Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snowing in Madrid

Bbbrrrr it's getting cold! Yesterday it snowed.


Leaving the bikes and camping gear with my cousin Nik, we fill two backpacks and jump on a plane to Barcelona.
Wow what a beautiful city from the winding streets of the gothic neighbourhood to the shimmering Mediterranean sea.
Our first day and we go on a Gaudi bender. First a trip to the Güell park for a picnic and to see the famous mosaic lizard and a panoramic view over the city. Then to his famous church la Sagrada Familia after which my neck was sore from looking up at the intricate towering spires surrounded by cranes. Then to Casa Milà and finally Casa Batlló what a day.
The next day we visit the sea. I rolled up my pants an plunged my feet into the icy water. Walking in the sand bare foot on the deserted beach i feel like I'm back at home walking along Bondi on a crisp winters day.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

So much art so little time

There are many fantastic art works in Madrid from the Prado museum to the street murals, there is always something to see. Reina Sofia was a must with Picasso's, Miro's and Dali's almost filling an entire floor!
The Goya works in the the Prado were another highlight especially the black paintings, unfortunately I got into trouble for photographing them so no pictures I'm afraid.
I did manage to get a picture of Picasso's Guernica though which was quite a sight.

Hamburgers with the lot

Staying with Marcus' cousin Nik in Madrid has been fantastic. So what do you cook if you want to share a true Aussie meal? Hamburgers with the lot just like the local fish and chip shop.
Complete with egg, bacon, tinned pineapple, beetroot, cheese, tomato and lettuce.

Lunch in Madrid

Madrid must be full of insomniacs because the place never sleeps!!!!
It is without a doubt also the busiest city by far. Everyone seems to out and about or packed into one of the thousands of smokey bars.
On our first day exploring this crazy city Miriam was craving seafood for lunch if you still call it that at 4.30pm? We found a bar serving plates piled high with assorted crustations. The inhabitants were munching noisily on crab heads and scampi. When they had extracted meat they just tossed the empty shells on the floor. We decided this was a bit to interactive for us and settled for empanadas and some toasts with a selection of anchovies, baby eel and jamón.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

San Sebastien

San Sebastien has been a feast for the senses. Not only is it a gastronomic wonderland but the location is also picture perfect with the wild atlantic ocean crashing against its shores.
The streets of the old town are packed with bars laden with legs of ham hanging from the roof and plates of pintxo.
Visiting the Mercado de la Bretxa underground market was an eye opener. There was a huge array of alien fish and strange crustaceans. These were displayed in crushed ice with shells and autumn leaves as decoration. One butcher had a cabinet full of hanging rabbits still in their furs next to dusty pigeons that looked like they came straight from the town square. The selection of hams and meats was mind boggling.
But not as impressive as vast array of nana shopping carts they even have a lock up area.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bordeaux to San Sebastian

Taking the train from Bordeaux to Bilbao should have been easy until our train was separated in two. Not being able to understand the announcements in French our end went to Pau 130km east of Hendaye oops!
When we finally arrive in Hendaye it started hailing!
Fortunately it passed quickly and we rode across the Spanish boarder to Irun. We took a local train to San Sebastian and decided to stay there instead of Bilbao as it was already 8pm.
Having no map, no Spanish skills, no accommodation and no Internet we wandered around in the rain pushing intercom buttons of the pensions apartments until after many unsuccessful attempts we found a room.

After a longer than expected day we head out for pintxo (the basque version of tapas) at the local bar. Washing each delicious morsel down with a glass of red wine or Txakoli, a fresh young white wine that the barman poured skillfully from a great height to aerate the wine.
Numerous pintxo later we asked for something more substantial and ended up with a huge slab of steak carved straight from the carcass.
The steak was then presented to us raw on a plate for a nod of approval before being seared and sliced. It was sensational!
What a way to start our Spanish adventure!

La rochelle to Bordeaux

So we arrive in La Rochelle and have a look around the town before our 3 day ride to Bordeaux. Unfortunately it decided to rain. Then each day more rain than the previous until it was a monsoon. We did get the chance to stay in a beautiful old farm house in the middle of the wine country though. It was in a town outside Pauillac. The host was fantastic and suggested a local crêperie were we could eat and taste the local Médoc wines in all their splendour. Miriam ordered a delicious smoked salmon and cream crêpe and my caramel dessert crêpe with salted butter was pure wonderment. We drank a château la Clare 2002 Médoc and now we know what all the fuss is about.
On to Bordeaux and we had to catch a bus some of the way as the rain was flooding the small roads and the wind was close to gale-force.
Hugues who we stayed with in Nantes had organised for us to stay with his friend Pierre in Bordeaux. We had such a relaxing time at his house sitting on the couch sipping tea as it rained all the next day. We went out for dinner at a restaurant called cassolette cafe. The menu had lots of small dishes and you could choose 5 you wanted. One of my choices turned out the be a wedge of Camembert coated breadcrumbs then grilled so the inside was melted and the white rind was crispy. Cheese dreams here we come!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Meeting with Hugues in Nantes was fantastic. He understood what it was like to travel by bike as he had toured south America solo for a whole year!
I think that's also why he fed us so well.

The first night we all sat down to a meal of Raclette which was basically big globs of delicious melted cheese smothered over potatoes, tomatoes, various sliced meats and olives yum!
Then the second night Hugues served us another french speciality galette (a savoury version of crêpe made with buckwheat flour). They were "compète" with eggs, tomato, ham and cream.
What a host! he even contacted a friend in Bordeaux for us to stay with.

After having a look around Nantes in the evening we discovered there was plenty to do with a swag of different bars along the foreshore. Unfortunately we couldn't get in to the cultural centre, a converted shipping warehouse that now contained some giant mechanical animals. One of which we could see over the fence, it was a 4 meter high elephant that had a hose in its trunk to shoot water and a place to ride on its back.
Saying goodbye to Hugues the next day we took the train to a quaint coastal town called La Rochelle.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Following the Loire

Following the Loire river for 4 days has been one of the highlights of our trip. Not to mention the welcoming hosts along the way.
We have been using the Warmshowers website to meet and stay with fellow cyclists now that winter is approaching and weather is unpredictable.
Our initial plan was to only follow the river for 2 days then head directly south to Bordeaux. But after staying with Sebastian and lille in Tours and discovering his job was to organise rides along the Loire we changed our plans to follow the river all the way to Nantes, an old harbour town. The best day was riding from Tours to Saumur. There was one amazing sight after another including 2 historic chateaux's, rolling vineyards, tiny winding old towns built into cliff faces, amazing troglodyte caves and to top it off the beautiful river with autumn colours everywhere we looked.