Category Archives: europe

Viva La Revolution

One of the first things I noticed about Europe – aside from all the posh clothes and the widespread affinity for wine – was the traffic, and more specifically, the many roundabouts in the various cities and towns we passed through each day. When it comes to traffic flow, it seems Americans are behind the curve, sticking stubbornly to our old-fashioned system of intersections and stop signs. Moving through a city with a roundabout seemed much faster and far more efficient than sitting at stoplights and waiting for them to turn green. So why aren’t there more roundabouts in America? According to Tom Vanderbilt of Slate Magazine, Americans rely too much on their past experiences, and therefore have a hard time accepting change (surprise!) even if it will make life more efficient.

Mentioning roundabouts seems to invoke some form of the famous “availability bias,” which leads people make judgments based on the memories that can be brought most easily to mind. And so, the American who may have driven as a tourist in France or Greece a number of years back will shudder with recognition, associating the roundabout with terror and near misses. But motorists with such memories often fail to consider that they were driving as tourists in unfamiliar climes, perhaps only for a few days. Roundabouts, like the language, the signage, the food, and just about everything else, were strange and novel, and so the tourist driver, already probably feeling a bit wigged out—for a roundabout in Italy is filled with Italian drivers—felt a heightened level of stress and thereafter consigned the roundabout to the dustbin of terrible ideas—or things that might be good for Europe (like socialized medicine) but don’t translate.

Studies have shown that roundabouts save time, are safer, take up less space, and even require less energy from cars. With evidence like that, maybe it’s time Americans started thinking outside the box, and started embracing the roundabout revolution.

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Euro Bike Trip: The End

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I’ve been recapping this trip for a while now, and I’m starting to get a little restless to move on to other topics. That being said, I’m just gonna go for it and throw a whole bunch of pictures I took on the last leg of the tour, the section from Sete, France to Milan, Italy. If the above picture is any indication, this portion of the ride was by far the most beautiful of the entire trip, and that’s saying something considering the other amazing places we went through. Blue water, clear skies, and smooth roads: a perfect end to a perfect trip.

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Cruising up a coastal road.

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Looks nice, don’t it?

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A small harbor in St. Raphael

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Somewhere in Nice, France

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Possible marketing slogan: “The French Riviera: where rich people with more money than you can ever imagine go to play with their boats.” Somehow I don’t think that will catch on, but it’s true.

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The nicest house I have ever seen.

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Made it to Italy! The last country on the tour.

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Sky meets water

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We got caught in a bit of a no-mans-land and had to improvise our campsite. We ended sleeping in a municipal park in some tiny town on the Northern coast of Italy. If I recall, I slept like a baby that night. Yay for free camping!

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A few days later we got lost just outside of Milan. After finding us outside a local library looking confused and dismayed, Angel (far left) and his son Andre invited us to sleep in their backyard. They also fed us and let us use their shower.

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The kindness of complete strangers never ceases to amaze me.

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Finally made it to Milan. That’s the world famous Duomo Cathedral in the background.

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There were lots of people getting their pictures taken while surrounded by pigeons. This is something I will never understand. Is it cool because they have wings? I dunno. It’s basically like getting photographed while being covered with flying rats.

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The Duomo up close.

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They don’t make doors like they used to.

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Duomo Door Detail

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Stained glass on the inside of the Duomo.

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Inside the nearby shopping arcade. The stores in this place had two prices: expensive and unreasonably expensive.

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My bike on the last day of riding in Milan. I treated her like hell for over 2,000 miles, but she never let me down.

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The end. Thanks for reading and following along. I hope you enjoyed the pictures. It was a hell of a ride and one that will truly be impossible to forget. I think everyone should have an adventure in their life that they can hold on to and cherish forever, where they can look back 15 or 30 years later and the memories will still be fresh and vivid. This bike trip will certainly count as one of those experiences. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to travel with, and I can’t wait until we meet up for the next one, wherever that place may be.

