Monday, March 2, 2015

Riding through the Pyrenees

From Montolieu we headed for the famous mountain range separating France from Spain: The Pyrenees. We hadn’t expected much from the ride towards the mountains, it was going to be a ‘connecting day’ as we call it. Our stay at Montolieu campground had been a good one, as you can read in the previous posts, before us was a 200+ km trip towards the last campground in France, almost at the Spanish border. Just 200 km may not seem much, but taking the smaller local roads as we tend to do, made this into a full day. Even more so as the days were now getting very short indeed, being well into winter in Europe.

It turned out to be much more than just a connecting day. We rode through an area full of history, clearly evident by the many castles and ruins we saw dotting the landscape. Although being as much a part of France as where we had been just a couple of days ago, it yet seemed a different country. Much friendlier, which is somewhat ironic as castles were usually the centre of murder and mayhem in the middle ages.

It wasn’t just the castles that gave the friendly feeling though, the villages seemed even more stylish than before as well. The narrow winding and tree-lined roads, the small bridges dating back to the Roman empire and the buildings that seemed to come straight out of an Asterix and Obelix comic all added to the feeling. Despite being struck by a cold; complete with headache, sore throat and generally feeling not all that well, I really enjoyed the ride.

The villages were seemingly deserted around lunchtime, which in France seems to take 3 hours at least. Just after 12.30 they close until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Even the campers still on the road, in motorhomes, stop along a river somewhere and cook an extensive lunchtime meal. France is so different from Australia in that respect. Mike was ecstatic about riding into the Pyrenees as you can see in the above video. He really enjoyed himself!

For the past weeks now we’ve had campgrounds that didn’t have any campers. Today we found another… To add to the complication, the lady owning the campground had just taken it over. She struggled to get the water heater going and she couldn’t get the lights in the toilet building to work either and thus installed a spiderweb of cables and desk-top lamps… Amusing. She also charged us twice for dog tax… :-) A cold night followed so in the morning our bikes were frozen again…

The second day we found ourselves climbing into the Pyrenees. Wonderful narrow roads led to a 3 km long tunnel. Although we had quite enjoyed ourselves on the French side of the Pyrenees already… Mike went berserk when we rode into Spain! Having helmet comms is great as we can share those moments of just feeling great! At the end of the day we saw that beaming smile again too. Mountain passes, beautiful views and lots of it. Mike was in his element, as you can see in the video below.

We made a couple of photos at the Welcome to Spain sign and enjoyed the sun. Because that’s another thing that amazed us. Italy had been pretty wet and cloudy, While the south of France and our entry into Spain were covered in more UV radiation than we had expected. We would have been happy with just dry weather, but had the best we could have hoped for. The skies were clear, the mornings crisp, which gave amazing views. The cold didn't bother us as we had glorious sunshine! 

At the end of the second day in the Pyrenees we had covered just 160 km, which took us again a whole day. A good sign as it meant there was lots to see. The Pyrenees in Spain truly are amazing! While we have been on the road now for two years, and have seen some amazing scenery, the Pyrenees still impressed us. It also struck me that we tend to go on touring holidays or vacation in the summer, especially on a motorcycle. Yet we had the best weather in the autumn and winter, and didn't find the roads blocked by thousands of holiday makers either. I'm seriously beginning to believe that the best time to visit southern Europe is in Autumn and Spring, providing you have good motorcycle clothing of course. Before us were the Spanish highlands, which you can read about in the next post.