Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Roadside garbage – an international survey

Here’s a summary of roadside garbage I have noticed while biking I’m various countries:

Japan: none. Littering is shameful.
USA: beer cans, fast food wrappers
Western Canada: beer cans, shredded truck tires, Coke bottles of urine
Ontario: beer cans (king cans), Tim Hortons cups
France: crushed driverside sideview mirrors from clipping oncoming traffic and very little else
Spain: beer cans, TVs, fast food wrappers, cigarette cartons, liquor bottles, diapers, sofas, pregnancy test kits, plastic bags of unknown waste, etc.

Day 12: A day went missing, and Elkartuna!

Arrette  to Elizonza 104km, 1340m

This is going to sound strange, but there’s a day missing in my recollection of the trip. For reasons having to do with Internet connectivity, it just isn’t possible to write this blog entries live, which is why they come in clumps. I know that when I woke up on August 28th, I was in Arrette. And on the 29th, I arrived in Elizonda, Spain. There’s a 104km between them, but I think I spread it out over two days.

I regret not having brushed up on my Basque.  It started a few days ago with a bit of Basque, but now there’s nothing but Basque for a lot of the time. This looks like no language I have ever seen.

I have no problem with minority languages, but the pure practicality of it must hurt their tourism. The map I have nicely transfers from French to Spanish when crossing the border.  The erasing of Basque signs started yesterday, but it is increasing now. And the Spanish names look nothing like the Basque, so I’m trying to navigate using place names in a different language.

More on navigating in Spain in the next entry…

Day 9 – Arruns to Arrette

73km, 1500m of climb

Today, lots of French amateur cyclists whipping by. Dozens of them, all happy to be outdoors, not realizing how much easier they have it.

I spent some time thinking about the different regions of France I’ve been to, and there’s definitely an uptick around here. The abandoned towns have disappeared and there’s a lot more French plates from abroad, plus some Spanish ones.

I was ready to arrete when I came across Arrette; not because there were any huge hills up ahead or anything, I’d just sort of had it. I’d done the math, and there really was quite a bit of slack in the schedule. So I rang the bell, got a room, took a shower. This room did have a south-facing window, and the eternally wet clothes from yesterday were dry just like that.

I hung out for a beer enjoying the little town, and befriended some intelligent Brits who had rented a house for the week nearby. They’d just gotten there, and were exploring the town, and would I like to join them for dinner? So I biked on over to their place, and had a fantastic bean/sausage casserole dish, plus rice and salad. I think I ate as much as they did combined. It was excellent.

And they were smart; they had some informed opinions about American and British politics, and it was thefirst time I’d spoken to an Anglophone in more than a week.  And to top it all off, they gave me the name of someone we can stay with when we’re in Limerick.

Biking home in the dark on narrow roads was less excellent, but I managed with the lights I had. It’s one of those moments where you realize there could be someone 1m behind you and you wouldn’t know it. Creepy.

Day 8: Campan to Arrens

65km, 2050m

I think of the French as being a scientifically savvy people. They have brought us Penicillin, SI units (metric), the derailleur and various radioactive substances. But plumbing is not their forte.

The story that really needs to be told here is of the hotel in Arrens. I cannot remember its name, but it is the only one in town.

My ideal hotel has the following qualities:

– cheap

– adjoining shower

– no newlyweds next door

– a bed with sheets, and a towel

And the following less obvious qualities:

– a showerhead that actually affixes to the wall

– a window that opens that faces west, for easy drying of clothes

– a toilet whose function is familiar to me

I’m afraid Arrens failed in this last category. Read no further if you are sensitive.

I should have been tipped off by the eight air fresheners that were within a meter distance of the toilet.

I investigated the device carefully before using; it plugged into the wall as well as with traditional plumbing. It had no flush handle, just a button on the top. I pressed it, and this cylindrical stainless steel plate, driven by a motor, spun around while water flowed around it. Neat, I thought. It’s a combination blender/toilet, something that could take anything you (figuratively) threw at it. I couldn’t quite see how it worked, but after testing its basic operation I thought I’d give it a try.

This did not go well. It was more of a shredding and spraying than grinding and flushing. Fortunately, I had the lid down, and it was never raised again while I rented the room. What had gone wrong? It wasn’t a bidet… there was no other plumbing, and there was no other toilet-looking device in the room. If there had been some other mechanism to flush properly, it wasn’t labelled in any language. Believe me when I say I know toilets, I do not see what I could have been doing wrong.

In Spain, there’s a requirement that all hotel guests have proper ID, but this is not the case in France. I do say this anonymity only encouraged my silence. By using the bathroom in the hall, I completely abandoned the bathroom I was paying for. And the next morning I left without a word.

I feel bad for the cleaning staff, however I do feel that Hotel le Tech bears some responsibility for providing what is

The next morning, its retail multiplied by about a hundred as the local market was on. But I was focused on sprinting out of there, even if it was up the Col de la Soulor (parts are more than 10%).