April 22, 2017. Day 29

Beziers to Montpellier – 82km

(D28, N112, D37e16, D137e2, D32e12, D51, D613)

It was one of those days where cycling conditions alternated between the sublime and the ridiculous. On leaving Beziers, we made a mistake and found ourselves on the N112, which was extremely fast and busy with returning holiday traffic. We exited when we could and a short time later realized we were near the Canal du Midi and could cycle on a paved and peaceful path for a few kilometres. Close to Portiragnes, as we left the canal, the map showed that we were only 500m from the coast. A short detour took us to the shores of the Mediterranean! This was a landmark as, since  2013, we have cycled from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. We savoured the moment. We also stopped at a patisserie near the beach for a second breakfast. We asked for fried eggs and were served 4 each!

We continued on winding quiet roads just inland, past camp sites, trailer parks and amusement parks. At Agde, we spotted the interesting  Cathédrale Saint-Etienne across the river. Constructed of black basalt in the 12th C, it served also as a fortress. The local hotel is built right up against the walls.

After Agde, we rejoined busy roads. Apart from a short stretch on a bike path near Bouzigue, we had to contend with heavy traffic into Montpellier. As on previous days, stretches of road were bordered by tall Plane trees, which may have been planted by nobility to line roads leading up to their estates, or by Napoleon, who apparently ordered extensive planting to shade his marching armies from the heat of the midday sun. Whatever the history, the trees complicate life for cyclists, as they narrow the road, preventing any possible room for hard shoulders (something already sorely lacking in our experience cycling in France so far), the roots push up the pavement, while the shade from the canopy disguises the bumps!

We had good views of the Étang de Thau, into which both the Canal du Midi and the Canal du Rhône enter to access the sea at Sète. The lagoon is the source of large amounts of shellfish, in particular, oysters.

Encounters: – A young women who walked up to us as we were having a final coffee outside our hotel in Beziers. After asking about our trip, she said our family and friends must be very proud of us (we said they are), that she would love to do the same sometime and wished us “bon voyage et bon courage”;

– By the beach at Portiragnes, we were approached by another women, Jutta, who had cycled with her husband in South and central America and was envious of our journey;

– Last evening at dinner we were served by a young women from Venezuela who had completed two years of law in her home country and has just been accepted into law school here. She wishes to practice international humanitarian law (we gave her our card);

-On Sunday in the Place royale du Peyrou,  we met a couple from the Netherlands who were with their 6 year old son. They were experienced and enthusiastic cyclists and were starting a week’s trip from Montpellier to Barcelona. Their son was able to pedal on the trailer towed by his father (see picture below).

We are now signing off until April 30 as we are taking a break to visit again with our newest grandson, his big sister and their parents.

Wildlife notes: Glossy Ibis and Greater Flamingoes

The Canal du Midi (again)
The Mediterranean
Étang du Thau
Place royale du Peyrou
Aqueduc Saint-Clément

April 21, 2017. Day 28

Carcassonne to Beziers – 75km

It was cold and clear again this morning. The temperature is  not much above 0  degrees C when we head out, climbing to around 9C  by afternoon. During the previous two days cycling we had had a strong, cold tailwind, which continued to blow in Carcassonne. From the references to local winds made in the presentations in the Cité, we have probably been experiencing Le Vent Tramontane, which brings dry, cold air from the north.

As we cycled east over the Pont Neuf, we had a lovely view of the Cité and Pont Vieux, and probably our last of the snow-capped Pyrenees in the background. We were soon in the midst of the vineyards of Minervois. The terra-cotta roofs and olive groves indicated  we were getting closer to the Mediterranean.

We met up with the Canal du Midi a fews times, in particular at Azille where it is carried by an aqueduct. We confirmed that the tow path was not suitable for our bikes.

We had lunch in Cabezac at an unpretentious bar/brasserie/gas station, with a great sunny patio.  We looked dubiously at the menu de jour, which was buffet entrées and all meat mains. A waitress, who spoke to us in French, but then switched to English when she heard us speaking (she was from England) said we could try the buffet.  Skeptically, we went inside to see and we’re amazed to find fresh artichokes in olive oil, sardines, chick pea salad with fresh mint, sun dried tomato tart,  and potato salad with smoked herring, among other things!

