The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Monday, June 18, 2012

Andorra and Carcassonne

Sculptures abound in Andorra

We left Huesca by 9:00 am Sunday morning and it was absolutely gorgeous, 26C at 09:00. Our trip took us on some more back roads up into the Pyrenees on the way to Andorra, a small principality between France and Spain, very high up in the mountains.
We spent more time with the helmet cam in this area due to the scenic beauty and didn’t take a lot of photos since they would look a lot like Highway to the Sun.

IBIS and Porsche, hmmm
On arrival in the city of Andorra de Vella we went to the Ibis which had a ½ price promotion on during the summer. A gorgeous room overlooking a waterfall and the mountainside, with a Porsche dealership on the lower floor; easily the largest room yet all for 59E a night. Then I noticed that the sister Novotel a 4 star hotel located in town had a seafood buffet on including a bottle of wine and sparkling water for 15E each. Sandra really wanted to go there since she reminded me that it was Father’s day. It was a sensational meal! Our walk allowed us to enjoy the sculptures that are everywhere in the city.

Carcassonne Walled City

Next on to Carcassonne today, and our first goat trail ride of the trip. Unbelievably I had missed a turn on my calculated route today, and to recover the GPS put us on the next shortest route, this time through a bunch of peoples back yards, nearly over fences, and up mountain areas that looked like goat trails but we did share the trail with bicyclists for about 15 kms.

When we drove into the city this is what we saw, and I immediately could be heard saying WOW. Probably the best view of an old walled city and only 2nd to Avila in Spain (see last trip) for the most intact walled city.

We got an additional treat beyond touring the inner city, we stopped in the cathedral and a acapella group of 4 tenors were beginning to sing. Wow, what a sound inside such a lovely church. I took this picture but more importantly I shot 2 video sequences of them performing. It will be incorporated into the next DVD of France.

What terrific Sound, Le Chorus Doros from Moscow

Click on this link to go to a youtube performance of these guys.

The Basque Region

St Jean de Luz from our bedroom window

The Basque region is an area located in the “Crux of the Elbow” formed by the Iberian peninsula jutting west from France. It is an area that encompasses both territory that is part of France and Spain and has had a ‘separatist’ movement for many years. It also has it’s own language and has had terrorist activists trying to create a separate state. With the Euro zone in crisis this seems to have subsided. It also sits along the Atlantic coastline and straddles the Pyrenees mountain range.

Our leaving the Perigord/Dordogne region of France was ‘through the backdoor’ with some very small roads and towns explored as we left. I’m pretty sure based on the lack of vehicles we saw that not many people use this set of roads to head to the Basque area.
Our weather has vastly improved and quickly we were peeling off wind liners, and any extra clothing, now experiencing the 30+C temperatures that we enjoyed almost all of last trip. Again, the Tourmaster Air jackets and pants have fantastic flexibility to meet all your riding needs.

After trip research and a breakfast discussion with a French Canadian who travels to France frequently our end destination for the day was to be St Jean De Luz, a smaller seaside town within 12 kms. of the Spain border.  The last 25 kms was fatiguing given the stop and go, very hot conditions with lots of beach traffic. This area is very popular, especially with British tourists.
The town of St Jean De Luz has a large fishing fleet that dominates the inner harbor but also quite a large sandy beach that Sandra and I walked on. Though some people were in the water we considered it a bit cool for swimming, I guess having been spoiled by our summer in Greece and Turkey last year. And oh yes, Louis the 14th was married here in St Jean the Baptist church, a wooden interior that is exceptional.

We tried an ETAP hotel, a budget version of IBIS hotels, since they were on the same property. We explained to the manager we hadn’t tried an ETAP before and wanted to see a room first and we then decided it would still meet our needs and given ocean hotel locations are pricey it would be more reasonable. A very friendly guy, he gave us a top floor room facing the harbour and this is our view from our window. Not bad eh?
The next morning their buffet breakfast also was ‘just right’ for quality and price and we left ready to face a day of travelling the Basque region coastline.

San Sebastian, Spain
Concha Beach

Beautiful Bridge work
Our next stop was San Sebastian with its scallop shell shaped beach harbour, towering statue of Christ overlooking the city and a 5-6 km. long promenade along a sandy beach front we were very impressed by how pretty a setting it was. As well, it really had a lot of hustle and bustle, so much so it took me a couple of circles through the immediate area before I could find a parking spot for the bike. Have a car, forget it!

We walked the promenade and watched performers and tourists dancing to music. Yep, we are in Spain, welcome to the all day all night partying! San Sebastian is only 23 kms away from St Jean de Luz and we had wanted to stay here, however everything was booked quite a while in advance.


