Haka in a Cider House

A few days ago we stopped in a small town called Umieta after spending much longer than excepted on the road.  Our intended destination was San Sebastian but the bicycle path we were following changed from a pleasant dirt track to one more suitable for mountain biking.  Amaya had endured 20km of pot holes filled with muddy water and we were exhausted after a couple of days of difficult mountain passes.  So in spite of being only 10km short of San Sebastian we hastily found a hotel.  The hotel owner was excited to hear Shoshanna was from New Zealand and called out to the neighbour who also happened to be a Kiwi.  Yos has lived in Umieta for the last 9 years with his wife, Maria, and lovely daughter, Intza.

Yos invited us to have lunch on Sunday in a Cider House.  We had no idea what an awesome experience this would be.   It is an amazing place, people eating big hunks of bloody meat, seated at long timber benches and yelling to make themselves heard.  The best part of it all is that cider is drunk directly from the 14000 litre barrels.  One simply holds ones glass under the tap and, presto, freshly pressed apple cider.

It was a feast of protein! Chorizo, fish omelete, massive steaks and sheep cheese and walnuts to finish.

It was a feast of protein! Chorizo, fish omelete, massive steaks and sheep cheese and walnuts to finish.

Amaya took an instant liking to Intza and they waltzed around the cider house like long lost friends.

Amaya took an instant liking to Intza and they waltzed around the cider house like long lost friends.

Walking between massive barrels of cider

Walking between massive barrels of cider

An apple pendulum!

An apple pendulum!

To add to the experience a semi professional rugby team from Barcelona was celebrating their win over San Sebastian.  There were a number of kiwis in the team who treated us to a display of the Haka.  A magical clash of cultures!

We left full of cider, protein and joy.  Not making it to San Sebastian after that nasty day of riding will be something we always remember with fondness.

When it all goes right!

It is a true statement that bicycle touring can produce some of the most amazing and memorable days, and at the same time inflict some of the most painful and miserable days imaginable.

Fortunately this post is about the former – in five months of riding I am sure we will have opportunity to report on the latter.

In Shoshanna’s last post she pleaded for the head winds to stop – and so they did – which was the beginning of our good fortune.  The day started with a flat tire – which is a bad omen for any ride – but once riding we enjoyed some nice shoulders, pleasant temperatures and a gentle breeze.  Amaya was singing all her favourite tunes as we rolled into a town called Esplus – which to me sounded more likely to be the name of a petrol station.  We did our usual thing and started cooking Amaya’s lunch in the town square while villagers stared at us.  Amaya and I played in the park at the adjacent school.  We then drank a sneaky coffee while waiting for the lunch to cook.  The bartender took a particular liking to Amaya and gifted her some particularly unhealthy potato crisps, which to the dismay of her Papá, she loved!

I would take a tractor lane over a bicycle lane any day.

I would take a tractor lane over a bicycle lane any day.

Amaya and I having a sneaky coffee - we are educating the Spanish about the joys of babycinos. It is always confusing for the bartender when I explain all I want is the froth.

Amaya and I having a sneaky coffee – we are educating the Spanish about the joys of babycinos. It is always confusing for the bartender when I explain all I want is the froth.

I got chatting with the ever friendly locals while Amaya grafitied the square with her chalk.  Lunch was ready, which we enjoyed on a grassy patch next to some teenagers smoking pot and trying to impress us with their gymnastic prowess (a potentially perilous combination).  So while Amaya enjoyed her first passive I wandered back to the bar and chatted some more.

Amanda (who is English but has lived in Spain since she was 19) invited us back to her property to see her horses.  We jumped at the opportunity.  Amaya was in her element – she didn’t know what to do first – there were dogs and chickens and roosters and a fun garden and fizzy drink!!  We sat and enjoyed chatting with Amanda while looking over the beautiful countryside out to the snowcapped Pyrenees.

Riding up Amanda's driveway with her awesome Spanish villa in the background.

Riding up Amanda’s driveway with her awesome Spanish villa in the background.

Amaya in her element!

Amaya in her element!

Amanda’s horses were beautiful and Amaya liked sitting on them (in retrospect).  It was time to go, much to Amaya’s dismay.   We said sad goodbyes to Amanda and were on our way again.  Encounters such as these make cycling worthwhile!

Amaya with Oro - an Andalusian thoroughbred

Amaya with Oro – an Andalusian thoroughbred

She was not super happy to be on the horse but she talked about it positively afterwards: "fun riding the horse!"

She was not super happy to be on the horse but she talked about it positively afterwards: “fun riding the horse!”