Euro Bike Trip: Grub

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Some of the most common questions people ask about the bike trip are about food. I’ve found that people are often more concerned about the things we ate and our cooking methods than the places we actually visited. This is only natural though. After all, food is fuel, and if don’t have any gas in the tank, you certainly won’t be able to ride very far. But food served a far greater role than just mere sustenance, it was also served as our primary way to socialize. Meals gave us a chance to relax and reflect back on a days riding, and of course, meet new people. We met some of the coolest people around a dinner table or at the end of long bar. It seemed that Europeans were always quick to share a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, and a good story.

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Lidl, with its easy to spot blue and yellow signs, was our shopping center of choice. It’s a huge chain of discount grocery stores that sells generic brand food at ridiculously low prices. Items at a Lidl tended to be 40%-50% off the price at big name groceries. By pooling our money together we were able to take advantage of some of their bulk items and make some pretty cracking meals. At a Lidl can easily eat like a king for 3 Euro. These stores are often at the edge of town or in between cities, so it can be a mission to find them, but for the amount you can save the extra trip is definitely worth it. As I liked to say on the road, “You can get a lot at a Lidl.”

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Meet Musli, the breakfast of champions. It’s granola, corn flakes, yogurt, bananas, and if your feeling fancy, a bit of honey. Mix it all up and feast on a meal that is guaranteed to keep you going until lunchtime, if not longer. Because it’s so thick and dense, it’s the only meal I know of that not only tastes half decent, but can also double as tile grout.

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One of the great things about riding 70 miles a day is that you can pretty much eat whatever you want and not have to worry about gaining any weight. We would often finish off one of our special creations, “The Lidl Bagguette” and then top it off by eating a whole chocolate bar. No Weight Watchers for us. The only drawback was that sometimes we would slip into a food coma and would need a half-hour nap to sleep it off before getting back on the road. That whole thing probably cost around 3 euros.

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Ravioli with bologniase sauce, chopped onions, and basil leaves. The best meal I’ve ever made on top of an electrical box in a municipal park.

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Pesto Pasta and a little bread. Not bad, not bad at all.

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We met a lot of great people through the sharing of food and drink. Above is a guy named Andre, whom we met at a campsite just outside of Sete. He was by far the craziest, most free-spirited person we met on the trip. He said he was 60 years old, but he behaved more like a little kid. He was a retired auto mechanic who, when not making homemade booze in his bathtub, spent his summers hopping from campsite to campsite throughout France. We were at this campsite for two days and the whole time Andre was either drinking, smoking cigarettes, eating cheese, or trying to pick up women. He said he hated American music but the only CD he had – the one he blasted on his car speakers in a continuous loop – was a Bruce Springsteen greatest hits collection. In the picture above he is showing me his homemade concoction he called Pruno, which I think was hard alcohol distilled from prunes, you know, for those who want to get smashed but also need that extra bit of fiber in their diet. It was about 7 in the morning when he took out the bottle and coerced me into trying some. The stuff was absolutely vile. You could probably have stripped paint with it. Andre didn’t seem to mind though. By the end of the day he had finished off the whole bottle, and several others just like it.

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Above is a picture of Dantiza and Alejandro, two students we randomly me who let us crash at their place in Montpellier. They were Chilian natives who were studying business in France. They were fluent in three languages, which made me feel remarkably ignorant for only knowing English and some Spanglish. We spent the night drinking Leffes and eating cheese before heading out into Montpellier’s vibrant bar scene.

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We met Manu and his wife outside a bar in Burjols, a small town in Southern France. Unable to find a campsite after 115 miles of riding, we had pitched our tents in a park and headed into town for one beer. It was about 11pm when we met them. Upon telling our story, Manu, feeling either sympathetic or extremely generous, or probably a little bit of both, immedietly offered to let us stay the night at his house. Not only that, but he and his wife also made us an amazing meal, let us use their showers, and helped us plan our course for the next day. Due to all the wine and cheese and sorbet he offered us, we didn’t get to sleep until around 3am. The next morning he made us breakfast and espresso and gave us a bag to pick cherries off his massive tree in his backyard. We hit the road well rested, well fed, and with 2 pounds of the most amazing cherries strapped the back of our bikes. It’s like the old saying goes, when you travel, “It’s not where you go that matters, but the people you meet along the way.”

