Time to say goodbye again!

13 08 2014

The time has come again in our lives where we leave it all behind for pastures new, – well not quite all – as we pack up 4 large cases, far too much hand luggage and not quite enough room for everything and everyone we want to take with us.

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It has been a whirlwind of a year so far for James and I, mainly good times and some less desirable. We are grateful for all our loving and patient family and friends who have looked after us, housed us and put up with the many bikes, bags and belongings we have in tow.

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We are very lucky to have family whom we can turn to in good times and bad, and we appreciate all the support. We were sad to leave China but are happy we got the (unexpected) opportunity to spend the last 6 months in the UK to catch up with so many people we love and have had a ‘blooming good time.’ We even got the chance to have a small bike tour around the UK and experienced some beautiful countryside.

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As we have packed all our belongings (and hope the lovely check -in assistant does not charge us a fortune) we are ready to leave for Uzbekistan. Everyone we have told said, “where is that?” or “why Izpekistan?” We are positive it will be a great experience for us (even though James will not have a choice of 4 bikes) and we are looking forward to experiencing yet another new country, culture and exciting new jobs.

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We will update our blog as often as possible and welcome all your comments. We are both members of the ‘smartphone club’ now so there are plenty of alternative options for communication.

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China

4 07 2014

Slight gap in between the blog postings- idle fingers and busy minds I’m afraid.
Let us give you a rundown, with some snaps, to get you up to date. We’ll try not to ramble but it has been a long and eventful period.
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We moved to Yantai, a small Chinese city (6 million) in Shandong province- Jimi teaching PE and Rose a Kindergarten class in an international school for primary and secondary pupils.
We met some lovely people and were very happy with our new school. The school was not perfect but with the great teachers it was heading in a good direction and we were receiving good feedback from the parents and students.
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In November the school encountered difficulties. The first, a large one, being that one of the owners bought the lease for the building and attempted to blackmail the other owners into giving them a bigger share of the business. This was not good and led to many emotionally charged meetings involving parents, teachers, owners, lawyers and landlords being held openly and clandestinely throughout the city. This was not good.
We cleared the school of resources on a Friday night under the watchful eyes of the lease buying owner’s cigarette smoking, leather jacket wearing ‘mafia’ friends. Not good.
For the next 5 weeks we taught in two borrowed spaces. Primary in the spare rooms at a nearby kindergarten for a small fee- the proprietor ‘poached’ several of our pupils and was horribly happy about herself. Secondary at the local Korean run Christian church which many of the pupil’s parents attended. During this time it became known that the current majority owner and face of the business had no money to buy back the lease and certainly no money to pay our wages. A mother of one of the parents and small time investor in the school had during this episode announced that she would take over the school and try to steer it towards safety. However, after 2 weeks and many meetings she realized that it was a financial mess and she did not have the resources to make it work. She did however, pay us for the two weeks that she had overseen the school.
We were then presented with two options.
1. Join a local Chinese school and start an international arm of their organization.
2. Start a new school with some of the parents.
The downsides to first option for us were that the old principle (who had proved himself to be an inept headteacher and a deceitful man) was heavily involved and the owners of the school would not employ any of our Chinese staff- they only wanted foreign teachers. They were however offering large financial incentives to work for them.
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We chose the second option along with 6 other foreign teachers and all of the Chinese staff. To our surprise, a the last minute six foreign teachers did sign with the other school.
At one pint the local media turned up and we were on the tele explaining what had happened to our school.
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With the support of the local government we went about setting up a new international school whilst teaching the three very small classes we had. Our temporary building was a very posh town house that one of the children’s parents owned. In our non teaching time we were all designated tasks such as curriculum design, marketing plan, website design, policy writing etc.
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For Christmas and new year we flew South to Guangxi for well earned holiday- thoroughly recommended. It was extra nice in the off season because it was quiet. We stayed in some lovely hotels and in the days did lots of activities; climbing, cycling a tandem, mountain biking, a cooking lesson, hiking and on Xmas day itself we kayaked down to the Li river with only fishermen as company! We then headed back the the cold Shanghai for a 3 days of restaurants and bars. And we celebrated Rose’s 30th birthday in a Central Asian restaurant- not knowing what was to come!
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On our return to the freezing Yantai we continued teaching in the home. But there was only a few weeks to go until our next school holiday.The parents (owners) suddenly decided they wanted a 3 week holiday instead of two so they could make the most of the Chinese New Year and return home to their home towns (which in China could be thousands of miles away.) We were busy planning where we could go and what to see that was affordable, not too far away but somewhere we hadn’t been to before. I certainly didn’t expect what was about to be planned.
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One blustery cold morning whilst getting ready for school, Jimi decided it would be a perfect time to pop the question “so…shall we get married then?” We could go to England for the holidays and do it then? “But that’s only two weeks away Jimi!” I’m sure we can plan a wedding in three weeks cant we? OK LETS DO IT! Our families were a little worried when we said we need to Skype you at 7am their time. They all huddled around the computer as we told them the amazing news on Skype. They were excited we were getting married, then excited we would be home for 3 weeks and even more so that it would be in 3 weeks time!
Countless skype calls later, difficult timings due to a large time difference, eventful evenings staying up until 2am (“we could do this, we could do that, who should we invite? what food shall we eat? where shall we get married? what will we wear? who can we invite? the usual wedding chat) A few minor disagreements and discussions and LOTS of help from family and friends and the wedding was planned!
I enlisted the help of a few friends to take me to the Yantai wedding dress shops in the hunt for the perfect dress! I tried on so many dresses and realised I could even get one made in time and have the one I wanted. It turns out after a lot of Google translate and mis-communication that the workers were all on holiday. There was a dress in the shop which could be altered to my linking and it actually fit me!

