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I haven't been everywhere...
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Photo by Igor Djokovic,
camping above San Juan river,
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Old 2 Dec 2013
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France, Spain, Portugal - A 3 week trip to prepare for a RTW

Hey everyone

Last summer myself (Aidan) and my girlfriend (Maria) spent three weeks riding down to Portugal to be with some friends for their wedding. It was a sort of test run for a big round the world trip we're starting in a few months, and it gave us a chance to test all our gear too.

We've finally finished writing everything up on our blog, where we'll also be filling everyone in on our shenanigans as we head east next march, and I thought I'd share it here too. The following is a much-too-detailed account of our misadventures.....

Last edited by kluski; 4 Jan 2014 at 12:44.
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Old 2 Dec 2013
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We're off :) !!!

As we should have expected - but didn't - we got up later than planned. The preparations and stress at work had us relying on four mugs of coffee plus a Revive so we really needed a lie in. Suffice to say we loaded up the bikes in a bit of a rush with no time for faffing around. Just as well we had packed pretty much everything already.

Having watched Mondo Enduro, Terra Circa and Long Way Round, I almost expected a glorious send off, crowds waving, friends almost in tears, saying they'll miss us. Instead we locked up the garage and wobbled down the alleyway behind the houses to the street. Wow the bikes were heavy! We were carrying most of the gear we would be taking on the RTW, except the spares and winter clothes. But we hadn't done the test run everyone says you should do, so I was glad we were just heading to the ACE Cafe for breakfast for now!

Breakfast was big and yum ACE style! But I could hardly eat it, I was so exited. Felt almost like this was the big trip already, and we wouldn't be back for years! Bit nervous too, though. The German in me was screaming that this was far too under-prepared and we hadn't taken any of the eventualities into account! What if...! So I ignored her and tucked into breakfast. We bought a few Ace stickers for our panniers, in an attempt to feel more like proper travelers, and headed back out to the empty front yard.

No big Charley Boorman style fanfare either, and I was glad for it. Just a quiet, yummy breakfast and no-one there to see me heave the heavy bike off the side stand, fuelled up with coffee, ready to lug her to the other side of London. Following the advice from all the other motorcycle traveller books we'd read, we had packed the heavier stuff lower down and tried to distribute the weight evenly. So it wasn't really too bad, and we got used to it after a while.

Couldn't really weave in and out of traffic the way we're used to though, so the South Circular became even more frustrating than usual. Aidan is leading the way. We established a while back, that we preferred it that way round Just before Catford a bus driver pulls up next to him and tells him Catford is completely blocked, we should go round it. And with his passengers no doubt already late and frustrated, he spent a few minutes explaining how we could skirt around, through Brockley and get back onto the A2. Real nice of him

We finally make it onto the A2 and out of London.... Freedom!!! By this time we are quite late, but we want to stick to A-roads anyways. Glad we did, as they led us straight into Rochester. Looks like a pretty town (must come back to explore one day when we fancy a lil ride out!). But this time we have to press on to catch the ferry (the cheaper ticket doesn't allow you to take the next one, unless you pay extra of course).

At the next roundabout we can choose the M2 straight into Dover or keep following the A2. Oblivious that there is a choice to be made, I point grinning at a sign pointing towards "Rain" (presumably a town...?). That also happens to be the A2 so we follow it. I'm not sure whether Aidan thought I insisted on following the A2 or whether he'd laughed at the sign too. To be fair, it was a big busy roundabout so no place to sit around giggling away at the poor people living in perpetual rain. Aidan told me later, that he had been busy trying to devise a way of coaxing stubborn me into taking the motorway after all.

Soon the A2 became tiny and we were stuck behind a van going at a snail's pace! But we had no time to enjoy the pretty places it went through. Our rush was now starting to turn into panic. Luckily the van driver couldn't hear me cursing at him inside my helmet like that was suddenly going to make him do 100mph! So at the next sign we turned round onto the M2 after all, and gunned it as fast as traffic and the laden bikes allowed down to Dover.

Got there just in time. A quick call from the check-in to the boat confirmed that our places hadn't been sold to any other bikers and we could ride straight on. Real nice not to have to wait around The ferry trip was boring. Me and Icebear went outside for the obligatory waving-good-bye-to-the-white-cliffs picture and after that we all curled up with coffee from our thermos and a book.

Before we knew it the loudspeakers announced our imminent arrival. We stuck the overpriced GB stickers onto our panniers (I'm still not sure if you are legally supposed to have one of its not imprinted on your number plate), and rolled off the ferry. Got a little lost in Calais, trying to avoid the toll roads. Well, it didn't matter, we didn't have to get to Paris to visit our friends till the next day anyways and the occasional stop to check the atlas and compass kept us more or less on the right track. Or at least within range of our little A5 printed maps. So we just took it easy, cruising around on tiny D-roads, like the 215, full of gentle forgiving bends, straddled by picturesque towns at here and there, on through golden wheat and barley fields. Went past a sign pointing towards "Champagne" and "Guines". I'm surprised Aidan didn't head straight down that road!

At some point though, contrary to any logic, the road name changed, and we found ourselves riding completely out of range of the little printed maps in our tank bags. To make matters worse, whenever we managed to wiggle our way back towards roads we recognised, (relying on a compass and a very shady sense of direction) we found big yellow signs barring the road, with a series of complicated diversions set up. It was as if whatever god of travel there were had decided that our first foray would be a serious test.

Eventually, the sky clouding over, we had to admit we were hopelessly lost and getting really tired too, not being used to riding all day long. And some more basic needs were becoming more pressing too: we needed cash, petrol, water and wine! But none of the little villages were big enough to sell any of these. A bit of cruising around, doubling back on ourselves finally had us find a little town that provided all of the above. Desvres was small, hilly, cobbled, and host to some sort of anarchic and colourful rally festival - the cause of all the diversions, and our woes. Our bikes filled with petrol and our panniers filled with wine, the world seemed a brighter place, despite the fact that dusk was moving in quick. We decided to head on a little further and then start looking for a spot to pitch our tent.

We suddenly found ourselves on the road we were supposed to be on from Calais, so now Aidan was worried about deviating too far from it in trying to find a camping spot. We had read on various forums that the French aren't too keen on wild-camping, as there are millions of campsites around the country and one should be good and proper and sleep there. I can't remember if wild camping is actually illegal in France or not. Unlike the travelers who had written those blogs, we simply don't have the cash to pay for a campsite or hostel, let alone a hotel every night. There are of course also those bloggers, who said they did nothing but wild-camp. But their voices seemed rather small as we were busy looking for a really hidden spot that we could get the bike to.

We found a tractor trail leading between fields to a small forest. There was a red 'no trespassing' sign which I didn't bother reading and Aidan ignored. So we wobbled towards the trees (after riding into the camping field at the 2012 HUBB meeting our first ever "offroading" experience ). As soon as we killed the engine, a young guy in a little silver Peugeot turns up and I frantically try to piece a french this-isn't-what-it-looks-like excuse together in my head. But its not working and I am envisaging all sort's of mad scenarios of being chased back onto the road by a mad little french car bouncing all over the dirt track. So I pretend to be busy with the bike trying to come up with a plan.

Meanwhile Aidan takes his helmet off and strolls over to the guy with a smile: "Do you speak English?". Yes a little, and of course we could stay there for the night! Just pick up all your litter. By the time I realised Aidan hadn't been eaten alive and made my way over, the guy waved with a smile, hopped back in the car and drove off. That was easy Now I felt really stupid!

Exploring the little woodland to find the best spot to put the tent we realise it's actually an off-road dirt bike track. No wonder the owner came over all concerned when he saw two bikes heading there at 7pm without his consent! Spot found, we just had to ride the bikes over. The track was muddy and we only had road tires. Aidan managed fine, so I set off after him. The bike starts slipping all over the place. I'm shitscared and stiffen up and cling on for dear life! I even forget to close the throttle and head straight for the bushes. Before I know it, the bike heads back onto the path and some dryer grass. I finally manage to close the throttle and come to a stop - upright! So that's what they mean when they say you're supposed to keep the throttle open against all instincts and you'll be fine! I've consciously tried to replicate my first success since on mud and sand, but without success. Invariably instinct won, I slowed down and fell over

We pitched the tent between some trees and tied a tarp to them as a roof under which to cook in the rain. Works really well so real happy with our gear so far! Aidan cheffed up some fishy pasta on the camping stove (that's pasta with tinned fish and tomato sauce plus some herbs and spices) - simple but really yum after a long exhausting day. We drink sum wine, eat kinder chocolates for dessert and write our diaries. Aidan finished before, so he got his SLR and tripod out, and started playing around with those.

Eventually it got too dark to see what I was writing, so we curled up in the tent. Turns out we had picked a really bumpy spot, but were really exhausted, so slept anyways.
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Old 2 Dec 2013
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Getting to Paris (and over-staying)

So we're writing for the first time in three days; back to the diaries, back in the tent and back on the road. We woke up in Desvres to find that overnight it had bucketed down, overpowering our makeshift porch and pouring over our (now properly tested) waterproof panniers. We treated ourselves to some porridge, pumped up the bikes' tyres, and grimaced as we pulled on our soaked-through helmets.

