Posts Tagged With: Spain

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 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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Day 73: Pelayos de La Presa to Madrigal de la Vera – 108k

5,762km down: 463km to go Up 877 metres, down 1036

I slept quite badly last night, I guess I am not really a camper by nature, give me a room any day over a tent! Still I have not succumbed to getting a room and have tented every tenting day since Venice. I review this decision daily, I wavered a week ago after the really hard day but went off the idea when they said it would take three hours to get the room ready!

It was still totally dark at 7:30 this morning; we sat around eating breakfast with our headlights on. How different from the early days of the trip when you went to sleep in the sunlight and woke up in the sunlight!

We set off as soon as it got light. Nothing of great note today, the dry landscape was a bit stark, often fields were basically just dirt. Today was gradual climbs with some downhills.

The landscape

14k to town, hot and dry landscape, and riders

The campsite tonight looks quite nice, dirt to pitch the tents in but soft enough to get tent pegs into. The campsites have been a real mixture, from the fantastic, almost perfect campsite, to fairly basic. We have no idea day to day what the campsite will be like. Most have had Wifi (except in Italy) and all except two have either had a bar or at least sold beer. Today’s has Wifi and a bar, so I am sitting in the sun updating the blog, having a cold one, damn it’s a hard life!

Campsite at Alardos, in Madrigal de la Vera

When we got to camp one of the ladies who runs the camp was riding around on her electric assisted bike. We have joked over the tour at times, especially when on hills, about wanting to get one of these, so Daniel took to opportunity to have a ride, watched by his new friends – there are gnomes everywhere at this camp!

Daniel trying out the electric bike, with his new friends watching (he is going to ask Santa for one for Christmas)

It’s hard to believe but this time next week we will be riding into Lisbon! (Editors note: this blog was written on Tuesday 18th of September).

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Day 72: Madrid to Pelayos De La Presa – 83k

5,654km down: 571km to go

Once again I enjoyed sleeping in a bed. There was a bit of chaos leaving the hotel due to the single left, so by the time we finally left in the convoy the traffic was pretty gridlocked. We rode in the midst of it for about 6k, and then we went through the park by the Zoo for a couple of kilometres. I would have liked to have seen the Pandas again, but we went past ages before the Zoo opening time.

Traffic leaving Madrid

Not a lot to report about the ride today, it was fairly short, 83k with only one significant hill. The scenery was dry and hot.

Of great interest today we went past the NASA Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex. There are three sites in the world equidistant from each other: one in Canberra, Australia, the California Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in the United States, and this one in Spain. Where ever a satellite is it can be in communication, it takes two seconds to get or send a message to the moon, and it takes 79 minutes to send a messages to or from Mars.

Madrid NASA Deep Space Communication Complex

I wonder if any of the cows are secret agents?

The campsite tonight seems fairly deserted, so fingers crossed it will be quiet tonight. I discovered yesterday we have eight more riding days to Lisbon, including today, not seven like I thought.

Happy 50th Birthday Julie, I hope you had a great meal out!

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Day 71: Rest day two in Madrid

It was nice to sleep in a bed again and have wifi in the room. I skyped with my family again, and got to see Xavier with an eye open at last, for a moment before he returned to sleep.

Breakfast was late again, the staff must be getting very frustrated trying to work in this environment. The longest I have waited for a lift was about 10 minutes but at least I wasn’t holding breakfast trays while I was waiting.

I met Suzanne and Brett in the lobby at 10:15am and we caught a taxi to the Madrid Zoo because this Zoo is one of the four Zoos in world that has, wait for it…….


I made this totally chance discovery when I was given a book of discount vouchers on the tour  bus yesterday, and it fell open on the Zoo page – and it had a Panda on it. So we checked and yes they did have Pandas.


Shellbe, one of my daughters, loves Pandas but when I spoke to her on Skype this morning I didn’t say anything, because I was prepared to get to the Zoo and find that either they were asleep inside their enclosure and you couldn’t see them or for some reason they were not on public display today.

We got to the Zoo just as it was opening, and there was already a line to get in. We looked at the Zoo map, I was really excited, and got to the Panda  enclosure as fast as my legs would carry me.

There are four pandas at this Zoo: Mum and Dad were gifted to the King of Spain by the King  of China, and the two two-year-old brothers Po and Dede were born at the Madrid Zoo, on the 7th of September 2010, weighing 250 grams at birth.

To start off with we just saw Dad eating bamboo in separate part of the enclosure, and the other three were sleeping in a corner. Then one of the boys came out and walked around, then followed by mum and brother. We watched them for awhile, completely enthralled with them.

Just chillin’

The brothers

As Suzanne had to leave the zoo at 12:40 we had a quick look at some of the other animals, such as Red Pandas, Giraffes with two babies, lions, elephants, and Zebras with babies.

