Just less than 3 weeks since my return from Spain and the world has changed (forever). To think that I almost went to Northern Italy. I could have been at the epicenter of Europe’s Corona outbreak. Flights to Bergamo were looked into. Another blessings counted!
There is so much suffering and fear of the future. People are losing everything, loved ones, mentors, jobs, businesses. Vulnerable people frightened of the ‘rona’.
Plans, holidays, events, dreams shattered. World’s turned upside down in a way we have never known before.
How is society reacting? Some amazing acts of kindness. Real heroes, my wife being one. Working tirelessly to keep vulnerable people safe, with complete disregard to her own well-being. She is not alone. Many key workers are doing amazing things. Humbling.
People (including me) are struggling to accept that you may not be able to properly visit your parents for maybe 9 months or more. No hugs to try and comfort them. I have cried thinking about this.
The Ying and Yang of every situation also highlights the vulgarities and selfishness of humanity. People making no attempt to protect themselves, and hence others, from infection. Hoarding of essential items, supermarket shelves empty of necessities. Denying very needy people and key workers basic supplies. The plastic population whining about trivial things.
The world leaders struggling to cope with the enormity. The masses struggling to cope with world leaders. Trump failing miserably, lying to support stock prices so he can benefit, racist comments with significant knock-on affects. The UK having similar issues. Boris bumbling along, looking way out of his depth. Farage finger pointing to insight hatred. Yes the virus originated from China (apparently). BSE originated from the UK. Many Brits will see them very differently however.
My daughter has got upset about her best friend, of Chinese descent, getting bullied by the truly ignorant.
Seemingly intelligent people misreading advice, creating facts based on their opinions or to suit their stories. Lying about symptoms. Trivialising it as ‘only flu’ or it has killed way less than xyz (if a serial killer of 10 a month in your neighborhood was joined by one who was only killing 3 a month would you not worry about the latter?)
Let’s not forget, some people don’t have the capacity, common sense emotional intelligence or are scared, in denial or whatever it may be. Be kind to them. We all have huge issues and difficulties currently. Let’s not make it harder for each other.
It all feels very surreal and the future uncertain. I was enjoying self isolation in my own crash helmet 3 weeks ago and now the whole world is now dreading a very different time of solitude.
I have no magic wand, no words of advice. One thing is for certain you never know what’s around the corner. Carpe Diem
A very popular motorcycle publication often asks for content so like the fame hungry wannabe that I am, I obliged …
For the record …
Day 1 – Santander – (N621) Potes Day 2 – Potes -(N621) Riano – Astorga Day 3 – Astorga – Santiago de Compostella Day 4 – Santiago de Compostella – Vigo – (N304-1)Lindoso – (N308-1)Braga Day 5 – Braga – (N222) Freixo de Espada à Cinta Day 6 – Freixo de Espada à Cinta – Salamanca Day 7 – Salamanca – Burgos – (N623) Santander
With about 7 hours left on the ferry I am pondering, reflecting, thinking.
Have I enjoyed my mini adventure? Immensely! Memories made.
29 years ago I traveled across Europe by rail with two close friends. One of which is sadly no longer with us in person. I wish I had kept a journal. The memories are fantastic, however the details fade. Hence my notes now.
We are here for an indeterminate amount of time. You cannot live everyday like it’s your last but we can make better use of our time here. Like Mick Extance, the most successful British Dakar rider ever, competes in the event again at 57 to show the world a ‘touch and go’ 15 hour brain operation should not stop you doing what you love doing.
Riding is better in the sunshine. So are most things. Don’t let a bit of torrential rain stop you. A fair analogy to life?
Traveling, seeing new things, observing cultural differences is good for you I believe. Traveling alone is a mixed bag. Ultimately you can do what you like, however a lack of companionship can sometimes affect your mood. To ride at your own pace, slowing to appreciate eagles and vultures overhead and not hanging off someone else’s brake lights is how it should be.
In a group, typically, you do the most popular option. Group dynamics could get annoying too I’d imagine.
On the ferry out there was a group of about 9 BMW GS riders. 40-60 years old. A BMW GS, with GS pants and socks I would imagine. Nothing wrong with that. However, one of the bunch, was an arrogant gobshite. Drunk, swearing and talking at a volume significantly higher than necessary. Slagging off foreigners, when you’re on a French boat, traveling to Spain is embarrassing. A ‘Gammon’ is the word now used to describe such people. If I had to spend a day in his company I would not have enjoyed it. Thankfully I didn’t. Twat.
