Montserrat to Barcelona…The End

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I awoke and jumped out of bed at 5.57 am this morning. Very precise I know, but the bells had started tolling next door at the Basilica. Call to arms! It was still pitch black as I opened the shutters to peer out to see what was happening.

The bells tolled again off and on for the next hour and I did tape some on my iPad, as I did in Florence with the early morning Duomo bells.

We really did have a magical view out our bedroom window didn’t we!

Breakfast was a busy affair as this is a large hotel and we mixed it with other guests queuing for coffee ( so I grabbed two large ones for myself!)

Independently of each other Tony and I had decided we wanted to ride with all/some of the other riders today. Each day we were 1-2 hours ahead of them so had not really ridden with any of them.

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Waiting patiently. That is Martin getting ready in the background.

It was quite misty looking back up the mountain.

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Finally we were all ready and had a last day photo.

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Great bunch of people!!

We started off with a descent down the mountain. I dropped my chain and needed to stop and then the same thing happened to Tony. Bit weird!

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Nice descent!

Passing through Monistrol de Montserrat at 9.3 km we passed under a railway as we headed out of town.

 

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We stopped for an early coffee at Olesa de Montserrat in the company of Jamie, Barbara and Martin.  We headed off together but with another hill climb remaining planned to wait at the top.

Looking back we could see where we started the day at Montserrat.

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The next chunky riding was more traversing busier, built up areas which is not particularly relaxing, but a necessity.  There were an incredible number of non synchronised red lights we stopped at.

We entered the final climb of the day, and this tour.

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I think the town where the flag below was hanging was Sant Bartomeu de la Quadra. This weekend there is to be a referendum held in Catalonia, the Spanish state we are in. The vote is about seeking independence from Spain. Certainly there have been many “SI” flags flying in the last week. Spain do not support the vote and we have been advised to be vigilant on Sunday and Monday.

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As in Tasmania, there is a 1.5m rule.

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As we climbed to Collet de L’Espinagsa we had some nice views despite the increasing air pollution.

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Once at the Collet we waited for some of our riders as we were now only 6 km from our accomodation. While we waited we noted this site overlooking Barcelona.

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That is a huge church with an even bigger antenna in front of it.

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We could not help but to notice this dog. We asked the owners about the shoes and they said it was to protect his feet from stones.

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So we took a few photos whilst waiting.

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Waiting for cyclists to appear 

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Three turned up so we descended into Barcelona.

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Checking out the view.

The last few km were horribly hectic and we were relieved to arrive in one piece.  Then we had to start the cleaning and strip down of the bikes ready to transport back home.

We have been out for a walk to check out the more immediate vicinity and have some thoughts about the next few days including, guess what? Yes we are going on a bike tour of Barcelona with a few of the other riders! Just for something different!

 

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Can’t keep me off anything resembling a bike for long!  

7

Solsona to Montserrat

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Second last morning of riding.

Looking out the window at Solsona on what is to be our second last day of riding. Barcelona looms, and realistically today will be the last day of feeling ‘free’ as riding through urban conurbations is somewhat stressing.

I had slept badly with bruised shoulder and hip making for uncomfortable sleep. I had arisen during the night to take some pain relief.

We had our fourth hearty Spanish breakfast and hit the road promptly as today we needed to cover over 91 km and climb around 1500 metres.

We headed back into town and followed the old town around the edges before veering off through undulating farmland.

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Open farmland just out of Solsona

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We started climbing and then undulated along the top of hills before turning to ‘El Miracle’ a historic abbey. from the road it looked ‘plain’ compared to others.

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El Miracle

However the information board shows that there is more to the place than meets the eye.

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The road then descended from El Miracle and undulated through woods and fields, rejoining the main road. A few km later we turned off the main road again.

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Nice little farm

The topography was starting to dry out more and there were some really old looking structures such as the one behind me in the photo below.

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At the 46 km mark we rode through the reasonable sized town of Calaf, with lots of navigational instructions. We had decided to look for a coffee at the next town of El Prats de Rei. I think we found the only place open there and for 4.80 Euro got 2 coffees, and 3 snacks. Bargain.

We started a 8 km gentle climb.

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Just leaving El Prats de Rei

The navigational notes stated that the top of the climb was by the wind turbines. There were so many in the area. Good to see Spain making use of its natural resources.

