23/07/2014

REHUMANIZE THE P.I.G.S. (June 2010 part 2)




On the 22nd of June I headed for the French border leaving back in Torino wonderful friends and memories. My goal was to make it up to the refuge of Madone de Fenestre, located close to the French-Italian border North of Nice, after doing the Route de la Bonette, pretty famous and beautiful road.
First kilometers in Italy on SS25 were nothing really exciting passing through Susa, except the nice weather and the view of the snow white Alpine peaks in the background.
I enter France via Montgenevre.

After the very first minutes I am welcomed by a truck lying on my lane with its trailer. Probably the trucker was too fast entering this switchback and he flipped. While watching him not seriously injured fortunately, I felt mercy but thinking that I might had being filling the space between his truck and the tarmac I felt less sorry.  This was the first accident I experienced in my trip. Wishing this would be the last one as well, I continued for beautiful Briancon and started going uphill via D902. Classic Alpine scenery again, really gorgeous. Bright blue sky interrupted by a few snow white clouds, just in case someone was tired of full blue sky, a few lakes, green carpet under the trees, nice bends, always snowy peaks in the background.


The absolute joy though was later on D64 or “Route de la Bonette”. This route is the ultimate Alpine scenic one, crosses the Mercantour National Park and goes over 2800 meters high.  Needless to say it had a lot of snow close to “Col de la Bonette”, last meters of the loop road they made there in order to win the record of the highest pass  were full of snow and I had to take the shortcut to start going down via D64 on the other side. First I had to write my name on the snow at the highest French tarmac road and the highest European tarmac pass.




Unique experience...Make an occasion for it. No way to regret it. Just take care to have your tank full if yours is a small one, because filling stations (even houses) are rare.
I leave cold and snow behind, descending via D64 and fortunately the joy doesn't stop. D2205 was next heading South and it is a very nice route by the river, crossing once again the Mercantour. At its end, I headed East for the refuge Madone de Fenestre. I arrived there tired after almost 300 km in mountainous roads with countless switchbacks and tight bends but so impressed at the same time by the whole route and the place there itself.

Many clouds hiding the sun I had during my ride, looked close enough to reach out and grab them, 2000 meters altitude, a bit of snow and much cold. No cell phone signal, of course no internet at the refuge and no place to charge my phone. Didn't care so much about the  signal or the internet but not that happy about my discharged phone. Food was nice and more than enough, and the people I met there was really a joy to talk with. All hikers from various countries and ages. I was the only non hiker around and most of them wondered how a Greek biker decided or managed to go stay there. Tired enough after the dinner and the chat and  some red wine kindly offered by 2 guys from Munich, I went to sleep very early having nothing else to do.
Next day started with a nice sunshine, good breakfast and a group of French youngsters asked me if I had space on my bike to take them with me. Everything looked perfect till...while loading my stuff on my bike I notice a screw on my rear tire! A punctured tire is NOT the best thing to happen at 2000 meters with a dead phone battery and far from the first village.  I had a repair kit with me but decided to fix it at a garage cause if I failed I would end up with a flat tire and mine was not flat yet fortunately. Carefully driving downhill, I go to the first village (Saint Martin Vesubie) and I stop at a gas station where I was glad to see they repaired car tires as well. I thought to myself “I have tubeless as well, 100% same repair method, this is it!”. What I didn't know was the French mentality. No matter how I tried, no matter how kind they were, they didn't want to fix my tire! They proposed me another place to do so, some 300 meters ahead. While driving without my helmet for the first time in my trip, I see my mirrors filled with the view of a Land Rover struggling to reach me. The Police stopped me and fortunately I skipped the ticket explaining them the whole situation.  I didn't fixed my tire though cause the garage was closed. I go back to the filling station and still they didn't want to fix it. An English speaking lady passing by told me that they are not authorized to do so that's why they refuse. I opened my kit and I saw the glue container included emptied due to a whole. Though I thought I'd fix the tire with the rest of the kit, they proposed me to go to a next village 15 km away, where they'd fix it for sure. I take off the screw again, put my chewing gum to act as a gasket, rescrewed it in, put 45 psi and headed for that place where they fixed it in seconds for 8 euros.
I continued my way with uplifted spirit. Destination: Aix en Provence. Heading south on D2565 the scenery becomes more Mediterranean and less Alpine. Different and richer vegetation, more insects on my windscreen, familiar images change my mood and it is clear after many km in the Alps that I am southbound. Nice contrast after the wild Alpine beauty.
Nice route in general heading west via D8 and D2 but the incredible part is the one that crosses the Gorges du Verdon, the biggest canyon in Europe. You can make countless stops for photos and sightseeing.







It is a nature's masterpiece 25 km long, up to 1000 meters steep, ending at the beautiful lake “Lac de Saint Croix”.


Don't miss this for no reason if you are around. At some points of the route there are rocky little balconies where you can have a fantastic view unless you suffer from acrophobia.
After the canyon I followed the shortest route somehow to get to Aix en Provence. This route couldn't be as special as the previous one and after crossing various lowland fields I arrived at beautiful Aix.


This is where I was welcomed by Kaliopi and Frank. I wanna thank both of them so very much by the way. They were kind enough to host me and show me around the city where we tried a really delicious Algerian food.

Downtown there were lots of art items exhibited and I found the whole idea quite interesting.

Was not patient enough though to attend a traditional event at the main square as the prologue of that old French man was too long. He was reading a giant book and I had already experienced a lot of things on that day...
Next morning I made my way to Barcelona. Long distance, lots of traffic on the side roads, lots of squares as well so I decided to take the toll road for the first time in this trip.

As you can easily imagine I don't have many impressive snapshots from that part. Just take care of the wind if you do so cause it can get really tricky on windy days there. There are some wind indicators on the way so you can have an idea of the strength and the direction of the wind. I was lucky enough to experience no issues at all.
After 330 boring km on Α9 I cross the Spanish border. What impresses me most there is the absolute change of the scenery. Feels like you enter a different world right after you pass the “ESPANΑ” sign. The villages are less neat, the fields as well, and those prostitutes that work on daylight on the road reappeared. Last time was in Italy. The N11 has no big surprises at least for someone like me coming from Greece but Barcelona has a lot of emotions to offer no matter where you come from due to the strong personality, the special colour and history and the countless worth visiting places.








The most special moment for me was visiting the Gaudy creations. The curves he designed and applied on the stone made those masterpiece buildings so magnificent and “human”at the same time.







Bikers should really take care of their bikes in Barcelona cause it's got a bad reputation about bike theft. Even worse, parking for bikes overnight costs too much. This was the only dark spot about this wonderful city. I stayed a few days there during the world football championship and I experienced how crazy about football the Spaniards are. Each time their team scored the sound of the screams and the fireworks could travel really far.
Barcelona was the point where I had to start planning my way back to the east. Next destination was Toulouse, entering France again. This country looked to me like a beautiful piece of land dividing Italy and Spain. While those two countries may have some things in common France is quite different. French can easily be judged as snobbish by the rest of the Mediterranean people but this is not exactly true. If you apply a code of kind communication, even by just using a simple French word, most of the times, if not always, you get a helpful kind feedback from them even if you don't speak French at all like me.