Ride Day 36 – Bayonne by train – Paris – 17 km

Catching the train was easy. The hotel was opposite the station. Our bikes had a slot booked. The train station manager accompanied us across the tracks to the right platform. Train arrived, we got on, our booked slot which was marked in several languages “bicycles only” but was filled with about 10 very large suitcases. Passengers looked the other way. We had a four hour journey and the bikes could not block the doors as we were only the third stop. Duncan had to remove all the bags, load on the bikes and then pile the bags back on. Another cyclist got on at a later stop and so it all had to be redone again, result below.

Easy, smooth (294 kph) 4 hour train ride to Paris. Mostly wheatbelt and while Rick says the French are great producers of wheat, producing more than Australia apparently, the country is flat and by all accounts, rather boring. We have made a note not to ride this route in the future.

Getting out of the station wasn’t so easy, lifts and barriers involved. Close, warm and polluted air hit us immediately. Planned route all on official cycle paths but these aren’t fluid and unfortunately taxi drivers believe they are entitled to cut into the paths as and when they feel like it with no regard for cyclists. Julie is always singing the praises of French drivers – no more. As San Sebastián isn’t in Spain, Paris is not in France as clearly Parisians are a different nationality to the rest of the country. We didn’t experience this behaviour last time in France but that was in rural locations.

In order of polite drivers, it’s Spain, Portugal, France. The Spanish drivers without doubt are the best we have encountered anywhere. They need applauding for their patience, tolerance and support (cheering, waving, honking). Their attitude towards us everywhere was the same. Fantastic.

In addition, some of you may recall France had a big world win recently and had been out celebrating. We have never seen, nor ridden over so much broken glass before. It was everywhere. Below is the route and some of the easier to take photos and more pleasant bits of the truly worst 17km of the entire trip for Julie – hates traffic!

Now in a quiet, back street hotel. After Duncan has finished working we will be walking to the Louvre. We had a lovely bistro meal out last night and will try and do the same tonight. It’s the Eurostar back to the UK and train to Melton Mowbray tomorrow. Another day, another adventure!

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Ride Day 35 – San Sebastián to Bayonne – 72 km

A quick few photos of San Sebastián. Loved it but Julie could have done a night less. It’s the beach and fabulous food that people go for. When the sun did come out it was madness at the beach. Apparently, according to our hotel manager, we were lucky with the weather as two years ago in July they had 24 days of rain in a row. Note to selves. We are not taking anymore trips on the Atlantic coast and if we do it will be by car and in September.

The photo below reminded us of a Mel Brigg painting, only his have a few hundred less people in them.

For our long last ride, we wouldn’t expect anything other than the full Monty. We started with thunderstorms and heavy rain in San Sebastián so waited for the worse to be over. We wrapped absolutely everything in plastic inside Julie’s bag. We also wrapped the bags themselves in plastic and taped that on. During the course of the ride we wore shower caps on our helmets and Julie wore her bin liner skirt. Duncan carries the cash in a plastic sanitary bag. The difference between us and much younger people, is that we are old and our care factor is zero.

Here is the last long route, with just over 1000 m climbing involved.

The start from our hotel to the 17.5km mark was on a well signposted, linked cycle path. The Spanish do it well when needed. It winds through the beach, the old town, out through the suburbs, over its own bridges, just brilliant.

We then headed out into the countryside which was a relief after the noise and non stop activity of San Sebastián.

The hills were at times sectioned concrete and very slippery and pushing the bikes up a couple were hard work. As usual, the views stunning, despite the occasional heavy downpours. We stopped for coffee at the border Irun. The sun came out the minute we arrived in Hendaye (France) but the winds were fierce and there were more storms to come.

We left the country that opened at 2pm for lunch and entered the country where nowhere was open! We cycled through Saint-Jean de Luz which looked worthy of a day or two and onto Bidart for lunch where we were brought back to normal pricing with a bang. San Sebastián and northern Spain had been very cheap. A glass of good wine was €2.20 and service was exceptionally speedy. A glass of wine was now €5.50 and we had to wait 30 minutes. However, a salad with cheese was super and Duncan had a terrine which was equally delicious.

