14 – 19 September 2011: Marrakech, Morocco

Wednesday, 14 September 2011:  Tarifa

We decided last night to head to Marrakech, so off we go.  We are going to drive to Tarifa where there is a ferry port.  The drive soon turns to being very windy and obviously it is windy in this region considering the millions of wind turbines and also the quantity of solar farms.  It is interesting that the footprint for the wind turbines is considerably smaller than in Australia and nobody here seems to have an issue with them being on the surrounding hills?  Maybe it is a case of better this than nothing.  We eventually make it into Tarifa late in the day and after checking the prices at a couple of campsites setting on Camping Torre de la Pena 1 (www.campingtp.com) where we could get a spot overlooking the ocean.  It is very windy and all you can see along the coast are kite and wind surfers.   

Wind turbines everywhere - fantastic
Wind turbines everywhere - fantastic

 

Thursday, 15 September 2011:  Tarifa

We head into the town centre to look at some car parking options and ferry prices.  We find it almost impossible to park a motorhome in a secure spot, but negotiate with a secure undercover carpark to purchase two parking spots for several days which seemed our best option.  Although Scott is getting good at reversing the motorhome back up all the streets that we keep getting sent down on our parking quest.  With the parking sorted we walk through Tarifa which has an old section but seems to be fairly boring in comparison to other towns.  We find a small electric shop and finally purchase a little gas top coffee percolator and also some coffee.  Finally a decent coffee to wake up for.  The ferry leaves every hour to Tanger and there is no need to book.  So tired, hungry and needing to pack we head to another campsite (Camping Tarifa) which turns out to be better and considerably cheaper than last night.  We also find out that we can leave the motorhome here and it will be cheaper than the other secure parking and we can leave the electricity plugged in to keep everything cold and ticking over – perfect solution.  So we have a meal to use up as much fresh food as we have and an early night after packing a few bits.

Friday, 16 September 2011:  Tanger, Morocco

Final packing and our daypacks are ready, so we lock up Vinnie and hope he is here when we return and start the walk into Tarifa, which didn’t seem far when we drove it.  It turned out to be much farther than we thought and we arrived at the ferry port at 10:55.  We thought there was no way we would get onto the ferry, but we whizzed through the ticket purchase, straight to passport control (who laughed at Scott’s passport and said not to wash it again – I know I made a mistake).  We boarded the ferry at exactly 11:00 and we were on our way.  This is a huge ferry with hardly any passengers on it, so figured they would probably wait for us if we had gone slower.  The ride was advertised as taking 35 minutes, however, 1 ½ hours later we finally arrived in Tanger.  We got a map from the ferry port and headed to what looked like the train station (or as we are now back to speaking French – le Gare), however, after walking for a long time we realised the map and where the train station were do not line up even closely.  We got to the train station and booked onto the night train to Marrakesh with a bed which leaves Tanger at 9pm and gets into Marrakech at 8am.  We bought some postcards and the lady at the postoffice (who apparently didn’t speak English but we kept saying she was speaking better English than us), told us how much a taxi etc should cost and what brand of taxi to get etc. 

   

  

 

Picture perfect
Picture perfect

 

 

 

 

This left us the rest of the day to wander through Tanger so we caught a taxi back towards the old part of town.  It is Friday and most things appeared to be shut, so we got a better map at the tourist office where the lady also gave us some names for restaurants and a suggested walking itinerary.  We thought we would walk to the closest restaurants called Hahmadi or Marhaba, but gave up after ½ an hour and walked back to one called Petit Berlin.  This was also much further away than we thought or the tourist information lady hinted at.  Anyway we got there and ordered a vegetable cous-cous for me and a kofta tagine for Scott.  We were given the obligatory free tapas of olives and some anchovies and tried our first mint tea.  The lunch was lovely although fairly mild in flavour the cous-cous was so light and fluffy, nothing like what we have at home.  We then wandered back into the old souk/mosque/medina area, but this time some of the shops had opened so we walked around exploring the area and sticking our noses into everything and anything.  Stopped for another mint tea to quench our thirst.  Eventually we head to the train station to wait for the train.  We grab another mint tea and a hot plate of chips before piling onto the train.  The cabin is fairly small with four berths.  Scott has a bottom berth, I have a top berth and another guy has the other bottom berth.  This guy was fantastic, a South African who has lived and worked all over the place, mainly running guest houses.  He was doing a visa renewal run into Spain and had imbibed a bit too much Spanish port, but had an interesting collection of stories.  I listened for a while and then took some travalcalm and promptly fell asleep.  Waking intermittendly as the train launched itself through the Moroccan countryside at night.

