2nd December 2010
Day 51 - Montpelier to Béziers 93km + 35 years

Today was probably my 3rd best birthday ever! (number 2 being my 29th in Cardiff, with a massive birthday gig, Brenda's awesome curry and loads of amazing friends; number 1 being my 30th, when I lounged around all day with Fred Snow, drinking Caipirinha's in the swimming pool on the roof of my hotel in Salvador in Brazil)

Although the air was pretty cold, the sun was so warm :-)

I cycled through a couple of small villages before arriving at the sea. I missed the Mediterranean! The smell of the air, the trees, the olive groves, the colours, the warm sun (Mauri - sai cosa voglio dire?!) I sat on the beach for a bit, contemplating life, the cosmos, my  place in said cosmos, the fact that the oceans vary in height depending on where you are in the world, the lack of tidal flows in the Med, etc... then cycled on. Passing through the boutique ridden town of Sete I cycled across an enormous sand bar, stopping again for a bit to relax and watch the ocean. It was almost impossible to imagine how different the weather was just a short distance north, and how different the feel of the Mediterranean is. The last 20 or so kilometres was hard though, with lots of hills and tired legs, but I got there in the end.

The day reminded me so much of my time living in Italy. Its hard to explain in words, but I really do feel so good coming back to this part of the world. I just cant wait to cross the border into the north of Spain in 3 days, not just because the beer is gonna be soooo much cheaper (!) but because I feel at home here, in this part of the world.

It is now 8pm, and I am sat in an grossly overpriced restaurant, where I did just have a very good grilled chicken and jacket potato, but some average red wine. Well, not to worry, as I purchased a rather stunning bottle of vin rouge from the supermarket, and I intend to celebrate in a relaxed fashion tonight in my hotel room.

Thank you everyone for the birthday messages and greetings on facebook, email and sms! I have been smiling all day because of them :-) It also really means a lot to me that people think what I am doing is a good thing, especially through all the hellish weather and exhaustion I have suffered through in recent weeks. But a bigger thanks to those awesome people who have made a donation on this site to either the charities that I am supporting, or to helping me with the trip. Thank you so much!!!

p.s. someone say happy birthday to Britney for me, as I forgot to send her a card again...

3rd December 2010
Day 52 - Béziers to Narbonne 40km

I don't really know why, but so much hard work for just 40km. It honestly seemed like it was slightly uphill all the way, and the wind was a little strong (and just like whenever the wind blew on this trip, exactly in my direction...) My legs seemed so tired (nothing to do with last nights wine (!) but I got there in the end. I arrived into Narbonne at 1pm, only to find my hotel's reception closed until 5pm, so I hung around in the foyer for 4 hours, editing photos and getting some admin done until it was time to check in.

4th December 2010
Day 53 - Narbonne to Perpignan 89km

What a truly wonderful day :-) The sun was shining, not a cloud in sight, and after a bad start (first flat tyre of the trip) I settled down to a day of cycling through a nature reserve. The sea all around me, I cycled a path that is closed to cars, as it twisted its way through the wetlands, across sandbars and connecting islands.

In the far distance I could make out the snow capped peaks of the Pyrenees (the Canigou - 2784m I believe) and over the day I crept slowly closer to them. All the towns and villages I passed through were virtually shut down for the winter. They are all holiday resorts, and everything was closed, meaning nothing to eat all day... I finally managed to get to a supermarket for food only when arriving into Perpignan.

I have a big day tomorrow... Crossing the border into Spain should be interesting. The road I must take climbs only about 300 metres, but the traffic will be a bit crazy, and the road is very twisty and very tight. I checked it out on google street view and I'm not looking forward to it. I will probably have to wear the cycle helmet just in case. It's uncomfortable but I think a good idea on this particular day...

5th December 2010
Day 54 - Perpignan to Figueres (Spain) 68km

It hurt. Every step of the way. The wind was so strong, and against me. The weather was so different from yesterday - I should have expected that, having lived both around mountains before. The wind was so strong that I was forced - for my own safety (I was blown off the road dozens of times) - to push the bike quite a lot. I went through the mountains pictured below... in a day!

Once I reached the mountain pass the wind died down a little, and I shifted into the easiest gear, Kept my head down, and pedalled. 6-8km per hour the whole frickin way through the Pyrenees. After I finally reached the high point and crossed the border into Spain the road was much easier. After a quick and steep descent it was just a matter of perseverance to cover the remaining 20km or so to Figueres.

Tomorrow, for the sake of my legs (which feel terrible) I will just try the 40km to Girona, then the day after all the way to Barcelona along the coast road.

6th December 2010
Day 55 - Figueres to Girona 46km

Started late, getting on the road at 11am. It felt nice not to have got out of bed at 7am... The cycling today was fairly uneventful, except for the numerous climbs. The hills were very steep, the road not winding up them but going in a straight line over the top. My only company for the day were the many prostitutes working at the side of the road. Even 10km from the nearest town they sit patiently on a little plastic chair for their next client. I made it a point to at least say hello to them as I cycled past. I said "Hola" quite a few times today. They have a hard job, so why not give them a smile - they always smile back, and its not what you think! They seem happy that someone treats them like human beings.

