Whilst at the campsite in Tangier, we got chatting to a couple, also from England, who were staying in a van on the site. Their names were Simon and Dee, and they invited us in for a drink. They are a young couple, from down South, and they decided a while ago to convert an ordinary long wheel base white van, not just into a camper van, but into their home. They had been living in it for a year or so before they decided to give up their jobs and go travelling. There are not many people in this world that I find impressive, but these guys absolutely astounded me with not only the quality of the job they had done on their van, but with their outlook on life. Their van looks completely like a trade van on the outside, and the only giveaway are the windows on the roof, which you can see when they are open. Inside, they have used reclaimed materials wherever they can, they have everything they need inside (oven, hob, fridge, sink, shower, toilet, bed, storage etc.), and the space is beautiful and functional, very homely, and surprisingly light, considering the only windows are on the roof. Because the van looks like a normal van, they have been able to park up for the night wherever they want, for free, and nobody knows! They have solar panels on the roof, an LPG canister and an independent leisure battery for power, so they don’t need to be connected up to mains. In our ‘developed’ country, where lots of people live beyond their means, and think that having the latest flash car or big house is important or impressive, it was brilliant to meet people not of that opinion, and who are happy with just having a very small but perfectly functional roof over their heads, not too much stuff, and the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it. Thank you both for the time we spent together (and for the wine!)ūüôā

After we left this campsite, we were scoffing some food in a supermarket carpark, when a man came over and started talking to us. His name was Glen, he was originally from Derby, and he has lived in Tangier for more than 10 years, after his company moved him and his family out there. He is a thoroughly good guy, and gave us some good advice about where to go, and what roads to use. He also left us with his number, and it transpires that he is friends with Youssef and Othmane, again, through motorbikes.

The next place we visited was Chefchaouen, which was a recommendation of Glen’s. Chefchaouen is a town that is situated on the side of the Rif mountains, and most of the buildings in its old town, or medina, are blue-washed. It was a very interesting place to visit, and we would have like a bit more time there, but we had to move on because the weather was due to change. Whilst we were at the campsite here, we met some lovely people from Austria, who were travelling through Morocco in two converted army lorries, which were awesome, and capable of going over pretty much any terrain. We were very jealous, although not of the MPG! We spent the evening chatting with the Austrians, and one of them shared his Grandfather’s 40-year-old Peach Schnapps with us!

We headed to Fes, and booked into a place via AirB&B, as it was due to rain for a few days. We ended up striking it very lucky, as the place was an old Palace, and the chap who was running it was the grandson of the original owner. It was a fascinating place, and run down, but they were earning money to renovate it bit-by-bit, by renting out the rooms that were complete. We explored Fes on foot from the Palace, as it was situated on the outside of the Medina (original city), and we got lost in the many little streets inside the medina, where there were stalls of people selling everything from street food to herbs, spices and fresh vegetables, to clothing. One thing that I have really enjoyed about Morocco is that pretty much everything they eat is grown in the country, rather than being imported from others, and of course, things that aren‚Äôt the ‚Äėright‚Äô shape are sold regardless, as if the people there can afford to eat, they are just grateful.

It was in Fes that we had to do more work on the Russian visa, which we had been leaving and not really wanting to deal with, for many reasons. Firstly, we have been considering changing the method of transport we are using. We love our bikes, and want to continue to use them, but motorbikes, coupled with camping, is probably one of the most uncivilised ways of travelling, especially when you think about doing it for up to 5 years. It is wonderful in nice weather, but when it is cold and/or wet it can be miserable, and we are constantly checking weather forecasts and having to plan around the weather when we are riding out of season. Travelling for us should not be an endurance exercise, but something we are trying to enjoy, and I hate having to miss things because we are trying to outrun the weather. As such, we are trying to think of ways in which we can still have our bikes with us, but be more comfortable at the same time. If we were to change the method of transport then we would not be going to Russia next year, but more likely the year after, as we would need some time to prep it.

The second reason for procrastinating was that we were thinking of changing the route, as going ‘over the top’ of China and then either traversing through China on a guided tour to get to SE Asia, or shipping from Vladivostok via S Korea or Japan to Thailand or Malaysia are all extremely pricey. We are talking¬†between ¬£5,000-¬£10,000 for 20-30 days guided tour through China, or probably ¬£4,000 for shipping, and you see absolutely nothing for that money except ports, airports, and the inside of a plane. We were therefore thinking of going through Iran, Pakistan and India to Myanmar, which would mean not going through Russia at all.

