Long Enough for a Headache
A substantial element of the success or failure of a trip like this rests in the resiliency of the participants. Whether you are riding a bike across the country, sailing a yacht across an ocean, or driving around Europe in a camper van, the real hidden secret is that the entire thing is just a long series of f*ck ups. Things break. Pieces are missing. Stuff gets left behind which is irreplaceable. Something that worked yesterday, chooses capriciously to not work today and turns itself back on again two weeks from now when you don't need it. Our boat Don Quixote had this amazing central heating system that worked exquisitely well every time we were someplace where the average temperature was over 25C. Any cooler and the piece of sh*t wouldn't turn on.
It's expected that the first few weeks of any cruise are the shake out phase. Like a hard drive in a new computer, everything that is going to break usually does so in the first week or so. Everything that is missing makes its absence felt early on... late enough so there is no possibility you can solve the problem 'in port' but soon enough to make it obvious that continuing without the thing is an impossibility.
This week we discovered that our LPG tanks can't be filled in Spain with the fittings provided by our Dutch dealer. Not his fault. Spain is rapidly switching to a swap out system and fewer and fewer stations even offer refills. Those that do no longer conveniently lend you an adaptor. They have reoriented their business to provide LPG for cars rather than BBQ and camping systems. Basically, we missed something in our preparations which is "order all the LPG adaptors you need for Europe before you leave New Zealand." Yep. That was a costly mistake. It also means we haven't had a shower in a week. And our ice melted. And it's freezing. Did you know it snows in Spain? I do. Now.
All of this makes DrC and Toast very cranky travellers. Every time this type of thing happens, I pass through a place which is ugly and sad and frustrated and helpless. DrC goes for angry and snarky and frustrated. We both snarl, I get a fierce headache, he says a few snappy mean things and then buries himself in a manual or online blog. Then piece by piece, bit by bit, we solve the problem. Depending on whether the problem is a blue one (this time he seems to have Dapple fuel and plumbing) or a pink one (navigation, commnunications and provisioning), one of us takes over and figures out a solution. Oddly, it's usually the other that figures out an interim way to live with the broken state. So since missing LPG was his problem, I came up with the majority of lifestyle 'hacks' that would let us survive a few days without heat, hot water, a cook stove, or refrigeration. DrC broke his bandwidth, and while I work on a long term fix, he decided to stop at a cafe tonight and have a glass of Tinto vino and mooch bandwidth.
Look, I can't say that any of this is fun -- certainly not in that romantic, tour book full of lovely photos way of fun. We break the door, we fix the door. We have pots banging on even the slightest turn, we find a method to muffle them all. Hose at the refill doesn't have any threads, we stand holding it in our bare hands until the tank fills. First idea for replacing the screen between the front cabin and the back doesn't work, develop solution #2. Wine sliding all over the locker, buy more wine so it can't move. Problem, solution. Problem, solution. Ad infinitum.
Today, we are on the road to Porto, Portugal. The LPG is full because DrC is amazing. He found a place where he could buy a fitting. He made it happen. We 'lost' a day on our schedule, but we used the day to fix the shower pan drain, organise the lockers, and figure out how to keep the seats from sliding out from under our asses when we schlump down to read and drink beer in the evenings. I'd love to tell you about all the pretty places we've been, the amazing sites we've seen, the great food and beverages we've consumed, but I stink and my head itches and am thus still quite tetchy. Let me get back to you next week.
CURRENTLY: Zamora, Spain
DrC has taken over the agenda because -- as I've said before -- he wants to see everything. As a result he has us mapped out day by day through March. If we follow that, we'll be in Porto Portugal for the next few days then zag back into Spanish wine country heading towards Madrid. Yes, it's a 450 km diversion to see Porto. I don't know, don't ask me.
LAST WEEK IN SUM:
Last week we started in Bordeaux, France at a small vineyard near Yvdoc. It was our first farm stay and I must say a highly successful one. For the price of two really nice bottles of wine, we were able to spend the afternoon tooling around on our bikes through the wine country. We spent the next day on a walking tour of the city of Bordeaux, completing the experience in a small but really well set up little museum of wine and trade.
On Wednesday, we swooshed out of France (me bitching the whole time at the lost opportunities for boulangeries and charcuterie) and on to San Sebastien, Spain. Yes already country #4, and we haven't been in Europe two weeks yet. Another walking tour, this time of this beautiful city on a stunning pair of bays with sunshine warming our bones. We walked up to the top of the hill to get the view and then came back down again to partake in tapas and the local effervescent white wine. Thursday we meandered through the Pyrannees... no joke I'm pretty sure we took a few wrong turns, finishing in a really small but surprisingly historic and picturesque place called Ellorio.
We spent the next morning walking around Ellorio and taking in the architecture and the small town vibe before popping into nearby Bilbao. Look, there may be a lot to see in Bilboa. All we did was ride our bikes into the city to marvel at the Guggenheim. DrC and I are pretty simple. Give us a really amazing building, okay?
Which basically was also Saturday and Sunday when we shifted to Burgos and the UNESCO heritage cathedral there. If you follow my Instagram (@toastchanges) you will know my take on that Catedral de Burgos already. One of the most worthwhile visits you can make, well worth the 7 Euro entrance fee, but dress warmly. The place is astonishing. It's also astonishingly cold. Somewhere between meat locker and underground cave.
Finally, we spent yesterday going not far at all. We stayed overnight at a rest stop near Duenos but don't bother looking it up. The point was to set us up this morning to go into Valladolid to solve the aforementioned LPG problem.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Take your bike. We have used our bikes virtually every single day. Having bikes on your European tour dramatically increases options for parking, seeing the inner cities, finding the exact shop with exactly what you need, and overnight stops. Everywhere you go there are bike trails, often dedicated with their own traffic lights.