My mum loved the unique nature and birdlife in Gotland and this
was planned as a family excursion for her, Christopher and myself.
Christopher has a keen interest in medieval history and
Gotland has plenty of historical sites. In addition, I have an aunt with vast
local historical knowledge living in Visby, so this would make for the perfect
family excursion. At least that was the plan prior to mum’s cancer diagnosis. For
a long time we hoped our planned trip could go ahead, but when time draw closer,
we realised that she wouldn’t be able to come with us. She was still keen for
us – and especially for Christopher who had never been there – to go and
explore the island and have a good time.
Gotland can be very touristy during the high season, but we were given excellent recommendations by my aunt Siv. On her suggestion, we rode stretch of road in the south captured in the video below, arriving along the coast at Hoburgsgubben, a rock formation which, with some imagination, can be interpreted as a man, or perhaps a troll. We decided to video the journey, so we could show mum upon our return, and here it is now for everyone to enjoy:
In addition to this video, we took lots of photographs for mum, thinking that we at least could share our experience with her. Fortunately, we had time to show them to her before she passed away. As they were intended for mum, the main focus is nature, flowers and birds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Summer is for riding but isn’t it rude to be away for your partner’s birthday year after year just because it coincides with riding season? This year the solution was to book a flight for Christopher and pick him up at Belfast Airport for a week of riding in Northern Ireland and Donegal.
Being Game of Thrones fans we set out to try and find various filming locations. Sometimes they were clearly marked but sometimes it was rather dubious what was actually filmed there. This beach was absolutely precious but I’m not sure what scenes could have been filmed here, possibly something to do with the dark lord being born. We came badly prepared and mainly just used the theme as an excuse to go places. For the serious fan, there is plenty on the internet to help in the hunt of Game of Thrones filming locations.
We also rode to see the Giant’s Causeway, which I knew nothing about and probably would have passed (lots of tourists) if it hadn’t been for Christopher who insisted we see it. So we went to see it from a lookout point. Then I thought it was enough but Chrstopher insisted we needed to go down and touch the stones and he told me the myth about the giants who built the cause way to be able to meet, or was it fight (?!) and that the stones were hexagons. Well well, the list of things I do for love now also include walking in baking sun to see hexagon stones together with a horde of people. The only reason this was better than my visit to Stonehenge 15 years ago was that it made Christopher happy and we didn’t pay an entrance fee.
We used a hostel in Derry as the base for our excursions. This was convenient, since I had all my camping gear and between the two of us we have more luggage than we can fit on the bike. Poor guys who shared our dorm in the hostel, our bags and gear took up most of the floor. The location proved to be good, we did rides both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, all in all 5 rides – all on fantastic roads and breathtaking scenery. Apparently ,we were lucky with the weather as well, it was windy and we had occasional rain but that is only to expect on a green island.
We did an amazing ride on tiny roads in the Sperrin Mountains, roads too small to find on my map. Christopher did some photo shoots of me riding and we saw some sheep on the loose but hardly any other vehicles. However, we did see a runner, lucky guy! And on second thought, lucky us being on a motorbike 🙂
Ireland has plenty of beautiful beaches, however, at least for us we suspect that the weather will never be warm enough to use them. Others might dissagree, we did see swimmers. And with the wind it must be great for surfing.
This is in Donegal just before a very heavy rain struck us. The mountain reminds me of Mt. Fuji. The weather can change quickly in the mountains and it did so very dramaticlly. Luckily, we had just finished our coffee. Unlucky that I took the wrong decision regarding the rain gear 😛
After a fantastic week riding together I dropped Christopher off at Derry Airport for his return to London. I rode south alone and got back to camping and feeding off tinned food. The luck with the weather was over, from now on it was heavy rain and heavier rain and an occasional sprinkle of rain and glimpse of sun.