We are staying in Beziers, another lovely old hill-town, which of course meant a stiff uphill climb with the bikes at the end of the day! This town suffered a massacre of 6000 people in 1209 at the hand of the “Black Prince” before he went on to attack Carcassonne during the Albigensian Crusade.



April 20, 2017. Day off – Carcassonne

Our walk in the morning took us through the old town and over the Pont Vieux (14th C) spanning the River Aude. This provided a great first  glimpse of the medieval castle.

The history of the ancient Cité de Carcassonne and the Bastide de Saint Louis or “old city” is long and fascinating.  After our few hours visiting, a few things stand out. We learned of Catherism, a belief popular in Carcassonne in the 12thC, but deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. In 1209, Pope Innocent III ordered a Crusade against the Cathars and established the Inquisition in France,  leading to the surrender of Carcassonne to the crusading army led by the “Black Knight”, Simon de Montfort.  The inhabitants of the Cité were not massacred, unlike their less fortunate neighbors (see blog tomorrow), but were forced to leave the town.  A “new” town, the Bastide Saint Louis, based on a grid pattern, was created across the river in 1247 by Louis IX .

Additions  and modifications to the Cité continued,  but eventually the fortress fell into ruins. Pressured by residents and others, the Government of France reversed its decision to demolish the Cité and work on restoration began in 1853, directed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Le-Duc, who  was also responsible for the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris, and who decided to restore the fortress in the period of Louis IX. This approach to restoration was criticized in his lifetime and also in the 20th C, as it ignored the fact that the fortress survived a mixture of styles. The work of restoration included the Comtal Chateau  and the Basilique of St. Nazaire.

In 1997, the City of Carcassonne was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as “an excellent example of a medieval fortified town whose massive defences were constructed on walls dating from Late Antiquity. It is of exceptional importance by virtue of the restoration work carried out in the second half of the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in conservation principles and practice.”

Basilque St. Nazaire

April 19, 2017. Day 27

Villefranche-de-Lauragais to Carcassonne – 65km

As we had expected, the surface of the canal path soon deteriorated now we had passed into the l’Aude region. After watching a couple of boats navigate the locks, we reached the summit, where the waters divide,  At that point the path changed to a dirt track which we followed for a while, but then had to revert to roads. The traffic  was reasonably heavy and with no hard shoulder, which was a bit of a shock after the very pleasant ride along the canal. Eventually, we saw the Cité of Carcassonne in the distance.

Parkinson’s note: A couple of recent news stories (1, 2,) highlight the importance of exercise, including cycling,  to persons affected by PD (thanks Lorraine and Mish for forwarding). In addition to the benefits of exercise in maintaining strength, balance and prolonging independence,  research suggests that aerobic exercise may actually slow the progress of PD. There is no consensus, however, on what types of exercise may be most beneficial.

April 18, 2017. Day 26

Muret to Villefranche-de-Lauragais – 58km 

(D15a, D12, D817, D42, N20, D120)

Cycling today was a joy! Last evening we made a decision to try to cycle as much of the Canal du Midi as possible, which meant riding into the outskirts of Toulouse. After Muret, we had a quiet ride through villages on the banks of the Garonne, much of it on bike paths. We then had about 6km of, as Lois describes, vomit-inducing, shoulder-less cycling on the very busy Route d’Espana. Once inToulouse, we were able to take advantage of separate bike paths and bike lanes all the way to the Canal. The infrastructure was much appreciated.

Wine walking tour of Bordeaux region in 2009

We had seen the entrance to the Canal Latéral de la Garonne on a wine walking tour near Bordeaux  in 2009. This canal was joined to the Canal du Midi  (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in the 1800’s. We had looked forward to perhaps travelling along these waterways in the future.

After Paul did some  maintainance on a brake lever,  we joined many cyclists, runners and walkers on the wide smooth path. It was paved all the way and shaded by large plane trees.   There were a number of large canal boats moored at various places, but very little traffic on the water. The path seemed flat, but  it does gradually ascend, via the locks, until the water changes direction and descends towards the Mediterranean at Seuil de Naurouze. We were surprised to read that that this feat of engineering was opened in 1692.