Not dealing with this had been swirling around in my head and making me extremely bad tempered, as I hate having things unfinished with deadlines looming. At this time the deadline was upon us, so we had to make the decision, and apply, or commit to not applying. In the end we decided to go ‘over the top’ of China, by motorcycle, next year, and rethink our plans when we get to Vladivostok. This meant we had to apply for the Russian visa now so that we are able to visit them to give our fingerprints when we get home. We have been using a visa service from a company in the UK, which at best, have been absolutely useless at answering our questions, so it has taken a lot longer to get this done than anticipated, and caused me so much stress that I cannot even put into words, but hopefully all will be ok. This is also the main reason for getting so behind with this blog!

 

As most of you who have read this blog will know, for the last month or so we have been¬†looking at the¬†requirements to enter certain countries for our travel next year, as lots of them require visas and other paperwork. Quite early on we looked into Morocco and found that it doesn’t require a visa, nor carnet de passage, temporary import permit etc. Our friends, Con and Mandy, helped with the route and the places we should see, whilst we were staying with them in France. The research we did¬†showed that it was as easy as getting a ferry from Tarifa in Spain to Tanger in Morocco, and riding off. This was brilliant news, and we promptly turned our attention to other things instead, and gave it no more thought. Oops.

We got off the ferry at Tanger, after having lots of laughter with the Moroccan customs officers, because I was still speaking in Spanish and not French. My phone bleeped with a message from my phone provider, which said calls were ridiculously expensive to make and receive, plus you have to pay a small fortune for data which only lasts 24 hours. Ok, so no internet then. The TomTom app on my phone also made it look like we were in no-mans land, as I only had the European map installed, not the African one. No sat-nav either then. The paper map we had was a biggie; 1:200,000, which showed the whole of Morocco and no small details of the cities, so we had no hope of finding out where a campsite was from that, if indeed there was one! Cue me thinking that perhaps we should have done a bit more planning on this! Nothing else for it but to ride towards the centre of town, and try asking people about a campsite.

We started riding and quickly realised that the etiquette and standard of driving here is quite different from home, and even other countries in the EU. Most people ride scooters without a helmet, or any other protective clothing, and definitely do not use lights or indicators, even in the dark. They ride quickly and close to you, and are erratic in their riding, stopping when they feel like it, sometimes in the middle of the road, for no apparent reason. The car drivers behave in a similar way, but maybe a little slower. This was turning out to be quite an experience, and we’d only just got off the boat! We stopped in a petrol station and I went in to ask about a campsite. The lady there wrote down the name of it for me and gave me directions, which I didn’t understand, but we rode off, trying to follow them. We ended up in the medina, which is the old part of the city, and is basically a load of narrow streets, set up like a giant market, chock-full of people. We decided this wasn’t the way, and turned around. At this point we had loads of Moroccan chaps around us, wanting to¬†help¬†(for a price – we had been warned about this!) be it finding us a hotel, or somewhere to park the bikes. We politely declined, and got away from there sharpish. We rode back into the newer part of town and when I spotted a cash machine, I said we should stop and get local currency. I went into the bank and asked how much money I should get out, as I had no idea what the exchange rate was, or how much things cost. I followed their advice and hoped that I wasn’t withdrawing all of my cash from the bank!

When I got back to Roger and¬†the bikes, a man pulled up on a moped and came over to chat to us. He asked if we were looking for a campsite, and said to follow him and he’ll take us there. We were initially suspicious, but we didn’t think we had much chance of finding it on our own, so why not let this man help us and then pay him afterwards? After quite a lot of riding, we found the campsite, and were able to check in. The man introduced himself as Youssef Hachmi, the President of one of the Motorcycle Clubs in Tanger, and he wouldn’t accept any money; he was just happy to help! We chatted for a while, and swapped details. He said to call if we needed anything, and that he might see us later on, or the next day. We were left a bit astounded and thinking what good fortune we’d had to run into him!

We quite quickly realised that things were also different in terms of campsites here, in comparison to the EU. Here, you can forget about wifi in some of the campsites; just getting a hot shower is difficult enough sometimes. This particular campsite did have a hot shower, but you had to pay extra to use it. The¬†chap working there¬†was awesome though, and couldn’t do enough to help, including letting me borrow¬†his phone to look at where we were in relation to the town centre, so we could walk in later on, and also to check the exchange rate, so I’d know how much money I’d just withdrawn (phew! Only ¬£160).

