The heart of Gascony

France is getting better and leaving me openmouthed. If I liked it before, now I’m fascinated. Who would tell? All my life disliking it and it turns out to be – arguably – Europe’s most beautiful country. To think that, after Norway, I thought I had seen everything!

Puente sobre el sinuoso Vézière
Bridge over Vézière river
Detalle del puente: la pasarela es de madera
Close up of the bridge’s walkway made of wood

This morning I’ve set off earlier than usual because of the guesthouse’s crazy breakfast time (ten in the morning!). Since, heading south-southwest, I approach the vast fields of Aquitaine, I thought I’d come into an uglier region than that behind me, but fortunately I’m still crossing a lot of lovely places. For instance the hills of Dordogne, where every landscape is prettier than the previous one and every valley’s charm is surpassed by the next. Continue reading “The heart of Gascony”

Where do I belong?

October twelfth, anniversary of the discovery of America, day of Hispanic World for us Spaniards, much to the displeasure of our American cousins, who are always ashamed of their great-grandparents.
Breakfast at L’Hirondelle du Lac is a bit thrifty, yet of great quality: homemade sponge cake, blackberries from the backyard, honey from local hives, homemade bread and, of course, a superb croissant (as always in France). The only thing I don’t like is the ‘served until’ time: only to 9:30, a drama for my insomnia. But that’s how it works here; and still I managed to negotiate with my host an extra half hour, so I shouldn’t complain.

Vista desde el comedor del hotel
View from the hotel’s eating room

Once I’m done, I check the weather forecast to plan my day: it’ll be rainy in the afternoon – they say – for the roads I have to ride, which makes up my mind for staying a second day in this lovely hotel. I’ll need to ask for a small heater tonight, though, because the room felt a bit cool this morning.
After the past two months on northern and central Europe, which were typically cold autumnal, here it still feels like summer: it’s 27 ºC today and I’m on shorts and a T-shirt. Despite the forecast, the threatening clouds all over the horizon and the distant thunder, it’s sunny above my head and I have the feeling we’re not going to get a drop of water here, after all. But I’m glad not hitting road anyway, because I was needing a longer stop, and I can’t think of a better place than this. I’ll use the rest of my day for updating these notes and rambling around the countryside.
I never get tired of saying my preference for hilly regions over flatter ones because I find that people in the highlands, and in less inhabited areas like this one, are usually nicer and friendlier than the others. However, stupidity is universal and has no borders; therefore you will find everywhere one or two or twenty bastards who just love making noise. I’m saying this now because I’m hearing, since quite a while, a few dirt bikes – like a swarm of blowflies – that must be doing off-road somewhere behind one of these hills around me, disrupting the otherwise idyllic peace of this place. Why the industry requirements, I wonder, are so strict for acoustic levels in vehicles if afterwards nobody takes care of enforcing the law or keeping on a leash these ball-touchers, so they don’t ride around bikes whose sole reason for existing is to produce noise? Dammit! Continue reading “Where do I belong?”

A piece of paradise

Wooden floored and paper-thin walled, every step in the noisy and expensive hotel at Le Veurdre could be heard as well as my neighbours partying last night. I admit, though, to my insomnia as the main problem. Fortunately, at least, the morning has begun fantastic, splendid, barely a few clouds on the horizon.


My indefatigable Rosaura of the winged feet carries me today along a road stretch that, between Montluçon and Aubusson, reminds me of my native Extremadura: a narrow and winding way, paved on that kind of hard-bearing asphalt that, despite being much beaten down, endures the pass of decades like a champion. For a better likeness with my homeland, this region is covered by a vegetation very much alike our pastures over there, except that these trees are not my dear quercus ilex, the holm oaks.

Una calle de Aubusson
A street in Aubusson

Aubusson, in the centric Aquitaine region, is a small town renowned (since the late middle ages) for its tapestry and carpets, though such industry declined much about one century ago, when the wallpaper started getting popular. Continue reading “A piece of paradise”

Lights and shades of Latvia; blessed backwardness!

A petrol station. I fill up the tank and go to the shop. When I tend my credit card to the cashier, she looks scared and steps back, hiding her hands behind her back, as if I had produced a scorpion. Maybe she has never seen a Mastercard, ‘cos she refuses to take it. I pay cash and leave. They’re mistrustful, these Latvians; most of all in the stations. Once, I had to leave without fueling.
It’s a splendid day’s morning, sunny but not hot, thanks to a thin veil of clouds. Twenty one Centigrades. Though September has but begun, fall is already come to this land. Trees start losing their leaves and there are superb landscapes along some of the roads I’m riding: woods and sown fields, farms and grooves, fallow plots and ploughed lands, a pictoresque and varied countryside that beautifies my journey. Sometimes I roll under a slow, playful dropping of yellow leaves that fall on the road, touching my helmet or whirling around Rosaura’s turbulence. Every now and then a ranch. This part of the country, outdated farming machinery is still used which anywhere else in Europe can only be found inside ethnographic museums; and that all makes Latvia far more appealing to me. Continue reading “Lights and shades of Latvia; blessed backwardness!”

Elciego and around, cradle of Rioja wine

It’s the heart of the summer, and from the height south-bordering the Álava plain there lies at my feet, majestic and fertile, hot and glaring, the Ebro valley; namely the Basque side of Rioja, which is somehow a territorial inconsistence, since all southern Álava is, like Treviño, actually more Castilian than Basque; but we’re deep into an autonomic nonsense here in Spain, after Franco died.

Valle del Ebro al pie de la llanada Alavesa
The Ebro valey below the Álava plain

The road from Vitoria to the height descends now towards the valley in a series of fun bends which are a good challenge for a bike rider. Pity it gets so hot as I go down into the Iberic cauldron, the valley bed where the vinyards are, that I need to take my jacket off. Continue reading “Elciego and around, cradle of Rioja wine”