Arriving in Villefranche-de-Lauragais, we walked around the town, picking up some supplies. Our hotel – Hôtel and Restaurant du Lauragais – is known for its “royal cassoulet”,  made with beans, homemade sausage and  duck leg confit. When asked whether it is possible to have a vegetarian version, we were told in no uncertain terms that the meat  is “obligatoire”! The fish dishes were excellent!

We will be back on the Canal in the morning.

Chapelle du Canal á L’Écluse de Négra

April 17, 2017. Day 25

Saint Gaudens to Muret – 73km

(D817, D49, D15, D15a)

We had joined the Garonne River just before Saint Gaudens and today we cycled on the Garonne-Toulouse plain all the way to Muret. The only hills were bridges over the autoroute! The snow-capped Pyrenees were finally visible at sunrise and all day, while gradually receding in the distance.

We stopped for coffee in a bar in Saint Martory, not noticing the poster of Marine Le  Pen until after we ordered our espressos, which incidentally were terrible!

But then, just around the corner, we came upon a church with a 12thC portal and a Neolithic menhir just beside.

The baguette we bought yesterday was lunch, together with the rest of some sheep’s cheese, which we ate at a picnic table in Saint Elix de Chateau. Other picnickers were nearby and one walked over for a chat. They were from Belgium on their way to Lourdes. He and his son had cycled to Compostela all the way from their home a few years ago!

The challenges of finding a place to eat on the Easter weekend continued when we arrived in Muret, where most restaurants were closed and no taxis were running. We cycled into the town and up and down most streets, eventually finding a Vietnamese restaurant just opening, where we filled up on salad rolls, vegetable noodles and ginger shrimp.

We hit the 1500 km mark today!

Saint Martory – fisher
Eglise de Saint Martory
Neolithic menhir
Sculpture by Jean-Louis Toutain

April 16, 2017. Day off – Saint Gaudens

Easter  Sunday here was very quiet. With our usual cyclers’ appetites, not quite assuaged by the typical breakfast of yoghurt, baguette, croissant and coffee, we searched in vain for a restaurant or patisserie opened on Easter Sunday.  (The one restaurant opened, in the Hotel du Commerce, was full for lunch so we booked a table for dinner.) We did find a boulangerie, where we bought a couple of baguettes (one for tomorrow, just in case), then searched for the supermarket, only to find it had closed at 12:30. Fortunately, we found a kebab house opened and were able to get good falafel sandwiches, which we ate sitting on a bench in the sunshine, looking out towards the Pyrenees (which so far, have been covered in cloud.)

Saint-Gaudens is a strange place. The city is at an altitude of 405 m on a ledge overlooking the valley of the Garonne, facing the Pyrenees. Consequently, many of the old buildings, including our hotel, have high balconies to take advantage of the view. Unfortunately, that view is dominated by an enormous pulp mill, built in the 1950’s (but without the distinctive odour that we associate with pulp mills in Canada)!

The city was originally called Mas-Saint-Pierre, before taking the name of the young shepherd, Gaudens, beheaded by the Visigoths at the end of the 5th century for refusing to renounce his faith. The wonderful Romanesque Collegiate Church of St Peter and St Gaudens contains a tapestry, showing the story of the martyrdom of Saint Gaudens, as well as in an exquisite small stained glass window. The church cloisters had been sold as a national asset in 1810! They have since been rebuilt, with original pieces and plaster casts. The smaller tower or chevet has a sculpture of a sheep on the outside.

After FaceTime chats with little ones in BC and Paris, we had a very nice meal at the Hotel du Commerce.

April 14 & 15, 2017. Day 23 & Day 24

Oloron Sainte Marie to Tarbes – 68km (N134 & D936)

Tarbes to Saint Gaudens – 67km (D817, D938, D638, D817)

Oloron Ste Marie

The elevation charts reflect the fact that we have been cycling across the foothills of the Pyrenees, rather than away from them. In retrospect, this was not the most sensible routing decision, but it avoided the large city of Toulouse and is the most direct route to Montpellier, where we soon get to have another visit with our new grandson and his big sister!

