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'98 Trip Around the Mediterranean Sea
First Leg: Europe part 1

Holland
France
Spain
Portugal
Spain 2

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Holland

 

Mon, May 18, 98. CANADA: Flight to Amsterdam.

 

J.: We left Hamilton and Oakville full of excitement and ready for a big adventure. 

The flight was uneventful. We spent the first night Mon/Tue 18/19 on the plane. 

 

Tue, May 19, 98. HOLLAND: Amsterdam.  

 

 

J.: In Amsterdam, we bought motorcycle insurance (so called “green card”). Our shipment was late so we spent the day walking around the city and enjoying warm spring weather. By chance we came across a slogan written on a tram:  

Memorable motto...

IT’S BETTER TO TRAVEL ONE MILE 

THAN TO READ A THOUSAND BOOKS.

This became our motto.

G: This was the year of the France ’98 football world cup. I felt this spirit right after leaving the Amsterdam train station. There was a huge screen with a football game (what else…) right in front of the station. We were about to experience two things, travel and being close to the cup games.      

In front of the Amsterdam Centraal Station

 

Wed, May 20, 98. HOLLAND: Amsterdam (Harlem).  

 

 

J.: We spent the night Tue/Wed 19/20 in a youth hostel in Harlem near Amsterdam. Later on Wednesday we took a train to Rotterdam.

 

Thu, May 21, 98. HOLLAND: Rotterdam.  

 

 

J.: Thursday was a national holiday and we had to wait till Friday to get our bikes. We spent the night Wed/Thu 20/21, Thursday and night Thu/Fri 21/22 sitting in a hotel and sleeping. Rotterdam was very boring.  

In Rotterdam.... boring...

G: At least I had a chance to see this city and its hot spots. Rotterdam was completely destroyed during WW 2.

 

Fri, May 22, 98. HOLLAND: Rotterdam.  

 

 

J.: Finally we were able to get our bikes. We spent about 5 hours putting our machines together and repackaging our luggage. Every smallest part of our equipment had to have its place. 

In order to fit the bikes in the crates, the wheels, forks, handle bar and blikers had to come off.   Ready to go!!!

We set off in the afternoon, drove approx. 100 km and spent the night Fri/Sat 22/23 somewhere in Holland on a small private campsite. Well, that was a cold night. Our first night out camping was the coldest night we would have experienced during the whole trip.

 

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France

 

Sat, May 23, 98. HOLLAND/FRANCE.  

 

 

J.: We headed for Paris. We were avoiding toll routes, as they were awfully expensive, and chose main roads. No one seemed to follow the speed limits, especially motorcycle riders. Lukas lost few screws from the radiator cover, but that was an easy-to-fix problem. The bikes were great, the riders too. The 3-way CB Radio communication was faulty. There were constant distortions. It needed some major adjustments. We decided to fix it later.

We arrived in Paris late that evening (around 9 p.m.). It was difficult to find a campsite. It was already dark, roundabouts were confusing, we couldn’t count on CB radio and we couldn’t afford to lose each other in the traffic. We asked a Frenchman for directions (Greg speaks French and lots of other languages too). This “nice” guy simply refused to help us saying that it was the police we should have asked for directions. His help wasn’t essential—we found the camp anyway and spent the night Sat/Sun 23/24 there.

 

Sun, May 24, 98. FRANCE: Paris.  

 

 

We decided to leave the bikes at the campsite and to head for Paris by subway. 

We visited the following places:

·        Arc de Triomphe on Place Charles de Gaulle. 

The world’s largest traffic roundabout (12 avenues). Commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon.

·        Ave des Champs Elysees.

Champs Elysees, Paris

·        Eiffel Tower. 

Eiffel Tower: built in 1889. 318 metres high; 7,000 tonnes of steel; 3rd platform 276 metres above the ground

·        Place de la Concorde [(1755-1775). In 1793 Louis XVI (along with other 1343 people) was guillotined here. The obelisk comes from Luxor, Egypt, which we would be visiting in two months.]

·        The Louvre. 

The Louvers: constructed around 1200. Rebuilt in the 16th century. A public museum since 1793.

·        Notre Dame Cathedral. [Begun in 1163, finished in 1345.]

We came across a very interesting toilet. It was much more elegant and sophisticated than the ones we know from North America. 

Public toilet

Spent the night Sun/Mon 24/25 on the same campsite in Paris.

 

Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu/Fri, May 25/26/27/28/29, 98. FRANCE: Orleans.  

 

 

J.: We were ready to move on. We left Paris early on Monday. There were some advantages taking main roads as opposed to toll highways. We could see French towns and villages from the inside (and save some money, too). Unfortunately, going through towns required lots of concentration in order to avoid any traffic traps. Well, Lucas was a victim of one of these traps. On a quite confusing intersection he collided with a car, bounced off, lost balance and fell down. His first words while still under the bike were: “Guys, the trip is over for me. I broke my leg.” That was true. French Pompiers (Rescue Crew) showed up in 10 minutes or so and took Lucas to a hospital. Greg and I spent next four days (Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu/Fri 25/26/27/28/29) in Formula 1 hotel in Orleans. 