Saturday, 17 September 2011:  Marrakesh, Morocco

On waking we were slowly coming into Marrakesh surrounds where the landscape is fairly boring, no huge sanddunes and small communities.  Instead it seems to be a large rubbish tip with plastic bags as far as the eye can see and the ground is sort of rocky with similar crops as southern Spain.  We arrive at Marrakesh with no map, itinerary, accommodation or an idea where we are actually going.  We manage to buy a map at the train station which at least gives us the areas here in Marrakesh.   We decide to get a taxi to the Place Jemaa-el-Fna  where we grabbed a mint tea and watched the world travel by and all the sights and sounds of a different country and life.  Scott talked some fellow travellers next to us but they are on an Intrepid tour so haven’t been doing much exploring themselves.  They did point us in the direction of where Sex and the City movie was filmed.  We head off towards the medina and the souks only to find out later we had taken a wrong turn and ventured into the Qzadria area and the old palaces.  Still it was fun and exhilarating to be doing something with no plan. 

   

  

 

Not sure if the donkeys were having fun
Not sure if the donkeys were having fun

 

The old archecture is mainly rose-tinted and the old city is enclosed with a ring of ancient walls.  It is the atmosphere and maze-like souks that draw people here and I would also suggest the chaotic feeling, although it isn’t chaotic, it only looks that way.  After first impressions everything does seem to have an order to it. 

 

However, it was getting very hot and we decide we should track down some accommodation and settle on the Ibis which is near the train station.  I know it isn’t flash and glamorous but we are only going to be there for a few days and a lot of the Riads appear to be shut or alternatively are way outside our budget.  We arrive back at the Ibis and fill in the form and then wait for ages for a room.  When Scott checks on our room he is told to fill out a reservation form on the internet, this worked out more expensive than checking in with the rates on the board in reception.  Hmm not sure on their plans.   Anyway as we had already filled in the form, we stuck to our guns and they gave us a room.  We dropped off our bags and headed back into the Medina and found lunch at Cafe Argana again sitting there eating wonderful food, drinking mint tea and watching the world going by.  We venture back into the Medina which is now starting to throb with people and we get a few prices of things we may want.  Headed back to the Ibis for a lie down (Scott has a sore throat) and to relax before going back into the town tonight for dinner.

We head towards the Place Jemaa-el-Fna and wow is it a different place at night, it is absolutely fantastic, people are everywhere and there is so much going on.  The whole centre area is full of food stalls, all offering the same and for the same price, so you just pick one you are convinced to eat at.  Scott starts off at a little stall selling snails which he liked (I was dubious).  We then went to another stall for a vegetable cous-cous and Scott also had a local dish of lamb.  The food was delicious and there are so many people that it is turned over pretty quickly.  We finish our meal off with some sort of ginger/ginseng desert and a hot drink – can’t even begin to explain the flavour except we both slept like logs that night.

Better than a sleeping tablet
Better than a sleeping tablet

Sunday, 18 September 2011:  Marrakesh, Morocco

Up early and after a very mediocre breakfast (this Ibis is nothing like the one in Tanger or Istanbul) we head out to do some sightseeing.  We visit the Bab Agnaou, Tombeaux Saadiens, Palais La Bahia and the Herboristes Epices area.  From the Palais La Bahia you can climb up and see over some of the surrounding buildings.  You are instantly amazed at the sheer number of satellite dishes they are everywhere and anywhere. 

  

 

Satellite city
Satellite city

 

There is quite a lot of work being done and you just know it won’t hold up compared to the original parts of the city.  We also venture into a local market full of meat, fish and veggies.  Most of the stuff looked very fresh and there was a huge variety.  Although I still feel it is offputting to see a whole cows head etc on display.

We then hit the Medina (Souks) and purchase some Moroccan glasses, I get a new scarf (because I didn’t get enough in India), Scott gets some more hookah spice and a few other trinkets that caught our eye.  We have lunch at a little stall which was a nice vegetarian cous-cous and some haricot beans before heading back into more of the Medina. 