Euro Bike Trip: Into France, to the Riviera

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Looking down the channel in San Sebastian

After Pamplona the crew and I headed north into France. Jon, Chett and Marc cut through Roncesvalles and into St. Jean Pied de Port while I hopped on a bus towards San Sebastian to rest my tendinitis-plagued heal. While I wished I could continue riding with the other guys, the mini-break I took on Spain’s Atlantic coast proved to be very worthwhile, as I recuperated fully in just a few short days. I was cycling by myself for a total of six days. My solo detour was quite an adventure, and were not for a few incredibly kind and generous people I met along the way, I probably would have never made it to my final destination. The roads carried me West as I headed through cities like Hendaye, Dax, and Pau before eventually meeting up with the others just outside of Toulouse. From there we were on our way to the coastal town of Sete and the Mediterranean Sea. The trip was grueling, but after the first few views of the French Riviera all was forgotten. Take a look:

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The world famous “Conch” beach in San Sebastian.

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Walking towards the cathedral.

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Another protest, this one in Toulouse. It seemed like everywhere I went people were protesting.

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The cycle path heading out of Toulouse. I followed this river path for 40km. Sweet riding indeed.

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Finally reunited with the crew. On the day we met we realized that it was the UEFA Champions League Final so we abandoned our plan and found the first bar with a TV.

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As we probably could have predicted, one drink turned into two and two turned into too many. Before we knew it the bar had closed and we were left to finish our drinks on the stoop outside. It was 2:30 in the morning when we realized we still needed to find a place to sleep. Rather than checking into a hotel or sneaking into a campsite, we decided to improvise.

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The view from my tent when I woke up. Yes, that is a McDonalds, and yes, we slept in the parking lot.

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One of the best nights sleep of the tour. We used the bathroom, got our water bottles filled up, and had Big Macs for breakfast. Free camping? I’m loving it.

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Cruising past the Pyranees.

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Finally made it to Sete and the Mediterranean Sea. The blue water was a sight for sore eyes. Immediately upon seeing the water we ditched our bikes and jumped in for one of the best swims ever. We ended spending the rest of the day in Sete, drinking Kronenbergs along a canal and watching the sun set behind the old buildings. Our first day on the Med was truly special. It only took us three and a half weeks and 2000km of riding to get there, but sitting there by the docks, cool blue water running past our feet, it was all worth it.

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Next up: The French Riviera

Euro Bike Trip: The Spanish Plains

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Jon takes a break at a lonesome bus stop.

After a grueling few days toiling in the Cantabrain Mountains, we descended into the Spanish plains, a place where I’m told the rain tends to accumulate. Long and flat and stretching as far as the eye can see, the roads were a welcome respite to the hilly terrain of the previous days riding. Still following the Camino de Santiago we traveled the prairie roads for four days into Basque country, finally ending in Pamplona. Physically the route may have been flat, but it still had ts share of ups and downs. Along the way we battled heavy headwinds, dull-road induced boredom, and even a few injuries. It was hard to complain, however, what with the sunny skies and cottonball clouds hanging overhead. To top it all off, there wasn’t a drop of rain the whole time. Take a look:

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A donkey completely ignores his water bowl just outside the town of St. Martin

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On the road heading to Burgos.

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Little boxes on the hillside

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A sign marks the pilgrims trail, Camino de Santiago.

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We made some friends in at an albergue in the small town of Azorfa, Spain. They had lots of extra food so they kindly offered to share their dinner with us. Free dinner? Yes please.

