Spain: Extremadura

From Hervás, where I collected my long awaited package, I planned to ride the Cicloextremeña, a mostly off-road route along the borders of the Extremadura region, about 1.300 km. The makers have made a nice website with more info and links to download the tracks here.

I had to start climbing immediately to the highest point of the whole route, the Puerto de Honduras at 1.440 meter.

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Approaching Hervás. Sierra de Béjar in the clouds.

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The old railway station in Hervas with the rail trail.

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Down in Hervás, temperature was a mere 8 degrees Celsius.  I can only imagine what it will be up there.  Luckily it had stopped raining.  Still, I was wearing four pants.  My cycling pants, long cycling pants, running shorts and my rain pants.  For the body, I wear a long sleeved t-shirt, my new soft shell and a rain jacket in ‘Gore-Tex pro’, the strongest kind.  On my head a bandana and the hood of the Continue reading “Spain: Extremadura”

Spain: Castilla y León, Prt 2

Route: Valladolid – Palencia – Alar Del Rey – Medina de Rioseco – Tordesillas – Salamanca – Puerto de Béjar
Route Castilla y Leon 2
My route in this part of the blog, going first north from Valladolid, then south through Salamanca back towards the Extremadura.

Leaving Castilla y Leóns capital Valladolid, I may have found the easier terrain to cycle, along the Castilla Canal, but now the weather conditions turned against me. The weather forecast predicted seven days of almost continuous rain. The path along the canal is just gravel, so it could become a dirty mess.

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Typical stretch of the path along the Castilla Canal.
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A map of the Castilla Canals. I started with the southern fork in Valladolid, then cycled to the northern tip in Alar Del Rey, returned the same way towards Grijota and then the northern fork towards Medina de Rioseco.

The canal on my left side, I only had to look to the right for a possible camping spot. But there is the railway line from Madrid to Irun. As the sky got darker and darker, I took a right turn, away from the canal in Las Ventas, hoping to find a spot for the night. It’s all fields here and in the end I settled for a field which was recently mowed and plowed and with a line of trees protecting me for the strong winds.

Just after I pitched the tent, the downpour started, with more winds.

Next morning I found the tent to be surrounded completely by mud, the tent pegs could barely hold the tent up in the soft stuff. I packed as carefully as possible, trying to get everything more or less clean. The bike was leaning against a tree, with a flat tyre in the back. Oh, perfect, this is the exact time and place I dream of to change tubes.

I rode on to Palencia and was lucky to have a window of two hours without rain and settled down in a hotel for two nights. Went around a bit on the second day to look at the town.

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Catédral de San Antolin, Palencia
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Above the entrance door of the cathedral.

Continuing along the Castilla Canal, it forks a bit after the village Grijota. I take the right fork, going north. For a while, I ride just next to the small ‘Canal de la Retencion’. Behind a line of trees, fifty meters further on runs the Canal de Castilla parallel to it. The path is muddy, spongy from all the rain. I cross the Rio Carrion, that same river I already met in the Cordillera Cantabrica, where they dammed it to create the Embalse de Camporredondo and the Embalse de Compuerto. With all these damming, diverting the water into into irrigation channels, etc…. not much is left of the natural flow of the river and I guess no serious fish life can survive that way. But I did see a polecat, or something similar from the marten family today.

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One of the locks in the canal.
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At the crossing of the Castilla Canal and the Rio Carrion, where the river is feeding the canal and the ‘Acequia de Palencia’.
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Impressive evening skies….
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…. and misty mornings. This was actually not a bad place to camp at the ‘Puente Del Gallo’. The bridge may look impressive, but it is just on a dirt road leading into the fields

I left the canal to have a look at the village of Fromista, only a kilometer or so to the west. On my ride into town I saw another cyclist coming from the opposite direction. He was riding a BMC mountainbike. Together we went to have a look at the Roman San Pedro church in town.

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The beautiful Roman church of San Martin in Fromista. the church was constructed around 1066 and restored between 1896 and 1904. It is one of the most perfect preserved Romaneque buildings.
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The church of San Pedro, also in Fromista. This one is in Gothic style and founded in the 15th century.

After a visit to the local panaderia, the small supermarket and the gas station to top of my fuel bottle, we rode together back to the canal.

The most popular Camino de Santiago, the ‘Camino Frances’ is following the Castilla Canal here for three kilometer and of course I was not really visiting Fromista or riding along the canal with another cyclist, but with my virtual self in May 2017, when I rode this stretch on my way from Galician coast to the Mediterranean Sea. You can read all about that here.

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Lock just outside Fromista. I gues you can control the water level further downstream with this kind of lock, but a barge will never be able to go through something like this 🙂
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Choose your pilgrims way.
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In 2017, I took the path to right, this time I will go straight along the canal.