Guggenheim and Puppy
Next on to Bilbao, home of a Guggenheim museum of modern art. Interestingly, Bilbao is not situated on the coast but about 3kms inland on a large river. I gather the coastline in this area was not hospitable to development back at the time Bilbao began.
Bilbao central plaza

Bilbao River and old market (left)

stunning bridges
It has committed to a modern architecture theme over the past several decades with commissioning architect Frank O. Gehry, a Canadian, to design the museum that it had offered to build for the Guggenheim trust. This structure is clad in Titanium, and while it looks small based on its riverfront location it stands about 15 stories tall, but doesn’t look it. It is very unconventional, and Sandra definitely wanted to see the building though neither of us are lovers of modern art. 
Also there is an old quarter that houses a mercato and we believed it was to be like Barcelona’s. It was closed during the afternoon, as usual as the Spaniards build up steam for the evening partying, but was open later. It is in fact very small in comparison to Barcelona.
Our overnight here was limited to 1 night and we were able to stay right in the middle of town at an IBIS that had been a 4 star Novotel. Wow what a room that looked over the whole plaza it was on. The only thing is it was a Friday night and Bilbao parties all night. While our room was quiet you could watch the action going on down below. Fortunately where and how I secured the bike, as always with cover on, nothing was touched.

Photo of Past Runs
Saturday was again another gorgeous day and we were now headed for Pamplona, the town best known for the “Running of the Bulls” and for being a stop on the Camino de Santiago mission trail. This part took us from the coastline high up into a plateau area similar to Calgary and close to the Pyrenees. Pamplona is still part of the Basque region. Known as “Iruna” in Basque dialect.
We arrived at noon, just in time for another party, surprise!! We don’t know what it was but there were lots of festivities going on. We located the street famous for the bull running, went to the El Toro Bull Ring, and watched the festivities for a couple of hours before deciding to head on a shave some riding time off a heavier day ride the next day to Andorra. We’re glad we did, since we arrived in Huesca and found another 3 star hotel for a very reasonable price. We are getting lucky!!

Get your Running of the Bulls Gear here!

Entrance to El Toro Ring

Street Info

Actual Street 11:00 am
July 11, 2012 running several injuries occurred

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Dordogne Region

Town Centre
Sarlat, known for Fois Gras

It’s amazing what you can learn from a book. I like Michael Crichton as an author, a Dr. by training he turned to writing and generally wrote technical sci-fi type fictional books, the best known were the Jurassic Park series. He would extend the realm of possibility by making a technical advancement available, like in Jurassic Park that we could extract DNA from the age of dinosaurs and clone it and remake them adding the missing chromosomes.

So what has that got to do with France you ask?
Well one of his later novels was called Timeline, an account of a company that was restoring ruins in the Dordogne region, only it had an inside edge, it was able to travel back in time and see the ruins when they were still in use during the 100 years war. The book was so interesting that I was able to picture the area. Later when Rick Steve’s ‘discovered it’ as he claims, I recognized the regions just by the word pictures from the book. Crichton was quite the author!!

Ancient Dwellings

So we targeted the Dordogne area, specifically Sarlat le Caneda since it was central to the area. When we arrived we just got off the bike and went WOW to each other. The last 50 kms in from Brive, France was so beautiful we couldn’t believe it. Then we walked the town of Sarlat, known for it’s Fois Gras or force fed Duck and Geese livers that are turned into a delicacy. They are an acquired taste and we tasted some of the best stuff at the Wednesday market and it is nice but.....
La Roque Gageac
Our hotel here is Les Remparts  a good hotel very centrally located to everything and reasonably priced. After orienting ourselves we set out to see the sites and enjoy a nice meal. We found L’Instant Delice, a gourmet restaurant with a Menu that included a duck green salad, roast duck leg with potatoes, and a chocolate cake dessert. Sandra had the same salad but a duck casserole and creme brule. What a mel, pure gourmet French cooking and at $20.00/ person it was fantastic!!
Today we set out to see the sights, including La Roque Gageac, Beynac and Castlenaud ( the centre of the Timeline novel) and La Roque de Christophe (LRC), a 50,000 BC prehistoric settlement.
This site (LRC) coupled with Goreme and Mesa Verde in Colorado form the trio of man’s prehistoric cliff dwelling sites in the world, and now we have seen them all!
And touring this area with the HD helmet cam on has yielded some incredible footage that we will turn into a great capsule of France.

Beynac from the Road

Beynac from the Viewpoint

La Roque Christophe Overview

Ancient 50000 yr old steps

A bit about Neanderthal Man, No not me!

