Totally Spain       

Barca! Barca! Your Pig Is Ready...

clockSeptember 27, 2009 11:57 by authorDanny

I think we are all in a sensitive mental state after the last two weeks. It seems indulgent to say that but sometimes the extent to which constant physical tiredness has nearly driven me round the twist, has been a surprise. And I thought I was laid back! These reflections are possible now because the three of us are relaxing in the pretty French village of Russan, near Nimes, with our parents who have met us here and are feeding us and treating us like Kings. We are resting for a few days after finishing filming episode two. I have returned to normal (I think), so I can see my angry, exaggerated responses for what they were.  On the road they did seem justified! At times a mere gesture from Ben or Sam, was enough to make me see red. But both brothers have helped me through, both demonstrating wisdom and tolerance. For example, Sam's knowledge from his previous long cycle trips, patiently explaining to me that this quick to anger mental state is normal and that you learn to have extra tolerance for people on a cycle trip, including yourself.  And Ben, who at times has been kindly and motherly towards me, which has helped too.  I have been lucky to have them along to support me but I know I have pushed them! But I do feel a bit wiser myself and I know I wont be as quick to anger on the next leg - I hope.

Adam prepares to debowl his pig as Wood Brothers look on...

So! Here we are in the pretty French village of Russan!  But pigs on spits and Barcelona are the subject of this blog. Our location manager Jason had done a great job getting a colleague of his to actually manufacture an iron spit for us and our chef Adam Melonas had spent a considerable amount of time researching the topic of what the Carthaginians ate and he didnt disappoint. Like a well oiled machine he set to work preparing our three course meal with some help from his trusty assistant Mark. The result was very impressive - a whole pig sizzling on a spit on a beach, which has a very peculiar ambience to it and attracted some attention from at least one passing beach goer. But I felt very alone when I was sampling a leg of this beast. It was fantasically authentic - and with its belly full of local sausages which our chef 'debowled' in front of us, there was no need for the studio to add any special effects afterwards. Adam's effort was a tour de force: from suckling pig, to massive oysters and then the fabulous fruit of figs, peaches and plums - but Carthaginian style food is probably not for me!

Adam slices for the camera...

Then back to Barcelona to attend the big football clash between Barcelona FC and Atletico Madrid. We wanted to test if  Barcelona fans knew that the chant they sing at games: 'Barca! Barca!' is also the nickname for Hannibal's family - according to most translations it means 'Thunderbolt'.  Ben charmed about a dozen fans as we all waited for the big game to start and very few of them knew about this link, but Ben managed to get them to sing and dance for the camera.

Ben talks to a Barcelona fan...

Morning saw us visiting some of the tourist sites in Barcelona - it was quite a shock to be competing with busloads of tourists after our solitary riding in countryside.  We visited the incomplete Gaudi Cathedral and also Casa Batlo and even rode our bikes down the Rambla which was a real challenge because the promenade was wall to wall with live acts, locals and visitors taking a stroll.

But now it is time to have a beer and relax with la famille in this pretty French village, with les enfants playing in the background and a kindly hostess who has just brought us a round of drinks.

Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Cathedral...



Pokemon-Panzerfaust Luscher Personality Colour Study

clockSeptember 25, 2009 03:20 by authorBen

I'm writing to you from a toilet in Pezenas - a lovely medieval town in the heart of the Languedoc in southern France. We have nicknamed Pezenas Peasant's Nest which is actually a petrol station halfway between Sydney and Young. It was here that they used to have a famous "yellow" public phone which if you pressed the follow on button and hung up at the same time it would give you free phone calls anywhere in the world. During research for this blog entry I re-read my diaries from August 1996 - they are guilt ridden lamenting the loss of earnings for Telecom Australia (http://www.google.com/finance?q=ASX:TLS).

In a scientific breakthrough reminiscent of Darwin's theory of evolution in it's profundity and similar to Stone–Čech compactification in it's complexity we have instituted a point system based on the colour of people's cars/shirts. So for example Sam earns points if a person in a red t-shirt gives us directions, Danny loses points if a green car tries to run us off the road and I lose points if a kid in a blue t-shirt plays music out loud on his mobile phone. After 24 hours the point standings are:
Sam-Red: 7
Danny-Green: 0.5 *
Ben-Blue: -0.5 *

* Half points awarded for a bloke in a turquoise shirt - we couldn't decide if that was blue or green?

