France, Andorra, Spain - Summer '16
Summer 2016 was spent mostly... playing in the mountains
We did move a bit, but even then, it was just to another part of the mountains
This topic will likely be the last episode in a while because life seems to be settling down into a more easy way of life without much movement. Well, at least for a few months it will be that way. Travel pics will likely return next year.
Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland - Spring '16
Spring 2016. Yes, still on holiday. Oops
Quite enjoying the Costa Blanca (can certainly recommend this as a winter cycling destination) but as the weather warms it's time to head back North.
Trip to Germany for the snail's safety inspection - can you believe it's a year already?! Which leads to the obligatory stop with friends both there and in Switzerland. Passing through an as yet unexplored part of the Black Forest & home via the Giant of Provence. Lovely stuff.
We really love the Pyrenees though so this is where the majority of our time will be spent this year I think. Ahem And why not - a dream come true to ride the Tourmalet through walls of snow above one's head is just one of the benefits!
France, Spain - Winter '15/'16
This winter was meant to be spent mostly in the South of Spain & Portugal, but... as I said earlier (see Autumn '15) there were plans afoot in France that required our attention.
Cue spending pretty much all of winter in the Pyrenees. In the snail. Brrrrr?
Well, actually this turned out to be a very mild winter by all accounts. There was a sprinkling of snow on the peaks but the snail only saw a snow briefly for a single day. This meant that there was not to be any skiing on the cards, but, no drama - have bike, will ride
It was only as the calendar rolled along into March that first signs of some proper snow and ice appeared, and as luck would have it this was when we finally concluded our chores. So, job done (for now) we finally got that break to the South.
Not really as planned, but as can be seen, not really a hardship either.
Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal - Autumn '15
Not that we didn't absolutely love Norway, but it wasn't really that summery up there. Sure, we did see sunshine, but also snow. Say no more!
So come Autumn and return to the South I had in mind at least a few weeks of sunshine to make up for that lack of a real toasty summer. This kindof worked, but, then there was a change of plan.
You see: we were supposed to travel all the way to the bottom of Spain or Portugal for winter, but only made it as far as Porto (beautiful place that is too) before returning to France to attend to some business. Oh well, but it will hopefully be worth it.
At least, after the Norwegian experience, we know how to make the most of cold, grey weather
Norway - Summer '15
After failing to make it during our last big European adventure in 2012, Norway was a main 'goal' of the year. And yes... wow!
Truth be told, we spent a little too long 'messing about' (having fun in the sun!) in France and Germany in June but in the end don't think that really mattered. We had seven weeks in total in Norway but by the end became difficult as it seems most places shut down in September as none of the tourists are silly enough to stay this late in the year. Luckily in our last week we had one day of spectacular weather for a final hike, squeezed in between a couple of weeks of rain. Yes - cue to leave the country indeed!
The route was basically a blast Northward (close to Åndalsnes) that took just a couple of days from Denmark before meandering back South via the fjords and coast. The first week set the scene with a single, superb sunny day as we arrived followed by a week of cloud and rain which had to be waited out in order to hit one of the famous hikes in the area. Well worth the wait, it has to be said! This pattern was set to repeat, but there was time to get out cycling or hiking between the rain, or just a few times where one had to toughen up and brave it for fear of getting cabin fever!
If I tried to describe the entire visit would soon run out of superlatives. This appears a county of extremes: Beautiful always, and even more so when the sun shines, but even in summer the weather was a challenge. So much brutal cycling on roads out of fjords and spectacular hiking above them I'm sure we could easily do the whole thing again.
Best to leave it at that and let you flick through the pictures, as words simply cannot do the place justice.
France, Germany, Denmark - Summer '15
As previously mentioned - you do read everything here, right? - we had a short period at the start of summer in which to wait for some parts for our motorhome, which meant staying within easy reach of 'base' around Frankfurt.
This wasn't really a problem, as even a few hours from here will get you to the Black Forest in Germany and Vosges region in France.
We hadn't been to the Vosges before but there's plenty of great cycling there it would seem (the region is a regular feature in Le Tour) and upon arrival it didn't disappoint (well - aside from getting caught out in a brief rain shower that is).
The Black Forest was one of our favourite spots in German from a previous trip (Black Forest & Lake Constance, Aug/Sep '12) and again provided some fantastic cycling, walks and food.