I finally found a dress from the first shop I tried that actually fit me. It was a little surreal thinking I would be married in 3 weeks in this dress after waiting years to be married! A few tears fell from my eyes as I tried on the beautiful dress! It was full of sparkles and sequins and was too long but I asked her take it up, with gestures and broken English with the aid of Google translate. Finally after many visits to the dress maker, I decided to take the dress as it was (even though it was full of sequins and glitz) “but it looks so pretty” I was told and she refused to remove the ‘bling’! Alas 4 hours later sat in Lem’s kitchen, back in the UK the sequins were no more and the dress resembled a dress I wanted to wear.
The wedding a few weeks later was beautiful and perfect (apart from a little food poisoning) and the whole day went as planned. We had a small wedding in a registry office witnessed y our loved ones (minus a few who couldn’t make it) and had the reception lovely restaurant we booked out for the occasion. The food was delicious (so I’m told) and there were plenty of speeches to keep everyone entertained. I think nearly all our family got to have a little say, we laughed and cried a plenty. We got to celebrate our special day with people we love and it was a very happy day indeed. Now I was Mrs Davies and couldn’t quite believe it had all really happened, it had been a whirlwind month.
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We had a fabulous few weeks in England catching up with everyone and spending all our saved up money. We bid our farewells to our loved ones vowing we would be back in a few months to spend the summer with family,friends and questionable boat tours.
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We arrived in China, shared our wedding tales and photos with everyone and shared travelling stories and experiences of the Chinese New Year. And I’ll hand you back to Jimi.

Things were ticking along nicely and we had even secured new premises on a six year lease when the following happened…
Wednesday morning, during the first lesson of the day, I glanced out of the window and noticed a stream of police cars pulling up outside our house. Out of these cars poured about 40 police officers. I closed the curtains. This did not seem to put them off the scent and they barged into the front room of the house (also the kindergarten classroom) shouting, videoing and photographing us. The children (and the teachers) were quite upset and were taken next door to the family house by one of the Chinese teaching assistants.
The foreign teachers were made to sit at a table and hand our phones in. Our passports were demanded but we didn’t have them on us. Rose and Amanda were not present they had gone to town that morning to buy resources for the school. Through the one English speaking police woman we were told we would have to wait for their return. They said that it was their protocol not to tell us what this was about. Whilst we waited they asked a lot of questions and carried computers out of the school and into their vehicles. All the while we were still being videoed and photographed. We waited and waited until a compromise was reached. We were allowed to call Rose and Amanda and arrange to meet them at our apartments to pick them and our passports up. We drove in a large convoy to our homes across town to meet our spouses. Once they were on board we headed to Zhifu police station.
Once in the station we, 6 foreign teachers and 2 Chinese teachers, were sat around a large table outside the evidence room. It was now around 12 o’clock and we argued that they should feed us. Lunch was brought by some henchmen and with 8 police officers sitting around us the officer in charge of the operation delivered dead pan the line, “enjoy your lunch, the interrogation will begin shortly”. We still did not know the reason for all this kafuffle and now demanded an answer. “You are all working illegally and unless you pay 25,000rmb by 4 o’clock you will go to jail and the fine will be bigger.” With that we were left to enjoy our lunch under 16 curious eyes and several interested camera phones. Over lunch, which was good by the way, we had a chat (emotions varied) about what our position was, if and how we could be ‘illegal’ and what we were going to do as a group. We all agreed that we would not pay a fine. We all called our Embassies (UK, US, Australian and Canadian). The British, US and Australian offered good and supportive advice. The Canadian told her to call a lawyer but that it wouldn’t do any good. We were at least told “don’t worry, if you do go to jail, we will be able to come and visit you.”
After lunch, the now much grumpier officer in charge came and instructed three of our colleagues to go to another station with him for their interrogation. We argued that we all wanted to stay together. He shouted about being in charge and started waving his handcuffs about. There were tears, not his. The three teachers left with him. Remaining in our station was Rose, Melissa (Canadian teacher) our Chinese colleagues (remaining nameless as a precaution) and myself.
I was first to be ‘interrogated’. It was in a small room. There was one young chubby friendly faced police man on the computer typing my answers. There was also a now stern part English speaking pretty police woman asking the questions and interpreting the answers to the typist. A third man, much larger than the other policeman with a pock marked face set in a disapproving frown. His only role in all of this was to intermittently shout at the others and tell them to change what they had written on the computer. There was also another man behind a one way mirror/ window (I could see his silhouette moving because his door was open), he would pop in every now and then to shout at the three of them and change what they had written. It seemed very much like they were all on little power trips.
The questioning lasted about 3 hours most of them were not complicated; What is your job? What subject do you teach? No, you teach English, don’t you? ….
We had still not been told why they thought we were working illegally. During the interview they asked a few questions that implied what this was all about. “Have you ever worked at X school? And “Have you signed a contract with X school?” They seemed not to believe me when I had neither heard of nor worked at this other school.
At the end of the interview the translator seemed like she was getting ready for something big and then she announced, as if it was going to be a surprise, that, “You have been found guilty of working illegally and must pay a fine of 25000rmb (roughly £2500) before 4pm (it was about half past four already) or I would be detained for 30 days.”
I replied that I would not be paying the fine for three reasons; 1. I do not believe that there is any evidence that I have been working illegally- we have permission from the education department to start the new school and our valid working Visa, 2. The American Embassy informed us that the law changed in 2013 and states that if any person is found guilty of working illegally the employer is liable to pay any fine and 3. Even if I wanted to I only had about 500rmb until payday.”
This was not well received and the shouty men did some shouting. The translator then upped the stakes, “If you do not pay this fine then some very bad things will happen to you, maybe here and then maybe in the jail. I don’t want you to suffer so you need to pay.”
“No”, for the same reasons, I said. A little more shouting ensued and then they all looked a bit disgruntled and seemed disappointed in me- like I’d let them down in some way.
I was led back to the evidence room area where Rose and Melissa were anxiously waiting with their sleeping guards. I explained the anomaly amongst the questions regarding the mystery school. It was Melissa’s turn next.
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Whilst she was away and the guards were sleeping we did what any free thinking intelligent people would when presented with such an opportunity- yes, played travel scrabble.
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Despite being told we couldn’t use our phones we discreetly made calls throughout the day to our friends at the other station. The owners of the school had got together with each other and congregated at the other station. They were apparently and hopefully negotiating our release.