The bikes packed up, we pointed ourselves towards the dirt track and our route south. Easier said than done, since the night's rain had turned it into a muddy gorge. I gunned the bike and, with a lot of kicking out and praying, managed to slip and slide my way across onto dry ground. Maria is a good deal shorter than me though, and doesn't have the advantage of being able to wrestle the bike around, so when she hit the deep mud she went down. Between us we pushed her bike upright and, with me holding her up by the panniers and her gunning the throttle and covering me in mud, we managed to lead the bike kicking and screaming on to dry ground.

The rest of the route was a breeze. I'd had a day's worth of practice in navigating with the compass and printed maps so we were motoring along nicely, and even hit a really cool spot called L'isle Adam - the road ran through a golf course, then a little village and beside a huge stone wall holding back terraced fields, before a wrought iron gate spit us back out into civilization. Good stuff.

Once we hit the outskirts of Paris it was a different story. The maps weren't quite enough to tell us where we were, and my newly acquired navigational skills were limited to open roads and sleepy villages so we were soon lost. I was fairly sure we were in a north-Parisian industrial estate, but figured I'd pull over and check the online map on my phone - something I don't do often, since it puts a big grin on the face of O2's CEO. As we were checking out the map and planning our next attack on the crazy Parisian streets, a young guy, helmetless and wearing just a t-shirt and shorts screamed past us on the back wheel of a scrambler. We'd seen him occasionally as we tried to find our way - circling the blocks and popping wheelies. A few minutes passed before an ambulance sauntered past, following him at a distance and waiting for him to crash and give them something to do.

Having consulted the map I had a rough idea of where we were - if not where we were going, and we ambled off again. Once we hit the peripherique (the Parisian equivalent of the London Orbital, but less logical and more life threatening), we threw ourselves into a 6 lane roundabout with no road markings (and seemingly populated by suicidal van drivers) and emerged 2 or 3 revolutions later, eyes closed and screaming, but more or less in the right direction. From here we ended up passing the Parc de la Villette - something I had seen often in books and pictures over the course of my architectural career, but had not realised was so close to the centre of Paris. I almost killed myself a few times, having far more interest in Tschumi's park than in the traffic I was weaving around. Luckily I realised that I had missed our turn, so I got to head past it again in the opposite direction and risk my life a few more times. Having somehow found my way back on to the right road I started looking out for the street that my friend Elena lived on. Of course I had completely forgotten what it was called, but I at least remembered that it was something obvious. Rue Paris? Rue France? After about half an hour of riding down the main street at 20mph, squinting at each road sign and pissing off every motorist in Paris, I spotted Rue des Pyrenees, and figured that must be it. I did at least remember the house number and, wouldn't you know it, there was a half empty bike bay right outside the doors to a beautiful art deco entrance with Elena's number on it.

We climbed off the bikes, I lit up a smoke and texted Elena - in the very likely event that we were in completely the wrong area I didn't want to go banging on some poor french woman's door - and sat back exhausted. Within minutes Elena was at her window waving, and then was downstairs hugging us (and I'm sure trying to close off her nasal passages). We got everything unpacked and carried up the two flights of ornamental stairs to the flat, and were welcomed with our first cold in days.

After Elena and Michalis had shown us around - which can be done standing still, since it's a central Parisian flat, so at 50sq.m it's positively lavish - we scrubbed the dirt off ourselves and settled in to a few more s, an amazing baked fish courtesy of Michalis, and a catch up. Elena is Greek, with an upper-middle class English education, a bottomless pit of knowledge about art and literature on the tip of her tongue and a unique view of the world that makes her a great host. We carried on late into the night, working our way through the wine, weed, raki, cigars and mastika, until the miles caught up with us and we started slumping in our seats. Eventually we passed out on the sofa bed and slept well into the next day.

At some point during our drinking session we had decided to stay an extra day in Paris and hang out with Elena while Michalis was at work. So when we did eventually get ourselves out of bed, showered and caffeinated, we headed out onto the metro and into the trendy east quarter. I like this part of Paris. There is no sign of the clichés you remember from tourist propaganda; that's all in west-central. Instead its just loads of cool cafes and bars running the length of a canal that leads you right up to Parc de la Villette. The sun was shining and we wandered slowly. Along the way we discussed Elena's PhD, her strange new obsession with balconies, and the Parisian quirks she had noticed (like their tendency to park by nudging the cars around them, rather than bothering with spacial awareness). A few stops for bubble tea, and s from an ample chested waitress (as Elena was quick to point out) and we found ourselves in Bernard Tschumi's park with a few tinnies and our cameras out, snapping away.

Hanging out with Elena was proving to be a nice relaxing break from traveling and as evening drew in and Michalis finished work, we figured we'd go out for dinner to cap it off. We parked the car in the red light district and settled in for steaks and a few bottles of Bordeaux in a little outdoor carvery-slash-tapas-bar that seemed to be populated by students and general beautiful people. Then back to the flat for another of Elena's attempts at destroying our livers. Over more s, raki, mastika and cigars, we got to discussing high brow literature, art and music, finding that we shared a love of Warren Ellis. The evening quickly degenerated though, and soon enough we were competing to play the cheesiest British Metal; Iron Maiden, Ozzy, Judas Priest and worse. Just before bed I played them a few Mr. Bungle videos, just to **** with their heads and inspire some surreal dreams. I woke up to find a few notes outlining a route out of Paris drunkenly scrawled on the back of a piece of paper, next to the words 'Rotting Christ'. (I later discovered this was the name of a goth band we had found particularly amusing the night before).

The morning started as usual with bleary eyes and coffee. Then a round of re-organising the panniers, collecting freshly washed clothes and having one last long, languorous shower. As we were lugging our stuff back down the three flights of narrow stairs and out into the street, we decided on an impromptu photo-shoot in the hallway, to make use of the swanky art deco background and get some last shots with Elena.

Apart from the aforementioned piece of paper, I had no directions, and no plan for getting out of Paris, so I figured I'd stick the compass in my tank bag, ride around the peripherique for a while (complete with mandatory screaming and wincing) and eventually head south/southwest. It was a nice enough way to travel, though it was getting us nowhere fast, since I was being a bit too careful about following the compass needle, and we often found ourselves in tiny little villages populated exclusively by speed humps and caravans. A stop at Bretigne-Sur-Orge for a coffee, pee, and glance at the map gave us time to come up with a bit of a plan. We eventually worked out a system comprising equal parts compass, road sign, and intuition to lead us relatively quickly through Orleans and Blois and in the direction of Loches along some nice 'D' roads that didn't force us to work too hard. Might not sound too exiting, but it's exactly what you need to wean you back on to the saddle, and shake off the remains of the hangover.

Around about seven in the evening, and we started keeping an eye on the roadside for inviting looking lanes. For the second time on the trip, our first investigation up a little side track led to a really promising camping spot. The trick, it seems is to spot a bit of land in the distance where farmed fields meet a grove of trees. Then you wait to find a small dirt track that leads off the main road and runs between the two. That way you can choose either to find a nice comfy spot in the corner of a field, or a good hidden piece of woodland. It gives you options is the point, and a bit of common sense will usually find you comfortably settled in for the night, and unworried about being moved on by angry locals.

In this case a bit of investigating led us to the farmed side of the road where a small hedge gave us a nice bit of cover while we laid our tent on freshly mown hay. We weren't exactly miles away from civilisation but we figured we had ridden far enough from the main road, and we weren't taking up much space, so it was as good a spot as any. After all the little dirt track didn't look like it got much use. We unloaded the bikes and pitched the tent as a hot air balloon sailed over the yellow fields, giving us a long-lasting, if slightly clichéd memory of rural France. We settled in to the dusk with a couple of bottles of wine, some pasta with sardines, and a bit of cautious optimism that wild camping may not be as difficult as we had been led to believe. . .

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Old 2 Dec 2013
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Loches to South West of Bordeaux

We had set the alarm for 7am and eventually crawled out of the tent into a cool and dewy morning, looking forward to cheesy beans on toast (supplies carried all the way from London). The camping stove all set up and ready to cook, it transpired our lighter was broken beyond repair. Despite our best intentions not to forget this time, we had of course not remembered to buy a spare in the supermarket the evening before. Oh well!

Took our time packing up, hoping that the rising sun would dry the millions of tiny droplets of water from the inside of our tent before packing it up. A farmer on a small tractor waved and smiled as he drove past. The a woman with two dogs and another little jiff-jaff turned up. The latter jiff-jaffed his hello and then refused to follow the lady home. We had to walk him back to her. Then I had an idea: "Avez vous d'une feu?" I yelled after her, as she was almost out of earshot. No, "Desolé!", of course not! She didn't much look like a smoker; or maybe my French isn't very French.

