It´s been a fun time of snow, snow and more snow, oh, and VERRRRY windy bridges going over to the Ile de Oléron, but now we´re in northern Spain, enjoying the delights of super twisty roads through the Picos de Europa.
We spent a few days in Arcachon by the Dune du Pyla (all those aiki types who went to Bordeaux a couple of years ago should know this one!)
From one pricey campsite to a spot of free camping in the Basque country, where we were very nearly rumbled by the owner, who having heard the Twinky start up, gave a suitably gallic shrug as we sped past him, tent flapping in the breeze.
A fantastically twisty ride through the Pyrannees was quite amazing (and yes, snow!) on the Ibaneta Pass (1059 metres) so decided on the coast route to lower the altitude and warm our chilly arses up...
Found a magic spot called Santillana where there are the prehistoric cave paintings in Altimera - well worth a visit if you´re passing.
We´re now in the Picos de Europa, which is ace riding and birding country (golden eagles, chough and alpine ascentor, plus griffon vultures, white storks (yes Binky, I have buried my bracelet!) and a blue throat in Archachon - Alan, are you jealous yet?!) we´re chilling out here with bargainacious wine (EUR 2.49 being a ritzy bottle!) looking over the mountains and scrubbing our road-filthy clothes.
Yes, for some reason we found ourselves on the Camino de Santiago da Compostela, so made that our destination for northern Spain. Yet again, there were snow covered mountains (normally near our campsite!) and one memorable day there was a nice thick layer of frost on the tent, hoorah for the Softie 9.
We've been zipping in and out of Portugal and Spain on some of the twistiest, weenyist roads (cobbles, sand, anyone?!) and tailgating madness from the Portugese drivers.
James had been having super fun birdwating - Montfrague in Spain was quite the most remarkable place (saw Eagle Owl plus chicks, Spanish Imperial and Booted Eagles; Black, Egyptian and Griffon vultures... the list goes on)
Imogen had found some rules of camping, number one being, "don't leave any food in the tent or indeed outside it" as we had what Imogen was convinced was a BEAR ATTACK (James reckoned a fox, boring) lifting an empty bottle of wine out of our bowl (outside the tent, don't panic mum!) to get at some saucisson and cheese dribs....
Other rules of outdoor living, "check your gloves in the morning" (beetle crawling over hand, nice); "don't use your washing up bowl as a rubbish bowl" bye bye cutlery, and "don't pitch up too close to a reservoir unless you know for SURE it won't rise" - cue panic at 3am as the waters lapped perilously close to the tent.
Other memorable moments were being caught in a hail and lightening storm on the road to Salamanca, so were rescued by some workers who let us shelter in their (refridgerated!) artisan saucisson factory, James was in heaven, Imogen not too sure (yes, Scottie, I thought of you!) and James having his head shaved by the maestro Willy near Trajan's Arch in Merida, a chappie of local renown - ageless, bald, and with a Dali style tash.
Had some great walks in the national parks, one memorable one ENDING with a 5 1/2 mile uphill switchback back to the bike, how much do we love the bike now?!
Now back in Portugal in the UNESCO town of Evora, having had our first swim in an outdoor pool, lining the crystal waters with a layer of road scum...
After a brief spell in Croatia (expensive!) we legged it to the more hardcore countries of Bosnia and Albania. The borders for both were suprisingly easy, the Bosnian one took a few of our hard earned sheckels for (needed!) insurance but got a free import docket from them (result).
First stop was Mostar, staying in the weirdest 'pansion', where much dodgy homebrewed moonshine (loza rakia and orahovaca) was drunk, accompanied by the bingo, which was avididly followed by our ex gymnast host (also saw footage of uber floods in dear old Blighty!)
Lots of war-damaged buildings and 'beware mines' signs, encouraged our non-free-camping status. There was an excellent road to Sarajevo with lots of Africa Twins zipping round (obviously a more rufty-tufty crowd!) Found the only campsite in Bosnia and headed (by ancient tram!) to Sarajevo, which is a really happenening city - full of life and really getting on with sorting itself out (oh, a good local beer - Sarajevsko pivo??)
Best road was in the Republica Sprska, with the added bonus of all the signs being in Cyrillic (a quick gen-up was duly done). Some of the borders into Montenegro were closed (no reason given, of course!) so back to Dubrovnik and a looong wait in the heat (yup, it's been constantly in the 40s for the last couple of weeks). Turned left into Montenegro for a quick dip in southern Europe's deepest (only?!)fjord, and into Albania. A quick enquiry about whether James would like to give his biking gloves as a gift to the border guard was gently (and successfully) rebuffed by the pierats as the AT gently ooozed into the melting tarmac.
Tirana was our first stop and we managed to find, what we can only assume was a "love hotel" (yes, AGAIN) as rooms were by the hour or a "rest" for the night... Again, a happening city, with a multitude out and about enjoying the park and pavement cafes, feeling totally relaxed and safe, even after hearing all the horror stories of armed police waving guns in faces at the border and the like ....
Through into the mountains and being miles and miles from anywhere opted to freecamp. Saw forest fires coming closer and wondered about the bears, wolves and gun toting locals, surrounded by Hoxjo's weird bunkers (of which there are 70,000 apparently fact fans).
Our last stop was the bizarre UNESCO town of Gjirokastra, where we watched the presidential elections (for those not fully versed in AL politics, it's Bamir Topi) on tv and the fireworks being let off in the streets by happy locals (we assume).
Note: here is the bike in our B&B restaurant, to get it off the streets.
We really enjoyed Albania, and altho it has more than a whiff of Morocco to it (bad roads, even worse drivers in their ancient Mercedes, cows being butchered in the dusty streets...) it's a great country to explore, the locals friendly, and very beautiful countryside to explore, and we even managed to get out without paying the exit tax OR daily tourist tax - result!
After navigating the whole of Albania by the map ripped out of a Lonely Planet, we decided on buying a Greek map to help us traverse our way. Into Greece and our stops have been the amazing Meteora monasteries, swimming in the Aegean by the moonlight shadow of Mt Olympus and birding at the Dadia National Park, with more black vultures and raptor fun, despite the fire department closing the park as we left due to fire hazards from the heatwave....
Next country, Turkey!
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