  

 

We wish we could bring all these back to Oz
We wish we could bring all these back to Oz

 

Honestly you could walk here for days and sometimes not find what you are looking for, we spend a bit of time trying to locate a shop that sold a specific dish to only find it later when looking for something else.  We stop in the afternoon for the obligatory mint tea and then go back to the Ibis for a lie down and get ready for dinner.  Although we were hoping to get views of Mount Toubkal (North Africa’s highest peak), there is a lot of pollution and a hazy smog that prevents you from seeing much of the horizon.

We venture back into the main place which is as manic as last night and do our last few bits of shopping.  Scott has a hair cut and shave from a local shop and we have dinner which is a gastronomic feast – lots of little bits of everything. 

  

 

Too much choice
Too much choice

 

 

 

We then stock up on dates, figs and pistachios for our trip on the train.  We will certainly miss the sheer mass of humanity and also the smells of food being grilled and cooked everywhere.  We found the people to be helpful and had no problems with the language, in fact being put to shame when nearly everyone spoke at least French, Spanish and English.  There was no pressure to buy things and you could browse and ask questions, taste foods and look at all the variety of spices with minimal fuss. 

Monday, 19 September 2011:  Tarifa, Spain

We get up early and make the 9am train to Tanger.  We have splurged out and got first class and settle in nicely for the trip.  The scenery stays pretty much the same, lots of agriculture, stock and unfinished buildings along with the obligatory rubbish everywhere.  We have to change at Casablanca where we have 1 hour so quickly venture to a nearby food vendor who was puzzled at our request for sandwiches with just salad, however, we eventually got it and then headed back for our ongoing train.  The lady at the ONCF counter said it would take 8 hours.  However, 9 ½ hours later we finally arrive into Tanger after a change of trains in Casablanca.  We manage to snag a taxi and made it to the port at 6:40 and ran for the 7:00 ferry.

The sights from the train back
The sights from the train back

We disembarked in Tarifa and whizzed through passport control, they didn’t ask any questions or even how long we would be in Spain for but we have now got even more stamps (I have gone back to using my Australian passport to keep up with the stamps Scott is getting).  There is a two hour time difference between Tarifa and Tanger, so it is now 11pm and we get a taxi to the campsite.  We arrive to find that Vinnie is still there and everything is still in it.  Whew what an absolute relief.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

08 – 13 September 2011: The end of the Vuelta, Segovia, Toledo and Alhambra, Spain

Thursday, 8 September 2011:  Fromita

We are up early and head to nearby Solares to do some grocery shopping at Carrefour.  This is a massive and I mean massive supermarket – you name it you can get it.  Scott was in heaven in the jamon area of the store – huge, took him ages to make his mind up on what ham he wanted for his sandwiches.  All stocked up, we head to Rubalcaba and use the Aires to empty the toilet cassette and fill up on some water before finding a spot to wait for the riders to come through and grab some feed bags etc.  We find a good spot on an incline just before the sprint and low and behold the tour cars decide we are in a good spot and come and put their cars right where Scott has his flag out.  We then move up a bit more and other cars come. 

It can be lonely sometimes
It can be lonely sometimes

 

 

Eventually the riders come through and it is a huge panic to get all the dropped items.  Scott scores two feed bags (Geox and Omega Lotto), so he is happy and we trundle back into town and just as we are leaving town we run into Ben and Clare who are heading down south.  We make a quick drive to Noja to watch the finish of the day’s racing.  Noja looks like an awesome town, but we too are heading south, so decide to put in some kilometres tonight while the sun is shining.

We eventually pull into an Aries in Fromista as it is getting dark.  Scott talks to the motorhome couple next to us who are from Ireland.  It is so expensive there and unemployment so bad they have sold up everything, bought a motorhome and are moving to Portugal to find somewhere to live, totally awesome.  They have only been driving the motorhome a day, so everything about the trip is totally new to them. 

Friday, 9 September 2011:  Toledo (via Segovia)

Up early and off to Segovia.  This is a Unesco World Heritage listed area and it certainly is beautiful.  The drive is very arid with little to see except wind turbines and solar panels.  Segovia appears on the horizon.  It was originally founded in 80BC and was an important roman settlement.  We easily find a parking spot, have a bite to eat and walk up into town.  The first thing you see is the giant roman aqueduct.  This is huge and rises to approximately 28m high.  Made up of huge granite boulders (no cement for these lads) and brings water from the mountains to the town. 