The farmer on the little tractor came back the other direction and waved again. Whoever said the French don't like people wildcamping and chase you away...?!? Just as we were almost loaded up and ready to go, a guy in a white van stopped n came over to say Hi. He spoke very few words of English, but with our few words of French and all of our hands and some weird "vroom vroom" noises we established that he used to ride a bike, a Harley in fact. He loved our little camping spot and wished us a great journey

After a quick stop at Lidl for water and some lighters, we got some miles under our belt. The air was still relatively cool, especially in the morning, but the sun was out I was getting more and more comfortable cornering with the heavy panniers but the relatively straight french roads took it easy on me, giving me time to get used to the heavy bike. The indicators had almost completely stopped working though and I'd have to have a look at that soon. Something to do with the switch, as neither indicator nor the little green indicator light on the instrument panel worked.

Stopped in a lay-by and got the stove out to finally cook our cheesy beans on toast Yum! And some coffee of course. Loving the idea of just setting up a little kitchen wherever we fancy!

The wheat and barley fields had given way to pretty seas of yellow sunflowers! And closer to Bordeaux vineyards started popping up. Wine makers had 2m tall wine bottle statues by their gates advertising their direct-from-the-vineyard sales.

In the afternoon it got really hot in the bike leathers! One of the many blinking green Pharmacie lights declared it to be 41°C! Hm..... not sure that's quite true, but definitely hot enough for some ice cream. Sat in an Intermarché car park and munched almost the whole pot of chocolate & caramel ice cream (can't store it on the bike after all )

We made one last push, jumping on the "A"-roads (motorways) to get past Bordeaux. Eventually got off at junction 24 to find a camping spot, as it was already quarter past seven and the sun was going to set soon. But we ended up in a horribly industrial feeling pine plantation area with lots of Private! - No Entry! signs. That's no good!

So off we went, completely exhausted, desperate to find a camping spot, considering almost anything. And so we ended up riding into a super bumpy little field opposite a Bistro, in full view of a growing crowd of menacingly staring customers. When it became apparent that they weren't going to turn their backs and let us camp un-watched and in peace, we had to wrestle our bikes back over the bumps and back onto the road. Bummer! Going to chalk that one up to a bit more off-roading practice then and carry on...

Eventually turned off the road down a little track into a light, easy-going looking pine forest (none of that almost surgical-precision type plantation we had earlier). The ground was almost pure white sand like on a beach and we found a little spot under a little oak tree. Just beyond that the path had been blocked with a little heap of stones, so the owner's obviously didn't want any visitors. But we were well hidden from the road and it was perfectly peaceful Except for the MILLIONS of mosquitos! Aaaarrrrggghhhhh! Deet!!!! We got absolutely munched that evening, even with several layers of anti-mozzie spray!

Had some yummie smoked mackerel and lambs lettuce salad for dinner with cheese, olives and wine for seconds! Yum, yum, yum!!!

Then grabbed some more wine and decided to explore further down the path into the forest. It got real dark in one place where we crossed a tiny river - really beautiful and eerie. Then out into a clearing where there was a fence that looked like it shouldn't be crossed: some sort of military installation (that you can't see on the map of course).

So we turned back and I spent ages trying to take a good picture of the huge yellow moon rising behind the trees. Then we ran from the mozzies and hid in the tent, finishing the wine and writing the diaries by torch light.
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Donostia (San Sebastian)

Feeling pretty good, having showered and bought some razors for a shave tomorrow. Not feeling so good about having to pay the princely sum of €9 for a microwaved frozen pizza. We're in a campsite. Having decided that we wouldn't find a spot to free camp anywhere near the city (or the coast, where we wanted to go for a swim and a scrub), and feeling exhausted by yesterday's excursions we decided to bite the bullet and pay to camp.

Last night's spot looked fairly idyllic and made for some great pictures, but the place was overrun with ****ing mosquitoes so in the morning we packed up sharpish and left, due south, with a few dozen love bites to remind us of the downside of sleeping in nice cozy forests. We'd overindulged slightly with the wine to try to discourage the mozzies by raising our blood-alcohol level, so my route for the day was fairly drunkenly plotted and illegibly scrawled on a piece of paper. Despite that we managed to make it through Bayonne, Biarritz, St-Jean-de-Luz and across the border without incident.

The only change at the border was the speed limit, and a slight degree of irrationality by the Spanish drivers. Eventually we made it in to Donostia; a typically touristy, coastal affair, and one that we had no idea how to navigate. So parking the bikes up in a little bay on a side street we set off on foot to have a look around town, get our bearings, and maybe have a cheeky if the opportunity arose. The city has a few nice draws; not least the long main strip that runs through the town allowing you to sit and people watch over a . There's also some decent sculpture by Eduardo Chillida that they are very proud of, and a congress centre by Moneo that at least acts as a landmark when you forget where you parked your bike. We were way too tired for any of that though, so we headed straight for the tourism office, which was much bigger and busier than you'd expect and we had to take a number ticket and wait to speak to someone.

An hour or so later and furnished with a map of nearby campsites and a fresh pack of cigarettes we sat down at a cafe to check our options. It was pretty clear that there was only one campsite anywhere near us, so we jumped back on the bikes and started winding our way up the hills that enclosed the city. Since the map showed the campsite as being just on the edge of town we thought about walking back in for dinner, but as we steadily climbed further and further up the mountain, with no sign of life, that idea began to dwindle.

Eventually we found it. Remote and Elevated. It wasn't as expensive as I'd worried it would be though and we justified parting with our €20 odd for the sake of shower facilities and wi-fi.

After a quick wander on foot (and slurping from a bottle of wine) to check out a few restaurants we had passed on the drive up, and finding them all closed, we had a pizza and a few s in the local canteen. After a game of Spite & Malice and another we settled in to the tent, making use of the free wi-fi to let everyone know we were still alive.

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Bilbao & Sopelana, then Burgos

Left the campsite and headed back down the mountain into San Sebastian with a plan to find the coastal road to Bilbao. It should only be a short ride away, leaving us lots of time to explore the city, which we love so much. (We had been there in July 2010 for the Bilbao BBK Festival. That year it had an exceptional Rock line-up with the likes of Pearl Jam, Skunk Anansie, Rammstein, Bullet For My Valentine, Coheed and Cambria, Gogol Bordello, Faith No More...

But of course we got lost pretty much straight away and found ourselves on a really steep, single lane mountain road consisting solely of hairpin bends. AWESOME!!! It was the most difficult riding I had done so far; absolutely exhilarating, adrenalin pumping, first gear most of the time. Add to that the stunning misty seaside scenery at the bottom of the mountain.... I almost fell off the bike trying to catch a glimpse through the trees. If that is what gettin lost is like, I hope we get lost loads

We finally reach a bigger road and start heading right in the direction. Suddenly things start looking familiar.... Yup, its the campsite again! Oh well, off we go again. No regrets though! The scenery remains amazing as the road keeps winding along the seaside mountain. I had sworn to myself to never let a photo opportunity go by again. But I was so busy having a good time and learning to heave the loaded bike around the bends, we were almost back down the mountain before it occurred to me, that I didn't have a single photo.... oh well, sorry guys, you're just gonna have to take my word for it.

We kept following the winding coastal road - not a straight in sight! Every time there was a sign for a direct route to Bilbao, we ignored it and headed further along the coast.

Eventually we were exhausted and our un-trained shoulders started hurting, so we stopped in a little town for a coffee. Then on we went, only to start running out of petrol, with no petrol station in sight. Hadn't seen one all day on those little roads. Emergency meeting in a carpark: plan hatched to find a bigger road at the first chance. We top the next hill and there is a petrol station all by itself in the middle of nowhere. Phew!

Tonight we wanted to stay in an actual camp site, so we could leave the bikes safely, while exploring Bilbao late into the night. The nearest campsite is in Sopelana. But we really wanted to be within walking distance of the city. So we rode into town anyways. A visit to the tourist information centre by the Guggenheim confirmed that there was no campsite closer by. And all the hostels were fully booked because the Aste Nagusia Festival was on. Good timing! But it meant we had to go back to the Sopelana campsite.

That was almost fully booked too, but because we had bikes (not cars) that could squeeze in with the tent, we got a spot We were exhausted! Nothing that a couple of s from the campsite bar couldn't fix! Put up the tent and quickly did some very overdue laundry.

Then off into town. There is a direct train from Sopelana into Bilbao and because of the festival, it was going to run pretty much all night... Perfect

We had seen a couple of stages and bars along the river in Bilbao, but nothing too spectacular looking, so we didn't have too much faith in the festival. So the plan was to find a little restaurant for dinner and then to bumble about, exploring the city. Got off the train and started heading towards the Guggenheim, bottle of wine in hand.

Walked past an open door where people were sat on benches and cushions watching a big screen. I thought it was a movie but Aidan said they were skyping someone.... cool!

Then walked past a side street where people were spilling out of bars and restaurants into the street. There were lights and flags above their heads across the street.

