The ‘Picos de Europa‘ is indeed a beautiful area. High mountains, deep valleys with steep rocks. An El Dorado for climbers, hikers and mountain bikers. Watch out for sudden weather changes, because the depressions of the Bay of Biscay frequently cause substantial rain, cold and, at this time, snow showers. In the morning I see, from my warm camper, that the mountains are covered with a coat of white powder. For me a sign to take off. The bicycle is taken out. The ride from my place of Posada de Valdeon to the hamlet of Cain de Valdeon runs through a narrow winding road down. (piece of cake!!)Close to the hamlet I realize that I should not venture here with Piggy. Hairpins with an awesome depth alongside the narrow road, but especially the low-hanging rocks do not allow Piggy, with its 3.80 m. height, to go underneath. Hail to the bicycle !! From Cain to Poncebos a footpath runs along the Cares River. It is largely cut out of the rocks and it almost equals the ambience of a trek in Nepal. The return trip to Poncebos is about 22 km. I would like to do this but unfortunately the coming days I have to concern about the phenomenon “rush”. With my first fellow traveler I have agreed that I will pick her up at the airport of Bilbao on December 25. And that date is now approaching fast. Halfway I turn around, score a sandwich with Iberic ham in the village of Cain and cycle back to the camper.(not a piece of cake !! On one place there was applause)
The next day I want to travel north through the narrow gorge of the Rio Quiviesa to visit the caves of Altamira. The navigation system shows a huge detour to Altamira and denies the gorge. Assuming that this is due to a missed update, I decide to drive to the gorge by using my app on my phone. However, this is not set to the size of the truck, and I realise that after 30 km driving. The road becomes increasingly narrow until I see a sign indicating that it is forbidden access for vehicles higher than 3.50 meters. :(:(!! I need a few moments self-imprecation before I turn Piggy 180 degrees. Now the extra-long trip to Altamira makes me decide to skip these caves and go directly to Santander, where I find a camper site at the marina next to the landing area of the airport.
As an alternative I visit the Monte Castillo caves near Santander. They contain the oldest cave art in the world. In Las Castillas cave the paintings date from 39.000 – 11.000 BC. Deer, bison and the contours of hands, made by spraying a mixture of iron over the hand with a blow nozzle are found. An interesting visit. A good alternative to Altamira.
When I pick up Tanja from the airport I’m already on a camper site for two days with a fantastic view of the city of Bilbao. During these two days I already explored the city a bit. The city is beautifully decorated with lights at Christmas. I experience the entry of the Basque version of Santa Claus: Olentzero (see video in the gallery) and visit some pintxo bars, bars with local Basque tapas. There are a lot of them here.
We both have to get used to live in such a small space but fortunately we can adapt well. Flexibility is an important feature that you should have as a fellow traveler. And that includes me.
Together we visit the Guggenheim Museum, the stunning building, belonging to the deconstructivist architecture (also I had to re-read this word a number of times) Amazing what an object to be photographed!! You can see that I do not stick to one photo on the photo site. Also inside we gasp at the eccentric artistic expressions. Trying to find a cozy bar on Christmas day proves a disillusionment. The streets are deserted and the bars are closed. But the next day you can hardly find a place in the pintxo bars. The dozens of bars are overcrowded. I’ve never seen anything like this. The next few days will prove that this is only the tip of the iceberg. In San Sebastian we are overwhelmed by the quantity of pintxo bars. And all are chock full. Often people are standing outside in their winter coats with a glass of wine or beer and a pintxo in hand. What a great atmosphere. Those Basques love good food, drink and fun and we do like to participate. During the day you can walk on the promenade in the sun without a coat, but at night it is around freezing.
Pamplona, famous for the running of the bulls through the streets has little to offer at this time. It is, moreover, very cold. We follow a part of the pilgrim route to Santiago and camp next to a pilgrims hostel. The campground is closed. It is cold and foggy. The nearby Puente la Reina with its Roman bridge is deserted. At sunset I go on research looking at pretty pictures for tomorrow while Tanja stayed in the camper with a bad cold.
The distance to Porto is too great to visit all points of interest in a short time. I have quite mistaken in the ratio distance and places to visit. We therefore punch through to León, far to the west. We celebrate New Year in a restaurant where we were lucky to reserve the last table. We enjoy the sumptuous multi-course menu before we walk back the 30 minutes to the camper early in the morning of January 1, 2017 in the freezing cold.
Porto on the river Douro. Porto with the impressive Meccano bridge, the Luis I Bridge. Porto with its many cathedrals, narrow streets and above the attractive terraces along the River Douro. We suck the atmosphere of the city to the fullest. Compared with the part in Spain the climate here is most attractive. The real holiday feeling !!
On January 6 I say goodbye to Tanja at the airport. We both had an enjoyable time and agree that we will hit the road again elsewhere in the world.
Through Aveiro and Coimbra I finally arrived at the Quinta das Gralhas, where I stayed a couple of weeks in November to “slow down”. I will stay here in total about 2 weeks, required to give a substantial overhaul to the truck. Under the caked Sahara sand it is difficult finding the grease nipples under the truck, but with the friendly help of Gerard all will be well.
In early February I will be spending a week skiing with my brother in the French Alps and at the end of February I expect to be in the Netherlands temporarily relating to the compulsory yearly MOT test of Piggy.