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May 31 2008

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European Wander ’08

Part 10

Pisa to Mojacar – Italy to Spain via France – about 1300 miles

10th Map

11 July

Pisa to Jausiers, Italy to France. 298 miles.

This was definitely the best biking day of the trip. We followed the motorway for a while to Genoa which was boring and straight but nice scenery with mountains and hill top towns to the side. There was a utilitarian (aka ugly!) bridge in Genoa which, when we saw some of the rest of the town, seemed to be in keeping with it.

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Typical view from the back of the bike

After Genoa the motorway got quite interesting with lots of sweeping bends – we were being passed by BMW cars on the straight bits but they didn’t seem to like bends so we were overtaking them again.

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Mrs. Sat Nav having hic-cups!

The road got smaller, more like an A road, and then a B road, and we came through lots of pretty one-street villages nestled under the mountains, often next to a river.

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A typical village

We came down the road into Jausiers and saw a white castle. Lyn: “Wouldn’t it be nice if that was our hotel”; Kevin: “Don’t be silly, we’re not that lucky!”…we were!! Our apartment was in the castle and one of the rooms was in the turret.

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Our residence for the night

We had planned to ride the Col de la Bonette, one of the Tour de France routes and arguably the highest road in Europe at 2802m, and our hotel was just on the edge of it. We dumped our gear, had a nice cold drink, then went for a ride. The road was fantastic – definitely a ‘rider’s road’. There were plenty of hairpin bends to contend with but, as the road was so narrow, there weren’t too many large vehicles coming the other way to avoid.

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A sight to make a rider’s eyes light up

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There’s not a lot to stop anything going over the edge.

There were several bikes already at the top (one was another GS) and we asked one of the riders to take our picture. We reciprocated with one of the other riders who we thought was with them, but he was on his own and delighted to have his photo taken as the other riders hadn’t volunteered for him.

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On Top of the World…well, Europe anyway (the pink thing wrapped around the instruments had me puzzled for a while then I realised it’s the arms of a woman who wouldn’t get out of the way – the photographer made a good job of hiding her!)

As we were riding up the col there were several old military installations – probably garrisons – which brought home how close we were to the French/Italian border. At the top the plaque said that it had originally been part of Napoleon’s national defence route.

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The old barracks

We then rode the rest of the route. Unfortunately, as our hotel was at the other end of the col, we had to turn round and do it all again :).

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It really was breathtaking

That evening we had a lovely meal on the terrace overlooking the mountains watching the sun go down.

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The view from the Castle

12 July

Jausiers to Marseillans. 311 miles.

This morning we set out on the Col de la Cayolle. While the Col de la Bonette was a riding road, this was definitely a dawdling and looking at the scenery one. We sped along and did about 30 miles in the first hour and three-quarters.

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Stopping to admire the scenery

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The GS takes a well-deserved breather

This col is also a Tour de France route and we overtook loads of people on cycles, puffing uphill. Most of them looked our age. Perhaps we should have felt ashamed that we weren’t doing something similar but we just thought they were barking! Each rider had his own little cluster of gnats and flies that was flying along with them; nice.

We had lunch in a favourite town of ours – Castellane – and set the Sat Nav to take us the quickest way as we’d spent so much time over the morning’s col. Nevertheless, the route was still small and twisty roads and very pretty.

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This gorge goes down hundreds of feet to a very small river at the bottom

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A well-placed dam has created this beautifully coloured lake

Eventually we made it back onto the motorway and we zoomed along towards Kay and Maurice, two friends who have a boat moored in Marseillans. As we approached their area the clouds blackened and I resorted to waterproofs. Luckily we missed the majority of the downpour although the wind was very strong and gusty enough to blow the bike around a bit; we arrived in a very wet town.

This weekend is the French Bastille Day weekend and we stayed on Kay and Maurice’s boat (Sea Major) as accommodation was impossible to find.

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Sea Major, the Cap’n and 1st Mate

The next day dawned bright but windy – the Mistral had blown in – and the washing was done and dried in a couple of hours. We had a very relaxing day reading, snoozing and boozing. After a very pleasant meal we watched the celebratory fireworks which were set off from about 200m away in the harbour so we had a ringside view.

14 July

Marseillans to Los Narejos. 580 miles.

We had an early start as we had lots of miles to cover – nearly 600 – to see Derek, a friend of ours who lives in Los Narejos. This is testament to the jab that Kevin had in Istanbul. Previously there’s no way he could have contemplated this mileage but he managed it without any problems except the usual numb bum. The route was pretty boring, but the motorways were all clear and efficient with the exception of one of the toll booths which was heaving and causing us quite a delay. We realised why when Kevin looked beyond the campervan we were stuck behind to see loads of cars that were pushing in to the queue from the side. When in Spain do as the Spanish do so we pulled out of the queue and went to the front of it.

We arrived at Derek’s late afternoon and caught up on all the gossip over a ‘traditional Spanish meal’ – in an English fish and chip shop!

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Derek and Kevin enjoying a joke

We spent the following day relaxing again, we could definitely get used to this!

16 July

Los Narejos to Mojacar. 106 miles.

We had a leisurely start, leaving Derek’s at 11.30 for the short hop to Mojacar. The road is a brand new motorway and was practically empty – apparently the Spanish refuse to pay the toll so they keep away.

As we rode along there were miles and miles of the plastic greenhouses that seem to be a regular feature in this area.

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No fields of green here

We’ve rented an apartment with a fantastic view of hilltop town of Mojacar out the back. The only down side is the neighbours – noisy Spaniards who can apparently only communicate with each other by shouting and have dogs that keep yapping. We looked forward to the relief of the night when they stopped at about midnight. We were awoken later by loud snoring from the room next door, we had to laugh. They evidently don’t bother with any soundproofing in these buildings.

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The hilltop Moorish town of Mojacar (view from our window)

Sam (Kevin’s daughter) arrives back tonight and we’ll be staying here until Monday to spend some time with her. We had planned to head home from here but, having looked at where we’ve been so far, the trip seems somehow…incomplete…without visiting the most westward country of the European mainland – Portugal. We couldn’t make up our minds whether to go there or not as we’re already over the time we originally allotted and we’re both knackered (we could do with a holiday after this!) so we asked on an online forum if it was worth the effort and were rewarded shortly afterwards by an interesting route through Portugal which we’ll be following.

So, Portugal first, then across the northern Spanish coast through the the Picos and Pyrenees mountains, into France, a short visit to the D-Day landing sites then home.

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