Oloron-Sainte-Marie is in the Aquitaine region of south-west France. The earliest inhabitants in the south-west were thought to be the Aquitani, who were not proper Celtic people, but more akin to the Iberians. It is believed that the prevailing language of Aquitaine during the late pre-historic to Roman period was an early form of the Basque language. Oloron is also famous as the capital of the basque beret.

We left Oloron in a low mist, which obscured views of the snow-capped Pyrenees and made cycling along the busy, shoulderless N134 a bit difficult. We turned off on the much quieter D936, which took us up through Rébénacq, where we stopped for coffee, and Nay, for lunch. We noticed the Musée du Béret in Nay, which sells the traditional Basque berets made in Oloron. The last 20 kms before Tarbes was flat, but once again very busy and without a shoulder. We saw signs to Lourdes, another major Catholic pilgrimage site,  and passed the Aéroport de Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées, where many large passenger jets were lined up to be dismantled.

Aéroport de Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées: plane dismantling






Tarbes is a large industrial town. Our hotel was new, but next to several revitalized buildings. We discovered that these were formerly an armaments factory from 1871 to 2006. Of interest is that Jean Baptiste Vechère de Reffye moved an experimental artillery workshop here from Meudon (where Chris and Shinyoung now live) to commence the production.

The region has a history of textile production which accounted for seeing many old mills. Sheep supplied wool and supply milk for very fine cheese, some of which we have been eating for lunch on the road.

Today’s ride took us through rolling countryside with the mountains to the south, covered in clouds. Lilac and wisteria were in full bloom. We passed through many villages and small towns such as Tournay, where we had coffee. This was, to us, a typical community of the area, with a busy square, plane trees, a dominant Marie and narrow streets. The small villages seemed to be dominated by agriculture. The rain, which had been forecast, held off, but it was a grey, cold day.

We are looking forward to connecting with family tomorrow, Easter Sunday, as we take a break in Saint Gaudens.

Coffee note: no espresso with a score greater than 5.5/10, as yet in France. We’re missing Portuguese espresso!

Former Oustau ceramic factory
Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréjeau

April 12 & 13, 2017. Day 21 & Day 22

Pamplona to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France – 73km

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Oloron Ste. Marie – 81km

We were sad to say goodbye to Helen and Wayne, as they headed off to San Sebastián and we, to France. We talked about possibly meeting up on the Australia leg of our tour.

We were a bit apprehensive about crossing the Pyrenees, but the  gradient of the first two long climbs on the N135 was manageable. We also realized that we had started at a higher elevation (Pamplona is at 446m, while Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is at 259m). On one of the ascents, Paul witnessed a couple of cyclists coming down at speed, only to see the leader brake quickly which caused his partner to brake, lose control and flip over the handlebars. Her bike landed on top of her, but she was OK. Without knowing that Paul is a physician, she asked him to check her back for injuries.

The last ascent was steep, but short, and we attained the Alto de Ibaneta (1057m),  where the views north and south were spectacular. An ancient stone marker, as well as a more recent one and a large Crucifix marked the Camino. Whatever one’s beliefs, it is hard not to be moved by and feel a spiritual connection with this ancient pilgrimage route, particularly from the vantage point of standing on top of the Pyrenees.

From the summit, we had an incredibly long, continual ascent for 90 minutes over 26 kms, crossing the border into France in the process. There was no sign of the border, apart from signs changed from Spanish/ Basque to French/ Basque and the fact that we were now riding on the D933.

After Saint-Jean, we noticed posters advertising the run that had been going on when we arrived in Pamplona. A taxi driver in Pamplona had told us that it is a run of 200km, with each person running 1km. He had taken part with his family and parents, starting in his home town. It is a celebration of Basque culture and straddles Spain and France. Incidentally, in Pamplona, parents can elect to have their children educated in Basque and English or Spanish and English.  According to our taxi driver, 40-50% of people in Pamplona speak the Basque language.

Between Saint-Jean-Pied and Oloron Sainte Marie, we left the Pyrenees behind only to see them again more dramatically at the end of the day. The landscape of the French foothills is  rolling and richly agricultural, arable, with cattle and sheep.

We happened to notice a sign indicating the location of Camp Gurs, used betwern 1939-1945 for interning nationalists fleeing Spain after the Spanish Civil War and later for German Jews living in France,  some of whom were deported to concentration camps in Germany. It was a sober moment of remembrance.

