Thursday, 13 June 2013

Santiago in the rain and then sun in the Pyrenees

Santiago de Compostela in the rain
Santiago boasts that it has some of the worst weather in Spain, and actually sells itself on the fact that the ancient cathedral and tiny narrow streets look better dripping with rain, with the water-spouting gargoyles glistening in the rain and the rain-soaked moss and lichen adding to the sparkling atmosphere.  Well that's all very well if you come from the red hot centre of Spain, or other places like La Mancha and Extremadura, but when you come from rain-soaked UK, and are not a religious pilgrim, or an enthusiastic long distance walker, it loses its attraction.  So we did what we usually do, us heathens!  We found a lively lunchtime bar with a delicious array of tapas laid out in front of us and sat there and were waited on, like eager puppies!  Navajas, or razor clams, well why not, vieiras or scallops, well definitely, seeing as how the emblem of the pilgrims is the scallop shell. But no percebes, or barnacles, which we've heard so much about how they are a particular delicacy.  It's a bit like the conch in Florida, it's a delicacy but you'll have a devil of a job finding it!
A wander around Santiago, which is a very atmospheric place, especially when you've eaten and had a few beers.  Full of people finishing their epic walk and loved ones taking photos.  There was also a cycle event finishing or starting, we couldn't work out which, but the commentator was very enthusiastic, and the cyclists looked so fit and young and tiny!

The following day we tried to give the area another shot and set off for a cycle around the headland of Santa Cruz towards Pontedueme, but rain stopped play and after about 20 miles we gave it up as a bad job.  Soon onto busy main roads, with the attractive coastline becoming more inaccessible!
The following day we decided, madly to leave Galicia and head back towards Santander, some 300+ miles.  It was raining so what do you do but try and get away!  Now our friend,Checho, from our favourite place in the world, Can Punyetes, in Alcudia, is from Pontedeume, so we thought we'd call in seeing as we were in the area.  It was good to visit a proper lived in town in Galicia, with an old bridge across the wide Eume river. It was market day and a buzz about the place.  Even the long- awaited percebes were for sale, but I didn't have a clue what to do with them.  The stall-holder kept saying "Mariscos", yes and I still don't know what to do with them.  It was safer to buy some honey!  Could have bought a shirt for Ian for 3euros!
Back on the journey to Santander. We decided to see what the weather was like nearer the coast, and called in at a quaint, old fishing village, Cudillero, nestled in the cliffs, like Mousehole in Cornwall.  In fact the coastline reminded us of Cornwall, with its impressive, rocky coastline.  It was cold and rain was forecast, so we decided not to stay, but to continue on to Luz Saint Sauveur in the Pyrenees.  But we felt that we'd definitely come back here again, maybe when there was a remote chance of sunshine!  It wasn't that we didn't want to stay, but after five days of minimal cycling, we wanted to get back on the bikes again.
  By 3pm we were camped up at Les Cascades in Luz, where we stayed two years ago, when Ian did his long trip in the Pyrenees.  Desperate to get out cycling, we opted for the stiff climb up Luz Ardiden, only 18miles return, but a toughie, with 1000m climbing.  Average gradient 7.5% it's a bit of a shocker, at the beginning of a trip, but the only way to practise is to do it.  A local pizza cafe owner told me that they say it takes 10 cols before you start to feel stronger, so only 8 more to go!  Because of all the bad weather, and fresh snowfall in the mountains, we were amazed to see that the Col d'Aubisque and the Tourmalet were both closed- two of the reasons why we came here!  The friendly pizza chef recommended an alternative route, although he added it was quite tough, up to Col des Spandelles and Col de Soulor.  We checked the map and it did look an interesting circuit.  So the following day, nice downhill start 10miles to Argeles-Gazost, up to Gez and through the vallee des Salles, climbing to Col des Spandelles, 1350m.  A tricky steep descent to Ferrieres and then the same amount of climbing again to Col de Soulor.  Well worth it with views across the mountains to the road up the Aubisque. Ian saw a golden eagle soaring alongside him overlooking the ravine.  I could see that we had done all the hard work, with only a few hundred feet to go to the summit of Aubisque, and a gentle gradient to finish on, but the barrier was across and the summit was "ferme"!  So that was that!
Time for a coke and a chat at the top of Soulor, with a couple from Halifax, who'd recently visited Trough of Bowland, as they had a friend in Clitheroe!  Then the long, long descent, but easy gradient, over 12 miles back to Argeles-Gazost, and then the 10mile climb back up the adjacent valley to Luz, assisted by a Nutella crepe and coke from a roadside van.  Fantastic, a double strength sugar injection!  I love crepes!
  Set off at 10am and back at 5pm.  A long day out!  62 miles and 7800ft climbing.  At least the rain stayed off, with cloud and some sunshine.
Another six more cols before the legs are meant to respond!  I wonder if that goes for middle-aged women as well!  By the middle of next week, we should be like wot sit off a shovel!

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