Destination Barcelona

The last day and an 88 mile slog ahead. The route has been pretty dull today, mainly 1 road all the way & a busy one at that. Attempts at detours have been hard work with gravelly tracks or one way turns to get back on the main road, which meant crossing the non stop traffic.
A few bike issues with Mark & Luc both suffering from buckled rear wheels.
Our breaks have been by the side of the road or at a petrol station & food was a disappointing pizza about 25 miles out of the city. But after our late lunch the road got easier with the wind in our favour and our average speed increased dramatically. Barcelona’s skyline came in to view round the coast and eventually our efforts were rewarded as our trusty bikes limped towards Sagrada Familia, the city’s iconic unfinished temple.
A few celebratory photos outside & we’ve done it!
Mr bump almost ended the trip with Ian but Luc stole it at the last minute after dropping his bike against his leg. Minor scrapes and bumps aside however, we have come through without major incident or injury and there is talk of more cycling for years to come.
Just time to enjoy the bottle of wine from the vineyard before a hard earned rest.

The Pyrenees – day 13

The big day arrived & after an unplanned fix of Ian’s bike (Luc broke the valve so new inner tube required) & a monster shop for supplies we set off for the mountains.
20 miles in and we stopped for milkshakes beside the sea before heading up.
I think it is safe to say that we were all pleasantly surprised by the way the day panned out. It was as if the last 2 weeks have been training for that moment. We plodded up the hills in a way reminiscent of the marathon, extremely hot & steady.
The scenery was something else, shimmering blue sea to our left & frequent towns of terra-cotta colored houses contrasting with the harshness of the mountain terrain. Not happy that I rode over a small snake – suitably freaked out!
En route we met numerous cyclists including: John, 69 from Wakefield, met at the top of a hill, told us about his summers cycling the pyrenees, very happy to partake in our cola bottles; the german guy, reached the border at the same time we did, elated at having reached Spain after cycling from Vienna over 3 weeks, destination barcelona; the English guy who took our photo at the border; the guys from London, bickering after a big hill climb.
On reaching Spain we immediately noticed that getting food is much easier here. We had a late lunch of paella & spanish omelette beside the sea and later a drink beside the road at a restaurant that opened specially for us.
Tapas for dinner & a few drinks before bed.

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I can see the sea! – day 12

An early start & breakfast on the road. When we set off the hotel kindly informed us that the journey to barcelona takes 3 hours by car. For us however there are 3 days to go. The hills are getting closer & we have seen the first signs for Barcelona.
The terrain has changed noticeably to rocky & mountainous. We even had to pedal downhill!
En route today we saw a wine bottling van in corbieres. The vans travel between vineyards when they are ready to bottle.
We have seen the sea & stopped to admire some flamingoes, seen for the first time in their natural habitat.
Perpignan is a beautiful city & seems the perfect location to enjoy our last meal in France. Over the border to Spain tomorrow.

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To carcassonne – day 11

After a little lie in we decided to have breakfast in town rather than the hotel & enjoyed croissants at a bakery before setting off.
On leaving tolouse the Pyrenees soon came in to view & have been teasing us all day. I have to keep reminding the boys that the hills are not small, they’re far away!
Lunch was noteworthy today for it’s size & length. We enjoyed a traditional French casoulet with duck, sausages, beans & numerous other things thrown in. It was a stew better suited to a snowy ski trip than 30′+ & made us rather full for the afternoon. Just after we set off I was chased by yappy dog that I was convinced was going to get my ankle. Even peddling faster didn’t make it go away!
We arrived in carcassone, which is much more what we expected from french towns; a bustling square, bistros & chocolate shops. We took a stroll to the walled city & then enjoyed a much lighter meal in a creperie.

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Messing about by the river – day 10

We abandoned the planned route today in favour of the cycle path beside the canal. A nice easy ground for a 75 mile ride & a perfect place for wildlife spotting – red squirrels, otters & a kingfisher. With a poorly Ian in tow we spent 11 hours in the saddle, getting to the hotel at 20:30. Hats off to him though for making it, that boy can dig deep to keep going.
We experienced culture shock on arrival in tolouse, the first city we have been to since Paris, when we found ourselves riding through the red light district. The hustle & bustle of the city is worlds away from the rolling countryside of the last week.