After a brew, we decided to take a walk into town and try and reach the Tourist Information, so that we at least had a paper map of the city. When we got there it was shut, but a security guard opened it for us and gave us some maps. We then saw a mobile phone shop, so I decided to see if I could buy a local sim with data on it, so at least I could see where there were campsites, and be better prepared when it came to the cities in future. I had prepared some phrases in French using my google translate app, to explain what I wanted, but when I said them to the lady she just replied: “do you speak English?” The relief on my face made her laugh, and we managed just fine. I bought a local sim with 4Gb of data for about ¬£8. She made sure my phone was working with the new sim by calling me from her phone. Afterwards, we thanked her profusely, and she said that I had her private number on the call log on my phone from when she’d established it worked. I was just about to say that of course I’ll delete it, but she said to please call her if I have any problems at all whilst in Morocco, and she wrote down her name for me. I nearly cried in the shop. This was just day 1.

Day 2 was great too; we went with Youssef and his lovely wife, Soumaya, to Assilah, a¬†beautiful little town on the¬†West coast. It is an old town, filled with history, and all of the buildings are renovated respectfully¬†in line with tradition.¬†We had a beautiful lunch (couscous as it was a Friday), and drank Moroccan tea. We also met Othmane, a friend of Youssef,¬†and also part of the¬†Motorbike club. We enjoyed their company very much on this day, and it was great to ride around with them. We have been amazed by everyone’s friendliness and hospitality. Thank you all!

 

I apologise once again for the length of time it has taken me to write this post! There will probably be 2 posts in quick succession, which will explain why this is!

So where were we last? Salamanca, I think. Well, let me tell you that the inland parts of Spain from October onwards are COLD if you are camping, especially if you have been lucky enough to have had a hot summer and your body has acclimatised to those temperatures (i.e. you’ve gone soft). I think one of the nights in Salamanca reached 0degC, so not much fun when camping. We were also back to looking at weather forecasts and planning around rainy spells for the first time since Norway. The few days we had to spend in Salamanca because of the rain, meant that we had to unfortunately miss off Rueda (no wine tour for me ūüėĘ) and Segovia. I don’t normally like to be on a timescale, but we had to be in Valencia for the start of the MotoGP weekend, also because our friend Kim was flying out from the UK to go with us. Plus, I have a feeling we’ll be back, next time in more comfortable transportation for cold weather! We ended up heading to Madrid, which had marginally better weather, and we were looking forward to that, as we were a bit fed up of being cold and damp. However, this involved us crossing some mountains, which had had a dose of snow, and made the ride quite cold too! We made it to Madrid and camped for one night in a really lovely (but still cold) campsite, before we decided to bite the bullet and use a hotel voucher we’d been given from Kim and Radka for 2 nights hotel accommodation towards the centre of town. This was great, and made the day’s exploring the city centre much more enjoyable and relaxing, although cooking in the room with the petrol stove required a bit of resourcefulness (one of the nitrile gloves I brought with me to be placed over the smoke detector). Madrid wasn’t really any different to any of the other Spanish cities we’d been to, but we really enjoyed ourselves nevertheless. It had a Palace and a Plaza Mayor, which were both beautiful, and the streets were great to walk around. We had moments where we just stopped and people-watched. The relationship between the rozzers and the ‘looky-looky’ guys was particularly entertaining. If you don’t know who these are, they are people who approach you to buy watches, jewellery, sunglasses etc for “a good price, my friend”, basically guys that have emigrated and are trying to make a living. These guys had their merchandise displayed on top of a bed sheet on the floor in the Puerta Del Sol square. They had strings on each corner of the bed sheet so that when the rozzers came, they could just pull the sheets up and over their shoulder, with all their merchandise in, so they wouldn’t get into trouble. Then when the police left, they’d set it all out again. It looked to me like the Police didn’t want to catch them anyway, that they understood they were trying to make a living, but they had to look like they were doing their job, so made a big entrance at walk around time, so as to give the guys time to leave. It was an interesting charade to watch.

It was then time to leave Madrid and head for the coast, which was a lot warmer. We met Kim in Valencia and found our apartment for the long weekend, which was lush! It was one of these blocks of flats that doesn’t look great from the outside, but once you get in, it was really funky, and it had a sea view on one side and a view of the national park on the other. We were just South of Valencia, in an area between El Saler and El Palmar. The time we spent with Kim was great, and it was like a holiday, so the budget relaxed a bit. We visited some wonderful restaurants, and had some much needed time off the bikes, as Kim had very kindly rented a car.

