I’m afraid that due to us moving on quite quickly at this point, and also due to any free time I had being taken up with sorting out problems with my flat, I have gotten behind with this blog, plus forgotten and not documented a lot of Italy, Slovenia and Hungary. What I do remember I am just going to put in this post, so it might be longer than usual…

There was an immediate change upon crossing the border into Italy, with the amount of traffic, and its pace. There were many more mopeds, it was less relaxed on the roads, and everyone was making more progress. There are also stacks of designated parking places for motorcycles everywhere, as mopeds and scooters especially, are the norm.

We headed firstly to Genoa, where we stayed a couple of nights and took some time to explore the city. Most of the city centre consisted of old buildings, and there were obviously some chain stores here, but they were nestled into the old buildings in a respectful way. The marina area was great with lots of places to sit, and it was a lovely day, so we did! We also decided to book flights home for Roger’s Dad’s surprise 80th birthday party, which I can now talk about, as I’m so far behind on this blog that we have just returned from it last weekend!

After Genoa, we moved on to Verona, where we had booked a lovely little self-contained basement flat for a couple of nights. The host, Serena, was quite taken with our trip, as her family had done a lot of travelling too. We loved the city; it was absolutely full of character, and I don’t recall seeing a new building anywhere. We visited Juliet’s balcony, and we went inside some extremely elaborate churches. I had my absolute favourite food in the world; Macarons, filled with ice cream, in one of the little cafe’s there, which tasted amazing! On the evening before our departure, Serena asked if her eldest daughter could interview us for 15 minutes or so, for the school newsletter. We said of course, so she invited us for ‘aperitivo’ at her house, a couple of doors down, where she lives with her three children and her parents (three generations in one house is quite typical in Italy, and was lovely to see). Of course, the wine then came out, and we were all talking so much and getting on so well that the 15 minutes completely got forgotten about by all of us, and 2 hours later Serena decided that we should all go out to dinner to this fabulous place down the road! The next day we were due to move on to Venice, but we were having real problems finding suitable accommodation. Serena explained that it was probably due to the next day being carnival day, so it would be fully booked/expensive to stay. She also said that we could get to Venice by train from Verona in 1 hour or so, and we could stay on with her for extra days if we wanted. Being as the basement flat wasn’t available for the extra time, she offered us her own bedroom and said she’d go and share a bedroom with one of her three kids. I still struggle to find the words to explain how I felt about this; ‘amazing’ and ‘kind’ just don’t seem to be enough! We stayed on for three extra nights with them, they fed us beautiful Italian food, and we went Venice by train on a lovely sunny day. Because there had been the Carnival only a few days previously, there were still people dressed up in fancy costumes, plus lots were wearing traditional masks, so it was a great time to go, but quite busy. The best thing by far was that everyone was on foot, so we didn’t have to worry about traffic, bicycles etc, which was really pleasant.

After Venice, we then left Serena and her lovely family, to go to Trieste, where we camped for the night, before crossing the border into Slovenia. The first stop were the Skocjan caves, where we managed to get a guided tour, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures. They were definitely worth a visit though! After the tour, we’d managed to get our stuff locked inside the visitors centre, as all the staff had gone home, but luckily some chaps who had been doing a documentary on how the caves were discovered and excavated over 100 years ago, helped us get it all out, plus they gave us a DVD of one of their previous documentaries! Next stop was to see Predjama Castle, which is situated inside a cave/cliff face, and then it was on to Ljubljana for a couple of days. Ljubljana was clean, open, and relaxed, with not much traffic. The buildings were quite similar in style to the ones in the Baltic countries, or indeed in Austria; large and a lot newer than what we’d seen in Italy, but not modern, and certainly not with glass or concrete everywhere. It was all really tasteful.

After Ljubljana, we travelled to Lake Bled, which was beautiful, and well worth a visit. We spent most of the time just walking around the lake taking pictures, which made us both very happy! We realised that we couldn’t have made it this far much earlier in the year, as there was still snow at the sides of the road on all of the areas higher in altitude.