Activities at the Cave, I remember when!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Le Chateaus

What we saw from our Bicycles - Chambord
Leonardo's Double Helix Staircase

The Loire valley is well known for a plentiful selection of chateaus built by various royalty through the middle ages as hunting retreats. Some were only attended a few times by their original owners and others became the spoils of wars.
Bicycling in the Loire

Fougere is located close to Mont St Michel and St Malo and isn’t in the heart of the Loire but it is a grand old castle fortified with a moat and drawbridge in classical style. One of the best to just walk around.
Blois’ chateau has become part of the downtown core of the city and our hotel was about 75 metres from it.
Sandra and I have wanted to bicycle some of the paths here ever since we took the kids over in 1991 and this time with Heiko we took 1 day and cycled from Blois to Chambord and back approx. 36 kms. It was a breeze going, literally, but we sure paid for it coming back with winds near 45 kph.
Chambord’s staircase, a double helix style, allows a person to enter the staircase from either side of the floor and not walk with another person who would climb the other staircase wound with  it. Leonardo Da Vinci is said to have designed it! Chambord’s other claim to fame is it’s fireplaces, over 250 we’re told! This is one huge drafty castle when the wind is blowing. All the steeples you see on the roof are actually flues for the various fireplaces.

Cheverny is another of the classic chateaus as is Tournessy, Villeregard, and Chenonceau. It was great to travel through the countryside to see them but we decided that after seeing Versailles and Chambord completely the remainder would just be more of the same so we didn't pay for entrance to them all. It would have added another 2 days of touring time as well.
And more

The countryside around this area is so neat with many villages house fronts actually built into the cliffsides as if they lived in a cave but they added a front door and window to it. Of course there are many caves used for storing wines and cheeses here as well.

Our last day with Heiko we had all gone to the morning market and bought something for the afternoon happy hour. Heiko bought a couple of different local wines, we bought rustic baguette breads, a really flavorful cheese and Fois Gras. It was a very traditional Loire valley meal.

Finally we moved on to Angers at the west end of the Loire valley. Our day ride out here wasn’t the best and our record has been dashed and splashed with a rainstorm that got us pretty wet. But then sun eventually did pop out again and we toured the Angers Chateau here as well as the Cathedral. The pipe organ here is way bigger than anything else we have seen and the Chateau houses the tapestry of the apocalypse from the Book of Revelations.
Tapestry from the Book of Revelations
This tapestry is 100 metres long and displayed in very dark conditions to ensure the colors do not fade any more.

Anger's Chateau Walls

Anger, the Chateau



Everywhere there is memorabilia for the 24 hrs.
Race Track Entrance
Le Mans cathedral

Start Time for Race
Stats over the years
We visited LeMans between the time trials weekend and the actual race. Our B&B here was incredible, “Clos D’Hautville”, very central in old LeMans with our hostess providing us with great rooms, sheltered parking and a wonderful breakfast the next morning in a grand dining room fit for a king! We arrived after a drive through Fougere ( covered in Chateaus) and on our way to Blois and the Loire valley.
Each of these cities has a Cathedral and this one competes very well with the one in Chartre which we visited with our kids back in 1991. It is incredibly huge with arches in overabundance.
Dinner that evening was a La Stromboli’s pizzeria after Sandra saw the wood burning oven in use. Our pizzas were just simply superb and the chef would work each dough with loving kneading hands.
The next morning we headed out to the track and museum. With the track closed since crews are beginning to work in the garages on vehicles for the race next week,  we toured the museum, which provided the historical background and major competitors for LeMans. As well there are many vehicles there that can’t be seen anywhere else.
Audi TDI's rule here
R8 Safety Car Just Right for Chandos!

Sandra's Travel Suitcase
Of course Porsche, Ferrari and Audi are well represented, but so is Jaguar, Bentley, Renault, Peugeot and Ford. Ford made a big push in the 70’s with their GT40 and won LeMans more than once with it. Porsche is the winningest car manufacturer and now Audi with their TDI based race cars have been very successful winning 10 times since 2000. Diesel will be the racing engine of the future until they can hot swap battery packs in electric vehicles.  
Artifacts of the bygone eras are everywhere there and Sandra just loved the travel suitcase, wishing she could have it on our motorcycle. From here we head to Blois and the Chateaus of the Loire Valley.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

St Malo

St Malo, largest marina in France
Jacque Cartier, Canada's Columbus
Cruise Ships and Cat Ferries call this home

We are testing the resolve of our riding without rain. Today when we awoke it was pouring very heavy but by breakfast it had reduced to a drizzle and finally stopped. We headed out to St Malo in some very cool conditions, overcast but no rain, so the record is still intact.

St Malo has apparently the largest marina in France, and we are staying right in the centre of the old city. Buried here is Jacque Cartier, who sailed to Canadian shores first in 1535 from St. Malo. Born a year before Columbus discovered America, he is responsible for discovering the St Lawrence river and seaway to the Great Lakes.

St Malo is also a cruise destination, each day the cruise ships come in and drop off day passengers, then collect them in the evening and set sail again. They wander the old city ‘tourist’ areas but aren’t able to venture further. Fougere is just 60 kms away, with it’s wonderful chateau but unless there is a bus tour to there they stay pretty close.

The tides come in and out quite quickly here and we watched as the National fort became accessible only 1 hr after it had ½ mile of water between it and the main city.

Fort Nationale