Our colleague Melissa was quite teary but smoked heavily to compensate. One of the head honchos came in about 10pm and asked us to verify is a signature on a contract was ours. On each contract was a basic scribe of each of our first names, the name of the school was not ours but the afore mentioned School X. This seemed to us that we were going to be cleared of whatever charge, it was obvious to them and us that these contracts had been forged.
Shortly, one of our Chinese friends and colleague, let’s call her Sam, came into the room. She was obviously upset. She said the police had been nice to her. It was what she had to tell us that was bothering her so. It transpired that it was Sam who had forged our signatures by the order of the school owner and principle. She was told she would lose her job if she didn’t.
Let me break down what this revelation meant in terms of the actual process.
 Rose and I, and all the teachers accepted jobs at the original school.
 All the teachers signed contracts with the original school and sent them back to China.
 The Visas are then processed by the school in China and picked up in teachers home countries at Chinese Visa offices.
 When we got to China we then completed the Visa process with new medical check and were issued with a residents permit (which our employer kept).
 All of the above happened except unbeknown to us when we sent our signed contracts back to the school they then filed them away and used different (the forgeries we had been shown by the police) contracts for School X to get us the Visa.

We now learnt from Sam that this was done because our school did not have the correct licence needed to hire so many foreign teachers in one year. School X was one of the owners other schools which had a license to hire extra foreign teachers
It was then Rose’s turn to be interviewed. She was typically cooperative. Refusing to sit in the manacled chair, refusing to agree with leading questions etc etc.
I was escorted to the loo by the friendly faced police typist from my interview who when he was sure no one was listening whispered in English, “you no worry, you answers very good.” To which I didn’t know whether to feel proud, relieved or worried. I wished he hadn’t said anything.
After Roses’ interviewer gave up we had word from the other teachers that a fee of 20000rmb had been agreed. The owners of our new school had paid it after hours of haggling with the lead officer. Their theory was that the policeman was not acting in an official but instead just acting independently and would keep the money for himself.

After 12 hours in the police station we were told we could leave minus our passports which would be given back tomorrow and returned to our respective apartments (Amanda and Ryan were now living with us as they had been told they could no longer live in their apartment and had 24 hours to pack 2 years of belongings and get out.)
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We invited everyone to our place to discuss the days unexpected events and literally where we all stood in this big mess. In our minds we knew we could no longer stay in the country and had to leave as soon as possible but without passports this would be difficult. We were told by the embassy they could in fact get us out of the country without our passports if needed.
The next day after a sleepless night and lots of worry about what our future would hold we were back at a police station for more waiting around and been shouted at. We were ushered into a room where on the table was the equivalent of £12,000 in cash piled up and waiting for us to physically hand over the cash to the police and sign a form to say we have paid the fine. We were a little unsure whether we wanted to be part of this and if we wanted to sign something that was not true. A few swearwords later on Rose’s part (the police mans perfect English asked her to stop saying bad words to him) and we were given our passports back. This of course was after we signed a statement to say that we were not held in the police station for so long and that we handed over the money ourselves and not the parents.

We were free!….we wasted no time in booking a flight home as soon as possible, this of course was not straight forward. Our phones and emails were hacked and when we went on the Virgin website, this was down, weirdly enough after a Skype conversation to Jimi’s dad to explain we were flying home with Virgin Atlantic. We were freaked out at the thought that someone was listening to us and possibly tracking where we were going. The next disturbing thing happened around 11pm that night, there was a loud long knocking at the door and when we looked through the peep hole there were two burly men stood there, banging in the door for about 10 minutes. We did not open the door but talked ourselves into the fact that someone came to get us! The next day we kind of fled China, we got on an overnight bus out of Yantai and to Shanghai to get a flight from there.
As the bus pulled away from Yantai bus station (a small entourage came to wave us off) we thought phew we are out of here…no such luck! We were in bunks on the bus next to each other; I awoke to police sirens behind us and looked around to find police cars following the bus slowly. I didn’t dare move and was unsure what to do. I thought Jimi was asleep until we had the discussion later on wher ehe confessed to be pretending. I thought we were going to be captured. They soon disappeared and I was relieved that they weren’t for us. The next step over but still the worry that we had to get through customs in Shanghai until we boarded the plane. With sweaty hands and nervous feelings we walked through passport control without a hitch…we were FREE! We didn’t want to seem too excited that we had passed security so we waited until we were well out of sight before we high fived and hugged each other knowing we would soon be home and safe but we were keeping this until we touched down at Manchester.
We spent the flight a little too excited to go to sleep and got our money’s worth of the free films, food and snacks on offer to us. We reflected on our experience of China and we are very pleased and privileged to have experienced China, even the unfortunate situations we were in. We embraced the difficulties and I am happy we were ‘in it together’ and had each other and the support of family and the Embassy to reassure us. We have learnt the troubles that China faces, we have experienced the corrupt side of the police and the authorities. We met some amazing people and lifelong friends. We were taught a thing or two about visas and contracts and what to look out for when moving to a new country.
I feel very lucky to have had the experience of China and the ability to travel –although not as much as we hoped to do- meet new people, taste some strange food and learn a little of the Chinese language. We are not sure if we will return to China anytime in the near future but this has not deterred us from fulfilling our dreams of travelling the world.
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Our next stop will be Tashkent in Uzbekistan and although our trusty Thorn Sherpa bikes did not get much of a run in China, they will hopefully be well used in the mountains of Uzbekistan. Watch this space for (not so sporadic) updates of our trip.





From one (very Turksish) festival to another (very British one), then a wedding and some other nice stuff

19 08 2013

We arrived in Artvin after a tough climb winding up the steep hill. Our Couchsurfer host of course lived at the very top! After being welcomed into the home of Murat and his family we were treated to delicious home cooked meal by his lovely wife and full Turkish breakfasts every morning. We tried to contribute by offering Italian coffee from our Bialetti coffee machine but this didn’t go down too well with the tea loving family. That weekend was the famous Kafkasor festival where they have bull fights in a specially designed arena which is only used once a year for this purpose. We visited the festival and spent all day there watching with a lot of anticipation for some action. (The bulls did not want to fight as it wasn’t rutting season so were mostly stubborn and just stared at each other) The majority of the time it was called off due to lack of fighting and there was no blood or real fighting. We had a relaxing few days seeing the sights and even had time for a beer at the top of the ski centre close by.

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Our plans had changed slightly due to us both hearing the news of jobs in China. As we had both signed contracts, we needed to get a medical from a hospital which would include a chest x-ray, HIV test, blood tests and an ECG. We had to go to a large hospital so this was how we decided to go to Trabzon. We had been told it was a nice city to visit so we hitched a ride in a large lorry all the way and with the help of Rhiannon found a cheap hotel. We booked into the Benli hotel (we were a little unsure as it was so cheap 35TL a night for both of us) and had a look round the city which was surprisingly more European than the rest of Turkey. It felt a little like staying at Faulty Towers, the light switch was outside the room and there were a few strange characters hanging around (see below). A cycle touring couple turned up and they said there were no rooms but said they were welcome to put their tent on a balcony of someone else’s room.