After another 8 weeks of this we will have the definitive study of the effect of colour on personality. The name  Pokemon-Panzerfaust Luscher Point System came about because on our way back to Elne we had to change trains in Cerbere on the French/Spanish border. We aren't cheating we just had to backtrack to do some filming in Barcelona over the weekend. I went for a run around the town looking for somewhere to buy a little backpack to put the laptop in - you more than likely didn't read about our earlier problems with the broken laptop. We suspect it was damaged by the mechanical bounce of the panniers on the bike. We figured the biological cushion of our bodys might protect it more so we have decided to wear it on our backs. Anyway all I found when searching Cerbere was a Panzerfaust (a World War II anti-tank weapon) in someone's front garden - the place was otherwsie completely deserted. But when we visited "Leclerc" (mammoth supermarket) in Perpignan the perfect fit for the laptop was found in the back to school section - a nice bright Pokemon backpack. It has a dual effect - driver's can see it easily and little kids in French villages point and laugh at you hysterically as you ride past.

Now I can't remember where we rode after Ampurias. North towards the border. Tonnes of apple trees and a great view of the Pyrenees mountains.

Lots of apples

We filmed quite a lot in a "natural park" and then had a massive argument which meant we didn't get to Portbou - only as as far as a town called Llanca before it got dark and rainy. We did some food shopping and the checkout lady knew more about Hannibal than we did (dispelling the checkout chick myth once and for all).

Llanca main square

We had breakfast the next morning in an idiosyncratic place with a resident artist who was a Catalan version of our Australian grandmohter. Her paintings were all over the walls and after complimenting her on their quality (which not all of us agreed upon on) she was over the moon and stood in the middle of the highway to help Jason back the motor home out!

Getting ready for the Pyrenean crossing

Camerman John getting ready for the Pyrenean crossing

We then crossed the border on our way to Elne where Hannibal had his first tense meeting with local Gallic tribes. He gave them lots of presents and they let him through unscathed. We had lunch in a French restaurant called Cara-Sol which was the Falangist anthem during Franco's rule in Spain. Danny realised that after we had left - the lunch was very nice but we were left wondering whether they were nazi sypathisers and whether we had all unknowingly collaborated.

 

Entrance to the old centre of Elne

Elne is a nice little place and the riding around there was nice although an ominous wind started blowing strongly from the north...

Looking south from France towards the Pyrenees

Door of the 12th Century church at Saint-Génis-des-Fountaines

Lintel of the 12th Century church at Saint-Génis-des-Fountaines



How sweet it is to be reclined

clockSeptember 22, 2009 16:18 by authorSam

A long day’s ride started with a stop after 3 kms at a possible ancient monument to the two Scipios, who were killed by Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother. After a lengthy argument between Sam and Danny over its origins, which could have been caused by the fact that the stop was for something other than coffee - all of course recorded on film for posterity, normal service continued with a long ride ahead from Tarragona to Canet de Mar, north of Barcelona.

We rode through resort after resort, sticking to the beach promenades, trying as long as we could to avoid the busy roads which run into Barcelona however much too soon they ran out and there was no choice but to cycle a line, sticking to the shoulder of the road when there was one and duck as trucks thundered by....

Danny stocking up on essential healthy supplies at the beach before the highway onslaught

We arrived late but to an excellent dinner cooked by director Robin who has kindly cooked us pasta for our arrival on many late evenings - an essential part of the diet if you want to survive 10 weeks cycling.

Director Robin issuing orders to the crew

An early start and an essential 3km mark stop, coffee. Unfortunately Hannibal didn’t really do much around Barcelona! However once on the road proper we cut across country heading for Ampurias, a great Greek, then Roman city on the north coast of Spain.

