Month: April 2016

Day 7, Potes to Molinaseca — 251 km

Since crossing the border into Spain, we have encountered almost nothing but friendly people, pleasant roads, and beautiful scenery. Food is pretty cheap, and 3 course menus come with whole bottles of wine and if you’re friendly, with some digestif for after the meal.

I didn’t have the best of days today. We left Potes after a stressful exit of our hotel while fully loaded. It’s quite steep and some tight corners with rounded paving stones. My adrenaline was flying while we negotiated it.

After that, we had a lovely drive out of the Picos and down into Leon. When I figure out how to put accent marks onto things with this keyboard, I will fix it.

There were some lovely viewpoints.

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When we crossed the border from Cantabria into Castillo y Leon, the road became immediately worse. A terrible red paving, with potholes, cracks, and bad edging. Lots of pebbles on the roads. I became very cautious, also because the roads were quite narrow, and there were cliffs to fly off of if not careful.

When we were hungry, we stopped by the side of the road and enjoyed the leftover cured meats and cheeses we’d had leftover from meals the day before. A Roman road paralleled this route, so Matt went to have a look at it. He came back before I could catch up. “Ah, it’s a Roman road,” he said. “Once you’ve seen one…” 😉

We passed through Leon on the outskirts, then onward and stopped near the Cathedral at Astorga. We were interested in having a look at the Bishop’s Palace, across from it, designed by Gaudi, because apparently after the expense of building it, no subsequent bishops ever lived in it, out of embarrassment. 🙂 But we didn’t, because we were both feeling a lack of interest at that exact moment.

From there, however, we joined up with the Camino de Santiago, which we followed for the rest of the day.

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This town was on the way down the hill, and this road was part of the HIGHWAY. There was a tour bus parked along it. This isn’t the most representative picture, since some of the buildings actually overhung the street, but it’s where we briefly stopped.

At the end of the day, we finished here, in Molinaseca, but had trouble finding a hotel. We ended up in the most expensive in town, because we were exhausted. Actually, it’s neither that expensive nor that nice, but it’s nice enough that we inquired about tomorrow night, since we had hoped to use this town as a base for a couple of nights. Unfortunately, there will be a wedding here tomorrow, so they are booked up.

We went out for dinner and a stroll through the town.

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The restaurant where we ate was touristic but we had a lot of fun chatting with the waiter, in English and in Spanish. His English is better than my Spanish, but not by all that much, so we went back and forth. In the end, we were the last people there, and he brought us huge glasses of herbal liqueur on the house.

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On the way back, we stopped at the hotel nearest the one we’re at and asked about tomorrow night. They have one room free tomorrow. So we’re booked there, and can drop off our luggage tomorrow. I had to ask that man to talk a lot slower, because he was so enthusiastic he started telling me all kinds of things at super speeds! He was so jolly about everything, though, that Matt insists he now needs to learn Spanish. 😀 Matt says that everywhere we travel.

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Day 6, based in Potes– 87 km

This may come as a surprise, but it is not summer here in Spain. Far from it. Nighttime temperatures everywhere we’ve been so far are sometimes below freezing, but more normally get to about 4 degrees. Daytime temperatures vary quite a bit, sometimes moment to moment.

Our current apartment has a swimming pool, but when I asked if it was open, the hostess laughed and said, “sure, but unless you have a few beers first, you probably won’t want to swim in it.” I felt it. It’s warmer than the Flevoparkbad, but not big enough to warm up by swimming the first laps quickly.

In San Sebastian, there was a place we considered with a rooftop hot tub. Unfortunately, the rooftop is only open from mid-June. It’s a hot tub, for heaven’s sake. I’m sure we’d feel great up there.

Remember this story… it will come up later.

We slept in a bit today. It felt great. Then we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in our apartment. We didn’t get out the door until after 11. Our first stop? Up, up, up! I love gondolas and funiculars, so we were headed to Fuente De, where there’s one up the mountain.

On the way there, my ears popped once.

When we got there, the goats came to greet us. Their herd dogs were quite skeptical, however, and kept them well surrounded on all sides, all the while barking at us in a warning manner.

