Today, I leave for a trip. Spur-of-the-moment put-faith-in-the-universe kind of trip. Car is just about packed, sans clothes. Meeting an old friend from High School for some tea in Sandusky, Ohio, then off to see my uncle near Cleveland. Next stop? I don’t know. Read more »
Peter gave us directions to Nimes/Avignon, where we initially intended to go, to grab a train to see Becca in Grenoble. The route was flat along the Tarn, but got nasty towards the end of the first day. Here are a few videos of where we’ve been and where we’ve been sleeping. Enjoy!
From Fontaussil to the mountain town of Ayssenes, France:
Watch Stealth Camping in France – Ayssenes
Traveling to and Sleeping in St. Afrique
Watch Sleeping in a Train Station
And here’s where we biked:
Map on Roids
What a wonderful past few weeks we’ve had!
Okay … to pick up where Kris left off, we were in Girona, sleeping in the public gardens for 3 nights. John let us use his shower and we were off to head north-west for a fun day in an old Greek-settled city, Sant Marti d’Empuries. A guy we met in a WiFi enabled coffee shop told us to go there (and he also told us about our genealogy. Weird Scottish guy, but very nice.)
The bike ride to Sant Marti brought back that feeling we get once we leave a place we’ve been at for awhile. During the first hour or 2 of the ride, I let out a freedom wail, like a karate chop – but with my entire body. It feels so good to be so free! HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
The ride to Sant Marti was nice, and pretty uneventful. The trees were changing colors and it reminded us both of home.
On our way, we stopped for some lunch at a menu-style bar. They serve a ‘menu’ for a certain price, which includes 1 entree, 1 appetizer, 1 dessert and a glass of wine. Being seasoned Spanish speakers, we were able to order octopus, and it turned out to be a rubber-filled awful idea. Yuck. No more octi for us.
Sant Marti is a small town next to the larger L’Escala. When we got into L’Escala, we shopped for some food – including artichoke hearts for our delicious pasta we were planning. Some fruit made it’s way into our mouths before we were even back on the bikes, and we were off.
We also picked up a jug of water to refill our 3liter CamelBak’s and a little extra … NOT! What we thought was a 5 Liter jug turned out to be an 8’r. HUGE jug. Try biking with 8 liters of water hanging from one side. I felt like I had an infant hanging from my hip. Not good for balance.
We headed down to the old city and biked through the path by the water. Beautiful old ruins of Greek architecture – but protected by a big fence. It was getting late, and we were looking for a place to camp. We met a WONDERFUL Irish family who had stayed in the town the past week. They told us to camp by the Lidl grocery store, in the field next to the shooting range. Once we got there, we decided to sleep across the way, in a crop field.
When we were setting up the tent, 2 men started walking to us. We were a bit freaked, but they offered us to come inside their home and join them for some food and drink. We put our stuff away and 10 minutes later, we were in a small shed that a guy was living in. He put a box of donuts, a bag of chips, candy, and a mountain of sugar stuff on the table in front of us. All of it was making us sick, but they were really nice to us. It was a small place, but it’s proof that you don’t need much to be happy.
The next day, we wandered the city, took pictures, then made our way to Salvador Dali’s hometown of Figueres. 56km later, we arrived in a neat looking city, not too dissimilar from Girona. The only difference was the AMAZING Dali Museum on the north-west side of town. What a cool place, with gigantic eggs decorating the top.
We decided to plop down the cash for a hotel and found ourselves at the President Hotel. I think it was a 4-star hotel, but Kris remembers it being a 3. Either way, it was nice. Not too expensive, but the kind of luxury that would make a nomadic cyclist swoon. We were given oranges in the evening and the jar of gummy candy never seemed to end – even though we tried.
The night we spent there was a bit relaxed, eating poor imitations of Mexican food — did we mention that we miss spicy food?
In the morning, we were going to leave town but *somebody* wasn’t feeling too hot. We decided to stay another night because we were, after all, the Presidents.