I continued north along the canal all the way to the northern terminus at Alar Del Rey, not a very appealing place with sixties styles apartment blocks of eight floors or so. After a quick refill of the water bottles and a visit to the local tiny supermarket, I headed straight back the way I came. I had seen an electricity building with a nice awning under which I thought I could pitch the tent. Lots of rain was predicted. When I arrived, the space appeared to be too small and I had to settle for something less protected. I went down some dirt paths to the river Pisuergo where I saw some trees which might give shelter, but just like the fields, all the ground between the trees had been plowed and was a bumpy, muddy mess. Good camping spots are pretty hard to find along this canal.

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Aqueducto de Abanades. Below is the Rio Valdavia, on top the Castilla Canal.
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Suspension bridge for hikers and bikers, a few kilometer before the northern terminus of the canal.
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Riding late into the sunset.

Apart from a few drops, rain didn’t bother me too much on the 90 kilometer stretch back to the junction where I now took the northern fork of the canal towards Medina de Rioseco. There was that climatological nuisance every cyclists hates. A head wind and it became harder and harder every day. Easy riding along canals to give the legs a rest ? Forget it !

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Autumn is in full swing. Chilly morning with lots of humidity.

And not only that, even though the temperatures have dropped to a few degrees above freezing at night, and don’t reach the twenties anymore during the day, an incredible amount of flies, mosquitos and wasps make life impossible when you stop. At this moment, with an intense wind outside, there are at least 50 flies on my panniers outside, just as much on the outer tent, and again that many between the outer and inner tent. This are really becoming Australian situations. This is not normal and something I have never seen anywhere in Europe, also never in Spain in the past. They also have the behaviour of the Australian bush fly, i.e., they come and sit on you, go for your eyes and ears.

It is horrible.

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But of course, autumn also equals beautiful colors once the sun is out.

Two more interesting villages I visited along the canal were Becerril de Campos and Paredes de Nava. The former was apparently elected as most beautiful village of Spain in 2016. It had some nice old buildings, but I preferred the latter. More spectacular than the villages was the +/- 1,4 meter long snake I saw today.

The beautiful little town of Medina de Rioseco is the terminus of de Castilla canal.Honestly, I’m not sad it’s over.While I cannot say anything ‘bad’ about it, it was the least interesting part of this trip so far.

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Most locks had such a dilapidated building next to it.
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The basin near the terminus of the canal at Medina de Rioseco.
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The main street in the historical center of Medina de Rioseco was all in this style.
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The hat (capirote). It is worn during the Easter period and has something to do with atoning for the sins.
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Iglesia de Santa Cruz in Medina de Rioseco.
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Iglesia de Santa Maria. There is also a third impressive church in the little town for Santiago.
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Church of ‘San Ginés’ in the village Villabragima.

From Castromonte I took a little detour to La Santa Espina, to visit the monastery, built in 1147 by Doña Sancha de Castilla, the sister of King Alfonso VII. Originally it was a Cistercian abbey but nowadays it is a center for agricultural education.

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The monastery in La Santa Espina.
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‘Castillo de los Enriquez’. There are plenty of castles in Castilly y Leon and this ‘Castle of the Enriquez family’ in the village Torrelobaton is a fine example. It was built around 1420 and reconstructed in 1538 after it was attacked during the Revolt of the Comuneros in 1521.

Being ‘freed’ from the canal, I can start looking for camping places both sides off the road or track again. I pitched the tent in a pine forest three kilometer before Tordesillas, a place which rings a bell with everybody, no doubt.

We all remember it of course from history class ! Tordesillas is the place where in 1494 a treaty was signed between Spain and Portugal, which divided the then known non-European world (basically South America) in Spanish (Castillian) and Portugese spheres. More than five hundred years down the road we still see the effect of this, with a Portugese speaking Brazil and Spanish speaking rest of South-America.

There is a great museum with interesting maps about it all in Tordesillas.

It was closed (Monday). Sigh.

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Tordesillas.

In Tordesillas I also meet the Douro River again. I follow the ‘Senda Del Duero’, a hiking trail along the river, for a while. It is not always close to the river.

The trail is mostly good, sometimes bumpy or sandy with from time to time great vistas to the river.

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Rio Doura, near Castronuño.

After crossing the river over the Presa de San Jose near Castronuño, I leave the Douro which flows towards Zamora and further on to Portugal. Me, I take a good, quiet asphalt to La Bovéda de Torro.

After this town, I made my way over some fantastic gravel further south.

I camped on a hill top, about 930 m from where one has fantastic view to the outlines of the Sierra Guadarrama and Sierra Bejar.

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Entering the province of Zamora again. Remember, that’s the same province I entered weeks ago after crossing the Montes de Leon, on my way to Portugal.
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Excellent gravel roads.

My mattress started delaminating near the foot end about a week ago and I urgently need a new one. I thought about taking asphalt to speed up to Salamanca, where I can find one, but first starting riding a bit more  gravel roads.

Soon I was thinking “Why would I go and ride between cars and trucks when I have so much fun on the gravel ?”

The Decathlon website stated they had only one Therm-A-Rest mattress left in Salamanca, so on the one hand I was in a hurry to grab it, but on the other hand I experienced that the information on Decathlons website can’t be trusted, so I decided to give riding fun priority over buying mattresses.

