A Travellerspoint blog

Sunny Spain

Costa del High rises & Mountain bliss

sunny 30 °C

Our first stop in Spain was just over the border from France in the fairly non-descript town of Figuras. I had visited it about 25 years earlier on a family holiday and was desperate to return to re-experience and re-live the magic of Salvador Dali, in the town of his birth and the site of his living museum. Unfortunately, we ended up spending more time in the queue than in the museum itself! Despite the crowds, I was still in awe of what we saw and left, wondering what actually went on in his head to come up with such surreal, weird works of art.

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The drive along the coast to Barcelona was pretty uninspiring, hundreds of tasteless ‘60s concrete developments full of sunburnt English tourists…. The one and only campsite in Barcelona wasn’t much better either. Once we had just about got our head around the fact that we would be sleeping about 50 meters from the motorway, we were deafened by the sounds of a plane going over our head. Fortunately though, our site at the end of the runway didn’t detract from our time in Barcelona. It was an amazing city, infact my favourite one of our trip so far. It is a wonderful mix of old and new, rough and glitzy.

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The cafes, restaurants, shops, museums, markets, buildings and people left us wishing that we could stay for a week, but unfortunately we only had a few days to soak it all up.

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We packed a lot in, exploring the modernista Gaudi buildings, the old town, the lanes and enjoying our fair share of pavement cafes and tapas bars.

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During our trip we have grown very accustomed to eating outside each night, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the weather and watching the world go by.

Once we left Barcelona, we had another very boring drive down the coast to Valencia, with hundreds more of those high rise tourist developments lining the coast. We were aiming for the port where we were due to catch an overnight ferry to Mallorca with Ben, Rach and Frankie.

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We didn’t however realise that the Spanish Grand Prix was due to take place there the following week, so we somehow found ourselves driving Fernando around the amazing street circuit that had been set up.

The ferry to Mallorca was easy sailing, and we then spent 4 very relaxing days at JPs villa on the beach of Puerta Pollenca.

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It really was bliss spending our evenings eating local seafood paellas and the days cycling in the mountains and swimming in the beautifully warm, flat Med.

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August temperatures had hit almost 40 degrees by the time we’d sailed back to mainland Spain, so we were relieved to be spending the next few weeks out of the van, firstly in the comfort of my dads house for a few days, then onto my mums in Beniali, a village in the foothills of the mountains.

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Enroute to mums we stopped off in Denia to see one of Spains infamous Moors & Christians festivals. The Spanish love to party so put on a great show for us!

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Our stay at mums was timed perfectly to coincide with the Olympics, so we quickly established a very Spanish routine of cycling or swimming followed by coffee at one of the local bars, lunch in the courtyard, then an afternoon siesta in front of the TV.

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Later on in the evening we would all head up the road to mum and Bernies campo (an olive farm they have bought since moving to Spain) and would then eat outside at about 10.

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We were both amazed at how easily we were able to slip into the relaxed Spanish way of life, and felt like we had become locals by the time we were due to fly back to England.

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Posted by loupeedo 01:34 Archived in Spain Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Family Holidays

semi-overcast 20 °C

Every time I visit the UK from Australia I say to my family, wouldn’t it be nice if we were all on holiday? This time we decided to test out that theory, and booked 2 mobile homes in Norfolk where we could all spend the week…

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Lou and I left our van in Beniali, the village where Lou’s mum lives near Valencia and flew back to the UK. With my parents, we packed up the car and set off for Norfolk. Childhood memories came flooding back, as we tried to jam everything into the boot and squashed ourselves into the back of the car amongst the buckets and spades, beach towels etc…

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Our destination was Kelling Heath Caravan Park, close to Cromer and Blakeney, both charming little towns with lots of cafes and pubs.

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We didn’t really know Norfolk that well, and were pleasantly surprised by the surrounding countryside and villages.

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It was lovely for Lou and I to get to spend some quality time with my nephews and nieces – Charlotte aged 7, Rachel aged 4, Fraser aged 3¾, Katie aged 3 and Seamus aged 1½.

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This little lot kept us very well occupied, playing tennis, cycling, crabbing, reading and swimming.

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Neither of us realised just how much time a child can spend on a swing, how tiring it is to push them whilst they do it, and how quickly they notice if you slack off.

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Spending the week focusing on kids activities also gave us a nice break from our usual coffee, cycle, sightsee routine.

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We both got as much enjoyment out of a visit to a junior farm as the children, and enjoyed feeding the goats, sheep and donkeys as much as they did.

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Unfortunately we were too big to go on many of the fairground rides so just had to watch from the sidelines!

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After the week in Norfolk we spent a couple of relaxing days with Lou’s Dad in West Horsley catching up with English pastimes like blackberry picking and sitting by the fire in August. We also managed to squeeze in a trip to Brighton where Lou wanted to see her brothers new bike and to take it for a spin.

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We left Brighton at 4am, running to catch the airport bus in torrential rain, a reminder of why we live the other side of the world…

Posted by catflies 09:08 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Savoie Cheese & Wine

We spent a great week in La Clusaz catching up with friends from the UK & Australia. I hadn’t seen Ben and Rach since they’d had their first child, Francesca, so it was great to meet her and spend a good amount of time with them all.