So we went to investigate and found ourselves in the middle of the festival. The crowds spread all over the quarter and down to the river. EVERYONE was out! Grannys, children, punks, hapless tourists and everyone in between. Young people were having tapas, old men watched a football game, children were holding their grand parents' hands, weaving through the crowd. The atmosphere was one of fun and mischievous revelry

We stopped at a restaurant with a bunch of sixty-something guys singing football hymns. Sounds awful, right? But no hooligans in sight and so it was really happy and amusing.... and they served rabbit! I'm sold

Bumbeled around some more and bought some s in a sweet shop.
Suddenly a big bang.... or two.... or three... and the sky was ablaze with fireworks! I'm not normally a big fan, but these were beautiful!

Heard some rock music playing and turned around. We found ourselves in a more alternative quarter and stood right outside a Metal Bar. Sweet! In we go All smoky and black, with a motorbike amongst the spirit bottles behind the bar. My kind of place! The small place was filled with twenty something metal heads and a few rock chicks. One girl looked distinctively out of place with a where-the-hell-did-you-take-me-on-our-first-date expression on her face. The guys behind the bar had long black hair and one of them was picking rock and metal tunes on his laptop.

We grabbed a and started dancing (well, I did, Aidan doesn't dance unless unconsciously drunk). Got the music guy to play Engel by Rammstein and sang along at the top of my voice. Don't worry, no-one could hear me over the loudspeakers! Then the guy behind the bar started pouring vodka from the bottle down people's throats so I went and got my share A good night! Eventually the money ran out so we stumbled back to the train.
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Woke up with a hangover from hell, which we tried to cure with the last of our rations: Cheesy beans on dry spanish bread. Then packed up in a disoriented hurry and managed to check out just in time at 12 o'clock. Headed off south-west and got lost in Bilbao's industrial Estate. Managed to escape down a tiny road that wound its way up the mountain. Stopped half way up with an amazing view of the city and brewed another coffee. Txt my dad so he knows we're still alive. He wrote back he was busy making coffee too! ... great minds...

Riding on, we came across a bunch of ponies grazing on a roundabout, near a pretty spot. No Idea what it was, only that it had a car park so you could stop and stare.

The road continued climbing until we reached the plateau at the top of the world! - Felt like it anyways From then on the landscape was golden: just-harvested corn fields, yellow sunflowers and orange soil. The peaks of the hills were peppered with windmills. The hangover was slowly wearing off and I started playing around with taking photos whilst riding.... Throttle mate on, keeping the throttle open. Then open the tank bag, fetch the camera, turn it on.... oops I'm slowing down..... camara into left hand, throttle back open..... camera into right hand (I am right handed), focus... and click! All the while trying to keep an eye on the road. Its almost empty, but thats not gonna stop me from landing in the ditch! And then reverse the order... adjust throttle... and put the camera away safely all before a car comes zooming around the next difficult bend straight towards me.

Eventually we outrun the last of the clouds. Swapped them for blue skies and lots of wind and descended down the other side of the mountain. The landscape was all farmed fields now. The wheat and barley had just been taken in, but the fields had not yet been ploughed and so remained a golden colour. There were very few trees and the land was pretty flat, which became a problem when we started looking for a spot to pitch the tent for the night.

We decided to hop off the main road onto a really dusty farm track that went on and on and on. Eventually it led us to a grove of very young pine trees and we decided to leave the bikes and explore on foot. There was path where we could fit the tent, hidden away to one side so we returned to fetch the bikes. Just as we were going to start up the bikes, a man walking his dog turned up. We had read somewhere that wildcamping is illegal in some parts of Spain and decided to let them go on their way.

Eventually we got tired of pretending to drink water, so we decided to just assume they had gone and make a dash for it. That minute the man poked his nose around the pine trees.... he was obviously checking on us. Hm..... oh well! We decided to move on and come back if we couldn't find anything else. Started up the bikes and man and dog popped out of the trees and up the path, walking past us without greeting. We had only ridden about 300 metres when they turned back the way they had come. So they were definitely just making sure we didn't camp there!

We bounced down another dirt track to the right, past some rowdy barking dogs and hopped back onto the main road. Things were getting desperate now! It would get dark soon and we were tired. We tried another little path that led straight onto a freshly harvested field. Aidan turned onto the field and stopped at the opposite edge by some trees. I waited to see what he would do, as it was super bumpy and well difficult to ride. But he stayed there so I opened the throttle wide and hopped and bounced across the field towards him. When I got half way, he decided to head towards the other corner. So I tried to turn and got stuck in one of the rills, almost dropped the bike - but I managed to get my foot on the ground and kicked it back up. (Yay!!! First time I'd managed to do that ). Meantime Aidan headed back to the road (grrrrrr!), so I gunned it in a huge semi-circle across the rills and managed to get the bike out of the field without falling off - Phew! NOW I really was exhausted. Real good fun tho

Off-road training over we decided to ride on for half and hour and hope the landscape would change a little and there would be more hidden spots. Came across some big bushes by the side of the road with a path leading into them and found a spot where we couldn't be seen from the road or the field behind. As we put up the tent, we kept listening up, but no-one was there to tell us to move on. So we cracked open the wine and settled in.

The ground was dry and covered in parched grass, twigs and leaves so we were really worried our stove would set the place on fire. But I''m not going out with an architect for no reason! Soon the ground was soaked with water and a cooking platform constructed on top, using the pannier lids. We had another yummy fishy pasta with smoked mackrel (my hands stank of fish all night ) and of course the obligatory wine, cheese, anchovy-stuffed olives and yummie bread while we were waiting for dinner to be ready (or "dinner before dinner" as Elena described it in Paris).

We had bought the olives and cheese and wine in a tiny little corner shop in Osorna. It being Summer and Spain, it was was some festival or other, and the supermarkets were closed. But we spotted some teenagers with shopping bags full of sweets, cola and bread. So we pointed at the bags and they pointed us towards a shop (hidden behind a huge sun cover), proudly using as much of their (only partially relevant) english as they could.

The shop sold mainly sweets, but also had some essentials. A little old lady in the shop had managed to find some cheese, which I could not see anywhere in any of the fridges. So when she gestured that we should take her spot in the que and pay first, I pointed at the cheese in her shopping basket, then waved my hand towards the fridge with a puzzled look, saying something about "Queso". She waddled off and proudly retrieved another piece of cheese from next to the coke tins, perfectly hidden behind a massive sticker on the glass fridge door.

Some more finger pointing and various pronunciations of "pan" got us some bread from behind the counter and we finally had everything we needed. A Calculator told us the price to pay and we laboriously counted out the still quite unfamiliar euros. Yay for the super nice little old lady with huge amounts of patience for silly foreigners with pink hair, clad in full bike gear in the Spanish summer heat

After dinner, still undiscovered by anyone that could tell us to go elsewhere, we wrote out diaries and Aidan plotted tomorrows route in the Atlas. Of Course Aidan finished before me, as usual! The wine was finished too, so time to climb into the sleeping bags and pass out!
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Old 3 Dec 2013
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Ourense (Just outside Portugal)

Last night we were a bit jumpy at the thought of camping illegally, in a spot we weren't entirely sure was out of the way. Those fears were put to bed once we'd worked our way through a bottle of wine though, and we slept well. I woke before Maria, either because of the cold - trees keeping the morning sun off the tent - or because of the sound of gunshot in the distance. I wasn't too worried; the shots were from a hunting rifle, and I figured in rural Spain shooting random little creatures was probably a good way to pass a Sunday morning. Besides, the birds in the trees above the tent hadn't stopped chirping and I figured they'd know before me if it was time to run for it.

The clock showed that I'd slept in longer than planned though, so I figured I'd get up and make coffee. Over breakfast, we started to exchange glances as the gunshots became gradually louder, and when we heard voices around the corner we decided it was time to pack up pronto and be on our way lest we be confronted with angry and well armed Spanish farmers. The washing up and packing up done in a record one hour forty, we jumped on the bikes, steered out of the clearing, and gunned it towards the main road - past a group of confused looking Spaniards in full camo gear! Back up to cruising speed and with the sun on our backs, we notched that one up as a success and looked ahead.

Since we'd spent a large part of the previous day wandering around, consulting the map, and doubling back on ourselves, I'd decided to spend some time last night making sure I knew the route and jotting down some fairly detailed notes. Armed with these we were soon in Leon and looking to stop for supplies. Leon is a fairly substantial city and nice looking, judging from a first ride down the main street (though I have to say that I knew nothing about it, other than the fact that Antoni Gaudi had stuck a building somewhere around the outskirts).

The only problem: it was Sunday. In Spain everything shuts down on Sunday. Even in a big city like Leon. Even the hypermarket that we rode around for 10 minutes. After a few trips round the centre, all to no avail, we stopped at some traffic lights to assess. Maria was suggesting we try to follow signs to a McDonalds on the outskirts of town just to avoid starving, though I thought mugging an old lady who was feeding stale bread to the ducks might be a more palatable option. A thunderous roar drowned out our discussion, and signaled the arrival of a Harley - a laid back looking guy sporting a sleeveless leather vest and a custom painted Hawaiian sunset on his tank. I had seen him earlier on in town and given him the nod, unable to hold back a bemused smirk at the sight of the huge fire extinguisher he had seen fit to attach to his front fork. Well, you know; Harleys.....