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Just past the top of this climb the real ‘fun’ for the day started. Now I am not a big fan of riding on gravel. I have come off my bike twice this trip on gravel and sporting a very sore shoulder today. So it was somewhat a surprise to discover we were going to be riding 14 km off sealed bitumen on our road bikes!

On the plus side, the views were great, the sun was shining and I managed to stay upright! I found this part of the ride a real challenge mentally and physically though!

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That big rock lump was our first view of Montserrat, today’s destination. At this point still over 30 km away.

 

 

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This is a nice, solid section of the road. Much of it was not as solid, and was quite steeply undulating!

This next view is looking back to where we have ridden.

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Montserrat was always in our view and kept our focus!

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Carefully goes it!
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Here I am descending towards a village…unaware of a nasty loose gravel climb ahead!

As we entered the village of Sant Pau de la Guardia there was sealed road! Celebrations! We stopped and had a snack as it had been quite taxing riding 14 km of gravel. We were met by the village friendly and happy dog!

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Happy dog bounding up to welcome me.

We were back onto a beautifully bitumised road but nervous about the next direction “road climbs through rocky scrub”. Surely not!!??

Fortunately it referred to the roadside vegetation!

It was nice to start the final climb up towards Montserrat.

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Our first Park sign for Montserrat

The temperature was now around 26 degrees and we were working up quite a sweat on the climb, but the views were great.

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You pass through two tunnels on the climb up to Montserrat and we had so many buses descending past us.

Still climbing up through the long car park I had a tourist bus up my clacker! I was not moving and held my position! He did overtake me but then had to sit behind Tony but only for a short distance as there was a barrier preventing the bus from going further.

Omce amongst the tourist throng we needed to get off our bikes and walk as they were walking oblivious to everything.

We were the first to arrive and we checked into the hotel, keen to store our bikes and start exploring.

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Today’s route
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Todays elevation graph

We decided the first thing we would do was purchase a ticket for the furnicular to the top of the ‘rocks’

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Above the hotel (right) and to the left of the blue crane is a white line in the crevice which is where the furnicular climbs.

 

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Here is a closer shot. Can you see it?

Once at the top there are multiple walking trails that you can take to ancient abbeys and hermitages. We chose the Saint Joan walk. The following are some of the views.

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In this photo you can see the remains of the hermitage from the 1400’s.
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Looking back down along some of the walking trail
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Just below the hermitage is this little church
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Heading back down to ‘catch’ the furnicular

Back down at the base, we found another view showing the furnicular tracks.

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The dual track section is where the ascending and descending pass each other. All carefully timed!

After a tough day on the bike we were starting to get sick of walking, so headed straight to the Basilica.

After entering the complex you arrive in this square and the door you enter is the central blue door.

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Certainly the interior is incredibly ornate.

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The priest and the maintenance man were having a lengthy conversation

I was particularly interested in the organ. What a treat it would have been to listen to it. I was particularly intrigued by the protruding pipes looking like a series of car mufflers.

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Upon leaving there was a grotto with many sections of coloured candles that you could purchase for 2 or 3 Euros. Amazing how much warmth there was in here from the candles.

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As I write this blog, I am listening to the Basilica bells which have been ringing regularly since 6.30 pm. This reminds me strongly of our stay in Florence, where our accomodation was directly opposite the Duomo.

Tomorrow will be bitter sweet. It is always nice to achieve your goal, but there is also sadness that it is ‘over’. There will be ‘farewells’ with fellow cyclists we have really enjoyed the company of at breakfast and dinner, sharing our days tales.

 

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Standing at the front of the Basilica, that is our hotel on the right

Coll de Nargo to Solsona

This was my first view out our bedroom window this morning.

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It was overcast in the direction we were to ride. Firstly though, more important matters. Breakfast. I love Spain! 3 days running we have had a great breakfast!! Good fuel for the climbing ahead.

Leaving the hotel we headed back towards Organya for 2.4 km before turning right and crossing a small river.

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Looking back towards Coll de Nargo

A little further up the road we could see Coll de Nargo more clearly, perched on its rocky outcrop.

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The road was very quiet and serene.