Once in Hungary, we travelled to Lake Balaton, where we met a lovely couple, whose flat we’d booked to stay in, in Keszthely. Although Keszthely was a nice town, and the flat we stayed in was lovely, Lake Balaton itself wasn’t a patch on Lake Bled, which was a shame! We also found out on the second day in Hungary, that we should have bought a vignette the day previously when we crossed the border, as even though the road we entered Hungary on was just a bog-standard single carriageway, it still required a vignette. We bought one quick-sharp as soon as we realised, but we may have a fine coming our way for the first day 😦

Moving on from here took us to Budapest, which made me very happy, as after a few days of sightseeing, we would be flying home for three days! Budapest was a lovely city (and IMO, any city that has a statue of Peter Falk as Columbo is a lovely city), but it was very big and spread out, and did need the few days to explore. After Columbo, my top pick was the ‘For Sale’ Pub, where notices and messages are pinned to every surface, there’s hay and monkey-nut shells all over the floor (monkey-nuts are on the table to help yourself), the food portions are massive and tasty, and they do a great dark beer!

Being at home was lovely, and it was nice to see my parents, our friend Jerry, and my cats, even if my time with them was ruined by my tenants deciding not to pay their rent any more. However, I was glad to be at home then, to be able to sort it out. The real purpose of the visit was to see Rex, Roger’s Dad, as it was his 80th birthday on the Sunday. Rex did not know anything about us coming home, so when we walked in to their house on Saturday, he promptly dropped the tool he was using, as he was so surprised (but very pleased) to see us! Then the Sunday was his actual party, but that was a surprise also, and credit goes to Roger’s Mum, Sister, Brother, and Sister-in-Law for keeping it so quiet and for organising it all so well. This is also the only party I have ever been to, where every single person invited has shown up, which goes to show how well liked and respected Rex is! It was a lovely party!

 

Getting to France was a bit of a relief, as it felt like we had been in Spain on and off, for a very long time. Although I do like Spain, I was more than ready to move on. The French border took us by surprise to be honest, as we were expecting to have to go over some part of the Pyrenees, but there wasn’t so much as a hill, and it was a welcome relief after the bad weather we had been avoiding at that time. We stopped that night in a town called Saint-Jean-de-Luz, in a little hotel there, where as I said in my previous post, the lady did the room at a bit of a discount for us. It was late by this time, and stopping to fix Roger’s puncture had delayed us, and made him pretty tired.

The next morning, when checking out, the kind lady asked if we were going home now. It’s a question we obviously get asked a lot, (if people haven’t seen our route on the panniers), so we told her about the trip. She was very interested, and whilst we were loading up the bikes, she brought us some croissants all wrapped up, so we could take them with us, and asked us if we’d like some coffee before we left. We gratefully accepted, and then, after the lady took some snaps of us, we made our way to Toulouse. It was this day that I learnt where the Pyrenees actually are, as we were riding along the foot of them all day. I was very happy to get back to French roads; they were completely deserted, extremely well surfaced, with brilliant tight and twisty, but flowing sections in them.

Toulouse itself was ok, but not too exciting. We ended up staying for an extra day as there were a few days of really strong wind (and for a change, it wasn’t coming from myself or Roger); at least 50mph gusts, and it wasn’t appropriate to ride in. After this, we made our way to Montpellier, which was a much more interesting place to be, and probably my favourite of the French places we’ve seen on this leg of the trip. The city centre had narrow, cobbled streets, with old buildings, lots of people eating and drinking outside, and the place felt like it had lots of history there. This was where I learnt that on Airbnb, when a host says they are ‘open-minded’, it means that they smoke enough weed to have to advertise their own bedroom for rent to pay for it, and to not care enough to even change the sheets, plus it means they eat their guests’ food from the fridge overnight, when they get the munchies! Lesson learnt there; you get what you pay for 😂

We then visited Marseille, St Tropez, Cannes, and Nice, all of which had lovely Marina areas, and twisty coastal roads joining them. A quick stop in Monaco, and then we were out of France and crossing into Italy. I’m afraid that this blog post doesn’t have any pictures as we didn’t stay anywhere for a great length of time, and I was mostly preoccupied with trying to sort out the problems with my flat to get my photography head on 😩 