Formula 1 Hotel

We had to make a decision what to do next. Lucas wanted to continue but the leg was in a pretty bad condition and doctors suggested that he should go back to Canada. A Polish nurse that we met in the hospital was kind enough to agree to keep Lucas’ bike in her garage and to try to sell it. His flight was on Monday, June 1.

 

While Lucas was recovering in the hospital, 

Lucas recovering in the hospital

we were contacting his “green card” insurance agent in Amsterdam and health insurance agent in Canada. Neither of them was very helpful. Even a year after the accident, the Canadian insurer didn’t pay for Lucas’ treatment if France. In the meantime we managed to visit Cathedral Saint Croix in Orleans 

Cathedrale Saite Croix in Orleans, France

and some Castles in the Loire Valley (Chateau de Cheverny, etc.).

Chateau de Cheverny (completed in 1634)

 

Fri, May 29, 98.FRANCE: Near Limoges.

 

J.: We left Lucas on Friday in the afternoon. It was a sad day for three of us. The Polish nurse’s husband was to drive Lucas to Paris airport on Monday.

Now it was only two of us. We continued the trip, with caution. After few hours of riding we pitched our tent (Night Fri/Sat 29/30) on a still “closed for the season” campsite somewhere near Limoges.  

Free campsite

G: Beautiful terrain, a valley surrounded by small hills - magical. The campsite was right on the river, and that close by waterfall… It was so loud it drove me nuts. I couldn’t sleep most of the night.

 

Sat, May 30, 98. FRANCE: from Limoges to Bayonne.  

 

 

J.: The next day we continued the trip. Suddenly, in the middle of the road, my chain broke. 

Broken chain

We (rather Greg) fixed it in an hour. We spent the night Sat/Sun 30/31 on a campsite near Bayonne.

G: It was nice to see the Atlantic Ocean again. We witnessed the sunset.

 
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Spain

 

Sun, May 31, 98.FRANCE/SPAIN: from Bayonne to Salamanca.

 

J.: We crossed the border 

Open border between France and Spain

and stopped for a short rest in San Sebastian.

G: Quick look around: it is a pretty city. I hope to return there once for longer. We withdrew some Spanish cash and left the town.

J.: Continued driving. It started raining. We were going several hours in the rain struggling with strong side wind at the same time. Fortunately we were well prepared. Having our rain suits paid off. We reached Salamanca at night. Spent the night Sun/Mon 31/1 in Hostel La Perla Salamantina.

 

Mon, June 1, 98. SPAIN: Salamanca. SPAIN/PORTUGAL drive.  

 

 

J.: In daylight, Salamanca appeared to be a beautiful baroque city full of even more beautiful Spanish girls. Well, we were late already and couldn’t afford to stay longer in the city.  

Plaza Mayor in Salamanca. Greg is having breakfast.

Some interesting places in Salamanca:

·        Cathedral Nueva [(1510-1733). From inside the cathedral, enter Cathedral Vieja (Old Cathedrral ) building begun in 11th century and it was consecrated in 1160.]

·        [Patio de las Escuelas. ]

·        Plaza Mayor. [Designed in 1733. Built in golden sandstone.]

·        The ayuntamiento (town hall) [completed in 1755.]

 

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Portugal

 

We crossed the Portuguese border 

In the rain gear

and headed for the mountains instead of going towards the ocean. Most of the ride was in the rain, again.

G: It was not difficult, but it was one of the most tiring rides: poor visibility, heavy rain, very bad roads and slippery conditions. We had to be extremely concentrated in order to keep the pace at a reasonable rate.

J.: We got lost a bit and drove extra 150 km. Driving through small towns was interesting. Major highways went right through small towns slaloming between the houses. Sometimes trucks passed as close as 20 centimeters or less in front of the main door of a house. Fortunately, people living in these houses had backdoors.

Portugal has nice hills and mountains. I was very intrigued by the orchards of a specific look. Later on I found out that they were olive orchards.

G: Once we left the mountains it stopped raining, yet the clouds were still hanging over us. Ahead we could see the sun, the line between clear sky and the clouds was so dramatic it created a sensation of going from the land of total darkness to the land of light and joy. Since it was already almost sunset the orange-red sun shined deep onto the cloud-covered land making it look like a fairytale picture.   

J.: Lisbon is like a huge construction site. A city map from two years ago that we had was not valid anymore because of the construction development.

We reached the campsite at 2 a.m. (in Costa da Caparica – ½ hour from the city centre). (Night Mon/Tue/Wed 1/2/3)

 

Tue, June 2, 98. PORTUGAL: Lisbon.  