We were able to hit the Dali Museum, which can only be described as a long mustache’d LSD trip through the weird with a vast array of mediums – canvas, plastic, living plants, even a car that was raining inside. So strange. A tip of the hat to you, Salvy. We loved it.
The next day, we left to cross the border into France. It was exciting, as we were gearing up to take a picture under a sign that would say “Welcome to France. You made it! Have some fromage!” … No luck. The town on the border was for the Frenchies who were eager to buy booze and smoke at Spain’s lower prices. There were even some men hawking D&G sunglasses and watches. We instead enjoyed some granola and an orange. MMMMMM.
The trip across the border was nice and easy – we climbed the Pyrenees without any difficulty. I wouldn’t ever go the other way – the ride down into France was fast and cool.
That night, we found ourselves in Perpignan. A nice hotel was on our way, and we stayed for a night — they had free WiFi and clean sheets. Good enough!
The weather was cool, but we were doing alright. We went for a walk after enjoying some falafal from the countless Doner Kabap’s all around Spain and now France. Walking down by the train station, we met a German named Christoph, and 2 ‘travelers’ who looking for some money. Weird guys, but nice enough. They offered us a mix of Coca Cola and wine, known as Kalimotxo. We declined, but they seemed to enjoy it.
The 2 ‘travelers’ had been on the road for the past 7 YEARS hitchhiking. We both thought it sounded more like they were homeless, but they didn’t seem to agree. One of the guys knew 7 languages fluently. Impressive, to say the least.
We met up with them later in the evening and I learned all about a guy’s hash smuggling in Spain and how he’s now on the run. Oh the people you’ll meet!
The next day, we set off to bike north to our next farm, but the wet wind blew us directly back to where we started, the train station. We boarded the train and arrived in Carcassonne a few hours later. Phew!
In Carcassonne, we spent the night in another hostel because it was so late. It had been an expensive few days, but we were out of sunlight to find suitable places to camp. Our saving grace was the farm we were staying at — no living expenses!
Here’s the pictures of the trip that far — more talky talky below. Don’t miss it!
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After Carcassonne, we planned to bike near Mazamet where Peter and Wendy would pick us up. This time, the wind was SO AWFUL that we were averaging 3km/hr. It was nasty. Muddy, wet, hills, yuck. Kristen wanted to hitchhike (Have you seen our rigs?? It was THAT bad!) We decided to press on to the town of Villardonnel, where we found a quaint delicious restaurant/bar. There, we had hot chestnut soup (YUM), and a fish each. It was better food than everything in Spain combined.
They had WiFi and we were able to get a hold of WenPet (Wendy and Peter) and they left to pick us up.
2 hours later, we were loading our bikes into WenPet’s trailer and were off.
Wendy was born on the Isle of Wight, in England. Peter was born in the capital city of Switzerland. They had moved to their farm, Fontaussil, in 2005, and had spent the past 4 years fixing it up. Now, it was a beautiful, liveable, livery of 11 horses, 4 dogs (JamiePlatz, SkullyPlatz, Rusty and Bonnie), a bunny named Sammie, 2 cats (only one was cool, hence the name Supreme Pus), 2 goats, 3 geese and 3 chickens.
We were given our own room in the Holiday House, the house next to the main one. It was nice and clean and roomy. We had our own bathroom with shower and a place to put all of our gear. Super nice place to stay.
We hung our hats there for over 2 weeks, working Monday through Friday on various things on the farm. One of the biggest pains in the butt we did was pull Broom. It’s a plant that looks like long-needled spruce, and it grew all over the hillsides of the farm. Because they had been working so hard on the renovations, they hadn’t had any time to look after the hills. No problem – that’s why they signed up to HelpX! We were only their second workers, but they already had quite a few signed up by the time we left.
