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  1. #1
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    Spain, France, November, and logistics

    I'm going to Spain (Valencia) for a conference at the end of October, and I'm taking advantage of the free plane ticket to plan my first tour and my first trip to Europe. However, I'm struggling a bit with the logistics, and I'm looking for advice!

    I'd prefer to tour in France, primarily because I can sort of speak French, and therefore it seems less scary than Spain. I also have the impression that France is a "safer" country - I'm only about 110 lbs of girl, and not at all confident in my abilities to defend myself if need be.

    I've got two major issues:
    1) I'll have a bunch of conference gear that I'll need to ditch somehow prior to setting off on the bike (a poster, fancy shoes and clothes, laptop), which means starting and ending the tour in the same location (somewhere with a major airport).

    2) The Spanish train system seems to be not very bike-friendly, and as far as I can tell, none of the border-crossing trains will take bicycles.

    I'm planning on spending the first ten days of November on the bike, so I'm fairly time-restricted. I realize it's going to be on the cool/wet side, but according to weatherspark.com, Novemeber in the Pyrenees is like September in the (Canadian) Rockies, so I think I'll be happy with the weather.

    Here's what I see as my options:
    a) Ship my conference gear home, take the media distancia train as close to the French border as possible (e.g. Zaragoza), then bike across the Pyrenees to France, tour around the countryside, and fly out of Toulouse.

    b) Somehow find a way of getting myself and my bike and my conference gear to Toulouse or Montpellier, leave the conference gear in a luggage locker, and do a loop.

    c) Forget about France, leave the conference gear in a locker in Valencia, and do a loop in Spain instead.

    I'm planning on camping wherever possible and hosteling if need be. I'd prefer quiet countryside and cool landscapes over big cities and museums, and my number one priority is safety. I'm leaning towards option a), mainly because I like mountains and I want to be able to practice my French, but I'm open to suggestions and advice.

  2. #2
    imi
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    One way to do it would be to take regional trains from Valencia through Barcelona to Figueres or even the border at Port Bou - Ride across the Pyrenees to the border either at Port-Bou/Cerbère or from Figueres via La Junquera. Then follow the beautiful coastal stretch up to Narbonne before heading inland to Carcassonne and Toulouse. You can then do a countryside/mountain loop bringing you back to Toulouse.

    You could send your conference gear with DHL (or suchlike) and pick it up at their depot before flying out.

    Most campsites will be closed in november, though you're sure to find some 'camping a la ferme' inland.
    As you realise the weather in november can be wet/chilly. Usually somewhat drier/warmer on the spanish side of the Pyrenees.

    Bon Voyage!
    Last edited by imi; 08-19-11 at 02:17 PM.

  3. #3
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    I think staying south of the Pyrenees is good advice, weather wise even southern France can get cold and wet in November especially on the Atlantic side.

  4. #4
    djb
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    I agree, je suis d'accord with the be wary of Pyrenees in those months. I biked most of the Pyrenées in late aug and some of the higher cols were quite cool, it would not be fun with rain and such in cooler temps.

    I would strongly suggest doing as much internet weather searches for the given months so that you can get a better, informed idea of what temps you'll be dealing with and rain as well.

    I dont know how Calgary is in Sept, but here in Mtl it can be super nice, or it can be cool and rainy. The big issue is the altitude in the Pyrenees, but it will depend on where you think to go. I found all the Pyrenees to be rather stunning (tho was my first time in real mountains, hadnt even been out west in Canada then) and wouldnt hesitate going back, but wouldnt want to be there in cold, rainy conditions.

    all the best with your research. That what is great with online resources, you can really see how climate is for a given region for a given month quite easily.
    ps, Toulouse is a neat city, and areas like Carcassone (walled city) are really something to see.
    Last edited by djb; 08-20-11 at 12:09 AM.

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    Thanks for all the advice. It sounds like North of the Pyrenees might be a bit of a risk, though the temperatures seem quite nice (highs around 15 degrees, overnight lows of 5-10 - for comparison, my summer sleeping bag for the Rockies is rated to -12). I hadn't considered that campsites would be closed though - I figured as long as it wasn't snowing, people would want to go camping! Though I have to ask - can you camp in a closed campsite anyways? Even if there aren't facilities, I imagine you wouldn't get chased away.

    I'm still waffling between France, Spain, and not biking at all. I definitely appreciate the advice - I hadn't even considered shipping from Spain to France (hopefully cheaper than sending stuff back to Canada), and it's good to hear first-hand about the weather (data can only tell you so much).