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The hospital visit -thanks to Elif the helpful translator- was very uneventful and within two hours we had a blood test, x-ray, ECG and had seen the doctor, all for the small price of about £30 each. Jimi found out he has a rare blood type and will be donating his blood at every opportunity.

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No matter how much I try, I can never escape football. Luckily for Jimi there just so happened to be the FIFA under 20′s football World Cup happening in Turkey and on this night there was a match in Ankara. South Korea and Columbia were playing not far from the hotel so we bought our tickets and roped in a couple of other cycle tourers from America. Jimi bumped into a South Korean tourist who came along as well. It was a great football match even from a non-football fan like myself. It went on to extra time and penalties (of which there were 7 each) and we left the stadium after midnight when South Korea had won. By the way, the player above number 10 Quintero is one to watch or buy on Championship Manager.

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We cycled a few days along the Black Sea Coast which was up and down, we stopped off to see Sumela temple which to be honest looked better on the postcards than it did inside. We met another cyclist called Hassan who we cycled for a few days with and it turned out that he had met some of the same people we had met in Antalya earlier in the year (Robin and Crystal).

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Camping with Graham and the arrival of an ambulance.

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We arrived at Sinop late at night and decided on a little campsite a few kilometers from the town. We were looking forward to camping a night or two for a rest but we didn’t expect the campsite to be quite so peaceful and relaxing. We pitched up, skipped dinner, had a few beers and nuts and slept well. We awoke to the beauty of the black sea and were right next to the beach, there was a hammock next to the tent and everything was lovely.

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We met a fellow traveler from the UK who was on a motorbike and we instantly became friends. Our little break turned into a 4 night holiday and we had a ‘right good laf’ and enjoyed Graham’s company. He’s a veteran traveller and we all enjoyed telling funny and embarrassing stories. He’s even written a book if any of you fancy a read - In Search of Greener Grass by Graham Fields. 

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We were sitting around having some beers when an ambulance pulled up and two Norwegan men were driving it. They were heading to Tajikistan to deliver the ambulance they had bought and donate it to them for charity. They shared a van full of booze with us as they were going to Iran and worried the van would be searched. Here we are doing our bad boy band impression.

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An embarrassing accident.

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There are times when cycle touring that unfortunate incidents cannot be avoided and this was such a time. We both must have had some bad water from a fountain along the black sea coast. As we settled in the tent for the night on the beach (the only suitable place for miles) thinking we were in a for a peaceful sleep with the waves lapping behind us and the sound of seagulls. We were wrong and this lovely beach spot turned into an all night party. The little tea hut turned into the place to be and awful pop music blared out all night long with people coming and going in a boy racer style fashion all night. It didn’t help that the bad water turned to bad stomachs and we both had to keep dashing out of the tent in the night to relieve our poorly tummies. I had not recovered by the next day and whilst cycling up a hill stopped for a rest and then did the unthinkable (I will let you work it out for yourself) but a very embarrassing moment at which I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…so I cried, a bit. I managed to sort myself out in between passing cars and a nearby broken down truck with the help of Jimi not knowing whether to laugh, or laugh. I thought I’d tell the story as its funny and embarrassing, but these things happen to the best of us.

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Hitching.
Throughout this trip we have only had 7 weeks so on more than one occasion we have hitched a lift by a passing lorry. The first was a novel experience as we covered the same distance in a few hours that would normally take us days on end. After the first few times however we got more comfortable and Jimi would even lay on the bed at the back and have a snooze for a few hours!
One such time we hitched and the driver said I’m not going where you want to go but I’m going to Bursa today. “Ok we said Bursa it is then”. This is how quickly plans can change when cycle touring, and even more quickly when hitching. Off we set to Bursa a good 400KM away knowing we would get there a little after dark. We checked our trusty Rough Guide and found a cheap hotel and booked in. The driver then stopped 25KM form Bursa and said ‘I’m not going any further so you will have to cycle the rest.’ Or the equivalent of that in Turkish that we roughly translated. Our Turkish has improved greatly and we can now have conversations about a variety of mundane topics- eg. “it’s too hot today”.

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Ramazan and Iftar meals.
We arrived in Bursa just before the Iftar meal in the evening. It was Ramazan so Muslims fast all day and then eat at sunset, this was around 8:30pm. We watched, fascinated as the tables were set and hundreds of people sat around waiting to eat the feast. As soon as the call to prayer came from the mosque everyone tucked into their feasts hungrily. We later joined them for Iskender/ Bursa kebab and Ayran on the streets and it was nice to experience this with the locals. But the best meal of the trip had to be with our friends in Ankara, below is the best Muglama chef in town with happy customers

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A fun week in Istanbul

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The next day we cycled to the ferry port and got on the ferry across to Istanbul which would be our final destination by bike and our home for the next week. As we arrived and were cycling along the coast to cross the Glata Bridge, a school of dolphins danced playfully in the Bosphorous welcoming us to this beautiful city.
A week was spent being guided round the dance spots, beaches and drinking holes of Istanbul. We cycled to the top of Çamlıca Mah and saw the whole of Istanbul, I visited a beautiful peaceful beach with Rhiannon’s friend Brenden and it was hard to believe we were still in Istanbul at all. We didn’t experience any trouble at all but saw the aftermath of the demonstrations and still many riot police and water cannons dotted round the city.

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More trouble with the police.
After a busy and entertaining week in Istanbul we got to the airport ready for our three week break in England. This is Rosy and Jim so things weren’t as simple as first thought, I mean how hard can it be to get to the airport, get a plane and arrive home?
As we crossed the border control we were stopped and taken through to the police room and told in an angry and shouty manner that we had outstayed our visa and we were to be fined and banned from the country. We tried to explain we had a valid tourist visa which we bought when we entered in June but they would not listen to us. They said pay the fine or you will be banned for 5 years. We paid the measly 38 TL (about £15) and they made us sign a form saying we were banned for 4 weeks. This could have been fine if we were leaving the country all together but we have a flight booked to Istanbul in 3 weeks where all our belongings are, then 2 days later a flight to our jobs in China. The police didn’t seem to care in the slightest and they would not let us either call the British Embassy or anyone else for that matter.
The senior police officer then spoke to us a little calmer in English and explained you cannot have a residence permit and visa at the same time so one was invalid. He said we can go to the Embassy in London and they can grant us an emergency two day visa to get back in.
As soon as we arrived in London we went to the Embassy and they said this would not be possible but a very kind lady helped us and applied for this visa but said it could take 6 weeks and we may not get it at all but said if someone was in Turkey they may be able to help us.
Off we went a little deflated and unsure of the next moves, this would need a lot of sorting out and decision making about what to do next.