Camino encounters:

– On our way to Pamplona,  we had a lovely conversation with a couple from Iceland around our age who were on their honeymoon! They were cycling the Camino with electric-assisted bikes, which they were finding quite heavy for the purpose. They offered to give us advice on cycling in Iceland, which we hope to be able to take advantage of in the future.

– After coffee in Zubiri, we chatted to a cyclist from Brazil who was trying to cycle in the Camino itself. It had taken him 5 hours to get to the top of the Ibaneta the day before and he was having knee problems as a result of the steep descent today. We told him we have been cycling on the adjacent roads and gave him our cycling guide to the Camino, for which we he was very grateful.

– At lunch in Viscarret, we met a couple of Camino hikers from Oregon who had sold their house and had been travelling for two years. This was their second time doing the Camino in two years. This time they had started in Le Puy.

Alto Ibaneta
Entering France

Pelote court – Uharte
Camp Gurs

April 10-11, 2017. Days off – Pamplona

World Parkinson’s Day – April 11th

Parkinson’s Disease in Spain: The prevalence of Parkinson’s Disease can be estimated by household surveys, medication usage and clinical reports. For Spain, the prevalence of PD, as estimated by these methods, is similar to that of other European countries and Canada, which  translates into 300,000 persons in Spain with the condition. On writing about the social impact of Parkinson’s Disease in Spain,  Garcia-Romos (Garcia-Ramos R, Valdés EL, et al. Neurologica 2016; 41(6):401-13) states that, although there is at least one specialist PD unit in each of the autonomous communities, there are no specific rehabilitation programmes in any of these units, or in any public hospitals. According to the Spanish National Health System’s list of common services in 2006, rehabilitation, including physical, occupational, and speech therapy, is currently provided only for those patients with a reversible functional loss. The public health system does not therefore include treatment that patients with PD need, including physical, speech, and occupational therapy, and psychological support. As with Canada,  gaps are filled by patient associations. Garcia-Ramos reports that patients are not aware that these associations exist, and neither are they told about the benefits of these treatments. He also concludes that the direct costs of PD are in the order of 7,500 € per year, which does not take into account the financial burden on families as care givers.

Today (April 11) is World Parkinson’s Day. It was the birthday of James Parkinson, who, in 1817,  published  ‘An Essay on the Shaking Palsy’. The publication established Parkinson’s as an internationally recognised medical condition. April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month and this year marks the bicentennial of the first description of Parkinson’s disease. Please support us in our efforts to increase awareness of PD by disseminating our blog and making a donation to PSBC (see home page). Organizations such as the Parkinson Society of BC play a vital role in filling gaps in services and providing support to families.

Days off in Pamplona –  It has been such a treat to spend time with dear friends from Yellowknife, Helen and Wayne, who did a side trip to Pamplona to meet up with us. We have walked along the murallas, visited the fascinating and very informative Centro de Interpretación de las Murallas and the Catedral de Santa María, shopped in the narrow streets (Helen discovered a wool shop!), lingered over coffee and lunches in the sunny Plaza del Castillo including at the Café Iruña, one of Ernest Hemingway’s haunts. Hemingway’s relationship with the city is well described in an article in the Independent newspaper in 2011 – The old man and the city : Hemingway’s love affair with Pamplona. We also consumed a variety of pinchos, with glasses of beer and wines of Navarre, reminisced and laughed…We will miss these two!

A super bike store down the street from the hotel, Mundoraintxe, equipped us with a new mirror and kickstand for Paul’s bike, and did maintenance on the bottom bracket of Lois’ bike. We are ready to climb over the Pyrenees tomorrow!

Cafe Iruna
Catedral de Santa Maria

April 9, 2017. Day 20

Estella to Pamplona – 44km

We left Estella through the old town, which was lovely in the early sunlight.

We are now in the beautiful rolling foothills of the Pyrenees, which meant two very long climbs for us. We could see snow capped  mountains in the distance.

