• The Bean

    A Cup Above the Rest

    In many respects, this journey did not start in London. It began in Lancaster. And where better than to embark on a coffee-inspired bike ride to Ethiopia other than the historic premises of master tea blenders and coffee roasters, J. Atkinson & Co.? Established in 1837 as the Grasshopper Tea Warehouse, J. Atkinson & Co. has traded from its China Street premises since 1901 and is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the city’s illustrious heritage. Walk into the welcoming premises of this family-run business and the first thing that greets you is the warm, enticing aroma of the artisan roasted coffee bean. Pause for a moment, and the…

  • Spain

    The Dark Side of Barcelona (parte dos)

    I wonder what Don Quixote would have made of Barcelona in 21st century Catalunya. Would he have tilted at wind turbines? Or jousted with Gaudi’s larger-than-life lizards? Maybe, the Man from La Mancha, and his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza, would have shored up the city’s defenses with a two-man bulwark in an effort to repel the chaotic crowds that surge up Las Ramblas, believing them to be the advancing enemy? And, as for a ‘plague’ of thieves and villains, what would have the knight errant resorted to in his chivalrous bid to rid the world of evil-doers and scoundrels? All said and done, only the late – and great –…

  • Spain

    The Sunny Side of Barcelona (parte uno)

    A Catalan new year was heralded in with a noisy fiesta of fireworks, lighting up the clear starlit night sky over Barcelona. Five floors up in the heart of El Gótico, the panoramic views from the bijou ‘atico’ flat of good friend (and Warmshowers host), Richie Thomas, conjure up a world-gone-by-vista punctuated with richly decorated mosaic church spires and rambling apartment terraces stretching as far as the eye can see. In the distance is the table-top hill of Montjuic overlooking the harbor. This unassuming terrace affords one of the best views of the Neo-Classical spires of the Correos (Post Office) in one direction and the venerated 18th century baroque Basilica…

  • Spain

    Stopover in San Sebastián

    Never having straightened a wheel in my life before and reluctant to carry out my first lesson in wheel truing on the roadside, I resign to take the train rather than cycle the 100kms to San Sebastián. This also buys me more time in Bilbao so it’s straight to the Guggenheim… Stunning. The railway follows the exact route that I intend to cycle and it takes me two guilty hours instead of two days. Leaving the bike maintenance for mañana, some serious R&R follows. The next few days are spent refueling on delicious Tapas and pottering around the picturesque narrow alleyways in the Parte Vieja (Old Part). Bliss. The walk…

  • Spain

    A Boxing Day drop into Bilbao

    Under a clear blue sky and with a keen wind behind me, the scene was set for a perfect ride. To one side was the Atlantic Ocean and the other, views of the snow-capped Cantabrian foothills in the distance. For the first time, I could feel the warmth of the winter sun’s rays on my face and felt like I had finally found my rhythm on the bike. The road gently unfolded through quiet villages, pine forests and farmland pastures before hugging the rugged coastline again. Stopping off only for a lunch, the entire day was spent blissfully on the saddle and I was confident of getting to Bilbao in…

  • Spain

    A Convento Christmas

    It’s December 24th. The atrocious weather continues without let up. Gale-force gusts of wind turn my Ortlieb panniers into sails (and not necessarily in the right direction of travel), making for slow progress. So much so, I only manage to cycle the 40kms of undulating coastline to reach the historic harbour town of Loredo just before nightfall. In the dying light of day, I cycle through the town’s narrow cobbled roads and soon emerge from the north side looking for a good spot to camp; mindful to keep a distance from any more hay bales and curious farmers. The skies open again with yet another downpour. As I reach a…

  • Spain

    The Stealth Camp that wasn’t so Stealthy

    Leaving the fair shores of Blighty on a cold but crystal clear day, only to arrive in Santander the following morning under brooding, ominous skies was not supposed to be in the script. No sooner had I hit the road the skies opened with a vengeance, proceeding to bucket hail and driving rain in unimaginable quantities for the rest of the day. Determined to to put as much distance between the port and my first night on the Iberian Peninsula, I managed to find a secluded spot about 45kms due east of Santander overlooking a sleepy valley dotted with rustic farmhouses. I didn’t sleep much that night as I was…

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  • Spain

    Bon Voyage

    After the round of emotional farewells with family and friends, the Big Day finally arrived. Like a meeting with an old friend who you haven’t seen for years, you prepare yourself for how you are going to react, hoping that the moment isn’t going to be forced or uncomfortable. When it did finally arrive, it felt as natural as a proverbial duck to water although somewhat tinged with sadness, excitement and apprehension as I was waved goodbye by my dear sister Catherine, from her North London home. By coincidence, it happened that my departure from London to Plymouth by train also fell on the auspicious day of the 21st December…

  • The Bike

    Steel is Real

    S0, let’s get straight to the point, steel is real. The only material that can be forged into a diamond geometry that offers the most durable, load-bearing bike frame at an affordable price.  And so, after hours of painstaking research, I settled on putting my faith in the good people at Thorn Cycles in Bridgewater, Somerset, to build a bike that will withstand the many bumps, pot holes, uneven dirt tracks and all the abuse that terra firma can inflict along the winding road ahead. With 35 kilos on the front and rear pannier racks combined and another 80 kilos (I could lose a few!) on the saddle, it has…

  • The Bean

    In the Beginning…

    It is told that the rejuvenating and stimulating effects of the coffee bean plant were first discovered in Ethiopia by an Abyssinian goat herder, named Kaldi, back in the 9th century. One day, while Kaldi was tending to his goats, he grew tired and decided to take a quick nap. He later awoke to find his goats dancing gleefully around him. Kaldi decided to investigate what was causing his goats to behave so energetically. Following them, he was led to a certain bush that produced an abundance of bright red, yellow and green berries. After tasting a small handful, Kaldi began to experience a similar elation that he had observed…