My hotel was a little way outside of Girona, so I didn't get to see anything of the city unfortunately. I am also in the middle of quite a few days of Spanish public holidays, so all of the shops are closed, some opening up only on Thursday...

7th December 2010
Day 56 - Girona to Mataró 77km

Well. the bike broke again...

The guy who fixed it in Paris didn't do a very god job. The wheel was fairly out of alignment before Paris and now it is just as bad. The tyre occasionally rubs against the metal work of the frame, therefore acting as a brake - making cycling even harder... I stopped at a car mechanics garage on the main road and the mechanics lent me the tools to try and fix it. After half an hour of tinkering I thought all was ok and left. About 10km down the road the wheel slipped out of alignment again. I cycled the rest of the way to Mataró along the coast road (which goes up and down a lot) with the rear wheel touching the frame. Seriously hard work! Its like cycling with the brakes half on for 45-50km!

I checked into a NH hotel, because it seemed like the only one open in these normally summer holiday resorts. Bit more expensive than usual, but nice to have some luxury for just one night :-) (the bathroom was marble) but I was seriously worried about what to do with the bike... Do I cycle the 40km into Barcelona on a broken bike or take the train? I don't have those particular tools to take the rear wheel off and fix it. It used to have a quick-release system but the Paris guy replaced it with a fixed-bolt axle, and all the shops are still closed for these days.

I went for a little walk around the neighbourhood, with the intention of finding a pizza place. No pizza was found, but a bakery was open that provided dinner, and unbelievably, I found a second-hand tool shop hidden away! They had the things I needed (costing only €2,50 for the 4 spanners) and so I hope to fix everything in the morning.

I spent the evening laughing my pants off at a Billy Connolly live show I had on disc with me. That guy is so funny! Especially after 3 cans of Estrella Damm :-)

8th December 2010
Day 57 - Mataró to Barcelona (30km Bus)

Well, what a surprise. I spent about 1 hour fixing the bike, only for the whole back wheel to disintegrate 500 metres down the road. The freewheel had completely broken, with the ball bearings falling out of the wheel... I had no option but to literally carry the bike back to the hotel. I couldn't even push it as the rear wheel had completely locked up. The hotel staff kindly allowed me to store the broken bike and my bags in a luggage room for the night, and I headed off to Barcelona on the bus with just a rucksack.

It is nice to be back here, although the city was almost claustrophobically busy... I stumbled across the World Press Photo 2010 exhibition - which I had wanted to see in a few different places along the way, but had somehow managed to miss - and had a good look round. Some stunning photos! Gave me a few ideas about my own photography.

I managed to find some of the pieces I needed to fix the bike in the Decathlon shop, grabbing also a new pair of baggy cycling shorts. I then went off to meet my couch-surfing host Isabel up on the edge of Gracia. Maria is only a few hundred metres away so I am guessing we will meet up sometime during these days I am here.

9th December 2010
Day 58 - Mataró to Barcelona (again! 34km)

I managed to get a new wheel in a bike shop in Barna, and after took the train back to Mataró. The railway runs right along the beach, and so gave me the opportunity to look out for cycle paths for the return journey. I fixed the new wheel easily and headed back to Barcelona with the weather slowly starting to change. In the distance I could see some pretty black clouds approaching and what looked like rain over the city, so I pedalled hard. I cycled all the way up the Diagonal and sat in a bar for a few hours drinking Estrella and editing photos until my host got back from work.

This evening I had a nice phone call with Manuel to wish him a happy birthday and then cooked up some funky chicken with asparagus and rice.


10th December 2010
Day 59 - Barcelona

Today I did something I guess I should have done a while ago - I met up with Maria! We went out for a cup of tea and then lunch, which was really nice. It was as if we had seen each other everyday - same jokes ;-) Afterwards I hit the city centre and did some therapeutic book hunting.

In the evening I took quite a few beers in the bar where she works and ate a great Piadina on the way back home.

11th December 2010
Day 60 - Barcelona (60!!!)

After spending a lazy morning trying to export photos from Adobe Lightroom (always fun stuff) I took the Metro down to the harbour front. I am quite intrigued by Franco, and the Spanish Civil War which put him into his dictatorship, so the Historical Museum of Catalunya seemed like a good place to start. I managed to get in free (saying I was a teacher - which I was, once... and flashed my Sandemans tour guiding badge at the cashier) and had a look around. I kind of skipped through the first section which was all about the formation of the Iberian Peninsular (geologically) and went straight for Modern history.

Catalunya has had its ups and downs, with its language and culture being oppressed by many, as it was invaded quite a few times. The language itself is quite unique, being much closer to French than Spanish, and I am quite happy I can differentiate between Catalan and Spanish fairly easily (well, I had two years practice listening to Maria speak!) Although the last 100 years saw a major resurgence in the language, during Franco's dictatorship (he died at the end of 1975) the language - like Basque - was pushed under the rug. I would like to know a little more about this subject... Lucky I just bought a book on that very subject!