Barcelona

I never thought I would have to mark myself safe on Facebook but now I have. It was hard to understand what was happening in my city and when a friend texted me to ask if I was ok, telling me a van had driven on to La Rambla and into people, I didn’t think much of it at first. We even continued chatting for a bit, until the next friend contacted me, and I realised that I should get in touch with my parents and read the news – in that order.

There wasn’t much information to begin with but during the afternoon I was following the live updates and got more and more information. At first it was believed that the attack could be related to the anti-tourist movement here in Barcelona – they have carried out aggressive attacks before – so it seemed to fit the bill. La Rambla is the most touristic place in Barcelona, after all. Little by little, the picture got clearer and it was clarified a terror attack by ISIS and nothing to do at all with the anti-tourist movement, you know the rest I suppose – it has been all over the news. It is also known that what happened at La Rambla, and later on the promenade in Cambrils, were just shadows of what was planned by the terror cell in Ripoll, if something had not gone wrong when they attempted to build bombs.

Enjoying a coffee in Ripoll on our way towards Figueres
Enjoying a coffee in Ripoll on our way towards Figueres
Up, up to the mountain ahead
Up, up to the mountain ahead

We had passed Ripoll on our camping holiday a week prior to the terror attack – it is a beautiful little town by the foot of the mountains. We were coming down from the Pyrenees, where we had met horrible rainstorms unexpectedly and had to splash out on a hotel. We were riding the lovely road N-260 towards Figueres and stopped in Ripoll for a stroll and a coffee. By then, the weather had changed and was now fantastic, blue sky and sunshine, and after the weather the previous day we truly enjoyed feeling the warmth from the sun. Life was beautiful and we were looking forward to some more sunshine and, in addition, culture – Figueres is Salvador Dalí’s home town and, while I’m not an art connoisseur by any means, he is my favourite artist. After enjoying the surroundings of Figueres, seeing Dalí’s house in Portlligat, and enjoying the night tour with complementary cava at the Dalí Theatre-Museum. Apart from the fact that I had smashed an egg in my top case, I’m inclined to say that it was a brilliant substitute plan and saved us freezing our bums off. After this detour, we returned to the mountains and what we had set out to do, namely check out the little Spanish enclave Livia and the tax haven Andorra. While I’ve passed the Pyrenees many times on my way to WIMA rallies further north, I have never really had time to criss-cross and take the small roads and go exploring. Now was the time for that and we fully enjoyed it.

Empuriabrava. Like a little Venice built for rich boat people on holiday.
Empuriabrava. Like a little Venice built for rich boat people on holiday. Interesting place for an afternoon stroll, would I go back – no, would not think so.
Gala and myself, happy reunion. In Madrid we lived a couple of years by Plaza de Dali and then I could see this sculpture in a larger scale from our window.
Gala and myself, happy reunion. In Madrid we lived a couple of years by Plaza de Dali and then I could see this sculpture in a larger scale from our window.
Welcome to Livia, the Spanish enclave in France - where supermarkets are open on Sundays. We explored this little plot of land for a whole afternoon and found lots of interesting facts, however we're still wondering how the telephone and internet lines works.
Welcome to Livia, the Spanish enclave in France – where supermarkets are open on Sundays. We explored this little plot of land for a whole afternoon and found lots of interesting facts, however we’re still wondering how the telephone and internet lines works.
Out exploring in Livia, you can see the major town in the valley below.
Out exploring in Livia, you can see the major town in the valley below.

Although Andorra is full of motorcycle gear shops, we resisted temptation and made a mental note to return next year when our helmets will need replacing – I  had saved 200 euros buying my current helmet there a few years back. I did buy Christopher a packet of Haribo, though, which he was very excited about.

I love Andorra! The photo doesn't reveal how cold it was this day, I kept my helmet on due to the wind and I'm wearing two helmet bags under my jackets because I'd forgotten my wind cheater.
I love Andorra! The photo doesn’t reveal how cold it was this day, I kept my helmet on due to the wind and I’m wearing two helmet bags under my jackets because I’d forgotten my wind cheater.
The pyrenes at its best, twisty roads, no traffic and silence - apart from the bells the horses are wearing.
The pyrenes at its best, twisty roads, no traffic and silence – apart from the bells the horses are wearing.