Our first taste of Northern Spain wasn’t so great, as we were stuck inside with bad weather, and then messed around and charged a small fortune by a BMW dealer for repairs to Roger’s bike, but we moved on to a town called Ribadeo, which was just a one-night stopover en-route to Bilbao. We’d booked a place on Airbnb, but the host, Javier, hadn’t put his full address in, so when we got to the town itself and the directions stopped, I gave him a call. I was unable to tell him the problem in my rudimentary Spanish, and he didn’t speak any English, so I walked along the road to two chaps who were having a smoke outside a garage, to ask their help. They spoke over the phone with him and told me Javier would come and get us in ten minutes. The rain then started, so the chaps beckoned us inside to what I thought was a garage, but what turned out to be a very basic bar, with no chairs, or heating, and wine and beer barrels for tables. They said to have some wine, so we had a small glass each, we bought the helpful guy a beer to say thanks, and then Javier turned up so we followed him to his place. And what a place it was! It was situated on the side of a lake, which borders Galicia with Astoria, and it was beautiful! It was a big house, with a massive garage and 2 self-contained flats inside, overlooking the lake, and it looked like it was a self-build, as it was done so well. He had a ‘Se Vende’ sign on the front, which means ‘for sale’, and so I was immediately curious about it. The next morning when we were leaving, he came down to say goodbye and I asked him if it was up for sale. It was indeed up for sale, but only because his wife was terminally ill, and we felt so sad for him. I desperately hope things get better for him.


After this, we rode lots and lots of twisty roads until we got to Bilbao, but on the way, Roger had been getting the heebyjeebies about his bike, and kept pulling over to check various things. He also realised that his front brake was binding on, so he stripped it a couple of times to try and free it off, but we realised that it would probably need a mechanic to do it properly, the next time we stopped. We reached Bilbao, and immediately liked the place. It is a small city, compared to what we’ve seen so far, and what I liked the most about it was the amount of older people there, in addition to the younger people. They seemed to give it a relaxed atmosphere for me, which made it a much nicer experience that the usual hustle and bustle you’d find in a city. Although it was night time when we were out taking photos, there were plenty of people out in cafés and bars, and it seemed a great place to be. We took photos around the river area, by the Guggenheim museum, for quite a while, and then decided to book an extra night as we liked it so much.


As we were staying for extra time, the next morning we took our bikes to a local garage to see if they could work on Roger’s front brakes, and also do a compression test on my bike, as it kept cutting out when I shut off the throttle, but only whilst the engine was hot. My Dad thought the valve clearances might need looking at, but a compression test would tell us for sure. It turned out they couldn’t do a compression test (something about not having a long enough hose?!) but they did find that my front wheel bearings were broken, so they were changed. They also managed to free off Roger’s brakes. And the price for all this work? €80 for both, even though they had spent most of the day working on them. And, just in case anyone from BMW happens to be reading this, they were a SUZUKI main dealer.

It was at this time we decided to modify the route to get over into France quickly from the Western, San Sebastiá to Bayonne-side, rather than go under the Pyrenees and cross on the Eastern, Girona to Perpignan-side, as the weather for Southern France was better than it was for Northern Spain. Therefore, we headed for San Sebastián, but things weren’t going to be quite so easy! Remember that Roger had the heebyjeebies about his bike? Well, we found out why when after going along some twisty roads for a while, the back end wasn’t following the front, and we pulled over to realise he had a rear puncture. By this time it was after lunch on a Saturday, so everything was closed, and we (mainly Roger) had to do it ourselves after limping it to a petrol station with an air line, and where there was a hotel, a Burger King and a supermarket, just in case. It took 3 hours to change, and the culprit was a bloody great big nail 😕

Anyhow, we rode through San Sebastián (which looked very nice too!), and across the border into France, and by this time it was getting dark, so we begged a lovely lady in a BnB to do us a room a bit cheaper, as we were pretty tired. Luckily for us, she agreed!