 

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We travelled along this road for some distance before descending and then climbing along a gorge and through several short tunnels.

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We past two small villages of Alinya and Les Sorts before climbing to the top of our first Col for the day, Coll de Boix (1320m). No sign, so no photo!

After a short descent we started climbing again out of the village of Cambrils. We found these couple of friendly guys (?) on the side of the road, with dreadlocked manes.

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The spectacular views continued with amazing rock formations.

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In this photo you can see a lower road that we had ridden up. We looked hard to see if we could see any of our other riders.

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We passed through another tunnel and continued climbing and then descending near this cafe.

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Casanova was not home!

Beautiful views!

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Hardly seems likely territory for cows!

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At the 33 km point we found this natural spring. Two old guys were filling their water containers up. The water was very cold and very nice so we filled up our bidons.

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This old guy was amazed that I had cycled from Coll de Nargo up all those hills!

We continued to climb up and around until we reached Coll de Jou (1480m). These are photos from this section.

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An old fortification at the top of the hill

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An old structure built at the cliff base

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Coll de Jou

From the Coll the road descended and continued undulating along the top of rocky wooded hills, before climbing steeply up another small 2 km section.

From the top of this climb Tony shot off down and around a bend and as I followed him noticed he had pulled off the road to take a photograph. So I slowed down to pull off and ended up,underneath my bike! Most importantly the rear derailleur is ok! Me, well I knocked the scab off my knee, and have matching bruises on my right hip and a very sore shoulder!

As we descended further down we were amazed by the geology of the area.

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Amazing rounded structures

This was our final view back to where we had ridden during the day! The Pyrenees certainly have been a highlight and we are now farewelling the amazing area.

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The last of the Pyrenees, but not climbing for us!

Today’s route and elevation data.

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We are now in Solsona, a quite large town. There is an ‘old town’ section which is medieval. We went for a wander but it was all closed for the siesta, which goes from around 12 noon to between 4-5 pm! It was like a ghost town!

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This used to be the main entrance to the town for nobles
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Quiet, narrow streets
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600 Euro if you don’t pick up your doggy poo!
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The Museum
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One of three remaining water fountains in the old town that used to provide fresh water
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Interesting stone carvings
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The Cathedral. Closed for siesta until 4 pm but obviously that is not strictly adhered to as it still had not reopened by 4.15 pm. Parts of this church go back to the 10th century,

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So we are nearly at the end of this cycling odyssey, sadly! 2 more days of riding are left. Tomorrow we climb again this time to Montserrat and then the final day, with more climbing and the urban necessity of riding into Barcelona!

Sort to Coll de Nargo

As has been standard the last few days, we immediately encountered a climb. Today was a 19.6 km climb up to Collado de Canto at just over 1720 metres. A 19 km climb is solid with little reprieve so it is vital to have a positive mind set.

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This view is in the first few km
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That is Sort! We have already climbed up a few hundred metres
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Looking back down the valley towards Sort
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Tony acting strong on the climb, or did he just find a new bike behind the bushes that left us both with cuts on our legs whilst admiring the valley views?

Thank goodness we were off the road admiring the valley views when around 20 Porsche cars came screaming around the bend. They were on a mission.

I can understand also why Spain has so many ace motorbike riders. I have never seen as many motorbikes as what I have experienced in the last few days. Everything from quad bikes, trail bikes and sport touring bikes.

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Porsches using the road as a racing circuit. They do make a nice sound!
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Climbing
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Some of the switchbacks we have already ridden up

Finally we are at the top after nearly 1 hours 5o minutes climbing the 19.6 km. The area is part of the Spanish National Parks.

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The ubiquitous Col photo

Gilet and arm warmers back on for the descent. We did stop a few times at viewpoints such as this one in the following photos.

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We descended through a number of villages including Pallerols, Avellanet, La Parroquia D’Horto and El Pla De Sant Tirs. the roads had become increasingly busy.

We had been warned about a 600 metre road tunnel we needed to pass through. There was a safer option of going behind the safety barrier and using an old road around the side of the hill. It was really pretty as it was a small carved gorge.

We rode through Organya only 4 km before our destination and whilst quite a busy town decided to knock off the final few km before seeking sustenance.

What an impressive last few km! The rock formations are simply stunning and reminded me of the rock formations viewed from Torbole on Lake Garda ( Italy).

