Hello again, it's just me this time, Laura. After a few weeks back home it was time for me to hit the road again. It was a very easy start rolling through the Netherlands, Belgium and a short stretch of Northern France to the ferry to Dover. Mostly flat and often car-free is this part of Europe a cyclist's paradise. Christina accompanied me until Belgium - and happily exchanged her saddle for a comfortable car seat after two days. So for the first time it was just me and my bike, noone to share those thoughts floating through your head all day with. I started to use the "Warmshowers" website a lot more in order to meet people to stay with and talk to in the evenings. It's a great way to meet locals and - in Spain - improve my Spanish, but none the less it gets quite boring on the road after cycling by myself for a few hours.
Getting into England, I enjoyed following the National Cycle Route #2 down the coast - a mixture of gravel and quiet backroads and very often right along the seafront. I was also really keen on trying out the "South Downs (mountainbike...) trail" for a few days, especially given that I had perfect weather for my entire time in England: despite getting coldish by night, it was blue skies and sunshine all day long. The route mostly led over gravel and single trail tracks, as well as over sheep- and pig paddows every now and then. The views were fantastic, but after two days more or less pushing the bike up the ascents and crawling over the paddocks at snail's speed, I was getting exhausted and returned to the paved roads. I highly recommend the route, but be sure to take a mountainbike and pack lightly...
Finally I reached Portsmouth, from where I took the ferry to Santander. Twenty-four hours on the open ocean, what a great way to reach Spain. Once again I was the only one cycling aboard amongst a lot of trucks and cars, even the staff seemed somehow surprised to see me there.
Upon reaching Northern Spain, I had exactly one day of sunshine, before autumn set in. I cycled 12 km to a small village, where I stayed in a house flatshare for a few days and waited for the constant rain to end. But it didn't. In the end I decided to take a train down south, exploring a few cities like Valladolid and Salamanca in between. When seeing a good amount of snow up north from my train window, I felt quite relieved not to be out there with my tent and bike, that would have been very, very cold...
Reaching Jaén in Andalucia, the weather finally was on my side again. The ride to Córdoba was beautiful, rolling all day long through millions of acres of olive groves with hardly any cars crossing my path. But rain had once again set in, so I patiently waited my turn to get back on the road. There are worse places in the world to be stuck for a few days than a city like Córdoba packed with history, fantastic buildings like the Mezquita and "cañas y tapas" on every corner.
But the weather doesn't seem to be on my side this year, as more rain had been forecasted for western Andalucía. I decided to skip Sevilla and the far south-west of Spain for now and follow the sun to Granada. The first day was a long one with a total of 1000 metres climbing, 110 km and some dirty gravel/mud stretches in between. Just a few miles before reaching the town of Lucena, where I were staying with a "Couchsurfing" host, the mud was getting too much for my bike: the wheels were jammed and stopped rotating. I once again started scraping the mud off the fenders with my bare hands, we had been there before... All alone in the olive groves at dawn that wasn't my favorite place to be at that moment. But I was saved by an old man from a nearby village, who was walking his dog in the olive groves. Together we repeatedly scratched all the mud from the fenders, alternately carried either the bags or the entire bike for a while when nothing else worked. He accompanied me all the way into town, a great gesture and very much appreciated at that moment!
The following days I explored the Sierra Subbética on two wheels, following small backcountry roads, preferably paved from now on, but you are always in for a surprise here! The weather was perfect, I encountered hardly any cars and was enjoying the ups and downs of the mountains. Now it really payed off that I once again reduced my baggage by many kilograms before heading off to Spain. At the moment I am in Granada and will be spending a few days here before heading on. Seeing the snow-topped mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevada from afar, I might skip them this time and head straight to the coast!