What have the Romans ever done...
What have the Romans ever done...

 

 

After the Aqueduct is a visit to the Catedral.  This is built in the gothic style of architecture and seems to be typical of what we have seen in Spain so far.  Everything inside is grim, no cheering or happy paintings.  However, the amount of gold and other artefacts again highlights how rich the Catholic church is to the detriment to all those around it.  The cathedral was started in 1525 but had many people working on it over the decades.

Catedral in Segovia
Catedral in Segovia

We walked up to the Alcazar but didn’t go in as it is now some sort of archive museum.  However you do get good views of the surrounding town and it is a nice walk along the walls of the city.  Segovia is a great place – lots to see, do and eat, but we are off further afield, so after our fill of sightseeing, we head off on the road to Toledo.  It is a very hot drive and there aren’t many petrol stations either, so we had to back track to find one as we are getting a bit low and the last thing we want to do out in the middle of nowhere is to try and find an RAC truck.

We were planning to stop at a camping spot along the way, but it didn’t look very appealing, so continued onto Toledo where there is a campsite (el Greco).  We followed the random directions on the GPS, but alas there are some major roadworks in progress, so we felt like we were going in circles.  We pulled into Toledo and headed to the campsite to find a large car park, hmm not boding well.  We decide to drive on up the road a bit more and finally found El Greco.  This is an awesome campsite (although pricey), but has nice shaded spots, great laundry and washing facilities (spotlessly clean), a restaurant (with misters for the hot afternoon) and also a swimming pool which luck would have it closed for the end of the season yesterday.

We decamp and decide to have a drink and then dinner in the restaurant while the washing machine is attempting to destink our clothes (and what a fantastic washing machine/dryer it was).  The wine was nice and cold, although the service was nonexistent.  We ordered dinner to find that my meal was enough to feed about 4 people and the salad was enough for the both of us, however, we gave it the best we could finally staggering back to the camper tired but full.  The views from the restaurant are fantastic and you can see the city lit up.

Toledo at night from our camping spot
Toledo at night from our camping spot

Saturday, 10 September 2011:  Toledo

There is a bus from the campsite into Toledo so we head out at 10:10.  The bus ride is about 10 minutes but at least takes us to the top of the town.  We stand in the mammoth long queue at the tourist office for a map and then head off into the maze of streets and tourist sites.  This is a great place which we didn’t realise.  It was originally a roman city, but was also resided in by the Catholics, Jews and Muslims for many centuries until the Catholics made the Jews and Muslims convert, massacred them or exiled them – go the catholic church.  However, luckily there are some relics of their religions left.  Strangely enough the synagogue now appears to be run by the catholic church (there is even a nun selling souvenirs) with a note saying that all religions should live in harmony blah blah blah, wonder if they realise how hypocritical that saying is. 

The Architecture is very Moorish
The Architecture is very Moorish

 

 

We walk around every which way and then find a little laneway and have a fantastic lunch (I had grilled vegetables and Scott had the mixed grill which had a bit of everything and was huge) all washed down with wine and beer and a chat to a couple of Americans where were driving through Spain, although that also included a detour to Bordeaux for wine tasting.

We walked back to the campsite, although it was now hot, but time for siesta the walk only took about 20 minutes.  As we were sitting down to our motorhome cooked dinner, who should drive up but Ben and Clare after a few days doing their sightseeing, it was great to sit down with a glass and see what they have been up to which is as always interesting.  They are going to stay in Toledo tomorrow, but we are heading off.  Like us they too are struggling a little bit in Spain in trying to find that typical Spanish village.

Sunday, 11 September 2011:  Granada

The drive from Toledo to Granada was boring, so boring.  It was endless scenery of olive trees with some more olive trees to break things up a bit. 

An olive tree anyone
An olive tree anyone

 

 

The drive felt like it lasted forever and we only had a short break for something to eat before getting back into the van.  We arrived in Granada and headed straight to the Aries de camping to find that it seemed to be an underground carpark and therefore we couldn’t fit and there was a fun fair next door.  So we drove instead onto Reina Isabel Camping (www.reinaisabelcamping.com) where we got a campsite, not fantastic, but really cheap as they are an ACSI campsite, plus they had a swimming pool that was open (unlike El Greco in Toledo) and was very inviting.  The reception counter can also book your tickets for Alhambra, so we booked for tomorrow and then unpacked Vinnie and headed to the pool.  The drive had been long, hot and dusty and Scott cracked open a beer and distressed floating in the pool.  Meanwhile I tried to catch some rays and even out my tan. 

