Back in France: Malgrad de Mar -> Alet les Bains

Location: Alet les Bains, France
Status: pretty good, but hungover at the moment

I've made it back to France and I am in some amazingly beautiful countryside on the Aude River. In my last post, I promised I would give my impressions of Spain. Also, I need to detail getting from Malgrat de Mar to here, so this will be a(nother) long one. Go get some coffee or something, and the time to visit the restroom is now. Don't worry. I won't run away, while you are gone...

Ok? Are you comfortable? Here goes...

Malgrat de Mar

I left on in Malgrat de Mar as Gerard and I were about to go out and enjoy the weekend. We ended up going to a bar/club on the beach in Malgrat (Gerard, if you read this, what was the name of the place?) and hanging out having a few beers. We met up with some friends of his, including two really cool girls from France, Amelie and Sophie, and we hung out with them pretty much all night. After the bar closed at 03:00, we emptied Gerard's fridge of beers and continued hanging out on the beach, mainly talking, until Amelie had to go to work at 07:00.

We'd all made plans to meet up again at 14:00 and go to another beach for the afternoon, so the remainder of the morning was spent trying to get some sleep and relaxing. Amelie came over after she finished working around 10:30, because she wanted to check her email on Gerard's computer, so we hung out a bit. Just before leaving, Gerard's father made paella, which I got to eat for the first time. It was delicious! We went to pick up Sophie, and another friend, Leoni, a girl from the Netherlands who turned out to be pretty cool, and we all drove up to a beach in Blanes to spend the afternoon playing in the Mediterranean and getting some sun. I must say, I am completely in love with the Mediterranean sea. It is one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever seen. Anyway, we hung out for a bit, but Sophie had to go back to work at 18:00, so we left. That evening, Gerard had plans to go to Barcelona for a CouchSurfing part, but I chose not to go becuase I had planned to cycle out the next day and I knew I wouldn't be able to party all night again, so Amelie invited me to come hang out with them for a relaxing bottle of wine on the beach, so that was what I ended up doing. Sophie joined us after she finished work and we hung out talking for a bit. Everyone was pretty tired, so we called it a night fairly early and I got back to Gerard's place at about 01:30 or so. Gerard got home at sometime around 06:00.

It turns out that I did NOT leave the next day. Gerard and I spent most of Sunday relaxing and talking, basically recovering from Friday and Saturday. His mother made grilled chicken for lunch. Not much happened for most of Sunday, just relaxing and talking. In the evening, Gerard and I drove up to Lloret de Mar to walk around. The beach itself was a major tourist trap area, but the cliffs on either side were really nice with trails along them and a couple of castles. Eventually, we went back, had leftover chicken for dinner, and then went for one last night walk on the beach where we hung out and talked for a bit.

The next morning, Gerard had to get up at just after 06:00 for work, and I got up at the same time and headed out. I had a really good time in Malgrat de Mar, though, and I hope to return some day.

From Malgrat de Mar to Alet les Bains

When I left Malgrat de Mar, my intention was to cycle up the coast, staying as close to the Mediterranean as possible. This proved to be very difficult, because the coast in that area is mainly cliffs and mountains. I made it as far as Tossa de Mar before turning inland to Girona. I got to Girona around 11:00 and ate breakfast/lunch there. My legs were pretty tired, and I decided to take a train and save some time, so for 3.60 euros, I took a train to Portbou, Spain, the last town on the coast before the border, where I relaxed and spent most of the hottest part of the day sitting in the shade writing in my journal. Then, I cycled up the mountain next to town and crossed the border back into France.

I continued along the coast, being absolutely floored by the amazing views of the Mediterranean I was getting as I cycled up and down mountains. Eventually, the road and terrain flattened out as I got closer to Perpignan, France. I slept outside that night about 20km south of Perpignan. While I was sleeping, the wind decided to change directions and get stronger.

The next morning, I cycled into Perpignan for breakfast, fighting a crosswind that was coming from exactly the wrong direction, i.e. exactly the direction that I would be going when I left Perpignan. I ate, and made my way out of the city to start some of the worst cycling I'd experienced. The landscape was beautiful, but I didn't get to enjoy it much because I was really struggling against the wind, which was blowing rather hard directly in my face. It was really bad. I had to work pretty hard just to go DOWN hills, so going up wasn't all that pleasant. All in all, it took me over 4 hours to go about 30km, so when I got to the small town of Maury, I made a phone call to my HelpX host in Alet les Bains to say that I didn't think I was going to be able to get there that day, even though it was so close.