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London was fab, Me and Jimi met up with a few friends and then stayed the lovely Jess and Jamie’s for the night, treated to a delicious dinner and bottle of red and a nice catch up. I then met with Mina, Harri and Jemma who I had not seen in a while and we had a day on the river front and then met Matt in Camden. I realise how much effort it takes to get around London and there are so many things to see and do, two days was not enough with my lovely friends.

Secret Garden Party fun.

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We jumped on Rhiannon’s band wagon when she said she was the artist liaison manager at a festival. This sounded like a good plan, working a ‘few’ hours, getting festival tickets, food, drink and listening to a bit of music on a sunny weekend. We sorted our transport from London and Jimi left a day earlier with Jamie which in turn saw him in fancy dress in a shiny cape, ‘dancing’ the night away with Jamie and his pals! We arrived at the beautiful site and were soon hard at work. I got the job of driving the golf buggy around transporting the artists to their stages. One of these journeys included a band of ten piled on the back of the buggy singing follow the leader, leader leader. Jump and wave and jump and wave! Big up Rose! I wouldn’t say it’s the worst job I’ve ever had. Jimi meanwhile was in charge of the radio, co-coordinating us around the site and ensuring these sometimes demanding, but mostly lovely artists got to where they needed to be in time for their slot on stage.
One of my personal highlights was standing on the stage in from of around 10,000 people awaiting the start of the paint fight then taking photos whilst keeping clean and paint free. I enjoyed being able to go backstage and see what goes on behind the scenes at a festival. It was a pleasant weekend and I will certainly consider doing more work at festivals in the future.

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A comfy bed at last, even if it was only for two nights.
After a busy week and long hectic weekend at the festival me and Jimi were grateful of a very comfy bed, a delicious dinner and an early night at Aunt Gillys in Cambridge. We had time to rest and catch up with Jess, Isla, Sam and Gilly before another busy week of wedding prep before the big day. Gilly kindly drove us to Norfolk where all the family were waiting, even my mum and Mads drove down for a few day’s to see us with baby Ruby. We spend the next few days making decorations, testing the real ale, flower arranging, cooking food, wrapping cutlery and everything else that planning your own wedding entails. We were all in bed by 9 every night tired out after all the hard work and ‘Lewis duty’ we had all been assigned on the rota. It was a pleasure to be entertained by Lewis and Mickayla all week but they sure know how to tire us out.

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There were a few minor incidents of panic, when the beer had not arrived, the marquee people were late, the sound system or flowers had not arrived and then all the electrics blew! By Friday night Izzy was close to losing the plot and we were all in bed at a reasonable time.

What a day! We had a wonderful wedding which was perfect in every way and we all had a lot of fun, dancing playing games and catching up with family and friends. Here is a shot of the wedding crew.

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This blog was supposed to be posted a long time ago so will now include a little bit about the last three weeks in the UK. We have had time to catch up with a lot of friends and family and have been to baby Rubys naming day, Jimi even managed to get 600km cycling done on an old Puch racer (most of it with big little bro Jake), a volleyball tournement at Aunty Bev’s and a really good catch up with friends in Shrewsbury.

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We have finally sorted the visa situation. Our Chinese Visas were delayed and we had to rearrange our flights anyway at our employers expense. We will now fly to China on Saturday 25th after a stop in Istanbul (if they let us in) to pick up our stuff and then start work the next day. Its all very exciting and we are both looking forward to our new adventure. We feel EXCITED and PENSIVE as our photos here accurately depict…..

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An oddly explosıve few weeks