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I always forget that Matt is quite afraid of heights. Even safely walking across a bridge (in Quito, a few years back), for example, he didn’t want to look over the edge. He hates that I tend to walk out as far as possible whenever given the chance. I’m impressed that he so bravely continues to take risks!

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Yesterday’s friendly Belgians warned us that heavy clouds were expected at the top of the gondola, and they weren’t wrong. We couldn’t see anything at all. We could hear a family somewhere nearby (or maybe not so nearby), but otherwise it felt otherworldly.

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After hanging out with our crow friends a bit and looking at the snow and rocks and mist, we were hungry, and I was sleepy (heights make me sleepy when I’m not used to them), so we went to the cafeteria for lunch.

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It was a bit more food than expected: 4 types of local cheese, fried chorizo and bread, so I made the woman who served us crack up by telling her that our pants were too tight, making it too hard to eat all the food she gave us, so could I please have some aluminum foil?

And we headed back to the gondola and the balcony overlooking the abyss.

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On the way back down, the view begins to clear.

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And when we were all done, we headed on to check out a beautiful Franciscan Monastery down the road a bit. Monasterio de Santo Toribio de Liebana was lovely, and is an active monastery with a lovely church that has daily services for the public as well as other events.

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When we’d seen everything we could see at the monastery, we headed up up up the mountain, where a tiny chapel perched at the edge of another abyss.

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The door was locked, but here is the inside, as seen through the window bars:

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After all these heights, I was ready to go find the hot springs that are reportedly all along the rivers, sometimes easy to access under bridges. We drove to the one we were most sure about. The access under the bridge looked questionable, so I asked an old man who was walking by.

“Yes, it’s here!” he told me. “Right here… you go down there… (he pointed at a bit of cement from the bridge that extended a bit downriver), then pull yourself back up the river under the bridge.”

“Ok!” I enthusiastically said to Matt. “Let’s go!”

“No, no no no no no!” said the man. “You can’t go now! In summer, in summer! In summer all the young people are under the bridge. This one, and another, that way. All the young people. You have to come back in summer!”

When I think of hot springs, I think how nice they are on a cold cold day. Why would I need to wait until summer? Matt and I drove on to another bridge with a nearby walking route. We parked and went to check out the water.

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In every place we checked, the water was much warmer than I would have expected from a mountain river, but it wasn’t hot springs. Perhaps with the higher waters in the spring, there is too much mixing with the hot springs, and so it just makes a warmer river than it would be without them.

We did find a full bathtub on the way back to our motorcycles, but it didn’t seem as appealing.

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So having failed at that, we headed back to Potes and our apartment. Matt had a nap, then we went to the same bar as yesterday. The dreadlocked cook makes yummy food, and the waitress is nice.

Today, the priest was in his frock, playing chess with a bunch of his friends, including a pair of identical twins and our dreadlocked cook. He was kicking their butts, too.

We ordered the local cider today, which needs to be aerated using a strange pump method that makes me feel totally touristy.

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And finally, here are more views of this adorable town of Potes. By the way, these streets are for automobiles, and construction vehicles, not just pedestrians!

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Day 5, Larrabetzu to Potes — 187 km

Today was mostly all about squiggly roads. We loved it. When we planned the route, Matt frowned. “It’s -2 degrees. Oh. Wait. No, it’s 7 degrees. Ok. We still can’t camp, but we’ll be ok, following the valleys through the Picos de Europa.” He was wrong.

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Our route took us OVER a mountain. 🙂 As we went up up up up, switching back and forth, it got colder and colder. I thought: Matt said we’d stick to the valleys. I hope he’s not too cold. I have my heated jacket!

We got to a viewpoint. Ok, it certainly wasn’t the tallest mountain, but still.

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We had a good look at our route down. Some of the switchbacks actually went slightly UNDER each other. 🙂 The way down took less time than the way up, and we passed a bicycle on his way up. Poor bugger.