However, she gave me some good advice. In the next town on the road, Saint Paul de Fenouillet, there was a "Train Touristique" that ran along the valley to the town of Axat. Chloe, my HelpX host, told me to try to catch that and then give her a call later to let her know how things turned out. I fought the wind for the 6km to Saint Paul, and found out the next train was at 17:15, so I had about 1 and a half hours to rest and eat. Then I caught the train and got to relax through some amazingly beautiful countryside: shear mountains occasionally with castles on top, vinyards, rivers... It was fantastic. Pictures will be forthcoming...eventually.

I got to Axat and tried to call Chloe, but there was no answer. It turned out that she had gone out in her car to look for me, and the moment I called was the moment when she was in the one place along the road that had no signal: a gorge on route D117 north of Axat. The wind had pretty much stopped, or was being blocked by the mountains, so I decided to give cycling a try and at least go to Quillan, about 11km up the road, before calling again. I rode through the gorge and it was some of the most incredible cycling I have ever done. The wind was kind of random, but the road was mostly downhill, following the Aude river as it twisted through the mountains. It is good that there was almost no traffic, because the road was quite narrow at times. It was so beautiful cycling through there. Sorry, but no pictures. I was in a zone and I didn't want to stop.

Anyway, since the cycling was so good, I went right through Quillan and continued all the way to Alet les Bains, arriving at about 20:00.

Alet les Bains

And here, I remain. I walked up to Chloe's door just as she was about to leave, so lucky timing there. She was on her way to a friend's for dinner, having given up on me and assuming I would arrive the next day. However, she let me take a quick shower and we both went to her friend's place for dinner. We ate, we relaxed, we drank some local wine, and we talked. Eventually we came back home and crashed.

The next day was a day of rest for me and I mostly did just that. The following day (the day before yesterday), Chloe put me to work. For those of you who have never heard of HelpExchange, that is basically the deal: you go some place and work in exchange for room and board. Chloe has various house work that needs to be done, and my first tasks were to strip the paint off a door and figure out how to get the noise from the ADSL modem off the phone lines. The second task was simple: Chloe just needed to buy low-pass filters and put them on her phones. The door is proving to be more difficult, even with paint-stripper. It was probably last painted sometime before World War II, and the paint is thick. It will take me a few days to finish.

However, this weekend is the town Festival, it will mostly be party-time before getting back to work next Wednesday. Excellent! Hence my slightly hungover status.

Anyway, my plan is to stay here for a couple of weeks doing work and trying to figure out what to do next. My money situation, though far from dire, is at the point where I really need to figure out where and how to get paid work. Before anyone starts worrying, I have enough left for about a month of traveling, assuming I continue to be disciplined about my budget, and right now, with the HelpX volunteering, I don't have to spend much at all.

Impressions of Spain

So, I traveled through Spain for nearly a month, so I guess I should say a few things about it. There is good and bad here, and I apologise in advance if I offend any Spanish people while writing this, but overall my impression is more on the negative side. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, so I will start with the positive things...

The landscapes I traveled through in Spain were beautiful! Rough, but beautiful. Most of the northern half was farmland (mostly grain fields) leading right up to small, steep mountains. Around Madrid was mountains and pastureland. And, of course, there was the incredibly beautiful Mediterranean coast from Valencia onward. Although cycling was rough at times, especially because of the heat, it was intoxicating to be in such beautiful land. Also, the people I met were very cool: Pedro, Marta, David, Javier, Mariska and her friends, and Gerard, his family, and the people in Malgrat de Mar.

Perhaps you will notice that this is a rather short list. I didn't meet many people in Spain. I'm sure a big part of it is my lack of ability to speak Spanish, and I have only myself to blame for that. However, it was also more difficult to find CouchSurfing and HospitalityClub hosts in Spain than anywhere else so far. I know I shouldn't expect hosting and of course I am incredibly grateful for everyone who has hosted me. I know full well that it is a priviledge, not a right. However, for the sake of comparison: when I crossed France, it took about a month and I was without a host twice spending a total of 2 nights outside while in France. When I crossed Spain, it also took about a month, and though I don't have an exact count of days, I slept outside for about 2/3 of the time. Mind you, I'm not complaining, just making an observation.

I talked with Gerard about this quite a bit, as well as the others, and was basically told that generally, Spanish people are not as hospitable to strangers as some other cultures, and that people generally only look out for and/or care about themselves and those close to them.

