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July 29th 2009
Published: July 30th 2009
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Wednesday 29th July - Bilbao, The Picos, Santander



The Guggenheim is an amazing building but I had to agree with the consensus that debated whether its content was worthy of its surroundings. That's partly because I don't really get gargantuan ultra modern sculptures, those more refined would probably disagree. As a basic sort of chap. for me art is about pictures on canvas, or other media and for that I generally do prefer modern art. So the top floor of the Guggenheim held most interest but even that was dwarfed by the architectural genius of the building itself.

As amazing as the Guggenheim as a statement on the landscape was, it paled in comparison to the Picos de Europa. En route as I passed Santander on the bike battling a gale, I questioned the sanity of my rationale and hoped it not to be a foolish errand. The wind had me backing off the throttle several times as the road passed over countless viaducts with ferocious gusts bellowing off the Atlantic. If you really wanted to scare yourself sh1tless best was to approach a viaduct just behind a lorry and then take the full blast of dirty air and general gusts on offer on the high bridge. If I hadn't been concentrating so much, with a splitting head ache from the racket from the cross wind and actually too cold I may have appreciated the scenery which was generally appealing if not quite up to yesterday's standards.

Finally I peeled off the main road to take the road down to Potes into the heart of the Picos. Within a few miles I was rewarded with dramatic scenery I had not expected. I knew the Picos were reasonably high and thus expected an Alpine type road, but the road stayed firmly in the valley, hugging the stream that gushed and flowed along it. This allowed you to fully appreciate the scale of the enormous limestone peaks towering above you and dwarfing you to insignificance in a manner I have only experienced elsewhere in Norway. The best part of the route was Planes to La Hermida. There are a couple of pics but the road was not exactly forthcoming in a multitude of safe opportunities to stop and take photos, even with the relatively quick to deploy crappy snappy in my pocket, but I managed a couple. They do not do the area justice, mainly because of the hazy light (well that's my excuse) and I rued not that I should be in a bar whiling away the hours in Santander but that I should have spent a couple of days here - it was mega.

I allowed enough time to walk the 100km or so back to Santander - I am flying out with the kids (back to Spain) on Saturday and to say I would be unpopular if I missed the ferry is an understatement. As such I only spent a couple of hours in the Picos but it was enough of a taster to know I will go back.

So as I sit typing this on the deck of another ferry on the rough Bay of Biscay, intermittently watching everyone tottering around deck the sun has now set as it has on my mini trip.

I had three goals this trip:
1) Get to North Africa
2) Have a brilliant time
3) Come back with all four limbs free from plaster of paris

OK so I had failed miserably (again) on the first goal but it would be a strange sense of priority to not realise it was actually the least important of the three and like Meatloaf crooned, “Two out of three ain't bad.”

I have surprised myself, given the initial disappointment and mini-spin (partly dehydration and exhaustion induced) I had experienced in Barcelona, that I managed to be philosophical and rationale about my failure and instead still have a brilliant trip. Yes I had missed out on North Africa, but it wasn't going any place and to be honest it was a plonker's notion to go there in July anyway. What is more I really discovered Spain and what a fantastic country. Everywhere I went the people could not be more friendly or helpful, even if neither you nor they could understand a dickie of what the other was saying and the roads and scenery were fantastic. I love France, believe it has everything and one day aspire to have a holiday home there but I would now seriously consider somewhere between the Pyrenees and Barcelona such as around Olot. Awesome roads and scenic ambiance aside, the weather just seemed more reliable than the French Pyrenees, particularly on the Atlantic side which often seemed beset by rain.

I will be back, but not before I finally make it to wretched North Africa - third time lucky and al that. Next time I will take no chances and stick the bike on the Auto train. Brilliant service. Did you know that you can stick your bike on a train overnight to Biarritz, Narbonne, Toulouse, Marseilles etc? I wish they did that to Scotland,


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