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Just before entering Salamanca. Not a pleasant welcome into town. I can’t comprehend people do this. I have a feeling I see it less frequent then a few years ago, but still you have morons doing it. Giving them a fine is no solution, because officially they have nothing, so they won’t pay. I guess no sane person can think this kind of behaviour is ok, so only severe punishment is justifed. I propose cutting off an arm, and show it on tv. I have a slight feeling people will think twice before doing this again.

Two kilometer before Salamanca, I could see the towers of the cathedral already, I had a flat. Multiple punctures from a steel wire out of a car tyre. Here in Salamanca, I cross again my own tracks, this time from April 2017. At that time there were a lot of people near the cathedral.

Now, corona times…. I was standing here all alone. I visited the cathedral this time (6 € entry fee !)

Also here, I was all alone.

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Plaza Mayor, Salamanca. Impressive.
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Towers of the Iglesia de la Clerecia.
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Tower of the Salamanca Cathedral.
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The famous entrance. It is a hundred times more spectacular as in this picture, taken in the shade.
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Inside the cathedral, the ceiling of the tower.
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Also the tower.
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The ‘Capilla de Todos los Santos’ (all Saints), inside the cathedral.
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Also in the ‘Capilla de Todos los Santos’.

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Later in the afternoon, following the bike path along the Tormes River (which I crossed already a while ago on my way to Segovia), I rode to Decathlon.

A very bizar situation arose. They had one more Therm-A-Rest but refused to sell it to me first. After a whole discussion, they gave in. Bizar.

Bought new shoes, long pants to cycle and a soft shell to keep me warmer.

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A view towards the cathedral in Salamanca from the bike path along the Tormes river.

Riding south of Salamanca, I take the off-road Via de la Plata. I still had my own waypoints of good wild camping spots so I knew exactly where I was going.

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The famous, simple cross on the Via de la Plata, just south of Salamanca (you can see the city in the distance).  I made the same picture with my mtb in 2017, in following post: https://bike-a-way.com/2017/04/30/via-de-la-plata/
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At this place, just south of Salamanca, Wellington was leading a battle on 22 July 1812 (the Battle of Arapiles). An Anglo-Portugese army defeated the French army during the ‘Peninsular War’.  Spanish troops were present as well but didn’t take part in the battle. They were positioned in a way to prevent a French retreat.  Two months later, Madrid would fall.   But of course…. that track you see is also the Via de la Plata and my way south.
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Wellington was also the guy who beat Napoleon in Waterloo, Belgium in 1815. It was a very tight battle, which Napoleon should always have won. Napoleon (and the French) ruled over (what’s now called) Belgium until then, after he got it from the Habsburgers when he defeated them in Italy. Napoleon was actually pretty good to Belgium, and it was he who gave the instructions to build the first docks and shipyards in the port of Antwerp. This sign here in Spain puts something indeed real clearly. ‘The prince of Orange, used as Wellingtons’ aide-de-camp’. The prince licked Wellington’s ass for years, and this is why Wellington pushed Belgium into the hands of the Netherlands (to create a larger buffer state with Prussia). Not the best period in Belgian history, and barely 15 years later, Belgium gained its independence  in 1830. In theory, the country will celebrate its 200 years independence in 2030.  I wonder whether we’re gonna make it. Often called ‘the battlefield of Europe’ with virtually all European powers and nations ruling and fighting there, from Romans, to Vikings, Spanish, Habsburgers, French and Germans, the country faces now a much severer enemy: incompetent, corrupt, nasty, selfish politicians, who may cause the country to split up before its 200th anniversary.
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Cool trees south of San Pedro de Rozados.

This is a real nice stretch of the Via de la Plata and I was looking forward to ride it again. About ten kilometer after San Pedro de Rozados follows a short, steep climb (pushing required) to a hill top full of wind mills. An English lady hiking towards Santiago told me this is the highest point on the Via de la Plata. No idea wheter this info is correct.

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The highest point on the Via de la Plata ?

I knew from my visit in 2017 that after tackling this hill, I would enter some land with excellent wild camping possibilities.

After that good night, I rode the short distance to Valverde de Valdelacasa and settled down in the pilgrims albergue. Lots of wind and torrential rain was predicted for the coming night.

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You can still see the slightly elevated Roman road, a few millennia old. Who knows Julius Caeser himself rode here when he was on holiday ? The milestones along the track are 2.70 meter high.
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The ‘tungsten’ (wolfram) open pit mine of Los Santos. Tungsten has the highest melting point of all the elements discovered, melting at 3,422 °C. Its density is 19.25 times that of water, much higher (about 1.7 times) than that of lead. So many things you learn from a cycling blog…. 😉
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Fetching water in Valverde de Valdelacasa…
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… where I took water in 2017 as well 🙂

Waking up in my room in the albergue, a quick glance through the window showed all surrounding mountains covered in thick, ugly, grey clouds and the downpour had changed the street in a river a few centimeter deep. The cleaning lady showed up before 10 am and I had to evacuate my room. The four Spanish cyclists who slept in the dormitory had left already.

“Why on earth would somebody go out in this weather ?”, I wondered.