Monday, 12 September 2011:  Granada

We decide to get up early and head into Granada so that we leave ourselves plenty of time to get to Alhambra and not be rushed.  We get the 9:30am bus (no. 175-177) from right outside the campsite (Reina Isabel Camping (www.reinaisabelcamping.com)) which whisks us into Granada where we change onto the No. 13 bus to Alhambra.  The bus stops right out the front of the site and one of the nice gentlemen on there points us in the right direction.  This journey took about an hour.  We wander down through the entrance where the tour buses are already disgorging their clients.  Our ticket into Alhambra is for 12:30 which leaves us about 2 hours to wander through Generalife, Alcazaba and the other gardens surrounding the Palacios Nazaries.  We queue up for our tickets official as all you get off the website is a printout which must be exchanged for the tickets at the entrance gates and then queued up for an audioguide (big tip here – don’t bother).  So we have the tickets with our times on it and off we go.  Alhambra is described as the stuff of fairy tales, but to be honest first impressions are a tad disappointing.  Alhambra was built in the 9th century as a fort before being converted into a fortress-palace in the 13-14th centuries.  After the Christian conquest it was eventually handed over to the catholic ruler who of course abandoned it until the 19th century when it was declared a national monument and seems to have undergone substantial restoration works, eventually becoming a Unesco World Heritage site.

Generalife is the gardens and we started there.  It is full of water and plants which leave a tranquil feeling, except for the crowds who are very noisy.  Inside the Generalife is the Jardin de la Sultana which provides some beautiful little spots to take photos.  However it is the Patio de la Acequia that provides the best photos as you can see parts of Alhambra.  You can wander through the gardens at your own pace and there are some very interesting flowers and water features.

Water plays a major part in the garden design
Water plays a major part in the garden design

We continued walking towards Alcazaba and through the architectural ruins of the old Muslim city that surrounded and provided support to the fort/castle complex.  You can’t wander down into the ruins themselves, but you do get a bird’s eye view and can only imagine what it would have been like in its glory days.  Alcazaba is the fortified part of the complex and you can walk along the ramparts and up to the Torre de la Vela for a view of the city below. 

Some great garden ideas
Some great garden ideas

 

 

Finally we ventured into the Palacio de Carlos V which I am sure would be impressive in different surroundings.  It is a large square building (1527) but inside it is a circular two tiered courtyard and I just couldn’t really see the point of the location of the structure except now it houses a museum.
We then queued up at the entrance to the Palacio Nazaries and were ushered in along with the hundreds of other people who were also in our time slot.  So far we hadn’t been that impressed with the complex feeling it was lacking the wow factor that you get from the buildings in India.  Stepping inside the palace though takes your breath away and the Islamic architecture is beautiful with the carvings, tiles and geometric patterns overwhelming your senses.  The problem for us was that the main courtyard was undergoing renovations with the main water feature and lions being removed, so we were disappointed as nothing was mentioned anywhere about this.  Still the remaining of the buildings were beautiful with plenty to see. 

The architecture is still fantastic
The architecture is still fantastic

 

 

We finally headed out of Alhambra and onto the no. 13 bus into the town, except it dropped us in a different spot, so we asked around found where we had to catch the 175-177 back to the campsite and headed off for a drink and a snack before getting the bus back.  Exhausted but happy to go for a swim.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011:  Granada

We decided to stay an extra day and head into Granada itself.  I am sure a lot of people just come for Alhambra and don’t venture into the sights of Granada.  We caught the bus back into the town and headed off to the cathedral where Isabel and Fernando are interred.  The city of Granada is very old and has survived a lot of rebuilding and manages to keep its old charm with lots of streets and laneways that allow you to wander with minimal traffic.  Downside there are lots of little cobble streets that go up and up and up.  We walked up to the Albaycin district to get some photos of Alhambra from across the valley.

