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Rannoch Moor

Our journey started with a trainride along the West Highland Line, that i would recommend if you are travelling through this part of Scotland. While we waited at the train station in Arisaig, one of the steam trains frequenting this line passed through.

The train ride was amazing. Still stunned by the beauty, we got off the train and forgot our guitar in the overhead compartment. When we realized our mistake, it was already too late. We heard the train doors shut and the train leaving with me running after it and screaming. As it sank in, there was little we could do and we sat a while in silent shock. We called the train station in Glasgow and were given little information what might happen to a guitar travelling all by itself and where it might turn up.

Sadly we rolled down the lonely road leading from the station and just camped next to the road. The beautiful scenery deserved better onlookers than we were at that moment.

These photos won’t give you any impression on what level our hope was to ever see our guitar again. And also not, that after the rather traumatising tick bites on Skye, that we now shared our home with a whole family of ticks. Including further relatives until the great-uncle’s niece’s cousin.

The next day i boarded a train to Glasgow to investigate at the lost and found office. The conductor was extremely helpful and tried to enquier with her cellphone, but to no avail. I returned in the afternoon, with no result. After some debate we decided to continue our trip and try to investigate further with phone calls in order to track down the guitar.

The route towards Pitlochry was beautiful and while we were already starting to give up on the guitar, we decided to at least make one more attempt in Glasgow. Since our friend Maggie from Canada would also be in town, there would be a reason to celebrate.

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Arisaig Highland Games

We had to book a camping site in advance because of the popularity of these games and got lucky to get a perfect spot at the Silversands Campsite near the beach.

The next day we went to the Highland Games just across the street. Next to their bus, a group of bagpipers were practising and the sound of bagpipes were ever present during the festival.

There are various competitions. With judges observing from their little wooden shacks.

The seriousness was hilarious especially at the pipe competition. Starting with the tuning, this gentleman was taking during the whole process which took about fifteen minutes of marching up and down this wooden plank.

The highlight was surely “Tossing the Cabar”. This trunk has to be lifted, and then thrown as to let it make a half turn before it has to fall from that twelve o’clock position away from the thrower. Most competitors had a hard time even lifting the cabar, let alone running with it while keeping the balance and only one competitor was able to make a successful throw at the end.

These heavyweight events were clearly not for everyone. But there was enough going on, so everyone could join. Track & Field events were suited for the youngest and the oldest amongst the crowd. Running events were completed in sporty outfits as well as costumes. The barrel race was a lot of fun even to watch as almost every team stumbled or had a hilarious crash at least once. The final competition was the high jump. This kid was nothing short of amazing and was demonstrating that the effects of gravity are relative.

It was a full day. The next day we spent chilling at the beach and even when for a swim and watching the sun go down.

The next day we would have a sort cycle the town of Arisaig from where the Western Highland Line would take us up to Rannoch Moor.

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Northern Ireland

We spent our first night in Northern Ireland just next to the border. When we crossed it, we hardly noticed it. If it weren’t for the big protest signs from the border communities against the Brexit and consequently an EU border deepening the separation of the two Irish countries once more.

The next day we stayed in Portstewart with David from couchsurfing. An incredible kind host and interesting character. It took a while to get our bags inside and to get settled in as we were soon deep in conversation.

The next day David started to cycle with us and was our local guide.

The sun was out and the coastline shone in bright colours with the different blues of the sea and the white of the sand and the limestone.

About halfway we met Dave again whom we first met at the Leitrim cycling festival a week earlier. Together we cycled to Bushmills and a coffee break before he set off again to take the ferry to Scotland the same day.

We had more time and also stopped at the biggest attraction along the coast, the giant’s causeway.

There was some climbing to be one and usually gave one a fantastic view of the coastline.

Whitepark bay was as far as David went with us where we stopped for a small break and ate the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Our goal for the day was Ballycastle, where we would stay with Paul, another cyclist who was so kind to let us stay in a spare room of his house. Once again a kind host and interesting character. We had a long and enriching evening together and talked until midnight when we finally went to bed.

The ferry to Campbeltown in Scotland wasn’t leaving before the afternoon. So Paul was showing us his favourite spot just outside town. We took the guitar with us and he his camera and a small audio recorder. We passed the afternoon playing some songs and making a photo and recording session out of it.

The ferry ride began entertaining enough. The small boat bouncing on the waves and seemingly an almost exclusive service for cyclists, four out of five passengers had their bikes on bord. After an hour our stomachs felt duly entertained and we were glad when we finally arrived at the harbour and had some time on the bicycles to find our balance again on the first kilometers in Scotland.

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Leitrim cycling festival

Just a small note in one of the cycling groups was enough to make the decision to adjust our plans to make it to the small village of Manorhamilton.

In the evening we went to a presentation of two travellers before retiring to our tents early.

The next day we all made our way to the castle cafe where various events were going on.