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We spent the week relaxing and exploring the area around La Clusaz, fitting in some rides, walks and plenty of eating and drinking.

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As with most areas in France, the Haute Savoie region makes the most of the local produce – in this case the mountain cows. The cheeses were fantastic; we were able to try both Reblochon and Tomme.

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JP and Laura did a great job creating local dishes, trying to clog up our arteries with Tarte Flamme and Fondue, but we followed the French way of life drinking the local red wine and plenty of walking and cycling in the mountains to counter the cheese effect!

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We also fitted in a couple of day trips, crossing the Swiss border to spend a morning wandering around Geneva, which seemed to be full of expat American bankers.

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Annercy was a really interesting city to visit too, wandering through the streets by the canal and enjoying the market where we bought our usual picnic lunch of ham, cheese and baguette which we enjoyed on the edge of Lake Annercy. Annercy reminded us both of Queenstown and Bruges, combining the stunning lake setting with streets meandering along the sides of the canal.

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Probably the highlight excursion though was a trip to Chamonix. The mountains here are on another scale to those in the rest of the Alps, with Mont Blanc dominating the landscape at 4,800 metres and several other massive peaks sheltering the town. Lou and I managed to fit in a trip in the gondola up to Aiguille du Midi at 3,800 metres.

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It was amazing and gave us a good perspective on the valley layout and height of Mont Blanc. We were both surprised at the number of climbers attempting Mont Blanc, and the amount of snow that was still there in the summer.

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Lou and I decided to walk from the halfway station to another glacier along the side of one of the mountains, which was a great walk.

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We just about made it to the glacier in time for the last train back to Chamonix, which was a big relief as if we hadn’t we’d have been walking for another couple of hours to get back to the van!

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We left La Clusaz with 3 days to reach Barcelona. It was the 1st August and a Saturday which meant that we joined the great French exodus south. It seemed that none of the roads were a good option, as most of France had packed their belongings in their cars and were heading to the Med. We took an inland route, and through some quick research by Lou, found a campsite near Arles, on the border of the Languedoc Roussillion area.

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It was meant to just be an overnight stop, but we quickly realised we’d come across a gem and decided to stay put. The campsite had a river flowing through it, where everyone spent the day lounging on the riverbanks and cooling off with a bit of body rafting down the rivers natural rapids. It was great fun and I think we both laughed more than we had all holiday, although it did cause a few bumps and bruises when you didn’t quite get a limb out of the way of a rock quickly enough.

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It was also a fantastic area for riding, so we fitted in a few more local tours. Lou’s rides have taken on a consistent approach – find the wiggliest yellow roads on the map and ride them. I keep reminding her of this when we’re climbing for the fourth time in a day…sometimes a straight flat road would be nice!!

Posted by catflies 08:52 Comments (0)

Tour de France

Bike Heaven

For the last three months, I had only had one date on my mind – 23rd July. I didn’t care where else we went on our tour of Europe, I was determined to be sat on Alpe d’Huez for the Tour de France.

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I insisted that we got there a couple of days before, and as we approached the Alps we realised that this was the right thing to do.

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We thought that as there were 3 campsites in Bourg D’Oisan, and we were arriving 3 days before the tour we wouldn’t have a problem finding a site, but as we drove past Col du Galibier there were already hundreds of campervans lining the road.

We’d decided to base ourselves in Bourg as we weren’t sure that Fernando would make it up one of the passes, and also the tour was due to start from there on the Thursday. As we arrived we saw campers parked everywhere, including in the middle of roundabouts! Luckily Fernando is small, and we pulled into a carpark and found a perfect spot for a little van.

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We’d landed on our feet, as it was the swimming pool car park and they’d set up portaloos for the vans. We were also able to go swimming and use the showers – which after a 100k ride is quite important!

Everyone else camped in the carpark was a mad cyclist, so we quickly made friends and got the lowdown on where to ride, watch the tour etc. On Tuesday we rode up the Col du Lautaret to the Galibier and then up the Col du Galibier.

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This was probably the toughest climb that we did in the Alps, as it is a 20k grind to the bottom of the hairpins of the Galibier. It was blowing a gale on the Galibier, which meant that half the time you were battling a freezing headwind, and then half the time there was some relief as the wind assisted you to the next turn.

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It was absolutely freezing, and unfortunately we didn’t stop for photos or to appreciate the view at the top as we were both so cold and trying not to get blown over the edge.

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The following day was tour day, and I woke up very early and excited! We’d decided that we’d ride up Alpe d’Huez in the morning, and then watch the tour from somewhere on the hillside. It was a great ride up, as people already lined both sides of the road and were painting messages on the road. We couldn’t go for times up as there were too many people on the road and it was a case of picking your way though.

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Once we’d made it, and found one another, we rode back down and prepared for an afternoon of waiting for the tour.