He pulled up next to us in the middle of some crazy traffic at on a junction, asked us in Spanish what we were looking for (I assume). And when Maria launched into a mime of stuffing food into her helmet whilst shouting "Supermercado" above the noise, he tore off through the streets, with us in hot pursuit.

The guy must have known the town well, because the little corner shop he led us to was hidden, to the extent that I can't imagine many locals even know about it. He stopped the bike in the middle of the crossroads (I followed suit), jumped off his bike to introduce himself as Carlos, exchange greetings, ask about our route, and confirm our suspicions that yes, everything would be closed on any given Sunday (all without any common language).

Then, his good deed done for the day, he jumped back on his bike and roared off into the traffic, leaving two very grateful bikers behind. The shop was small and seemed to be of an organic persuasion so, for a slightly extortionate fee we got some amazing chorizo, enormous peppers, wine, peaches, chocolate and water. Then back on the bikes and on towards Astorga (another town with a Gaudi building that I didn't get to see).

The road south to Astorga (the N120) was fairly uneventful, until it led us on to the N-536. What a great road. Sweeping through the mountains, skirting beside rivers, lakes and forests, and superseded by a new section of N120 that took most of the traffic away. Unfortunately, I couldn't spend nearly enough time throwing the bike around hairpins and being generally stupid before we had to jump back on to the N120.

On the plus side, this allowed us to eat up a lot of miles and we were passing Ourense before 6pm. From there we were on the OU-540 which will eventually take us across the border into Portugal, and we started looking for camp. A few excursions on the bikes, and sometimes on foot, and we eventually found a really promising, if slightly mystical looking single track path that plunged into a dark forest. Our first few steps in were fairly tentative, since we had to fight through a black cloud of mozzies, but just as we were thinking about giving up and turning back the path opened out into a freshly mown field, with a nice big chestnut tree in the corner and a decent view of the local village. Yes, the field was on a 30° slope, and the conkers on the tree looked like they'd been designed by H.R. Geiger (not that they were phallic, just evil and spiky) but by now this was old hat, and we had the tent set up with a couple of hours of daylight left. That finally gave us some time to do a bit of bike maintenance and rearrange the panniers. So with the sun going down on our last night in Spain (for now), we ate our amazing-but-extortionate chorizo and I played around with my camera while Maria got busy writing postcards.

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South of Ourense - Braga, then through Porto

Rode back along the tiny forest path onto the road towards Portugal. Took it nice and easy, enjoying the sunshine and the relative morning cool - we weren't planning to ride far that day. Stopped in Bande for a few groceries and then found the post office to get some stamps for the cards I had written the night before.

A couple of ladies stood outside the post office door looking like they were waiting for it to open up. They congratulated me on my pink hair - "Naturale!" - we all laughed. They only spoke spanish to us and one remembered some school english. It was Monday, but as it turned out that day was another Fiesta, so the post office wouldn't open. (What were they queuing up outside the door for then?!?) The nearest postie was 12km back the way we came. I had seen it as we rode past, and it had looked distinctly closed. Oh well, off to Portugal then!

Stopped by the side of the road to make some fresh coffee. (Well, Aidan brewed the coffee while I was watching ants carry huge pieces of debris across the road. One ant carried a seed three times its size and kept veering off to the right until he got lost. Then some others started following him and also got lost! - Fascinating stuff! )

The road was sweeping in relaxed bends along the mountain side and across rivers. This time we actually realised when we reached the border (we had totally missed the one between France & Spain). But our glorious look-where-we-are!-stand-under-the-road-sign picture was somewhat ruined by the graffiti someone had sprayed on the sign. The roads across the border immediately got much harder to ride, with tighter bends and everyone doing about twice the speed limit!

Stopped at a water fountain to replenish supplies. In this heat we were drinking several litres a day and then we needed a little bit for cooking and washing in the evenings too. So this time I filled up the second foldable water bag we had, and strapped it to the top of my pannier. Aidan had been carrying one most days already. I don't know how he hadn't complained about it yet - they are HORRIBLE!!! To ride with that is. The water sloshes around, tearing the soft bag this way and that. In turn this moves the whole bike and makes it really hard to handle, especially when you are swinging from tight bend to tight bend. Lesson learned! We are taking a hard water container on the big trip!

The roads carried on winding in tight bends along the mountain side and I was really struggling with the sloshing water bag. But hey, it was sunny, hot and beautiful riding through village after village so I just decided to make the best of it. My visor was slightly open to let the cool air in (but not open enough for all the bugs and mozzies to smash on my glasses) and I was busy trying to keep up with Aidan, who seemed unphased by his sloshy water bag.

BANG!! A bee flew into my visor and is now sitting all bedazzled on the chin guard of the helmet. And then it crawls into my helmet and starts flying around 1cm from my eyes!!! BEEEEEE! I mean BEND!!! Almost missed the bend in the road heading straight for someone's front gate. BRAKE! .... lean! LEAN some more! Phew..... pull over.... where is the bee? Its fallen down into my slightly open Jacket straight into my cleavage. Dirty bastard! Get OUT! I've finally come to a stop by the side of the road and the bee drunkenly crawls out of my jacket and flies off. That was lucky! Time to catch up with Aidan who's waiting round the next corner wondering what's taking me so long. (If this sounds familiar to you, yes, Lois Pryce also had a bee-moment too.)

In Braga we parked up the bikes outside a house where the residents had said it was ok to park. Being used to parking only in parking spaces, we had found some, but you had to pay and the free motorcycle ones had been taken up..... The walk into town revealed that most bikes are simply parked on the pavement. As long as its not ridiculously in the way, no-one seems to mind. So from then on we did the same

Braga is beautiful! Lots of old buildings, covered entirely with 70's wallpaper style patterned tiles, in various states of repair.

We headed for the somewhat touristy central square and splashed out on a huge and meal sitting outside at a restaurant. Aidan had portuguese style thinly battered cod with fried potato and I had yummy purple squid with potato and spinach. Feast! Not to forget the huge ice creams that followed of course We were sat next to a fountain and every time the wind blew our way, we had a light shower in the water mist. Real nice on such a hot day, except it diluted the ice cream!

Afterwards we decided to explore the town on foot to try and find a post office once again. Of course we misunderstood the spanish directions from the post card vendor's daughter and her mum's fingers pointing in all sorts of directions. Even the little drawing from another woman didn't help. We had left the helmets and the leather jackets on the bikes, but the bike boots and jeans had us getting hot and bothered. We soon got really irritated trying to find the damn post office and our exploration just wasn't much fun anymore. So we just gave up and headed back to the bikes.

We really wanted to just sit in the cool shade of a parasol and drink ice-cold . But we had to find a place to sleep, so we left town in search for a camping spot. Whoever had told Aidan that Portugal is sparsely populated, was seriously mistaken! Well, in this area anyways. Village after village popped up along the road, often merging into each other, making for miles and miles of roadside settlement with no lonely spots to pitch a tent in sight! Eventually Aidan spotted a small path next to someone's house, leading into a tiny square of forest. It split in two and the right hand one led to the perfect little camping spot under the trees.
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We unpacked the bikes and set up camp still all grumpy and overheated. Aidan solved this by opening a really hot can of that had been boiling in his luggage since the supermarket this morning, while I swapped jeans and boots for hotpants and flipflops and used one of the panniers to do the laundry in.

Housewifing done and sufficiently calmed down, we wandered up the road with a bottle of wine, see if we could find the ice-cold s we had been craving. Stashed the wine and went into the first bar we saw. 90 cents a half pint? Bring it on! I'm suddenly up for a pub.... er, I mean bar crawl

Everyone seems to be scooting around on those awesome little bikes and a couple of guys came and went, riding up to their mates, having a and then riding on.

We decided to explore some more of the village. So fetched our wine bottle from its hiding place and walked down the road. Quite scary, as there are mostly no pavements and cars just zoom past without slowing down for anything. So you find yourself jumping into ditches or pressed against someone's garden wall a lot.

There wasn't much to see, so we popped into another bar. I did the usual british thing and walked up to the bar and bought a . The second time the bar tender thought he'd teach me the portuguese way and refused payment. Then the penny dropped. You just keep drinking as s are brought to your table and then you pay at the end before you leave. That would never happen in London! I liked this relaxed attitude

As I sat down, I knocked the flimsy plastic table and spilled lots of . So I had to get up again to fetch some napkins from inside. Aidan took the piss out of me endlessly. Then he got up and knocked the table so hard, my fell over! HAHA! Who is drunk now?!? We spent the rest of the evening discussing the bikes and our riding styles, and how I could improve my cornering. Aidan was lots better at it than me. Finally it was time to stumble back to the tent and pass out.