The MotoGP was awesome too. A very kind friend of the family got us paddock passes, so we had the opportunity to walk around and see the mechanics prepping the bikes, plus riders whizzing around on their mopeds. The only problem was that the passes didn’t allow us any seats to watch the race, or so it seemed. After getting thrown out of a grandstand because we “needed to have a ‘VA’ sticker on our passes” to be in there, we then made some ‘VA’ stickers and the next day, hey presto, we had seats! Kim also managed to nearly get run over by Valentino Rossi on his moped, whilst we were in the paddock area, when he was riding to his mechanics truck from his motorhome!

When MotoGP was over, we said good bye to Kim and headed South along the coast, as we were then to cross over to Morocco from the port of Tarifa. It took us three days to get down to Tarifa, with stops in Mojacar, Torremolinos and Puerto Banus en route. Puerto Banus was a wonderful little place in Winter, still just sunny enough to sit outside without your jumper, and very pretty and clean. Tarifa was also very nice, with not many people, and it had a nature reserve, which we camped on the outskirts of.

The next day, Morocco awaited us…

After leaving Mojacar, we made our way inland, as¬†Parque Natural las Lagunas de Ruidera had been recommended to us. We had been riding all day, on fairly straight and fast roads towards the end, and at about 2km from Ruidera the road surface changed. The bike immediately felt different, almost like the front wheel wasn’t connected properly, or like it does when you ride onto an area of road with raised ironworks a little bit too fast and the bike wants to follow the lines of the road instead of where you’re turning the steering. Roger agreed that the road surface wasn’t good, but a couple of seconds later things got a lot worse for me, and the bike started moving from side to side and I couldn’t control it. Roger said it was my back wheel that was moving, but I couldn’t tell at that time! I backed off and gradually rolled to a stop, and it turned out that my back tyre was completely flat. We were on a fast road, with no room to safely fix the puncture, so I had to ride slowly to a layby, where Roger set about removing the wheel and trying to fix it. To cut a long story short, the tyre was fine, but the inner tube had a number of holes around the side of it, which correspond to an impression of the inside of the tyre. This suggested to us that when the new tyres were fitted the week before, the inner tube got pinched by the tyre, and when the pressure increased and the air inside the tube expanded, it made holes in the tube. The road surface proabably had nothing to do with it.

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Oby at the side of the road with his flat tyreūüė¶

Roger successfully replaced the inner tube (we carry spares), but we were struggling to get the tyre to correctly fuse with the rim of the wheel and make a seal. I remember being in Dad’s workshop before, and the tyres he was working on making an almighty bang when he inflated them and they fused with the rim. This wasn’t happening for us, and we had inflated and deflated the tyre a number of times trying. It¬†was¬†dark by this point and so we put the wheel back on and rode to Ruidera with the bike still wobbling. Unfortunately, when we got there the campsite was closed, and rather than riding further on my wobbly bike I decided we should go back to a hostel we’d just rode past and get a room for the night. The next day was ‘Dia de la Muerta’, or Day of the Dead, so everything was closed, and we had no hope of finding a garage to help fix the problem, but Dad said if we could find a petrol station with an air line, put some fairy liquid on the rim, and blow the tyre up enough, then it should fuse. Luckily, a few doors down the road, that was exactly what we found, and it took about 10 minutes, fairy liquid around the rim, and 42psi of air to fix! Thank you Roger, and my Dadūüôā I’m glad this happened whilst in a developed country, so we are well prepared¬†for next time!
Because the tyre was now fitted properly, we decided to carry on and ride through Parque Natural las Lagunas de Ruidera, which was beautiful. I would have loved to spend days and days there, and to canoe down the river, but unfortunately we have a bit of a timescale for the central areas of Spain, as we have to be back in Valencia for the MotoGP on 10th November. This place is on my list of ‘places to come back to later’!

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Oby looking pleased with himself after Roger fixed his inner tube.

From here, we moved on to Toledo, Avila and then Salamanca, which is where we currently are. These cities all have beautiful medieval centres, enclosed within castle walls, and it has been great fun to just amble around looking at everything. Between the cities there are miles of open countryside, used mainly for agriculture. Unfortunately, coming inland at this time of year has meant that the temperature has dropped dramatically, and we are currently having a couple of days of rain.