The route took us past the remains of an old Roman bridge and stone steps on the Camino at Cirauqui, and the 11th C bridge at Puente La Reina,  where the two Caminos (the Camino Franceés and the Aragonese Way) meet. The bridge was built by Queen Muniadona of Castile for use by the pilgrims.

When the N1110, which we had been following most of the way,  stopped short of Pamplona, we had a frustrating time trying to get into the city, despite being able to easily see it. When we finally made our way to the old town, we found ourselves amid throngs of people, celebrating after an organised run (20-Korrika). We dropped our things at the hotel and wandered around in the sunshine to soak up the atmosphere. More and more,  we are seeing signs in Spanish and Basque or just Basque. This is a language that is not recognizable. A look at the website of the Korrika event, for example, was not helpful. Incidentally, today, we saw that ETA, the Basque nationalist and separatist organization, had just given up a large cache of arms, having declared a ceasefire in 2011.

We are excited to be seeing old friends from our Cambridge Bay days, tomorrow. Helen and Wayne, who are holidaying in Spain, are arriving by train from Barcelona tomorrow to visit with us for a couple of days before heading on to Bilbao.

Wildlife note: vulture ?Black or Griffon (it was way up in the sky!)

The Camino – Estella
Puente La Reina
Where the Caminos meet

April 7 & 8, 2017. Day 18 & Day 19.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Logroño – 52km

Logroño to Estella – 47km


The hills are still with us, but with no headwind the last two days, the cycling has been a lot easier.

We are continuing to follow (in reverse) the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), occasionally on the path itself, but mostly on roads that run alongside (N120 and 120A to Legrono; N111 & NA1110 to Estella) (sometimes the Camino is on the road) or that meet up periodically with the Camino. This Camino de Santiago, also known as the Camino Francés (the French Way), is the most popular of a number of ancient pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia. St. James, one of the Twelve Apostles and brother of John the Apostle, is the patron saint of Spain and, according to legend, his remains are held at Santiago de Compostela. Where before, our presence on the road or passing through a town has been generally ignored, we are now being greeted with a respectful “buen Camino!”

We have spoken to a few “pilgrims” – an Australian, a couple from New Zealand, 3 cyclists from Germany, who were finding the 25/30 km days long. A young cyclist we met today had started yesterday on her own from Pamplona and looked quite discouraged. She looked so disappointed when we said we were going the other direction. We get the impression that, at least for the hikers, there is the camaraderie and support of other hikers on the trail, which is not the case for a cyclist doing it alone.

We cycled through Rioja vineyards yesterday, the vines just starting to shoot. We had had a wonderful Rioja the night before in Santa Domingo de la Calzada; a typical blend will consist of approximately 60% Tempranillo and up to 20% Garnacha, with much smaller proportions of Mazuelo and Graciano.

After a fairly easy ride in the morning, the afternoon became more complicated when the N120 turned into an A road and we had to detour through the hilly area around Ventosa. We were later able to follow (and lose and regain) the Camino. Arriving in Logroño our first (booked) hotel refused our bikes, so we used another Lonely Planet recommendation, Hotel Calle Mayor, where we got a much better reception – the young man on the reception desk was a cyclist, who competed in long distance races and planned to cycle to and climb Mt. Blanc.

Apparently, Calle Laurel in Legroño is known for its pinchos (tapas) bars and the Australian hiker had specifically recommended Bar Soriano, for its stacked mushrooms. However, unable to wait until 8:30-9:00, we found another bar open which served various fish pinchos, all of which went down well with glasses of Rioja.

Today, we left Logroño passing over the Rio Ebro. We rode on the Camino for a while, which was lovely, walking our bikes up a steep hill through a village, then back on the road when the Camino path turned to gravel.

Just when Lois was waxing lyrically about the serenity of the day, we were overtaken by rally drivers from Torres de Rio to just before Villamayor de Monjardin (III Rallye de Circuito de Navarre).

On a good downhill stretch into Estella we stopped at Benedictine Monastry of Irache which has, for pilgrims and other travelers like ourselves we think, water fountain AND a wine fountain.

Wildlife notes: Long-legged Buzzard and Black-winged Kite.

It was wonderful to receive an email from Paul (Martin) whom we met on our cross-Canada trip in 2013 and cycled with for a few days in northern Ontario. He is an avid cyclist from the U.K. who is now living in Montreal. Hopefully we will meet up again sometime in the future!

