Portu-blog - A salutary tale of French Furniture (not FF)

It only gets interesting when things go wrong. I suspect Tom would rather this thing had not gone wrong.
(pictures under Touring)

4 riders: destination Portugal
St Malo to Bordeaux on the first day, and there is plenty of decent riding to be had on the N- and D-Roads. Only excitement that night was managing to lock a room key in the restaurant when the owner had left us late-night chatting. A bit of burglary solved that.
First session next day was the Bordeaux plain – trees as far as the eye could see and arrow-straight roads. A snippet of autoroute around Bayonne /Biarritz reminded us how unpleasant that can be, and then we were inland for the joys of the Pyrenees.

If ever there was an off that should not have happened, it was Tom’s. We were dawdling through the little village of Larsessore, just short of the Spanish border. I was leading and Tom was at the tail, which is where he likes to be. As I left the village, I was suddenly alone, so I retraced and pulled up alongside Steve and Mark, who seemed to have frozen.
Tom’s down said Steve.
Looking back down the road into the village I could see two cars stopped and a heap in the road. How on earth? No time to answer, we just had to cope with the situation. The ‘heap’ turned out to be Tom, prone, and obviously in great pain – alongside his battered bike and in front of a bent BMW. The lady driver was tending Tom, as was another driver. Tom was conscious and talking; the main area of pain being his groin, which had been splattered against the tank, but legs and arms were also painful. All services had been called, and police were very quickly on the scene. English was in short supply, so I did most of the communication, but everyone was very calm and helpful – even the lady who’s BMW had been bent was far more concerned for Tom’s welfare (he always has had a way with the ladies).
Trying to piece together the crash, we had to conclude that Tom’s inattention had been the direct cause, but indirectly it was caused by poorly designed ‘street furniture’. At this point, a LH curve, the RH pavement had been extended into the road by a yard and the centre of the curve had been ordained with a raised section – painted brick set into the road surrounding a gravel-topped surface. The road around the brick was also painted. Tom had apparently slightly cut the corner, taking him over the painted edge. This had taken his front wheel away and the consequences wer only stopped by the BMW coming the other way. A tiny miscalculation and how quickly things change. The pictures still make me ask how?, but it happenned.
After sorting the formalities, the ambulance took Tom back to Bayonne hospital. The bulk of his Varadero was hauled onto the recovery truck and the remaining bits were swept into the verge - the only evidence left of the disastrous scene of an hour earlier.
Sheepishly riding back to Bayonne, and locating the hospital, we contemplated what might remain of our holiday. After 2 hours of silence, we got a phone call from Tom (it seems the French don’t ban mobiles in hospitals, like what we do!). He seemed more cheerful than he deserved. Nothing had been found to be broken, although some X-ray results were still due and he was unlikely to be getting his way with any ladies soon.
I cancelled that night’s hotel in Spain and located one in Bayonne. Eventually Tom was discharged, although he still could not walk. The prescription was as long as the two crutches included on it. Making our way to the pharmacy, I considered this must cost us many Euros, so we were agreeably surprised to only pay 58€ for the whole lot – including buying the crutches. I organised a taxi for Tom to get to the hotel and we followed Steve’s GPS instructions to find it (don’t get me started on GPS, but it was useful in this case!). We settled into our recuperation evening and contemplated the rest of our holiday, deciding not to make any decisions until Tom had slept on his injuries.
In the morning – joy! - we still had a holiday. Tom was more mobile and determined not to let this minor mishap get in the way of our trip. He would hire a car and follow us to Portugal. As all hotels were booked, his insurers would pay for the car (sorry they could not do a bike, even if he could ride one) and then fund the flight back from Biarritz on the return leg.
That was how we ended up with a 24 hour delay in our travel plans and were accompanied to Portugal by a Citroën C3.

