ‘Besame mucho’, Michel was accompanying her with his pocket saxophone. They let us stay a day longer which we used to have a walk through town. Looking over Morlaix next to its famous viaduct.

And the view from below.

There are crêpes and there are galletes in France. Crêpes is what most of us know. Galettes are the version with buckwheat and is exclusively eaten with salty toppings. Catherine is a master of the arts. Especially the galettes, the dough made without eggs and only water, pose a challenge.

Here with the typical egg and cheese version which we topped with some grilled vegetables.

After Morlaix it was just a day’s ride towards Roscoff from where we would take the ferry to Plymouth in England. France turned out to be a wonderful country to cycle tour and if we’d have the chance, we wouldn’t hesitate to come back.

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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”.

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Seville is a lively city and is already buzzing with tourists at this time of the year. The first day we went for a bike ride through the city and stopped at the Plaza de España.

The park next to it, Parque María Luisa, was closed for the most part dew to storms that had passed within the days before. Instead we went past some of the pavilions of the world fair Ibero-Americana of 1929.

We had already seen a flamenco band with dancer on the Plaza de España and were lucky to see another show on our way back to the hostel.

The next day we took part in almost every hostel activity there was. We started with a tour through the city in which we covered almost every important monument and its history. The group with our guide Adela in front of the General Archive of the Indies.

One of the most impressive sights of Sevilla is the the cathedral with the Giralda, which once was a minaret intended for the chief mosque. After the christian conquest of the city, it was converted into a bell tower.

We left the tour halfway through, not because it was boring, but we enjoy exploring on our own. Many streets are unique as are many of the buildings and around every corner there seems to be something interesting to see.

In the evening there was a free dinner at the hostel. Which turned out to be good, but not enough for two hungry cyclists. Luckily we still had some rice and papas bravas left in the fridge from our lunch. After dinner we went to a flamenco show. With around 20 people from the hostel it was not always easy to navigate through the city without losing some of the pack once in a while. The place was already packed when we arrived. The show itself was unplugged. It took a while until the room became quiet and one could appreciate the music. But on the other hand this created an atmosphere of attention that made the experience more intense.

We felt rested when we left Seville and recharged with all the social interaction, that we missed a bit in the weeks before while camping.

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Crossing into España

We crossed the river Guadiana from Vila Real to Ayamonte and stopped at playa Taray for the night. We still had some ingredients left from the last time we made pizza and decided to give it another go on the camp stove. Although the heat is more difficult to control and it burns more quickly, they turned out great again.

After the mixed experience with the ecovia, this continued on the spanish side with de vía verde del litoral. This time it was at least foreseeable as mentioned on their webpage that the cyclepath would be in disrepair. After the weather turned wet and wetter, sometimes it was enough to cruise around the puddles of water,

but in some places the path was so muddy or a bridge was closed, that any advancement was almost impossible.

We arrived in Huelva and spontaneously decided to board a train to Sevilla. For one, because of the weather forecast and to advance a little after more rest days then planned because of the rain.