My route, although very slightly influenced by someone who had experience of the area (gratefully received), was my decision. It worked out perfectly all things considered. I could have done things differently, but I wouldn’t have changed it. Madrid, Seville, Valencia etc. are for another time. A road trip (on 4 wheels), with Mrs B (and all or some of the little Bs too) to see such places would be marvelous. Maybe one day even a Camino adventure.
The preparation, route planning, anticipation, anxiety, panic, excitement, visualisation of what was coming etc. were all part of the experience. Time on your own is difficult but necessary, for me anyway. No TV, radio, little internet. Just your own thoughts.
We all have our demons and fears. They are real, even if irrationalal. Others may not be aware or appreciate them. We are all different. We need to be kind to each other and ourselves.
Mr Extance was telling me that prior to boarding the Ferry from Morocco to Spain he was set-up. A fake van inspection and a young lad jumped in the back and hid amongst his stuff. He suspected something was not right. He got to the police check and had a scan prior, to discover a 16yr old boy in one of his large holdalls. He closed the van and informed the police. The police got the boy out. The boy expressed a sincere apology to Mick and his partner. He was frightened. He had nothing to his name. He wanted a better life. To maybe pick fruit or wash cars at an exploitative rate of pay. Desperate.
Many people risk their lives in search of a better existence. How bad must their situation be? A significant proportion of the UK see such desperate souls (well educated, multilingual folk too) as an invasion of their precious island. Vitriolic hate spread across newspapers and social media, blaming various issues on immigration with little evidence or blatant lies. Racism dressed up as something more acceptable. The attention the likes of Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson get is very sad. What is also sad is that they make a decent income from their blinkered followers.
A slight political tangent, however my point is, we must have understanding and empathy. Regardless of skin colour, country of birth, religious beliefs. Be nicer to people. We have no idea what issues they have. Make them feel welcome. Statistically people who are kinder to others are in general happier. We all want to be happier don’t we?
As corny inspirational sentences go, one I can confirm to be true – Four wheels may move the body, but 2 wheels definitely move the soul!
Learn the road signs of the country you are traveling in
It is safer to ride on the correct side of the road
You really don’t need many clothes or much else to be honest
Travel lighter. Books – use a kindle instead (I have read 10 pages of my books so far and they are not small)
Either have a satnav and a phone or a phone and camera, not just a phone – stopping to take photos when your phone is in the tank bag viewing pouch thing is a pain (satnav + phone probably best imo)
If possible position your satnav so you can see it without moving too much
In helmet speakers/headphones would be a brilliant addition I imagine (satnav instructions, music)
Being “vegetariano” in Spain and Portugal is like being one in the UK 40 years ago. They also confuse it with being a vegan too (some assume you won’t eat eggs and dairy)
A 110V travel kettle and lots of uht milk sachets wouldn’t have been a bad idea (with tea bags obviously)
Anything that you cannot leave securely on your bike make sure you can carry it along with everything else – A top box is a must in my opinion
Writing a blog is time consuming, but worth it (primarily this is blog is for me, my journal. If others read it and benefit then great)
The police in the UK are generally much friendlier and more helpful than in EU countries – appreciate that fact (they have a tough job. Say thank you, buy them a coffee if they are in the queue at Starbucks for instance)
You can never have enough fridge magnets
Don’t rush. Take breaks – stretch your legs, give your head time.
Don’t do too much
Stay fed and hydrated
Try and sleep as much as possible
Relax and enjoy the moment (Constantly remind myself to relax when riding; drop the shoulders and chill)
Don’t stay couped up in a hotel room. Walk. Look around
Focus, zone out of anything that is not the job in hand – riding is mediation
Disconnect as much as possible. News, social media, email.
Let loved ones know you are ok. They worry
Never underestimate the kindness of strangers
Be a kind stranger
If riding into a small town doing the stated 30kph, navigating speed humps etc. whilst locals gawp at you, makes you feel like a Clint Eastwood character in a Western, riding into town, brilliant, that was exactly where my head was at 😁
The Gallagher brothers should have bought motorbikes or looked further than the local off license (work it out)
Black tea should never be drank with hot milk, ask for frio leche
Learn some of the language, 10 words can help a lot (hello, goodbye, thank you, please, cold milk etc.)
