Cycling trip

The best, the worst, and the scariest

On the flights home I had time to think about the trip, and what the highlights have been – apart from the incredible privilege of being able to have three months of holiday. I also had a chance to think about the less favourable parts of the trip . . .

In no order of importance here are the highlights (and it goes without saying that becoming a Gran is obviously the biggest highlight)

The things I disliked most:

The 5 scariest things that happened on the trip:

  • Getting lost on the metro in Russia (x2)
  • Dog bite camp (where Miles was attacked by a dog). I would have to look back on the blog to find the name of the camp but has been referred to as “Dog bite camp” ever since by the riders
  • Getting totally lost in Hungary (but it was ok because I was saved by Berta who gave a lift in her red sports car, and got lost doing it)
  • When I was near the border in Poland there were some idiots doing wheelies up and down the road, which was quite scary as I was riding by myself, but I just got off the road and waited for Dan and Michel who were behind me to catch up, and then I stuck with them the rest of the day
  • Just before Cannes I turned onto a highway right in front of a car. I had looked but just did not see it, thankfully the driver managed to avoid me (and gave me a well deserved mouthful). After this I looked each time, not once, not twice but at least three times. When I get home I will have back to the habit of walking my bike across a busy road rather than riding it across.
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Photo Update

Here are some random photos that accidentally missed being put on their correct blog posts:

I had just come down the hills from Jeruzalem and there was this stall just sitting on the side of the road with this dummy behind it, and no one else was around so David took a photo

Since I have been in Spain I have been seeing these signs! Either it’s an interesting interpretation by the artist or they have really strange looking cows here

Ok so now I have seen a cow I don’t think it looks anything like the sign

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Day 80: Celebratory dinner in Lisbon

We stayed at Hotel Mundial, it was very nice hotel – bit of an upgrade for the riders on the last night. There was a doorman, bathrobes and a very nice looking bed that I was looking forward to getting into, but first it was time for some serious celebrating!

As mentioned yesterday, we had some wine at the park then was time to get changed, sort out our stuff and box bikes etc. At 7:15pm we all met in the lobby and caught taxis to the restaurant. I have lost the bit of paper I had written the name on but it was very nice.

Walli, who left us in Venice, had very generously contacted Christiano and organized to pay for the wine for dinner. A number of bottles of nice red wine were drunk, along with a toast to Walli. Walli had also sent a poem to be read out, which you can read below.

We had a great night, it was good to chat to the tour guides in a setting that there was no organizing they had to do for the next day. I had thought about going to a Fado club afterwards, but when it came to it I was too tired so will have to miss it this time round, and make do with going to the Fado museum tomorrow.

It will seem really strange not to see the other tour riders after having spent 11 weeks together, but some of us will keep in touch, and others our paths may well cross again in the future.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Ode to Trans-Europa

To each of you my sincere congratulation
Reaching today your final destination;
You have achieved your ultimate goal
Arriving in tact – stronger in body and soul!

At this celebration forgotten are the pains
And the detours, and hills and other complaints,
But not the friends who shared your bliss
All the way to Lisbon or just to Venice!

The memories will last all the days to come
To cherish forever and to recount at home.
Another thought is sneaking in on the side:
Can we get together somewhere for another ride?

Cristiano scouted and led with detailed instructions
Every turn was flagged giving orange directions.
Ciaran and Gergo assured safe arrival at camps
Miles’ delicious meals caused no stomach cramps.

For weeks you had your tires sharing the road
Also no toilet seats, nor tissue, cold showers, nor soap.
Your tents were firmly pegged to the grounds
You know who is snoring and making other strange sounds.

But now comes the time to go your own way,
Perhaps we will meet again somewhere one day.
Now lift your glasses and with great cheer
Make a toast to life …
………………………..and wish Walli was here!

She can’t make speeches in public for fear she’d cry
Though poetic emotions are not hard to come by.
Alas, she has been reading the blog by the minutes
And decided to be with you this moment in spirit(s).


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Day 80: Benavente to Lisbon – 55k

6,288km down: 0km to go!!

We had a great meal last night in the hotel restaurant, we were all pretty happy. We also got given our tour shirts so we could wear them into Lisbon. Plus Gergo had put together a slide show of photos from the tour which was pretty good.