The knotted chords played and sang on and off during the the afternoon.

Tattoos were given out to the hardest amongst the group.

Part of the people gathered then went off for a small round in the hills.

One inventor brought his Scary Go-Round. It was hard work getting this thing up to speed, but it was worth the fun.

In the late afternoon we started our tour to Drumahaire past Doon Lough.

There we sat up camp again before heading to the Crossroads. An Irish tradition around the solstice. A gathering on a crossroad with music and dancing. Every brings some food and drink and a fire is lit and the dancing and singing goes on until late.

There was a Breakfast cook up the next morning. Typically Irish and heavy.

Luckily there was a pause until we hit the local demo strech of the Greenway. We used the time in between to get our bicycles and ourselves decorated for the occasion.

There were judges along that stretch, electing the most beautiful customers, a guy sitting way up a tree playing his trombone and lots of food when we arrived at a cottage at the end of the Greenway. The “Old Market Street Swing Band” was playing and mking this a most wonderful afternoon.

For two songs, Andrea was invited to sing which you can see and listen to if you follow this link:

Old Market Swing Band & Andrea Passerini

The two people without whom this event wouldn’t have been possible are Laura and Ciarán from crank & cog.

After saying goodbye, we cycled from the festival to Sligo with our attire still donned.

Our time in Ireland is drawing to an end, but with such memories, one feels having really got to know a bit the country and its people.

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Ireland – part two

We didn’t always make it to a campsite. So we wildcamped in parts and one time just asked a local man if he knew a piece of land where we could pitch our tent for one night. Michael immediately invited us to make use of his garden and made sure we were lacking nothing.

After arriving in Doolin we toom a bus to the Cliffs of Moher before walking back. The visitor center is quiet a busy place and you might get asked to pay a fee to enter the site if coming from the coach parking. After a bit of walking the crowd thins out quickly and afterwards one is looking back and has enough space to be in awe.

The cliffs are around 150 meters at the highest. Sometimes I didn’t feel so comfortable near the cliff’s edge and also had a hard time watching Andrea finding out how far she could advance.

We cycled through a zone called “The Burren” where we stopped at the Poulnabrone Dolmen.

Stopping in Corofin for the night, we made our way to Bofey Quinn’s pub to have a pint,

and to listen to some music.

Getting into Galway was really nice. The quality of the buskers was a mixed bag. One group stood out and had also a dancer.

After Galway we cycled through Connamara which we enjoyed immensely. The photos hardly do it justice.

We are probably the luckiest tourists travelling through Ireland this millennium. In five weeks we had three days of rain and the apart from this can only praise the Irish weather.

We headed to Sligo after Connamara to attend the Leitrim cycling festival in Manorhamilton.

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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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Bretagne

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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Setúbal – Alentejo

The Setúbal península lies just south of Lisbon. We had our first peek at the Atlantic in the afternoon before setting up camp for the first time. The nights were still very cold and it didn’t help that I forgot to buy alcohol for our stove and so we had to do with some greasy lukewarm meal in the restaurant of the campground.

The next day we continued along the coast, bought alcohol in the pharmacy and took advantage of the break to drink a coffee in a busy cafe during lunch hour while it was raining outside. The coffee in Portugal is good and cheap. This might be a reason it took us sometime to find a coffee filter as people are less inclined to prepare their own coffee and so there is less demand in filters than in coffee shops.

Shortly after we had our first real test of our navigation system. I had relied on paper maps for all my previous travels but am now equipped with a smartphone and an assortment of apps. Not many apps let you plan a route offline and I started with the well-known maps.me

It has a lot of details and is easy to use but it might lead you to paths that are less suited for a loaded touring bike. After some pushing through sand we got to a path that was mostly rideable and it continued to be a mixed bag. Some frustrating moments alternated with blissful cycling through the woods.

On our way to Laguna de Albufeira we found a spot we liked and decided to wild camp.

We had some serious climbing to do until we reached the coast again just short of Sesimbra.

In Setúbal we stayed with Margareta from Belgium whom we had contacted through couchsurfing.

It was a lovely experience and we stayed an extra day with her and Jacinto. We were treated to a Curry the first night and had a walk through the historic center the following day and visited the market hall.

In the evening Jacinto was introducing us to Portuguese music. Which he was doing with such enthusiasm that I forgot the rather long search in the afternoon for a new crankset for Andrea’s bicycle to equip it with some lower gears for climbing. Thank you Margareta & Jacinto for a wonderful stay!

The next morning started with a boat ride over the Rio Sado. For lunch we stopped at Carvalhal where we got a box full of treats from the pastelería.

We passed on the offer to visit the local rice museum but took a path through the rice paddies where a lot of birds had their home or stopped for the winter. A lot of storks among them and their huge nests, now an unfamiliar sight in Germany, are still present here. The path was going along the dunes and when it was getting close to the evening, we made the extra effort to push the bike uphill through the sand to enjoy this view.

