BMW R1200GSA vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Au revoir Carcassonne. Hola Soldeu.


We've just had one of the most amazing days even though we only covered about a hundred and fifty kilometres at an average speed of fifty kilometres an hour.

My plan was simple. We leave early in the morning, follow the back roads (avoiding the motorways), and be in Andorra for lunch. I knew we had mountain roads to cover, but had no idea what they were going to be like, or if they would be covered in snow. The last thing I wanted to do was ride through there in the dark.

So we checked out of the hotel at midday, went and visited the walled city, had lunch and made our way out of Carcassonne at about two pm. Allowing for a three hour ride, and an hour stop somewhere, that should put us in Andorra right about six pm when it will be black as the inside of a cow. Perfect. NOT!

The day was made for riding. We got into our gear and I was just a little bit too warm, but I thought I'd be just right later on. We rode out of the hotel under a bright blue sky with lots of sunshine, and warmth. Everything was as it should be.

Our first stop, the walled city in Carcassonne, about a five minute ride away. It was well worth a visit, but like Dubrovnik, the whole ground level is full of shops. It's like a medieval shopping centre. We did find a nice restaurant and enjoyed our lunch sitting in the sunshine. Then it was time to get some riding done.

We left the old city and hit the back roads riding through Limoux, Couiza, Quillan, Belcaire, Ax-les-Thermes, and El Pas de la Casa. I'd like to spend a week in each of these vilages. They all looked like the perfect place to stay. Each village had it's own Christmas market in the square...and all the roads in the area are a blast.

After about an hour on the road we saw a little snow on sides of road. I'm fascinated by this white stuff that falls out of the sky. Remember, I'm from Western Australia and it's a novelty to see rain, let alone snow, so I asked Suzanne too take photos.

Keep this photo in mind when you look at the snow photos further down the page.

A couple of times we came across this strange mist covering some fields, and sometimes the road. We still have no idea what it was or what caused it.

The snow was still patchy.

Then it got interesting. 

The ground had more and more snow covering the further we rode.

Until it was quite heavy. Then I got to do something I've wanted to do for ages. I got to ride in the snow.

It's slippery,
especially with those road tyres on.

OK, time for a coffee stop. We had a break in the middle of nowhere between Belcaire and Ax-les-Thermes. The place was covered in snow.

The Big Mykolajenko Wheel barrow at rest.
I've said it's a good tool, but I'll never love it.
Well, it's beginning to win me over.

With a warm drink in our bellies we pointed the bike toward Andorra. Obviously we'll be skirting around those snow covered mountains in front of us. A few minutes late we reached the summit of the mountain we were on. 

 I think Suzanne is saying "Look Simon,
the sun is going down behind that mountain."

and it was.

There really was a lot of snow much snow in fact that it was time for me to do another thing I've always wanted to do...

I had to have a go at making a snow angel.

Not good enough by a long shot.
I guess that means i just have to keep practising...

I've always wanted to do this and it turned out OK, but when I'd finished the camera memory card was full and we didn't get any decent photos. I'll just have to try again. We'd taken over 500 photos, so no more photos today. 

Now you'd think that when you're in the ski area that you wouldn't go any further up into the mountains wouldn't you. Well, you'd be wrong. We continued to climb winding roads for miles and miles and miles. The speed limit was fifty kilometres an hour, and we weren't speeding. We did pass a few cars though. It was fantastic.

The light was definitely fading but it was still fine.

I'd seen the large, snow capped mountain range in the distance when we left Carcassonne but didn't think for a second we would be riding over it. I thought that was it for the mountains, but no. We kept going up, and up, and up, round hairpin after hairpin. There was no gap in the range to ride through, so we went over the top! And it was bloody high.

It was a surreal feeling riding along a winding mountain road with just enough light to be able to see huge, snow covered  mountains on either side of the road. They were imposing to say the least.

Andorra isn't part of the European Union so you require a visa to enter. As we neared the border I slowed down and approached one of the booths full of uniformed Police. No one even looked at us, and we rode straight through. The funny thing was there was a line up of traffic for miles to leave Andorra. We think a lot of people had been to Andorra for a skiing weekend and were returning home to France. Or maybe because Andorra is tax free, everyone pops over the border to stock up on alcohol, cigarettes, and electrical equipment. Things like a Go Pro Hero digital movie camera for 149 Euros (about $180 AUD)! If we weren't watching our pennies so much I would have had one.

With not far to go we saw a signpost pointing to Andorra, but none of the other traffic was not turning off. We went down the road and it turned out to be a new tunnel, with a toll of six Euros.The locals drive over the top of the pass to save the six Euros. The bonus was that the bike was only three Euros and a bit of change. We might have to go for a ride over the top tomorrow though, or maybe even Christmas Day.

The first town we rode into was Soldeu. As we rode down the main street we had to stop behind a truck, and we were right outside a hotel. I asked Suzanne if she wanted to call it quits for the day and stay here. Suzanne did her usual and went inside to bargain for a room. Now, we are in the snowfields, right across the road from a ski lift (they are still skiing right now under lights), so I'm thinking this hotel probably won't fit our budget. Suzanne walked back out with Mario, who runs the show. Mario showed me where I could enter the garage to park my bike, undercover and secure. Suzanne managed to get us a room on the top floor, with a bath, overlooking the ski fields. But oh boy, did we have to pay for it. It cost the princely sum of FORTY Euros. 

We went down stairs for dinner and enjoyed a scrumptious two course meal, for ten Euros. It looks like Andorra might be the bargain of the trip.

To top it all off, at no time today was I cold. How good a day was that?

When we arrived at the hotel last night it was dark, very dark, so we got a bit of a surprise when we woke up this morning (Christmas Eve) and we found this outside of our hotel window...

They're already skiing and snow boarding.

This will be the first Christmas either of us has spent away from family, and our first without our daughter Paige. That makes us a little sad. We'll think of you all on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Hopefully Skype will be kind to us and we'll be able to catch up that way.

To all our family, our old friends, and all our new friends we've met on this trip:

Merry Christmas - Australia
Merry Christmas - United Kingdom
Gelukkig kerstfeest - Holland
Frohe Weihnachten - Germany
Frohe Weihnachten - Austria
Vesel božič - Slovenia
Sretan Božić - Croatia
Срећан Божић - Montenegro
Gëzuar Krishtlindjet - Albania
Καλά Χριστούγεννα - Greece
Buon Natale - Italy
Frohe Weihnachten - Switzerland
Joyeux Noël - France
¡Feliz Navidad - Spain
عيد ميلاد مجيد Tunisia
Mutlu Noeller - Turkey
З Різдвом - Ukraine
Joyeux Noël - Belgium
Joyeux Noël - Luxembourg
Bon Nadal - Andorra

To everyone, be kind to each other, give the next dog you

see a pat from Suzanne and Simon, and have a bloody

fantastic Christmas. Hope to see you soon.

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