The enclosures were generally really good, the only one that I thought pulled the short straw was the Leopard, who was not only in a fairly small cage but also appeared to be by himself. There were also lemurs and flamingos and some storks.

We decided to return for another look at the Pandas before we left, and I am so glad we did as we got to see the brothers climbing a tree, playing, and also in the water just below where we were standing, it was awesome and magical.

Panda playing in a tree

One of the brothers was lying three metres below where I was standing, lying on his back splashing water on himself, and paddling with his feet. He was also watching the spectators to gauge our reactions.

Cheeky panda

With great difficulty we dragged ourselves away and went to the front to wait for Suzanne’s shuttle, which we had pre-booked at the hotel that morning. After 15 minutes we rang and guess what – it was waiting outside our hotel, even though the reception person at the hotel  had rung and booked it from the Zoo, and Suzanne had waited in line for nearly 30 minutes to get this done. Luckily a taxi turned up dropping another passenger off so we grabbed it and Suzanne got to the airport with time to spare.

I went back to the city centre to check out the perfect gift shop but it was still closed, so I suspect it is not open in the weekends. Hmm . . . it will have to be plan B for the present for this child.

I had lunch, and then the rest of the early afternoon was taken up with laundry, catching up with the blog, and packing. I had dinner not far from hotel and I found a shop where I bought three presents. It’s always a risk trying to pick for someone else’s taste but at the very least even if the present is disliked the recipient knows you were thinking of them in Madrid.

Once again there were a number of beggars. One young man approached us on the Saturday night asking for money for food. I was a bit sceptical as he looked fairly well fed, but we gave him the benefit of doubt and gave him a couple of Euro. I must admit that I am generally more generous with buskers than beggars.

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Day 70: Rest day one in Madrid

As parts of the renovations at the hotel are taking place in the restaurant, we all got breakfast delivered to our rooms. Nice plan, but as mentioned last night there is only one very slow moving lift! My breakfast was due at 8:30, so when it got to 9am I rang up to find out where it was, as I was waiting to eat before Skyping with my kids.

The poor hotel staff looked really harassed, it must be really hard work with four floors of people and only one lift! It was good to chat to Lizzy, Shellbe and Dan (Xavier slept through it again) and then next I skyped with Kelly and Daniel. Skype is such a great invention.

I was given a book of discount vouchers, and made a discovery about what I never expected to be able to see on this tour (all will be revealed tomorrow). I went on a city tour, and we saw:

1. The Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid)
2. Barrio Salamanca
3. Plaza de Colón
4. Plaza de Cibeles
5. Museo Del Prado
6. Santiago Bernabéu Stadium – the Football stadium of the Real Madrid club, can seat 85,000
7. Plaza Mayor – one of the main shopping main areas

The Markets we saw are nothing like in Barcelona or other cities we have been to. Instead of being crammed in and packed under a tent type awning it was a much more sedate setting, more like Moore Wilsons than the Wellington wharf or Porirua market on a Saturday morning.

The markets

We had lunch in Plaza Mayor square, it reminded me a bit of St Mark’s Square in Venice – crowds, buskers, lots of tables, souvenir shops, and instead of mask shops there were football merchandise shops. We also had a tour around the old town.

Plaza Mayor Square in Madrid – note the paintings on the building

There was a really big demonstration about planned government cuts to spending, the city was full of protestors. There were at least 100 buses that bought them in and took them out. We had to get off our tour bus as it could not go through the middle of town. They were all wearing t-shirts and chanting, and although there was a significant police presence it seemed to be a peaceful protest.

Suzanne and I on a bear statue in the square

We did a bit of shopping, I am at the stage of having to buy presents, I have been hoping to see suitable things and buy them the time, but I have not had a lot of luck. I saw the perfect present for one of my children but the shop was shut, it said it opened again at 5:30pm. I went back again from the hotel later – 30 minutes each way – but the shop was still not open, so maybe does not open on the weekend? Even though it was in the main strip.

A new busking act

A group of us (Scott, Michele, Dan, Brett, Suzanne and I) had arranged to meet for dinner at Botin’s Restaurant, said to be the oldest restaurant in the world. We had the choice of going at 8pm or 10pm, as they have two sittings a night. I’m sure you can guess which time we chose!

It was fun, very touristy, not fine dining, and you felt a bit like you were on a production line, as whatever you ordered arrived within five minutes of ordering it. But it was fun and the food was ok, and we can say we have been there.

Scott, Dan, Michele, me, Brett at Botin (picture taken by Suzanne)

Afterwards Suzanne, Brett, Scott and I sat out in the street area near the hotel, and people watched for awhile.

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