Have a loose understaning of road signs, speed limits, road etiquette etc.
Time estimation is just a wild guess
It does not differentiate in road types. Single width dirt tracks are perfectly adequate routes it believes
The predicted rain started about 20 minutes into my journey. Basically a straight line along motorways through Valladolid to Santander. Now with lashing rain.
With little to focus on, the rain, wind, cold, thoughts of work, tax bills and corrupt, disenguinous government all start to darken the mood. I can feel the black dog nipping at my heels. Been here many times. Hopefully temporary. Time to gently guide him back to the kennel.
The cross winds are buffeting. You have to relax otherwise the wind hitting your body transfers to the handle bars.
What am going to do in Santander? I see a sign for Burgos (I imagine it’s pronounced how a Glaswegian would say a plural of beef burger?).
The rain and wind continue. I get to Burgos and it is coming heavier. My fingers are numb (right hand in particular, the grip on throttle restricts the circulation – I wiggle my fingers). I am bursting for pee. Fuel on empty. A petrol station (repsol sponsor honda so it’s fitting) assists on 2 of the 3 issues. On to the ‘centro’
I eventually park up unload everything and lock it. It seems a lovely place. On the Camino route if memory serves.
I find a pizza place. Order a 4 cheese pizza and order a coffee. They don’t do hot drinks! My coat and gloves are soaked. They only do one size of pizza. 14 euro. Enough for 2. I finish it. The guy cooking the pizzas has a chat and wishes me luck getting to Santander. He recommends a stop. I tell him I will call in. If the weather was better I would.
I wander around and then decide to head off. The rain has subsided. There is a mountain road N623. It might be better than the dual carriageway, it’s mostly in the valley so sheltered from the wind (it is also an attempt to change focus from dark thoughts that niggle away). To get to the 623 I have to use a dual carriageway.
The side winds are frightening. I am leaning to go in a straight line. This is horrible. Luckily the roads are empty so being blown into another lane has less chance of consequences.
I turn off onto the N623. Initially the wind calms and then a few sections and it is back to being a matter of survival. I can see mountains up in front. The road carves through the huge lumps of rock. It is much more enjoyable. The winds are still an issue.
It is like a small scale grand canyon. The road changes again. Climbs higher. The mist soaks me again. I am torn between getting the hammer down and getting to the port before the weather turns for the worse or taking my time and accepting whatever comes.
I reach Santander. My worse fears, as per typical didn’t come to fruition, it was not a pleasant journey however.
I call in at a small cafe for a coffee (don’t even bother with tea anymore) and then on to find the port.
I manage to get on early and find my room. 8 x 8 ft with no window. Marvelous. I take a walk. I sit talking to couple but catch the eye of a familiar face. I have no idea who it is. So I ask. “Mate, I am sorry to interrupt but I know you …”
It’s Mick Extance!. He has just done the Dakar Rally (8th time?). He is 57 and recovered from a brain tumor 3 years ago. I sit and talk with him for a good hour. I read about him only a few weeks ago.
The Dakar is a race that people die trying to complete. The off-road equivalent of the TT maybe.
I met Mick maybe 5 or 6 years ago doing his off road course in Wales. One of the many brilliant gifts that my wife has got me over the years. I need to go again.
The ferry is currently full of people complaining of how bad the crossing is … compared to last week mate … Lilley pond. It’s the sea. It has waves.
Oh By The Way, that Michael Dunlop inside information I mentioned last week… Revealed today. He’ll be riding the V4 Duke at the IoM TT. I had no intention of going, now I have every reason to go. Hicky, Mickey, Deano and McPint on competitive bikes. What a TT that will be. Better than 92′ ? I will not miss that!
I am not proud. I strolled into breakfast with a sandwich bag full of English tea bags asking for agua caliente. I was desperate. Two brews down and I was ready for the day.
Before leaving I asked the proprietor where she was born. Portugal she said. I followed up by saying that she sounds maybe Russian when she speaks English. I was not fooled. Let’s not forget, I have watched Killing Eve. The lady was Russian. Either KGB or confused.