It got a bit hilly and as we got to the highest point in the area a very floppy eared tired looking dog ran out onto the road looking quite lost... Our cameraman John quickly befriended him - Luckily the dog had a collar with a phone number and after more than 10 calls we found out that the dog was indeed lost and had been for 3 days, the owners were definitely useless and found it difficult to commit to even coming to get the dog. We meanwhile were negotiating with the rest of the crew to delay our descent to Ampurias to save the dog...it was getting quite tense but eventually a balance was struck and a decision made. The owners committed to coming for the dog and we left him with water, tied up but quite comfortable. John kept in close contact with the owners, ringing every five minutes until he confirmed they had him safe and sound.

 

John with floppy eared dog, who was very glad to see a friendly face, especially one who feeds him chorizo,

We descended fast and visited a great Iberian site - Ullastret, a massive walled fortress which I imagine Hannibal, as he was quite sensible would have ignored on his march north.

In most of our photos when we are not filming or riding we seem to be eating!

We arrived at the campsite which was quite reminiscent of the Shining, rows and rows of cabins, toilet blocks and tent sites with no one in them and everything being closed up for the end of the season.

Ampurias was excellent, Hannibal may or may not have visited there but the city was thriving at the time and they definitely feared his coming as they built bigger walls when they knew he was marching up the coast. Ampurias is a fantastic ruin - separate Greek and Roman cities, right on the coast with a huge ancient pier and a quality mosaic which has an inscription - 'how sweet it is to be reclined' in the dining room which would have had, in technical terms, those nice couches you always imagine Romans lying back on as they eat grapes....the local tv also turned up for an interview, and Ben said a lot of things he maybe shouldn't have - luckily in English and if you watch the tv clip you may pick them out!

Sam interviewing the local expert archaeologist Marta Santos Retolaza of the Museum of Archaeology at Ampurias

Next stop the Pyrenees as we escape Spain.....



Report from Canal 10 in Catalonia

clockSeptember 21, 2009 08:32 by authorBen

Recently in Ampurias local TV came to interview us - here is the report (in Catalan!):

http://noticies.lescala-empuries.com/noticia/191/la-bbc-filma-a-empries



Is this a rice?

clockSeptember 21, 2009 03:09 by authorBen

We rode through rice paddies for nearly two days around Valencia and all I could think of is this excellent and inexplicably deleted scene from Borat:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igPkQeH5xI4

 

Danny and Sam verses the combine harvester



Rice Paddies, Deliverance and it Rained

clockSeptember 20, 2009 02:00 by authorDanny

Nine days on the road and we all feel quite tired.  Dinner tonight was much less noisy than it was back at the beginning of our trip in Cartagena, but we all feel much more at ease together - silences are very comfortable. It is strange though when the the only time you get to yourself is in bed, on the loo or in the shower. I am writing from a campsite in the town of Elne on the French side of the Pyrenees.  Internet access continues to be a bit tricky because of filming, long rides and late arrivals at destinations and so there are a few blog days to catch up, starting in our campsite on the beach south of the Ebro Delta last Sunday that seems like a month ago. This was a rest day but after it we didnt really feel rested at all.  Our muscles were still are stiff from riding and we all have a strange drained and slightly dazed feeling that doesnt leave us.  It was a real physical struggle to get going at 730am but we were all looking forward to visiting the Ebro Delta, touted as home for Europe's biggest population of migratory birds and a protected natural park.

Cycling in the Ebro Delta

It was certainly a strange massive expanse of flat reedy swamp - but much of it appeared to be actively farmed as rice paddies and there was a lot of rubbish all over the place.  Not exactly virgin delta by any streatch of the imagination and the birds were not exactly plentiful - but the mosquitoes were! The whole delta and its scattering of small villages seemed very cut off from the mainland and the atmosphere was a bit odd at times - like you weren't really welcome round here or somethin', if you get my drift.  Sitting down to some sandwiches after filming us riding up and down the rice paddies a few times we were wondering how it was going to be possible for us to cycle from the Ebro to north of Tarragona - about 90 km - starting at 430pm in the afternoon. First we had to cross the Ebro - we did that one on of those rare and disappearing transport systems - the car ferry. 

Crossing the Ebro by car ferry and interviewing Tomas the ferryman.