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We sat waiting for about 3 hours, at first sunbathing and slowly adding more layers as the wind picked up. There was much excitement on the hillside, although a surprising lack of information about what was happening in the stage. Luckily my uncle was watching in Australia and sent us regular text updates!

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The promotional caravan came through about 4pm, and provided a good hour of entertainment, trying to catch the freebies that were being thrown out and then trying to work out what to do with 10 hats and several oversized tshirts.

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The helicopters indicated that the tour was approaching, so we got our positions at the barriers and cameras ready. We thought we had a good spot by a hairpin on a steep section, but the riders still flew past in about 2 seconds!

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First came Sastre who had made the decisive break by then, followed a minute later by the chasing pack of Evans and the Schleck brothers, happily letting Cadel do all the work. We cheered as loudly as we could for the Aussie, but realised that it was probably too late for him to make a comeback.

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By this point in the day the riders had ridden nearly 200k and were on their 3rd major climb, so there were some tired legs that came past in the following packs. It was amazing to watch them, especially after having ridden up ourselves earlier in the day.

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Once the tour had passed, it was total mayhem trying to get down off the Alp. We wanted to get back in time for the showers, and ended up caught up in the caravan, with thousands of other cyclists, pedestrians, dogs and campervans. It was a slow descent, although we passed the logjam of traffic and spent the evening in Bourg soaking up the atmosphere.

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The following day we watched the riders signing in for the start of the next stage. It was amazing to see them and all the bikes up close. We jumped over a couple of barriers and got right in amongst it. There was a serious amount of good kit loaded on the team cars, and we had a great time spotting riders and bikes!

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We managed to fit in riding up Col de Croix de la Fer before leaving Bourg.

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Over 3 days we rode the climbs that the riders had done in 1, and we were exhausted.

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It gave us a great appreciation for the riders putting in 150-200k for 21 days – no wonder some of them need artificial assistance…

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From the Tour, we were off to La Clusaz to meet up with friends from Australia and the UK. We were both looking forward to a week in a chalet, with a bit more room than the van and our own bathroom!

Posted by catflies 01:47 Comments (0)

Italy July

Sunflowers and pizzas

sunny 25 °C

During a whistle stop visit to Rome to visit Cats relatives, we also managed to squeeze in a quick side trip to the fantastically impressive Coliseum. It didn’t take us long to re-acquaint ourselves with the amazing Italian coffee, pizzas and gelatos – it was good to be back!

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When initially planning our trip, we were both really excited about the prospect of spending some time soaking up the Tuscan way of life. The area more than lived up to our expectations… We spent a week exploring the medieval hilltop villages and towns scattered amongst the gold and green rolling hills depicted in so many books and movies.

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We had forgotten that July meant the European holiday season was in full flow, so some of the most beautifully impressive towns of Sienna and San Gimignano were over run with tourists (we often forgot that we fell into this category too!).

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We still managed to escape the hoards though, by exploring the hundreds of lanes, shops, delis and restaurants. Amongst it all, in the heart of Sienna we discovered the best pizza restaurant of our trip so far where we treated ourselves to a long lazy lunch (Cat has had to succumb to my addiction of Italian pizzas).

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San Gimignano was a charming old town, dominated by 14 ancient towers, the tallest of which we climbed. It was hot going, but worth it for the spectacular views.

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As per normal though, our favourite times were spent on our bikes where we managed to find some beautiful quaint villages, which fortunately for us always had a charming plaza and café!

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The hills in Tuscany were a lot more forgiving on our legs than the last time we were in Italy in the Dolomites. The views were stunning though, especially when we came across field after field of sunflowers and bales of hay.

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Most of the roads we found ourselves on were pretty quiet. After a few hairy incidents, we soon made it our mission to stay away from the crazy Italians flying around narrow roads in their little fiats and piaggios.

From Tuscany, we hugged the Italian coast on our journey back to France. We spent about an hour in Pisa, fighting our way through the crowds and tacky stalls to see the incredible leaning tower.

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We spent a few nights camping on the coast near Viareggio in another very expensive and over packed Italian campsite (the Italian camping experience is nothing like it is in France). We based ourselves here so that we could cycle to Lucca, and spend some time exploring the town that proved to be far more beautiful and charming than Pisa.

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Cats map reading meant that we took the scenic route though, which meant that we ended up doing a 50km detour down a very busy road. Fortunately she redeemed herself by finding me a great café for lunch…

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Our last couple of days in Italy were spent exploring the stunning Cinque Terre, a serious of ancient, picturesque fishing villages perched amongst the most inaccessible cliffs and steep bays.

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After treating ourselves to the most fantastic lobster ravioli and a chilled bottle of rose, we joined the tourist trail and explored the well trodden coastal walk through the olive groves and amongst the rocky outcrops.

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Before heading back to France, I managed to convince Cat that we should spend our last night in Italy in our campsite restaurant devouring yet another fantastic wood fired pizza.

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It never ceased to amaze me how every tiny bar and eatery in this country managed to produce the most fantastic food and coffee, I will certainly miss it…

Posted by loupeedo 10:07 Archived in Italy Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

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