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Spain

The Douro Valley, Portugal, and the Northern Coast of Spain

Rio Douro in the morning

Rio Douro in the early morning

The morning is clear and cool with a fog hanging out in the valleys between the green, grapevine terraced hillsides making a brilliant contrast to the bright blue sky above the layer of fog. We will ride to the northern coast of Spain today spending a couple hours riding the N-222 in the Douro valley, ranked one of the top driving roads in the world, (  http://www.avisbestroad.com/uk/the-top-25-roads/ ). The road was a perfect blend of curves and straight sections, elevation changes and perfect scenery that had us in slow-mode riding style as this was perhaps the most beautiful scenery we had encountered. The terraced hillsides of grapevines set in a patchwork quilt style. some rows facing this way, others at 90 degree angles to it’s perfect neighbor and then other just there. All of this was broken with occasional chalets and towns with the layered fog burning off slowly to reveal the beauty of the Rio Douro, cutting a ribbons path of flowing blue through the valley to the town of Pinhao.

Douro Valley, Portugal

Douro Valley, Portugal

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As we were coming to the village of Pinhao we pulled over on the side of road, got of the bike and sat on the moss covered stone wall bordering the Rio Douro looking toward town and, just looked. We sat at that spot in the shade of a couple large, green leafy trees not talking while we munched on an apple, just taking in one of the most beautiful sights we had seen. Villagers would pass us, walking or biking, and smile and wave on their way toward town, stopping at the bakery and market to buy fresh baked breads and fresh fish to prepare for the evening meal and visiting with friends all doing the same. The life here is simple, relaxed and refreshing. If I happen to just up and disappear some random day, look here for me first, as we will be riding, relaxing and drinking Spanish wine and Portuguese port.

Little did we know that the ride from this point north to the coast of Spain would be just as brilliant.

Rio Douro and Pinhão

Rio Douro and Pinhão

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Pinhao, Portugal

Pinhao, Portugal

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OK, time to go and we cross the bridge into town, riding slowly down the main street enjoying the village ambiance. We rode north out of town headed to the Spain border and jumped on the A-52, like an interstate highway, to make up some time. It was a beautiful ride twisting at fast speeds in and out of curves with not much traffic and we stayed on these roads for about 200 Kms. We finally got to slow back down and get on small two-lane road as we headed up toward a1400 meters pass. Almost to the top we crossed an arm of an alpine lake/ski resort and another unexpected pass following the Rio Vejo as it fought its way down through yet another canyon. The road weaved back and forth, gaining elevation with rock walls jutting out forming one side of the road, while on the other side a small river wove its way among pocket of grassy areas and old homesteads. As we came to the top of the pass we met several bikers on holiday from the Netherlands. We exchanged routes as we were both headed in different directions of things that shouldn’t be missed ahead.

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The Vojo valley below

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Top of the pass

DSCF1676 The road in front of us beckoned us as the curves were tight, unpredictable and unprotected. We pressed on, not so fast as to miss the beauty in front of us but not so slow as to miss some of the thrill associated with this kind of riding. We rode into the town of Potes and were treated with a beautiful village, cafes on the water near a bridge crossing a small river and horses with riders making their way through town.DSCF1679We headed back out of town while looking for a place to camp, finding one about 2 kms down the road. Pulling in to the camp we found a few Dutch sitting around having happy hour, drinking wine and sharing camp space. We set up camp, washed out our riding gear and headed down to the small restaurant on the stream, for Paella, just as dusk was starting to cast its long shadows across the campground. IMG_20150617_074014385

A fantastic blue skied morning greeted us as we packed up camp in anticipation of a ride to the northern coast of Spain. The road toward the coast remained fantastic all the way to the beach. We rode through a tight canyon following a stream that had cut through the rock for eons while my GPS was showing about 5 minutes to the Atlantic Ocean. We came down to the beach through the community of Lekeitio. This beautiful town surrounded a tidal bay filled with boats stuck in the sand as the tide was low with only pockets of water surrounding islands of soft muck. As we were riding across the bridge we pulled over just to take in the views and smells of the ocean, watching the people riding bike and jogging along the waterfront. I’ll say it again, the past two days have shown some of the most inspiring scenery of the ride. DSCF1684We continued on the the beach, stopping to enjoy the view and weather along the Atlantic coast on the northern coast of Spain. Yep, we said to each other, we are really here. How about a selfie.IMG_20150617_132631765 IMG_20150617_112312582_HDRWe continued our coastal drive which reminded us of the Pacific Coast Highway on the western coast of California, looking for a perfect campground to drink some wine, have dinner and watch a sunset. Along the way we passed through a town that had a suspended ferry croosing across the river. Very cool.DSCF1695 IMG_20150617_174247121_HDR

Coming around a corner we found the Camp Itxaspe. It was absolutely perfect, high on a terraced bluff overlooking the ocean. While we were eating dinner and chatting the sun started to set and I realized that from that point, high on the bluff, I would be able to watch the sun set and again rise in the morning over the Atlantic Ocean from the same spot.IMG_20150617_193902816_HDR IMG_20150617_215317598 IMG_20150617_140629474_HDR

Back at the camp after sunset our neighbor invited me over for a cigar and a drink of very rare scotch. Some people just know how to travel.