Today was a late start as we did not have to be up for breakfast until 8am so I enjoyed sleeping in. We left the hotel about 9am and rode 17k, then all met up to ride in a convoy for the remaining 33k.

Leaving the hotel in the morning wearing the tour shirt

The drivers in Portugal are really nowhere near as cyclist friendly so the convoy was pretty slow, as we were very cautious. It was actually much better once we were in the city, even with all the traffic.

On the way we passed another bullfighting ring in a small town. Bull fighting seems to be a bigger thing here than Spain. They have female bull fighters as well. In Spain the tide is turning against bullfighting, over 50% of Spanish people think it should stop. It would be interesting to know the percentage here in Portugal. It seems to me to be unfair that the bull is predetermined to die. I prefer the method in St Gilles in France, where the bull wears carpet on his horns and when it is over it gets to go back to the farm.

Bullfighting ring on the way from Avis to Benavente on day 79

We arrived in Lisbon about midday. We had stopped 12k out and had a sandwich. This morning when we had breakfast in the hotel we were told we could make a sandwich. It seemed really strange taking food from the buffet and putting it into a plastic bag.

When we got to Lisbon we stopped at a park across the road from our hotel and had some sparkling wine and photos. In total we have done 6,288k! An awesome effort.

The park in Lisbon where we celebrated, across the road from our hotel

Opening the sparkling wine on arrival in Lisbon

Then it was time to box up my bike, sort out my stuff, throw away quite a bit, and get things ready to pack. Tonight we have a celebration dinner at 7:15pm.

As I fly out tomorrow I have not got a lot of time to look around, so am going to head out to look around for a couple of hours now.

The TDA Crew: Gergo, Esther, Cristano, Ezther, Miles, TJ (Miles’s wife, only with us part of the time) and their son Kaia

The seven full tour riders: Brett, Michel, me, Dan, Danya, Jan, Scott

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Day 79: Avis to Benavente – 104k

6,233km down: 55km to go 

It was a very quiet camp site last night, but I still managed to wake up at 2am and stay awake for a couple of hours. “Oh well” I thought “At least it is the second to last night in the tent, and its not raining”.

I know I have probably bored you all to tears with my running commentary on the toilet facilities where we stay. However as I have talked about the other countries I can’t not mention the Portuguese facility. So I walk in and the first thing I see is a squat toilet, no paper but a hose, and no hand rail to lever up and down! Thankfully I went to the next cubicle and there is a toilet bowl, though once again no seat and no paper. In comparison to the squat toilet it is not so bad, apart from the fact they don’t really flush. You push the button and about a teaspoon on water comes trickling out, so not the cleanest. There was no soap which is par for the course. The showers are full of empty shampoo bottles, toilet paper (I don’t even want to imagine why that was in there) and hair. I felt like I needed a shower after the shower, ugghh! The camp site was well lit though so no problem finding your way to the facilities in the dark.

There was no rain over night and as we have moved back an hour since coming into Portugal it was light this morning when we had breakfast. When we got the instructions for the day – YAY!!!! No tenting tonight, we are staying in hotel, hurray! Yahoo! A bed etc.

Tonight we will get our tour tops so we can wear them into Lisbon tomorrow. The ride tomorrow is going to be short about 50k, of which 35k is a convoy. We will have a celebration when we get there with photos etc. Then we’ll have a break to pack up bikes, get changed etc and then our last dinner together.

Even while today riding it did not seem real, but tonight it is starting to sink in. Especially as I have spent the past hour writing thank you cards for the TDA crew. They are all amazing people and I am going to miss them. I have been challenged on many levels on this trip and they have been supportive and encouraging all the way.

Today was 104k which makes our total so far 6,233k, so we have definitely done the distance on the shirt which is 6226k, phew I won’t feel like a fraud when I wear it. Today was not so challenging, a few climbs but nothing significant. There were two gravel roads, one about 4k and one about 10k. A couple of the riders are not happy when we ride on gravel because they have thin road bike tyres, but hey, it says clearly in the tour information we will go off road onto gravel and dirt roads.