But I’ve seen (most) people doing that before. Or I am an incredible pancake, or those people’s holiday must be calculated down to the minute and they’ve got no time to lose.

Anyway, by 11 am it was just raining instead of the earlier downpour. “Don’t be a soft potato for once”, I told myself and went out.

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The village Valverde de Valdelacasa from my window in the albergue. I normally won’t stay in albergues, but this one also had private rooms and was excellent value for money.
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The Sierra de Bejar in the distance packed in dirty grey clouds.

It was Friday. I was 36 km from the post office in Hervas and although the tracking showed the package I was waiting for since more than a month was still stuck in Madrid, I wanted to go and check whether it might have arrived by some miracle.

Not a hundred meters, really, less than hundred meters I was on my bike, and they opened all gates in the sky. What a downpour Few hundred meters further, asphalt changed in sand…. mud. After 3,8 km I noticed the rear tyre was almost flat.

“Aaah, f*%k, not now !”.

Refusing to change the tyre on the muddy road, I gave it 72 pumps and continued riding.

Exactly two kilometer further… almost flat again.

A hundred pumps this time.

I had to pump a third time before reaching the next village, La Calzada de Béjar.

“I’ll never make it before 14:30 (closing time of the post office) like this.And what’s the point, racing to a post office to collect a package which is still hundreds of kilometer away in Madrid, according to the tracking ?

“Better shelter a bit here”, I told myself, because it’s not only raining, but a real strong ice-cold storm wind is blowing from the side as well.

On the other hand, I was wet already. And what if this tracking was wrong and my package was sitting in Hervas. They only hold it for two weeks before it is returned to sender. If I don’t check, it might be on its way back to Belgium before it ever officially arrived……

I jumped back on my bike, after giving the tyre one hundred pumps.

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View to cloud covered, wind swept Sierra de Béjar.

At 14:10 I arrived at the post office with twenty minutes to spare. The last part from Béjar to Hervas is really easy over the via verde. In total, I stopped nine time to inflate the tyre.

Nonchalant, I asked the post employee for my package, as if I was sure it would be there.

Even more nonchalant, he handed it over to me.

“Break now my wooden shoe”, I thought. (But lesson learned. In future I’ll use DHL to send packages. Maybe 10 euro more expensive, but they come and collect the package at home, and they guarantee delivery almost anywhere in the world in two days. No more postal services for me).

Well, it makes life a lot easier. I rode back to the via verde verde where the former railway station has an awning under which I could replace the worn rear tyre with the new one from my package, and put another tube inside (the slime tube was way too slimy to patch). I’ve ridden about 5.000 km on the old tyre, which is not bad for a knobby tyre, on a loaded bike over rough terrain.

Time to start a new chapter of my trip in the Extremadura.

Spain: Castilla y León, Prt 1

Route: Ciudad Rodrigo – La Alberca – Hervas – Avila – Segovia – Olmedo – Valladolid
Route Castilla y Leon 1
The first part of the route through Castilla y Leon.

Just beyond the Portugese / Spanish border lies the tiny historical town of Ciudad Rodrigo.  I had noticed it on my maps all those years, but it is in such an out of the way corner of Spain that I thought I’d probably never reach it.  But here I am.  

Nice little place.  Old town up the hill.  Impressive old city walls, a castle tower, an old cathedral, the house of the marquis which I liked a lot, …. yeah, it’s worth a visit.

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The house of the Marquis

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I check into a hotel for two nights.  Lot’s of stuff to do, besides typing for this website.  Laundry, bike cleaning, visit restaurants, downloading podcasts, recharging all the devices, etc, etc…

On my rest day in Ciudad Rodrigo I strolled back towards the old town to have another look at all the old buildings and have lunch.  After lunch, I walked the loop over the old town walls.  didn’t see another person.  It’s siesta time, you’re not supposed to walk, I guess haha.

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My legs needed a bit of a rest period as well, I was thinking.  They felt rather tired after the constant climbing, day after day since I reached the Pyrenees.  “Nothing better than some riding along canals to give the legs some rest”, I thought.  We’re in mountainous Spain, and not in flat Belgium, but there happen to be canals a few hundred kilometer north from here, the ‘Canal de Castilla’.  I started investigating whether I could include that into my ride somehow.

From one thing came another.  The idea is to go eventually further south, to Extremadura, but the canals are north from here so I have to make a loop somehow in order to avoid riding the exact same thing twice.  

I could ride via Avila, that’s supposed to be an interesting town.  And then, I’m not far from Segovia, with it’s picturesque cathedral and….’.

Oh, and there’s another greenway I could include, and then go to the canals this way, return that way, a bit of Via de la Plata there, and …. 

It’s proven again that too much thinking is good for nothing.  In search of a way to give the legs some rest, I just added another thousand kilometer with a hilly passage through the Sierra the Francia and the Sierra de Bejar and yes, also some riding along the Castilla Canals.