Ready to leave Amanda's villa.

Ready to leave Amanda’s villa.

To top the day off we landed an amazing hotel in un pueblito (little village) called Albalate de Cinca.  It was one of those moments where I checked the price a few times just to make sure it was true that we were getting 4 star accommodation for 1 star prices.

P.S. For the last three days of riding we have battled significant head winds.  Days like the one described above are great, but it is so hard to keep it in our heads that this is actually something we enjoy doing.  At the moment it is a grind.

P.P.S. We made the news in Nicaragua which has been quite motivating: http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2013/04/aussies-bike-europe-to-raise-funds-for-nica-health-clinic/7383

Crossing Catalonia

Riding westward across Catalonia into a westerly had me making some not very complex calculations: High levels of unfitness + insane headwinds + mostly uphill = LOTS OF PAIN. Multiply this with: Beautiful valley’s + medieval villages + time together as a family = worth it???

First day of serious riding with Montserrat in the background.

First day of serious riding with Montserrat in the background.

We are TRYING to take it easy. Ease our bodies into the trip. Obviously the headwinds have a different idea often forcing us to travel 10km/hr less than we would normally. This makes the short easy days we plan into WAY TOO LONG ones with the final 10km feeling like it might break our bodies. Adding to the issue is we are taking FOREVER to get going in the morning. Our systems need some time to be sorted out and refined. We are frustrated even though we know its a natural process that happens in a tour and soon we will be a well oiled machine, each item with its place, each team member with our own unspoken roles.  Despite all of these issues we are certainly pedalling past some pretty cool places:

Cool street in Cervera.

Cool street in Cervera.

Amaya checking out the arrow slits.

Amaya checking out the arrow slits.

The amazing town of Cervera. It even has its own spooky witches alley!

The amazing town of Cervera. It even has its own spooky witches alley!

Meanwhile, Amaya is being a little legend. While we are battling the wind, Amaya was being the best behaved little girl EVER. She loves it. She gets up, potters around the hotel room, eats breakfast, if she’s lucky a sneaky baby chino (yes – this is part of the reason we are late getting on the road!), gets spoiled and doted on by the proprietor, then into the magic buggy for some reading, snacks, and great views. A stop at a park for a play and lunch, then a nap while we do some good afternoon riding. Her life is a beach, two primary carers, predictable, and always with new and interesting experiences.

Amaya exploring during a break from riding.

Amaya exploring during a break from riding.

Thanks to using google maps on walking mode we encountered a little more adventure than we had bargained for. It instructed us to cycle down a dirt road into the wilderness. Scenic yes, but it made me feel a little insecure trusting google to get me OUT of the middle of nowhere to where we were planning on staying the night. The promised bridge that would take us back to civilisation and into our first campground turned out to be a dam wall. We had a few mini freak outs carrying Amaya in the magic buggy up a narrow stair case next to the enormous precipice so we could cross over. The bridge was made out of metal grate, LOOK DOWN Mic said, its an AMAZING drop! WAAAAAAAaaaa!

Going into the wilderness

Going into the wilderness

Having just made it up the precarious staircase we prepare to cross the dam(n) wall.

Having just made it up the precarious staircase we prepare to cross the dam(n) wall.

Goodbye Catalonia… Hello Aragon (Please don’t be so windy!)

Artés

While cycling the Danube River in 2008 we met Albert and Sandra. At the time they invited us to come and visit them in Catalonia, Spain. Four years on we took them up on their offer (which was still good). They live in Artés, a small village in the hills of Catalonia.

Luckily for us our arrival coincided with the annual fair. It is a big deal we are told in a village where not much else happens. The villages eagerly await the opportunity to check out the latest tractors and farming machinery while chugging down copious amounts of vino tinto and the odd coca de leche. There are also the obligatory tacky rides, which Amaya was very much into (and I thought she had taste!). In fact, being the little nerd that she is, she had read all about merry-go-rounds but never experienced their joys. I am not sure who enjoyed it more?

Weeeeeeeeeeeee

Weeeeeeeeeeeee

Definitely the spot for a group photo!

Definitely the spot for a group photo!

We moved through the Fair slowly, with Albert and Sandra stopping and speaking to what seemed like every second person. All wanted to see Baby Marc, Albert and Sandra’s baby boy. To the disappointment of Aunts, uncles, grandmothers, cousins once removed and friends of distant relatives, Marc slept on soundly in his baby carrier.

