October 08, 2003 GMT
The last days in France

Hello all !!

We've missed a few weeks of updates so I'm going to give you the quick and dirty version of the last weeks in France.

Once we crossed over to Eastern France the people there seemed quite different from the "west". ( not that there was anything wrong with the west). In the East (so east of Paris both North and South), we had people going out of their way all the time for us. If a hotel was full, instead of the yeah we're full, get out, we would get let me call another hotel for you and give you directions.

Or we would be standing on the street looking at some pile of rocks that we think are Roman and we have a very nice lady come over and to tell us what we are looking at. ( It turns out it is one of the last remaining Roman Gates in Europe that hasn't been touched...cool). We also had someone come and help us with directions when we took out the map. Love eastern France.

So Patrick had left you guys off in a little place called St. Lo where he had his beloved bike all dolled up and ready for another 10,000 km's. We moved on from there to a town called Arras in order to get close to Vimy Ridge.
Neither Patrick or I can say enough about Vimy Ridge. I think that every Canadian should go there it is that powerful. The memorial is an amazing piece of architecture and the National Park of Vimy has not been changed since the war. So what that really means is you see what our soldiers were going through as they headed into battle. The Government of Canada has students there to give tours of the underground railway system which is how troops and supplies were moved up to the front. You also get to see the front itself which I know must sound unbelievable. The German and Canadian front lines were only 30 yards apart - I know - unreal unless you see it. We spent at least 3 hours there and could have probably spent the whole day. I guess what really strikes you as you walk through Vimy Ridge is the feeling that you get, it's an emotional one that I can't quite put into words.

We move on to two big cities, Reims and Besancon.

Reims is pretty cool with great shopping (window shopping for me) and lots of old buildings to look at PLUS itīs the home of Champagne. I would like to tell you all that you can never, ever, get enough Champagne. A funny story about our hotel though. As you all know we are way over budget so Patrick picks our hotel in Reims for us. It is a great deal at €30 per night. However the bathroom is so small that you have to take your clothes off (sorry to get graphic here) in the other room as the toilet is under the sink and the shower is a limbo dance around the sink.......3 nights we stayed in this room...and you know it starts off funny having to do the limbo to go to the bathroom but by the 3rd day it really was annoying.

Besancon was also a great town. It's a university town so lots of young people around, good shopping and thank god a great self service laundry. Again, the luxury of having clean clothes knows no bounds.

We also stopped in Vichy France for 3 nights. For you history buffs that is where the Vichy government holed up during the war and for you Spa buffs that is where there are hot natural springs. Small town of about 25,000 and I think a little piece of French paradise. The guide books really don't talk this up as they should. We stayed in a great family run hotel for €45 per night. The hotel was called the Averna Hotel and we highly recommend it to anyone who goes to Vichy. Due to finances I was not allowed to partake in the Spa activities but had to content myself with putting my hand in the hot spring in the centre of town.....

We have to move on as we are in the mountains (Vichy is in the Massif region) and we start to the west and then to the south ( to avoid a little mountain range called the Pyrenees). No real good stories here as we were a) frozen due to very wet weather and cold temperatures and b) moved along every day so didnīt stay in one place long enough to do more than have dinner.

So overall in France some general stuff for future travellers....
1) the wine is only cheap in the grocery stores but you can get a good bottle of red for under €5 easy
2) wine is very expensive in the restaurants and bars and cafes
3) beer in France is only okay and it is always from some other country
4) all other drinks such as soda pop and water are also very expensive. in some parts of the country a can of coke (or glass of coke) could be €2.20. the cheapest I got if for was €1.75 in a cafe.
5)everything closes down for a 2 hour lunch....this is bad when you arrive in town and head to the tourist bureau and it doesnīt open for another hour....
6) gas is expensive at around €1.05 - €1.12 per litre. you can find it cheaper by about .09 cents at the big supermarches but you have to go there when they are open as our cards (visa) didnīt work in their 24 hour system.
7) the french do like you to try and speak french
8) France is expensive. We even bought a kettle for our coffee and tea and bought cereal bars for breakfast and that barely helped.
9) Franceīs version of McDonald's is a place called Quick and it was quite tasty as the hamburgers tasted like real hamburgers...shocking
10) the roads are good and easy to ride on, sometimes the signs donīt always match the map but hey getting lost is part of the game
and finally
11) there is really a whole lot of dog poo everywhere

Posted by Danette Harkness at 01:49 PM GMT
habla ingles?