Alhambra looks more impressive from afar
Alhambra looks more impressive from afar

This is a beautiful part of town with lots of morocco themed shops, cafes, restaurants.  Scott stopped off and bought a hookah as he was particularly taken with this form of relaxation in Turkey.  We spent most of the day wandering through the town stopping to have lunch with the obligatory glass of vino before heading back to the campsite and a final swim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

02 – 07 September 2011: La Vuelta, Spain

Friday, 2 September 2011:  Astorga

Up early and off to Astorga.  It is a long drive and as we are passing through country we have already been through we decide to watch the finish of the Vuelta in Ponferrada.  We arrive in Ponferrada about a couple of hours before the cyclists and have a lazy wander through the new part of town as we have already been through the old part of the town several days ago.  There doesn’t appear much happening we have parked fairly close to the finish line which has a large big screen TV.  We stand at about the 25 metre line and watch the crowds grow slowly at first before the usual Spanish thing happens and everybody arrives about 5 minutes before the finish. 

The finish line and Scott sporting a new hat
The finish line and Scott sporting a new hat

 

The good thing about the Vuelta is that you are able to get up and close to the finish line and even see the presentations without having to be a VIP or press.  We watch the presentations and jump straight in Vinnie and head off to Astorga where we spend the night at the Aires de camping with a couple of other motorhomes.

Saturday, 3 September 2011:  Angliru

Up at the crack of dawn and into town to take some photos of Gaudi’s Bishops Palace.  Unfortunately this is where the Vuelta is starting so can’t get anywhere near the actual Palace, and can only take a couple of random photos from behind the building. 

the Astorga start line
the Astorga start line

 

Damn should have taken them the other day.  Today we are heading to the Feeding Zone which is approximately 89kms away, but we have already learnt the measurements are a bit iffy in the magazine, so we drive through the countryside looking for a sign.  At one point we stop at a Vuelta official car full of police and ask for directions, but they can’t help as they too are a bit lost.  We then continue to drive up the road and head for the sprint, and this then lets us find the feeding station.  We park on the side of the road just as the caravan comes through, well the few cars that make up the caravan, and get some of the random free stuff that is thrown out – unfortunately the fact they throw the lollipops on the road means they are shattered by the time you get them, but it is fun chasing them anyway.  We swap a few things with the guys next to us and then drive on a bit more when we find the team cars are parking near us.  As usual the manic last minute arrivals happen and we are soon surrounded by people at our spot, but we manage to snag some energy bars etc. 

Lunchtime cycling style
Lunchtime cycling style

 

Within minutes everybody has left and the roadside is again silent. 

We are heading up to Alto de L’Angliru for the big hill climb tomorrow, so we start the drive.  We can’t find it on the gps, so follow the roads that we can and start climbing up, up and up.  We reach a policeman who won’t let us go any further so we park in a motorhome parking area with all the other motorhomes, watching the cars and smaller campers head further up the hill.  We can see some motorhomes further up, but no idea when they arrived.  I go for a small walk to the top of the adjacent hill to find a huge tent set up for a bar, comidas, TV screen and clothing merchandise.  Unfortunately the paddock that it is in as well as the tents is a cow/horse paddock and it is a tad wet, so everything smells lovely and very slippery.  We are fully stocked in the van so undo the awning and put out the table and chairs and kick back chatting to the Spanish guys next to us who decide to plan a travel itinerary for us which is great.

Eventually we meet up with Ben and Clare (who we met on the Tour de France), who drove from France to come to the mountain stage.  So we open up some red wine and catch up.  The Spanish guys next door give us another bottle of local wine and all of a sudden it is very late.

Sunday, 4 September 2011:  Angliru

During the night it rained and now you can’t see the mountain tops, it is also very cold.  Typical for us in the mountains.  People have been walking up all morning, but we decide to head up a bit later.  Some of the climb is approximately 24% gradient and it is hard going.  We give up with about 1.5kms to go as the crowds are quite large and there is no visibility.  We actually descend a bit down the mountain to try and see a bit more.  It is so much fun to watch everybody and everything going on, although you would think the only famous person in Australia at the moment is Cadel Evans, although we did get a couple of Casey Stoner’s as well, considering the motorcycling grand prix has been on the tv.  We particularly liked the people riding up the mountain with a bottle of wine in their water bottle holders, or beer – suppose whatever gets you there and let’s face it the Europeans like a bevvie.  Whilst waiting for the riders we meet some fellow Aussies on the mountain, although nowhere near as many as during the Tour.  Eventually the riders come through – very slowly, so we get to cheer all the Aussies on.  Don’t envy their day jobs, or can understand why on earth they would choose to do it, but c’est la vie.