It’s going to be fun ! 🙂 🙂 

The ride from Ciudad Rodrigo to La Alberca over the main road is easy.  La Alberca is at 1.050 m asl or so.  Super touristic, even on a weekday.  This typical old houses with wooden frames.  A bit like in Troyes and Bergerac in France.   Lots of shops selling the Jamón (ham) for which the region is famous, lots of typical tacky tourist shops with t-shirts, bags, magnets to put on your fridge, restaurants with menu del dia’s, pinchos (tapas), ….

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La Alberca
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The region is famous for its hams.  Cycling the region, I saw a lot of the black pigs in the fields..
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Plaza Mayor in La Alberca

This stuff is not for me anymore.  I leave town after 45 minutes and find myself an ok place under the chestnut trees to camp.  The night definitely is going to be quieter than last night in the hotel with it’s banging doors well into the night (despite the noise isolation which the hotel advertised but was totally non-existing).

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I had put a lot of time in preparing my little loop in Castilla y Leon, starting from Hervas, but not too much time in the route from Ciudad Rodrigo to Hervas.  That night, I suddenly remembered that, months ago, I already looked into some nice roads in this area.  Instead of riding straight to Hervas the next morning, I rode back up to La Alberca and from here took the road straight south into the Parque Natural Batuecas.  From La Alberca, I first have to climb a little bit higher to the Puerto del Portillo Pass (1.247 m).  From the pass, I have a brilliant view to all the lower hills in Extremadura region.   On the downhill, a series of switchbacks until I reach the Rio Batuecas.  I take a little side road to visit the Monasterio de las Batuecas, but it’s not open for visitors.

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The eternal powerlines, but a good view to the endless row of mountains.
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Switchbacks on the descent of the Puerto del Portillo.

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Clearly on the switchbacks.

Never mind.  I keep going down.  Although I’m supposed to be on a tour of Castila y Leon region, I am entering Extremadura region for a while.  I ride already a part of the northern section of the Cicloextremeña, a loop that follows the borders of Extremadura region.   More about that in a few weeks, when I’ll ride the rest of it.

It’s  one of the harder stretches of that loop that I’m doing now.  

After Riomalo de Abajo, situated at the confluence of the Rio Ladrillar and the Rio Alagon, I climb steep on a stony dirt track.  This is the start of a remote section, closed to motorized traffic and without any services for 60 kilometer.  

Heaven.  

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Down below, I can see the wide body of water, the Rio Alagon.  Also the Rio Hurdano joins and eventually, as always when there’s some water here, they’ve built a dam and created the large Embalse de Gabriel Y Galan.  It’s a fantastic off-road ride through the forest.  I take a right turn on the dead end road towards Granadilla, which is supposed to be an interesting place down at the lake.  From far away I can see the fortress already.  I arrive at 2.15 pm. The whole village is closed with the big iron gate from the middle ages.  Entry to town is only in the morning and late afternoon / early evening.  Basically the times shops are open in other places.  Nothing to do but to ride back where I came from.  It is paved roads from now towards Abadia, then Aldeanueva Del Camino, a place I passed through in 2017 as well when cycling the Via de la Plata.

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The closed city gate in Granadilla
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Approaching the Sierra de Bejar.

What’s changed now is there is a via verde from here, going to Hervas, a historical town further up the hill and all the way to Bejar, the town at the pass.  In 2017 I still had to go through the busy valley.  A good improvement !

Hervas is a nice place.  A real town this time, not like the tourist Disneyland of La Alberca.  I was hoping to pick-up a package send from home 10 days ago with a new solar panel, a new rear tyre and my old gps, as the current one is failing, but the package is still in Brussels.   It seems that in this period of time, the Belgian Post can bring a package only from the north of the country to the centre of the country, a whopping distance of about 60 km in 10 days.  I walk faster.

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Very smooth riding and climbing on the via verde towards Hervas.

Well, we’ll see.  Maybe they get it on a plane one day and hopefully it arrives when I return here at the end of my Castilla y Leon loop.

I visit the town church (from the outside, because it is closed) and the old Jewish quarter.

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Jewish quarter in Hervas
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Hervas

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Growing out of a little seashell.

All the time since leaving the closed town of Granadilla, I was riding east and looking to a wall of mountains, the Sierra de Bejar.  When I passed here in April 2017, I was riding south to north alongside them, and the tops were still covered in snow..  Not so now of course.  But this time, I had to get over the range. 

It’s a very easy climb.  The hardest thing were the persistent hundreds of little flies going around my head all the time, trying to enter my mouth, ears, eyes,…. I haven’t mentioned it yet, I think, but it is terrible this year.  I’ve never had that amount of flies and mosquitos in Spain as this year.  Climate change ?

Anyway, there are many, many, many more of this irritating bugs than normally and they make my life out in nature hard.  Riding the bike they swarm around you when you’re climbing, slow and sweating.  At night, they eat you at your camp site.

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Once over the top (unnamed pass, 1.313 m), I am back in Castilla y Leon.  On my left hand is yet another Embalse (Embalse de Navamuno).

Candelario, the first town is really beautiful again and worth a visit.

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Ermita del Humilladero in Candelario (16th century).