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Not the most inviting swimming pool, but when it’s hot you can’t really be too choosy.

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A quiet road in Estrella, Spain, the last town before reaching Pamplona.

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A river passes through Estrella.

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This is the main square in the old section of Pamplona. The Iruna Cafe in the distance is one of the main settings for Ernest Hemmingway’s novel, “Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises.”

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There was a general work strike on the day we visited. It really seemed like people just wanted another excuse not to work. No one really seemed to be to less passionate about protesting than they were about hanging out with their friends and playing hacky-sack on the grass. Or maybe that’s how the protest in Spain.

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The view from my window.

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The world famous Fiesta in Pamplona, scheduled to begin July 7th. The road looks quite now, but during event the streets are transformed into a giant gauntlet where massive bulls with razor sharp horns run down the cobbled paths in the hopes of gorging a drunk tourist. Somtimes they get lucky, but mostly they just get corralled and eventually killed. Good times.

Euro Bike Tour: Out of Santiago, Up the Mountains

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When you think of Spain, what are the first images that come to mind? Sun? Sandy beaches? Beautiful people? Siestas? While the country is no doubt home to all these things, they are not entirely applicable in the Galicia Autonomous Region, a small section of land in the Northwest corner of Spain. This particular province is full of lonely winding roads and mountainous countryside. As an added bonus there’s cold and rainy weather, even in early May. A rude awakening for sure, but every challenge has its rewards. Though the cycling was grueling, the scenery – lush with green trees and fields blanketed in colorful flowers – made for some supremely satisfying riding.

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Chett cruises up a hill during some foggy early morning riding. Shortly after this picture was taken I returned to my bike to find I had a punctured back tire. It was the second flat tire for me in as many days.

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Marc winds his way down a country road, his shiny silver trailer latched onto the back of his ride. Since Marc’s bike didn’t have any pannier mounts, he was forced to ride with the cumbersome luggage attachment following along. While this made packing easy, it also meant that he ended up carrying the most weight – about 60 pounds – because we would throw random items like food and pots and clothes into his waterproof bag. It also earned him the nickname “Trailer,” not only because of what he hauled on the back of his bike, but also because he would, rather understandably, lag about 10 minutes behind the group. A true team player, Marc never complained once about the extra weight, and he always managed to find room for our extra gear.

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We took the roads less traveled.

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Scenery like this literally makes you stop in your tracks. We lingered on this road, taking pictures and just generally basking in the tranquility of it all. I felt like I was in one of those posters you find in dentist offices to help you relax.

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Hills + Clouds + Cold = Bad riding

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The beauty of not knowing exactly where you’re going are the constant surprises you find along the way. Often times we would ride through small villages to discover treasures like this, a castle located in the city of Ponferrada, Spain.

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A cross cuts a stark image in the sky in the small mountian village of Acebo, Spain.

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A store front in Acebo, Spain.

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This woman ran the one shop in Acebo. The town was about 500m up during a 1,500m climb and was a welcomed reststop along the way. When I told her I was riding all the way up she gave me an apple to take along for the ride.

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Korea represent!

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Snack time.

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Jon takes in the view along the way.

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Almost to the top, but after about 5 hours of riding uphill a break was needed.

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Made it! Jon celebrates at a monument in the small village of O Cebreiro in Spain’s Cantabrain Mountain range, a height of 1,503m. Took about 6 hours of uphill riding, but it was worth it. Unlike riding through long stretches of flats, riding uphill offers a certain sense of accomplishment when you reach that final crest in the road. As an added bonus, the next 30km in the Spanish plains were all downhill. Like the old saying goes, “What goes up must come down.”

Euro Bike Tour: Porto to Santiago de Compestela

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Before one can begin an extended cycling tour it is necessary to have the proper equipment. As I was coming directly from South Korea, I had virtually none of the required gear. No helmet, no bike shorts, no pannier bags, no water bottles. No nothing. Most importantly, I had no bike. Fortunately I scheduled 3 days in Bristol, England where I stayed with my friend and fellow traveler, Jon. Together we made a mad tear through city’s many bike shops and camping supply stores and somehow managed to wrangle all the essential gear, the most critical piece being the Specialized Tricross Sport.