We barely stopped in Biarritz. It was chaotically busy with tourists. The wind was howling on the beach with everyone looking for shelter, waves crashing on what was left of the sand. We didn’t reach Bayonne until 6.20, so a journey of almost 9 hours. Our hotel was opposite the station and across the bridge from the old town, where we had a delightful supper chatting to a French couple about wine, the World Cup and how good it would be if national service was reintroduced (they had three children and opted for the 12 month sign up!).

The sun came out, all was OK again. Paris tomorrow when we clearly hope the crowds celebrating the World Cup victory have gone home. The country is in a very happy mood!

Ride Day 34 – Bilbao to San Sebastián – 34 km

Bilbao first. We visited the Guggenheim of course. Magnificent building and the large sculptures were brilliant. Love the temporary puppy made from Begonias (now permanent by popular demand). The current exhibits were not as impressive as the building. We had lunch at 2.30pm, way out past the market – quirky place with just delicious food as it included two rare ingredients – salad and vegetables. Bit of a middle eastern theme and three courses including wine for €13.50. It made a very pleasant change.

A few choice photos below

Now for the ride. When in Porto, having met several long distance cyclists by then and listening to Tony explain just how high the mountains were to get between Bilbao and San Sebastián, we changed our plans. We added another night in Bilbao and intended to get the train straight to San Sebastián. However, after realising that we could actually ride up and down for 1440 metres in a day, we could probably manage the ride. We would therefore tackle the ride in from a station on route.

However, yesterday morning, we woke to thunder, lightening and very heavy rain and dark skies. We packed up, covering everything with plastic, all Julie’s clothes inside her bag covered. Off we went to the station. Brilliant new trains, easy to get on, place for bikes, bikes free and only €12 for two of us on a two hour journey!

When we reached Zumaia, the clouds were looming and it started to rain. We headed straight for a pastry shop and had coffee and donuts!

We set off on a mainly flattish route along the coast. Plenty of surfers about. Major roadworks on this road which worked in our favour as we would let the cars past as the lights changed and then ride on an empty road until the next batch caught us up. Pretty wild weather.

After Orio, we chose the high road which doubled as the SdC route to half way. The heavy rains had caused the road to flood. It was an unusual ride up a steep decline for over an hour with water rushing down.

Then the sun came out and turned the road into a sauna! We’ve never cycled in a sauna before – damn hot. The views as we rode along the top of the ridge (high enough to be level with telecom towers), were fabulous, we could see the coast we had ridden behind us and in front could see Biarritz and the wide open sandy beaches beyond there. Photo doesn’t really detail this but it was worth making the effort to do this last ride and thank goodness we managed to avoid the really heavy rain. It was in the end just down to timing and the use of the App which showed us the rain!

Arriving in San Sebastián was so easy, we got to the bottom of the hill, crossed the zebra crossing and there was our hotel. It was sunny, warm and everyone was at the beach, all 10,000 of them! Photo below is the quieter part of the beach.

Off into town. We are at west end of beach so a good promenade walk into the old town. Nothing like a 30 minute walk each way to loosen up the muscles. It’s very busy with swarms of holiday makers as we expected but we ate at three Pintxos bars, everyone was very friendly and the food superb. What’s not to like.

Three full days here to explore before we cycle into France. Did we forgot to tell you, we are cycling back to the UK now through France. Only joking, only going as far as Bayonne and then a train to Paris and Eurostar to London and on from there.

Goodnight from San Sebastián. The last stop in Spain and the ONLY sunset over the water Duncan has seen on the whole trip to date.

Ride Day 33 – Guriezo to Bilbao – 59 km

We woke to a sunny day and we knew it would be hot. We left our accommodation as early as we could after Duncan’s work and what is an early breakfast for the Spanish at 8.30. Off at 9.30. Our cod meal last night involved the skin, which we gave to the cat. This was clearly the best meal she had had in a while and she watched while we loaded up the bikes this morning. Just as we were ready to go, she climbed and settled on Duncan’s panniers. I’ll go with these people, the ones who fed me. Wasn’t impressed at all at being removed. This is a long blog with lots of photos, so be warned.

