Friday 16th June
A calm crossing with a relaxed meal meant that we had a great night’s sleep at Dieppe. The Mikes were too excited to wait for the 7am breakfast that we had arranged, and woke Malcolm up earlier so that we could get on the road. He was less excited and impressed, having just returned from Florida and been up late the previous night finalising the accommodation plans, but patiently went along with us.
Our stop for Friday night just inside Spain was the town of Oriatzun. We realised that it was very close to the lovely city of San Sebastian, and we were ahead of schedule having been lucky with the driving. So we decided to spend some time in San Sebastian and have our evening meal there. The parking is very well organised without the ugly multi-storey car parks we often see at home, by way of several underground car parks. Then we realised that our superb high van - great for storage and access to bikes, luggage, food etc - was a problem for height-restricted underground car parks! However another great thing about San Sebastian is that they have on-street parking slightly away from the busy central area, on the cliff tops overlooking the Bay of Biscay. We parked there and had a fairly long walk back into the city centre, giving our legs a well-needed stretch after sitting for nearly two days in the van.
We found the amazing “Bueno Pastor” church (meaning Good Shepherd, the patron of San Sebastian) and a nice outdoor restaurant nearby for a hearty meal to stock up on the carbs that we were going to need over the following days. Later on our way back to the van we were treated to a perfect sunset over the sea as we walked through the harbour, a great end to a tiring day.
Saturday 17th June
Last year, early in our Rome trip, as we passed through severely flooded areas of France and several late nights were spent re-working the route. Happily things have gone more smoothly, so we have some time to write the blog “as we go” rather than at the end.
Starting point: Markina
Our plan for the day was a short drive to the cycle-start, to allow for unavailability of hotels exactly on our route. We drove to Markina-Xemein for an intended easy first day, 'only' 38 miles but 1740 metres of climbing.
The start was by no means gentle, climbing 140 metres very steeply in the first half-mile! To put this into perspective imagine going up two of Chalfont Heights but in the same distance.
Then the climbs just kept getting harder until we reached the lovely alpine village of Elexalde, and made our way down hill to the lunch stop at Gernika.
View from the church at Elexalde
At this point we reaped the benefit of the walkie-talkies that Denese had kindly lent us, being able to contact Malcolm in the van without depending on mobile phone coverage. The only problem was that everyone wanted to be called Roger now, even more confusing than “3 Mikes”!
The afternoon presented us with some severe rocky and muddy trails that would confound most mountain-bikes, let alone our road/ gravel machines. We just about managed to avoid any falls, the sensible people pushing their bikes down the steep bumpy terrain but one of us relishing a bit of true off-roading which the arms and shoulders certainly noticed the following day!
Malcolm with our spacious and tidy van!
We cut our day short at the lovely Basque town of Larrabetzu - a great place to be on a Saturday evening as they were setting up live music in the main square. After Malcolm joined us with the van we stayed there for our evening meal too.