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After the mountain, we headed for a prehistoric cave that Matt had chosen from my shortlist. First, though, we had lunch. The food here, when you’re not dining at a 3-star Michelin restaurant, is really cheap. Wow. Ok, it wasn’t the best food, being a touristy place en route, catering to buses, but whatever. We knew we’d finish the evening with more pintxos and wine somewhere, so a 3-course tourist menu at lunch for 10 euros was just a good idea.

Unfortunately, the cave was fully booked. There was a busload of French school kids. So we took a couple of pictures and changed the route to fastest to our new hotel.

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We have decided to spend two nights in Potes, in the heart of the Picos de Europa. This is like Baños (in Ecuador)… an outdoor adventurer’s haven. There are lots of touristy shops and lots of guest houses. We had a little adventure checking in at ours. We have a little apartment, so we can do our laundry and have our own breakfast in the morning and chill a little.

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At the moment, we are sitting in a climber bar having wine and pintxos. There were a couple of Belgians at the next table, so we chatted with them a bit, in Dutch then in English, although one of them was better in Dutch. They had some good advice for later in the trip. The dreadlocked pub staff is all super friendly and has been chatting away at us, mostly in Spanish and one in English.

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On a language note, so far I totally give up (as usual), if the person speaks English, but do fine as long as I’m not super exhausted. The first moments off the bike at the end of the day are bad. As is just before lunch, although after lunch is always much better. And much like in Ecuador, with Matt, the stress of constantly being in charge of translation is wearing, so that by the end of the day I’m more tired than he is. However, unlike in Ecuador, Matt is finding it easier to parse what is intended by words he doesn’t understand. Funny, since Ecuadorian Spanish was, to my ears, much slower and therefore easier. Anyway, when I’m tired, I prep him with a few key words or phrases, and send him off to figure something out. 😀 It’s been working so far. And it gives me a break.

Oh, one last thing. We are no longer in Basque country, but here’s an example of Basque written, in the toilet:

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Day 4, San Sebastian, ES to Larrabetzu, ES — 118 km

It was a very short ride this morning, after packing up and bidding our lovely hosts goodbye. Only about 2 hours, avoiding toll roads.

I am struggling a little with the new TomTom interface. I miss having a displayed current time. It’s all well and good to know how many more kilometers I have to go, and what time it will be when I arrive, from which I can extrapolate the current time, but I like knowing at a glance what time it is, so that I can think, rather, about when I might plan meal breaks. This was not the issue today. Today was ALL about the food.

Azurmendi is the name of a Michelin 3-star restaurant near Larrabetzu, not far from Bilbao’s airport. I chose it for several reasons: the chef is committed to sustainability and has built up two restaurants on the site (one for the gastronomical “experience,” where we ate, and one a more casual place below it), as well as a seed bank and gardens. If you want to know more about Azurmendi, here’s the link: https://www.azurmendi.biz/en

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I had pretty high expectations, especially since this is my first Michelin starred restaurant, and it has 3! My expectations were met, though. This meal was amazing (and yes, expensive).

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We started with a mini “picnic” in the Haiku garden: an interior “garden” space with haiku poems on the wall. We were served a glass of wine and delivered a tiny picnic basket with a mini sandwich on a bed of edible “soil,” a tomato gelatin soupy thing, and a bite-sized cocktail, which was a small sphere of white chocolate, encrusted with tiny flowers, which when popped into the mouth, exploded with sparkling wine. 🙂 Charming!

Then we had another little treat while viewing the kitchens (where the entire staff shouts “Hola!” as you enter). My mind is blanking out the details here, but it was delicious. Oh yeah: another ball of exploding hazelnut this time and a hibiscus “cocktail” shooter in a beaker.

After the kitchen, we had a personal tour of the sample garden (the real ones were out back, and we toured them ourselves after the meal), where first our senses were stimulated by a flower-infused water poured onto a steam diffuser in the flower beds (hee hee), then a soup made from a corn grown for so long in this region that it’s “native.” I asked how “native” that could be, and our guide chef said that it had at least been grown for a very long time, but that indeed it was not original to this part of the world. Duh. We were instructed to sip at the soup while we continued our journey: a tiny herbal biscuit at the herb display, a fluffy confection at the cotton display, and a delicious mushroom bark at the mushroom display.