I head over the Duoro River. Then climb very steeply up a twisting mountain road, with fabulous views, and on to Saucelle. Another ghost town. Where is everyone? Every small town the same.
The road straightens. I think the Romans did this bit. It is desserted. Nothing for miles. A very rare sight for me recently. What can you do?
The speedo says 180 and still accelerating (it’s kph not mph) … A car from nowhere with something on the roof. Police?. I back off to 90 (which is the actual speed limit. The Spanish sit at 120 typically). It’s a taxi thankfully. Joining more major roads I head on to Salamanca.
After a few loops around the block I find the hotel underground parking. Every time, always well hidden. Like the bat cave.
Check-in, drop my stuff and check out the “Centro”. Holy moly. What a stunningly beautiful city. I won’t lie, I have no idea what these places are, however I appreciate the craftsman. Built in a time with no power tools, big plant machinery, CAD tools etc.
I even find vegetarian food without too much searching. What’s not to like. I get a few souvenirs sorted too. It means rearranging my packing and loading ritual but nothing major. Alternatively I just dump my dirty underwear. That could start a war however.
During the lull in the afternoon I happen across a barbers that is almost empty. They are very slow, all 3 of the snippers. I wait 40 mins maybe. One guy is in the chair best part of an hour. He did have his beard very neatly trimmed and a cut-throat neck shave, however the man is bald!!! Meticulous.
By the time it’s my turn it is full. “No hablos Espanol” I mumble. Those waiting look up from their phones. The barber speaks no Inglés. I Google to find a picture. We agree the beard needs some love too. Between us we do a good job. By the end I look just like the guy in the picture, Zack Efron. Amazing.
I wander around again. By early evening it is heaving. The historic plaza full of people and joyful sounds. It is Friday night after all.
I Google vegetarian restaurants. A veggie cafe within 200m. Off I trot (limp; I have walked over 10,000 steps my hip is good for maybe half that). The place is 75% full. All are 20 something girls in pairs chatting or singles doing laptop stuff. I guess maybe being a vegetarian isn’t the macho thing in Spain. I just point at three random things behind glass counters as there is no menu. Starving. By the time I leave they are queuing for tables.
I meander back to the hotel. Twice I am stopped and asked questions by Spanish people. I explain the predicament, they smile. No problemo. Flattered that I don’t look out of place. It’s the new hair cut.
Back at room 538 I look at the news. It has been a few days. The stock market has crashed due to the Corona virus (dare not check my pension or ISA – buy when others are fearful … All well and good if you have money). Apparently 38% of Americans are avoiding Corona beer for this reason. Sadly I am hardly amazed at how stupid people can be. My hotel for the night, the Corona Sol has a distinct lack of American accents – draw your own conclusions.
Tomorrow involves heading north to Santander, in the rain, in time for the 8.30pm ferry. I will decide the details in the morning.
Braga was cool and damp as I left. Better watch out for slippy roads. As today’s mission was to ride the infamous N-222 (one of the worlds best roads apparently), I head straight for it just east of Porto via the toll motorway.
Approaching the toll barriers there are cars on my left. They are not slowing and are just going straight through. I think it must be one of those number plate systems and they will charge accordingly the chosen exit point. I too carry on at speed. As I get closer I see a barrier. Holy cow!! At least my ABS seems to work. It transpires the cars of the left have a ‘season ticket’ while I was going via the pay on the day toll booth. Close!! I press the button and grab the barcoded ticket.
“There are few things as thrilling as accelerating past breathtaking countryside views, and now we know where to find the most thrilling stretch of tarmac possible.
The N-222 road from Peso de Regua to Pinhao in Portugal has been awarded the prestigious honour “
I start on the ‘222’ at Castelo de Paiva, and go 166km to Vila Nova de Foz Cao. Not just the 17 miles reported above. It is quite varied with the only consistent thing being literally hundreds of corners. None of it boring. A few break points going through towns etc. which are a most welcome rest. It is tough. Very tough. Basically it is like riding the best corners of the cat and fiddle road, joined to together with very few straight stretches between for 100 miles.
The run from Regua to Pinhao was good, although, to be honest I cannot actually remember seeing the turn off to Pinhao. Although it changed in style the whole thing to Vila Nova de Foz was just brilliant. Not sure why the article narrowed it to that particular section. Maybe because it is that section that is full of wine makers which you can visit, hence the journalist responsible had additional motivations to visit?