Whilst in Seville we visited Real Alcazar, Plaza Del Toro, Plaza de España, and Parque Maria Luisa, and spent time walking around the city, which is full of old buildings everywhere you look, and is definitely our favourite part of Spain. Thank you to my long-term Spanish friends Monica and Barbara for recommending the places here and in Cordoba! Although it was chilly, the weather was good, and we stayed in a lovely neighbourhood with a nice chap called Javier, again booked through Airbnb. As the campsites in Spain are around the €20/night mark, and we can get a room in a shared apartment for pretty much the same money, we think it’s a no-brainer, especially when the weather isn’t the best. Plus, we can cook using a proper kitchen, rather than our one-burner petrol stove, we generally have wifi, and the people we meet are usually really friendly and helpful. The only bad point about this stay was that I accidentally ordered kidneys for dinner in a tapas bar, and I hate offal with a passion, but luckily Roger stepped in and helped with that one!


After leaving Seville, we visited Córdoba, which seemed like a really odd place at first. We’d booked a studio flat, which was only available for one night, so we got there early and checked in, and then went straight out and spent the afternoon and evening exploring. The place we’d booked was in a less-desirable part of town, and nothing looked that nice whilst we walked towards the centre of town, but it completely changed when we got into the centre, which was clean and old, with narrow streets that you could get very lost in, like a Moroccan medina! There was a beautiful bridge with a fort at one end, a Mesquite, and we got in for free at the Alcazar, so we filled our boots with photograph opportunities. We then went and had dinner at a restaurant which had a Flamenco show going on. If you’ve never seen Flamenco then you should definitely go! To me it was how I would imagine a non-dancer trying to do Riverdance, with lots of leg lifting and stomping, which I know probably doesn’t sound complimentary, but then put in spins and turns, really strong and macho arm movements and poise, and make it all really fast, hitting every beat, with amazing musicality, and you get somewhere near how good it is. Then add one person with a guitar and one singing and clapping, and that is all. How they manage to be so amazing with such few instruments I don’t know! 


We then moved on to Portugal, and have been travelling along the coast ever since. As soon as we crossed the border, I noticed Roger had relaxed more, as he has been here many times before, and so I guess it immediately felt familiar to him. It is funny how places can do that. We camped the first night near the border, in a town called Monte Gordo, and I was amazed at just how many Dutch and Scandinavian people in motorhomes there were! Also, the weather had changed and seemed nowhere near as cold as in Spain. The next day in Portugal was when we visited a town called Vilamoura, which made us feel like we were on holiday as soon as we got there. I can’t pinpoint exactly why this was, but it was probably a combination of many things. Firstly, it was warm; it reached 20degC in the daytime, and wasn’t that cold at night either. Secondly, we were staying in lovely accommodation; a golf resort hotel, which had studio apartments within our budget as it was out of season. Thirdly, this was somewhere that Roger had been many times on holiday, and lastly, it is a massive golf resort, and many brits and other Europeans have places here, whether it be to live, or as holiday homes, so you can easily get by using English (not that you shouldn’t try speaking Portuguese of course!), which meant I didn’t have to think and plan what I was going to say to everyone in advance! Vilamoura itself is a beautiful town, which is clean, has a lovely marina area, and lots of space to walk around. I think it may be the ‘fly in the ointment’ for us, with regards to our travel plans, and I can see us coming back to investigate living here in the not-so-distant future. If it weren’t for Brexit, and its implications for emigration, we might not have moved on!

However, we did move on, through the rest of the Algarve, and through Portimão and Lagos, and then up the Alentejano coast, which was a lot less built-up, being national park most of the time, with more twisty roads. We found a great campsite on this coastline, in a little town called Vila Nova de Milfontes. This area was really lovely as well, and it seemed a complete contrast to the Algarve in terms of how old the buildings were, plus how many people were there. I’m sure in Spring/Summer it would be a different story though! 

