First of all, the type of distance bike riding that Jeff and I do would not necessarily be considered “bike touring.” Bike touring typically involves a bike similar to a mountain bike that is packed with gear on both the front and the back. It also involves riding 40-50 miles over the course of a 12-14 hour day. Those who have biked with us across the USA know that we do not “bike tour.” We, unfortunately” bike “race” on road bikes that are loaded with gear in the rear section. Because of the fact that we have gotten stuck in many towns dealing with phone issues, we have been forced to bike ride as fast as possible in the shortest amount of time possible to our next destination. Add to this the fact that Jeff thinks he is riding his own version of the Tour de France everyday ( no matter what country we are in) and you have a recipe for a fairly miserable riding experience. The only saving grace is that we have had the opportunity to ride through some of the most spectacular places on the planet. But for all intent and purposes, we have yet to “cycle tour.” We are riding road bikes that have an added 50 lbs on them as fast as possible! This is what happens when you are up against time deadlines ( we must make it to Vienna by June 20) and your husband rides as if he is a pro rider!
And bike touring in countries where you cannot read any of the road signs nor can you read anything on the menus does have its challenges. We have been asked by many people reading the blog if we are enjoying the food. It is really hard to enjoy food in countries where salads cost $15 and fast food is NOT an option. Food has been a constant challenge for us in the sense that we need to eat alot of food, we need to eat it fast,and it needs to be cheap. Cheap, fast, and volume are NOT words that would describe eating in European countries. Fast food does not exist. Cheap food does not exist. Eating lunch or dinner involves eating in a cafe or restaurant where they serve small amounts of food at a very high price and the service is usually very slow. But what does exist are utterly unbelievable pastry and bread stores that serve the most delectable croissants and tarts and bread known to man. In Portugal these establishments were called Pastelerias. In Spain they were called Pastelerias or Confeiterias. In France they are called Boulengeries or Patisseries. And these places are EVERYWHERE! It is not like you have to go out of your way to find them. They are on every corner of ever town and the bigger the town the bigger the selection of goodies! Eating breakfast has truly been the best experience of the trip thus far. Portuguese “pastelerias” featured croisaants with melted chocolate that simply oozed out of the croissant. Spain had a new twist on pastries as they added chocolate to just about every thing they served. We discovered chocolate covered churros in Spain. These involved plates of fried churros and were served with huge cups of thick melted chocolate that was used for dipping. OMG – the best eating experience ever! France has now introduced us to more chocolate croissants but they have added endless baguettes of french bread, fresh fruit tarts topped with whipped cream, Meringue filled croissants and tarts, and Meringue “cookies” the size of small plates. Jeff and I are now consistently eating up to 4 pastries every day/morning and we begin every bike ride by seeking out the local pastry joint. Eating all of these carbs has definitely affected the waste line! I am justifying all of the pastry eating by rationalizing that you only live once and who knows when I will ever be able to enjoy these yummy deserts / pastries again!
On the topic of food I would also like to mention that all of the “real” food that we have eaten in Portugal, Spain, and France has been fresh food! We were exposed to alot of french fries in Portugal but in general the food has always been locally grown and fresh. No preservatives! In the small towns in France they have a store for every type of food. So if you want your meat you must go to the meat store. For bread you go the bread store. Vegies and fruits must be purchased at the produce store. And cheese? Well that too must also be purchased at its own location! The cheese in France is AMAZING! We have been able to eat cheese that has come directly from the farm. The same is true with the meats! I do not think it is like this is the bigger cities but in the small towns the people simply eat the food that is grown locally. They bring their small wicker baskets to town and simply fill them with food from the local stores. There are even artisans that make the baskets for people to use! Truly an amazing way to live and I wish Americans could go back to living like this.
Back to eating lunch and dinner… Jeff and I have finally figured out that we need to simply buy baguettes of bread, a head of lettuce, and some local meat from the butcher and we can eat a meal that is filling and half the cost of eating in a cafe ( and 5x as fast).
But wait ….I have not addressed the ALCOHOL situation in these countries! So in Portugal, Spain, and France the beer and wine are cheaper than soda ( coke) and are simply part of every eating experience. In Spain I saw people drinking beer with their pastries! Jeff and I have finally started to experiment with the wines of the French regions we have been riding through and what an awesome experience that has been. Full bottles of great wine are only $3-$5!! The problem is that we cannot drink full bottles of wine AND we cannot take bottles with us on the bikes ( although we have seriously contemplated doing this) so we are always forced to leave bottles behind at cafes. In fact, there is so much wine in France ( at least in the regions where we have been riding) that there are large wine bottle recycing receptacles on almost every corner. We have noticed that people are constantly dumping copious amounts of bottles into these receptacles. Have I mentioned how good the wine is???
And last but not least..this thing called “Siesta” –
So in Portugal, Spain, and France almost all of the stores ( from food to gift to clothes) close from 2-5 everyday! This presents quite a challenge when you pull into a town dying of starvation only to find that you have hit the town during the “off” hours. What is even more odd is that all of the people in a town simply disappear during these hours. I have nicknamed it the “abduction hour’ as it seems as if all of the people are abducted by aliens and delivered back to earth 3 hours later.” We have now learned to plan a bit better in terms of carrying some food in case we get caught in town during siesta. In addition to “siesta” we have also had to deal with the fact that all stores are closed all day on Sundays.
The moral of this post…. like all creatures in a new land we must learn to adapt to the new environment in order to survive. Drink the wine, eat the bread, don’t eat between 2-5 pm, and no food on Sundays 🙂