After stopping for a drink, food or fuel , within 30 minutes of riding again and my mouth is dry. I was not riding particularly fast either. I can’t. I am not a brave / good enough rider.
The views are stunning. If I stopped to take a picture of all the amazing views I would still be there now.
I will not bore myself with details of particular sections of corners etc., And to be honest I have no idea where I was half the time. The angle through which the corners take me makes it impossible to maintain any sense of direction.
Looking down at the satnav app is not possible either as there are so few straight parts to have the chance to take your eye off the road for a second.
It is difficult to comprehend that this road just evolved over time to become what it is without the creators being petrol heads.
I get to the end, pullover and put my hotel address in to Google maps. Time a for a rest for an hour. A nice relaxing ride. Until the last half hour or so it seems. The N-221 to Freixo de Espada à Cinta is an amazing road in places, particularly the last 10km or so. Silky smooth, tight but fast corners. I cannot relax.
I arrive at my hotel. A beautiful guest house type place. I think the owner is Russian. Her accent is not Portuguese for sure. I will ask at before I leave. (Do people with Russian accents immediately fill you with a sneaking suspicion that they are a trained assassin for the KGB, or is that just me?)
The town is dead. After trying to find somewhere to eat I concede and buy crisps from the small supermarket.
I am exhausted. My mood, for the first time this week turns negative. Tired, missing home and in need of a proper cuppa tea. I start thinking about my many stresses. I should have scheduled a day of rest. Tomorrow should be more relaxed. 2 hours to Salamanca. Hoping they have a bath in the hotel room.
It is only 7.30pm. I lie on the bed (a beautiful 4 poster with a firm mattress) to exercise my aching hip. I am gone. Next thing, I wake up and it’s 11.30pm. It is deadly quiet.
I become aware of a low level tinnitus like noise in my ears. I have worn ear plugs all day to try and alleviate such issues.
Leaving Santiago was odd. I didn’t want to leave. It is so lovely. However, a journey is not a journey if you stay in the same place.
Given the time limitations I thought I would blast down to Vigo on the motorway, about 6 euro for the privilege. All good until, unlike the forecast suggest, it started to rain.
Immediately that Travis song came to me – “Why does it pi$$ down on me when you really could do without it” I think the corus was, or words to that effect.
My Kevlar jeans are either designed waterproof or they are so covered in oil I have made them so. Probably due a wash to be fair. However they kept me dry.
I came off the toll motorway at Pontevedra. It didn’t look overly appealing so I head via A roads to Vigo. A big city but difficult to get around. Just a tea and pee stop.
I thought I would head to the national park north of Braga. I routed via Google maps and ticked the box to avoid motorways. It might as well have said ‘off road adventure’. Some were fit for dog walking and nothing much else. Definitely not a road. My beautiful honda is looking like she needs a good bath.
Anyhow we managed. Towards the Portuguese border I notice the road number N101. Not again! It was a lovely road to be fair, however the curse seems to linger.
I head up through the park on the desserted N230 towards Lindoso. The Romans definitely didn’t build these stretches of tarmac. [Lindoso is home to a castle and some strange looking things that look like tombs on stilts]
I inadvertently ride straight past the chosen destination and into Espanol again. I use a farmer’s side road to turn around and back ‘exactly’ the way I came from. The best part of a kilometre in after numerous tight corners and there is this silver Merc on my side of the road. My helmet fills with expletives. Wait! It is me. I am on the wrong side! A momentary lapse and 30 years of habit over power the senses. That could have been sooooo much worse! Lesson learnt! The what ifs are still playing a loop in my mind.
I find Lindoso. It is eerie. I am just about to set off and a young Portuguese couple pull up. Early 30s at the most. They speak impeccable English. We chat about the tombs, they are are actually drying houses for corn/wheat and are elevated to stop mice eating the crop as it dries they tell me.
They mention Brexit. I wince. The girl was in England for a few years. She says her friends are leaving too, they feel unwelcome. They struggle to understand any benefit to the UK, although they did add that immigration is an issue from the criminal element, as it is in Portugal. A case for law and order, not massive economic decisions. Their work is testament to the impact apparently.
