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Sunday, 31 July 2016

PART 9: WESTERN EUROPE (FRANCE, ANDORRA, SPAIN & PORTUGAL)

FRANCE (30 MARCH – 4 APRIL 2016)


I said goodbye to Sue and rode to Newhaven pier via A27. I was early and had to wait for a while. The ferry check in was very straight forward. It departed at 10am and the crossing took me 6 hours. I arrived Dieppe, France and it took me only 10 mins to stamp my passport. It started to rain soon after and the back road (D2915) which I took was very slippery. It was a very chilly and exhausting ride due to the rain and because the back road was narrow with lots of traffic lights and roundabouts. Maximum speed limit was 70kmh only. I arrived Paris during peak hour and it took me ages to reach my hosts house at Mozart Avenue. My hosts, Mejar Zakhir Asni and his wife, Zirah welcomed me to their home. Mejar was an Assistant Defense Attache for Msian Embassy in Paris and they had been living in Paris for about 3 years. 



This was my 2nd time in Paris. During my 1st time here, I didnt manage to visit Louvre Museum, so I took the opportunity to visit it this time. I did some research and I found out that the best time to visit this museum were on Wednesdays and Fridays late afternoon, as on these days, the museum opened until 8pm. I managed to view the famous Mona Lisa painting by Leornado da Vinci without having to haggle as there were not many visitors. 


I also reported at Msian Embassy in Paris to H.E. Dato Ibrahim. After that I shared my riding story with all the staffs and families.



On my last day in Paris, my hosts took me for a sightseeing around the city. It was a very wet day, but nevertheless, I still enjoyed the sightseeing as Paris was a very historical city. All the buildings were carefully preserved for the tourist and the next generation to enjoy.




After 4 nights in Paris, I had to say good bye to my lovely and kind hosts and proceed with my journey. Mejar Zakhir guided me to exit Paris as I didnt want to be stuck anywhere since Paris Marathon Day was held on that morning and lots of roads will be closed. After that, I continued riding on my own, but taking the back road to avoid paying expensive tolls. As the other day, it was a very slow ride as I couldnt ride fast on this kind of road. The view was nice though.



After riding 350kms, I decided to take the toll road, or else I will only arrived my destination after it gets dark. It seemed that some of the roads on the highway were FOC, and some, you had to pay tolls. Whenever I approached a toll plaza, a camera will detect me and the screen will show the amount that I have to pay. This was different than the system in Malaysia. Finally, I reached Toulouse after riding for 724kms via N20 – D2020 – N20 in 10.30 hours. I was soooo exhausted. I went to my hosts place straight away. My host, Mejar Nurul, studied Nautical Engineering at a university in this town. She and her husband brought me out for a little sightseeing in this canal town. It was very windy and chilly, so we didnt stay long and went back to her place.





ANDORRA (4 APRIL 2016 – 5 APRIL 2016)

Todays ride started with a very beautiful weather. I left Toulouse and head to the border. There were lots of yellow canolla fields. I really enjoyed the beautiful view. There were side winds too that I need to be careful.


Not far from the border, the road get narrower and more trucks. The view was soooo beautiful with rivers and green fields, that I wished I could stay there for one night to enjoy the view.




The sun hid behind the clouds as I entered Andorra, the 20th country for GDR. Soon after, ice rain started to fall and followed with snowfall when I was climbing up El Pass De La Casa. It was sooooo cold with strong winddd. The road became slippery. I was soooo scared as I was still on the mountain, riding on the winding road. I had to stop for shelter at a gas station and it took me 20 minutes to rub my hand to feel the warmth again.



After waiting and there was no sign that the weather will improve, I decided to continue riding. Descending on the wet, slippery and steep curve road was scarier than ever. I was reciting prayers all the time. Thank god I didnt fall even though few times the tires skided when I couldnt avoid snow which started to accumulate on the road. I cancelled my intention to play with snow at the ski resort due to the bad weather. I rode past the capital city, Andorra La Veila, and had to climb on a steep winding road for another 5kms to reach my hostel. The reason why I had to stay outside the capital city was because accommodation was very expensive here. I was shivering and soaked wet because I didnt wear my Givi rain coat. My mistake. Anyway, I was very lucky to get a single heated private room at the hostel for EUR20. It rained the whole day and night, so I just stayed in my room.




