December 2005

12 Oct - 28 Dec 2005

Well, this year is almost over and we haven't made it out of Europe yet! Almost though. Right now we are in Carmona (Spain). It is almost Christmas Eve and Khim and I are enjoying a lovely stay at the Parador here in Carmona. This is a real treat, the stay here is a Christmas present from my parents. This particular parador is inside the Don Alfonso I Alcazar (Castle). It has great views over the plains and really is something special. We are enjoying such luxuries as fresh towels, not having to put on a warm sweater to go to the bathroom and hot water showers, where you don't have to worry about where to hang your clothes so they don't get wet. Not that we didn't have fun camping the last two months, but you really can't beat this for a change.

We frequently get asked for Updates to our Web-Page. Unfortunately this hasn't been as easy as we had thought. The main problem is that we are busy doing other things! Hopefully we will be a little more diligent in the future. Of course the "normal" problems don't make it any easier, keeping the laptop charged, connecting to the internet and so on.

In the following lines we will give you some of the highlight of our trip, since our last journal entry in october. If you are interested in the routes we took, check out the tracks.

Towards the end of October we finally managed to drag ourselves away from Keffenach. The last very memorable act there was to hide a geocache, which 'The Keffenachers' are going to take care of. While we are traveling we will be distribution travel bugs into geocaches on the road and send them on their way home to Keffenach. It is going to be interesting to see how this works out. The geocache in any case actually has already been visited twice.

The next friend we graced with our presence was of course our 'main man' Rainer in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. It was going to be a very short visit over the weekend, but what do you know we ended up staying a little bit longer. The wonderful fall weather still held up which made for some nice walks and rides through the Pfalz, where the 'Neuer Wein' season was in full swing. While we are not really into 'Neuer Wein', we loved the concert of the BRMC - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Rainer's excellent cooking. By now it was almost November and every morning we would wake up and look outside, fearing to see gray, cold November weather or even snow. Nothing of that sort happened but not trusting our luck, we decided to really head off now. While at Erics Khim had bought two sets of knobby tires for Africa. At first there was some debate as to weather or not we should take them. The bikes really are pretty much loaded down. In the end we decided to go ahead and take them with us.

Leaving Neustadt and Germany behind, we headed for the French coast in Normandie. This made for some very beautiful rides through long stretches of fields at first and them some beautiful coastline. While the weather was still very sunny and unusually warm for fall, the days are definitely very short this time of year. Since we don't like riding in the dark, this meant we had to set up camp at the latest by five. Finding campgrounds that are open this time of year isn't always easy. Luckily while in Neustadt we had invested in the ADAC camping and caravanning guide. Khim had then spent a day programming all the open campgrounds into the GPS. So what we basically ended up doing was planning a route from campground to campground every day.

Bad weather did catch up with us, but not until November. At the time we were camped at Mont St. Michel and we just waited out the one rainy day in the tent. The campground had a TV-Room without TV, but a few tables and benches and most important of all electricity. This meant we got to charge all our toys end do some work on the computer. The next day the weather wasn't great yet, but at least dry so we continued on, more or less along the coast (check out the trip maps!). Eventually we got to Biarritz. Not so much the town, but the coast there took our breath away!

Further down the coast, now in Spain we set up camp in Bilbao for a couple of days (pictures..). Mainly we had come for the Guggenheim Museum, but found that we liked the port and the 'Puento Collgante' just as much. The latter is a steel bridge with a moving platform that transports cars and people across the river. Unfortunately the bad weather caught up with us here too. It rained for days! Still Bilbao was fun to hang out in for a while. One very nice thing was that we camped in a little town called Sopelana on the coast, and the metro system went out there, so getting into town was very easy, and we didn't have to mess with riding, and parking ourselves.

The northern coast of Spain is spectacular, places like Luarca literally took our breath away. The camping is on a cliff above the ocean, just around the corner from the town. The town is really a living postcard. After the northern coast it was time to head south, usually followed by a little bit of rain, nothing too spectacular though.

Once we crossed a very busy bridge and a hectic little town we were suddenly in Portugal. The first thing that hit us is that they really like to pave their roads with stones. Everywhere we went in Portugal you were sure to find paved stone roads in and around the cities. Luckily the connection roads where for the most part asphalt. The other thing we noticed was, that people here were a lot more interested in us and the bikes than in France or Spain. One guy that stopped us wanted us to come by the local motorcycle club. Khim even got a baseball hat out of that encounter.

Portugal: Porto

The first major stop in Portugal was Porto. After spending a few days checking the town (pictures) and general area out (including catching up on the movies we have missed...), it was time to do the Port tour, ie. visiting a "couple" of the port cellars in the town. Below you will see a list of the port wines we tasted and our rating there of. Not bad for a couple that do not really drink!