We were treated to some Catalonian specialties, including: Paella (not sure if it is strictly Catalonian) Pan con Tomate, Dried sausage amongst other delights, all washed down with home made wine thanks to Sandra’s father who harvests and makes over 1000 litres a year.

On our final day we were taken to two quaint villages an hours drive into the hills. The photos below barely do them justice. Gracias Albert, Sandra y Marc. Esperem veure’ls a Austràlia un dia proper. adéu.

Sandra, Marc and us with the Pyrenees in the background.

Sandra, Marc and us with the Pyrenees in the background.

Sandra and Shosh  - the entry to the town couldn't be more fun! Swinging bridge!

Sandra and Shosh – the entry to the town couldn’t be more fun! Swinging bridge!

Albert and Marc

Albert and Marc

Cobbled Streets

Amaya liked it so much she thought she would leave her mark.

Amaya liked it so much she thought she would leave her mark.

Amaya's summary: "Fun playing with Marc"

Amaya’s summary: “Fun playing with Marc”

 

Here we go…

So it begins – 5 months of meandering through Europe on bicycles with the vague aim of making it to the Baltic Sea and then cycling back down to Berlin.  We are riding because we love it, because we love Europe and also in support of Clinica Verde.  Clinica Verde is a clinic that provides much needed care to mothers and their babies in a rural part of Nicaragua.  Shoshanna and I were privileged to visit Clinica Verde in 2011 when it was in the construction phase. Now it is providing a service that we take for granted, but just isn’t available in many poor countries.  We would really appreciate your support through donating what you can to this charity. (you can read more about Clinica Verde here)

Poster for our ride.

Poster for our ride – you can click on this and donate if you like.

The all important shot in front of Gaudi's iconic Sagrada Familia.

The all important shot in front of Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia.

We are both nervous as we set out on what seems like an impossible task even without a 2 year old.  To add an extra dimension Amaya has started getting her 2 year old molars.  We have had a couple of interesting days with her in Barcelona, which involved a number of meltdowns.

Cycle touring is about focusing on each day, on each moment.  If one gets too concerned with the big picture, about the enormity of the ride and all the potential problems, then the task becomes insurmountable.

So the Baltic here we come – but right now we are going to enjoy this little Catalonian town we are in called Manresa!

Amaya checking out another big Church - Colegiata Basílica de Santa María.  She was quick to comprehend the vibe of the place and  spoke in whispers the whole time.

Manresa – Amaya checking out another big Church – Colegiata Basílica de Santa María. She was quick to comprehend the vibe of the place and spoke in whispers the whole time.

She asked if she could have a drink...

She asked if she could have a drink…

Berlin – Top 5/Bottom 5

As our time here in Berlin comes to an end we thought it would be cool to reflect on what we like and what we dislike about this city.  So… drum roll…. here are our top 5 and bottom 5 for Berlin:

TOP 5

1. Kinder (children) Cafes

Amaya and I have sampled many a coffee in our short stay in Berlin.  There is the fluffy duck cafe, the balloon cafe, the slide cafe, the milk cafe and the most favoured of all (and not strictly a kinder cafe) – the lady cafe.  Not the real names, but the names bestowed by a toddler.

The Lady cafe is ironically named Sommer Haus, is just around the corner from where we live, is cool in a Hipsta sort of way, does great coffee and has toys and books for Amaya.  What’s more the owners are actually friendly and talk to us beyond the basic transaction exchange!

Kinder cafes are our other staple and often involve play equipment, toys books, screaming children and varying quality of food and coffee.  The basic idea is that parents sip lattes in peace while children occupy themselves.  They have been a lifesaver considering how bad the weather has been.

Amaya in the "lady cafe" with Majo her favourite lady!

Amaya in the “lady cafe” with Majo her favourite lady!

2. Graffiti

This would normally be in a bottom 5 but Berlin have somehow managed to foster a vibrant culture of graffiti without it being about vandalism or contributing to urban decay.  In fact graffiti seems to add to the ambience of the city and give it a certain charm.  Even the graffiti in our local kids playground adds to the fun of the place!

Graffiti

3. Cycle infrastructure

Between the fantastic public transport system (which should really make the top 5 but is a bit boring to write about) and the amazing networks of bicycle paths, one does not need a car in Berlin.  This has been a huge relief and contrast to our car centred Sydney lives.  I had previously imagined that cycling would not be a thing we did during the winter, but I have found myself cycling down the street, with Amaya in tow, in all sorts of inclement weather. And the best thing is I feel safe doing it.  Motorists are incredibly aware and considerate, once again a contrast to the Australian experience.