8 07 2013

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After a few restful days in Cappadocia, watching the hot air balloons go by and swimming in the campsite pool we reluctantly set off again heading east towards Kayseri and Malatya. We were told the road to Malatya was busy and monotonous so we thumbed a lift. A kind sales man driving from Istanbul to Malatya in his pick-up took us on board. It was all we could do to keep him awake as he seemed to be falling asleep at the wheel. A coffee and a prayer (“not for us thanks”) stop helped. Outside Malatya he showed us his apricot orchard (Malatya is world famous for apricots) and we ate them and mulberries straight from the trees.
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On arrival, we had arranged to stay at a Couchsurfers’ house but he was out for the evening so his friend met us and whisked us off to a restaurant in a neighbouring town. We ate mother and sister kofte and a whole platter of delicious meat, baklava, fruit and finally of course the obligatory pot of chai. Ali would not let us pay for a thing and we had only just met him, he said you are my guests. In fact we were technically only on loan to him for the evening!
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We met Ilyas and Zerah at their home and were shown to our room. Ilyas is a teacher at a local school and Zerah a university student, studying to be a teacher. Their son was adorable and a great entertainer of us throughout our stay. He is the same age as our nephew Lewis and speaks better English. They were really perfect cycling hosts; interesting conversation, great food but they knew we would be tired and need to rest too. One evening was particularly interesting, as you know there are are a lot of people unhappy with the oppressive nature of this government. It involved one very brave woman standing (literally) up peacefully for what she believes in and trying to make a difference to the future of her child. The numerous plain clothed police, oddly, did not see it that way. They made quite a fuss and when they learnt we were foreigners, who (stupidly I know) had forgotten to carry their ID with them, the fuss got bigger and turned in our direction. After a bit of an argument, Rose won I think, we were put in the back of a cop car with the press who had been filming and interviewing for over an hour flashing their bulbs as we entered. After several hours when our passports had been presented and the police seemed happy that we were not the international saboteurs that they had first feared we went to the hospital to see a doctor and prove that we hadn’t been harmed. Finally we went home, stopping off at a supermarket for food, where on leaving we found one of the plain clothed coppers lurking in the shadows outside. Awkward. We said hello to him; didn’t know what else to do. The next day the British Embassy called us and told us to be cautious and that the best course of action would be to leave and head away from the South East for the time being. The best way to do this quickly would be to go by bus, so we booked a night bus to Erzerum. We had intended to go to Lake Van and further South. Keeping our plans flexible is a good way of dealing with eventualities such as these.
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Thank-you Ilyas and Zerah for showing us the importance of backing up your beliefs, and for demonstrating how to make a lovely family home too.
Oddly enough, as on my (Jimi) last bus ride to Erzurum four years ago, the bus broke down repeatedly, with one of the tea boys jumping of every 10 minutes to hit the engine with something hard. On arrival to Erzurum we abruptly left, heading north into the green hills that surround the city. We were so tired from the overnight bus that we pulled into a disused petrol station and slept on the forecourt for several hours. We lunched out at another petrol station, a mistake. Note to self, if something tastes like it’s gone bad it probably has so stop eating it you stingy bugger. I was a little ill for the next couple of days. Rose was fine and enjoyed leading the peleton.
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For three days we climbed high passes and rolled through incredibly green valleys thick with grass, unusual compared to the rest of Turkey. We met Samil and Selep who invited us to their house for a typically amazing Turkish breakfast, thanks dudes. They told us that the locals here were lazy, that they could grow crops if the wanted but preferred to take the easier and less monetary route of keeping a few cattle. We can’t honestly say we’d do any different.
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At Ispir we turned into a valley which on the map looked like it would be a lovely couple of days on a quiet road camping by a river. However we had inadvertently stumbled into one of the huge hydroelectric dam projects which are so controversial in Turkey. Of the people we spoke to there seemed a mix of reactions to the dams. Some think it is progress, others are sad for the destruction of communities and eco systems and some are even quickly building properties on condemned land so as to make a profit when the government pays them off. The valley is narrow and has steep rocky cliff faces on either side. The first 20km was complete but the final 80km was one big building site. A terrible road surface with huge trucks carelessly rumbling past all the time made for an unpleasant ride. We decided to do a long day and get out of the valley. At 5pm we were stopped at a construction checkpoint along with all the other traffic and made to wait until the blasting and resultant rubble was cleared from the road. We pootled on again dodging the potholes after 6pm and after a few kilometres were rather surprised (see sh%t our pants) when a huge explosion went off high above the very spot we had rode not 3 minutes earlier with the boulders, big and small, tumbling down. We rode with a little more urgency after that. We didn’t make it out of the valley but we did succeed in finding a camp spot by a tea house that acted as an OK (the game, not an appraisal of facilities) gambling den for the workers when they’d knocked off.
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We rode into Yusefeli and found a campsite to rest, make arrangements for our new jobs in China, drink beer and plan our next leg.





On the not so-silky-road

16 06 2013

We knew it was time to leave Antalya when we awoke on a fine sunny morning and mutually agreed, ‘it’s a good drying day”, we had spent too long with the oldies!

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Lem and Tez in their haste to be rid of us had suggested we leave before 6 to avoid the Antalya heat. So followed their advice were on the road by 6, pm. This of course meant that we didn’t get far before dark and our first night was spent camped in some wasteland behind a run down dolmus depot at the far end of Lara.  The irony of it was that drifting over the piles of rubble and rotting tyres we’re the delights of Mozart and Beethoven, that we’re being played at the rooftop restaurant of the 5 star hotel not a kilometre from our spot.

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The next day we turned north and into the Taurus mountains on an ‘earth’ road that slowly climbed throughout the day. Eventually we dipped down in to a valley and having pushed the bikes across a river found a quiet spot in the grassy basin of the valley. Having drifted off to sleep, we awoke with a bang, and another and a bark or two. Gunfire! Alarmingly close. We sat up, shots continuing, not knowing what to do. The options we’re; going to see what was going on and risk interrupting a bullet, or lying down  and hoping that they didn’t come our way. We lay down, they came our way. Close enough to shine torches on  our tent and shout something at us. Ashamedly whilst we whispering what we should say back they moved on and we had missed our moment. The battle (with what we don’t know) continued until dawn and we slept fitfully. Non the wiser we snuck out back across the river and headed further, and higher, into the hills.

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After several hours, climbing through the treeline and over a pass of about 1500m we descended a short way into a huge green and yellow carpeted valley that was filled with herds of cows and flocks of sheep. We perched our tent on small grassy gantry that gave us a commentators view of proceedings as we watched the shepherds riding donkeys and using dogs to cajole their beasts into their respective safe zones for the night.

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The following morning we arose hungry as supplies had run low. We could, however, see at the other end of the valley (5km away) that there was a village that would certainly be able to provide some food. Unfortunately as we were heaving our bike up a steep bank to return to the track I (Jimi), and I believe this is the correct medical turn, ‘did my back’. The pain was great, the range of movement not, and it was almost an hour before the painkillers kicked in and I could bear to get up off the ground and continue. Uncle John’s first aid kit to rescue, not for the last time that week.

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We crawled slowly to the village, resupplied with cake, powdered soup and pasta. The rest of that scorchingly hot day we gently climbed the hills and slowly rolled down the other side.  Eventually we spent a restless night camped by a small but busy quarry.

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The next day we limped in to Beyşehir where we ate kofte sandwiches and did some online medical diagnosis of my back. When on the road again in the afternoon we grudginly decided it would be a good idea to hitch to Konya and visit a hospital. We pulled in to a layby to begin the thumb jabbing and found Ibrahim, a lorry driver from Istanbul, having his lunch from the pull out kitchen that Tukish lorries have on their right side. He was off to Konya and had no cargo, for now. He offered to take us and the bikes with him. After some tea and a chat, in Turkish so it was slow going, we were off. The 80 km was covered worryingly quickly. Seeing how puny we must look to lorry drivers and how little attention is paid to the road in between cigarettes and phonecalls got us thinking about putting our helmets on in future. Unfortunately we did not follow our own advice. Nether the less it was a pleasant hour spent with a kind, if careless on the road, man.

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By the time we arrived in Konya it was 6pm and too late tostart what we thought might be lengthy hospital procedures. So we checked in to a hotel courtesy of the Bev ‘Hilton’ Costello emergency funds. Cheers Bev x. In the morning after we had pillaged the breakfast buffet for all it was worth (we’re still eating the proceeds 7 days later) we we’re led to a hospital by a friendly chap from the hotel. As soon as we were introduced as yabancis (foreigners) we were thrust into a room where the doctors and nurses were having a chat. My top lifted and back poked for several minutes. Now we’re no doctors but I’m not sure the ECG scan that followed was necessary (54bpm). Just as they we’re packing us off a doctor who spoke some English arrived and took some interest in my back. He suggested it was a muscular problem but if it hadn’t improved in 7 days to come back. I had a shot in bottom to relieve the pain and the whole experience was done and dusted in 30 minutes and cost the same in Lira.