We continued up the coast to Lisbon, and this was where the weather started to get in the way a bit more, with days and days of heavy rain. It still continues now, as it is blowing a gale and raining hard, whilst I write this from my bed in the B&B of a lovely Dutch couple, in a little village outside Viana do Castelo (Roger said I shouldn’t mention the electric blanket, as people will think we’ve gone soft).

Lisbon seemed nice enough, but it was a shame about the weather. It was easy to get around on foot, even with all the hills, and there was plenty of character in the old part with lots of old and interesting-looking buildings. We had some wonderful food in a restaurant there; a traditional stew, with beef, pork, and loads of greens and beans, all washed down with a half-litre of beer, it was delicious! At this time, Roger had decided to investigate getting the water pump leak on his bike fixed, as it had been steadily getting worse, and he had the parts to fix it, just not the tools. So off to the BMW garage we went, and the kind man there agreed to do it the following day. 

We moved on after this, towards Porto, but with a 2-night stop en route in a town called Leiria, as it was halfway between, and the weather again was being difficult. We massively struck gold here, as the room I wanted to book was unavailable, but the owner, Célia, wrote and asked if we would like to stay in her one bed apartment for the same price, which is what we did. It turned out she was a lovely lady, and was very interested in our travels. When we arrived, she offered the use of her garage to store the bikes, which she wouldn’t normally do, plus she left us a bottle of wine, some chocolates, and invited us to dinner with her and her boyfriend, Tiago, the following evening. The apartment was lovely too, and it was so nice to have our own space. We went walking the following day, even though it was raining, and we saw the town, which was old but not touristy, and there were plenty of old and empty buildings giving that characteristic old, damp building-smell in the street. I kept thinking “if this was England, there would be developers all over this!” I guess here, the demand isn’t as great for housing as at home, as they don’t seem overpopulated. Dinner with Célia and Tiago that evening was lovely, and it was great to talk to them about their travels too. With some people, the conversation just flows, there are no awkward silences, and there’s always plenty to hear and to say. It was exactly this way with them, and time certainly flew by! Thanks to both of you!

I have just realised how long it’s been since I last posted; over three weeks! This probably doesn’t sound very long, but I haven’t finished writing about Portugal on here yet, and we are now in Slovenia, having crossed Northern Spain, the French Riviera and Italy! I have been so busy trying to sort out problems with my flat at home that I haven’t had time to even think about writing on here. Another thing that I have learnt; don’t think you can rent out your flat without using a management company whilst you are abroad long-term!

Anyway, we are still dodging the bad weather, and choosing to move on during periods when it isn’t so bad. We are still opting for a mixture of Airbnb’s and hostels, rather than camping, and amazingly my thoughts about motorhomes have calmed down (thanks Tonny for your advice!), and things are much easier as a consequence of being warm and having mostly good amenities, including wifi, which has been imperative for sorting out the problems with the flat.

We spent a few days in Porto, to sit out the bad weather, but it was a great city and we enjoyed it very much. We especially liked walking along the river, as the buildings either side were very colourful and the banks of the river were quite steep, so we could see all the different styles of buildings. They also had some really interesting bridges, and a relaxed city centre full of interesting areas, sculptures, and lots of cafes and bars.


After the weather cleared up, we moved on through Guimarães and Braga, and stayed with a lovely couple named Aucke and Jacqueline, just North of Viana do Castelo. Our room had a great view of the ocean, but unfortunately that was as close as we would get to it as the weather had again decided to turn, with 50mph winds, and plenty of rain, rendering us housebound for a couple of days. Aucke and Jacquline were great people though, so no real hardship! We chatted to them a lot about travels that we had all done, and they very kindly left us freshly made coffee, freshly squeezed juice from their oranges in their garden, and some lovely soup that they’d ‘accidentally’ made too much of! These are all things that one may take for granted at home, but when you’re travelling and you don’t have the means of making fresh coffee or orange juice, or the time and inclination after a day’s riding to make soup, these are the things that are so important, and they were like a cup or bowl of pure gold, and I think Aucke and Jacqueline knew this!