We had one highway we had to go along that did not have much of a shoulder, and there were trucks, so it was a bit hairy. The Portuguese drivers are not as relaxed and bike friendly as their Italian and Spanish counterparts. We discovered this within about 5k of entering the country, when two cars cut us off at a roundabout.

So we were wary of the traffic, but mostly it was pretty good, only a couple of cars got a bit close. At the lunch stop Esther made us laugh, she had flagged the stop with the usual orange tape, but had also written last lunch with the tape (tomorrow we have a packed lunch).

Last Lunch Stop

Today at about 20k we were rushed by a couple of guard dogs. The gate to the yard they were minding was open, and all of a sudden out they came! I concentrated on not making eye contact and not moving my legs as it was a slight downhill, so I just glided through, and they let us go. They got pretty close to Daniel, with one being on each side of him, and he could feel the cold of their noses on his buttocks, but once he stopped pedalling they let him glide through. Carol was the last rider through and she was bitten on the leg, whether it was because she was yelling and kicking out at them, or they had just had enough, who knows but I will maintain the same gliding strategy in future.

We saw lots more calves and lambs today, so it is clearly a planned strategy, not accidental. Also saw a field full of white herons, it had been watered and they were down on the ground.

We got to the hotel about 2pm. I needed to dry out my tent as it was wet from dew from last night. I went into the park across the road, and got a few curious looks from locals, wondering no doubt exactly what I was up to sitting on the grass with my tent in two layers spread out in front of me.

Tonight we are having dinner in the restaurant. When we arrived we had to make a choice – fish or chicken. I chose the fish as it comes with corn bread which I am very partial to. I hope I don’t get food envy when looking at the chicken.

Hotel Vila in Benavente

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Day 78: Valencia de Alcántara to Avis – 95k

6,129km down: 126km to go 

Once again, not a great night’s sleep. There was a group staying in accommodation just at the end of our camp strip who, having had the usual siesta, were awake until the wee hours. Just after they had gone to sleep the wind really picked up and the tent was rattling and shaking. Then I had just got to sleep and there was a sound like a large freight train rushing towards, and then past, my tent. I jumped up to see what had happened, and the awning (that we eat under) that is usually attached to the food truck had been blown off by the wind, and ended up 200 metres away. Luckily it had blown straight down the road between the tents, and not into anyone’s tent! Dan has a window in his tent and he sat up when he heard the noise and saw it sail right past his window. It took awhile to get back to sleep after that, especially with the flapping and rattling of the tent.

This morning just before it was time to get up I heard the sound of rain on the tent, it was quite soft to start with but was getting louder. I got up quickly and packed up. The problem was it is really dark in the morning now, so we can’t leave early and we were all trying to cram under the cooking awning to stay out of the rain. Lucky there are only eight riders now, as we were getting under the tour guides feet as they were trying to organize breakfast. The rain was now really pouring down.

I had dug out riding gear that I have not worn since Lithuania: over boots, icebreaker singlet, full finger gloves. I had my arm warmers on under my rain jacket so I was pretty sure I would be able to keep warm. After breakfast it was still pouring down and not very light so we hid out in the toilet block for about 20 minutes. Then Michel (the cat) says “Ok let’s just do it” so off we went. We have called Michel the cat because:
1. He can come up behind you and you never know he is there until he passes you
2. When he shares a room on rest days he can get up and get dressed without waking up his roommate.

So off we went in the rain. The first stop was the border between Spain and Portugal, we stopped for the usual photo, it seemed strange not to have John at the border with us.

At the Portugal border with Michel the cat

We had a few ups and some rolling hills until lunch. About 15k past the border it stopped raining for awhile but about 10k before lunch I had to put my jacket back on. As soon as we got across the border the houses changed, instead of being brown they are now built out of white stone and much more ornate.

We passed by a lot of trees with their bark missing. I was imagining some type of bark eating critter until Michel said they are cork trees. They strip part of the tree on a regular basis to get cork. They number each cluster of trees so they know how often each tree has been stripped.

Cork tree in Portugal (each cluster has a number so it can be recorded the number of times each tree has been stripped)

After lunch we passed lots of olive tree groves. In the older groves the trees had space between them but in the newer groves the trees were really close together. I’m not sure if this is a change in way they grow them or if later on they remove the weaker looking trees, or whether they transplant every second tree elsewhere.