This short interlude dealt with (and said parts fitted) we headed North for the main event. A quick stop in Copenhagen seemed a must and is included here, but for the rest of the summer it would be on to Norway! Or at least that was the plan!
Amstel Gold 2015
Close to the Ardenne in Spring, with a few days to 'kill' while waiting for our 'home' to be prepared... one has to take in one of the classics of course!
So we found ourselves in Valkenburg the day of the Amstel Gold race.
This actually proved to be an excellent place to watch. Most bike racing there's a lot of waiting around for a few seconds of action to pass. You go there to experience the anticipation, hang out with fellow fans, catch perhaps a glimpse of your heros before it's gone in a blur and a scramble to the nearest TV ensues to see what happened next.
However, here in Valkenburg there are four passages of the riders: One early morning for the die hards, one mid-afternoon then two more in quick succession which by now is the business end of the day and plenty of attacking riding is happening.
Of course between these there is plenty to do in this beautiful little town. Naturally though, that mainly involves food and drink! There are still plenty of TVs out on display to see what's happening elsewhere on course too.
We positioned ourselves bottom of the Cauberg climb for passing one, then found a spot on the rather crowded slope for later in the day. Nothing better than seeing riders attacking full on just meters away.
Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Luxembourg - Spring '15
The start of our second European adventure! We will be meandering all over this time so instead of trying to break down entries by country let's just call this, "Spring 2015".
After much deliberation I managed to talk Pratiwi into trying to live for many months - let's not tell her, "years" - in a motorhome. Neither of us have tried this before, but lots of people are doing it - just search the web for more useful blogs than mine regarding the subject - so how hard can it be?
Of course the first challenge is to actually acquire said vehicle for everyday living. A little trickier than you'd think, but after much research this saw us land in Frankfurt, Germany after the usual long flight from Sydney. We are so lucky that Pratiwi has friends in the area we can catch up with and get local advice from so that's a bonus.
We started by renting a car for just a week. The plan being to visit local dealers and line up the motorhome in this time. Fortunately this worked out well and we soon decided on the model we'd like that was in stock nearby. Sadly though, things aren't quiet as efficient in Germany as you might think paperwork along with other preparations would take a further two weeks. Doh!
Not to worry, we extended the car rental by this time (or rather, were forced to return the car we had and take another one for some unknown reason) so took the opportunity to venture to Holland and see this year's Amstel Gold Race, enjoying mostly German countryside along the way.
Once we took delivery of our new 'home' the choices seemed to be, head South for some sun or take a trip to the UK to visit family & collect a few things that had been left for safekeeping in 2012. Sadly, or happily - take your pick - the later won
Once in the UK it would have been rude not to see a little of the more picturesque parts (& a much hyped bike race there) so wondered around Yorkshire and up to the Lake District. Lovely but the weather reminded me why I moved to Australia rather quickly! Brrrrrr!
This was the cue to return to the continent. Our motorhome needed a little more work too so we did that and stayed close to 'base' to enable a quick return for parts fitting when they arrived. Not that this was a hardship - we've visited some beautiful parts of Germany while waiting.
Thailand & Indonesia, March '15
This trip was billed as a few weeks of tropical relaxation before heading off on a longer adventure. However, it had a metamorphosis in the middle into couple weeks of adventure itself and at times things were anything but tropical!
Big thanks to our Indonesian family members for arranging basically all of that adventure through Java. What an amazing time!
The Thai part of this was pretty much as can be expected. Although I have to say - was not that impressed by Thailand from a tourist point of view. We visited Kamala, Karon, Phuket City & Thalang. Nice enough I guess, but not half as nice as Indonesia
Moving on then... after meeting family in Jakarta the fun (or is that madness?!) really started. Lots of catching up meant lots & lots of eating, and you'd be forgiven for thinking this was just a food safari at points!
Drive through Java to Bandung, fly to Surabaya, overland bus to Mt Bromo, Malang & Batu. Train Surabaya to Yogyakarta which was just stunning with it's selection of temples.
A few of us parted ways at this point and some headed to Bali for a well earned (yeah - right! ) 10 days or so to unwind.
Tour de France 2014 - Stage 18
It's not like we planned it this way, but one cannot visit France while Le Tour is on and not got and see a stage. Unlike 2012 this was a short trip though, so just the one stage this year.