We have had some problems and irritations during this time, which have included the sat-nav playing up and taking us in totally the wrong direction, and then down a toll road. Roger’s idea to get around this and back on-track was to go over a fenced-off bridge, interconnecting two service stations, to go back in the correct direction, and to save us 20km. However, when we got off the toll road and had to give the ticket (which we got when we joined the toll road from the other direction) and pay, they charged us €18.65 each, which must’ve been the most expensive few miles we’ve done so far! Another thing was Roger’s bike’s leaky water pump, which we thought we’d had fixed in Lisbon, but it wasn’t done with us just yet. After moving on from Célia and Tiago’s place in Leiria, we realised Roger’s bike now had oil leaking in the same place as the water pump was leaking onto, before it went into the garage in Lisbon, which by now, was over 100miles away. As luck would have it though, we passed another BMW motorrad dealer that afternoon, so we pulled in to ask their advice. To their credit, they took it into the workshop straight away and started looking at it. They seemed to think that the bolts on the clutch cover casing weren’t done up to the recommended torque setting when the clutch cover was put back on in Lisbon, as everything else looked fine, but that we should keep an eye on it as it may need the gasket changing if it is saturated with oil, but that BMW dealers in Spain would be able to sort that out for us, so we could continue North.

We then crossed the border into Spain, which was sad as we’d really enjoyed Portugal. We stayed for a couple of nights in Santiago de Compostela, and had to get Roger’s bike looked at again as it was still leaking oil. Unfortunately though, this BMW garage charged us an extra €170, because ‘this is Spain and that was Portugal’, so as it stands, it has cost €340 to fix a leaky water pump, and this was with Roger supplying all the parts except for the last clutch cover gasket. This may not sound much, but it is 5 days-worth of fuel, food and lodging for us both.

This made us quite grumpy for the rest of the day, until we got to Ribadeo…

Although we were very busy when we got home; what with doctor’s appointments, visiting the dentist as we’d both managed to chip a tooth, and running around trying to sort out our Russian visas, second passports, getting Roger’s camera fixed, and organising repairs to my flat, we managed to have a great Christmas with our families, and to also see some of our friends. I’m sorry to those of you we didn’t manage to see!

We successfully got our Russian visas, and our second passports, which have both been a bit of an ongoing battle for a while. I don’t think I mentioned the second passport before on here, but it is something we started the application process for back in October, as we were aware that it would be an extremely useful thing to have. A lot of people who travel have second passports; they facilitate travel to countries that are incompatible with each other, as sometimes if you have a passport stamp in one country, entry to another will be refused. One example of this is with Israel and Iran. Another good thing about a second passport, and more relevant for us, is the ability to leave one with a visa agency, so they can apply for visas on our behalf, allowing us to keep travelling with the other passport. Unfortunately, getting a second passport has not been easy, and has involved jumping through many hoops since October, with the passport office rejecting our application each time. However, we got there in the end, and we are both the owners of a second passport with 48 empty pages to fill! The process, along with the hassle and bureaucracy we have both had whilst at home, just in trying to get things done, made us long for an (openly) corrupt country where you just give someone some money, and stuff gets done.

Another plus side of popping home was that it allowed us to lighten the load in our panniers a bit, and get rid of some of the things that we either don’t use (of which there are very few things), or that are too heavy, and use an alternative instead. One of these things was my lovely laptop, which I had been using on the trip, but it was so heavy, and I have my iPad, and the use of Rogers notebook anyway. I have a feeling I may regret doing that, but time will tell, and I hope I’m proven wrong!

We are now back in Spain, having flown out on the 7th January. We prepped the bikes, and then reluctantly left Torrevieja, after having a nice catch up with our friends, Roy and Barbara, in a Chinese restaurant there.