As I am sure I have mentioned before, the cows and sheep often have bells on to make it easy for them to be located. Often a number of them are walking around at the same time with their bells ringing.

The rain stopped about an hour after lunch, and as soon as we got to camp everyone put their tent up straight away in case it rained again. So far it is extremely windy (I have tied the tent down well) but apart from a few spots, there has been no rain so far. So at least the wet weather gear will be dry for tomorrow.

The town of Avis where the campsite is, with olive orchards in foreground

We have had our first time zone change since Poland, so now we are 11 hours ahead of New Zealand instead of 10. It also means we have to wait another hour for dinner. What was 6pm in Spain is of course 7pm in Portugal.

One really interesting thing we have seen is the number of very young lambs and calves, like born now! Remembering it is autumn here. We have surmised that maybe it is too hot in summer, and the autumn is mild enough that the young are then mature enough to get through winter. It is very strange; I will have to google this.

Today just by camp there was an ewe with a new born lamb, plus another ewe clearly pregnant. Given it is now nearly the end of September, one month of autumn is nearly gone. We have however seen enough new born calves and lambs to know this is not a one off mistake.

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Day 77: Cáceres to Valencia de Alcántara – 101k

6,034km down: 191km to go Up 984 metres, down 817

We left the hotel about 8:45am and rode in a convoy for the first 5k. Today we are following the same road nearly all day so nobody should be getting lost today.

Brett and I leaving the hotel in Cáceres

We see lots more stock now but there is still not a lot of grazing. In the fields there is hay spread around all the paddocks for the stock to eat.

There was not a lot to note about the morning, there were rolling hills and I tried to get enough momentum to get to the top or as close to it on most the hills. There were a few though that because of the length or the gradient I only got part of the way assisted. When I get back to New Zealand I have four days before I go back to work and I am going to go and ride a couple of hills to see how much I have improved:
1. The hill in Makara that goes up to the windmills – before I came away I had to stop twice on the way up
2. Hungerford Road from the Lyall Bay side which I have not yet tried, but I believe is a 20% gradient.

Just before lunch I looked up as we came up to the crest of a hill and unbelievable but there were about 30 to 35 eagles/condors soaring and gliding above me, amazing!

Today we reached another milestone, the 6,000 k mark 🙂 By end of the day the total we have ridden was 6,034. We bought some bottles of local red wine to celebrate this achievement.

Just reached the 6,000k mark

Celebratory wine for reaching the 6,000k mark

This afternoon when we turned off the N521 towards the camp the landscape changed again. There are more hills and also quite a lot of rock formations. We are staying in a national park about 4k from the border to Portugal. So tomorrow is the last border we cross for the tour.

The scenery at the camp Aguas Claras in Valencia de Alcántara

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Day 76: Rest day in Cáceres

I enjoyed having a lie in and had breakfast about 9am. No Skyping today as Lizzy was asleep, Kelly and Daniel and Dan are away, and Shellbe was out, but this time next week I will be seeing them in person.

I headed off to do the laundry and have a small wander around. I found a post office and posted the two post cards I have been meaning to post since I left Barcelona.

Next up was lunch. There are about 10 restaurants in the square just outside the hotel so I went to one just along from the one last night. It was a better choice for lunch, I had a really nice smoked fish salad with salmon, anchovies, white fish, capers and lettuce, plus grilled vegetables – zucchini, egg plant, pepper, and mushroom. Last night I had a cheese entrée which was hard and a steak that was meant to be medium rare but was well done. I thought about complaining but the wait person did not speak English and I don’t speak Spanish.

Cáceres looks lush and tropical in the city

The city may look lush and tropical, but this photo was taken just outside the city

After lunch I had a wander around the old town. Cáceres has been a world heritage site since 1986 because of the blend of Moorish, Northern, Gothic and Italian renaissance architecture. This town was founded in 25BC; there are walls from the 4th, 12th 14th and 18th century. The old medieval town is used as a film site as within the walls there is no sign of any of the modern world.

The brown building between two white ones is our hotel Hotel Cáceres Casa Don Fernando

A building with a ceramic façade

Then it was back to the hotel to rest and update the blog.