The driver, called Tomas, was very nice and let us board and re-board to get our filming done and also told us that it was possible Hannibal crossed using similar transport guided by his boating ancestor more than two thousand years ago. The days of this Ebro car ferry are numbered - a big cement bridge extends into the water alongside and is half built. From the other side we did few circles in the local village and then put the pace on to try and reach our campsite by nightfall.  Friendly locals guided us out to the highway in their car but soon afterwards Ben got a puncture, his first of two that afternoon! And both Ben and Sam had headaches.  Ben still managed to drag us all up a very long hill in nasty traffic and Sam bolted along the straights and somehow we managed to make a triumphant entry into Tarragona.  It's wide promenade down to the beach lined with attractive buildings was the most elegant thing we'd seen all trip. We arrived at a fantastic campsite full of big cypress trees alongside the beach and to a welcome pasta pre-dinner prepared by our Director Robin. As you may know, you get so hungry on long bike rides all you want when you arrive is food!

It was rainy in the morning but we went in to Tarragona to get some breakfast and film some footage of us around its Roman ruins that include an amphitheatre and also other impressive remains like its castle that dominates the centre of town.  It was slippery and wet as we set off for Barcelona along a mixture of beach promenades and difficult highways - like the good old N340 that has accompanied us all the way from Cartagena. We then did a pretty grim streatch of coastal road from Bacelona to Mataro and on to our campsite in rush hour traffic and rain.

But it was lovely and sunny the next morning as we headed for a big location in terms of the telling of our Hannibal story - the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Emporias

Rainy in Tarragona



Saguntum and the end of Episode 1

clockSeptember 16, 2009 13:41 by authorSam

On the walls of Saguntum

Saguntum was the final stop for Episode 1 and it was a fitting one. As we rode into the gates we were greeted by a screaming guard who Danny took a particular dislike too, which was fair enough. However it is a great castle and we filmed all around it - Danny interviewed the local expert who was very nervous but put in a good performance. Ben did an excellent piece to camera which finished with him pointing and staring down the potential viewers (there are about 10 so far including Mum and the tennis girls). After a long morning of filming which went surprisingly well we searched for lunch - we first sat at one place Casa Eugenio, run solo by Eugenio, we sat for 30 mins and gave up, then we were refused entry to one place due to our bikes, another was full and by the time we got to the last restuarant in town it was shutting - after little breakfast and 4pm approaching everyone was getting quite cutty ie angry. Luckily a supermarket was found and normality restored and we were back on our bikes by 4:30...

Looking up at the castle while Sam does a PTC.

Danny interviewing the local expert

 

We rode aiming to get as far north as possible, knowing we had to be at the Ebro the following afternoon -150km north of Saguntum. We made it to Benicassim where conveniently there was a bikie convention who seeing us in our primary colours on our push bikes wolf whistled. We did find a very good campsite with a very nice receptionist. We spent our first night alone, the crew had gone on ahead and luckily were able to watch Troy in spanish which was almost as good as it is in english.

The next morning we got on our bikes early and rode on and without any filming to do made it to the campsite in very good time.  We thoroughly enjoyed relaxations by the beach and looked forward - with eager anticipation for our legs' sakes - to the next day which was our rest day......

 

Episode 1 ends with 561km ridden, 3 punctures, 76 coffees (Danny accounting for around 50 %), 7 1/2 hours of footage...

 



Prostitutes, Elephants and Wolfgang

clockSeptember 14, 2009 05:08 by authorBen

Parc Municipal in Elche

Sam was propositioned in the toilets at Los Llanos campsite just north of Denia a couple of nights ago. We spotted an elderly woman in the toilets and I turned away pretending I wasn’t looking in case she was in the middle of something but just as I did she raised her dress to show Sam her toilet area! Sam was quite shocked but still slept very well that night and we were up early to ride to El Saler just south of Valencia.

Just after talking with Matthew Lloyd

First stop was breakfast in Oliva in a very local café – a bloke turned up with a Police band on his ankle to buy beers at 8am. We then spent 5 hours looking for an internet café to send off photos we promised to the Costa Brava News.