Our original plan was to stay up in the Pyrenees for a couple of weeks but, after finding out about the local annual festivity in our neighbourhood Gracía, we decided to cut our travels short and take advantage of this festival on our doorstep. We also had a long to-do-list since our illegal let has come to an end and we have, for some dubious reasons, been asked to move out at the end of this month. This put us in a bit of a tight spot but we thought we could find a solution for this as well as dealing with some more paperwork and getting the bike serviced all during the week of the festival. This is the background to why we happened to be in the city the afternoon of the terror attack – because of the Festa de Gracía and the boring to-do-list. The festival was amazing, we arrived back on the opening day and I struggled quite a lot to manoeuvre the bike towards our street – the streets were packed with people and dodging pedestrians in party mood, with the bike fully loaded and with Christopher on the pillion seat, was quite a challenge. But as soon as we had parked and unloaded the bike we were in party mood too – we had passed the Ghostbusters installment, complete with Mr Stay Puffed, the ghost busters, Zuul and her monsters so we knew we were up for something good. Never in my wildest imagination could I have imagined something grand like this, 22 streets were fully decorated according to themes like King Kong, the jungle, Alpine village, hell, the metamorphis of the butterfly, candy shop, etc. There were stages with live bands on a number of streets and squares and, in addition, outdoor clubs and bars in every corner. All the entertainment was free, everyone was happy. We got ourselves a couple of reusable festival cups and joined the party.

Zuul, my favourite display. This photo was taken towards the end of the week and therefore the fence was filled with memorial messages for the victims of the terror attack.
Zuul, my favourite display. This photo was taken towards the end of the week and therefore the fence was filled with memorial messages for the victims of the terror attack.

However, on Thursday afternoon the whole city went quiet, all we could hear was the police helicopter, that and the beeping of messages coming in asking if we were ok. Our flatmates, who had been studying in the living room, were also inundated with messages. They switched the TV on to discover what was happening. The festival noise that we had heard through our open window was gone, the streets were empty, the lights off, the bars closed. It felt surreal and the only way we could deal with that was to leave the house and go out. The purpose of terror is to make people afraid and to make them change their lives because of their fear. Therefore, we decided that we would do what we had planned, i.e. go out for drinks. A few other people had the same plan as us and there were a few bars open who catered for us – but the city was quiet and Barcelona is never ever quiet, not at any time day or night is it quiet. The following day we joined the masses for a minute of silence at Placa Catalunya, paying our respect to the dead and injured. Now the reality felt a bit more real, there were no speeches, no words were uttered, the only thing that finally broke the silence was the spontaneous clapping of the people and the chanting of “No tinc por” – which is Catalan for “I’m not afraid”. This is important I believe, to never give power to evil forces, regardless of what form they take, never let them make you afraid. So, we decided to not head back up into the mountains but rather take advantage of what we have in this beautiful city during our last week here. Although most of the things on my to-to-list are still undone due to the general state of things here, it seems like we have landed ourselves a winter contract for a flat in a seaside village. We’re finally getting out of the rut of illegal flatshares and have something for ourselves. I look forward to that. If that wasn’t good enough, for the first time ever my bike will have a garage.

One of many memorials along La Rambla. It is still so hard to believe that this could happen in my city.
One of many memorials along La Rambla. It is still so hard to believe that this could happen in my city.

Emigrating, again

I’m off to Spain, finally, sailing to Bilbao on Wednesday. It’s been a long autumn. I’ve been without a home since June, living out of my panniers, travelling all over Europe during summer and then studying and trying to maintain a daily schedule since September. Now I’m off to Spain, not Japan as we had prepared for; a sad event more commonly known as the UK referendum has changed the way we see our future possibilities, safer to return now while Christopher still is part of the European free movement.

Summer’s been long and filled with exciting travels, I’ve ridden my bike more than ever and from one corner of Europe to another. Firstly, we rode together in Wales, Christopher’s first adventure on his own motorbike. Although I feared that he would remain pillion forever he quite happily took up riding and enjoyed the small mountains roads in Wales immensely. He soon became a specialist on hill starts and single track country lanes. We had some terrible weather at times and he surely experienced what it is like to be completely soaked – while touring you make the best of what you get, the greatest difference between travelling and making daytrips I believe.

Perfect sunsets in Wales
Perfect sunsets in Wales
Rain in Elan Valley, breathtakingly beautiful nevertheless!
Rain in Elan Valley, breathtakingly beautiful nevertheless!
We're pretty much on our own up here, and we love it!
We’re pretty much on our own up here, and we love it!

After a few but thoroughly enjoyable weeks in Wales it was time for me to head towards Hungary and the WIMA rally. I picked up pace a bit, instead of riding tiny mountains roads and having continuous coffee breaks and photo opportunities I had to cover distance every day. The fact that I had some problems with the bike didn’t help, because of the struggle I swore that this would be my last solo trip, but yeah, I know – it isn’t very likely. After an action-packed WIMA rally I aimed for Sweden, with a slight detour to see a good friend in Slovakia. Now I could take it easy, enjoy the mountain roads and chill again. I spent a few weeks in Sweden before returning to the UK. We were to spend a few weeks up in Scotland because people continuously tell me that if I like Wales I will love Scotland. I actually love Wales. So, the expectations were high but as often is the case, I was disappointed – only by the sheer fact that Scotland is so huge, and with the little CG 125 in tow we just never covered any distance and we didn’t get to see the islands or very much at all. Having said that we had some fantastic days riding, up through the north of England and we did ride some very scenic roads at times. We also had some very foul weather with rain and gales which strongly challenged Christopher on his featherlight bike. A couple of nights we struggled to pin the tent down and had to use the panniers to weigh it down. Admittedly, I loved it – but Christopher less so. The riding was just a bit too hard for him and I suspect that he will never be anything else than a fair-weather camper. Although he did put up with muddy fields, cold showers, midges and mosquitos without complaining I did realise that it wasn’t something he enjoyed and it will probably be filed away as “things you do for love”.