Wildlife notes: Long-legged Buzzard and Black-winged Kite

Camino in Santa Domingo de la Calzada
Outside the Alberque de Peregrinos, Ste Domingo…
Snow capped mountains to the south
Statue to the pilgrims (we think)
Rioja vineyard





Rio Ebro, Logroño
Pilgrims on the Camino
Runis of San Esteban de Deyo
Looking north towards Cordillera Cantábrica

Water AND wine fountain video

April 6, 2017. Day 19

Burgos to Santo Domingo de la Calzada  – 68km

We left Burgos via the Arco de Santa Maria and along the cycle path east along the river to the N120. This road follows the Camino de Santiago. We had hoped for perhaps not an easy, but at least a contemplative ride on, or alongside, the pilgrimage route. But, it was not meant to be. A continuing strong, gusty northwest wind, together with a constant, heavy stream of truck traffic were an assault on all our senses. We chose not to cycle on the unpaved surface of the Camino, but even if we had, much of it was beside the highway, so it would not have removed us from the insistent drone of the traffic.

There were a few hikers on the trail and some cyclists, like us, taking the highway. The traffic and the hills didn’t allow for much communication, apart from brief greetings and waves. We were curious to know what it was like hiking this part of the Camino so close to a busy road.

As we climbed, we were surrounded by mixed forest. We hit our highest point so far, at Puerto de La Pedraja (1150 m). Descending to Villafranca Montes de Oca, we stopped for lunch of soup and grilled hake. Later, we passed over the Rio Oja. We are now in Rioja wine country.

In the afternoon, we were surprised to see caves and a church on a sandstone cliff above Tosantos. According to Wikipedia, 800 years ago a woman, known as La Ermita, lived in a cave in the cliffs above Tosantos and ministered to the passing Pilgrims.

By the time we cycled into the attractive old town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the wind had finally dropped somewhat. We hope this bodes well for tomorrow.

We are staying in a hotel that is an adaptation of a thousand-year old Pilgrims’ Hospital.

Arco de Santa Maria
Trucks, Paul and the Camino
Santo Domingo de la Calzada

April 5, 2017. Day off – Burgos

Cultural highlight: Burgos Cathedral – UNESCO world heritage site








Coffee of note: Cafe Latino, Calle de Lain Calvo, 20

April 3 & 4, 2017. Day 17 & Day 18

Valladolid to Torquemada – 80km

Torquemada to Burgos – 92 km

45% of Spain is covered by the Meseta Plateau, a high plateau which is rarely flat, and is in reality a mostly hilly highland area divided by the Cordillera Central and then ringed by additional mountain ranges, north, east and south. So, the plains we were so relieved to see a few days ago were, in fact, illusionary, at least from the perspective of cycle tourers!

We have gone from the rich red soil further south to a stark and arid land, with very few trees. Where cereal crops are growing, there are extensive irrigation systems, including an old canal system. The clay-coloured villages blend into the landscape, with only a church spire or grain elevator to distinguish them from the rocky outcrops.

The weather has been sunny, but cold. The temperature drops to around zero at night, warming up a little by the afternoon. We are still cycling in most of our layers.

Even the most direct routes on minor roads where bicycles are permitted take us either meandering down into river valleys or up through hilltop fortress towns. Although the road surfaces are generally good, our route on Monday included a tiring 20 km stretch of patched and broken asphalt on the P131.

It is a region of wind turbines; at times we were surrounded. Just before Torquemada, we passed by the castle of Hornillas de Carrato with the hills behind dotted with windmills and pock-marked with caves from gypsum mining. The approach to Torquemada is over a lovely bridge. It is an ancient town which was the birthplace of the first Grand Inquisitor of the infamous “Spanish Inquisition”, Tomás de Torquemada.

We were starving when we arrived in Torquemada, as, being Monday, we had failed to find anywhere opened for a midday meal. Lunch was 1/2 apple each, some salted peanuts and chocolate beside the road! (Note to file: stock up on oat cakes, or Spanish equivalent.) We found a bar open at 7:00 pm, but we could only get a drink. We headed back to the “hostal” for showers and to wait for the cafe next door to open at 8:30. Despite its rather shabby appearance, we had a good meal of fresh salad, fried eggs and fries, homemade cheesecake with local blackberry preserves and local wine. The proprietor, who spoke French, told us how to get onto the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, heading north to Castrojeriz.