Change is as good as a rest
The changing scenery is what keeps travel alive and bikers are more in tune with the scenery than anyone. The Pyrenees are green on the French side and red on the other – thanks to the rainfall and the rock. Coming down onto the plains of Spain; Pamplona and beyond, there was plenty of interest about, including some very demanding roads up the Sierra de la Demanda and on to the monastery village of Santo Domingo de Silas, where we arrived only a day late. Great roads, few cars, great scenery and sunshine, this was what we came for!
Next day was different but equally rewarding. We kept to the back roads, but could still make very good progress outside the towns. This was Spanish wild west country. The lunch stop seemed to cause some friendly local interest in a sleepy bar, where we ordered beer and tapas. Crossing into Portugal over the Rio Douro, the scenery changed again, with the locals now more evident and the villages more frequent – almost UK -like.

Peninsular wars 1
Both Spain and Portugal keep the speeders out of villages by radar-controlled lights. If you are a fraction over, the lights will go red. If however you are sufficiently fast, they will not react in time and the lights will stop the guy behind you! Many locals operate on the second principle. The trigger seemed so sensitive; we thought they must be set at less than the 50kph limit. Initially it becomes a game not to get caught by them. Eventually it becomes a pain.

Manteigas – Portugal
Manteigas, in the Serra da Estrela hides away in the hills and has a labyrinth of tiny cobbled streets on steep slopes. These might be a nightmare if wet, but happily we never found out. The hotel was in fact a very exclusive B&B in a massive old work-house, with huge stone steps, ornate sculptures, Catholic icons, a Pool table and a good breakfast. Restaurants in the town were quaintly disorganised compared to the immaculate service in France, but the prices reflected that, with a full evening meal including wine and beer rarely costing more than 15€ per head. This must be the one of the cheapest places in the Euro-zone. Occasionally the local food was not to our taste – like in a smart restaurant by the banks of a river. They welcomed dirty bikers at lunchtime, but the salted-cod-pie did not go down well.
Manteigas has 3 roads out. The best surfaced, we had arrived on. Another climbs through the woods with innumerable hairpins and breath-taking views at the top. The other runs up a glacier valley to a moraine-laden plateau at 2000m. There is a skiing area at the top, as well as radar and wireless towers. The strength of the wireless tower was evident in that Steve’s alarm ceased to de-activate, so after our coffee stop, we had to push the screaming beast away, until it could be silenced.
New road-surfaces are almost everywhere and are immaculate – sparkling granite and billiard table smooth. My map is from 2006, but we still found completely new unmarked roads. As Steve remarked: our own private race-track. Not that we are irresponsible, but faced with immaculate curves, glistening in the sun, we all weaken….

A comment from this trip was that we live in a very crowded island, with massive traffic problems and appalling local roads. How come, in Portugal, they have very little traffic, and yet have spent billions on these fantastic surfaces? Yes, exceptionally, you can still find some older surfaces which have been patched up, but the EU must have poured money in here to encourage development. Go and use it before they start!

Hire cars go faster
Once, when a section of road had been closed by an accident, we attempted to go round on the minor roads. This proved impossible, when the minor roads petered out into dirt tracks and we considered that to be a little unfair on Tom’s hire car. As it was, he drove the wheels off that little Citroën; only failing to really keep up, when slower traffic resisted his demon overtaking manoeuvres. The hire company may yet ask how the hobbling invalid who hired the small diesel runabout, managed to bring it back a week later with 2000 kms on the clock and 4 worn-out tyres. As it is, there are rumours that Portuguese police are still looking for 3 bikes and a mad Frenchman.

Peninsular wars 2
The Brits have a bit of a history in Portugal; where Wellington – assisted by Sean Bean - fought a defensive war against Napoleon. We did not get as far as the lines of Torres Vedras, but we did have a historical visit to Buçaco -, the scene of one of his victories – until the French found a way around him. All this historical stuff made us glad we live in a now peaceful Europe – even if bits of it are bankrupt. Cheap beer, food and great roads – if this is bankruptcy can we be next?