The sunset was spectacular as well.

Around Sines, we had to cross an industrial park before taking the road along Praia de Sao Torpes.

In Vila Nova de Mílfontes we took our first stroll on the beach.

In Zambujeira do mar we stayed an extra day before passing Odeceixe. The forecast began to look really grim and we decided to look for accommodation in Carrapateira. We had another lovely stretch through woodlands when it started to rain and would continue until we reached our guest house. The rain gear held up well but we were still glad to get out of our cycling cloth and to take a hot shower. The weather stayed like this for some time and we changed our travel plans slightly and decided to weather the storm with some company in hostels in Lagos and Faro.

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rio de janeiro

After thirty hours on the bus, i arrived in Rio de Janeiro and was advised not to cycle in the area around the bus terminal during the night. Without any information to judge for myself if it is dangerous or not, i opted for a taxi to a street with at least two hostels i knew of and only wanted to get some sleep first. The next day after breakfast i started with the bike to explore the city. Just south of the old airport starts a bike path that takes you past the Pão de Açúcar, the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema along the entire city center water front. First i stopped at Copacabana…

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and then at Ipanema. The statue of Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the most famous musicians of Brazil and driving force behind the Bossa Nova, is standing right next to the beach. Here’s a link to a performance by Jobim with Frank Sinatra of ‘Garota de Ipanema’, The Girl of Ipanema. A bicycle, a guitar and a girl to sing about is all you need.

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On my way back i stopped at the Pão de Açúcar, the Sugarloaf Mountain. Since i didn’t plan to visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer, i at least wanted to visit one viewpoint to overlook the famous natural harbour of Rio de Janeiro.

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The weather was nice though sometimes cloudy. While ascending with the cable car, the top drifted in and out of the clouds. Once up, there were enough sunny and clear moments to enjoy the view, like here over Copacabana.

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With a group from the hostel we spend the next day exploring Santa Teresa. But first we were playing some russian songs in the lobby of the hostel.

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We met up with some more people at the ‘Espirito Santa’ restaurant before ambling along the cozy streets of the quarter. Then we headed over to the ‘Parque das Ruinas’ before descending on the famous Selaron Steps.

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Where soon after we passed this mural depicting musicians of Brazil.

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While walking a bit aimlessly through the streets we came across an old building and were wondering what it is. While chatting to some of the people busying themselves around the house we found out about a party with live music that same night. The place being just a bit above Largo dos Guiamraes. It turned out to be a cracker of a night with superb music and vibrating atmosphere. A great last evening before leaving this great continent.

Thanks for reading and sharing. Maybe some more updates will follow or we will hear from each other during the next trip. Until then enjoy the adventure that life is!!

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rosario

Buenos Aires was just a stopover. My singing coach who is living there part of the year, was still in Berlin. And another girl from the capital i met during my time in Colombia, was still travelling in Mexico. So i had no real reason to stay, especially since Maggie and Bryan would be coming to Rosario for a visit. I spent only a day before taking a bus to Rosario where i met Andrea on the terminal. We had a day to ourselves before the Canadians rolled into town. It was quite exciting when the door bell rang and we put two more bikes first in the lift and then on the balcony, where mine was already leaning next to Andrea’s. The next day we all went to the river where there’s usually a refreshing breeze and enjoyed once more being together and leaving the bicycles on the balcony for a while.

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Taking a bus first and then hiring a boat, we went to one of the island in front of Rosario. We brought the guitar as well as hot water to prepare Mate and spent the day at the beach.

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We had already met Soledad, Agustín and Patricio, a cycling trio, when we stayed in Cafayate. For our reunion they organized an Asado next to the river. This is our lovely group.

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Asado is a big thing in Argentina. Almost a form of art to some, the procedure takes time until the coal breaks into tiny pieces and can be spread out to get an even and constant source of heat. One could argue if all this is necessary for a get-together but the social aspect is integral part of it. Leaving enough time for the asador to socialize and tend to his drink, which here in Argentina is usually a Fernet mixed with Cola.

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A lot of people we met are musicians and so music was also an integral part of our days here. Once they were a duo playing the clubs in Rosario. Now for another time Andrea & Nieves were singing in the living room.

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Food was abundant these days and we made something special out of each meal. Fruit and Bryan’s pancakes for breakfast, or Maggie’s Chili for dinner, there was always an idea ready when we were getting hungry and we enjoyed preparing and sharing our meals.

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It was a sad day when Maggie and Bryan were finally leaving after staying an extra three days, but as we all know: goodbyes are a part of travelling. And there is always a part in you that knows that you are left that much richer then you were before, which outbalances the sadness. They would be going to Gualeguaychu for its famous Carnival celebrations. You can read about it here and their account of Rosario here.