Today -The day of cycle paths. Route below.

Almost immediately we were on a pink path which indicates it’s for bikes. At the beach we had to get back onto the N634 for a while to get over a rather large hill. We forgot to post a photo yesterday, here below. We have never before seen speed signs for cyclists. They are mostly nutters in this region, hill, bends and speed junkies. The highest speed we’ve gone is 40 kph and the brakes are used constantly on the downhills. We met a sole Italian walker who asked how far to next town and we indicated it was down, up, down, up, down. He said in English, it’s like a constant dance with the hills and did a little jig.

Along this stretch, people have turned the verges into vegetable beds. It certainly didn’t look official. Masses of beans and veg growing. Obviously you are healthy when you cook at home, it just goes to pot when you eat out.

The first big town – Castro-Urdiales. Very handsome harbour city. Beautifully kept, gorgeous promenade (have a look on Google Earth, it’s quite something). We stopped for coffee and cake, best so far in Spain and the most expensive). Cathedral and castle below at sea level and then two thirds up the next hill.

The road went high above the motorway. Julie had to get off and walk the last bit, gradient too high. At the top coming from the opposite direction, was a group of American cyclists (no luggage). Julie was pleased to see that some of them were also pushing their bikes up because they were half her age! We all chatted while getting our breath and then a Road Patrol stopped and berated us all for stopping. They have Civil Guard, Road Patrol, Local Police and National Guard here. You don’t get away with much!

We went by this little spot which should be noted for a future visit – Moiño. Has a massive equestrian centre to the left (Wendy!). It’s where they used to ship minerals to the UK many moons ago.

We then turned onto the first cycle path (the Barrio Covarón) which was once the mining railway to the above port. It was just spectacular. Also used on the SdC North Route.

Then we reached Pobeña. Unfortunately, someone forgot to mention that at the end of this long bike stretch, there is a steep flight of about 80 steps!

We had a bridge to cross and a boardwalk across the sand. Then we joined the most engineered and perfect cycle route we’ve ever been on, the Barakaido-La Arena Bidegoria. This can also be seen on Google earth. It is as wide as a road with a two lane cycle path and a walk path. It runs for approximately 25-30 km into Bilbao. It has its own bridges over motorways. They don’t even let dogs on here. It is used by serious road cyclists, it has hills and bends and is obviously a fantastic training run for many.

We did get slightly lost in Bilbao and told off by more police for being on the pavement near the Guggenheim but we had to navigate through a one way system to our hotel.

Showered, changed and out for Pintxos and wine. Massive choice but we didn’t have lunch so we made up for it. Museum is tomorrow late afternoon (hotel deal, free tickets). Really looking forward to resting our bodies

Ride Day 32 – Astillero to Guriezo – 60.7 km

Another fine day. Clean clothes packed. Mostly a flat route to the start of the day and a rare higher average speed. Soon got out of the dense populated Santander area and in open countryside again. Back into farming communities and green hillsides. The route below shows what’s to come!

Lots of baby animals on this trip. We have seen dozens of new foals, calves and whatever baby donkeys are called.

The dead “cat” by the way wasn’t a cat at all. It was a Common Genet, a viverrid, common to Africa and introduced to the Mediterranean as a semi domestic animal over 1000 years ago. It was identified by a wildlife expert/enthusiast for me. Very hard to see and he had only seen dead ones too.

We reached the beachside resort of Laredo, not be to confused with the other resort to the west called Loredo! Anyway, we had wanted to have a proper meal here as we were not sure if the accommodation inland would have food later on. What a nightmare of a place. Packed to bulging with Spanish holiday makers, we could find nowhere that had food until 2pm (got there at 1). The price was over double what it was in the rural areas. We decided to get out ASAP.

Over another mountain, we found a gorgeous little village called Liendo. Lots of large mansions, quiet streets and we found a little cafe on the square which did basic rolls and a beer with lemon only 2% alcohol. There we stayed for an hour.