SPAIN (5 APRIL – 15 APRIL 2016)

It still rained in the morning of 5th April. My heart sank. The temp is 5'C but I must continue riding. I rode carefully down the steep winding and slippery road. There were many times that I felt that my tires skided and I wondered if its because my tires were very new. Because of that, I had to be even more careful. It was a verryyy colddd ride and I was shivering all the way. I entered Spain with no hassle. It was a relief when the sign boards're familiar as I could understand the meaning. It should be a nice beautiful ride with twisties and I saw a very green river, greener than Neretva River in Mostar, but it was so cold so I didnt stop for pics. Its not fun riding in cold and wet especially when yr bike didnt has a heated grip.



I had to pay tolls 4 times to enter Barcelona via the tunnels. I should had taken another road, but it was cold and I want to arrive ASAP. The total amount was almost EUR20 for a distance of 170km (Spain part). After riding for 206kms, I reached Barcelona and had some difficulties to find my host's house. I had to ask a local to help me to call her. I stayed only 2 nights here as I had been to BCN before. I managed to do some sightseeing at Sagrada Familia, Plaza Catalunya, Sant Pau and Ramblas during my stay. Sagrada Familia was soooo impressive that I couldnt help staring at it for a long time, wondering how did Antonio Gaudi made this amazing cathedral. The only thing spoiling the view was the skylift and scaffolding which surrounded it.




My worst nightmare happened on the day I left BCN. In the morning, I couldnt start my bike. There was no sound at all after I had pressed the starter. I asked my host to push the bike from behind and the engine managed to come alive. I rode from BCN heading south. The wind was unbelievably strong after I passed Tarragona. It was similar to the wind at Ruta 40. It was sooo stressful because unlike the quiteness at Ruta 40, there were lots of vehicles on the road here. It was worse because there were too many high flyovers I had to ride on. It was scary when my small bike being pushed to the other side of the road. Then when I off the engine to put gas, the same thing happened. I couldnt start my bike, and I had to ask someone to push it from behind. Fortunately, the engine can be started. I was getting worried and wondering what was the problem, but I told myself to relax and I will find a mechanic once I arrived my destination. 

My GPS also wanted to test my patience today. After I had repaired it in Lima, today, the screen froze again after it instructed me to enter Valencia. I wasted 1 hour trying to find the way to exit the city. However, I do managed to see some beautiful castle and historical buildings here. I passed lots of orange fields too.



Since todays ride was long, I had to put gas again for the 2nd time. This time, I was not lucky anymore. The bike couldnt be started even after being pushed, and the gas station was the one and only building at the highway. GD had never failed me before, and I was wondering what could be the cause. I was getting worried as failure to start the bike, meaning that I had to find a transportation to send it to the nearest workshop, and the cost wouldnt be cheap. The girl at the gas station counter didnt want to help me, but I was fortunate that there was a Bulgarian guy (who was also a biker, but on his car), was there at that time. He helped to take me to his mechanic at a very small village near L'Olleria, about 5kms from there. However, I had to wait for 1.30 hours for the mechanic to settle his job before he could check my bike which I left at the gas station, It was getting dark, and I'm dead tired and sooo hungry. Finally, the mechanic was able to follow us to my awaiting bike. After checking, he managed to sort out the problem. There were some wiring shorts at the starter, which was most probably due to rain, snow and cold ride few days ago. The problem was settled within few minutes. I was soooo relieved. I thanked Cristoph and the kind mechanic who didnt want to take any money from me.

It was already dark by then, and I continued riding even though I had bad eyesight at night. There were some winds on the way and it was freezinggg as temp dropped significantly. It was sooo cold. At times like this, how I wished my bike had a heated grip. The road was winding up and down. It felt forever to ride the last 100km. Finally, after 12.30 hours since I left BCN and riding approximately 600km, I arrived safely at Alicante and only managed to settle at my host's hse (after sending the bike to a secured garage) at 11pm. Its a loooongggg dayyy, but I'm glad that everything was ok in the end.

It had been 7 months I'm on the road by now. In terms of people, I'm truly blessed that I met sooo many lovely people and made many new friends. But in terms of riding, to be frank, I cant recall even one day that everything was super easy. Honestly, everytime I hit the road, there will be challenges. Its just a matter of huge or little challenges. Sometimes, I was tested at the beginning, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the end of the day and sometimes, through out the journey. Sometimes, when I get good weather, the road was bad. When the road was good, the traffic was bad. When the view was nice, the wind was crazy. When everythg else was ok, my gps was not. Or my maps.me couldnt detect my location, or I couldnt find my accommodation, or I was lost...bla bla bla...To sum it all, everytime, there will definitely be challenges. Nothing was 100% easy peasy.