We firstly headed to Las Alpujarras, a mountain region in Andalucia, and spent the night in a nice hotel/apartment in a little village named Cadiar. It was extremely cold, and after having spent the flight back to Spain sitting right in front of a snot-filled, sneezing small child, I now also had the lurgy, so I didn’t fancy camping in freezing temperatures! The apartment had lots of radiators, even one right next to the bed, so I practically slept on it all night, and was very happy! The roads around this mountain region were very good; really twisty, and quite quick in some places. I felt a bit rusty on the bike, and not confident at all for some reason, I was slowing down way too much for corners and then berating myself for it afterwards. This feeling lasted for the following day too, when we left Cadiar and headed up the mountain pass to the skiing village of Sierra Nevada. I suppose the fact that there was snow and ice on the minor roads that the sat-nav picked out for us didn’t help! My feelings didn’t help the cause for keeping the travel on the bikes, rather than switching to a camper van, and every time we went past a camper I would swear at in in jealousy! Anyway, the roads themselves were great and the scenery was breathtaking, and we climbed to just over 2,500m, and saw people out on the slopes. I forgot to mention, having just referred to sat-nav, that we treated ourselves for Christmas, and bought one brand-new one each, which should make route planning/following that bit easier from now on, especially in cities.

We made it to Granada that afternoon and checked into an AirBnB apartment for a couple of nights. The chap in the apartment, Rafael, was wicked, and had loads of Star Wars memorabilia dotted around the place. He is also a biker and a scientist, so we didn’t have a lot to talk about 😉 The next day we visited the Alhambra and walked around the city centre, looking at all the Arabic-inspired, old buildings, of which there are many!

We then moved on, down through Almuñecar, and Nerja, on the coast. These were both nice places to ride through, but we didn’t stop there for the evening; our attention was focused on getting to a campsite near El Caminito del Rey. If you have never heard of this place then you need to look it up and go there! We were recommended to go there by a lovely chap who we met in a McDonald’s earlier in the trip (I think it was in Denmark?!), after he saw our route on our panniers and asked us what we were doing. He follows this blog and is a friend on FB, and when I asked for recommendations of what to do in Spain, he was the only one who said about this place! The photos below speak for themselves, but it is basically a walk along the side of a narrow gorge, and before extensive renovations, was referred to as “the World’s most dangerous walkway”, although it is fine now, but maybe not if you don’t like heights! It was absolutely brilliant, and we loved every second of it, so thank you Morten!

Ronda was our next stop, and we were very glad to have visited there too, as it is a beautiful old town. The roads were awesome; they were really technical, slow, tight and twisty, but also really bumpy (= my fave type of road!), and it was the first time I felt confident on the bike in a while, so it made me very happy and reassured. I guess I just had a few off-days before, which is understandable. We also camped here, in a lovely campsite run by a French lady (who I think thought we were mad!), and we needed about twenty layers on so as not to freeze to death! We met some great people here too, but it has become quite obvious, especially after talking to a really nice chap (Ollie), who was there with his family in a camper, that we are treated very differently on our bikes compared to how people in motorhomes get treated, and it was Ollie who sparked it off by saying how a lot of people he’d encountered on campsites were grumpy and unapproachable (which cannot be due to Ollie, as he is super nice and very likeable!). We were surprised at this, as we’ve not found that at all. We’ve had people come up and chat to us pretty much everywhere we’ve been; lots have fed and watered us too! In this particular campsite, a couple next to us in a motorhome, whom we hadn’t even spoken to, randomly and very kindly brought us over some boiled eggs on the morning we left! I guess it may be because we are a little different due to what we are doing and our method of travel, plus maybe we seem a bit more vulnerable and in need of looking after. If we switched to a motorhome/campervan, then would we still be seen in this way, and therefore have the same experience with people we meet? Perhaps not! Anyway, for the time being, as we had already decided, we keep with the bikes, at least for this year, and use AirBnB when we need to. AirBnB also has its perks; we have met some great people through it, and they always know a lot about their local area, so can give great info!