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The fortress in Puente Del Congosto at the Rio Tormes (Salamanca is further downstream at this river, where it’s much wider already).

In Puente Del Congosto I went back on dirt, following the ‘Cañada Real Soriana’.  Fantastic riding again.  The mountains of the Sierra de Gredos to my right, the high plains to my left.  Some stretches are pretty desolate, but that’s what I like.

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Fantastic dirt road riding on the Cañada Real Soriana.

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Camping spots along the track are plentiful.
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More or less every church tower in Spain has a stork nest. This tower had five (!) nests.

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Enjoying some clean, fresh water after a long, dry stretch.
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And I was not the only one appreciating the spring.

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I toured around Avila a bit.  The cathedral was closed right in front of my nose for siesta.  No problem.  Enough buildings to look at from the outside.  Avila is most famous for its old city walls.  Apparently you can walk them, but I never found a place where I could mount them.  Avila is the birth place of the cyclist Julio Jimenez who won three times polka dot jersey in the Tour the France and was also three times King of the Mountains in the Vuelta.

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Los Cuatro Postes, just outside Avila’s city walls.
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Avila with the famous city walls clearly visible.
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One of the town entrances.
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Avila cathedral.

East from Avila there’s a bike path of about 14 km.  First night camping along it, a terrible thunderstorm passed by.  Thousands and thousands of lightnings right above the tent.  Of course, I am at the highest point 20 or 30 kilometer around.  Also a lot of rain came down, but that’s good because the region is really dry and fires are still a concern when camping.

The bike path stops at the village of Urraca-Miguel and I have to take the paved road Av-500 further east.  As the road is blocked for road works, and the busy N-110 is not an option, I pushed the bike up a steep path, 14 upto 16% inclination.  It had a dead-end at the top.  By the time I was down again, it was siesta time and I saw the road workers leaving.  Time to hit right through the road works.  

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Fantastic country just outside Avila
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Paved bike path that goes for 14 km outside Avila.

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Still on the bike path, just before its end at Urraca-Miguel.
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The steep hill on which I pushed the bike, fruitless
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Descending, step by step.

Arriving in the town of El Espinar, all shops are closed.  It’s fiesta. Some obscure saint.  Nobody knew exactly why.

Up to Segovia.  Against the wind ever since entering Spain.  Luckily I have the Sierra de Guadarrama on my right to admire.  After Segovia, I make an 180 degrees  turn and ride back west.  I bet the wind, after blowing all these days will do exactly the same.

But first a visit to the city.  The two main highlights are the enormous Roman Aqueduct and the cathedral.  The entrance fee to the cathedral was 3 euro, I think, but it is worth it.  In the basement is a museum with paintings in the style of the old Flemish masters like Rubens and Van Eyck, a sign says.

While the paintings were reproductions by Spanish painters, another museum with carpets showed carpets all from Brussels.  Probably taken when the Spanish ruled in our region.

Segovia is also the birth place of cyclist Pedro Delgado.

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The world famous aqueduct in Segovia.

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The Gothic cathedral of Segovia.

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Courtyard in the cathedral

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The 500 year old Belgian carpets hanging in the museum of the Segovia cathedral.

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Segovia was the place where I turned west again, but more important, it is the place where some easier part follows.  I have the Via Verde Del Eresma ahead of me.  73 km of almost flat gravel riding.  I loved the stretch, cycling along the Eresma river, through the pine forests, all traffic free, enjoying the scenery while listening to some podcasts.  And I was completely wrong about that wind.  It just kept blowing from the east and made my life very easy for once 🙂

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There are two tunels along the via verde. This is the first one, just outside SegoviaL
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Typical Castilla y Leon landscape. You can see the tower of the cathedral of Segovia.
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Ermita de la Aparecida which you’ll pass riding the Via Verde Del Eresma.

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A bit outside Segovia, the via verde passes the jail of the town. I think it’s a really good idea to built the jail there. The criminals can look out their small window, between the bars and get confronted every time with the ultimate symbol of freedom, a cyclist, standing on his pedals, freewheeling over the via verde.  If they ever get free, hopefully they think twice before they do stupid things again and lose their freedom again 🙂 

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Olmedo is the terminus of the via verde.  I follow a few kilometer of bitumen before going on sandy roads again, over yet another camino to Santiago, this time the one from Madrid, the Ruta Jacobea Madrilena.  Valladolid is the capital of the autonomous region Castila y Leon.  Quite a big town with over 300.000 people.  Before entering the town, I again cross the Douro River, which I crossed a few weeks ago further downstream in Portugal already.  The Douro river is Spains third longest river (895 km).
I didn’t ride into the centre of town, as I was chased by rain and thunderstoms.  The city lies at the Pisuerga River. I also crossed this river a few weeks ago when cycling in the Cordillera Cantabrica, in the town of Cervera de Pisuergo.  

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Church of Santa Maria del Castillo in Olmedo.
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Ermita de Sieteiglesias near Valdestillas. Another beuatiful, but hermetically sealed religious building.  Look at the clear sky after the rain.
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Ermita Cristo del Amparo. The door was open, so I thought lets have a look, but when I wanted to enter I heard an old man mutter prayers without ending, so I left.