However, the chosen stage was the final foray into the mountains for the race and we managed to position ourselves on the final HC climb. Usually one would take a bike and ride up the final climb before finding a spot to watch. Due to injury this wasn't an option, but we found a great spot on the first decent kick of the climb a couple kilometres from the left turn to Hautacam. And sat. And waited.
In previous years I've enjoyed taking 'serious' pictures at races but again, due to only the single stage this year, decided to stick to 'fun' pictures that tried to capture the atmosphere. Hopefully that comes over.
As the race came by I stuck a fisheye lens on the camera and held it in my uphill hand with one finger on the shutter. Yes, this produced a lot of rubbish, but it also got a few good shots and importantly it meant I could watch all the action up close without being stuck behind a viewfinder.
The most interesting thing about the whole day was that you'd think this would feel like hours of waiting - but not at all. So much happening, people to chat to and things to see. Even with the 2-4km walk up and back it's highly recommended... but next time we'll be on a bike for sure!
Europe Jul/Aug '14
We weren't really planning on having a European holiday this year, but circumstances conspired against us. So... erm... who were we to argue?
This was only three weeks, but we squeezed in some of our favourite places in the French Pyrenees (including a stage of Le Tour of course), before finding some new favourites to add!
Then over to the Ariege, on to England where we almost saw some blue skies (yes - in the 'summer' even!) before back to France, Andorra (a bit quiet but Vall d'Incles - wow!) and finally a couple of nights in Barcelona.
Kangaroo Valley, Easter '14
It's been so long since we got out of the 'city' (such as Sydney is) an Easter break was on the cards.
Pratiwi was missing the rolling green hills of Europe and Kangaroo Valley in Autumn is probably one of the closest places to Sydney to find that. Who was I to complain, as it's also one of the closer places with some half decent road climbs would be nice to test the legs and see if they still work on 500m+ climbs. Luckily all good in that department!
And also lucky: perfect weather all weekend and beautiful views from the cottage accommodation.
Smiles all round
England, Jan '13
This was the final leg of our European adventure. Winter in the UK can be fun, especially when you only have to endure a couple of weeks of it before flying off to a Sydney summer. Oh, and being dragged around various cosy city and country pubs by various long lost friends also helped
Good times... now... back to reality!
Final weeks in France, Dec '12/Jan '13
It's someone's birthday mid-January, so after the Christmas festivities our plan was to meander back up to the UK and be in London for that date.
But... what route to take? We really wanted to head back over to the Pyrenees and see what winter there was like so I guess that made the choice easy. A big 'L' shape across the bottom of France and then up the West coast-ish.
Even though we'd been lucky with snow in the Alps, seems like winter was late to Europe this year as the outdoors was still very enjoyable. We had some great, sunny, encounters with bird life, seeing large flocks of Flamingo in the Camargue then almost stumbling across a flock of vultures near Lescun - wonderful!
We also learned you can't go past a spot of hiking through the snow to a frozen waterfall, or, further North, lunch in an old village famed for it's wine. Lots of variety in this leg and as usual, it's all good!
Ski Three Valleys, Dec '12
Second winter of our European trip and things worked out pretty well on the skiing front.
It is a gamble booking a ski trip around xmas these days, but it's a special time for some and Pratiwi asked for a white Christmas, sooo... we ended up in Les Menuires. Who was I to argue?
After a thankfully very uneventful drive into the mountains (aside from getting slightly lost in the village at the very end) we found ourselves in a very nice catered chalet right on the piste. A few days of sunshine, a few of more perhaps not the best conditions, but hey... I got to practice my technique using 'the force' Yes, in some parts the white out was truly white, but days like those makes one appreciate the glorious sunshine all the more.
Long story short - another fantastic week in the snow, what more could you want?
Luberon & Surrounds, Nov/Dec '12
Well... I'm not sure if this is all entirely the Luberon, but that's what we're calling this segment of the trip, so...
After what was probably the last of the summer down on the coast, the time had come to return inland and see if we could cope with the winter conditions and add to our experience of Provence by exploring this more Southern Part. The timing was also chosen to kill a few weeks before (hopefully) returning to the Alps for a spot of skiing.
The question seemed to be answered that early in the season, in this part of France, it's chilly, but not unbearably so. Nice!
A word of warning though: you'd think Something-les-Bains would be a top choice for a winter's break. Thermal spa to enjoy and all that? Hmmmm... not so. We were very disappointed that all these spas seemed to be for medical purposes only. No tourists allowed to come and poach themselves in the steaming waters. Doh!
