May 23rd_25th 2017 – St Jean de Luz to Bilbao – The Basque Country basks and sparkles in the spring sunshine

This week’s photo shows the view of the Basque coastline from the Mirador de Mutriku viewpoint near to Deba. The Basque coastline is very similar to the Amalfi coast in Italy and I must have taken about 50 similar shots to the one above this week. The coastline is incredibly beautiful when the sun is shining but the same sun makes all the climbs here even extra difficult.

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Total cycled Tuesday May 23rd – 65 km. Total so far – 1140 km. Monte Igueldo between San Sebastian and Zarautz was the toughest climb so far on this year’s Tour. The road is narrow and very steep in places the hot sunshine made the climb very difficult. Fortunately, the traffic was light and there were more cyclists on the climb than cars. They are really into cycling in the Basque Country and I spotted hundreds of other cyclists on both road and mountain bikes out for a spin.

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2 paragliders practizing near St. Jean de Luz. So many great shots today, it is hard to pick out the best ones. These paragliders were taking advantage of the onshore breeze to do some gliding. They were obviously novices as they were only going 10 or 20 feet into the air and then landing again. But they picked a great spot to practice as the views were stunning.

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Lighthouse and harbour in St. Jean de Luz. Nearly every lighthouse I have ever seen has been round but the lighthouse in St. Jean de Luz is actually square shaped.

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A tour group out for a stroll passing by the Notre Dame statue in St Jean de Luz. A lot of hikers start their Camino in St Jean de Luz but I don’t think this group were doing the Camino as they are carrying very little.

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Small resort of Socoa. The weather this morning was lovely and there were a lot of sun seekers soaking up the sun as I passed by this small beach.

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Basque separatist graffiti on the coastal road near Hendaye. You don’t have to understand the Basque language to understand what this piece of graffiti is referring to.

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Pilgrim with a donkey spotted near Hendaye. Why carry a heavy rucksack when you can get a donkey to take the load instead.

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Good waves today in Hendaye. There must have been about 20 surfers trying to catch a wave in Hendaye when I passed through. Most seemed to be using paddles to get out to sea before then catching a wave back to the shore.

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Pointe Saint Anne headland photographed from Hendaye. You can just make out one of the paddlers on a surfboard in this photo. He was well off-shore but I guess the sea is much calmer for paddle-boarding out in the bay than along the shore.

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View of the Jaizkibel mountain from Hendaye. My original plan was to camp in Hendaye and then climb the Jaizkibel leaving Travoy at the campsite. The Jaizkibel is one of the most famous climbs in Spain and it features every year in the Classica San Sebastian cycle race at the start of August. However, as I was rushing to get to Bilbao, I simply didn’t have the time to tackle the climb.

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Puente de Santiago or St. James bridge over the Bidasoa river. This bridge marks the border between France and Spain. If you look closely at this photo, there is a sign for Espana on the right hand side of the bridge. But the sign has been de-faced as they don’t like any signs with Spanish names in this part of the Basque Country.

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Myself and Travoy in Lezo. In the industrial city of Lezo, I was taking a few snaps when a passer-by kindly offered to take a photo of me. He had good English and it was great to have a few words with a local. Offering to take a photo was a lovely gesture as I don’t have many photos of myself on tour. This is quite a good shot and even better, he managed to get the Jeizkibel in the background.

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Small port of Pasaia. If you were watching the TG4 documentary in Ireland about the Camino na tSaile, you might recognize this port. For it was in this harbour here in Pasaia that Glen Hansard and the 3 other boat crew boarded their currach and set out on the final leg of their Camino in May 2016. It is roughly 700 km from here to A Coruna and it took the 4 rowers about 2 months to complete. In all, their Camino from Dublin to Santiago took a total of 6 months spread out over 3 years.

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Basque separatist mural in Lezo. In places in the Basque Country, the graffiti and murals is similar to what you often see in Northern Ireland.

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La Concha beach in San Sebastian. This beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world and it is easy to see why. The beach was quiet but the promenade alongside it was thronged with people. In the distance in this photo, you can just make out Monte Iqueldo which was my destination after passing through San Sebastian.

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The Monte Igueldo climb is steep. The Monte Igueldo was by far the toughest climb I have come across so far on this Tour. It was very narrow and rough in places and the heat made the climb even tougher. Fortunately, there was little traffic on the road and actually more cyclists than cars. 3 times I thought I had reached the top only to see the road climb up even further. But the downhill section was a lot of fun.

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Sign saying 787 km to Santiago. While making my way down from Monte Igueldo, I came across this sign for Santiago. I remember tweeting that the sign says 787 km to Santiago and that there is probably 787 hills as well. I must have passed about 20 hikers on Monte Igueldo and at this sign the hiking route diverges from the cycle route.