 

 

J.: Before we headed for Lisbon, we met two Swiss guys on Yamaha Tenere and Suzuki DRBig whose tent was just beside ours. 

Motorcyclists from Switzerland

We exchanged stories and experiences. Theirs was an interesting one. Two years ago they put their bikes on a plane and flew to Africa. For two months they were riding around Tanzania and Kenya. Well, people travel.

We took Greg’s bike and went to see Lisbon. Spent all day touring. We didn’t visit Expo ’98 because of lack of time. My most favourite part of the city was Alfama, a district of narrow and puzzling streets connected with narrow and steep stairs.

Narrow streets of Alfama

Despite the size of the streets, the streetcars were still in use there as a mode of transportation. The area was poor and dirty. Time goes really slow there.

G: You could see people just sitting or having a conversation, playing chess, having a drink or reading a paper. A very relaxed and peaceful community.

J.: Alfama was an introduction to the medinas (Old City in Arabic) in Fes, Marrakech, Tunis, Tripoli, Cairo and other Muslim cities in the region.

Baixa was another district we visited. It was much cleaner and sophisticated with its orderly designed streets and busy life - a sort of business district.

 

Wed, June 3, 98. PORTUGAL: Evora and Lagos.  

 

 

J.: We left Lisbon, took a toll highway and visited Evora for few hours. A nice, small and clean city. The most famous place there was Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) in Igreja de Sao Francisco. The chapel is constructed with the bones and skulls of several thousand people, probably commemorating one of the great plagues that took place in medieval Europe. 

Chapel of Bones in Evora, Portugal

There was also an Aqueduct from the Roman era with the houses built in between the spans. Neat.

We reached Lagos in the evening and spent the night Wed/Thu 3/4 on a campsite

 

Thu, June 4, 98. PORTUGAL/SPAIN: Lagos and drive to Seville.  

 

 

G: In Lagos we came across many foreign travelers.

British “hooligans”- they traveled in their old beaten up camper van. They returned to the campsite late at night shouting and screaming for some reason. Like that wasn’t enough, they started throwing things around, among them bicycles! (I guess they were rentals). One landed not far from our tent but they did not come to pick it up or throw it again.

J.: Among others, there was a couple from Germany on their BMW 1100. Not only was the bike huge but also the amount of equipment they had. The couple was sort of “well in doubt” too. Still the bike didn’t seem to have any problems when they left in the morning. Our plan was to spent the weekend in Lagos and enjoy the weather. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate so the next day we set off to Seville.

 

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Spain 2

 

We were approaching Seville when suddenly the temperature raised to 30C. We found a place to stay in the old part of the city - Pension San Esteban. (Night Thu/Fri 4/5). That evening we enjoyed the nightlife and a pleasant university atmosphere of the city.

G: On one of the plazas there was lots of young people talking and drinking. The situation intrigued us slightly so we asked what was the occasion of this large gathering. The answer was ”Oh, nothing, just sitting, talking and drinking.” - I saw that!!

 

Fri, June 5, 98. SPAIN: Seville and drive to Ceuta (Spanish Morocco).  

 

 

J.: Spent the day visiting Interesting places:

·        The biggest cathedral in the world. [Built on the site of Moorish Seville’s main mosque (1401-1506). The cathedral holds Christopher Columbus’ tomb. The adjoining tower, La Giralda was the mosque’s minaret and dates from the 12th century.]  

The biggest cathedral in the world in Seville, Spain

·        Alcazar, a residence of Muslim and Christian royalty [founded 10th century as a Moorish fortress. You’ll find similar architecture in Arab countries.]  

Alcazar: Muslim palace

Spain—a great place to visit. Clean, beautiful and not expensive.

The drive to Algeciras was fun because of the wide roads with lots of turns.

G: We stopped at one of the lots. We could already see Africa. I thought, what would it bring. The hills were full of modern windmills (not like in Holland) all in motion. What a noise!  

Windmills near Algeziras

The easiest thing to do in Algeciras was probably to buy ferry tickets. The agents were everywhere and the prices were almost the same so it made no sense to shop around.

The ferry to Ceuta (city that belongs to Spain)

Getting on the ferry to Ceuta

was rough and windy but since we stayed inside the speedy catamaran, it did not affect us.

The first contact with the black continent was exciting but uneventful. That part of Africa looks exactly like Mediterranean Europe.

J.: We found a place to stay, nice and “clean” Pension Revellin (Night Fri/Sat 5/6). We got a bit scared because it was our first night in Africa but for no reason.

G: The owner seemed to be happy to have us despite the warning of the Lonely Planet book. He served us some wine and cheese. He even gave us a drink of a very delicious schnapps.


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To continue the story, click Morocco or go back to Mediterranean Trip.