Julie waxed lyrical about the “gorgeous mountains” ahead as we left. This sentiment didn’t last long when you see what these two equate to on the route map. It was hot, no breeze and hard work.

We were rewarded at our very rural spot on the SdC walk as the owner was cooking for the pilgrims. She kindly made us a salad and then cooked us some fresh cod. All washed down with a very chilled Verdelho. Early to bed, more hills to come tomorrow into Bilbao. Not where we stayed below but down the road.

Ride Day 31 – Comillas to Astillero – 46 km

We woke to blue skies. There is a surprise for us. After a rather dull breakfast, we keenly set off. Not to disappoint, lovely day today. Beautiful countryside, some of those lumpy hills which had a few percentages higher gradient than Julie expected but great going down through the pockets of warm and cool air. Mostly quiet roads with a good surface, a little busy in the middle section.

Here is the route

We set off from Camilla’s along the coast. If we had a camper van, this is where we would be staying. Steps were carved out of the cliff so you could get down for a swim. Gorgeous spot and a short walk into the town.

The big diversion of the day was to visit the beautiful medieval town of Santillana del Mar. it would have been nice to spend a couple of days here. The only downside was it’s the weekend that marks the start of the Summer holidays. The tourist numbers are growing rapidly. Luckily we don’t have parking issues or sitting in traffic queue issues. I think the shoulder seasons of June and September would see a significantly reduced number and also be cheaper everywhere as well.

Some greenery too. We complain about the hills but the scenery is so lovely and it changes on every bend. It’s never boring.

We saw a dead wild cat on route, obviously hit by a car in a mountain area. Julie has sent the photo off to be identified – will let you know what it is. The photo isn’t too gruesome, so here it is.

We finished the day in a modern apartment below Santander. We chose it because we knew we could use a washing machine and a home cooked meal and some rare green VEGETABLES! Boy, we chose a terrible area with possibly the worst supermarket in Spain. The fruit and veg looked terrible. We opted for green beans which were just OK. Never mind, four loads of washing in, the Tour de France to watch, bottle of red and chocolate afterwards. Better than camping!

Ride Day 30 – Llanes to Comillas – 50 km

First, a few photos of Llanes. This place was a pleasant surprise. We had booked a hotel on the beach (shown below) for a change and the price was very reasonable- it didn’t have ocean views from the bedroom but it did from the enormous marble bathroom. The bed was large, as was the room and for once we were able to spread all our wet gear everywhere.

We set off a bit later to Comillas as the dark skies loomed and Duncan needed to call the office and get some work done. Bags were wrapped in precaution including a new internal waterproof bag for Julie’s clothes.

The route below which took us through some lovely countryside and the Oyambre Natural Park.

We stuck to quite a good road, not getting caught in too many detours up steep hills. Only a couple of smaller road sections as we wanted to find a good coffee to have with our Llanes tarts from a fantastic bakery in town. Low and behold, a coffee shop was open from 6am too – a very rare find.

We have only five major ride days left and we intend to make the most of cakes, ice creams, chips with everything (actually, not our choice but Spain is absent of green vegetables in restaurants ).

Climbing up one hill, a group of about 50 school children under age 8 were coming down with their teachers. They all stood to the side and clapped and cheered us. We couldn’t stop laughing, it was rather sweet and to save face, Julie was not going to get off and walk! The photo below is one of the rare occasions we were on the Camino proper – a paved/ tiled path, which descended very, very steeply at the end.

Natural Park below at San Vicente de la Barquera. Supposedly a nice town, which looked good on the approach with a big fort. But overrun with tourists, now we’re in peak season, and a poor menu del dia on offer.

We are staying in a “mountain house” in Comillas, just down the road of the reason we stayed here, the Gaudi designed El Capricho, his first work, age 30. There are only three outside of Catalonia. I’m sure we will get to the rest at some point.

Julie agrees with Gaudi that he did a pretty good job. Fabulous atrium and natural light throughout.

The town itself was very nice with some wonderful architecture. The further east we go, the better it seems to be. All on a day with no rain.