View from the square outside the hotel

I ended up going to the same restaurant for dinner and had a really great steak. It was really nice sitting out in the square, it was nice and warm. There were lots of families with small children. The children were all playing happily in the square, even though it was nearly 10pm. I guess they all have a siesta in the afternoon as well. During siesta time the place is deserted, as you can see from the photo in the square there was no one around at 3pm, but the place was humming at 8:30pm.

A street off the square at 3:30pm

The same street at 9pm

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Day 75: Malpartida de Plasencia to Cáceres – 83k

5,933km down: 292km to go (95% of the way there!) Up 1,064 metres, down 1,054

I slept reasonably well last night. It was still dark at 7:30am, so after breakfast we had to wait for it to get light before we could leave. Hard to believe that only four weeks ago in Italy we were leaving at 6:30 in the morning to get some kilometres in before the heat.

The first part of the ride today was on a gravel and rocky road for 22k. We had great views from the top but it was a serious climb to get up there. We had to get up there more than once because the road not only kept going up but also back down as well. There were a couple of bits that I did not think I would get up as they were steep – 8% and 9% gradients – and my tyres were slipping on rocks.

View from the 22k gravel track

View from the 22k gravel track

I was pretty impressed with myself that I managed to get up without stopping, as some of the ups were long as well as steep and slippery. I would not have been able to ride this terrain without stopping at the beginning of the tour. Overall we climbed up 500 metres on the 22k gravel road.

Finally at the top of 22k gravel road with Esther

The brake pin from Brett’s bikes rear brakes came out, and he had to ride down the last gravel downhill plus another 34k to the lunch truck with only his front brakes – including down the spirally hills to the dam.  Once we got to the lunch truck he was able to put another set in. Gergo was on lunch so he helped as well.

Climbing up from the dam

We saw lots of cattle but the land they are on is very barren, the farmers give them hay to eat. We saw another cluster of eagles/condors, about 10 of them swooping and soaring above a field.

It was hot and after the gravel road my legs were tired so I was pleased it was only a 83k day. The last stretch seemed long, it was hot, and there was a head wind. It was nice to see Gergo in the lunch truck at the top of a rise about 10k from town with oranges for us.

The hotel tonight is nice – and not undergoing renovations. I had a rest and then a meal in the square just outside the hotel. When we arrived most of the shops were shut up as it was siesta time. The shops are shut between 2:30pm and 5:30pm, and then are open again until 8:30pm. The restaurants do not start serving dinner until 8pm.

I decided the laundry hunt could wait until tomorrow.

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Day 74: Madrigal de la Vera to Malpartida de Plasencia – 88k

5,850km down: 375km to go Up 1,250 metres, down 1,150

To start off with the camp site had looked really quiet, but we did not realize how many permanent residents of the camp there were. Plus there was a football game with Real Madrid playing at 8:30pm, so the bar got busy, and a stream of people making all kinds of racket headed to the bar to watch the game. Oh great, I thought, another night of no sleep, but I must have been really tired as I went to sleep quite quickly. I woke up for awhile in the middle of the night but got off to sleep again until the rooster started. I did suggest this morning that one of the riders has a recording that they play for fun but no one owned up.

After sleeping two nights ago in a sleeping bag and wearing arm warmers first thing in the morning, the weather has got warmer again.  This morning it was about 8:30am by the time it was light enough for us to get out on the road.


We went through a number of towns that ended in de la Vera (I must look up what that means, my best guess today is that de la Vera is the name of the mountain range we are travelling along). The most noteworthy of the de la Vera towns were:
1. Losar de la Vera – this town has heaps of poplar trees cut into interesting shapes, I kept expecting to see Edward Scissorhands at work
2. Jaraiz de la Vera – a really old town with crumbling stone walls etc, I will google it to see how old it is.

You can see the tree cuts up the street, in front a new type of shrine – cut into a tree

The campsite tonight is good. Good showers, toilets with seats and paper. There is still no soap but it has a really good washing area. And it has a bar with Wifi plus a small supermarket. So it is probably the best so far.

Tomorrow we ride to Cáceres and then have a rest day.

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