Here in Valladolid I will start my flat ride along the Castilla Canal, but that’s for the next post.

Portugal: Trás-os-Montes and Beira Alta

Route: Rio de Onor – Vimioso – Palaçoulo – Sendim -Freixo de Espada à Cinta – Vila Nova de Foz Coa – Almeida
Route NE Portugal
My route through northeast Portugal.

After a small climb out of the valley of the Rio de Onor, I soon was on dirt tracks again.  Excellent tracks, nobody else around and with endles views to the mountains around me.  This region in north-east Portugal is called Tras-os-Montes, meaning ‘beyond the mountains’ and is the most isolated Portugese region.  Once I crossed the provincial road En-308, the  dirt track soon became rougher and there was a steep descent towards the Rio Maçãs, (or Rio Manzanas, depending whether you’re Portugese or Spanish).  This tiny stream forms the border between the two countries.  I actually cross the stream to pitch my tent, so technically speaking, I sleep in Spain again.  More rough and often steep tracks close to the border bring me eventually to Quintanilha.

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Picture taken from Portugese territory. The stream is the border. The tent is pitched in Spain.
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Also in Portugal, the significance of yet another pilgrims route is never far away.

I didn’t find a shop in Pinelo and in the next town, Vimioso, everything was closed.  This would become a constant during my time in Portugal, difficulties to resupply.  

I rode into the Parque Natural Do Douro International.  As so often, they call a region a ‘nature park’ but besides the explicit prohibition to camp, I don’t see any significant difference to other regions which are not in the nature park.

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Sometimes the track was really old and overgrown, but there were no alternatives.
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I discovered this very old bridge.

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Igreja Matriz de Sendrim

I’m riding in the ‘Serra do Mogadouro’ range.  No huge mountains, but constant steep climbs and descents.  After a few days, they killed my legs.  This is a really hard region to cycle.  

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The church in Ventoselo.
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I rode a mixture of paved roads and this kind of dirt tracks, the GR 36.
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First viewpoint to the Douro River
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Riding into Freixo de Espada à Cinta over the GR 36

Outside the town of Freixo de Espada à Cinta there is viewpoint with brilliant views to the deep canyon of the Douro River, which forms the border between Spain and Portugal here.  The whole region is also littered with electricity lines from the many dams in the river.

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Statue of the explorer Jorge Álvares in Freixo de Espada à Cinta. He is considered to be he first European to have reached China by sea. For this reason, there’s also a statue of him in Macau.
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Church in Freixo de Espada à Cinta
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You can climb the tower of the castle. View towards the church and part of the town.
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The graveyard as seen from the castle tower.

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Canyon of the Douro River, seen from the Miradouro Do Penedo Durão. The opposite site is Castilla y Leon region, Spain. Going straight east for 100 km, you’ll end up in Salamanca.

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After this viewpoint, I turned west, a bit further inland Portugal towards Ligares.  A German retiree I met told me this is the hottest region of Portugal.  Hot and dry, I must say.  The three main crops I see along the road are olive trees, almond trees and grapes for the famous Port Wine.

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Sometimes, the GR 36 became a bit rough. Here, the track goes steep down towards the Ribeira Do Mosteiro river. This is hike-a-bike country. No way you’re gonna ride a loaded bike here.
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I left the bike at the ridge and hiked down to check for camping opportunities, which were better higher up.
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No traffic noise, no barking dogs, no humans. Total peace and quiet.

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Here you can see the GR 36 working it’s way down to the little bridge.
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Almond trees. The almonds were ready to eat.

DSC02457In the little town Urros there was no shop to be found and no water fountain so I asked an old lady to refill my water bottles.  I got a bag of figs on top of it.

By the time I was in  Vila Nova de Foz Coa, my legs were so utterly tired from all the recent climbing that I, with regret, gave up on the idea of riding the off-road route through the valley of the Coa River.  It was just going to be too hard at this moment to enjoy it.  

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Cycling along the Douro River with its many vineyards.

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The church in Vila Nova de Foz Coa.

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Vila Nova de Foz Coa

Well, I still rode part of the route to Castelo Melhor, but after that sticked to the national route nbr 332.  Not a lot of traffic at all, but just as I noticed several years ago, the attitude of the Portugese drivers compared to the Spanish is astonishing.  I can’t stop mentioning how good the Spaniards are behaving in traffic and how much space they give cyclists and how patient they can wait behind you if they are not sure whether they can pass you in a safe way.

Nothing of that is found in the Portugese driver.

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A very steep downhill (-18%) towards the Coa River.
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Rio Douro.
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Vineyards, olive trees and almond trees.

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Suddenly I saw this kilometer sign; km 222 along the N 222 seems to be a special one, looking at all the stickers….
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…. the explanation followed a few kilometer later. There’s a motor club here, and apparently this stretch road is claimed as one of the nicest stretches of road in the world. It’s nice allright, but… don’t overrate it pls.