I thought that after I'm done with South America, Europe will be a bliss. How wrong I was. It was stormy when I left London. It was raining all the way when I entered France. It was snowing and very cold in Andorra. And in Spain? Its strong wind again. The temp was 8'C as I rolled my wheels to exit Alicante. It was raining and sooo cold. The wind was strong. It was so stressful as the side wind pushed my bike on the wet slippery road. I felt as if the tires had no traction at all as it skid every time being pushed. I had to face this for 4 scary hours!! After that, even though the sun came out, I had a strong head wind which froze me in and out for the remaining journey. My neck and hands were so painful. However, the view was very beautiful as soon as I entered Andalucia province. Beautiful Sierra Nevada greeted me from far away. It reminded me of Patagonia in Argentina. 




I was very cold and exhausted by the time I reached Granada after riding 400kms via A7 – A92. As I'm getting tired and stress riding on the pebble stone very narrow alleys in the old city of Granada, searching for a place to stay which suited my budget, a nice guy appeared out of nowhere to help me. Lucas brought me to the tourist info office and later guided me to a cosy hostel which I got a private room for EUR15. I stayed for 2 nights here and managed to visit the historical city and La Alhambra. 



La Alhambra was indeed a must visit while in Granada. I was lucky that my host in BCN told me to purchase La Alhambra ticket online beforehand as I didnt know that the daily number of visitors to this palace were limited. The ticket cost me EUR15.40. I collected my ticket at a bookstore in the city and walked to the very impressive place. The Alhambra is Granada’s and Europe’s love letter to Moorish culture, a place where fountains trickle, leaves rustle, and ancient spirits seemed to mysteriously linger. Part palace, part fort, part World Heritage site, part lesson in medieval architecture, the Alhambra will definitely blow your mind away.







My next destination in Spain was Cordoba. I took N432 and the ride along the winding rolling hills was awesome. I do feel some side and headwind along the way. At times, I was being surprised by wind gust which blew from the wind tunnels which was created by the range of hills and valleys. It was cloudy and cold ride again, but I was entertained by beautiful red poppy flowers and olive fields view.



I stayed 2 nights in Cordoba and visited many historical places such as the old city, Templo Romano, Mezquita, the cathedral, Torre Callahora, Puente Romano, Alcazar, and others.







I continued towards Seville via A92. Its only 144kms but took me 2.15 hours to reach due to rain, storm, strong wind and chill. In Sevilla, I stayed with an advrider, Mahsa Homayounfar. I was very lucky that Festival de Avril was being held when I was there. Mahsa took me to the festival and I managed to watch the colourful feria. This annual fair was held for a week in the month of April. During this fair, the locals from all walks of life made themselves looked the best. The women dressed up beautifully with flowers in the hair, and the men looked smart and handsome with their coat and tie. They gathered and dance in the street. There were horse carriages too. 




I also managed to visit the old city, the famous cathedral and beautiful Plaza de Espanya.






PORTUGAL (15 – 17 APRIL 2016)

It was a very misty morning when I made my way to Aracena via N433. At times, my vision was limited to 50m only, but well, I had experienced worse, so its ok. Then it was raining on and off the whole way. Brrrrrrrr. The back road in Portugal was not as good as in Spain. Its narrower and uneven at parts, but theres not much traffic, so its okey. As for the wind? Similar like at Ruta 40 (may be this time a bit less), the wind caused the velcro on my plastic map slot on my tank bag ripped open. No matter how many times I sealed it, the velcro seal will open, and the velcro on my Givi Italy tank bag was of a very good quality. Huhh...to show how fierce the wind here was. It took me almost 7hrs to ride 451km to reach Lisbon. The sun only came out for 20 minutes for the whole journey. It was a colddd wettt ride. Nevertheless, the wild flowers were in full bloom. I felt like riding in Kazakhstan. Wild flowers of yellow, red, pink, purple, white...It was soooo beautiful.




I stayed 2 nights in Lisbon and managed to visit the European western most point, Cabo Da Roca. This place was 40kms through a narrow winding road from the capital city. Entrance was free. This place reminds me of Lands End due to its rock cliffs, the sea down below and the surroundings. 




I also visited down town Baixa, Belem and relaxed by the sea front watching the waves and sea gulls.








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