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Rowing crew out training near Zarautz. There is a huge maritime tradition in the Basque Country and boat racing is a modern reflection of that tradition. Rowing is fiercely competitive in the Basque Country and every town has a rowing crew. There was a cox on this boat from Zarautz and he was urging the rowers on. The boat was accompanied by a speedboat and they were going at some speed.  Most of the boat races in the Basque Country take place in the summer and no doubt the town that wins the most boat races gets to have bragging rights over every other town for the rest of the year.

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Total cycled Wednesday May 24th – 60 km. Total so far – 1200 km. One of the toughest days ever on the Tour de Travoy. Having come through Aquitaine in France, which is totally flat, the sheer amount of climbs in the Basque Country was a huge shock to the system.

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View of the beach at Zarautz from near the campsite. The campsite in Zarautz is located at the top of a hill and it took me half an hour to climb the last 3 km to the site, the hill is that steep. The next morning, it was cloudy when I left the campsite but the sun came out in force later and the heat made the climbs extra tough.

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Sign for the Camino de Santiago with writing in both Basque and Spanish. The Basque language is like no other language in Europe not even Celtic languages like Welsh or Breton. You can see from this sign just how different it is from Spanish.

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The small town and beach in Deba. I must have taken over 200 photos today the views were that good. The Basque coastline is very similar to the Amlfi coast or the Cinque Terre in Italy.

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Mural on a house beside the beach at Deba. This huge mural was about 3 storeys in size and is just stunning to see. Unfortunately, the waves were calm in Deba and there was no-one out surfing which would have made for an even better shot.

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Busy fishing port of Ondarroa. Most of the ports and towns I passed through today were quiet but the town of Ondarroa was bustling with activity. There were about 50 fishing boats in the harbour and boats coming and going the whole time.

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Graffiti on an abandoned house near Leagi. This graffiti was unusual in that it featured writing in English. Perhaps a lot of tourists pass this way and the Separatists maybe wanted to make their stance clearer to them by writing in English.

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View of the beach in Leketio taken from the road to Leagi. The first campsite I called to near Leketio was closed so that meant a 3 km de-tour up a massive hill to the campsite in Leagi. The 3 km took me over half an hour to cycle the road was that steep. But the views from the top were well worth it.

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Total cycled Thursday May 25th – 75 km. Total so far – 1275 km. Tough climb out of Leketio but rest of climbs weren’t too bad. The heat was the biggest factor today and by the time I arrived in Bilbao, it was over 30 degrees.

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Leketio harbour. Out of all the harbours I came across this week, I think this was the prettiest.

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Roadside mural on way to Guernika. Guernika is famous for being bombed by the German Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War but this mural depicts the town’s industrial heritage.

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Flower clock in Guernika town square. This garden clock is something I have never seen anywhere else and there were people queuing up to take photos off it.

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Replica of Picasso’s famous painting. The real Picasso painting is in the Prado museum in Madrid but in Guernika, there is a replica made from tiles. I believe it is the same size as the original and measures about 10 m long by 5 m high. It is quite a stunning reproduction and the fact that the replica is outside for anyone to see only adds to it’s appeal. Interestingly, although there were hundreds of tourists taking pictures in Guernika town square, I was the only one taking pictures of this mural.

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House belonging to ex professional cyclist Balendin Lauzirika. Lauzirika raced in the 1960’s for Fagor but was killed in an accident in 1967 at the young age of 27. There is a shrine with a water tap on the corner of this house with his photo. When I get more time, I will do some more research about his career and the accident that killed him.

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Bilbao cemetery. The cemetery in Bilbao is absolutely huge but it is located about 10 km from the city centre. Bilbao airport is actually closer to the city centre than the cemetery.

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Architecture in Bilbao along the river. The traffic on the way into Bilbao was just crazy but once I made it to the river, all was calm. I had made it to the centre of Bilbao around 4 only half an hour before Karen’s flight was due to land from Dublin. It had taken me 2 weeks and 2 days to cycle from Dublin to Bilbao. Her flight only took 2 hours to travel the same distance.

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The most famous building in Bilbao, the Guggenheim Art Museum. With half an hour to kill, I had time to visit the Guggenheim. There were some other people and cyclists taking photos but compared to San Sebastian, Bilbao was much quieter. I lingered for about 15 minutes taking in the sheer spectacle that is the Guggenheim before then making my way to the Termine bus station about 3 km away. I arrived there at 5 o’clock exactly only to get a text message from Karen saying her flight was only after landing after a 40 minute delay leaving Dublin. It was after 6 before she got through airport security and got the right bus before then arriving at the bus station. But I didn’t mind the extra wait for after cycling almost 1,300 km from Dublin, I was just glad to achieve my first objective of making it to Bilbao in time to meet up with her.

 

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