Another major project we worked on was their new homepage, www.wenpet.com. Peter helped me create it, by writing most of the content. I worked on the frame of it, and built it with 3 languages. Fun project, but very time consuming. Sometimes, working on the computer is a negative — it takes away from your time to enjoy the surroundings. Lessons for next time.
During our time at Fontaussil, Peter took us on a wonderful journey down the Tarn river. We visited what seemed like France’s little Grand Canyon. We took all day, even making sandwiches in the car to feel like authentic French. We had Roquefort cheese from the neighboring city of Roquefort, France. It was tasty, but the green mold on it wasn’t really working for me. We pitched half because we thought it was bad. Peter disagreed. That’s just how it is.
During the trip to the Tarn, we stopped to gawk at the 10,000 year old genetic line of Madagascar horses. They were found in a remote area and never had a chance to breed with other more recent breeds. Very cool to see them — check out the pictures to see what they look like.
Peter also took us to a little village nearby, including one where we met a man who sells honey and vinegar that he makes. We fell in love with his honey and his cat, whom looked like Mia, only more fun. Impossible, I know.
Wendy and Peter both taught us something we have both been interested in for awhile – Reiki. It was a great experience to be initiated into Reiki 1 and 2 while we were there. It’s something that we’ll always have with us, and will remind us of our time with such a great couple.
After 16 days at Fontaussil, we gave our hugs and our last kisses to the animals and left to see Becca, Kristen’s friend from way-back who’s teaching English east of us.
Photos of Fontaussil:
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Here’s a map of where we biked:
Remember – we trained from Perpignan(C) to Carcassonne(D), then got a ride from Villardonnel(E) to Fontaussil(F).
Super Duper Big Map for People who Can’t Read Good
After a long sabbatical, I’m back with another blog post.
So, living with Jordi for 2 weeks in Balaguer, Spain was a great experience. He is such an interesting person, filled with a lot of wisdom and knowledge to share with those who are open and willing to listen. He is a quiet man who lives alone but his mind and ideas are really worth a closer look. First of all, he is an inspiration to everyone who comes in contact with him. Jordi is the epitome of living ecologically friendly. His huge farm and orchard are 100% organic and he is extremely energy conscious, I have never met anyone who conserves and reuses the way he does. He also grows an array of plants in his apartment that can be used for medicinal purposes, and would include them in every meal we ate! The meals he prepared are worthy of an entire blog post, as well. Three full meals were included every single day of the week, even on weekends when we weren’t working his land. HUGE, gut busting, delicious meals, that were 100% vegetarian or vegan made almost entirely from veggies, fruits and legumes from his land. Casey and I pretty much drained his whole honey supply from his bee hives within the 2 weeks we stayed, by the way. Don’t judge us but we are, in fact, honey addicts. The meals were well earned, though. We worked hard while we were there. What I liked most about the work was that Jordi made sure we learned and did as much as possible. We harvested many fruits and veggies, some of which I had never heard of before like a chayote and a quince. We also pruned olive trees, shucked corn, helped make olive pate (YUMMYYYY), worked with spices and learned learned learned. We learned so much about organic farming techniques and we also learned a lot about Catalan culture. As I said, Jordi always had something to teach us. He’s hosted over 1000 people from all over the world and really involves himself in the community by volunteering at the hospital in Lleida and working with the organization Slow Food.
Another great thing about staying with Jordi was the heavy dose of culture we got there. During our stay there were three more HelpX helpers that arrived to help Jordi. First to arrive was Aaron who is originally from Cambridge, England but had been living in Portugal for the past two years working on farms and living off the land, he walked (yes… WALKED) to Jordi’s from Barcelona. Aaron was a riot and a whole lot of fun to hang out with a work with. We were able to relate with him a lot, Casey with their similarities in humor and me with our love for Tom Robbins. The next two people that arrived were two girls from the Czech Republic names Veronica and Barbara + their little doggy names YoshiTamagoochie… or whatever his name was haha. They were also a joy to have and we learned so much about their country and culture. However, the greatest cultural experience we had while staying in Balaguer was definitely having the opportunity to speak with 6 different English classes at the local school. What a fun and rewarding experience it was. It was also rather enlightening to see what some of the younger Catalan youth thought of America, Hamburgers and Barak Obama were always brought up and I thought we were very well received from each class we spoke with. I will never forget that experience and will value everything that Jordi made available to us while we stayed with him.