Today is Wednesday October 8th and I am really writing this on todays date... finally up to date with this stupid blog... I hope you guys are enjoying our travels and we would love you to email us at any time. Remember we only have each other to speak to in English and considering we have exactly the same day as each other it can get a little dull......

So we have arrived in Spain !!!

We are in San Sebastian to be exact which is really just over the French border by about 100kmīs or so. Itīs a fantastic town. Tons of shopping, bars restaurants and places to see. Itīs a mixture of young and old in the town and the pace is a nice easy one.

We arrived into town only knowing where the tourist bureau was supposed to be. Neither Patrick or I speak any Spanish and of course with being on the motorcycle we canīt have a library of guide books in our bags.

So here is day one in Spain....

Drive for about 3 hours
Get into Spain and realize that they are all driving a little bit faster than they should.
Watch very big trucks go through red lights
Find the sign, finally to the tourist bureau
Follow the signs to the tourist bureau
Yelling at each other, while riding down the street, about why isnīt the tourist bureau there (neither if us know where the damn thing is but itīs a good way to vent)
Pull over to the side of the road and ask for directions and get a good solid vague over there wave of hand sort of gesture..... now this is fun because I went to get the directions and then had to go back to Patrick with the vague hand movement of well itīs kind of over there. Did you know when Patrick starts rubbing his forehead itīs not a good thing ???
Decide to walk, in all our motorcycle gear in the vague hand gesture of that way.
Find a bookstore that has an english copy of a Spain guidebook !!! HUGE !!! The man in the shop speaks english and tells us the tourist bureau has moved but he knows where it is !!!!! There is a god.....
So melting in our motorcycle gear we get to the tourist bureau with 10 minutes to spare before they close for a 2 hour lunch.
Start the search for a place to stay ( so weīve been in town a good hour already )
Drive to the first place - itīs full
Drive to the second place that has 4 pensions (small hotels) in a 2 block radius. Get to the second place. The is a bomb apparently in these 2 blocks and the police are there blocking traffic and some men are around in these high tech blue and red outfits with big guns and face masks...... we turn around and walk quickly away. Our new spanish word for the day is bomba........
The sun has decided to come out and it is now 25 degrees and we are suffering heat stroke.
We brave traffic again and head to the next area of pensions. We make all the traffic and a very big bus come to a halt as we park the bike and I almost fall off ( iīm a little tired and cranky by this time)
Finally - we find a pension, it has a room, the lady is very nice and speaks a little english - she is Portuguese - love the Portuguese.
Later that night we head out for dinner. We are in Basque Country. We have a fantastic meal in a nice restaurant. The beer is good and cold and only .75 cents a glass. My wine is only a 1.50. Have we finally reached paradise????

Posted by Danette Harkness at 02:17 PM GMT
October 25, 2003 GMT
Moving along in Spain

So, where am I ??? Dark room, lumpy bed, small bathroom. Could be any of about 7 different countries. Open curtains and discover that it is a beautiful sunny day in San Sebastian or Donostia depending on your political views and ETA affiliation. We have had a great time in S. Sebastian. It is a beautiful city that is overrun in the summer time but offseason is great. We stay for a few days longer than intended as we are really enjoying the place.

We decide to move on after we have covered all of San S. and would come back to this city in a heartbeat. Salamanca is the next destination. It is a long day on the bike. We travel at about 120kmh when on the larger highways. This means that most other folks in their Mercedes and BMW's only pass us going about 80kmh faster than we are going...... We have not even seen a police car on the highway in Spain.