The next morning we slept in and only crawled out of the tent when the sun had turned it into an oven.

Didn't bother making coffee. Just drank what was left in our thermos. It's a really good one, so the coffee was still warm. Some squashed bread and peanut butter sandwiches later, we packed up and headed straight for the beach in Esposende. Being the Atlantic coast, it was quite cool. But we grabbed our swimming clothes and jumped into the water head and all anyways. It was too cold to stay there long, so we just lay on the beach, reading our books. Eventually that got cold too, as my wet bikini felt like ice, so I put my bike jacket over it, looking just a little bit silly

As the beach filled up with tourists, we grabbed our shampoo and had a shower under those wash-the-sea-salt-off-your-skin-when-you-leave-the-beach showers. Bit odd standing on the beach in full view of everyone, having a shower, but no-one seemed to mind too much. And yes, we left our bikini/swimming trunks on of course! Was sooooo good to be all clean again We munched some biscuits while our stuff was drying in the sunshine and then packed up and headed into Porto.

The idea was to whizz though the city and find a camping spot on the other side. Daniel had said Porto was well worth a visit, so we wanted to return the next day and have a look around. But we got hopelessly lost and ended up riding in circles. Daniel's friends told us later, that they would not attempt going to Porto without a sat-nav! Aidan got more and more pissed off and did a kamikaze left turn across three lanes into a petrol station, with me in hot pursuit. We checked the maps on Aidan's phone and set off, only to get lost three minutes later. All we wanted to do was to leave the city eastwards, but the roads kept taking unexpected turns south and then west! But Porto just wouldn't let us leave! We got more and more frustrated! Every time we thought we were heading east, a sign was telling us we were heading towards "Centro" again!

It was Jinxed! So Aidan just gave up and told me to lead us the hell out of there. So I turned down the one road that didn't say "Centro" leading north. Ignoring the first road east, we ended up on the second turn eastwards - which promptly turned into the A1 SOUTH towards Lisbon (See what I mean?!?). I thought what the hell, we need to go south eventually anyways, so I just gunned it. We continued to ignore the exits until we had well and truly left the city, then we left the motorway and rode down the N1. I pulled over and apologised to Aidan for going south, not east. Tuns out we weren't far off from where we had wanted to go. But most importantly: we escaped!!!

Finding camping was not easy that evening. Village seemed to melt into village and every little clearing and mountainside seems to be either occupied or farm land. It's really pretty but seems quite poor, with farmers working their small fields by hand. Freshly harvested onions were stacked in little piles dotted around the fields and there were people selling onions, potatoes and melons from sacks by the roadside everywhere. We scrutinised every little path leading into some trees, but did not find anywhere to discretely put a tent.

There were forest fires to avoid as well. We had seen smaller ones all over Portugal and no-one seemed to do anything about them. Strange given I had heard of stories where people died because they were unable to escape the advancing flames. But here the sandy ground just seemed to smoulder and plants slowly caught fire. But then we hadn't seen any of the big fires yet. My dad txt me that evening to be careful as there were huge forest fires about 75km south-east of Porto (guess where we were -ish?). We could see some black smoke clouds to the north and one hill that could have been the perfect camping spot was on fire.

So we rode on and eventually found an ok spot near a housing estate..... A sort of light forest that seems to have been declared a public dumping ground. Oh well, it was getting dark and we were exhausted, so it would do. A couple of teenagers walked past and completely ignored us. I felt almost invisible! At least we weren't told to move on, so we set up the tent and Aidan cheffed up some yummie chorizo and veggie rice

We discussed our options for the next day over a bottle of port whilst writing the diaries and decided not to return to Porto. It had been such a nightmare just trying to navigate through it! We would head to the smaller Aveiro instead.
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South of Aveiro

If you believed in karma and all that you might be tempted to say that today was the yin to yesterday's yang. I suppose what's happening is we're learning a few things, even subconsciously, about how to travel, and sometimes we manage to use those lessons. We had originally planned to ride back into Porto early morning and spend the day there but our experience yesterday, and the little we saw of the town made us think that it was just too big to really enjoy in one day without a local to guide us. Instead, we checked the map and decided to head south to Aveiro.

It was about 70km south of where we were camped and now that we were in Portugal and doing these low mileage days we were allowing ourselves the luxury of a sleep in most mornings. Even though it was half past eleven by the time we set off we were in town by about half past one. Stopped off at Lidl to fetch breakfast and some supplies.

The N109 connects the two towns, and most others on the coast but is fairly uninspiring otherwise, being bounded mainly by industrial estates, car dealerships and the like.

We had taken loads of nice twisty roads in Spain though so we wanted to give priority to city wanderings and beach laziness now that we were in Portugal.

Cruising through the outskirts of Aveiro, I was mentally preparing myself for the next attempt at navigating a city and after Porto, I was making a conscious effort not to get stressed. While there was a bit of mad Portuguese traffic to deal with, it was fairly easy by comparison as we meandered around looking for a spot to park. To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by the state of the place. All of a sudden though, the slightly dull, overly wide street split into a series of small avenues dotted with bars, a central canal filled with gondolas painted in lewd scenes, and a public square where it seemed we could get away with parking our bikes, provided we didn't get in anyone's way.

Deciding not to wait until I was told otherwise, I hopped up on to the kerb and we pulled up either side of a lamppost in between some benches.

The intolerable heat and discomfort of traipsing around Braga a few days before had caused us to get decidedly grumpy with each other so Maria stripped in the square to trade her bike gear for hotpants and converse. I stashed my bike boots too and threw on a sleeveless top to show off the dozens of mozzie bites I'd accumulated the night before, after passing out drunk with one of the bastards hiding in the tent. I also lightened my tank bag and fashioned a strap to throw over my shoulder, so all in all we were much happier wandering around town, checking out the avenues and pondering lunch.

We eventually settled on a place to eat, then changed our minds, then back again, then checked out six other places. We did end up getting lunch though - Maria steak and eggs, and me a rock of salt chiseled impressively into a very realistic fried cod shape. It was actually ok, but so salty it made my eyes water. Luckily it was served with unsalted chips, some of the best bread I'd eaten all trip, and a few ice cold s. While we were eating we dug out our Portuguese phrase books and looked up the translation for 'stamp' and 'post office', to finally put Maria's three day postcard fiasco to bed. The first postcard selling shop we walked into sold stamps, and directed us to a postbox. Done! While there I spotted a postcard proudly extolling Aveiro's history of harvesting salt from seawater. That explains the local cuisine then.

Our next mission was to try to find an internet cafe to sort out an issue back in London that had been plaguing Maria since before we left. Until now we had either been unable to find wifi, or hadn't had the time or the inclination to wander around looking. Crossing the road from the post box, we were stopped by a pretty tourist tout asking us if we wanted a ride on one of the pornographic gondolas.

We didn't, but she was able to point us down the road to a shopping centre where there was free wifi. Within five minutes we were in McDonalds sorting out our London-based issue and uploading photos to the website.

At about half past five we decided to head out of town and find camp. I had a look on my phone and saw a nice unpopulated looking spot that I wanted to head for. Somehow though I took a wrong turn and ended up on the motorway heading north! A few frantic detours later I ended up back in the part of Aveiro that we had arrived in that morning, so I figured I'd just retrace my steps and try again. I managed to **** that up too though and we found ourselves in a completely different part of the city. Oh well, at least we were exploring. At this point I resorted to the compass and some help from Maria and soon we were out of town and heading back south, and back on the N109. We rode south for about twenty minutes, and I pulled over at a supermarket to check the map, stock up on water and, what the hell, buy a second bottle of wine. The map showed that a west-bound road we had just passed led into a promising looking green area so, fully laden we headed back the way we'd come, turned off the main road and started the familiar routine of scouting dirt tracks.

Again, in comparison to the day before it was easy. We were by now building an intuition about what a road might yield by looking at the surrounding landscape and within ten minutes we had found a solid maybe. We looked on a bit further and ten minutes later we were parked on a quiet track-off-the-track, under a tree, on flat ground in a little forest, enjoying one of the best camping spots of the trip. We cracked open the wine and since we'd had a big lunch, tucked into a box of after-eights in lieu of firing up the stove.

Today was one of the good days....
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Shot at in a Forest Fire, Figueira da Foz then Arrival in Leiria

Last night when we crawled into our sleeping bags, we heard some dogs barking frantically in the distance. They hadn't shut up the whole time we were writing our diaries. We started to worry they may be barking because of forest fires closing in on them and they really weren't that far away.

So back out of the tent, traipsing around in the dark to investigate. We couldn't see anything through the trees or even down the road. Also couldn't smell any smoke. The crickets were still chirping away, the little forest creatures were still roaming around our tent and the bees by the hives in the clearing were still calmly buzzing about their business as usual. We figured they'd know when a fire was close by, so we crawled back into the tent.