After we left Jordi’s we took a train ride to Barcelona and stayed the weekend in a great hostel situated right in the center of the city. Hostel Layetana was situated next to a famous cathedral designed by Gaudi, the architect that has designed many of the most eccentric and world famous buildings in Barcelona. What we loved about Barcelona was the entertainment around every corner and the fact that it is the Mecca of culture in Catalonia. We were extremely lucky to be in Barcelona during The International Day of Climate Action or Day 350. The number 350 is a call to the world to cap the carbon dioxide emissions at 350 parts per million. Casey and I went to a demonstration outside of the Centre D’Art Santa Monica. There were at least 15 different Drum and Bass groups from all over Spain rallying people with their music. In between each group, art students gave speeches in Spanish, Catalan and English; representing the fact that it is an international environmental issue. The city was electric, beautiful and brilliant. The 85 degree weather was splendid and the constant threat of theft from the gypsies kept us on our toes.
We left Barcelona on Sunday, the 25th of October and headed east along Costa Brava, one of the most beautiful cost lines in Spain. About 11 kilometers of this road is also coined as the most dangerous stretches of roads to travel on. Clearly, we made it out scathe free, but it was definitely hectic for that brief 11 km. We made it about 70 km that day and decided to find a place to camp and a restaurant to get some food. We scoped some sites and headed to the nearest bar. While we were eating we met a guy by the name of Nissan from Morocco and after having some disturbing conversations with him about Morroccan and Spanish sentiment towards the American public, he invited us to spend the night at his friend, Ali’s house. We were a little apprehensive at first because of the context of the conversation but I think the apprehension was accredited to the fact that there is a language barrier and that, as we later realized, he tended to over exaggerate a bit. It was an enlightening conversation, non the less, and we were so grateful for his and Ali’s generosity. Ali was a great host and it was definitely cool meeting someone from Senegal, too.
We left the Costa Brava region the next morning, after Nissan and Ali took us out for breakfast and continued to trek north east. We biked about 45 kilometers and found ourselves in a town called Girona. We were immediately struck by its unique beauty. It is unlike any other town in Spain that we had been; the architecture is very medieval and resonates a strong Roman influence. Girona is also a college town, and we were very excited to see so many people our age. We were on our way to Figures that day, but we decided that Girona was way too cool to pass up. So cool, in fact, that we decided to spend 3 nights and almost 4 days there. If I could choose any city in Spain to live, Girona would hands down, be the place. Never mind the fact that the expense of living in that town is the highest in Spain. We were also lucky to arrive during their weeklong festival of the city’s patron saint. We met so many wonderful people during our stay. Shout outs go to: O’Shane from Ireland who gave us some tips on some places we needed to visit before we biked into France, another to Robert from Poland who could charm your socks off with his didgeridoo playing, stories of hitchhiking all over the world and his obsession with any and all kinds of piercings. Our fondest shout out goes to John from Canada, however. John was an amazingly hospitable and genuinely open hearted. He used to live in Florida but moved to Spain with his boyfriend so that they could get married and live a more relaxed life. John worked at a bar in the city center and we met while we drank a few beers and surfed the internet at the bar. He is a wonderful conversationalist; we all really hit it off and decided to go to the festival together where there were carnival rides and a huge stage with live music. He even let us lock up our bikes while we all went out and he also let us take showers in his beautiful apartment. I loved just being in his company and consider him a good friend.