But I digress. Salamanca is a midsized university town that seems very popular with students from all over the place. Not to mention all the old stuff lying around!!! We do the usual entry into a new town, get lost, find tourist office, get map and become unlost. We find a likely hotel and try to use our guidebook Spanish to ask for a room. The usual pattern is that we ask if the person speaks english. They say no and look at us blankly. We then attempt the process in Spanish which ends with the hotel person laughing and saying that his english is better than our spanish. You get along easily.

Salamanca could have one of the best central squares in Euroland. Sitting at your table with a beer at the end of a long day on the bike and watching the world stroll by is a pleasure not known in Vancouver. The whole place is lit up at night and looks fantastic. Families,students,lovers, and tourists all looking relaxed and happy. I like Salamanca.

Once in a city we tend not to use the bike much. It just sits all locked up. I have started to worry about it less and less as the trip goes on. I now only get up and look at it once a night!!!

Salamanca is another good food city. We think it is the Basque influence. Lots of different stuff to try and lot of cheap wine to guzzle. Huge party town as well because of the student population. If any of you guys out there are thinking of getting married or are looking for a girl please come to Salamanca as the girls are fantastic in this town. Danette agrees and has not hit me. Chad ?? Are you listening???

We decide that after a few days we must move on. Portugal beckons. We have booked a place in the Algarve for 3 weeks as a vacation from the vacation. So it is back on the bike and off to Portugal, The land where everyone looks like Joe!!!

See ya !!

Posted by Patrick Harkness at 01:31 PM GMT
Hello Portugal !!

Okay, it is October 25th and we have made it to Albufeira in the Algarve. Ahhh, sunny and warm and ocean and ....... tourists.

But I well get to that.

After leaving Salamanca (a city we both liked) we head for Portugal and a city called Coimbra ( pronounced queembra) We decide to stay in a chain hotel near the centre of the city. We arrive a bit late in the day and just crash in the room. This city has a bit of a rough feel to it. Not sure why.

It is Thanksgiving in Canada and D and I are missing our families and friends. After about 4 months on the road we have yet to find a place as nice as our home. I guess most folks feel that their home towns are the best. We both phone home to say hello to the families on the day. Not sure if this helped as we both feel kinda low. Next day we can't seem to find the supermarket. Things are not going well. We talk about how we feel and come to the conclusion that we are just a little homesick. Weird after so much time has gone by.

We wander around Coimbra, check out the university district and discover something that will be a theme for Portugal. Every city seems to be built on a hill. Or several hills. Coimbra is not a bad spot, I think I just got a bad first impression.

A word about driving in Portugal: Maniacs. That is the word.

After a little planning we decide to head for a town outside of Lisbon called Sintra. Just to remind you, it is built on a series of very steep hills. Nice spot, lots of trees and palaces and castletype deals. Moorish invaders blah blah blah. You get the idea.

Sintra is good for a base to see Lisbon. Has a skytrain sort of thing that takes you right downtown for about 1.25 euro.

First day in Lisbon offered hash twice and almost had some drunk expose himself on the train. Ahhh just like home!!! I almost shed a tear. Lisbon is built on a series of hills (go figure) and has brutal traffic. We find a bookstore and see some sites.

Next day we find the giant mall and watch 2 movies back to back. We have not had any English language for weeks so the movies were great. Pirates of the Carib. and League of extraordinary Gentlemen. Go Sean Connery Go!!

Our hotel in Sintra is in an old manor house. We loved the look but hated the fact that the entire place was damp. Not to mention the ants.

On to the Algarve. The ride down was very long in high winds and thunderstorms. Arrived very tired and needing a drink. Found our place and we have settled in.

This is a very touristy place and after so little English we are a little shocked to hear all the accents from England and Germany. The whole place is set up for all the package tours.

Will update again soon.

Posted by Patrick Harkness at 01:57 PM GMT
 



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