Cheers, from 2WANDRRs…

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Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, BMW, Dolomites, Douro Valley, Europe, France, Horizons Unlimited, motocamping, motorcycle travel, Portugal, Pyrenees, Spain, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

Spanish Cathedrals and on to Portugal

Montblanc

Montblanc

Our gear is finally dry so we headed into Montblanc, an area that has been inhabited for thousands of years. After the invasion of the Moors in 711 AD, the 10th and 11th centuries led to a period of peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews. This productive period continued  until the Roman Catholic Church initiated an era of expulsions, which forced the Moors, the Jews and many of the interbred mixed race peoples to leave the Iberian peninsula. We were able to ride through the gates of this walled city and wander freely along the cobblestone streets stopping to snap a few photos of the ancient buildings and churches, waving at the many people that smiled and waved at us as we passed.

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Leaving Montblanc we rode a short distance to the Poblet Monastery from 1151 AD. Poblet was the royal pantheon of the kings of the Crown of Aragon. In 1318, under solemn oath, it was made a condition that all the Aragonese kings be buried there. Some of the most important royal sepulchres have alabaster statues that lie over the tomb. The kings have lion sculptures at their feet, while the queens have dogs. Poblet Monastery has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1991. Our tour included access into the monks chambers and also their private areas. This place was amazing.

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Stopping for lunch at a gas station offered a touch of life along the river in a small village in Spain. The gas station had a small cooking area offering fresh-water delicacies found in the river in the area, including snails. The wonderful ladies working in the kitchen offered me a taste of the various delicacies and I decided on a bowl of snails cooked in a thin, clear garlic broth. One of the ladies was from England so we had a brilliant time kidding with each other and us learning about why she had ended up here. Melanie ended up eating a couple local sausages and both lunches were excellent.
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At a table near us a group of men were playing games and discussing local events. They didn’t speak much English but we had a good time with everybody using our limited Spanish and hand gestures. IMG_20150613_154232601_HDR

The day remained cloudy with occasional rain which turned into rain followed by small pea sized hail. After having enough of the weather we decided to find a hotel for the night in Utrillas, the Hotel de Utrillas.

Riding to Cuenca

Riding to Cuenca

The morning brought blue skies and the promise of a great day. Our ride followed the side of a ridge of mountains and curved in and out on deserted roads, except for motorcycles, on the way to Cuenca, and the Cuenca Cathedral, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore. Work began in the year 1196 and was completed in 1257. The interior is in the Latin cross configuration with a central altar, a choir area with pipe organ and many individual chapels around the perimeter. The cost to tour this brilliant place was only 3,80 Euros.

Riding into town

Riding into town

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Old clock

Old clock

We had lunch and a beer at one of the many cafes in the street  outside of the cathedral. Several couples were enjoying the views of the old town in the shadow of the impressive Cuenca Cathedral just 30 meters away.

We left and rode into Toledo, into the walled portion and up to the top of the hill looking for a place to stay. The roads were tight and cobblestone with some busy traffic and most of the places were full, so we continued on. It was starting to cloud up again threatening rain and we found a little cabin at a campground on the river on the outskirts of town, the Camping El Greco. I laid all our gear out to dry and walked to the restaurant for a bite to eat. Just after ordering the skies opened up, which had me sprinting up the dirt roads while avoiding the large mud puddle forming from the downpour. I gathered our gear and had to wait for several minutes for the rain to let up before heading back to the restaurant. So much for dry gear but tonight, after a good meal and another inexpensive bottle of red wine, I will sleep like a baby.

Toll Road, Portugal

Toll Road, Portugal

The next morning was overcast and we decided that our southern route through Spain would have to wait for another time,We were just running out of time and to go that far south, I wanted to spend at least a week in Morocco, wasn’t going to happen without sacrificing the northern coast of France. Next time. The west coast of Portugal would have to wait also, but the northern coast of Spain and northeastern area of Portugal would get fair treatment in the next few days.

As we crossed into Portugal a toll road sign was posted which had me making the first turn off the road as I could. Toll roads, in my experience, means more traffic, less small towns and less friendly people. We came across a road marked as N-222 which headed the direction we were going. A side note; this road popped up on FB later that night as one of the top driving roads in the world by a car rental company. Better to be lucky than good. Anyway, this road was brilliant as it passed through several small towns. Since it was getting on in the day and we wanted to stop and enjoy some sights and people in a small town we saw a sign for lodging. Pulling into a small village on a cobblestone street the road got very narrow and steep. The room for rent had long since been abandoned and their was no way to go but forward. After a few close calls on the steep, uneven and off canter streets we came to a section that was at about a 45 degree angle up around a crazy off-canter right turn and disappeared out of sight, still going up. Melanie wanted off, so, under protest, I let her get off. Smart lady. I gunned it heading up to discover as I near the turn I didn’t have enough room to turn. Jamming on the brakes and laying on the tank I grabbed the front brake as I needed both feet on the crazy angle and I didn’t want to flip over backwards. After sliding backwards several feet I finally stopped. I knew I couldn’t slide all the way back down the hill and up was the only way out. I let off the brake slightly, moved an inch and slid three. Finally I got positioned for the turn and laying on the tank took off determined not to stop till I got to the top of whatever lay ahead. I finally made it and shook until Melanie walked to the top. Lesson learned, when Melanie wants off, no discussion, let her off.

We rode to the next town and found a top notch hotel and the kind lady at the desk gave me a two room suite, with breakfast, for only $35 US. Walking into town we came across a street vendor who must have been a Portuguese comedian. We order a couple of his specialties, sausages, and had a fun time joking with him and his customers as they came to the stand. It was a fun night.

Cheers, 2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Cuenca, Europe, Horizons Unlimited, motocamping, motorcycle travel, Spain, Trophy | Leave a comment

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