Another guide ushered us into the restaurant, where I guess I must have reserved enough in advance to have earned a window seat! Wow! Ok, we overlooked the highway, but it was still a spectacular view.

Of course we took the more comprehensive of the two menu choices, and allowed the sommelier to choose our wine for us. He was funny, and told us that he doesn’t like all the wine choices on the menu, but if people want his recommendations, he only recommends ones he likes himself. 🙂

Honestly, there were many courses, all small but we were quite full by the end. My favorite was the sea urchin combination, so here’s a picture of it, with Matt in the background:

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I clearly should have gotten a close up. The crystal (yes, it rang) bowl held a gorgeous ensemble of urchin, roe and seaweed crackers. The red liquid in the beaker was a broth made from the urchin, and you pour it into the bowl. The nibble on the right was a sort of cake substance made of urchin then sandwiched by two more seaweed crackers. Oh, did I mention that there’s an element of molecular gastronomy here? 😉 Ages ago, I went to a reading by an author (sorry I forget his name) about molecular gastronomy, and it changed some of the ways I thought about food preparation. I wanted to try it out at a restaurant.

After the sea urchin, there was a delicious fresh pea and pea shoot concoction served on a glass dish resting on twigs, which reminded me of the crown of a fairy princess. I didn’t take a picture, though.

There was so much good food. Here is another picture: monkfish, wrapped in very thin bacon.

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And Matt’s favorite dessert (the third), before coffee, which of course was also served with a whole array of nibbles, a few of which were so delicious I wanted to raid the little table where they were awaiting service to other tables. No, I wouldn’t have done that… no, really!

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We are staying at the hotel just up the road (very very up, directly above) from the restaurant, so after dinner, we walked back down the road then back up again. Steep steep climbs! And now we’ve just been resting. I will not be hungry until breakfast. Our meal, the only one we ate today, started at 13:00. It’s 22:00 now and I’m still full. Matt is snacking on peanuts.

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So I will leave you today with some thoughts on driving in this part of Spain.

Many signs along the road are in both Spanish and Basque. I can’t make heads or tails of Basque. At first, with all the x’s and z’s, I thought it seemed very like Aztec, and the mountains and type of farming (mountain-type) reminded me of Ecuador. Then we’d pass another sign, and I’d think: hmm, or maybe a little like Turkish. Or Greek. I have no idea. That said, I found making simple small talk, and clarification phone calls, in Spanish, not very challenging. Yay!

As I mentioned, we took the “avoid toll roads” option in the TomTom navigation. I would have liked the winding roads, but we would have had to leave earlier in the day, and we wanted to get to the hotel by noon to change clothes and drop off luggage before dinner. Regarding this route, though, we were following many many freight trucks who were also avoiding toll roads. I didn’t mind, as we are fully loaded, the roads were very windy anyway, and we could enjoy the view and watch the trucks attempt jack-knife curves at horrifyingly steep angles. However, on behalf of the drivers, I am a little angry at whomever does their route planning. How much do they actually save, avoiding tolls, but doing that much braking and accelerating? Also, I watched the truck in front of me at one point lose his back right wheel slightly off the side of the road (no edge), teeter and swerve, and nearly lose control. I was glad we were giving him so much space, but it was narrow and there were other cars and trucks and yes, bicyclists, all over the place, both directions.

Speaking of bicyclists, this one came flying at our road from a side road, no slowing, widely joined our packed line, swerved all over the road in front of me. I finally had a chance to pass him (he made me very nervous), then, just as that truck lost control, or just after, he passed me! And did all kinds of crazy things TRYING TO PASS THE TRUCK. Seriously, I was so mad at him. Acting like that makes other people do stupid things because they’re nervous to be around him.

Some cute sights: a house perched in the hook of one of the worst curves, and the man watching traffic while his dog barked at us. Another dog, by itself on a walkway, with its paws up on the stone protective wall separating it from traffic, its head on its paws, just watching. I laughed out loud. A house on a steep steep hillside, sheep grazing all around and below it.