A wet miserable day – day 9

After dragging ourselves away from the rugby we set off at a late 9:30. It has been damp & drizzly all day today & a muggy 20 degrees. Worlds away from the glorious sunshine of yesterday. I, in particular, have found today to be a hard slog. I think the rest yesterday was in some ways detrimental. The boys however, have been entertaining themselves by trying to get the fastest downhill time. Ian is fastest today topping out at 40.3 mph.
We have struggled once again with the constraints of French opening hours. This is not a place to grab a coffee or a bite to eat when you feel like it, instead it is necessary to eat & drink when you find somewhere open. As a result lunch was improvised sandwiches with cheese, ham & salad from the spar, enjoyed sheltering under the canopy of a bar, which had closed just before we arrived. Their outdoor tables & chairs were welcome.

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Bordeaux

An early start this morning followed by a gentle 46 miles to reach Bordeaux in time for wine tasting.
Our journey included trying to keep up with a rather professional looking cyclist, which passed a few miles.
We stopped at a quaint tea shop for hot chocolates & coffee. The friendly owner gave us pistachio chocolates as we left, I think she felt sorry for me having to put up with 3 boys.
Our hotel is, once again, beautiful. Walking through the grounds we have found tennis courts, a horse & 2 donkeys. Apparently a few people from Manchester have stayed here over the summer so word must be getting around. On arrival, even though the place was closed we were supplied with drinks and creme brûlée fois grois, made for the hotel’s 5th birthday by their Michelin star chef!
This afternoon we took a wine tour at the chateau haute bailly, which we learned is the only vineyard in Bordeaux to house vines that have survived both world wars. The grapes are hand picked and every effort is made to preserve the traditional methods. We tasted wine at various stages of the fermenting process & sampled 2007 bottles. Unable to purchase a case without overloading mark’s panniers we purchased a bottle to enjoy over a game of cards in the evening, or so we thought…
The vineyard pointed us in the direction of a town for dinner but in true French style the only restaurant was closed till 7:30. At 5:30 we passed an hour wandering round & enjoying the delights of the patisserie – that even sold a haribo birthday cake (for 8 year olds!) and a further hour in the bar. we returned to the restaurant to enjoy a meal on the beautiful but slightly too cold terrace. We asked the hotel to order us a taxi but they told us it would come from Bordeaux centre, 15 miles away, and we would have to pay for it to get to us. Being English we couldn’t accept this so tried to return to the bar, now closed, then spent a cold hour trying to obtain taxi numbers, ascertain the distance to walk (7k) & ask the hotel if they could collect us. All options failed, then ian’s phone died (the only 1 we had with us). Eventually we asked a pizzeria to call a taxi for us & we made it back to the hotel, several hours later than planned, and whilst the cards have come out, the bottle of wine sits in it’s beautiful white box on the table untouched & needing to be carried in a pannier tomorrow.

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80 miles, via cognac

Today was set up to be an 80 mile slog, but we set off early and reaped the rewards of a generally downhill day, arriving at our hotel by 5:15.
Lunchtime conveniently came as we were about to reach cognac so we enjoyed a glass while we ate. Treats today included a double sized pain au chocolat, a double chocolate macaroon & some chocolate bread – delicious!
After cycling past so many fields of dead sunflowers, and enjoying some hand picked sunflower seeds, we finally found a field of shining yellow, it was a van gogh painting in real life. I would recommend to anyone visiting France to do so earlier in September to enjoy the true spectacle.
Ian has retained mr bump but no additional falling off has occurred, our technique must be improving.
Our resting place tonight is a beautiful old house, with stripped wooden floors & antique furniture. I think we have the place to ourselves, which has worked out well for Ian & Luc who were presented with the prospect of a double bed for the first time, but luckily have been able to swap for a twin.

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