We are now in Seville, and have spent the day exploring today, and are off to Cordoba in the morning. I shall write about those in another post though, as it’s now 21:30, I’ve not eaten dinner yet, and unless Roger can do without an arm, we’d better go and eat some tapas! Happy New Year everyone 🙂

 

We enjoyed Marrakech whilst we were there, mainly due to the company we had and the nice place we stayed in, rather than the city itself. It was ok, but there are nicer places in Morocco to visit in our opinion (Tangier, Chefchaouen, Gorges du Todhra, Assilah, Merzouga). After a while, being a tourist in the cities gets to be quite tiring, as even though you might try to blend in, to them you pretty much have a shining beacon on your head alerting them that you’re not from these parts. Most Moroccans are extremely lovely, but they have a living to make, and as we Europeans are comparatively rich, they will try their hardest to sell you anything, even though it’s obvious you don’t need it. They will approach you in the street and ask if you need directions, want to look in their shop etc. You really do have to be quite assertive with the would-be ‘guides’, as if like Roger and I, you like to mooch around by yourselves, just looking at things and people watching, you won’t get to do that, as they will keep appearing to tell you where you are meant to be going. The first thing they will always ask is where you are from, and I remember Lahcen giving us advice to always say we are from Hungary. He said Hungarians are seen as the poorest of the EU countries, so in theory you’ll get less hassle. However, it is less believable if the person then continues to talk to them with a cockney accent, Roger!

Talking to our hosts at the riad made some things a bit clearer. One of these things relates to the above. The cost of living is a lot cheaper in Morocco, but there are an awful lot of people that do not earn enough for the minimum standard of living, and are therefore in poverty. This explained the number of people we saw in random places, often walking or sitting in the middle of nowhere. We just thought they were having a rest or praying, but it seems they may have had nowhere to live. It also explains why the man on the scooter who showed us where the riad was, was so happy to receive just 50dh (5) for leading us there for at least 20 minutes.

Another thing that was made a bit clearer was the behaviour of the people we met. Our host told us that, as Muslims, they are taught to do good things for other people as much as possible, and the better the deeds done in this life, the better the next life will be. We also observed, not just in Marrakech, but all over the country, an apparent lack of judgement between people. We saw people in suits, people wearing jeans, traditional clothes, tracksuits, and people who were wearing a variety of mismatched items, tied together with what appeared to be a fluffy dressing gown, socks and flip-flops. There didn’t appear to be pointing and laughing or arrogant behaviour from anyone to anyone, which was refreshing to say the least, and a massive contrast to what would happen at home.

We had originally intended to head south to Guelmim, Sidi Ifni and Tiznit after Marrakech, however, the weather was closing in on us, and we didn’t want to get stuck too far away from the port, as obviously, we had the time restriction of the flight home to think about. We decided not to visit these three places, and instead head directly west for Essaouira, and then north up the coast. The coastline between Essaouira and Safi was very beautiful, with great twisty roads and not many people; I could quite happily spend more time there. We enjoyed our trip up the coast very much, except for the campsites (the less we say about those the better!), and we made it a lot quicker than we expected to, which was good, as rain was forecast again. When we got to Tangier we had a lovely evening with Tracy, Glen, Youssef and Othmane. Thank you all once again for your hospitality, we had a brilliant time!

 

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L to R: Glen, Roger, Tracy, Youssef and me with the Moroccan whisky! Thanks Othmane for taking the photo 🙂

 

The next day we decided to use the break in the weather to head back across to Spain, as we couldn’t guarantee that the boats would be running when the bad weather came back. The crossing wasn’t the best for me and my (lack of) sea legs, but I managed to get off the boat at the other end, albeit a bit late, and a bit green. We made tracks across Spain and we were diverted before we reached Malaga as they had had so much rain over the last few days that it had completely filled up some of the underpasses where the motorway runs through some of the towns! We tried to re-route ourselves (which involved us riding through a foot of water in some places) and eventually we had to use the toll road, which was more inland and at higher altitude. This meant that we could make progress and we eventually decided to keep riding all the way back to Torrevieja in one go, despite the fact that it was pelting with rain after we passed Granada, and very difficult to see after it got dark. We made it back safely at about 10:30pm.

We are now catching up with things before we fly home on the 15th December, where we will spend time with our families and friends, and of course, try to get the Russian visa sorted out. Merry Christmas everyone, and I’ll resume writing this once we’re back on the road in January! 🙂