Basically, I would recommend that anyone going to Spain make sure they seek out a couple nights stay in Girona. If at all possible, I would also recommend camping in the John Lennon Gardens, where Casey and I spent 3 nights. It was absolutely gorgeous and you couldn’t ask for a safer or more beautiful spot to camp, despite the fact that it is totally and 100% illegal. Some other highlights from Girona include, the 100 person bike-bar-crawl, the live music we heard every single night we stayed there, meeting other touring cyclists and of course, experiencing all of this with the best companion I could ask for on this journey; Casey Slaughter Stanton.
Although there is still more to report, since I am writing this from the beautiful south of France, I’ll let Casey fill you all in on the rest. Until next time, I am sending a lot of love to those I miss and to those who will hopefully be inspired to embark on their own special life changing journey.
P.S. Will be posting more pictures this week 🙂
Map of the bicycle journey — Keep in mind we trained from Balaguer to Barcelona (and bussed, and then trained.)
Have a Larger Map for Supper
This post spans 7 days biking, and the rest of the time working at a HelpX host in Balaguer and partying in Barcelona.
3 weeks ago, we left our campsite in Vinaros, Spain. It was a similar story to the rest of the campsites in Spain – suited for RV’s, with Shania Twain playing in the morning while the ‘residents’ work out. Most were over 60, and were shirtless (men) or in some strange one-piece bathing suit (women). Needless to say, it was fun to hang out.
We woke up that morning to leave Vinaros, quickly realizing that we had been over-served at the local watering hole the night before. We took all the energy we could muster and sat up.
It took an hour to pack the tent and get to the road. Fast-forward a few hours and we’re starving. We take a right-turn down a big hill, which was a relief on such a long day of climbing. We must have gone 2km before we found the city. It was a beautiful town right on the coast, with the hill we just descended from in the background.
Our first stop was the fruitaria (fruit shop) on our way. We sat outside and chomped on peaches, grapes, and some juice. Finally, we had enough blood-sugar to run on, and we switched our bodies fuel source from ‘will and hope’ to something sustainable.
After a bit of a break, we needed to head north. Our plan was to be at Jordi’s (our host in Balaguer) in 5 days. Muy facil.
We heard from some people on the streets that we could skip Tarragona and go north-east through Tortosa. It didn’t take us any convincing to change our plans and shave 60-100km off our trip! We headed to Tortosa, where we were unable to find a place to camp. We decided to head onward, toward Flix, to find a suitable place to sleep. Somehow, we were able to push our bodies and our near-200lbs of gear into the coolest little town we’ve ever seen – Benifallet. It was dark by the time we got there, after riding along the old train path, through the dark and long tunnels through the mountain. I was a bit freaked out, but didn’t let it show.
We saw the sign for Benifallet, the old train station, and assumed the town would be north. Wrong. 5km later, we asked the only other person we saw on the path. He guided us back to the station, then to the skinny washed out dirt road that lead to the highway. From there, it was just a few short km to the city.
It was strange entering it; with a river separating it from the rest of the land. It seemed like a moat, and once we finally approached the north and only entrance, we were delighted to find a nice hill to coast down, and into town.
The bar we stopped at to eat was an old pension, a bar for retired people to play games. By the way — people in Spain play some weird games with some strange cards! We still need to figure out how to play on of these games…
At the bar, we met a Brit who told us we could sleep next to the river. Later, we heard from another Brit that anytime people pass through, they sleep by the river.
We took their advice and headed down after we ate. Cute green area next to the river, under some lush trees that gave us a bit of protection from the noise of barking dogs. A perfect night sleep, in a great town. If I was going to buy land in Spain, it would be there. We heard you can get a very livable piece of land for 8000Euros in the mountains. Mark my words — if 2012 really happens, you’ll find me here.
The next day, we headed north planning to get as close to Lleida as possible. Nothing too eventful on the ride, except for the CLIMBING. It was ridiculous. I felt like I had someone pulling my Jake Break. The headwind begged us to stop riding, turn around, and get the first flight home. Our average speed was so slow, we were hoping to find some kind of magic portal or tunnel to disappear into.