The Port Wine List

As you can see by the list, we went well above and beyond in our effort to find the best port wine. In all we learned a lot about the wine and how it is made and stored, as well as how it tastes. If anyone is headed to porto these are our tips.

- Visit the wineries on the hill in Vila do Nova Gaia and avoid the ones down by the river. The ones on the hill are much more interesting, they also usually have a lot less tourists (with exception of Taylors), the tours are free, and for us they had the better port.

- Take your time, and ask a lot of questions, the guides are more than happy to help.

- Eat something before you start, port wine is 20% Alcohol.

- Don't drive...

Portugal: Lisbon

After leaving Porto, we headed south to Lisbon. The area around the coast is nice, mostly forest, and there is no road along the coast for most of the part, still very nice though.

Before getting into Lisbon we rode through a wonderful town called Sintra, with fairytale castles and lots of great motorcycle roads. The northern beaches are also really and very picturesque (didn't stop to take a picture though!!). We eventually came back and spent a day sightseeing around Sintra, and visiting one of the castles (Castelo dos Mouros). Check out the pictures..

In Lisbon we spent a few days seeing the sights and wandering around, we visited the "world" famous Gulbenkian museum, which was really fascinating, a bit too much for a single day though. We also checked out the aquarium and the area where the worlds fair was staged a few years ago. Riding the streetcars and enjoying the X-mas mood, visiting the various lookout on top of the seven hills, around the city, with the wonderful panoramas of the river, bridge and various sections of the city.

In the middle of Praca du Commercio they have a huge x-mas tree, made of metal and with a "light show". Everyone seems to gather down here early in the evening and take pictures of it.

Portugal: Evora and South

This has to be the biggest surprise of the trip. We had never heard of this place before we got here, and it turns out to be a beautiful walled city, with some incredible architecture and history. Instead of just driving through we ended up spending almost a week here. Amongst other things we did a audio guided walking tour of the city. Visited the "Capela dos Ossos" or Bone Chapel, pretty weird actually, the bones of 6000 people stacked along the walls and ceiling to build a chapel. This was the solution to overflowing graveyards! The roman ruins, batch, and various other public buildings, as well as the very impressive aqueduct.

Additionally to the history and architecture (Romans, Visigoth, Moors), in the surrounding countryside there is an incredible number of stone monuments put up by the Druids 6000 years ago, not to mention the remnants of aqueducts and Roman farms.

From here we continued south to the southwestern most point, where there is a beautiful lighthouse, and some very high cliffs from which fishermen cast their lines more than 100meter down to the rocky shores. (Never did actually see anyone catch any fish though). This area of the Algarve was very nice as is isn't very developed and the landscape is mostly sandy hills punctuated by modern giant white windmills. As we headed east and passed places like, Lagos, Albufeira and Faro it was pretty much developed and looked a lot like any other developed seaside resorts you are likely to find anywhere else. As soon as you turned north though you were back in some typical Portuguese small towns, with fruit farms dominating the landscape. One town we did like was Tavira where we went for dinner one night and wandered around a bit. Small, with some roman fortifications and a river running through the middle of it.

North of Faro we visited a very large Roman ruin, which had some incredible tile work still preserved.

As films are dubbed into Spanish in Spain, we actually turned around before getting to Spain and spent a couple of days in the beach town of Quarteira to the West of Faro. This was so that we could go to Faro and watch King Kong which had just come out. We like it so much we ended up watching it twice in a row.

Before I move on to Spain, I should mention that a very pleasant pastime which we picked up in Portugal was to buy a bottle of Port every couple of days and have a "nip" before and after dinner. In particular we enjoyed a number of the 10 Year old Tawny's as being the best quality for the money. We are going to miss this!

Spain: Rocio, Seville, Carmona

An couple in a panel van in Quarteira told us we had to see this town so on our way to Seville we decided to spend the night here. It turned out to be very interesting. The town has no paved roads, the building are all empty (and there are a lot of them), there is a population of around 650 people, and all the building have wooden rails in front of them (to tie up horses). It turns out there is a religious festival here every year (Romería del Rocío), and the building belong for the most part to the various groups who take part in it. During this festival the town swells to nearly 1 million most of whom come with horses and carts here! I am not so sure I would want to be around for that (the place just isn't that big).

Continuing on to Carmona, where we had been invited to spend a "few" days at the Parador there. Carmona is a fairly small town situated on a hill overlooking huge plains in all direction. It is not very high around 300 meters, but as everything else is lower all around the view is commanding. The parador is on the highest point and used to be an old castle. Out of our window we look in the direction of Cordoba and can see miles and miles of, well not much actually, just empty fields at this time of the year.




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