There was a brutal cold headwind as we headed out the next morning, which didn’t let up for the 90 km ride. As we have found, we can usually find decent espresso in bars in small villages in Spain. They may not appear open. but through the door we have found a warm welcome. Villalaco looked almost deserted, but the bar was open, also serving as a restaurant and grocery store. As we enjoyed our coffees, the owner was replacing the white embroidered curtains with freshly starched ones. Just as we were leaving the village, having a look at the ancient church, the peace was broken by a continuous honking which heralded the fish seller, who parked in the central plaza and waited for customers.

We joined the Camino at the town of Castrojeriz, which is dominated by a high hill with a castle at the summit. There were a few pilgrims/hikers along the road leaving the town. After about 9 kms, the Camino turned into a track. Following the advice of John Higginson, on cycling the Camino de Santiago, we went across country to join the N110 into Burgos. Unfortunately, the wind and hills continued unabated which led to a long afternoon and evening. The last 32 kms took almost 4 hours.

We are having a rest today in Burgos and going to see – you guessed it, the cathedral!

Castle sightings: 3

Hornillos de Cerrato
Church in Villalaco (with conjuratory)
Camino de Santiago de Compestela
Camino and Castrojeriz
Monasterio de San Antón
Olmillos de Sasamón

April 2, 2017. Day 15

 Alaejos to Vallalodid – 68km

Paul missed his oatmeal this morning – breakfast in the bar of the posada was thick slices of toasted bread with butter and jam and coffee con lèche/espresso. He did find more sustenance later with a large slice of tortilla de patatas at a coffee stop near Tordesillas (a place known for the treaty signed in 1494 which divided newly “discovered” lands outside Europe between Portugal and the Crown of Castille. That treaty did not originally give Brazil to Portugal.)

Just after coffee, the flat, straight N620 (which we assume is an old Roman road) disappeared. The Garmin took us up and into the town before we lost confidence in its ability to get us back on route. (The maps on the Garmin are not always completely up to date and we aren’t carrying paper maps with us of a large enough scale to be useful in such circumstances.) Switching to Google Maps, we headed out of town in another direction (stopping for what appeared to be a charity walk), soon ending up on a forked gravel road. In spite of the gravel and the adamant advice from a young woman walking by that we could not get to Valladolid that way, Paul was reluctant to give up faith in our one other source of technological guidance! Lois did not view this as an entirely rational approach. It should be noted that Lois is the keeper of the Garmin, and Paul, Google Maps. Rather promptly, we were retracing our route back through Tordesillas, now an hour since we had pedalled into the town. With allegiance switched back to Garmin, we took the VP-5805 and VP-5806 (the latter at the suggestion of a road cyclist who convinced us it would be quicker). It was much hillier than the N620, but with beautiful scenery, also taking us through the delightful village of Simancas, with its Citadel, dating from the 9th Century, which now houses the national archives. We were also excited to see a signpost to the Camino de Santiago de Compostelo. We hope to join part of this pilgrimage trail from Burgos.

Simancas – citadel dating from the 9th C. Now the national archives
Simamcas – medieval bridge

A good place for tea

April 1, 2017. Day 14

Salamanca to Alaejos – 55km

Today’s quick ride was uneventful, with no rain on the plains in Spain and a helpful, if chilly, tailwind. Of note were two sightings of Hoopoes.

Our stop at the town of Alaejos was chosen because it is halfway to Valladolid, but we soon discovered it has an interesting history, related in part to an uprising of communeros in 1520.

Another fact, of more relevance to our cycle trip, is that Alaejos is the Antipodes of Wellington, New Zealand! (We knew northern Spain was important for this purpose) According to established rules (Guidelines for Human Powered Circumnavigation) a true circumnavigation of the earth must

  • Start and finish at the same point, traveling in one general direction
  • Reach two antipodes (Two diametrically opposite places on Earth).

Alaejos – Iglesia de San Pedro and grain elevators