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This bike was a perfect fit for our tour. It’s durable but lightweight, can handle multiple road conditions, has great components, rack mounts for panniers, and excellent handling. It also had a hefty price tag, but we figured if we’re going to be on a bike for 7 hours a day, we might as well splash out a bit and get something built for the job. The picture above is of my bike after I reassembled in the Porto, Portugal Airport. Jon and I were joined by two other riders, Chett and Marc, who were both English teachers we had met in Korea. Together we were one Englishman, one American, and two South Africans, respectively.

The date was May 7th. It was slightly overcast when we left. We had no map, no place to sleep, and no food; just a general goal of heading north to Santiago, Spain. That, and lots and lots of adrenaline.

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Marc (left) and Chett take a break along the N-13 in Portugal.

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Never underestimate the power of a bungee cord. Between camping gear, clothes, spare equipment, and food, we ended up hauling approximately 50 pounds on the back of our bikes. There was always more stuff than space. Loading up before each day’s ride became something of an art.

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Sunset on the Atlantic.

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My tent was a cheap single-man that I bought in Korea. It did the job, but I think a single Korean man is slightly smaller than a single American man, so it was a bit on the cramped side. It was like sleeping in glorified body bag, but every tent is the same size when your eyes are closed.

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It took two and a half days to make it to the Portuguese/Spanish Border.

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This is the bridge that separates Portugal and Spain. There’s no border control once you’ve made it into the EU.

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Relaxing in Spain

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The best part about traveling on a bike is the fact that you get to see scenery you would miss by speeding down a highway in a car. We mostly took small, lightly trafficked national roads that took us through sleepy villages like the one pictured above, just south of Redondela, Spain.

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This couple was getting their engagement photos taken on a beach in Cesantes, Spain. The one camp site in this town was closed so we had to improvise. After the sun set, we found a patch of grass behind a beachside hotel and pitched our tents in the cover of dark. The building provided great protection from the wind and we used their bathroom facilities in the morning. Total cost of lodging: $0.

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The following day we rode 70 miles into our destination, Santiago De Compestela, Spain, home of the world famous cathedral of the same name. Located in NW Spain, the city is home to roughly 100,000 people and is a UNESCO Heritage Site, as well as the “European City of Culture” for the year 2000.

The girl in the white lab coat was working at an outdoor medical information booth the center of the old city. She saw that we were tired and hungry after a long hard day of riding and gave us all a bunch of apples for us to eat. Just one of many kind people we would meet along the way.

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Marc’s bike and an apple for the road.

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In Santiago we stayed in an what’s called an Albergue. This is basically a large hostel, but it is reserved for pilgrims traveling the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. The Camino de Santiago is a network of roads that extend all the way throughout Europe, but all share the same end point, the Santiago de Compestela. For thousands of years, religious pilgrims have traveled the Camino by foot and more recently, by bike, in order to pray at the altar of St. James in the cathedral. Today many tourists also make the trek, sleeping at the Albergues along the way. The Albergues vary in size and amenities, but most cost about 5 Euro for the night. The one in Santiago is massive as it is the final stop on the pilgrim’s trail. We were lucky to find beds there as a torrential downpour hit the city just a few minutes after we checked in.

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The Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela, the supposed burial place of one of Jesus’s closest apostles, St. James.

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This was the general effect the Cathedral had on visitors.

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The inside of the Cathedral housed the most ornate craftsmanship I had ever seen. It seemed as though every inch of the altar had been covered with gold. I’m not sure on this, but I believe King Midas may have been the interior designer on this project.

We spent two days in Santiago sleeping in and taking in the sights. After that we were headed east towards Pamplona. But first we had to get through the difficult Galician Mountains…