The plan for today was – and still is – to spend a few hours reviewing my notes from the Spanish course that I completed during the last three months of 2014 at Reading College. I’m slowly getting a little better at coming up with the important bits of Spanish when they matter (hola, gracias, por favor and, alas, ¿hablas ingles?) but so many more are simply not there when I need them. Nothing too complicated – I’ll save the debates about the current political situation in Spain for the end of my four week course(!!) – just the everyday stuff that I do actually have written in my dedicated Spanish Moleskine notebook.
So what’s stopping me? Well, my month in Cádiz needs to be much more than a rapid climb up the Hispanic language ladder. It also needs to be a fitness boot camp for what I will be doing post Easter, i.e. cycle from Tarifa to Nordkapp. Despite a couple of outings on Reggie during my relatively short stay in Yorkshire during February, I’ve been off the bike on a regular basis since the start of last December when I stopped cycling to work in order than he could benefit from a good service courtesy of my long-standing bicycle repairer of choice, A.W. Cycles in Reading. Reggie, as you hopefully remember, is currently further up the coast in Estepona having arrived safely at my uncle’s house. He’s been rebuilt but I didn’t bring him to Cádiz as the logistics of doing so and keeping him secure would have been a little complicated. The upshot of all this inactivity is that I need to up my jogging and swimming regimes in preparation for the long cycle. With all this in mind, this morning I went for a run around the perimeter of the city. It’s a perfect place around which to do so with wide promenades next to the sea and a seemingly endless beach of impacted sand upon which to jog. Brilliant. I treated today’s outing as a test run to see where I could go and was probably out for around two hours of which I was running for perhaps one hour. I’ll try and repeat the running bit once every two days during the next five weeks. One of the women at the flat – a Dutch graphic designer called Kimberly – tells me there is a swimming pool next to department store El Cortes Ingles. I may see if I can find that later this afternoon.
The second prong of my fitness boot camp is to eat well and I’m doing that as well. Since my arrival the supermarkets have been closed but I’ve already found a cracking little fruit and vegetable place not far from the flat. The apple and orange were as fresh and juicy as you’d expect.
Most of the other people in Cádiz today don’t seem to be following my healthy example and are indulging in fag-end-of-carnival celebrations. Called ‘little carnival’ (it makes me wonder how big the ‘big’ one is) it seems to consist of groups of men and women dressed up in ridiculous (in a positive sense) costumes and singing. It’s all good fun. Most of the people thronging the streets are knocking back their beers in the expectation that it will be banned until Easter (that’s what carnival was all about in the first place I suppose) while drawing on their cigarettes in a way that has kind-of gone out of fashion back in the UK. It’s very noticeable indeed.
I couldn’t have wished for a nicer start to my period in Cádiz. I would describe my mental state as somewhere between ‘happy’ and ‘very happy’ despite the physical coldness and bareness of the flat. It’s a small whinge in the great scheme of things. But I can’t put off my Spanish revision anymore. It’s time to find a bar, open up my Moleskine and start practising. I’ll even indulge in a beer or two. Why not? It is ‘little carnival’ after all…
Today has been very reminiscent of my first day at university over twenty years ago. It started with goodbyes, handshakes and embraces with members of my family (my uncle and his wife standing in for my parents this time around) followed by a long journey on a bus wondering just what I had let myself in for. Then it was my arrival in an unknown city surrounded by unknown people and lots of wandering around trying to look cool, calm and in control but probably I didn’t and wasn’t. At the allocated time I turned up to be shown my accommodation by the landlady. She was an affable woman and I understood most of what she said. The more important bits were probably included within what I didn’t quite understand but let’s not worry about that for the time being. I met the two people I with whom I will be sharing the flat – much more of them later no doubt – and then proceeded to unpack my things in a room that even a good protestant would think was a bit on the bare said never mind a catholic of which this city has many. No doubt more of that later as well. To bring the first day at university analogy to a close I have even forgone a healthy Mediterranean supper (not that one was offered) and instead contented myself very well with a large packet of nuts, a bar of chocolate and some wine which I am merrily consuming as I type. I am 18 again!