As soon as the rain stops, we are planning to visit Segovia, El Valle de los Caidos, San Lorenzo de el Escorial, and Madrid, before heading to Valencia on the 10th November for the MotoGP with our friend Kim! After that, we will venture over to Morocco, before coming home for a few weeks over Christmas.

After leaving Barcelona, we continued heading down the coast, through Deltebre, which is where the river Ebro meets the sea. It is home to a lot of different species of birds, and is an extremely peaceful place. We stayed for a couple of nights in Benicassim, which is a great little seaside town, very clean and tidy and with a great beach, but still with a Spanish feel to the place. After this we rode down to Gandia to visit Jill (my Dad’s cousin) and her partner, Peter, who is unfortunately not well (although his sense of humour is still as present and incorrect as ever!). Jill spent time showing us the sights around the area, and we had plenty of food and wine together, plus we also saw Jill’s daughter Tanya, her partner Juanjo, and son, Noah. It was great to see them all, although I was sad to see Peter so poorly. I have only met him a few times, but he is the sort of person I have always got on very well with when we have seen each other, probably as he’s down to earth and we both have a similar (and sometimes inappropriate) sense of humour! Thank you all for spending time with us and letting us stay with you.

We had then decided to visit Dave and Bernie, who were going to be down in Mojacar visiting some other friends, Mick and Andrea, who run an off-roading school down there. However, as this wasn’t for a couple of weeks, we went to Torrevieja to chill out there for a while, and look into the mountain of visas we have to apply for for next year. It turned out we didn’t chill out too much, as it pretty much took the whole 2 weeks to get a plan in place for how and when to apply for them all. I would spare you the boredom of the logistics, but as this is going to be a big part of the trip, and you are obviously on here to read about the trip, you can have it, warts and all! I guess we must start with our preferred route for next year once we get out of Europe, which will be around May:

Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, Russia, *Japan, South Korea and then to SE Asia.

Of these; Georgia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Japan, South Korea, and countries in SE Asia either don’t need visas, or if they do, they can be obtained at the border, so we don’t need to worry about them for now.

So here are the countries (in order of us visiting) which need a visa in advance:

Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, and Mongolia.

Turkey is my favourite visa, as it can be applied for on the internet, is multi-entry, and costs $20. I like this visa very much.

Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia all need a letter of invitation of some sort, which can be obtained through different places, and essentially after we get these, we can leave a passport with an agency in England to apply on our behalf when the time is right (they all have different lengths of time they are valid for; most are 3 months from date of issue, so can’t be applied for yet).

Of all the visas that need applying for in advance, two of them need us to physically attend an embassy to give our fingerprints along with the application. These are the Russian and Iranian visas. The Iranian visa I believe we can apply for in another country (but I have not had confirmation of this yet), but for the Russian visa, we have to attend in our home country, which means going to London. “No problem!” we thought, as we are coming home for a visit at Christmas, so we can do it then. Wrong! You can only apply 3 months in advance, and as we want to be in Russia in August, we cannot apply until May (which is when we will be in Turkey). The answer to this is to get a multi-entry visa which is valid for a whole year, at a cost of about ¬£700 each, but it is doable. It will also give us flexibility if Iran and Turkmenistan (the trickier visas to be accepted for) deny us those visas, as we can ride North of the Caspian Sea into Kazakhstan instead. The problem with this is that we need to supply 3-months worth of bank statements showing that we have a balance of ¬£100/day for each day of our visit. I have asked if this means for the 3-weeks or so we will actually spend in Russia, or for every day of the 12-month validity of the visa (which will work out at ¬£36,500, and therefore be a problem). I have been fairly well reassured that the former is the case, but we’ll see.

For us to get visas for Iran and Turkmenistan, we need to have a guided tour, which obviously makes things much more expensive. We can get around this with Turkmenistan, as they offer a 7-day transit visa, for which you don’t need a guide, so we’ll try this option. We cannot get around this with Iran, and I am currently waiting for a reply to see if anyone is willing to give us a tour, as both Roger and I would love to visit Iran.

*amongst all this planning, we have realised that Japan may be better visited without the bikes, and at another time, as it will be very expensive whilst we are there. Both Roger and I have always said that we would love to ride the bikes through China, and seeing as our aim is to get to SE Asia, it would be better if we could ride from Mongolia through China to Laos, rather than shipping from Russia to Japan, to S. Korea and then to Thailand. Therefore we are investigating the possibility of riding though China, which also needs a guided tour, as foreigners riding foreign biks is illegal in China, unless with a guide. I have had a quote of approx £10,000 so far (for a 25-day trip), but this figure will come down if we can join in with other people and share the cost.