Some dogs closer by had started joining the chorus, but they didn't seem as mad as the other ones. Then, suddenly, the barking in the distance turned into a bone chilling howl! And then silence. Only the dogs close by were still barking away. Aidan just passed out, but I couldn't sleep! What if the dogs in the distance had just burned up and the fire was getting closer?

I spent the whole night hardly sleeping, constantly listening out to the wind that picked up (apparently big fires sound like strong wind), sniffing for the tiniest whiff of smoke. The alarm clock went off at 8am and we crawled out of the tent into the sunshine and blue skies above the trees. Now I felt really silly about my night's worries and well bummed about the lack of sleep! I was sooooo tired!

Suddenly gunshots went off around us, coming closer. What is it with Southern Europeans hunting hapless travelers? I'm starting to think the bikes look like deer or something! So we made coffee and packed up in record time. Meanwhile the fire sirens went off in several nearby villages. As we left the forest down the little path and out onto the road, we passed the hunters' car.

Then we saw it! The sky was black with smoke a little further up the road.

The sun had turned into a tiny red dot and I had to swap my sunglasses for normal ones, it was so dark. Seems we had been really lucky. The wind had come from our direction towards the fire, and so we hadn't been able to smell it or see the smoke. But it was only a few minutes ride away!

We escaped the smoke and headed straight to the beach at Figuera da Foz. I tried to catch up with some sleep but the mornings excitement had woken me up. So we read our books, drank coffee, and munched sour peach rings from Lidl (like Haribo only yummier ). Aidan txt Daniel's mate Carlos to see if we could stay at his house tonight. He had kindly offered we could stay there for the wedding, but he didn't expect us until tomorrow.

After a few hours of lazing on the beach, the smoke finally caught up with us and the sun "clouded over". We found a restaurant and had lunch and an ice-cold Then we rode on towards Leiria. At a petrol station two of those pine logging lorries filled up next to us: 650 Euros each!!! Aidan spoke to Daniel and we agreed to meet him and his friends in Leiria outside the football stadium (easy to find).

Was so nice to finally arrive and see Daniel But he was still busy. Had to test drive the Ford Mustang he was renting for the wedding and then he had to go decorate the venue. We weren't so sure we would actually be of any help and anyways, he wanted the venue to be a surprise. So we just went into the old part of town, parked the bikes next to some others on the pavement as per usual in Portugal, and had a couple of s in the bar where Daniel used to work.

The s were served with some yummy salty beans (I later found out they are Lupini Beans). I love them, Aidan is not so keen.

We still had to ride the bikes back to Carlos' house that night, so drinking much wasn't an option. We resorted to people watching, playing cards over a coke, reading books, and finally walking around the gorgeous old town. (I'm still kicking myself that I didn't take a single picture of it, cos it is real nice!)

Daniel called just as we got bored and a little frustrated with waiting for the others (I was super tired due to my lack of sleep the night before and so got grumpy a little too easy). They were about 10 minutes away. Yay! We all sat in a cafe in the old town square and we finally got to meet Carlos and lots of Daniel's friends. They ordered steak sandwiches and these ones really had a steak in them! Yum! The first steak sandwich in the world, that I actually liked

Daniel told us about his test drive. The Mustang basically has no brakes (which they let him find out on the road!), only has three gears, and you have to let the clutch fully up before you hit the gas. Sounds like they will have some fun getting the bride from the church to the venue Then the DJ-friend of Daniel's turned up and they started discussing the music for the wedding.

Friends were coming and going and everyone was talking Portuguese. I didn't mind though, it was quite fun trying to guess what they were talking about. Ricardo entertained us in English with stories of his green Triumph Bonneville, traditional Portuguese parents vs road trips and how he has lived in France and Germany before. Eventually I couldn't stop yawning, so Daniel convinced Carlos and his girlfriend Micaela to finally take us home.

Carlos drove ahead in his car and Aidan and I followed on the bikes. I had told Carlos to take it easy but he was still going well fast and we didn't know the pitch black roads. (Well, as far as he's concerned, he drove at a snail's pace. But since the Portuguese drive minimum double the speed limit at all times...) That's when I realised my low beam wasn't working. And since I couldn't see anything with the parking light, I switched to full beam. Sorry to anyone I blinded that night! Luckily we had a spare day the next day at Carlos' house, so the plan was to fix the light and indicators then.

The bikes were parked up in the huge garage space underneath the house - Luxury! And we were offered our own room with balcony! Awesome! Micaela quickly made the bed up for us (in various shades of pink! Aidan must've loved it ) and we were offered a much-needed shower. But we were so tired, we just collapsed into bed and passed out!
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Breaking into Carlos' House and Doing Laundry

When we woke up Carlos and Micaela had already left the house. So I sent Carlos a txt could we use his washing machine? We'd left our panniers on the bikes in the garage for the night but now we needed them as our shower stuff and everything else was in them. So we grabbed the key, shut the front door and went down to the garage (you had to go outside and down some stairs for that, as it's a block of flats with a shared garage below).

Panniers lugged up the stairs, the door to the flat won't open! We tried turning the key every possible angle, half in, all the way in, up side down..... nothing. Carlos obviously has a trick we don't know. The lady upstairs became a little concerned at the two strangers wearing only underpants, T-shirts and bike boots, surrounded by dusty metal boxes, trying their best to break the door open.

We eventually managed to communicate our dilemma but she couldn't help either. Climbing the balcony it is then: Aidan had opened our bedroom door to the balcony as soon as we woke up... The neighbors having breakfast on the balcony across the road started laughing and cheering our wobbly attempt at climbing the piled up panniers. --Wait! wasn't there a ladder I'd seen in the back of the garage?

Problem solved! The door opened fine from the inside. There were just a few screws missing, so the handle doesn't turn the bit that holds it closed. A pile of screws and nails on the windowsill beside it suggested previous futile attempts at fixing it. Oh well! I put the ladder back in the garage and then made some coffee while Aidan had a shower. I also did some washing up - and used up all the hot water. Oops! Sorry Aidan

A txt came back: Of course we could use the washing machine, the house is our home now and we can use everything. That's real nice! I stuffed all our stinky clothes in the machine, threw in lots of our hand wash (there wasn't much washing powder left, and I didn't want to steal the last bit) and switched it on. It started washing as it should - Yay! Nice and easy Laundry this time

We drank the much needed coffee and had some breakfast, making plans for the day. The bikes needed a thorough going over.... oil check, tyre pressure, air filters, lose nuts and bolts..... And then there was the indicator and headlight issues too. After that we would go to the beach just around the corner, have some s....

And then the washing machine drops dead mid-turn for no reason whatsoever! After staring at it for a while, just in case it would tell us whats wrong, we went on a hunt for the fuse box. Next to the front door? Nothing. Cupboard in the kitchen? Nope! One of the rooms in a corner somewhere? Anywhere?? No idea! I'll just have a shower instead - the water was still cold

Meanwhile Aidan had pulled the washing machine forward and checked the water filter, but couldn't find the problem. Bummer! Decided to fetch some s and more detergent to settle into a long laundry session followed by some bike maintenance (trust me, you need a cold pint (or two, or three...) for that ... Found the fuse box!! It was in the hallway right in front of our noses. But no fuse blown. We obviously have no idea of how a house works anymore after having lived in a tent for so long. So back to the -laundry plan.

Carlos had pointed in a direction where there were supposed to be shops last night, but we had no idea what direction that was. So we set of down the wrong road and ended up in the dunes. Turned around and walked along a massive campsite to find a dead end. Turned around again and took the third option towards the beach. A nice lady reassured us that there definitely was a shop in the little touristy village by the beach down the hill.

The beach looked gorgeous! Hopefully the laundry won't take too long, so we get to enjoy it before the sun goes down!

We found a Minimercado in the middle of lots of little houses and restaurants. Bought a huge box of hand-wash laundry detergent, as many cans as we could carry, and a bottle of wine as a thank you for our hosts. The Spanish and Portuguese cans are smaller, as are the draughts they serve in bars and I love it "What's wrong with you???" I hear you cry. No really, it's perfect! That way your drink doesn't get warm and flat before you finish it. It's like keeping half your pint unopened in the fridge while you drink the first half. Spotted a wickid lil bike on the way too

The ready availability of hand wash laundry detergent in a random little corner shop makes me wonder. As does the tiny price of €1.45 for a huge box vs the princely sum of €5.00 for a very small bottle of machine wash laundry liquid.... Maybe in Portugal (or at least in this part) lots of people still do their laundry by hand? That should be some inspiration for my upcoming mission.

Back at the flat I tried the washing machine again, just in case. But it died again straight away. Beer and detergent at the ready I set about washing all our clothes, towels and even Kevlar jeans (they are a bitch to wring out!) in the big kitchen sink. Its a workout! Washing and washing and wringing and washing and then wringing some more... How medieval women managed to keep white linen white, I have no idea! Our dish cloth stayed grey with tomato sauce spots no matter what I tried! Mind you, now I finally had sparkly clean fingernails again

Meanwhile Aidan set about making use of all the sockets in the house to charge all our phones, cameras, laptop and batteries. Then he made a start working on the bikes. Hm....... woman in the kitchen, doing laundry; man in the garage playing mechanic....