First impressions of Cadiz are very positive indeed. I spent much of the afternoon lugging my two bags around the city before I collapsed on a very ornate park bench waiting the stroke of 6pm and my rendez-vous with the landlady. Once unpacked I headed out again and my high first impressions were in no way diminished. The following photographs will give you a flavour of the place.
Before heading down to my uncle’s house near Estepona yesterday afternoon I took the opportunity of paying a morning visit to the Alcazba, the palace of the Moors. Not quite of Granada’s Alhambra standard but interesting nevertheless and as I was the only tourist in the place (there were quite a few workers doing a bit of spring cleaning, painting and pruning), it was a very nice, relaxing way to spend my first morning back on the continental mainland.
About to leave Yorkshire after a brief stay of just three weeks to fly to Malaga, Spain. Reggie (the bike) may already be there… Back in six months!
The word of the weekend has been ‘packing’. On Saturday morning I transported the final items from my move from the south to my new ‘lock-up’ in Halifax (it’s actually a large wooden box in a former woollen mill) and then, after having packed most of my cycling gear in a large holdall on Friday, I spent several hours today preparing Reggie the bike for his journey to Spain. As always, removing the pedals was as frustrating as it was long but eventually through a combination of brute force and, well, more brute force, they came loose and my bicycle is now the filling in a very large cardboard and bubble wrap panini. The holdall and panini/bike are due to be collected by Luggage Mule tomorrow at some point leaving me with the relatively simply task of packing the things I need for my own trip to Malaga on Wednesday and from there to Estepona and Cadiz… I hate packing!
I’ve been sent a couple of cycling guides to review by Cicerone: The Rhine Cycle Route (ISBN: 978-1-85284-797-5) and The Danube Cycleway (ISBN: 978-1-85284-722-7). The Rhine guide is an updated version of the original 2013 guide, the Danube guide has just been published for the first time.
When I think of Cicerone I tend to think more of hiking guides than cycling guides but a quick glance at the list of Cicerone publications reminds me that they do have a pretty good range available for those who prefer two wheels over two legs (although you could argue very strongly that the legs are just as much a part of cycling as hiking but I digress…).
Of particular relevance for me is the portion of the Rhine Cycle Route, also now known as Eurovelo 15 of course, that I will be cycling as part of my toe to tip crossing of the continent that starts just after Easter. The relevant section – which is also part of Eurovelo 3 – starts in Bonn and finishes in Duisburg at which point I turn to head east towards Munster and eventually Hamburg etc… It’s stages 19, 20 and 21 in the guide. Each of the stages of the entire route is a very manageable 50km or thereabouts, which, bearing in mind that you are following a river for most of the time, doesn’t involve too much climbing (and if you follow the route in the direction that the guide does, much more time will be spent descending than ascending, especially in the first few stages in Switzerland). The bulk of each chapter in both books is made up of a detailed description of the route itself which doesn’t make riveting reading when you are sitting at a kitchen table in Yorkshire (as I am now) but will be very useful when you are actually cycling the route and the signs have let you down. What will be of more interest for those reading about and cycling the route at the same time (and indeed those who, like me, are not), are the extensive notes about the places that you will pass as you cycle alongside very clear route maps of each section of the route and some more detailed urban maps (where following the route may become a little more tricky). At the start of the guide there are extensive notes about each country, signage, geography etc… as well as notes on the more practical aspects of travelling to your starting point and making sure you are well fed and watered. In the appendices you will find a summary of the different stages, a list of tourist offices near to where you will pass and a list of youth hostels. It’s a shame that they haven’t included a list of campsites but I suppose that if you have trouble finding one you can always pay a visit to the tourist office mentioned. It’s worth noting that the Danube Cycleway guide follows (in the main) Eurovelo 6.
Personally, I’m not a great one for following a fixed route – those of you who have read my own books which purport to follow the Eurovelos 5 and 8 will know full well that they rarely stick to the exact path – but for those who want a little more certainly that they are doing so, these guides are fantastic and I have yet to find anything in English which does a better job.
The full list of Cicerone cycling guides can be found on their website. The Rhine Cycle Route and The Danube Cycleway guides are both written by experienced cyclist Mike Wells and are priced at £14.95. eBook versions are also available (which may be a more practical solution when you are riding the route, have a bike mount for your phone and don’t have three hands…).