Bradley Wiggins at the front
Bradley Wiggins at the front

After all the riders and then the team cars and all the other hangeronerer cars have been through we start the trek down the mountain.   Can’t believe we walked up so far.

We are staying on the mountain tonight as it is late and we can easily make it through to Villa Romana for the start on 6 September as tomorrow is a rest day in the tour.

Monday, 5 September 2011:  Saldana

Up earlyish and headed off to Villa Romana.  We pulled into a nearby town for fuel and even managed to get a gas bottle – oh what joy, we can have hot water in the van.  We drove to Villa Romana to find it is nothing but a signpost on the road and there is no parking etc.  There is an Aries in Saldana, so we decide to go in there.  It isn’t much of a place and as there is some sort of festival/fiesta in town there is also a large contingent of gypsies not that far away. 

After Ben and Clare arrive we decide to have a glass of wine to celebrate Scott’s birthday tomorrow and then go into town. 

life on the road can be tough
life on the road can be tough

 

The town is pumping weirdly.  There are some fair rides scattered around the town and a lot of places that look shut.  Eventually we come across the town piazza with more things open and find a tiny little pub that don’t do meals except tapas but they pointed us to a place a few doors up the road which did meals (Restaurante Hostal El Marques).  We felt all grown up having a proper restaurant dinner with proper wine glasses etc.  The food was lovely and the waiter/owner also spoke excellent English.  After our meal we ventured back to the first bar for a drink and to listen to a couple of the local band members belting out a few tunes.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011:  Pena Cabarga

We didn’t watch the start of the race in Saldana, instead heading to Burgos for the feeding zone.  Burgos is a huge town but we got through to the other side and parked Vinnie on the side of the road just before all the team cars started arriving.  Why is wherever Scott and I sit the team cars arrive and we have to move, very annoying.  Anyway eventually the riders come through and we score a few bits and pieces left over.  Best bit was Ben and Clare’s birthday present to Scott – two signposts for the Vuelta from the side of the road.  These aren’t like the Tour de France ones, these are huge full signs that they have been re-using each day, so no idea what happens tomorrow. 

After all the franticness of the feeding zone we then pile into the cars and head up to Pena Cabarga.  This is the last mountain stage before we leave the cycling.  It turned out to be a long and very boring drive and we didn’t get to Pena Cabarga until late.  We couldn’t get up the mountain (yet again) because the police had it blocked off, so we drove to the next village and camped near the playground and nobody minded which is great.  There is a space between the campers, so we set up a bbq with the tables and chairs and chill out looking at the mountain above us.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011:  Pena Carbaga

After watching another campervan couple start off their morning routine with a bottle of wine, Scott goes for a jog and Ben goes for a ride.  Scott decided it wasn’t worth just doing one mountain so got lost and did three different ones, eventually coming back very tired and dirty from his trail running.  The village we are in is now full of traffic and people heading up the mountain, so we pack some food and start the long trek up.  This isn’t as steep as Angliru, but it certainly feels like it.  However, we make it all the way to the summit today and the weather is beautiful, warm enough with a slight breeze.  There isn’t anything at the top, so after a rest and something to eat we head down to about the 1km mark to wait for the riders. 

At the top of Pena Carbaga
At the top of Pena Carbaga

The mountain is crazy, there are people everywhere and the police have no chance to control people.  Of course the first rider up is Fromme from the UK but right on his heels is Cobo the Spaniard and the crowds go absolutely nuts, it is deafening and I have no idea how he even knows the way forward as it is just a sea of faces.  The Australians tended to be at the back of the pack, except from Heinrich Himmler who was doing quite well. 

Annoying there were some riders (not the ones in the race) who decide that once you see the first person through you should be able to start cycling down the mountain ignoring the crowds and police.  Even worse these guys were Australian.  Some of the Vuelta riders started their descents down the mountain at crazy speeds.  Bit of a bugger to find that once you have spent the day riding up, you have to ride back down.

We are staying on the mountain again so settling into the assumed bbq spot and veg out.

You have to make the most :-)
You have to make the most 🙂