The laundry finally done, I went down to the garage to look at Seven's indicator. Since both the indicators and the little dashboard light sometimes worked and sometimes not, I figured it must be either the switch or the relay. The relay looked nothing like it should according to the Haynes manual, so I wasn't sure I'd located the right part. Opened the switchgear instead. Big crack in the casing that contains the actual switch, which could cause a loose contact causing it to work sometimes and sometimes not. Nothing I could do there and then, so put it back together. (Found out from youtube later, that there are tiny springs and metal balls that fly all over the place when you open it up.... damn glad I didn't try opening it that day then!)

Ok, but I can at least fix the head light. Most likely the bulb is gone, so I'll just put the spare one in, that I brought along. Bulb exchanged, aaand..... nothing! Same issue, no low beam! What could it be? Wiring? Fuse? Wait... Always check the simplest things first.... Yup! I had brought an old, broken bulb as spare. Oops! So much for fixing Seven then Put everything back together and Aidan had finished all the maintenance things (oil, air filter...).

Aidan cheffed up a yummie lunch of chorizo-pepper-courgette-rice and glazed carrots with a cold pint That's better: man (chef) in the kitchen and woman working on the bikes (we'll just conveniently omit my epic failure to actually fix the bike here)

Then we finally headed down to the beach. Still a little too cold for swimming, so we just bumbled about, drank in the exiting calm of the sea and the good feeling of the beach and took lots of pictures.

We walked along the coast until walking in the sand became too exhausting. Then went back along the road to the little village where we had found the Minimercado before. It was closed, so no more booze for the night. Another wickid lil runaround spotted though There seem to be lots of them in Portugal

I was starving! So we did our usual routine of undecidedly dismissing several restaurants, before finally popping into one, because the menu said they serve woodpecker (pica pau). Turns out that's a literal translation for a tapas style finger food. The waiter seemed like a real salesman at first, but then it turned out he really did want to find out what dishes would suit our taste the best (another lesson in cultural differences with language barriers...). Following some cross questioning, he got it spot on The salad of fresh octopus sashimi, finely chopped onion and red pepper in olive oil was yum! As was the cockles cooked in a mildly spicy onion and paprika sauce with buttered bread! Perfect!

Carlos phoned to say we shouldn't wait up for them, they were busy in town till late, having a coffee with Daniel (pre-wedding nerves?). Back at the flat we climbed the balcony again - we still had no idea as to what the trick to opening the door with the key was.

And then there was another dilemma: the only alcohol we had was the thank-you bottle of wine for Carlos and Micaela... So we opened it with a plan to buy another some time between leaving the house the next morning, and arriving at the wedding.

Sitting on the pink bed, glass of wine in hand, we flicked through the pages of the Atlas, planning our (sadly somewhat faster) route back to England, Ricardo's tips from yesterday evening in mind. Then we wrote our diaries and Aidan soon passed out. So I finished the wine, switched off the light, and passed out too
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The Wedding!!

Man, the Portuguese really know how to party. Apparently Daniel and Raquel put on a particularly good show, but even a fraction of that kind of partying on a regular basis would necessitate some serious training for the liver.

We started at about nine in the morning with an outdoor buffet laid out by Daniel's mum. Beer, wine, suckling pig and fried nibbles were all I could work my way through over the few hours spent catching up with guys I knew from London, and meeting some of Daniel and Raquel's school friends, and no-one's plate or glass was left empty for more than a few seconds. I'd gone to the party expecting to have to stand in the corner and entertain myself a bit, but between the guys I'd met the night before and our mutual London friends, I was kept entertained all morning. I suppose it helped that the older generation Portuguese guys there had heard about the crazy Londoners biking their way to the wedding and were happy to mime their way through conversations.

Eventually everyone was stuffed and started making their way to the church. A huge Late Gothic monastery in Batalha, I've been reliably informed that it's impossible even for locals to host their wedding here so how the guys managed to wrangle it I'll never know. Raquel did say that since she grew up in the shadow of that place it was going to happen there or not at all, so maybe her stubborn enthusiasm was too much even for the Catholics. While everyone was heading towards the church we jumped in the car with Bruno and drove to pick up his girlfriend Paula - one of Raquel's bridesmaids. We arrived just as Raquel was coming out of the house, bustling around with last minute preparations and apologising for not meeting up with us the night before. After watching her climb into the cherry red mustang they'd hired for the day and head to the church we jumped back in the car and followed.

By the time we arrived Daniel was already at the alter. It's a strange experience seeing friends get married in what's essentially the Portuguese equivalent of St Paul's, as tourists mill around taking pictures while the ceremony goes on. The priest kept the sermon mercifully short, given that I'd been warned about three hour services. Obviously I didn't understand a word, since it was in Portuguese, but it seemed mainly to consist of stern lectures on the benefits of staying within the church, broken up occasionally by a pretty cool string quartet playing hymns. Luckily they omitted the dodgy lyrics that usually accompany these things. The vows exchanged and papers signed in a side room, Daniel and Raquel walked out of the church, as the quartet launched in to a rendition of the Star Wars theme!

Outside we milled around in the sun, smoked and chatted while photographs were taken, then back in the car with Bruno and Paula for a typical bit of Portuguese style lunatic driving to the reception. A nice grass patch bounded by a shaded brick pergola hanging with lupini beans gave us a chance to get out of the sun, and a hexagonal stone gazebo serving as a bar was quickly engulfed by guests. I had a few s to start with, planning to pace myself and wait until everyone else was drunk before tucking in proper. More meat platters were passed around as Daniel and Raquel arrived in the mustang to much fanfare.

A few more drinks in and we noticed that the garden had cleared out as everyone moved inside to find their seats. We stood by the blackboard trying to work out where we were sitting when we noticed some frantic waving coming from table two. I guess the London collective had been grouped together. I won't go into loads of detail, because it would take pages and pages to describe all of the food that was laid out, but we started with an amazing five course meal, each paired with a different wine. Afterwards, over a coffee and a bit of digestion time the couple wandered round, chatting and introducing people to each other, and bending to a Portuguese tradition of the wedded couple meeting for a kiss when guests start pounding the table. All very quaint, but it gave us a chance to get some good pictures with the disposable cameras that had been left in the centre of each table. Of course the photos got more epic as the night went on and the wine flowed...

Once we'd digested enough to move, we headed out to the back garden, sporting a pool, jazz band, bouncy castle and another well stocked bar. I immediately settled in next to the latter and started throwing back the caipirinhas, and plenty of people followed suit. I have to admit things got a bit fuzzy after that, but there's a painfully detailed photo gallery that shows me sharing cigars and pimms, posing for some cheesy wedding pictures and watching the guys cut the cake (actually a pyramid of cupcakes). A few hours later, we were called in for another three course meal, followed by a buffet!

Towards the end of the night the guests started to thin out. I'd spent the last few hours sitting in the corner nursing whiskeys and watching the troopers who were still on the dancefloor, but eventually it was time to head off. We got a lift with Daniel's godfather who'd offered us a spot to crash on his couch, after stopping off at Daniel's place to drop off some leftovers. Once we got there, we figured we might as well stay with the bikes and save everyone the hassle of getting us back there in the morning so we drunkenly laid out our sleeping bags on the lawn next to the bikes and passed out.

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9am and we were woken up with a coffee. Daniel's mum was preparing another buffet breakfast in the courtyard, and had been checking on us periodically for signs of movement. Just time for a quick shower before people started arriving from the neighboring houses and emerging bleary eyed and hungover from various rooms. The party was soon back in full swing, with to wash down yesterday's leftovers and a chicken and orzo soup that did a great job of curing the hangover. And of course out came the iPads with plenty of embarrassing pictures from the night. Once we'd caught up with everyone, it was time to pack up and head off. One last for the road and with a worryingly large audience, we jumped on the bikes, wobbled up the drive and pointed our noses towards home.

We only had six days to get back to London, so we'd be sticking to bigger roads and with a lingering hangover to deal with we figured we'd just do a few hours riding and make camp early. Just the one stop for water (no food, since we've eaten a week's worth in the last couple of days). Cruising through Coimbra we were reacquainted with the country's incendiary tendencies as the fires had reached the roadside and had started slowing down traffic but we eventually found a nice spot to camp between Coimbra and Viseu in a forest just off the main road. We'd soon settled in, opened a bottle of port and marked up our route for the next few days and we had started writing our diaries when we heard a fire warning siren in the distance.

I wasn't too worried since we hadn't seen any smoke since Coimbra but Maria was less comfortable about things, and I figured erring on the side of caution would be the intelligent option anyway so we grabbed the bottle and the camera and hiked up the hill to see what we could see. While we didn't see any sign of a fire the scenery was amazing, and after pissing about with the camera for a bit we headed back to the tent where Maria no doubt lay awake worrying about our safety and listening to me snore.

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europe, france, portugal, spain, two up

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