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    My first Europe trip was also on the occasion of a conference (in Munich). I left my poster with less-adventurous colleagues who were doing the fly in, taxi to the hotel, taxi back, fly out, thing. Ditto for the laptop, or bring what you need on a USB key and share. I spent four weeks in France, Italy, and Austria and wouldn't have dreamed of carrying anything that I would only use at the conference. I was also able to fly "open jaw" so as to avoid backtracking or going in a loop.

    BTW, if you can speak French, you can read Spanish, and if you can read the signs, you'll never get in serious trouble. Enjoy!

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    Quote Originally Posted by mark03 View Post
    My first Europe trip was also on the occasion of a conference (in Munich). I left my poster with less-adventurous colleagues who were doing the fly in, taxi to the hotel, taxi back, fly out, thing. Ditto for the laptop, or bring what you need on a USB key and share. I spent four weeks in France, Italy, and Austria and wouldn't have dreamed of carrying anything that I would only use at the conference. I was also able to fly "open jaw" so as to avoid backtracking or going in a loop.

    BTW, if you can speak French, you can read Spanish, and if you can read the signs, you'll never get in serious trouble. Enjoy!
    Unfortunately (?) I'm the only one going to this conference, so sending poster home isn't really an option, though I probably don't *need* a laptop. When you did your 4 weeks, was this biking or train/bussing? I'm considering just doing a standard Europe trip and leaving the bike for another time, perhaps after I've done a solo trip in North America. The point about reading signs is good though, I've noticed that I can often figure out the gist of things.

    As I said in my excessively long first post, I'm mainly concerned about safety and the girl factor. I know lots of girls travel alone to hostels and the like, but what about camping in a foreign country? What about unwanted advances when you can't communicate or escape? It probably doesn't help that I'm both young and small...

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    You might want to consider contacting someone on the warmshowers list to see if you can store your poster and other stuff in their home while/if you tour. There are a few members in or near Valencia.

    I don't think campgrounds would still be open in France. I'm guessing they'd be open in southern Spain at least, but that's just a guess. If they are open, I think you'd be pretty safe in them. Regional trains were reasonably bike-friendly in Spain, but not high-speed or long-distance trains. In Spain, you're more likely to have a problem with petty crime than "girl factor" issues, IMO.

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    About safety and camping: I toured in Europe for two months. I stayed at a couple of campgrounds, but mostly I camped on people's lawns and in farmers' fields. The strategy is, a couple of hours before sunset you find a place that appeals to you, knock on the person's door, tell them where you're from and that you're on a bike tour and ask if you can camp in their yard or field for just one night.

    I was only turned down once or twice. Very often the reply was, "What?! Sleep in the field?! No way, we have a guest room for you, come in, come in!" On those occasions usually I was given supper, breakfast, and food for the next day. I met some really interesting and nice people and families this way. It was a wonderful cultural experience. One family took me in for a week and took me all over the region. As a female traveling alone you will find people wanting to help and protect you. Often they will call a friend along the next leg of your journey and arrange for your next stay.

    Now, there is the question of what the people are like in each country and region. My best experiences were in Germany, where the people are very hospitable. France is another question. I was only in Paris and the northeast, where people varied from indifferent to aggressive. Folks in the south of France are supposed to be nicer.

    I also did some stealth camping. I felt much safer in people's yards. Sad to say, I do think a female is less safe in certain countries than in others. I recommend carrying pepper spray and being prepared to use it. If you have to stealth camp, enter the woods toward dark, make sure no one sees you, and camp as far from the road as possible. Be careful about your food---at the very least there are lots of small rodents around at night. I kept my food in a plastic box. That seemed to work.

    Stealth camping can be pretty hard on your nerves for a female traveling alone. Not knowing where you're going to sleep each night can cause anxiety too, but if you give yourself adequate time to look for a place you should be able to find something nice by the end of the day.

  10. #10
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    I'm male so can't advise on the safety aspects, but I too like to extend business trips by taking my bicycle and doing some touring. A few thoughts - MUST you take your laptop? Ask the conference organisers and/or the conference hotel what computer facilities they offer, and take any crucial files with you on datasticks or SD cards. If your poster is being printed, it might not cost much more to print two or three copies, which would mean that you could give away or destroy your copy, rather than having to take it home. Then it might not cost much to send your smart shoes, clothes etc home by mail at the end of the conference.

    Then there's the camping - must you? As others say, some sites may be closed, and it might not be easy to get onto them and use them. In rural areas of Spain and France, B&B accommodation will be cheap, especially at that time of year. Remember too that we will by then have put the clocks back, so sunset will be quite early. I'd be tempted to find a cheap room, get clean and warm and dry and then try to experience the local culture by going out for a meal or a drink and meeting the natives, rather than holing myself up nervously on some dark, deserted and possibly improvised campsite. In my experience, even small inns and B&Bs can provide internet access, so you could also spend some time each evening planning your route etc for the next day. Just think how much weight you'd save without tent, sleeping bag etc...