We met Robin, John and Jason in the very flat Parc Natural de Albufera just south of Valencia and did heaps of filming riding up and around the rice paddies. They are harvesting at the moment so we were dodging mammoth combine harvesters whilst filming out the back of the van in beautiful evening light.

Rice paddies

Next morning was the elephants in Valencia’s Bioparc. The elephant keeper Angel was pretty amazing with them – they’d grab him with their trunks and they would obey his commands like dogs. Such friendly, sweet and sad eyes they’ve got – they reminded me of Sam and Isi’s dog Balius. He also told us that African and Indian elephants are equally easy to train – basically as long as they know you are the boss they will do anything for you – including attacking people he thought. Which was interesting as some historians automatically rule out Hannibal having African elephants as they claim they are impossible to train as war elephants. He also told us that they are very nimble animals - anywhere a human can go an elephant can too. So getting them over the more difficult Alpine passes wouldn't have been a problem. 

Danny and Angel mid interview when a worker started his grinder

One of John’s friends Mark – an English Valencian resident came along too and recommended a paella restaurant down on the beach. It was actually pretty filth and our waiter kept coughing and hawking all over our food – wiping our plates with his hand etc! Eventually Mark said yeah this place isn’t so good why did you come here?! We left pretty late on a very hot ride north – Sam wasn’t feeling too well – an allergic reaction to biting into some rice husks day before? So we slowly continued up the coast – along a bad, bumpy gravel track, then some highway and then a really nice stretch along a beach promenade to our campsite. All of us completely rooted and the dueno of the campsite was a slightly mad German called Wolfgang who told us Hannibal lost a battle near there in 231BC which is completely wrong.

Danny forgot to recount Jason's best joke - he told Danny that Samoa were swapping the side they drive on in stages. Cars on the first day and trucks and buses the day after. DJ was convinced for about 30 seconds!

Jumbo eating all the carrots



Palm Trees and Cycling Experts

clockSeptember 12, 2009 16:36 by authorDanny

Alicante, Benidorm, Denia...legendary places for the northern European tourist and we cycled in or past all of them during a day that now seems like another holiday! Some exhausting riding on hot and pretty horrid highways a lot of the time, but then we rode a quiet minor road inland from Benidorm and everything changed.  We could see the skyscrapers disappearing in the distance as we climbed into forested hills - I didnt think we'd feel like we were in the Alps on day three! Our crew of Robin, Jason and John filmed us from the big home campervan with its open back window and (so they tell us!) got some lovely shots of us struggling up the inclines.  At one point, as we waited for John to set up the camera to record us observing a magnificent view towards the resort town of Denia from a mountain top, we chatted about the need to be competent actors for the purposes of this documentary, which none of us are.   I (Danny) was so tired I actually believed Sam when he told a long fib about how he performed the role of Julius Caesar in the Shakespeare play of the same name in a play at University.  After five minutes of details from Sam, incuding "Well yes they decided to do a more serious play that year" and "Yes there were a lot of lines, but I learnt them okay", I was actually getting jealous of Sam´s acting pedigree when it finally dawned on me that Sam was telling a tall story.  All I could think to say was, "That was a long joke!".  Ben was so tired he laughed hysterically.  What a contrast between this idyllice mountain ride and the highway between Alicante and Benidorm.  After filming on the beach promenade in Alicante (that is dominated by it's adjacent multi-lane highway) we entertained the vain hope that the beach walkway might take us some of the way to Benidorm, but it stopped abrubtly and we had to back-track, ride along the main highway and pretty soon found ourselves in a scarey tunnel in pitch black with cars zooming past.  

We've all had a puncture - Ben´s had two - here are Ben and Sam, after happily taking care of a puncture on a highway outside Cartagena.

Riding along the promenade in Benidorm.

We lived to reach Benidorm which didn't disappoint if you are a fan of skycrapers (which I am) - but there are just too many of them here! But what a fantasic beach - two massive semi-circular curves of sand, on one side the sea, but on the other side a continuous line of concrete.  From a distance it looks quite spectacular but up close it is a little depressing - and I'm the optimist of our group.  You'd think that sort of attention to architectural beauty would kill the goose that lays the golden tourism egg, but even in this economic crisis there still seem to be plenty of people around, manning the promenades and eating in the restaurants.