We were very excited when we finally reached the border to Scotland.
We were very excited when we finally reached the border to Scotland.
Sometimes there just aren’t enough photo opportunities
Mystical mist in fairy land
Mystical mist in fairy land

The summer ended too soon and it got cold. In September, we were happy to be able to house sit for WIMA friends, little did Pat and Sheonagh expect that we would end up staying for the rest of the year… Well, partly I blame the unavailability of test dates for motorcycles. Christopher managed to bag it all just before Christmas, I was admittedly proud of him doing his riding training on some rather frosty days in December. Hopefully, and quite possibly, the weather in Spain will treat us better.

El Atazar north of Madrid - Christophers first ride as a pillion. Now he'll return to Spain as a biker
El Atazar north of Madrid – Christophers first ride as a pillion. Now he’ll return to Spain as a biker

We’ve had a great couple of years in England, and despite being disappointed of the current state of politics and the way it affects our freedom of movement I’m looking forward to returning to Spain and starting all over again, new city, new job, new house, well – pretty much new everything. We are all responsible for our own lives and for making our own happiness. Fuck Brexit – I’m European!

New Zealand on my mind

“I won’t leave chocolate behind!” I declared as I struggled to finish a particularly generous piece of muddy mud cake at the beach café in Kaikoura. My newfound friends would just have to wait for me while I kept on munching. We were a small group of female riders from Sweden, Australia and Germany who had signed up for the Towanda Tour of New Zealand following the international WIMA rally near Lake Taupo on the North Island. We had been touring for two weeks together – riding the most spectacular twisty ocean roads, mountains roads and forest roads. The scenery changed between extremes: like the whole continent of Europe crammed into two small islands; Swiss mountains, Norwegian fiords, Swedish forests, Icelandic volcanos… The roads snaked up and down the mountain sides, stretched through the open plains, in and out of forests, gorges and along the waterfront. The traffic was scarce so we had the roads mainly to ourselves as we rode past volcanos, glaciers, bush forest and strange rock formations – it felt like an adventure and I loved it. These roads were made for riding!

64 kilometres of enticing twisty road coming up
64 kilometres of enticing twisty road coming up
It is like riding in the Alps on our way to the fjord, aka Milfords Sound
It is like riding in the Alps on our way to the fjord, aka Milfords Sound
The Towanda group
The Towanda group

Our guide, Tina, led us on the best routes around the islands and she had a great knowledge about the culture and history – as well as where to eat the best food and the most scrumptious cakes. I was impressed by the many vegetarian options, something I wasn’t spoiled with in Sweden some 11 years ago. The people were friendly and it was easy to strike up a conversation, another cultural difference I suppose, but to me it just seemed like everyone was so happy we had come all this way to experience their country and take an interest in their culture. In addition, I learned that people in New Zealand use their motorbikes all year around, something you can only dream of in my home country. I had found my place, I wanted to live here! But as immigrating to New Zealand is particularly difficult, “marry a kiwi” recommended the British-born woman working in the motorbike rental shop with a laugh: “it is the best way into the country”. However, I was unsuccessful pursuing that and my travel companions claimed it was due to my habit of drying my tatty long johns from the curtain rail. Somehow, they thought that this particular garment wasn’t doing me any favours and, in fact, they later gifted me some nylon stockings. Despite this, I failed to find a kiwi husband but I later found a country closer by that caters for my yearning of all year-round riding and a partner who accepts tatty long johns as part of life’s necessities. Even so, I always wanted to go back to New Zealand – to experience it all again, ride the roads, meet the people and eat muddy mud cake. Therefore, the news of the earthquake in New Zealand affects me profoundly. I have been there, in Kaikoura, the town that now is being evacuated from the sea by ships – it was a lovely place along the coast on the South Island, where we stopped on route for a coffee break. My thoughts go to the people who live there, people that I met, even though it was long ago, lovely people who contributed to my affection for New Zealand and my longing to go back.

Me and the Moriaki Boulders - unique and unexplained stone formations on the South Island
Me and the Moriaki Boulders – unique and unexplained stone formations on the South Island
Hot and steamy near Rotorua up on the North Island
Hot and steamy near Rotorua up on the North Island