    I did a brief tour from Montpellier to Carcassonne one autumn a few years back - around 20 Nov, iirc. Sorry to have to tell you that it was cold and wet - I sure was glad I wasn't camping. If the weather leads you to avoid the hills, there's a lovely ride along the Canal du Midi from Agde to Carcassonne and beyond - with lots of delightful canal-side villages and hostelries along the way.

    By the way, my way to avoid unwanted attention when dining alone - which of course may be a much bigger issue for lone women - is to always have a book or some work papers or a crossword with me. Then I can say, "sorry, but I just have to read this document before a meeting tomorrow"...

  11. #11
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    One other thought, if you're on a tight budget: remember that return air fares can be a lot lower if your stay away from home includes a Saturday night. So the fact that you want to take some annual leave immediately after the conference could save your employer some money. On the only occasion that I tried this line, MY employer said "OK then, we'll let you claim additional expenses up to what we would have paid if you'd just gone to the conference and straight back". Just a thought...

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by charbucks View Post
    Unfortunately (?) I'm the only one going to this conference, so sending poster home isn't really an option, though I probably don't *need* a laptop. When you did your 4 weeks, was this biking or train/bussing?
    I was without a bike. I only got into cycling for commuting this year. So yeah, if you're not comfortable with the bike yet, a standard backpacker-style trip could be a good option.

    As I said in my excessively long first post, I'm mainly concerned about safety and the girl factor. I know lots of girls travel alone to hostels and the like, but what about camping in a foreign country?
    Definitely agree with all that camcycad has said above. I think you'd be much happier in hostels or small pensiones (the typical "Rick Steve's" recommended accommodations), especially at that time of year. They can be a lot cheaper than budget accommodation in North America... although when I was there the US dollar was stronger than the Euro! If you end up doing a loop, those places would also have locked storage where you could leave some of your things for a few weeks.

    As for traveling solo as a woman, there is advice (sometimes rather generic) in the back of the Lonely Planet travel guides. Lots of advice on their Thorn Tree discussion forums online, too. Generally speaking, cities in Europe are as safe or safer than cities in North America. Just act like you know where you're going, even when you don't Adopt a brusque manner as needed to discourage overly "helpful" locals.

  13. #13
    imi
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    Quote Originally Posted by mark03 View Post
    BTW, if you can speak French, you can read Spanish, and if you can read the signs, you'll never get in serious trouble. Enjoy!
    Really? I speak both french and spanish, so maybe I'm in no position to judge. Maybe you meant just simple signs? I'm pretty sure a newspaper for example would be incomprehensible.

    As to the OP's safety concerns, I would suggest that there is a big difference during daylight hours as to after dark especially in larger towns/cities, so make sure you're somewhere you feel safe for the night before the sun goes down. This applies obviously not just to southern europe, but in most parts of the world.

    During the day I wouldn't worry about safety issues.

    The campsites that are closed will most likely be protected by security systems, alarms and/or dogs. Don't trespass! Yes, you would be chased away... at least!

    Have you considered planning your trip meticulously? Googling for campsites, hostels etc that are open in winter along your route?

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    Quote Originally Posted by imi View Post
    Really? I speak both french and spanish, so maybe I'm in no position to judge. Maybe you meant just simple signs? I'm pretty sure a newspaper for example would be incomprehensible.
    I think he was talking about simple signs, like which bathroom is which. From the spanish websites I've tried to interpret, I definitely couldn't take on a newspaper!

    Quote Originally Posted by imi View Post
    As to the OP's safety concerns, I would suggest that there is a big difference during daylight hours as to after dark especially in larger towns/cities, so make sure you're somewhere you feel safe for the night before the sun goes down. This applies obviously not just to southern europe, but in most parts of the world.
    This is a good point, and I keep forgetting that despite the weather being similar to Calgary's summer, the daylight hours are not. Daytime is definitely less scary than night!

    Quote Originally Posted by imi View Post
    The campsites that are closed will most likely be protected by security systems, alarms and/or dogs. Don't trespass! Yes, you would be chased away... at least!
    Good to know! Here in Canada I've camped at provincial parks that weren't yet open for the season, and that basically just means that there's a gate down and you can't drive in. Seems like the definition of "campground" is different in Spain though - I'm seeing pictures that look almost like resorts, with pools, buildings, electricity, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by imi View Post
    Have you considered planning your trip meticulously? Googling for campsites, hostels etc that are open in winter along your route?
    I have tried doing this, but from what I can tell most campgrounds are closed in November, and I was having a hard time finding hostels in the lower population rural areas that I'd prefer to bike through. All in all, I'm starting to think that I might be better off just traveling around on foot - getting my bearings with traveling in a foreign country before trying to learn how to bike tour as well.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Lou Skannon's Avatar
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    Spain has some pretty good long distance bus routes many of which run out of Valencia. Have you considered doing the Camino while you have the chance. The route from Pamplona across to Santiago should be do-able in two weeks and would be quiet. It's mostly on dirt tracks and has a good supply of hostels along the route. No need to camp. Just get a credentials passport so you can use the hostels which are very cheap.
    It's one of the best tours that I've ever done and know that many on here would recommend it. A chance of a life time. The weather in Northern Spain is always very changeable and waterproofs are a must.