The guy asks about my trip. I tell him that I am heading to Braga. He says, if I have time, to try a mountain pass from the Spanish side into Portugal, he shows me on a well worn iPhone. A biker himself, he says it is well worth the time. I am in no rush, so why not.
He starts to give me a restaurant recommendation in Braga, I say that I am “vegetariano”. He laughs. “You’re in the wrong country for that!” We shake hands and wish each other well, “Obrigado” I muster.
I realise riding away that it’s the first face to face conversation that I had all week, bar hotel receptionists.
I find the suggested pass, via another Google ‘off road adventure’ route. What a place. It’s a narrow pass that is tolled in the summer, at such time you cannot even stop to take pictures.
It’s best described as Strines Moor times a big number. Hard to explain.
To be honest, as lovely as it is, I am fatigued. Nothing food wise since breakfast. Braga next stop.
It is a good ride in places apart from the very frequent 50kph regions which the Portuguese drivers ignore.
Eventually I get to the hotel, albeit after some confusion (Google maps showing pictures of another building).
Barga is a fabulous place.
Pity the UK do not seem to cherish their history and architecture like other countries, especially outside of London.
The amount of traffic around Braga, in particular the stadium, makes me question what is occurring. A few seconds of googling reveals that Braga are hosting Glasgow Rangers. Oh eek.
7,000 away fans apparently. The main square and surrounding areas post match would support that.
My significantly better half stipulated that I should eat cake on my birthday. I dueley accepted the request. Braga, famous for cake it seems. Creme caramel in a filo pastry. It would never have accommodated 47 candles but it was absolutely gorgeous.
A Thai restaurant with lots of veggie options dismisses any fears of going hungry.
I think it wise to head back to the hotel after a post food wander. The centre bars are teeming with Glaswegians. I have never met a bad one, however their reputation precedes them. Probably best avoided. Euphoria and beer can bring out the worst in people.
I arrive back. The hotel is full of them! They are all very well behaved; so far!!.
It started well. Black tea and cold milk with breakfast. Checked out and headed North. Stopping for petrol and making use of the jet wash. A few stared with a puzzled look. Fairy liquid and a tooth brush to scrub the oily back tyre before giving it a hose off. I left them to wonder.
North-west to Ponfferada. Light rain they said … Nothing about the thick fog and strong swirling winds. I like surprises, however corners where you didn’t expect are less welcome. Then West on the N120 to Ourense. The light rain turned out to be not so light rain. I pulled over and went full on waterproofs. Better late than never. The water proof over mitts. Awful. Plastic bags basically. Lobsteresk. My gloves underneath were wet but the mitts kept the wind off and the pain my fingers more bearable. My over jacket was great. My proper jacket is over 16 years I old I calculated, no wonder it’s not as waterproof as it was!
In parts the road was great; A few tunnels through mountains linked via bridges. However, the wet surface did not inspire confidence. Ourense could not come quick enough. Just the best part of 3 hours in the saddle. A few times the back stepped out on the white paint. Bum twitching.
The last few miles before Ourense are gorgeous. River side views. I ride on hoping to find an eatery with parking outside in the centre. Unloading the bike would be too much hassle. I settle for a brew in a cafe. Didn’t bother with the over mitts as I was fuelling up again at the earliest convenience and the rain had subsided.
Fuel topped up and mitts stayed packed. The N525 was the best alternative to motorways. 5 mins in and the heavens opened. The next 2 hours little changed. Drenched.
Nick Cave sang (talked in rythmn) about the brilliant ‘Red Right Hand’, I have a few lyrics lined up for the ‘Wet Right Foot’. Although my diy in helmet music was riders on the storm (the doors) and lone wolf by eels, on repeat.
The sun did come out for 5 mins as I arrived at Santiago De Compostela however. Although it didn’t dry the roads enough to stop me having a few more ‘moments’. Again on white painted parts.
What a place! The architecture is unbelievable. The vibe is very peaceful and welcoming. Lots of couples and families, and even a few border collies. I miss home.
It just goes on and on. The tiny streets, a maze surrounding truly beautiful buildings. Unlikely any of today’s buildings will stand the test of time like these.