I kind of had that impression as I saw people around. For the most part, many people don't seem very approachable. Spanish guys tend to be very macho looking (as in, I get the feeling that tbey must look tough and "manly"). Girls seemed to have...some kind of attitude...I don't know how to explain it well (heh, some writer I am), but they didn't seem very approachable either. The only people who seemed like I would be able to ask for directions were elderly people. Now, mind you, this is all based on my own impressions of people's images, and I shouldn't base anything on just that, but hey...if a person doesn't look friendly, then I don't want to go near them or try to talk to them, and there were a lot of not-friendly-looking people.

One thing that really gave me a bad impression of Spain was the graffiti. Now, I tend to like well done graffiti art, and don't mind people painting blank walls and such. I've seen some incredible graffiti art on this journey, especially in Angouleme, France and in Madrid, Spain. However, most of what I saw in Spain was just someone scribbling their tag with black paint, rather than actually having a design or message. C'mon, guys, you can be more creative than that. That is just plain stupid. Not only that, but the places where you would find graffiti were appauling. I generally don't mind blank walls, bridges, etc., but statues, monuments, beautifully designed buildings, etc. are outright ridiculous. So, not only was there a lot of stupid, no-design tags, they were tagging what would have been things of beauty and of cultural importance. That just shows an incredible lack of respect for others.

Wow...reading that, I feel like I should be sitting in a rocking chair on a porch yelling at kids to "GET OFF MY LAWN!"

Also, continuing on the "lack of respect" impression, so many things in Spain seemed run down and dirty. There were a lot of abandoned, collapsing houses in the countryside, and also in the cities. A lot of streets were dirty, as well as roads in the countryside. There was so much litter along the roads. I don't know. It seemed like people just didn't want to take care of anything around them.

Finally, cycling was sometimes a nightmare. Spain was not a very cyclist-friendly country, especially for touring cyclists. Getting into and out of Madrid was a nightmare of motorways. Getting into Barcelona was similar, though it was easier to get out of. There were often places where the only option was to get on the motorway and compete with cars and trucks doing 130km/hr. Drivers seemed to enjoy honking at cyclists (whether on the motorway or the back roads). I had more people honk at me in Spain than in Japan, the UK, and France combined.

Mini-Rant: Drivers! DO NOT HONK AT CYCLISTS! Unless there is actually real danger, don't honk at us. Don't honk to be friendly and wave. Don't honk to let us know you are coming (believe me, we know. We are probably more aware of what is happening on the road than most drivers). Don't honk because you don't think we should be on the road (we have as much right as you do, and at least we are more environmentally friendly). Don't honk because you think it is funny to startle us. Just don't fucking honk unless you are warning us of something that is actually dangerous. When someone honks at me, my first thought is, "oh shit, what's wrong, am I in danger?" and then I look around and see some grinning or laughing asshat. I've had a few times where I've almost crashed because of some honking asshat. Seriously, don't do it. It isn't cool. It isn't helpful. We know you are there, so when you honk, we think there is a problem. Unless you are actually warning us, don't do it. Or, unless you are trying to kill us, in which case, of you are successful, enjoy your time in prison for manslaughter.

I apologise for the language, but it really does make me angry, and I am sick of people putting my life in danger.

Anyway, these are only small examples, but are a big part of what gave me a negative impression of Spain. Don't get me wrong though: I'm glad I went, and had some incredibly good experiences there: sleeping under the milky way, watching satellites cross the sky in the mountains north of Madrid; having beer and tapas in Palencia; hanging out with cool people in Malgrat de Mar; cycling through some incredible landscapes, the likes of which I had never seen before; The Mediterranean Sea!

Anyway, it is good to be back in France. There are things I do miss about Spain, despite the negative impression overall. It is also good to take a break from traveling and stay in one place for awhile.

I think that is enough for now. Ciao.

2 件のコメント:

匿名 さんのコメント...

Hey mate, good luck for the riviera. Glad you're still alive. Cyclists rule and drivers suck! I got in a stand up fight with a guy last week who cut me off and put me in the gutter while talking on the phone and then when I slapped the back of his car and gave him the finger he actaully tried to run me over. The only reason he didn't connect was because his car got stuck on the gutter. He then got out and tried to stick his keys in my throat. The best bit of teh whole thing is that it took place directly in front of my office and I have 20 plus witnesses to back up my story. We'll see who the filthy bastard goes in court now. Ha ha. Hope they ban him from driving for ever. The sooner that car drivers realise that driving is a reivelege and not a right and that they must share the better. Long live Cycling.
Anyway thats all a bit of a rant but have fun in france and keep the blogging and I'll follow your path one day.


Amr Faham さんのコメント...

I wish I had a boat!
hope you'll find what you want.
Amr from CS