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    I've got to disagree about the Camino. I've toured there in late May/early June, though I was just touring in NW Spain, not doing the Camino itself. The region is cooler and wetter than the rest of Spain. It averages over 200mm of rain in November! I would definitely stick to southern Spain. Sevilla averages 20C & 10C for high & low temperatures in November, with only 67mm of rain for the month.

  17. #17
    djb
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    for what its worth, I find riding in the rain right up there with ..I dunno, unpleasant stuff, so I sure as heck would stay clear of 200mm of rain in nov. if it were me.

  18. #18
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    Hi Charbucks!
    Just saw your message... I'm french, I'm a girl, so hopefully I can give you some useful information...

    - weather: yes the Pyrennees might be wet and cool in november. But I was in the south of France (close to Montpellier) last fall and it was quite nice and warm. Maybe you want to avoid the Pyrennees and go directly to the countryside by cycling along the coast.

    - trains: I'm pretty sure you can take your bike in media distancia trains. You should be able to reach San Sebastian, maybe even Irun and Hendaye by train. Try the Deutsche Bahn website and tick the "bike" to show trains that take bikes. They show you all the trains in all of Europe, not only Germany... definitely the best source of information for taking bike in the train in Europe...

    -conference stuff: I've cycled to conferences a few times, I usually get my colleagues to bring my conference gear. I would just ship everything back home at the end of the conference and only keep the cycling stuff

    - camping: yes most campsites will be closed. But camping in France is not a problem, as Getupngo said you can easily ask farmers. Plus, if you catch people in their field/backyard you can choose your host! ie when I'm alone or with another girl we ask families or old couples... I've camped in several closed campsites before. The only problem is that you might have to go over a fence and you probably won't have any running water. But I've never seen any security systems, especially in small cheap municipal campsites (sometimes they even don't have anyone to come collect the money when the campsite IS open!) This year we've camped a lot on municipal/communal grounds, ie by the local football field for example. A lot of very small and quiet villages have such grounds. But if you'd like to be safer you can just ask in small villages if people know where you can camp, people will certainly be willing to help you! Otherwise stealth camping is easy in France. Just make sure nobody sees you...

    - Safety in Spain: I was in Basque Country (Spain part) with my partner last summer and we were very pleasantly surprised with the courtesy of the drivers, much better than in France! Never got honked once, never felt in danger in 10 days! And people were very, very nice with us, but maybe that was because we could not speak spanish I don't know about the rest of Spain though.

    Let me know (by PM if you want) if I can help you for anything else!

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    Hi

    In June I cycled from Girona (Northern Spain) over the Pyrenees into France and back to the UK skirting Toulouse and Bordeaux.

    I am a Police officer so tend to be a bit wary and am pretty good at assessing situations and areas. I can assure you that you will be / feel totally safe in Spain and southern France. Being a cyclist you will get total respect from the French, they love cycling and they will go out of their way to avoid you on the road, say hello and generally be friendly. It was a brilliant experience that I intend to repeat again next year.

    There are municipal camp sites everywhere in France. Even in June they were empty and I too struggled to find anyone to pay. Apparently they do start to close in September but I wild camped without a problem. As for the Pyrenees. The range is narrow enough to dip in an out of and you can cross them in a day. If the weather isnt good you can cross on the East Coast as suggested above. The day I crossed in June was 5 degrees and raining but straight down the other side and it was 25C.

    In addition the roads in Spain are fantastic if you fancy staying on that side of the boarder. All in all I would thoroughly recommend it.

    Best of luck

  20. #20
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    OK, so the Camino might be a bit wet and muddy. What about the Canal du Midi? On the French side of the Pyrenees, flat ride on a towpath, Atlantic Oceaan to the Med.
    Try "Billman Bus" for cheap travel across Spain.

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    Hi,
    i'm from Girona and i think my country is a good place for touring. The weather in november can be wet but usually isn't cold.

    Another option is "La via de la Plata", a "Camino" that goes from Sevilla to Santiago. The south off Spain is warmer and there are a lot of hostels in the way.

    Here you can see the other "caminos": http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/

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