I hope I haven’t bored you senseless with the visa logistics. There is quite a lot more to it than that, but there’s stuff I can’t really write on here at this stage, so we’ll leave it for another time!

During the time in Torrevieja, we also needed to find a motorbike garage, as after 15,000 miles our tyres needed changing. We found a garage where I ordered us some ‘neumaticos’ in my best Spanish, and I was pretty pleased with myself!

After we were happier with the situation regarding visas, it was time to meet Dave and Bernie. We rode mostly coast roads down to Mojacar, and as soon as we entered Andalucia the scenery started to change for the better. The roads were also twisty, and great fun! I immediately thought that I could live around that area. We spent a lovely couple of days with Dave, Bernie, Mick, Andrea and Rich, plus all of the other guys and girls that were there too. We went out for dinner, and walked around the area, and I revisited the reason why I don’t drink more than 2 glasses of wine! Thank you so much to Mick and Andrea for letting us stay!

I’ve just realised I’ve not posted on here in ages (sorry about that!), but we are still alive, and are now thoroughly enjoying Spain, having had a fairly easy time so far.

We started our journey after not having a great deal of sleep for the last two nights in a row, whilst camping in Carcassonne. On the first night in question we awoke in the middle of the night to some rustling and snuffling, which sounded really close, possibly from inside the tent. Roger was by the side of me, so I knew it wasn’t him looking for food, so we shined the torch around and saw the tail of an animal, which had just squeezed out of the tent. We then heard it eating outside the tent, and Roger was then convinced it was laying next to him, but on the outside of the tent. The next night we awoke, again in the middle of the night to the sound of something being quite violently sick. Being a cat owner, I recognised this noise as a cat with a pretty nasty furball. Sure enough, the cat in question was relaxing (and trying to hack up a furball) on Roger’s chair, inside the tent. He did this quite a lot during the night, so we didn’t get the best sleep, and we probably should have kicked him out, but we’re too soft with animals, especially cats!

That said, we had a great trip through the Pyrenees from France, which we did whilst the weather was still good. The roads we chose for this really suited the bikes; narrow, really twisty and bumpy, and great fun. Some of the roads ran through parts of the rocks, which had obviously been cut through when the roads were made. Out came the GoPro again. Before we knew it, we had the crossed the border into Spain, and were coming down the other side of the mountains. At one point Roger said over the intercom (he was up front) “there’s a cow in the road”, and sure enough, when I came around the corner, there was a cow just out for a wee stroll up the hill, along my side of the road, and quite clearly not giving a stuff about it. I slowed right down and wished her a good afternoon¬†as I went past, as you do.

We made it to Girona, and were shocked when we got there as there was only one campsite close to the city, and it was quite a lot more expensive than any of the campsites in France, which was something we hadn’t expected at all from Spain. Plus, it was next to a pig farm, and didn’t smell so good. We stayed here for two reasons; firstly we could have a day exploring Girona, and secondly, because they had wifi. We had arrived in Spain not having a clue about where we were going and what we wanted to see, so having the internet to be able to plan a route was pretty essential, and as not many of the campsites in France had internet, we had not been able to plan this in advance. However, the smell and the number of flies and mosquitos from the pig farm got to us and we decided to leave! My wonderful friend Jerry advised us to head straight for the coast, where we would find more choice of campsites, with less mosquitos and flies, which was exactly what we did. Unfortunately, I then spent a few days with prickly heat all over me, after wearing extra layers and zipping up the bedroom door of the tent whilst trying to avoid the mosquitos at the last place! Never mind, the place we stopped in, near Palamos, was lovely, the facilities were great, and we were able to have a few rest days, plus after being helped out by our wonderful facebook friends, and Jerry (thanks guys!), we managed to plan a stonking route! During this time, we also met a couple from Kent, who live in their caravan on this campsite for 10 months of the year, and go home during November and December to drive taxis during the Xmas period. They pay ‚ā¨9/night on the campsite (which includes their electricity) and a tiny ‚ā¨50/year for their phone and Internet, and are having the 10 months in Spain completely work-free as they are living so cheaply! We also had drinks with Toby and Louisa, from Germany, who had previously travelled on their motorcycles through Africa and South America, but who now travel around in their Mercedes G-wagon, as they have a nipper. It was interesting to talk to them about the part of the trip which worries me the most (certain parts of Africa), after hearing lots of people’s experiences of it. I’m now looking forward to it a lot more, and I’m happier doing it by bike, rather than changing vehicle.