I have come up with the perfect organisational plan. Ages ago, I went through the entire guidebook for Spain and marked everything of any interest to me. I can’t possibly see all of them. Now I give it to Matt, then Dick when he’s here, then Lynn when she’s here, and they can decide where they’d like to go, hopefully off my curated lists but hey, I’m open minded.

So Matt is picking our location for the next couple of nights. It’s much too cold still to camp (snow expected, seriously), and there’s nothing that makes me unhappier than cold sleeping, as Matt knows, and Dick too from that time we camped on the trip back from former Yugoslavia where we’d been warm the whole lovely time. Fortunately, it’s still the off-season, and hotels are pretty cheap. Matt is also choosing that for us. I can’t wait. 😀

Day 3, Poitiers FR to San Sebastian, ES — 483 km

I am sitting at the bar next door to our adorable hotel on the surfer beach of San Sebastian, Spain, and listening to Lullaby by the Cure. Thank goodness for that.

We are exhausted. The rushing is over, and we have exceeded expectations for distances across France, which is how we managed to get to San Sebastian after all, to enjoy lots and lots of pintxos and vino tinto.

This bar is called Scanners, and has a nice decor, a cool clientele, and a pool table. And the past 4 songs have all been the Cure. 😀 Make that 5. Make that 6. Now they’ve switched from Cure to Joy Division. Yes, we’re in the right bar.

We got into town around 4pm, after a lovely day (no rain!) racing south through the last bit of France.

Crossing the border, my first chance to speak Spanish was at the first toll booth, also the first manned one.

What a relief, after France, where I make an idiot of myself but at least people are kind about it, to actually speak the language. I was nervous at first, but it is easier and easier, and I’m better at it than the French tourists! This is very gratifying. On the advice of the lovely young woman at the hotel, we went to a good pintxos place in the Old Town, walked around the beaches, and saw some nice buildings and parks.

At the end, we thought: hmmm, those bars next to the hotel looked good. Let’s go back there and see if they have anything to munch on as well (yes, bocadillos). So here we are. And here are all the pics from today, your reward for reading!

The view from our hotel room:

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That was Matt contemplating the Matt playground of squared stones.

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Actually, an accidental selfie. So I hit the button.

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The first time we walked past this mural there were bajillions of kids playing on the playground, so I didn’t get a picture.

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If we painted those stones on the left, we could make a series of climbing adventures for Matt and his buddies.

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Matt understood a few words of Spanish! He had jokingly “translated” what he thought he’d read, then looked up at the top and saw his translation was correct. 😀 So proud.

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Weird trees on the beach. Look how destroyed they are… and yet they live!

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I got my feet wet for the first time at Playa de la Concha.

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This is the “no more rain! palm trees!” pose.

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Our first pintxos!

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And finally, a tale of the morning:
We packed up the bikes this morning, and they started just fine. But when I put mine in gear, it died. Strange. I tried a few more times. Same. I called Matt over. We tried out the kickstand. Interesting discovery: when I put the kickstand UP, it died, but ran just fine with kickstand down. Not ok. We had a look (our first) at the kickstand mechanism. I was very afraid of an electrical problem. But then I saw that the little nipple thing looked a little funky. Matt looked at his. Yes, mine was definitely funky. We played it in and out a bit. Matt said it definitely wasn’t moving smoothly. I said, “thank goodness! This isn’t an electrical problem; it’s mechanical! I’ve got WD-40!” And so, the final picture for today was really how it all began:

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day 2, Sedan FR to Poitiers FR — 592 km

RAIN!
I have only two pics from today, because all we did was scoot through the rain.

Observation: French drivers are like slightly more courteous American drivers (read: not nearly as efficient as German drivers, but not so awkwardly rule-following as Dutch drivers; also prone to stupid displays of aggression for no good reason).

Another observation: mustard seems to be the sign of spring and road trips for me. Today went through many many mustard fields. I love the smell of it. When I was a kid, mustard was a noxious week in our crop fields.