In the afternoon lull I head back to my room and make a proper cuppa (tea bags from home and stolen uht milk sachets from the hotel in Pompey). Aching and tense I run a hot bath. This is what happy hour should refer to!
More practical matters – Drying my gloves involved a combination of air-conditioning and the ceiling fan. They should be sound by the morning.
The bonus being I found a restaurant with an actual vegetarian section on the menu, and in English. It is where I started scribing this, surrounded by tables of 20 something’s on date night.
During my wonderings prior, trying to find gifts that are small enough to carry home (no joy yet, sorry family) I have a moment of overwhelming desire to change. It has been ‘brewing’ for some time if I am honest.
Don’t worry this is not a LGBTQ announcement. I am 47 tomorrow, (26th – shared with the hell raising Man in Black, Mr Johnny Cash). I have a dodgy hip, high blood pressure and I drink too much.
Booze is a regular reward for the stress that I mostly create in my head. I justify drinking too much some weekends and feel terrible mentally for a day or two after. I have however learnt to ignore the majority of what the voice in my head says. It’s mostly nonsense anyway. Still annoying having to ignore it.
I often do the maths in my head. “If I drink one more I will still be able to drive tomorrow” etc. If riding as apposed to driving my sums are much more sensible, and won’t touch shorts. Hard to guage the units. Today for instance, 2 pints, Finito. No desire for more; A very rare occurrence.
Would life be much better if I just didn’t drink? Drink on special occasions. Never drink in the house?
It kind of defines me. My wife will always drive if we go out. It is almost expected I will have too much. I am no alcoholic however, not by a stretch. But it is never black or white. I am never (very rarely) hung over at work. Only having a few or more on school nights, but more often than not I have my quota. My weekly units in the last 2 years or so has easily broken government guidelines every week by often by multiples (bar dry January attempts) sometimes in one night. Gradually getting worse. Creeping up. Booze is (was?) a priority. A pull. A vice. It’s an addiction, no doubt.
Beside the act itself one of the hardest things would be explaining why I no longer drink. Especially to the union flag waving anti-snowflake types who assume if you don’t drink that you must be “gay or summat?!” (Clearly alcohol consumption and sexuality are strongly linked in their minds. Maybe that’s why they drink so much, to fight off any homosexual tendencies?). To be honest I couldn’t give two shits what most people think of me. 99.9% of the time they’re wrong anyway and their thoughts are their own business.
Same with being a veggie (the truth is when eating meat, which I loved the taste of, my head had a major paranoid meltdown, hallucinating almost. Every meal I saw flesh not food – fully aware I was eating another animal; then the side thoughts – what gives us the right to eat them. Why pigs but not dogs etc.). I couldn’t do it. It was torturous eating a bloody steak. However some people think I am a massive tree hugger or its an attention seeking ego thing. Who cares. My opinions on many Brits (generalising) is not complimentary; they don’t care about my thoughts either.
The actual reason for abstinence are too long winded (for both cases). I will create a story (doctors orders, medication driven, in training for the Olympics etc.) to make it easier for all concerned. Without naming names, I spoke with someone last year who had heard about vegetarians but never actually met one. He was in his late 50s.
Anyhow, Braga tomorrow via Vigo maybe. Hope to stay dry!
I woke up this morning and saw blue skies. I thought a trip on the cable car in the Picos and then head to Astorga the long way around would be great. As I was leaving I noticed my room was 101 (see George Orwell for explanation). No tea at breakfast was surely the worst it could get?
I am not superstition really, however seeing only one magpie makes me search for another, pronto.
Checking the bike over and I notice the chain had a bit of slack so spanners out to adjust that. I also notice the loobman had deposited a bit of oil on my left side chicken strips (edges of tyres that only get warn at full lean). Not a good start but nothing I could do besides go careful until I could remedy it.
The road to Fuente de, where the cable car is, was beautiful. Conscious of oil on my tyre I ride relatively cautiously.
I arrive at the car park and go about locking my bike. I look around. Stunning. This cable car will be great.
My phone goes. Spanish number. I bet I’ve left something at the hotel, charger, jumper, crash helmet. I answer. “Mr B, this is Brittany ferries, have you checked your passport?”. I know I have it and it is well in date; I applied for a visa to China only last month (another story). I check. It is not mine! It belongs to a Mr P!
