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Spain / Portugal tour provided by: Erik Ocvirk


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Tour

SPAIN - PORTUGAL

Journey to the West

(See also the original at Erik's homepage)

This year I managed to get a whole month of vacation. I decided to spend all at once. So I started to look at possible destinations. Soon I decided do made a round trip to Spain and Portugal. Idea was to travel around on coastal roads. One month is long period of time, especially traveling alone. Couple of months before I met a very adventures girl, Tanja. She already traveled a lot around the world, so I asked if she would join me on this "epic" journey. She said yes.

I'm used traveling alone, so now I had to pack more luggage... I had a few worries, but they were all for nothing. Soon we were on the road. Plan was to go as fast as possible to Spain and there take it slow, visiting sights only close to our route.

First stop we made in beautiful Monte Carlo (Monaco). I'm big Formula 1 fan, quickly I recognized where temporary race track is layed. I've been to a few race tracks, but never had I driven on one. I made two "laps". What to see here isn't a problem. Boats or better luxury ships are in harbor, Casinos are for those with to much money or maybe for those interested in culture visiting museums will do... Alternative is to just sit in a Cafe and search for famous faces passing by.

Nice and Cannes are another well known places. Here you can really enjoy life. Beaches are great (to crowded though), sea is clear... Stop in St. Tropez I had to make! Because of the great comedy films starring Luis de Funes. Bridget Bardot was also born here. City looks exactly like I imagined. Just like in old movies, nothing changed much... And the weather is perfect. Hot, sunny with no clouds in sight. From Cannes to St. Tropez we traveled wearing only T-shirts. Unfortunately we forgot to put sun screen on our hands. Result was very red and "hot" arms.

Finally we were on a route to Andorra. Andorra is a little country situated between France and Spain. Complete country is tax free, paradise for shopping. Road leading up to Andorra is very scenic so we decided to stop at first rest place by the road to take some pictures. Soon we found one. There was only one car parked there... and it was from Slovenia. We met a couple also traveling west to Spain and Portugal. As small nation as we are, we are found everywhere!
Camping for the first time at the altitude over 2000m. It was cold, wet and mosquitoes... I didn't knew that they can fly so high (maybe wearing oxygen masks).

Spain

Our first pictures in Spain. The Pyrenees area.

At Spanish border I had my first and so far only custom search. They were only interested in tobacco and alcohol. Finally Spain. In my plan I've made at home I didn't plan any particular sight seeing (Tanja was more in charge of that). I thought that we would drive and if something interesting should pop up, we would see it.
Mountainous region of Pyrenees has a lot of good curvy roads. Sharp bends are banked. Great feeling driving around them.

Riding with Tanja wasn't so hard as I thought it would be. She has a great feeling for a passenger. If I had any doubts before, now they are all gone.
Scenery is great, mountains remanded me on my home country. It is amazing how fast scenery changed. From one valley to another it looked like it wasn't possible to be something so different so close. What was green, becomes gray, almost like something that would better fit on moon surface.

Along our way we tasted some of the local cuisine. We tasted a cold tomato soup called "Gazpacho". It tasted really good and very refreshing as it is served with crushed ice in it. I also tasted local speciality, on small pieces cut pig ears. Surprisingly it tasted good.

It this, still mountainous region temperatures varied very much. From 9 degrees in the morning to up to 30 degrees during the day.

We wanted to visit an old monastery Juan de la Peņa. Unfortunately road was closed for public. Only way up was with organized tour which lasted for 3 hours. To much for us. On the route to Pamplona we camped by the most beautiful lake I've seen. It was strange turquoise color (reminded me on our river Soca) and just right temperature for swimming. Area around lake looked like a desert, not something I expected in Europe.

I'm sure you heard for Pamplona, but don't know where to put it. 99% chance is that you know it for "Fiestas de San Fermin" or with ordinary words... this is the place where those who dare run in front of the raging bulls through small city streets. Run ends in bullring. All people are dressed in white with red scarf's and belts. Unfortunately we arrived there one day to late, but "smell" of a big celebrations was still in the air.

