The Med Pt. I

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Cats in residence at Valencia botanical gardens

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Our hosts’ small, angry tortoise ‘Torty’ having his morning hibiscus flower

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Sierra de Irta national park, just a short ride south of Peñíscola (!)

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One of many abandoned hotels and long forgotten holiday resorts in varying states of completion, that litter the dusty Mediterranean coast. Deserted olive groves and farm buildings make for good but slightly spooky camping.

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We took a detour through the Delta de l’Ebre, an expansive wetland famed for birdlife and rice growing. Flamingo!

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Templar castle overlooking Miravet, Catalonia.

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An old ‘chain ferry’, one of the few still using the flow of the river to drive it across. After we crossed a giant 4×4 managed to squeeze on deck, with a lot of clunking…

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We stumbled across a strange agricultural show, just in time as Zak was beginning to feel the strain of missing Frome Cheese Show

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One of our happiest moments on the road is when we find a Lidl and indulge in a Floopy Bombo.

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The eternal struggle for roadside pomegranates.

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A chemical factory near Vila Seca, Catalonia. As you can see, they are building several prototypes of the Death Star.

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One night we woke to a scrabbling noise around our panniers. Fearing bears or wayward Spanish youths, we shone the light outside, only to find a one-eyed fox confidently watching us from the bushes. We brought the cheese inside, but this didn’t stop him sniffing round our heads at 2am, and grumpily growling when we wouldn’t let him in.

Safety first

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Barcelona!

Here’s a selection from the few pictures we took while in Barcelona and not busy drinking cheap beer.

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Noisy child control

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Really great ceiling…

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Free climbing tunnel! One for you Joe T.

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Pyrenees, Cheese, and Sore Knees

After about an hour of cycling we stopped for a rest and some suncream near some vines, well, everywhere was near vines. A huddle of grape pickers, one guy called and motioned for us to come over. What shall we do? I dunno. Shall we go over? I’m scared. Me too. We decided that if he called another time we would go for it. We were greeted by a rag tag bunch of folk in soiled overalls, cheerfully handed an endless stream of bread, pate, sausages and plastic cups of wine. One, repeatedly described as “tres bon!” was vintage 2005, a deep, spicy red with a strong taste of dusty cloves. By now everyone had become fairly tipsy. Twice two of the older guys inexplicably pulled their trousers down to reveal time faded saggy Y fronts and danced around. After a couple of hours we said our goodbyes, struggling to find words of thanks enough in our crap French, and wobbled off into the hot afternoon sun.

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Peyrepertuse Castle

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Roadside foraging…

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Casual route planning.

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A niggling feeling of doubt grew to worry as the path became increasingly boulder strewn. We reached a long dark tunnel, blocked in the middle by large parts of the ceiling, and the remnants of a dangerous abandoned mine perched at 1000m – not on our map. We were lost, and the only alternative was to backtrack down the steep mountain paths we had spent all day battling up. Just as we were about to cry, a cheery bunch of elderly French hikers came bounding down the path. Their proper IGN hiking map revealed where we had gone wrong, but that we could easily get back on track. We ate lunch together – biscuits, yoghurts, loom band bracelets, fig jelly stuff, pate, glasses of wine, and the map were all thrust into our hands. They even tried to give Alice their cup. Relieved and tipsy we set off on the right path.

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Tasty ceps!

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Up and up we climbed, stopping occasionally to cry or wolf down a snickers bar. We reached the limit of our endurance long before the top, spurred on by vague promises from roadside signs of a bar at the “frontier”, and our excitement to reach the Spanish border. The dramatically cloud swept border pass gave no indication we were entering another land, and the bar was closed. We ate lunch and rested, the occasional carfull of middle aged tourists in polo shirts stopping for a look before deciding too that it was a bit shit, and shivering off. We are in España! Though roadside graffitti informed us Spain was actually 210km away. Catalunyan nationalism is like the Scottish Yes campaign on speed.

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Canals…

A week or so of cycling along the Canal Lateral and Canal du Midi (starting just inland from Bordeaux on the river Garonne, to Toulouse, and continuing towards Carcassonne) has taught us that Ed was right – canals get pretty boring for cycling once you’ve seen your first triple lock, aqueduct and hall of trees. There are however some compensations such as the abundance of fig trees at the locks and the friendly waterside critters.

 

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Spot the frogs!

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Crazy retro canal train thing. This is called a ‘Pont d’Eau’ (‘water bridge’) which somehow manages to carry boats uphill without locks. Or so we guessed from the sign.

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Velorution bike workshop, Toulouse

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Spot the Zak!

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Vegetable lockers in Montolieu! An innovative solution to French shops being closed all the time…

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Montolieu, near Carcassonne