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Feeling comparably pain free for the first time in days we spent an enjoyable afternoon in Konya wandering around the Mevlana museum and bazars. We tried some local food too, the Firin kebap and Etli Ekmek are recommended. At about 4 we were heading out onto the Konya plain, the clouds were black and the industrial landscape was pierced with lightening. We tried our best to beat the clouds and the rain by cycling quickly along the long straight dusty road. We pulled into a gas station and was greeted with the usual, “çay?” We accepted and sat chatting to the garage attendant in Turkish, he repeatedly said, “yağmur” (rain) and it didn’t look as if it would stop anytime soon. He offered for us to stay there and we decided this would be the best option. We were ready to put up the tent and he said, no I have a room for you. There were two bunk beds and he let us use the kitchen to cook.

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Later in the evening when the manager had left, the man on the night shift quickly invited his mates round to use the internet, sit and drink tea and gamble online, it seemed they talked and laughed and smoked all night, regardless we slept well and awoke to sunshine and the long road ahead.

As we got 10km down the road, a campervan pulled up beside us and id ” we have your drinks, do you want drinks?” Jimi thought they were offering us cold drinks like in the Tour de France but they actually had our cups we had left behind in the garage! We thanked them and said we may see them again.

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The road was 100km of straight road, quite busy with traffic and field after fireld of agriculture. We both turned on our i pods and were listening to something to take our minds off the boring nature of the road. My mind wandered (Rose) and suddenly I was off the the road, tumbling down the sloped edge of the road, hitting my head on the tarmac and cried just loud enough for Jimi to hear through his headphones. I was in a pile on the floor, covered in cuts and bruises and sobbing. With Dr John Costellos first aid kit, mums rescue remedy and the help of  Jimi I was patched up but still feeling sorry for myself, but grateful there were no broken bones. A gallon of tea at then next garage helped me to feel better and we sorely plodded on along the endless road.

***Sıde note from Jimi. When İ returned to my bıke to retrıeve the fırst kıt I ınstead reached for the camera and slyly took a pıcture of Rose at her lowest ebb, lyıng ın the gutter, cryıng and bleedıng. Have I joıned the ranks of people who enjoys others mısery ı dıdn,t thınk to myself at the tıme. But ı dıd feel a lıttle guılty. What would you have done? Anyway, I was absolved of these feelıngs an hour later when I was chastısed for not takıng the afore mentıoned photo. Humans eh? Here ıt ıs.

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We reached Sultanhani, a old caravan saray on the Silk Road, and decided it would be good to go to the campsite and have a shower and a rest. The owner was lovely and gave us more tea and we showered and they cooked us delicious chicken. The dutch camper van people were also staying there so we shared a beer with them and swapped stories.

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Between me and Jimi we were like an old couple wincing in pain and hobbling around. Thanks to the supply of analgesics and muscle relaxants we were doing ok and I was glad of the antiseptic cream and lavender for my grazes.

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We cycled through fields and fields of sand and nothingness, not even a tree to shade under, we reached a town and started to make lunch, now we are something of a spectacle, two tourists on bicycles in the middle of nowhere! The farmers wife offered us çay, we declined,  but she went to the house and brought us some fresh (very fresh) ayran (like sour milk) which tasted like cow and was so strong I had to hold my nose as it would be rude to refuse. She even took our plates and washed them up for us, refusing to let me do it!

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We cycled on towards Hasan dağ (mountain) much to the shock of locals telling us that there are BIG dogs up there, be careful. Apparently the locals think there are wolves roaming in the mountains and are afraid to go there.  After being accosted by 20 village children we made our way to the top and much to Jimis dismay, we were nowhere near the high spot he hoped to be so he could climb the mountain the next day. (The fact it was full of snow and he had a bad back wasn’t the problem!)

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The next few days were more straightforward. We camped one night in a restaurant on a river in the Ilhara Valley, which was nice. Then in a farmers field outside the underground city of Kaymakli before arriving at our current base of a campsite in Cappadocia where we have been swimming, drinking beer and doing admin for a couple of days.

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Right now we’re off to Malatya and then Diyarbakar.

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Goodbye Antalya

3 06 2013

Well that’s it for us and Antalya, we’re back on the road again today. So, what will we remember from this extended pit stop?

Firstly, the pace of life in this relatively small Mediterranean city is slower than that of Manchester, and even other neighboring Turkish cities. We have thoroughly enjoyed cruising in the middle lane, for example swimming in the sea on our lunch hour is a rather nice way of de-stressing. Whilst here we’ve worked full time but not a regular 9 to 5 schedule like we did previously. The downside of this is we’ve often missed each other because one is working evenings for example and the other in the day.  We’re currently in the process of applying for teaching positions in the far east at international schools that keep regular hours so as to avoid this inconvenience again.

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During our time we have unexpectedly returned to the UK several times. Funerals, babies and major operations are all tactics that our families have shamelessly employed to garner our affections. We suspect they may be working a commission contract with flythomascook.com. Just another reason to get back on the bikes and pedal east if you ask me.

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Personal highlights have to be: new year in Istanbul and the surprise visit of the decadent Jason Middleton, skiing in Davras with the gorgeous Claire and fortunate Matty Walker, hiking in the surrounding Taurus mountains with friends and on  personal level ‘that volley’ I scored in my final football match (Omer- you know!). Day to day it’s been great to be able to eat out all the time and enjoy a truly outdoor culture. It’s a little different to the escape and evade rain tactics of Manchester life.

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Now the obligatory thanks. Firstly to all our friends and colleagues for being stand up folk, or barmy enough to be endearing. Secondly our students for giving us the motivation to leave the beach and drag our sorry behinds to work. And finally to Lem and Tez for being as generous as they are tolerant and letting us squat in their basement and hog the sofas for what must have seemed like longer than 6 months. Here they are celebrating our imminent departure.

