Monday, November 25, 2019

Cycling Europe 2019: Cycling In Portugal, Spain & France

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Cycling Europe 2019: Cycling In Portugal, Spain & France
Portugal, Spain & France : 27th October- 21st November  2019
Small Group Cycling Tour of of Iberian Peninsula (Portugal & Spain) and part of southern France:
(for more detailed routes see the daily ride blogs).

     After a few months of planning, we are finally off on our Iberian Peninsula cycling adventure. I have had cycled several times in Europe before (... see blog), including some guided tours and a 3-weeks bike-packing tour from England to Germany. This time I will be bringing Goofy (my copper-plated P6R Brompton) along; and more importantly my better half, Lynne, will be joining us with Lemon (her lime green M6R Brompton).
    In our group will be Kevin (our group leader who laid our the destinations and some routes guide), Mel (our food expert who did an excellent job in sniffing out good restaurants/cafes and ordering good food), Sin & me (who plotted out the GPS detailed daily routes & destinations), Lynne & Anne (who did  the hotel bookings), Jo (who did bookings for entry ticket) and Fenn who was our treasurer.
From Malaysia, we flew into Porto in Portugal to start our tour which would cover two countries (Portugal & Spain) for my buddies; and for me it would include a bit of southern France too. At Granada we split up with Sin, Jo and Fenn heading by bus to Valencia. All of us later ended our tour in Barcelona, from there we flew back. It will be the first time that I will be cycling in Portugal & Spain, adding two more flags to the countries that I have cycled in, making them the twenty-third and twenty-fourth.
This blog comes in three parts, the first is on our daily rides, the second are related blogs such as food and travel sites, and the final section are tips on cycle touring there.
In Portugal, our route took us onto stretches along the Duoro River and along the coast facing the mighty Atlantic Ocean. In Spain, we went into towns of the Andalusian region and met the Mediterranean Sea at Barcelona. There were many old and historic places, two of which stood out - Alhambra in Granada and Lourdes in France.

OVERALL PORTUGAL-SPAIN-FRANCE PLANNED CYCLING TOUR ROUTE MAP
 
Above is the our planned multi-mode cycling tour map. For certain sections we took the train, bus or flew. Zoom in for a better detail look.
Click here to view our planned day-to-day route; when it came to our actual ride, due to weather and route conditions, we changed our route (see day-to-day blogs for these actual routes).


RIDE BLOGS
Below are the blogs of our cycling tour, click on the respective photos to read. It was an eye-opening tour for me so come see our rides:




MORE DAILY RIDE BLOGS COMING SOON.....
STAY TUNED!!!

(Next... 
Switzerland?)
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FOOD

PLACES


ART

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RELATED BLOGS:







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CYCLING & TRAVEL TIPS FOR PORTUGAL & SPAIN

Here's, some general tips on cycling in Portugal & Spain, more detailed tips will be included in the day to day blogs:

1. Traffic Directions!
    On the European Contintent traffic is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Same thing applies when crossing the road, take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from!

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    Europe has very well developed cycling lanes that run in the cities, town, villages, even through forests and woods. The cycling network is known as the EuroVelo that covers most of the countries of Europe. Bikemap.net is another good site that provides cycling routes in Portugal and also cycling routes in Spain.
    For planning cycling routes in Europe, Cycle Travel which has a very user-friendly cycle travel route planner, routes using this planner can be saved and also converted to GPX format for use in GPS devices.
   In Portugal, our route took us onto stretches along the Duoro River and along the coast facing the mighty Atlantic Ocean. In Spain, we went into towns of the Andalusian region and met the Mediterranean Sea at Barcelona. There were many old and historic places, two of which stood out - Alhambra in Granada and Lourdes in France.

3. Weather
     It was late autumn and the weather got rather cold with day temperatures ranging from 10°C to 15°C. At night it went down to 5°C to 10°C on the average. Apparently it was colder than the same period the previous year as a cold front had set in. In Portugal there was some rain, and also of concern were the strong headwinds and crosswinds which hit 25kmh with gusts up to 35kmh, especially nearer the coast.

4. Bringing Bikes Onto European Trains, Buses & Trams
    Both in Portugal & Spain, full size bikes and folding bikes (there is not necessity to fold them) can bet taken into inter-city trains, metros and trams without bagging. Do note that bikes may not be allowed during peak hours; click here and click here for regulations regarding Barcelona. For bringing bikes onto the Porto Metro click here.
    Folded bikes are allowed onto the local buses. For inter-city buses, our bikes were folded, bagged and put into the cargo holds at the bottom of the buses. For the respective train, metro & bus fares, refer to the respective daily blogs.
    E-hailing Uber is available in Portugal but not in Spain, where we used the local taxis to get to the airport. We arrived close to midnight in Porto, and on the safe side, we pre-booked a taxi online via the Porto Airport Transfers To website. There are many airport tranfers web-sites, we chose this as it is a site that is just dedicated to Porto Airport.