DSC02504In Castelo Rodrigo, I ask the lady of the tourist info after which Rodrigo the place is named, and whether it is the same Rodrigo as in Ciudad Rodrigo, the bigger town a bit further in Spain.

She didn’t have a clue.  Tourist info employees prefer you to ask for a city map and walk out, I guess.  Good thing was, Castelo Rodrigo had the first decent supermarket since entering the country, a French Intermarché.

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Castelo Rodrigo, renowned as one of the most beautiful historical towns in Portugal

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You often see this statue with the arrows. No idea what it is all about. Let me know, if you know.

The cycling now was easy on a plateau, 600 – 700 m asl.

I visited the historical town Almeida with its star-shaped fortress of the 17th century, built to protect the country against Spanish invasions.

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Entrance of fortress of Almeida.

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Houses in Almeida.
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Nice old Triumph Spitfire. Also the bell tower of Almeida is in the picture.

Near the village Vale Da Mula, I left Portugal and went back into Spain.  More about that soon in a next post.

Spain: Montes de León & Sierra de la Cabrera

Route: Ponferrada – Truchas – Puabla de Sanabria – Rio de Onor
Route Montes Leon
Route over the Montes de León & Sierra de la Cabrera.

From El Rasadero, the last village before Ponferrade, and a bit higher up, you have a good view point to the city. I’ve been here a couple of times before, it is a nice town.  The world championship cycling was held here in 2014 and as everybody remembers, Michal Kwiatkowski became champion here.

In Spain nowadays, all churches are closed. And if they are not, you have to pay an entrance fee. That’s a big difference with the Bhuddist temples in Southeast Asia which I can always visit.

Ponferrada Basilca is the first church since I entered Spain, about a thousand kilometer ago that’s open and free to enter. I wonder the reason for closing the churches.

Stealing ?

Vandalism ?

Something else ?

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Ponferrada
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Basílica Nuestra Señora de la Encina
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Inside the basilica.
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Castillo de los Templarios (Castle of the Templars)

The Decathlon in Ponferrada is the worst stocked Decathlon shop I’ve ever seen. They had almost nothing. Also not a new solar panel (I’ve lost mine outside La Pola).

Ponferrada is also on the major camino de Santiago route (the Camino Frances) but this time, I only saw two ‘pilgrims’ hiking into town. What difference to other years. 2020 is probably the best year to do your Santiago trip if you ever wished to do it.

Well, I’m not heading west to Santiago de Compostella. I’m going south, up and over the Montes de Leon. Since many years I had seen this one road going through the mountains and always wanted to take it once.

But mon dieu, what a steep climb it is.

From Villar de los Barrios, the road goes almost continuously steep up between 10 and 13% until you are well beyond San Cristobal de Valdueza, one of the most perfect villages I have ever seen. All buildings are in a perfect state.

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Ermito del Santo Cristo at the entrance of Villar de los Barrios, the headquarters of the brotherhood of the Vera Cruz, one of the oldest in Spain, constituted before 1522. This building was rebuilt in 1627.
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Excellent camping spot on my (steeeeep) way out of Ponferrada.
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Views from my campsite back to Ponferrada and towards the mountains i’m coming from..
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Nice sunset.

Up, up, up it goes. Less steep towards the first pass, Alto del Morredero (1.750 m).

A bit further, I pass Alto de los Portillinas (officially 1.905 m, but I had a bit less on the gps). From here you ride a while along the ridge on an almost flat road towards a final push at 1.955 meter, an unnamed highest point on the climb. This climb surely belongs in the row of Mont Ventoux or Tourmalet, that’s how long and hard it is.

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At the top of the Montes de Leon, looking towards the next range I have to tackle, the Sierra de la Cabrera.

The downhill is less steep, around 8%

Just before the village of Truchas, I find a nice spot between the trees and next to the Eria River to pitch the tent. I could take the main road from here via Castrocontrigo and drive around the Sierra de la Cabrera but my map shows one small road over this range that reaches a high point at the Alto del Penon (1.840 m asl). Seems much more exciting than that main road.

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Old church with old lady.

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Well, exciting it was. And hard ! I really suffered. Then I made a mistake to ride too long and couldn’t find a real good camping spot anymore before Puebla de Sanabria. I was hoping to find something on the off-road stretch between El Puente de Sanabria and Puebla de Sanabria, but nothing there.

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Climbing up the Sierra de la Cabrera.
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Some parts suffered from a fire.
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On the downhill from the Sierra de la Cabrera.
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Rio Tera before Puebla de Sanabria.

Puebla de Sanabria….here my route crosses with my route of 2017, when I rode from the south towards Santiago the Compostella. It is a very touristic village.

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Puebla de Sanabria

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House of the Abbot.
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Lots of work, watering the plants every day 🙂

If you thought that after the Montes the Leon and after the Sierra de la Cabrera, all was clear to reach the Portugese border, you’re wrong. The Sierra de la Culebra still awaits me. Luckily, it’s just rolling hills, compared to the ranges I have behind me. Apparently it’s the best place in Europe to see wolves in the wild. I didn’t see any….

I crossed the border to Portugal in the small village of Rio de Onor.