After completing the 90 km to our campsite, about twenty km south of Valencia, we joined the crew for dinner in a modest little restaurant.  We were very thirsty! The signs were not good when, as the waitress poured some of us beers, she declared that there was no water! (this should only happen in Australia I thought) Cameraman John - always charmingly angry about anything that might impact on us or him in negative way was about to get very upset - but when it turned out there was water, just no sparkling mineral water we sighed relief and sat down.  But the warning signs were were back when it was clear the waitress was our chef as well, but she did a fantastic job and we dined, in record time, on tasty salads, steaks, chicken breasts and plates of grilled vegetables - and a few more beers and a bottle of wine.  Her efforts now seem remarkable compared to where we had lunch today in Sagunto, or didn't have lunch.  The first place in a small plaza near the town hall was also a one man show, but after twenty minutes of waiting to get a menu we gave up and left.  Another option was another solo waitress/chef operation and was too busy to feed us and then we arrived at another place to find the the elderly waiter (and probably chef as well) closing the shutters declaring "We stop serving lunch at 4pm" (lunch in Spain often starts after 3pm). The supermarket was a much better bet.

Which reminds me, for some reason, that we are travelling with two great comedians.  John our camerman, apart from being fantastic with the camera, is very funny, even when he is not trying to be.  At a recent campsite when we were rolling in on the bikes  some time after the crew had turned up in the campervan, he gave us a stark warning as we came in the gate.  As he walked towards us with the campsite owner at his side, he mouthed the words "everyone is mad here" as the owner warmly welcomed us.  That was funnier at the time.  Jason, our location manager, apart from being a handyman whiz and brainstrust of practical suggestions is great for impersonations and witticisms.  I mentioned that this sort of documentary life that was are lucky enough to lead at the moment, however fun, could be tough on relationships, to which he responded, "What's the problem! girlfriends and wives these days really have a cheek don't they? I mean, you're away for three months at a time, you're in Spain, it's practically a holiday, what are they compaining about?".

One place that might make a lot of people at home jealous is the town of Elche. This is possibly where Hannibal's father Hamilcar died saving his sons Hannibal and Hasdrubal from a surprise attack by Spanish tribes.  The place is more like one big palm grove than a town and you really feel like you are in the Middle East rather than Europe.  We have some great photos on our other, better camera which will go up on the blog very soon.  For the first time on our trip, we spoke to two amateur cyclists who were passing through, one of whom seemed to regard himself as the most experienced and professional cyclist in the world and couldn't stop telling us about it.  What a contrast with Mat Lloyd, one of Australia's best cyclists, taking part in La Vuelta, Spain's version of the Tour de France, that was passing through Alicante. We spoke to Mat in the morning on Tuesday before he got back in the saddle. His team - Silence-Lotto - was coming second at the time and had been first. Mat was as relaxed as you like and chatted to us like we were all surfing buddies.

That all seems like so long ago! We've already passed through Valencia and met some lovely sweet eyed elephants and today visited the fantastic castle ruin of Sagunto (Hannibal`s siege of this town in 219 BC started the Second Punic War).  More on those in our next installment..

Filming in rice paddy fields south of Valencia.

The masters behind the lense, left of the camera in the hat is cameraman John and to the right is Director Robin, in the old town of Sagunto before we head up the hill to film in the castle ruins.

 

 

 



BBC History Magazine

clockSeptember 12, 2009 15:56 by authorBen

Sorry it has taken ages to update our blog. Our computer broke - too many bumpy roads - and we have been filming and riding all day every day recently so we haven´t had a chance. But Danny wrote this for the BBC History Magazine blog:

http://www.bbchistorymagazine.com/blog/and-so-it-begins-0

And Hasdrubal (Javier Roca) from the Cartagena Carthaginian and Roman Society sent this very good photo.




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About the authors

Danny, Ben and Sam Wood are three brothers who followed in the footsteps of three ancient Carthaginian brothers Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. They cycled from Cartagena, Spain to Zama, Tunisia - the route that Hannibal and his army took over 2200 years ago. Along the way they filmed a documentary to be aired on the BBC in July 2010.

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