Yet another: Gebring electric under-clothing rocks.

We packed our gear up in the rain, we rode in the rain, it rained some more, sometimes it hailed. What a lovely lovely day. Actually, another observation: one of my strongest memories of my first motorcycle road trip ever, 20 years ago: a 12-hour race home from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula through thunder storm after thunder storm, stopping periodically to wring out my socks.

Matt points out that we were oddly pretty comfortable today, despite the weather. I attribute this to 20 years of gear finesse. My gloves have 3 rips in them, but all of them were there in smaller format before we started. Matt is still cold, because he didn’t bring all appropriate gear, not because he doesn’t have it.

Toll booths suck on bikes.

Here is a picture with gear, no rain, upon hotel arrival:

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And on the walk to dinner. Unfortunately, the tex-mex place was closed. We had yummy crap grill, the only place open nearby.

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Thanks for an easy pull-off location, Poitiers-Sud! Tomorrow, we think we’ll be in San Sebastian! Yummy food, here we come!

Day 1: Amsterdam to Sedan, France – – 372 km

When we loaded up our bikes this morning, I felt a bit overwhelmed.  My bike looks overloaded. Much to my relief, then, later in the day, to run into another pair of bikers, also heading from the Netherlands to Spain. The taller man, on his Kawasaki 750, had also recently updated his baggage, and was pleased to show it off. He is planning 6 weeks versus my 7, and is also prepped for camping. His luggage consisted of 4 matching bags on the back, plus a chair strapped on and a few other things. I mostly remember the matching set, because he was most proud of it. Mine is 2 pieces of very large waterproof luggage on the back, a small waterproof tank bag, and also a chair strapped on the top. Here we are,  ready to go:

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It was extremely cold, but clear,  all day.  Matt got too cold, because he forgot to bring his warm segments for his pants and jacket. Oops. In the end, he put on his outer rain jacket and pants, and I leant him my glove inserts.  I was perfectly warm, having started the day with my electric under jacket plugged in,  and my medium-level gloves. I might look like the Michelin Man, but I’m cozy.

It was an easy length for our first day. Could have taken us 4 hours but was closer to 5 with comfortable stops for gas and toilet.

Sedan is home to a huge castle, where Matt has stayed before on a work trip. This time could also almost be a work trip for him.  There’s a hackathon happening this weekend!

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We had got in early enough to go check out an art gallery I’d heard of that struck my interest, but a sign on their window said that they were at an exhibition with other artists and galleries, so we went there instead.

We almost turned away, because it seemed to be a Lion’s Club event, not an art event, but a man caught us and explained that yes, we had the correct location, and Lion’s Club is hosting the event. 

I have to say, and I’m no expert, but most of the works on exhibit were pretty amateur. But there was someone exhibiting frame gilding, which was interesting, and the Stackler gallery,  which is the one I’d known of, had some intriguing stuff, and we were long busy admiring some woodworking, when the woodcarver himself came to chat with us. A long conversation ensued in which he and several other lovely elderly people spoke very patient French to us, to which I mostly replied in Spanish, and often used charades.  🙂 Anyway, it was fun. They were sweet. We took his card, because we are actually interested in a couple of his pieces, maybe. Matt was so enthusiastic he gave Matt a handcarved top as a present.  😀

Finally, we returned to walk the wall of the castle, admire the bikes, and have a delicious meal in the restaurant. (Bikes in bottom left corner.)

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Final prep day

OK, I’m as ready as possible. This morning I sprayed all my gear with waterproofing and hunted down my bungee nets (just in case!), then repaired the rip on my seat with black electrical tape, and ran a few errands.

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It got cold, but then warm again. I stopped in at the camping store, where, to my great happiness, my coffee-making accessory had just arrived, not yet unpacked from the delivery!

I had a few more errands to run, then a nice Skype call with a friend, then picked something else up from a friend, then it was time for dinner.

After dinner, I accomplished this:

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Heavy, and a lot of stuff. Well, we’ll see!