Later, in a small local restaurant, we saw a lot of action that took place previous day. Here we ate another local dish called "Chuleton". It is a big biff (they served us 1.5 kg of it) rib made almost raw. It tasted really good. We where just able to finish it. Definitely not a health food.
Caves of Zugarramurdi we visited mainly because I like the name. It sounds so mystique. In dark ages witches dwelled here. Knowing that Inquisition was very strong in Spain it definitely wasn't a quiet place to stay. I have no photos of this cave... I suspect some "higher" force intervened.... Cave is big, that's about it. Nothing really spectacular here except name Zugarramurdi.

North coast is very beautiful part of this country. We didn't find any foreign license plates all during our stay along the north coast. Small towns looked like a stage for an old movie. It looked like time almost stood still... A lot of cliffs with sandy beaches nested between. God real took time modeling this shoreline.

In city of Bilbao (Bilba) we visited a Guggenheim museum. I don't recall if ever before I've seen a building stranger than this one. Looks like something from a Sci-Fi movie. A lot of metal...

Spanish must be very religious people. A lot of cathedrals and Hundreds of churches. Graveyards are also something special. It seams that they don't burry dead in the ground as we do, but they put them in some sort of tombs. Beautiful... if it can be said that for a graveyard.

Spanish people are very open and kind, at least in the north. They are very pleased if you talk to them and try to speak a few words in Spanish.
La Coruņa lies on the Atlantic coast and has many interesting sight to see. Buildings in harbor have wooden facades... interesting. Also quite a few churches, as everywhere in Spain. We stopped to visit Hercules's light house. Nice lighthouse, not round as they are normally. Few Hundreds meters away from of Hercules lies. Quite often fog here is so thick that ships don't see powerful light beam, so Hercules used this horn to warn them of danger.

We traveled by the coast with very early name. Costa del Muerte, Coast of the dead. We didn't stopped there.
Cabo de Fisterra is the most western part of Spain, with big lighthouse. Great view on the bay below.

Santiago de Compostella is well known to al pilgrims around the world. All along the northern Spain runs Camino de Santiago. A pilgrim road to Santiago. Cathedral here is really big thing. Actually whole complex is huge. We arrived right at the time mass service was going on. Cathedral was not just full but packed. Museums in this complex are astonish. I have never seen books so old or so many wall tapestry.

We camped in a place called A Guarda. It is just at the border with Portugal. A river Miņo separates both countries. On 11. 7. Portugal's obviously had a big party with very very loud music and big fireworks. Don't know what was all fuss about.

PORTUGAL, the land of "SAUDADE"

We needed to reset our clocks. All the way form Slovenia we didn't had to change clocks, I would imagine that they would change clocks already in western part of Spain but I guess it is less complicated not to do that.
One of my brightest idea was to travel without any sort of mosquito repellent. Not smart here in the Iberian peninsula. Sure I could bought it there but didn't... don't know why.
Porto is the second biggest Portuguese city. Yes, Porto is a city. Many people think Porto is just some sort of a whine. Well, wine got its name form this town. One English imported wanted to import wine to England but because of the heat all wine gone bad. So he decided to put some alcohol into barrels and it worked )

"Caldeurada a Moda da Casa" is the only original dish we ate here. Hors d'oeuvre (first dish) is served to you immediately when you are seated. At first we thought it is just a nice gesture, we thoughtit is for free... WRONG. They charge everything even bread.

Fairys built castle on Earth in Sintra. A very picturesque castle built here firstly by Moors. A lot of stuff were added latter in the Middle ages and in the Renaissance and Manueline eras. It has got a lot of amazing rooms, but photographing is strictly forbidden. In fact they take your camera at the entrance. Beautiful park which surrounds this place is considered one of the most splendid in Europe.

Capitol city Lisbon is situated at the mouth of river Tejo. Problem here isn't what to see, where to go but how much time you have to spend. It is best to get a free tour guide with maps and wander around. You even may be offered some hash, marihuana...

Unfortunately we didn't enjoy it as much as we planned and wanted. On our return form Christo's Rei, big statue of Christ the King we had an accident. Front end slid on very hot and slippery asphalt, I even think that there was some oil on the road. Speed wasn't high, around 30kmh. Damage to the bike was minimal. Friendly guys from local auto repair shop straightened brake lever. They did it for free. Our "damage"... well Tanja got some small scratch and a blow to the thumb on the foot. I was more unfortunate. I "braked" with my leg which resulted in really big rub off, from the knee down. We wore just T-shirts and jeans. I needed bandage. A local woman who arrived at the scene was very helpful and nice. She took us to the hospital and arranged with the staff so I was handled immediately. Elsa, thank you again. We will always remember you!