Early the next day we left this campsite, after a proper thunderstorm, and we headed down along the coast road towards Barcelona, which was narrow, twisty, but with a great surface, except for the little landslides after the storm. We travelled through as many towns on the coast as possible, and found it a bit sad at how much they reminded us of Blackpool, only with better weather. There were plenty of ugly high-rise buildings, that were probably built in a rush, with no regard for making them beautiful. There were also tons of arcades, although I couldn’t smell the usual depravity that British seasides usually have (a mix of deep fat fried doughnuts and cigarettes, you know what I mean). It is a shame what tourism has done in these areas. The places weren’t particularly great until we reached Mataro, and then Barcelona, soon after.

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Barcelona was great, and huge, so we swapped our usual tactic of walking around and exploring with our cameras, and did something we’ve never done before; we took a tour in an open-top bus. This was a much better way of seeing the city, and allowed us to get off and explore when we wanted to, and skip past the things we didn’t find so interesting. There were a lot of things that were interesting; all of the Gaudi-designed buildings that are dotted all over the city, were completely different to each other and the rest of the buildings, especially the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, which is huge, and looks like a cross between something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a birthday cake, all in its different colours! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get pictures of the whole thing, firstly because it is too big to fit in one frame on my camera, and secondly, because they are obviously still working on it, and there were cranes, scaffolding, and bits covered up.

 

After visiting the dunes, it was time to start heading South-East, where we had a few more sightseeing places to visit before heading down towards Spain. The first place was Grotte de Lascaux 2, which is a replica of a cave found in the 1940s by a group of¬†13 year old boys, containing paintings from the cavemen. These paintings are all of animals, and are painted all over the walls of the cave. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures, but the info can all be found on their website http://www.lascaux-dordogne.com/en/lascaux-cave. The original cave was closed in 1963 as the paintings started to develop white growths, which was caused by the CO2 in the expired air from the millions of visitors over the 20 years since it opened. They couldn’t remove the white growths without removing the paint, so the cave was closed and a replica (a very good one) was made.

On the way to the Grotte, we stopped in a McDonald’s for a coffee, and we met a couple who were from the UK, and travelling by motorhome and bicycles for a few weeks. They recommended we go to Sarlat, another medieval town in the area (it sounds like I’m starting to get blas√© about medieval towns, but I promise I’m not; there are just so many of them around here). I was also quizzing the lady about travelling by motorhome, as I’m really starting to see the benefit of them, and would love to get one after we have finished this. The lady told me that I would get one, one day, and I’d like to think she’s right!

Sarlat was a great town, very picturesque, with some really brilliant buildings, lovely things to buy, and places to eat. I tried my first ever pint of Hoegaarden Rosee here, which was nice and sweet, and I’m not sure if it was something Hoegaarden manufacture, or if the bar had just added something to the normal Hoegaarden. Anyway, it was fab, and I’d love to find it again.

Another place we visited after this was Gouffre de Padirac, which is a village that has some fabulous limestone caves. You enter via a big hole in the ground and take steps and a lift down, and then a boat along the river at the bottom, where the guide who was paddling the boat tries to make you think there’s a monster under the boat that will push it over (and at that point he makes the boat tip a bit!) You then have a guide who walks through the cave with you, showing you all the different formations made by the water dripping down from the surface. The latter parts of the tour we weren’t allowed to take photos of, unfortunately, so the below ones are of the beginning of the place.

We also came across another great town in the Tarn area, called Albi, which we stumbled upon as it had a campsite, which turned out to be the poshest campsite ever, although pricey; it even had a heated pool, spa, and some decked out Airstreams to hire! We decided to stay here an extra night too, so we could have a day off the bikes and explore the town, plus, it was one of the few French campsites that had wifi, so was useful to update this site.

We are currently in Carcassonne, another place where we were recommended to go, and today we have been exploring its medieval town, which is located on the opposite side of the river from the newer part of the city centre, and is within the old castle walls. It is again, a really interesting place, and full of lovely shops, with cafes and artists’ workshops.¬†Roger treated me to a massive macaron there too, which was delicious!