5. Bringing Bikes Onto Ferries
    Our route included a 15-minutes Aveiro Bus ferry ride from São Jacinto to Aveiro. The fare was €2:10 pax with no charges for bicycles.

6. Bringing Bikes Onto Planes
    From and to Kuala Lumpur, we flew in to Porto and flew out from Barcelona via Emirates which allowed 25kg of luggage inclusive of our bicycles without additional charges.
    From Granada we flew to Barcelona via Vueling at €60; just to be on the safe side we purchased bicycle luggage at €50 each which allows 36kg per bike. However, this fare could be for full-sized bikes, it could be possible to buy normal luggage for folding bikes.
    We had packed our bikes into Dimpa bags and brought along a spare Dimpa too (this spare Dimpa came in handy to pack our shopping and clothing on the return flight). On checking in, we had to take our bagged bikes to the over-sized baggage section for both Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Granada Airport; this was not necessary at Barcelona El Prat Airport.
    A tip, simple but important. Ensure that you DO NOT carry your tool kits or any long/sharp metal objects in your hand luggage. Put your tool kit into your checked-in bike bags. I often seen friends forgetting about this, only to have their tools confiscated at the security checkpoints.

7. Communicating with Each Other
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost.
    We bought pre-paid SIM cards from UK mobile provider Three on-line through Lazada. As some of us stayed for a shorter period, we got two plans with cost ranging from RM30 to RM70 for a 20 days 4G and a 30 days 10G plans respectively. These plans include their "Feel At Home" package which allow the phone's data, call and messaging allowance to be used in sixty countries (mostly European and also Singapore) without any extra charges!
    In Spain, data signal indoors seems to be very weak on non-existent and it would be better to use local wifi if available.

8. Communicating with Locals
    In Portugal and Spain, except in rural areas, many locals can speak some basic English and communicating with them shouldn't be a problem. This is especially the case in hotels & restaurants. In Barcelona, it would be good to pick up some Catalan as it will warm one up to the locals.
    In France, although some locals may speak English, it would be good to learn some basic French as the locals warm up more to people who speak their language.
    When communicating with locals is a problem, this could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour, do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak very good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedule.

9. Accommodations
    Reasonably priced accommodations in both Portugal and Spain can be found. Many are small hotels, motels even homes let out under AirBnB. Other than AirBnB, we pre-booked our rooms/apartment through Booking.com. Although we elected to pay on site, for most of the places, the rental were deducted from our credit card accounts about two weeks prior to the date of stay. Do read the comments left by previous users to gauge the quality of the accommodations.
    There were eight of us on this tour, three couples and two girls. Where possible we booked apartments with four rooms; at certain hostels we made do with a dorm for four or a dorm for eight. In Portugal, cost of these accommodations ranged from €12 to €24 per pax per night; while in Spain it ranged from €15-50 to €35 per pax per night. Most of these places included breakfast. For details of our accommodations, refer to the day to day blogs. In France, I stayed with relatives.
    For most of the accommodations, after ensuring that our bikes were not dirty,  we just folded and rolled them in without bagging them.

10. Food
     Food is reasonably priced in both Portugal and Spain, a budget of €20 per pax per day should be adequate. Food is cheaper in Portugal, at a place in Porto we had a set lunch at €5 per pax that included starters, mains, desserts, coffee and even wine! Often we purchased some eggs, bacon/ham, bread and salad to cook our own breakfast. Do note that some places in Spain only open for lunch after 2pm and for dinner after 8pm. In the smaller towns in Portugal, shops may be opened for dinner only after 7:30pm. Do check the restaurants web-site for their opening hours.
    Some food that should not to be missed:
    - Olives.
    - Portuguese Egg Tarts (Pastéis de Nata) Portugal.
    - Grilled Octopus (Polvo Grelhado) in Portugal.
    - Tapas and Pinchos in Spain.
    - Iberican dry-cured ham (Jamón ibérico) in Spain.
    - cheap seafood in both countries.

11. Navigation
    Unless he or she is very familiar with the locals routes, the tour leader should carry a GPS units. It will also be good if another member of the team carry another GPS unit should the leader's one go faulty.
    Kevin was using a Beeline navigation unit that synchronized with pre-planned routes on his phone app. Sin & me were using the Garmin GPS units and had pre-plotted our daily routes into respective GPX maps usable in these units. We had pre-loaded the PortugalSpain & France Maps together with GPS coordinates of our destinations. Do ZOOM out to look for turning points further ahead; and ZOOM in at complicated junctions, otherwise one may make a wrong turn (it did happen to us sometimes).
    Alternatively, download the MAPS.ME app together with the relevant country maps. This app can be used offline.
    At the towns and cities, we used Google Maps to navigate to various places of interests that were not shown on our GPS units.

12. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.

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