And as it wasn't enough... a guy hit my motorbike in the roundabout. Almost no damage to the motorbike but I received a very nasty twist to my ankle. Tanja was ok. She fell on soft, on me )
I must say that all people we met here, police officer, medical staff were very kind and helpful.
Needless to say our holiday went pretty fast form here on. No more small twisty roads for us, highways only.
Cabo de Sao Vincente is the most south-western part of Europe. Cliffs and views are spectacular. There is one funny island shaped like a shoe.

Beer bottles in Spain and Portugal are bigger than anywhere I've been before. A whole one liter they hold. Taste is pretty good as well. One evening when I drank only half bottle I wandered why do I feel so dizzy. I found out why next morning. Beer was nearly three times stronger that I'm used back home.
Spain again. It is a big difference between these two countries. In my opinion Portugal is much more dirty. Garbage everywhere, roads were bad. But then again we traveled on back roads... far away from any possible tourist attraction.

Pico de Valeta suppose to be highest mountain pass in Europe. May be so, but it is closed for years. No signs about that though. I was very disappointed to find out that at the top ( But if we would gone over we wouldn't found another jewel in the back country. Place called La Calahorra. Big castle rise from the flat land almost unreal and is visible from far around. Looks like they build a hill to put castle on top of it. It really impressed me. We didn't enter as it was closed...

Puerto de Rague was on our way to Almeira. Stunning scenery looked like something from Sci-Fi movie. Winding road on one side on the beautiful gorge then dropping down to the creek than going up on another side, really great.

Montserat in an old royal hideaway which is situated high in the mountains offering stunning views on the valley below. One very famous relique is here, statue of virgin Mary with a child. Here is also a spring of healthy water. I did drink a bit of holy(??) stuff but my leg still feels and looks bad. Monastery is very well preserved. It is also very touristy spot. Se saw plenty of buses from all over Europe.

Capitol of Catalonia is Barcelona. Great BIG city, but with my poor leg we didn't seen much. We walked down the main promenade "Rambla" to the statue of Kristobal Kolumbus. Aquarium was near so we decided to rest a bit and cool down inside. We also went to an I-Max theatre. I heard all good stuff about this movie system. It was far better then I expected. With the metro we arrived to another well known attraction. Cathedral Sagrada Familia. Yes, it still was under construction and still will be.

Pain in my foot wasn't big, but in the evening it swelled big time. This walking wasn't very good idea.
In city Figueres lies very interesting building. Actually it is a museum dedicated to artist Dali. Strange looking building with "eggs" on top. A massive crowd was at the entrance, so we decided to not to enter.

Soon we were on the same route that got us to Spain. We completed a circle. Knowing the road we traveled very fast. But not too fast. A rubber membrane in carburetor was punctured. It meant that engine didn't get enough fuel so wewere restricted to only 110 kmh.
Despite problems we decided to go over some high mountain passes. Our first one was also the highest one, Col de la Bonette (2863m). Road was great, although it was partly cloudy it still offered some great views in the surrounding mountains.

Soon we were in Italy. Whole time in Spain and Portugal we had great weather. Now on our return weather got really bad. A lot of rain. On top of Passo di Gavia there was even some snow. Just enough for snow "fight".

How progress can ruin nature... few years back when I drove over this pass road was only partly asphalted, almost no traffic. Now road is fully asphalted, a lot of traffic, whole caravans going up. Passo di Stelvio was another great mountain pass that we drove. Stelvio wasn't as beautiful as was Gavia but road was much better.
Last night we camped in the mountains near Cortina di Ampezzo at the altitude of 1750m. It was only 10 degrees and rain. It wasn't very pleasant night, as we didn't have any warm clothes with us... We got up around 6 and headed for Cortina. Hot chocolate never tasted better.
Rain and fog escorted us to Slovenia.

After 9361 km and 157 hours on the bike Spanish adventure was behind us, without that accident it would have been close to perfection. I shall return! Especially to the north of Spain!

My leg? Not good. At leas there wasn't anything broken... (after 6-8 months is was almost OK).

I would like to thank Tanja for letting me use some of hers pictures.


Camping


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