We had wanted to visit the Gorge du Verdon in summer but this just didn't happen, so was very glad to drive thought there a few times in this stint. It has to be said that this really is the highlight of the region. Amazing even in the dim light of a winter's day - surely a walk in the gorge will be a 'must do' experience on a balmy summer's day? Or a bicycle ride along the rim of course!
Italian & French Riviera, Nov '12
Our time in Italy comes to a close as we head back to France via the coast. Lots of very nice little fishing villages along the way, and a nice (if rather wet) week spent in Manarola, in the heart of Cinque Terre.
Interestingly though, both Pratiwi & I felt very happy to be returning to France. Perhaps having a tiny (yes, very tiny) bit better grip on the language helps? Perhaps we feel more comfortable there after spending more time en français? Perhaps we think the French are friendlier than most Italians? Whatever it is, plenty of happy times in this sector of the trip.
Of course, it's the Riviera so let's drop a few names: Pontovenere, Manarolo, Riomaggiore, Portofino, Genoa, Sanremo, Monte Carlo, Nice, Antibes, Cannes, St Tropez... etc, etc
FWIW, I'm convinced the off season is the time to do this. The weather was beautiful and these places are busy enough in the middle of winter. Crowds would be a complete nightmare come summer!
Rome, Nov '12
When in Rome... erm... I mean, when in Italy... it would be rude not to visit Rome, so here we are.
A very pleasant few days of galleries and piazzas and lots of walking in between. That is despite the rather overcast and wet weather there was to contend with.
Annoyingly we lost a few shots from the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. Doh! Oh well... next time?
Florence, Oct '12
Way back when we started planning our European adventure, this five week block in Florence was one of the first parts to get booked up. Looking back now, it's rather amusing that we didn't really know much about the area, but Pratiwi knew she wanted to spend some time in Tuscany and Florence seemed as good a base as any.
What with Autumn coming, I also thought it would be a good idea to be in/near a city with lots of cultural attractions to visit on those days we couldn't spend outside.
We probably got a bit lucky, as Residenza del Palmerino we chose had a beautiful little garden to enjoy, and also a larger 'field' out the back to relax in where we took a picnic or two - right on the doorstep. That said - the first days were a little trying as we got used to the vicious local mosquitoes. It seems that Tuscan mozzies are very hard to avoid so some planning was required to keep them at bay!
Another lucky break was that this accommodation turned out to be right at the bottom of a hill with many great cycling routes above. Roads up and down there felt like a maze sometimes, combine these with many other local options and I have to say that cycling from Florence turned out great!
Then as the Autumn weather began to tighten it's grip there were plenty of beautiful sights both in the city and nearby to enjoy. The forest near Vallombrosa was a highlight this time of year which was simply amazing!
Many thanks to our hosts and other residents for making this such a pleasant stay. Wonderful memories.
Il Lombardia 2012
Il Lombardia. The race of the falling leaves. Last one day classic of the season. This was another not-really-planned event that it turned out we couldn't say no to.
After being re-scheduled to run the day we were due to arrive in Tuscany, a few calculations showed that so long as we catch the field early on the course there would be plenty of time for the drive South. Luck threw us a break when a hotel a few kilometres from the first and highest climb was found.
We spent a very nice couple of days pre-race here. Walking at the pass and also riding what is actually the very challenging climb up to Passo di Valcava (see elsewhere for details). Come race day though, the horrendous forecast proved correct and the heavens provided incredibly challenging conditions for the field. Only around a quarter of the almost 200 starters finished if the images here aren't proof enough.
On that note of abandonment, I'm sure we saw at least two of the field riding back to hotels/team buses down in the valley as we headed South. That, or it's usual in Lombardy to roll side by side, race numbers attached behind seat & in head to toe team kit. Sadly we passed too quickly to be sure, and one of the riders in question had a scarf covering their face. They looked pretty much like a pros trying to be inconspicuous to me!
I'm sure the weather also put a slight dampener on crowd numbers, but there were still numerous brave souls up on the top of Passo di Valcava with us.
It was great to see a 'classic' race and great to stand at the top of a HC climb as riders came by. Shame it wasn't a beautiful sunny day, but then... one may look back and say conditions added to this occasion. Time will tell.