“A Mr P has your passport, there was mixup at the port and wants permission for me to give him your number”. Errr Yes of course. “Like you, he is heading south … ” Errr … “I am in the North”. “Maybe you can post them?” Unlikely as I am moving around.
A few minutes of a complete melt down and informing my loved ones that I was in a mess, I lose it momentarily. My words, out loud, in a tourist filled car park will not be repeated here. My mum might read this and I would lose any inheritance on that collection of words alone (not as though I want any inheritance, just don’t want to upset my Mum).
My phone goes. It’s Mrs P. “We are close to Madrid, I believe you are heading south too … “. I explain. They had no maps. As the crow flies, to meet them half way would be a long day for me. I am in a mountain range. Give me 10 minutes. I call back. What about meeting in Leon in about 3 hours? Deal.
I head off. Back through Potes and on to the N-621 towards Leon. Sweet Mother of Mary what an incredible road. Over 2000m above sea level in places. Turn after turn. Meandering up snow capped mountains. Fantastic. (Albeit with a oily tyre). Unfortunately no time for photographs. Google will confirm the views.
60 minutes in and it is hard work. It is relentless. On a rare straight stretch I see my fuel guage. Shit. “I will be ok”, I keep repeating to myself. Running dry up here could be a disaster.
On the descent the roads go from the complexion of Liz Taylor to Richard Burton. A time to save fuel.
As I come in to Riano I see signs for fuel. The petrol station, on the opposite side of the road, has a no entry sign on the nearest entrance. The furthest one I didn’t really check. Left turn. Horns from behind me. I pull up and a Guardia who was in the station strolls over with a swagger like he is Dirty Harry. “Engine off!!”. I oblige.
Apparently the other entrance had a no entry sign too and I crossed a solid white line to get there. I should have ridden past and come back in the opposite direction, turning at say a roundabout. So, no entry signs and solid white lines mean the same in Spain as they do in Blighty. Who knew?
He threatens giving me a ticket. I apologize profusely, biting my tongue, trying not to say it was you bloody idiots that swapped my passport otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I half expected him to ask for it to be honest. That could have got interesting. Thankfully my recently discovered zen-like calmness from the mountain air persuade me to keep my usually big mouth shut.
I fill up and head off. The lake at Riano was like glass. Mountain on top of its mirror image. A photo would not have captured that moment in time; I was in a rush so will never find out.
Along the route I see lots of Camino de Santiago symbols. I feel a sense of peace and calm. The ley lines maybe? [The lines that the camino routes all follow, and the same such lines where the likes of Stone Henge and Glastonbury also reside]
The last hour is straight 90kph roads with numerous 50kph sections. I adhere. No more Guardia today.
I figure the road from the south is where Mr and Mrs P will be traveling on. I find it. I pull up. I have a text. ‘We are on a McDonald’s & Lidl carpark on the le 11’ it reads . A quick Google and I find I am 400m away. Good guess work.
We exchange passports. Curse the officials and exchange pleasantries. Crazy thing is they live about 10 miles from me in UK.
I am exhausted. I think I cannot cope with anything else. Astorga is 30mins away. I get there without issue. The hotel is bang in the middle, in a beautiful square. Swanky and with an underground car park so little worry of security.
Like most Spanish towns it is closed and like a ghost town mid afternoon. I take a walk through the mostly deserted streets to find the Palace of Gaudì Astorga.
It sits right against La Catedral de Santa María de Astorga which by any standards is fabulous. Dare I say it, better than Notre Damm (joking!)
I wait for cafes/restaurants to open. 7pm and I am waiting for chips with egg and vegetable lasagna. I explain the “vegetariano” thing. Fried potatoe cubes with fried egg arrive, with lots of Serrano ham on top … To be fair their culture is one where they kill bulls for entertainment. Eating a bit of sliced pig would not touch the sides for them. Just a cultural difference, the differences that make traveling brilliant if not sometimes shocking. I brush the ham aside and dig in. I have no issue. I won’t starve.
A trip to the super market to buy washing up liquid and a tooth brush. I will scrub that tyre and wash it down when a I see a garage (do they have jet washers in Spain? )
Thankfully my current room is 106. So, besides the forecast rain, hopefully there will be no drama.
As I often say to my beautiful children. As long as you have a credit card and your passport you can manage without anything else …