Monday, 10 October 2016

Bimbling to the Balkans

On the 26th September we waved goodbye to a sunny Asturias and headed for the gastronomic delights of San Sebastian (at Jo's insistence; Dave had the mountains of Andorra in mind).

One happy camper
This presented the first big test of the trip: getting the tent up without argument. The last time we tried was in the back garden of our friends Paul and Marilyn and tuts and scowls were involved. 

However, we passed with flying colours. It only took us 20 minutes with one peg broken. Cause for celebration as you will no doubt agree.

 San Sebastian lived up to its exclusive reputation and has a lovely curved beach waterfront, fabulous tapas bars, atmospheric old town and great shopping. What is not to like? We have been to all of the cities along the northern Spanish coast and we love them all. But we agree: San Sebastian is the best. 

Leaving San Sebastian we made a quick scurry into the mountains of Andorra and after one hour of walking without shade concluded that hiking in the midday sun without a hat was not the best idea.

The Andorran Pyrenees
The Spanish Pyrenees
The British Pairoknees
So we called a halt to that and headed for France and its Mediterranean coastline. Canet de Roussillon was the first place flat enough to make us glad we took the "clown bikes" (our Dahon folding bikes). Following a lovely day's pedalling, in an endorphin-fuelled burst of enthusiasm Jo - self-appointed ambassador for clown bikes - opined that "Cycling turns a good day into a great day"©. That and warmth and sunshine.

New friends Mark and Rosalind
 Two days later we visited Lodève where back in 1983 Dave's parents bought a secluded plot of land with a crumbling farmer's shack which they eventually turned into a modest family estate. They sold it six years ago.

The new owners, Mark and Rosalind, kindly offered to not only to let us come up and see the old place but to stop over with them too. It was a delightful visit: good food, good wine, good company and a comfortable bed with crisp clean sheets and quilt. What luxury. Breakfasted and numerous photos and film clips later we bade a fond farewell to Mark and Rosalind.

Old Lodeve chums Carole & Simon
 We got as far as three kilometres down the road to our next social engagement, a delicious lunch with family friends Carole and Simon in their beautiful garden in Les Plans!

 And then it was off to Mandelieu-La-Napoule near Cannes for a night with our old friends Glen and Emma. This was definitely not a spot for clown bikes: even Nellie had trouble navigating the gradients and had to succumb to low range gears for a few steep hairpins. But that night: luxury beyond anything we will experience for the next few months we suspect, so it was certainly a ‘live in the moment’ opportunity.

Old London chums Glen and Emma
 We bade our farewells to our generous friends with freshly laundered clothes and “zoomed” off to Italy to battle with the trucks and speed demons on the energising two-lane-without-hard-shoulder motorways. We have a new-found appreciation for the UK’s gentle and generous motorway joining lanes.

 The weather report was threatening unpromisingly cool weather in Italy so we decided to chase the sun and warmth on the Dalmatian coast - so it was a dash to Ancona to catch the ferry to Split in Croatia.

The odd effects of fresh air in Lucca
Our cross-country trip was briefly paused to take in a spot of cycling around the walls of Lucca. This was entirely an original idea and not in any way influenced by a WhatsApp video that we may have seen a month or so before.

 The 10-hour overnight ferry to Ancona. Least said, soonest mended.

And so to Split to coincide perfectly with the arrival of a cold front. Thank goodness for Airbnb. We easily found a lovely little beachfront apartment with central heating and blankets and a washing machine and other amazing things like an oven and TV with an HDMI socket.

 More on Split and Croatia another time but we didn’t stay long because the weather badly let us down - but we vow to return when we do our tour of the northern Balkan states. And so we have headed off south in search of sunshine, warmth and the chance to keep wearing shorts.
Nellie admires the city of Split in a snatched moment of sunshine

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