For anybody who has been doored you will see the wisdom in the design of this bike lane!

For anybody who has been doored you will see the wisdom in the design of this bike lane!

4. Museums

Thanks to a strong tradition of German archaeology in times gone by, coupled with their willingness to plunder everything they discovered and transport it back to Germany, the Museums in Berlin are nothing short of astonishing.   I must have visited close to 20 museums and haven’t even scratched the surface.  Highlights were definitely the Pergamon Museum, the Jewish museum and the Neues Museum.  Berliners are so passionate about museums that they even have “Lange Nacht der Museen” (long night at the museum), where for 18 euros you can gorge yourself on museums from 6pm till 2am.  I managed six including the very trippy Hemp Museum, where I drank hemp tea and ate hemp cake!

A very serious museum about hemp!

A very serious museum about hemp!

5. Weather

Despite our moaning and groaning about the weather (which is nothing compared to the average Berliner) it did provide us with some fun activities.  There was the sheer beauty and novelty of snow, the opportunity to build snowmen and best of all the sledding, which can best be described in the following video montage:

BOTTOM 5

This is where we get to have a good whinge.  To our friends from Berlin – please don’t take this personally – you are all obviously the exception to the rule – we love you and Berlin wouldn’t be half as good without you!

1. Weather

Seriously while snow is cool and is a novelty for us Aussies there is only so much one can take.  I am finishing this off from Barcelona where the weather is sunny and 17 degrees.  When we left Berlin yesterday there was still mountains of snow on the ground and the promise of more to come.  I will not miss having to put on my entire wardrobe before walking out the door, nor will I miss having to dress and undress a wriggling toddler every time we exit or enter a building.

I think we have been particularly unlucky with the weather.  It has been the darkest winter in 140 years and the coldest March ever!  Cold is one thing, never seeing the sun is quite something else. November, December January, February and March – 5 months of freezing cold, overcast, ice, snow, hurts to go outdoors, everybody hibernates.  Definitely a major subtraction to quality of life!

This was taken on the 29th of March - nice spring weather!

This was taken on the 29th of March – nice spring weather!

2. Dog Turds

If people are so intent on owning a dog and thereby contributing to global warming and the global food crisis, then the least they can do is clean up after their animal!  This is a problem all over Berlin and one has to be ever cognisant to avoid an unwanted mess.

(no photo – sorry to disappoint)

3. Art Galleries

Berlin with its relatively cheap rent and hot international art scene means there are more commercial galleries popping up than you can poke a stick at.  But the ease at which one can hire a space, strew a smattering of art around the room, then shout free beers on the opening night to draw a crowd means that anyone can do it.  The result – art lovers having to wade through a heck of a lot of crap to find anything notable.  Michael is even thinking of putting together an installation of Dog Turds collected from a wide variety of Berlin neighbourhoods.  Maybe I’m going to the wrong places, or am currently too obsessed with painting, or maybe I simply don’t know enough about art to appreciate whats going on here, but I am so sick of conceptual, found object, poorly executed, adding nothing positive to the human experience, installation, crap exhibitions that I will never step foot into a commercial gallery in Berlin again.

4. Berlin Schnauzer 

An actual term to describe the curt, abrupt and unfriendly manner of many Berliners when interacting with strangers.  Obviously our lack of German didn’t help our perception that Berliners were on the whole quite cold towards strangers.  We were relieved to learn it wasn’t just us who were being given the cold shoulder, but rather Berliners were quite famous for their don’t mess with me personas.

Examples:

I remember catching the tram one day with Amaya in the baby carrier – she quickly established that the tram was like a bus and this was enough for her to burst into a loud rendition of “wheels on the bus.”  Meanwhile our fellow commuters stood mere centimetres away, absorbed in their thoughts, as though nothing truly entertaining was occurring.

Amaya sighted many a dog and patted none, as owners wouldn’t even glance sideways at her enthusiastic remonstrations.  Any transaction in any shop, bakery, train station, photocopy place etc. is just that – a transaction – there is never a desire for small talk or an interest in the customers welfare.  One day when I let Amaya pay at the grocery store I thought the checkout lady was going to  kill me with her stern glare as Amaya fumbled with the 20 euro note.

Anyway, I am sure everybody is lovely and wonderful – but there is certainly very little warmth.

Number 5

There is no 5th thing!  We were scratching around for a 5th thing and they all sounded pretty lame.  It was honestly much easier to come up with the top 5 which potentially says a lot about Berlin.  Maybe if you have been here you could help fill in the blank for number 5…