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(Our version of) Turkish Hospitality

11 04 2013

Jimi  and I spent hours deliberating about what to write in the blog and which bits of our Turkish life we could share. However Jimi’s mum has kindly solved our dilemma by writing this brilliant article, not for us, but for one of the Turkish national daily’s;  Today’s Zaman. We are posting her article as it has everything we wanted to say, but better she is with the English (what’s a noun again?). We will update again soon but for now this will more than suffice. Enjoy.

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7 April 2013 /ALISON KENNY, Antalya
There’s a lot of chattering in my house at the moment and, although it’s all in my native tongue, I can barely understand a word.

I catch snippets of conversation emanating from serious-looking individuals, heads bowed intently over their work, bizarre-looking tools in hand. Sometimes similar sounds waft in my direction from the same somber heads, this time riveted to laptop screens or poring over maps and guidebooks. The conversations go something like this:

James: “Twenty-eight-inch wheels? But surely you can’t get any replacements for these over here?”

Alex: “Ah, maybe, but they roll for longer.”

James: “I thought all Thorns came with Rohloff hubs?”

Rose: “Only as an extra.”

Around the world on two wheels

And so on. It’s like a whole new language or a whole new world, and one that I will clearly never belong to, nor, to be truthful, do I wish to. These are the words of a new breed of travelers known as “cycle tourists.” Until two of my children became suddenly and inexplicable obsessed with bikes — as children they had never shown more than a passing interest in their childhood bicycles — I had absolutely no idea just how many people were prepared to set off around the world on two wheels. I can fully understand the wish to travel to foreign parts and even the pleasure of being in the open air, but am still struggling to understand the attraction of pedaling uphill on a bike loaded with all your worldly goods, including the kitchen sink, with nothing but a bleak night in a tent to look forward to.

I also had no idea of just how many of these tourists pass through Antalya. It was, of course, no surprise when my son, his girlfriend and my eldest daughter turned up last October, all looking suitably sunburned and ridiculously fit after their 5,500 kilometer trip from the UK. They had warned me about their imminent arrival and, though I managed to be absent for the event, I have had plenty of time since then to hear all the gritty details of life on the road. For my daughter, the three months in the saddle were perhaps enough to abandon her bike in Antalya and hop on a plane to İstanbul to seek her fortune, or perhaps just to enjoy the comforts and contrast available in a big city. The other two have equally happily swapped their specially padded and balanced bike seats for the rather softer options of beds and our sofas for the winter months. They are now, however, beginning to get itchy pedal feet and busy plotting the next part of their round the world cycle tour.

 

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Wild camps and warm showers

Like all moms, I like to think that my children are unique. But when it comes to cycle touring, quite clearly they are not — far from it. I now know from personal experience that there are many people from all parts of the globe who pack up their belongings into a few saddlebags (or is that panniers?) and set off around the world — because I’ve actually hosted them in my house.

Although operating on a tight budget and therefore camping (preferably “wild”) most nights, living off semi-cooked lentils and pasta, all the while huddled in four-season sleeping bags and watching out for rabid dogs, they occasionally need respite from their self-induced life of hardship. This is where we come in. My son and his girlfriend (James and Rose) cleverly joined the website, appropriately named, Warm Showers (www.warmshowers.org) before leaving the safety of their home in Manchester. Unlike its “rival” website, http://www.couchsurfing.com, Warm Showers is specifically aimed at those who understand bicycle banter and the needs of those who have traveled long distances in the saddle. Joining this website entitles the members to turn up and stay at the homes of other participants. Obviously, the deal involves the use of a bed (or sofa), preferably the chance for a hot wash and, if possible, the use of a washing machine rather than a quick rinse in a passing stream. During their time in Manchester, James and Rose hosted a couple of Koreans, a pair of Australians and a solitary Frenchman. In Manchester, they were able to treat these foreign guests to the delights of warm beer in British pubs, over-sized portions of greasy fish and chips and a guided tour round Manchester United’s football ground. What more could any self-respecting traveler hope for?

With Joo and Soo

Turkish hospitality

During their journey here, they also made use of a few warm shower hosts en route in several European countries, interspersed between the many nights spent under canvas. When they reached Turkey, however, they found very little use for either tents or warm shower hospitality. For the majority of their nights, they were offered shelter and often food by locals in villages they passed through, such being the nature of Turks, particularly those living away from large towns. With their limited knowledge of Turkish, this gave a great opportunity to learn first-hand about the culture of this most hospitable of countries.

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However, when they reached Antalya and had recovered sufficiently from their trip, they realized that although they might not be “on the road” they still had a burning desire to communicate in their newfound language — the arcane lingo of bicycle banter. Initially, they tried with us and a few of our cronies to inspire an interest in their stories, but nobody could make head or tail of their conversation. So they logged on to the Warm Showers website, updated their status to “living in Antalya,” and, within a few days, requests from itinerant cyclists began trickling in. Fortunately, it’s perfectly acceptable for participants to turn down a request if it’s inconvenient, so there’s no obligation to put up those three Finnish cycle fiends when half your relatives from the UK have just turned up for their annual holiday in the sun.

A different breed of traveler

We have, however, successfully hosted several of this breed of traveler. They may come from all parts of the world, but, no matter what their indigenous language, I’m glad to report that they all speak fluent bike banter and I am able to leave these folk to twitter away for hours about handlebars, spokes, lycra shorts with sewn-in nappies (that’s what they look like anyway), where to buy fuel for their state-of-the-art stoves in downtown Antalya and whether it’s possible to renew their Turkish visa by taking a detour into northern Iraq and re-entering from there.

To date, a very sweet Swiss couple, a lone girl from New Zealand, a charming 50-something-year-old guy from South Africa and a very vivacious German pair in their 20s have all made use of our facilities. Not only do these guests provide hours of entertainment for my son and girlfriend, they have also all made the most of having a kitchen and cooked delicious food for all of us. Their energy, enthusiasm and refreshing attitude to life are infectious. They defy the principles that my generation was brought up to uphold — the “must get a job, save money and settle down” philosophy. Instead, these people from assorted backgrounds may have saved money — but only in order to enable them to travel the world with their bikes in tow.

All seem to enjoy their stay here, spending much of their time sleeping and eating, but the rest of the time they can be found enjoying Antalya’s old town, swimming in the sea, testing out the best food spots and soaking up the good weather from the comfort of our garden. Most importantly they can — and do — indulge in endless hours of bicycle banter whilst busy mending punctures, truing spokes and greasing hubs.

Ian







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