Alas, no oasis. No pot of gold. After we reached the top of the mountain, we found another to climb. Then another.
Possibly half the time was spend walking with our steeds, looking like a boy in heels with my bike shoes on.
Finally, we arrived in Flix. It was a good-sized city, a perfect place to eat … except for the HUGE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT! There was a bed of crops in every direction, spawning from the cooling tower, and our logic got the best of us. If they mostly use local foods, these can’t be too healthy!
We pressed onward to find someplace to sleep that wasn’t in the radiation field. Mistake.
It was a LONG 64km to get to our final destination in Maials. The map made it look like a big enough town to have a supermarket or at least a gas station. Wrong. We did, however, find a nice bar that made us some fish fillets and fries. Some local guys took me for a drive in their car to show me a place we could sleep for the night. It was a crop field next to the big industrial building in town. Looked good, so we hung out in town for a while longer.
The bar-woman kicked us out for a siesta, and we headed to the next bar down the street. A real bar, because all it served was liquids.
After the smallest cup of tea I’ve ever had, we went back to the first bar for seconds, this time pizza. Yum.
That night, we went biked down the the field to sleep but noticed there were big irrigation trenches around it. Pretty much impossible for me and my 8435987 foot long bike to traverse. We decided to camp behind 3 big steel boxes — like the ones on boats that go around the world. We locked our bikes up and slept on the concrete in our tent.
At 4 or 5 in the morning, Kristen woke me up with that heart-stopping gasp. There was a car infront of us, headlights on, just sitting there. We freaked a bit, but they finally moved on. The Sandman came quickly, and took us back to dreamland for the next few hours. At 9ish, we got up and packed up. There was a security guard walking around, kind of checking us out. We exchanged pleasant “hola”‘s, and went on our way.
The next day, we’re in Lleida. Some more climbing, but nothing too bad. We get to the town and realize that it’s a national holiday. Wait… this was Sunday. The next day was the holiday.
Either way, we are starving. Our first plan is to find a place to sleep, as our map indicates there is camping in Lleida. We wanted to get online and email Jordi, telling him we were close and coming a day or 2 early. But… everything is closed.
No camping in Lleida, a couple of mountain bikers tell us. The closest camping is 15km north. Kristen was done biking for the day, so we looked for alternatives. We discussed our choices over way too many delicious pastries from a french shop in town. Waaaaay too many.
If I gain 50 pounds in France, you’ll know why; tiramesu!
We heard about the hotel across from the train station, and that they offered free WiFi in their rooms. 50 euros later, we’re in the comforts of a hotel with a warm shower and a soft bed.
In the morning, we made the coast down to Balaguer. All of the climbing we did finally gave us a relaxing day to coast. We must have descended 3km that day. Beautiful!
We arrive in Balaguer a bit early, as Jordi wasn’t available to meet until after his holiday dinner with his family. We look for his place anyways, just so we are certain during daylight where it is.
Somehow we wrote it down wrong, but with enough friendly people to aid us, we found exactly where he lived.
The rest of the day, we played in the park, throwing our Frisbee, and swinging on the vines of a Weeping Willow (Seriously. People there just tie them together and sit down, then swing. Who would have thought of that??!).
At 7:15, we buzz Jordi. An apprehensive “Hola?” greets us through the loudspeaker and we declare “Hola. Dos Americanos!'” The password worked, and he came down to meet us.
We pulled our get upstairs to the apartment, and he took us for a tour. Our bedroom was nice, with a twin-or-bigger sized bed and a mirror. Not too much there, but just enough for us.
Here’s a map of the distance so far:
Pictures to come. We need to figure out where we put them!
Also, I’ve added a Twitter widget on the right side that will update where we are. What that means is even if we don’t post a big, long post like this, you can still see where we are in a mini-blog post. Look to the right, or go to http://www.twitter.com/bikes
Casey & Kristen
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