 

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Today’s route
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Today’s elevation graph

 

We arrived in Coll de Nargo well  ahead of the other riders and van. The village is perched precariously on a hilltop so we decided to cruise around and check the small village out.

We found this old 10th century church.

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We found one place open at the top of a very steep laneway. The baker here is from Estonia. I enjoyed a very unusual dish that was predominantly spinach with a few raisins. Odd combination that tasted very nice.

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Brilliant bakery.

We returned to the hotel and sat around the pool eating our lunch. After the van arrived and we checked in, showered and laundered clothes we set off on a walk to the highest point of the village.

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This photo shows the road we rode in on
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Views from our walk
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Intricate stone work on top of existing bedrock
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Narrow laneways with houses either side

So another day done and dusted and only 3 more days riding to reach Barcelona. We have plenty more climbing in each of those days!!

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Contemplating all those Cols still to climb!

 

!!

Bagneres de Luchon to Salardu

Today we climbed out of France and dropped into Spain. Sounds simple but it was actually quite hard work! Some cumulative tiredness along with continuing poor nutrition at breakfast and the start of a head cold and back spasms made it quite a challenge.

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Lovely first km heading out from our hotel, just before the climb into Spain

The Spanish/French border is located at the top of Col Du Portillon at 1293 metres, according to the sign at the base of the climb.

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The sign at the base of the climb

A series of switchbacks commence just after the 3 km point. The climb was really scenic passing through lush green woods.

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Early part of the climb

The switchbacks provided some nice views. I was passed by two other cyclists from Wales on the way up and both were encouraging.

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A nice stone cottage on the climb.

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Just before the summit there was this magical view back over France.

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Au revoir France!

As you approach the summit is this sign.

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Tony waited for me just before the border. Here I come!!

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I can see the border at this point

The two Welsh cyclists were at this sign waiting for their two mates who were still climbing. One of them kindly took this photo.

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Glad to be at the top of the first climb for the day.

We had a lovely chat with the guys swapping tales. Turns out we have ridden in their area on our LeJog trip when we rode through Chepstow to Tintern Abbey and the Wye Valley in 2013.

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My new Welsh cycling buddies

This is the view only a couple of km into Spain.

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4 km down the descent is a viewpoint overlooking the valley and celebrating Spain’s success in the Tour de France.

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Spanish TDF winners
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TDF statue. This photo was taken by a friendly Spanish motor cyclist I had started a conversation with.

Once at the bottom of the descent we rode along a river valley and crossed the Garonne, the river we had followed extensively around Bordeaux, where it is a wide and very muddy river. Here it is crystal clear!

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Garonne River

The second climb of the day was required to take us off the busy main road. We crossed over the river and climbed steeply through a series of switchbacks to the village of Es Borders.

We continued to climb out of the village and continued through woods, adjacent to the river. The following sign ensured an expletive. 16.1%!!

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16.1% is tough!

This is a section of the wooded forest.

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The beautiful river we followed.

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Here I am ambling up a slope.

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This route  did offer some great views.

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We ultimately descended into Gausac, an architecturally interesting town with winding, cobblestoned laneways. Next thing we were in Vielha a large, busy town.

We could have stopped for refreshments here but noted on our route that there was a third climb. I am not a fan of climbing with cold legs so we just idled through the valley spinning our legs in low gears as we continued climbing through Betren, Escunhau, Casarilh and Arties before arriving at our destination in Salardu.

We started this morning 700 metres above sea level. We are now at 1300 metres. tomorrow we are over 2000 metres before heading into Sort.

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Todays climbing graph
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Today’s route map

So following our usual routine of showering and washing our clothes we went wandering around Salardu. It is a small village set on a steep slope. It is a ski village.

We were really on a mission to find food!! Eventually we located somewhere very close to our accomodation. It looked closed but upon entering I think the entire village was in there, spirited away in a series of rooms all stone walled and seemingly underground.

A fantastic first meal in Spain!

Now to rest a little.. not too long mind you! But just a little given I am succumbing to a head cold.

Finally here are three shots from around the local village. The church goes back to the 12th century.

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All the houses are constructed of stone with slate roofing.
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Tucked up in the hills
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A beautiful vista.