Postcard from the Edge of a White Line

Let’s face it there are two types of road – those that are big and coloured on a map and have white lines painted down the middle of them and then there are those little white roads on the map, that invariably do not have white lines painted on them. Much of the 1,800 km of this motor bike trip through the Pyrenees trip was spent former type. The bikes were put on a train from Strasbourg to Narbonne, and it was from there our adventure started. Dodging crap French cars spewing out fumes of death we started the ascent in to the French Pyrenees, marveling at the complete lack of road maintenance and safety barriers. However, the view and spectacular gorges made up something as well as an interesting visit to the multi-walled town of Carcassone.

We were heading to Andorra, something of a legend amongst motor bikers for terrible traffic and cheap prices. Arriving on Sunday night we found neither. OK, cigarettes, petrol and booze were cheap, but not that much cheaper and the fabled electronics savings were laughable. The roads were excellent and the Caldera spa (the largest in Europe) made for an interesting evening.

From then it was off to the heart of the Pyrenees – where I have come to the conclusion Noah’s ark must have made an unscheduled stop judging by the menagerie of animals roaming the road. We came across cows, horses, sheep, llamas, pigs, goats and jelly fish (which may have been a plastic bag) all of which are looking for a flat warm place to rest their butts. The only flat warm place is the non-white-lined road, which as a consequence of so many animals spending time there, is covered with large piles of what my motor bike teacher called brown ice. But at least we were now in Spain where the roads have crash barriers.

From there back to France for a visit to Lourdes, where in 1858, a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed to have had visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto. This resulted in a large number of churches, tawdry candle shops and souvenir shops sprouting up. Needless to say it has become a huge pilgrimage center and Mary has not come back since. I can understand why.

Back to Spain then via El Runs (we did not eat there) for a visit to the amazing Canfranc train station. Built by an ambitious mayor, Canfranc was supposed to be the jewel on the main rail link between France and Spain, but the French reneged on their promise (act surprised) to build the railway line and the introduction of the car means the huge, gorgeously proportioned station is now falling apart.

From there more pleasant safe roads in Spain for visits to Pamplona (the bulls were out), San Sebastian (location of the king’s summer palace, and the most incredible string shop) and Bilbao for the simply fantastic Guggenheim Museum. My favourite exhibit was Jeff Koon’s 3 meter high sculpture of bright blue balloon dog.

With great regret we left Spain to put the bikes on a train from Biarritz back to Strasbourg. As the French railways do not offer any passenger sleeper services from Biarritz to Strasbourg (only freight) we were forced to travel via Paris, where we spent a day visiting some arches, the Musée d’Orsay and the Sacré Coeur.

I was again positively impressed with Spain, and as a conclusion here are my 10 reasons I like Spain
10 – Motorbike parking is free
9 – Shops are open late
8 – Tapas Bars
7 – The Spanish are prepared to spend money on sexy underwear rather than go to the dentist
6 – Silly festivals (Tomatina and the Bull-Run in Pamplona)
5 – Liberal interpretation of what a red traffic light means
4 – Siestas
3 – Road Safety
2 – People are really friendly and nice
1 – It is not France.

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