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.

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An Odd Week for us Cyclists

14 09 2012

 

Budapest was cool. We left at 06:15 on a (shh don’t tell anyone) train to Zagreb. We we’re expecting to feel guilty as hell about not cycling but actually it felt quite luxurious and we had a pleasant 6 hours snoozing and chatting to Johnathan, our compartment mate. Our purpose for this abrupt change of direction was to go and pick up a new recruit- Rhiannon. She has been working as a Artist Liason Manager at Outlook and Dimensions festivals in Pula and will join us for the next leg to Turkey.

We then spent a very pleasant 5 hours in Zagreb cycling around, sipping coffee in a trendy cafe and eating Burek in the central park. Burek is a cheap curly pastry with meat or cheese being the common fillings. Delicious if you like cheap, greasy filling food- we do.

We then took another train to Rijeka.

After worrying about the hassle of travelling with heavily loaded bikes it was surprsingly easy, but I think this was due to the fact that are boarding and alighting stations were that end of the line, giving us more time to lift everything on and off. The whole journey cost about £45 each.

The following day the main street was filled with people. It was some sort of Olympic sports day for kids. Rose spent 2 hours watching the gymnastics while I did some shopping for maps and food.

 

After 2 days of cycling down the main coastal road, pretty busy and hilly but with lovely views, we arrived in Pula and went in search of the festival site and Rhiannon ‘the bike’ Davies. We didn’t expect to find a honed athlete but even by her standards her current state of fitness has set a new low.

Rhiannon was nursing a 14 day hangover and clearly hadn’t slept for some time. She was also sneezing and coughing a lot. Each time she coughs she yelps like a dog whose tail has been stepped on,  as she fractured a rib jumping off a homemade 10 metre diving board a few parties earlier.

Her bike (‘The doctor’) wasn’t much better either. 2 flat tyres, filthy drive train, no front brake and broken pedal straps. However with a bit of work and a lot of swearing the Doctor has been nursed back to health. Rhiannon we fear may take a little longer.

We slept in Rhiannons posh Shikar tent for free for a couple of nights but when they took all the others down and changed the code for the toilets, we knew we had to leave. So here we are in a cheap apartment (£9 each) on the edge of Pula waiting for the Saturday morning ferry to take us to Zadar where we will ride down the coast and across some of the larger southern islands towards Montenegro, Albania and Greece.

So it’s been a funny week with not much cycling. I think the rest is doing us some good but we are looking forward to getting back on the bike. It is difficult to sit still when you are used to moving every day and feels a little bit like we are under house arrest.

 





The Truth! (My days at fat camp)

21 08 2012

When we planned this trip I was promised beautiful views, camping in the wild, city hopping and meeting lots of lovely people. And yes all this has happened so far, we have met some amazing people already been to lots of cities and seen some glorious sights along the way…what I didn’t expect was the grueling ten day stint at fat camp!

I never did join a gym or go on a silly diet to try and lose the pounds, no I decided to quit my job, sell my belongings and cycle 100KM+ a day to try and lose the pounds, and that I did (I don’t do things by half).

So who would have thought that eating great hearty meals, a block of cheese, bar of chocolate a day, carbs galore and tasting all the delights of beer that Germany has to offer would actually help me to lose weight in such a short space of time!This cycling malarky is much better than any gym.

We now have our own beer compendium of all the German beers we have tasted and have been assured that the czech beer is even better.

The cycling is not the hard part although it is tiring when the sun is beating down ( we have now invested in sun hats, although Jimi thinks hes a teenager again in his and forgets its for a purpose) I will also be investing in a second pair of cycling shorts as saddle sore is a slight problem. (Sudocrem is a godsend.)

Since the 1000M dash we have now chilled out and the day after we only cycled 30km and relaxed by the lake. This is now more like I imagined, camping, cooking dinner, reading lots of books and enjoying the scenery and wildlife. The next map after Prague however has many hills, so my next blog may be a different story!

We are now in Dresden and have stayed two nights with a lovely young couple from Warm Showers who have just returned from a year on their bikes around Australia. They welcomed us into their home like we were old friends and we have had a wonderful few days and a well needed rest.

We did the obligatory tourist sightseeing things, the military history museum was very interesting, then we had a bbq in the 40 degree heat! We are now busy planning our next few weeks as we will be crossing into the Czech republic today, where we will be able to wild camp along the river Elber cycle route as much as we like as it is more acceptable. We don’t have Wifi very often so when we do we will blog and keep you all up to date with our trip. More photos in the photo gallery.

 





Cycling and Kebabs!

18 04 2012

So my holiday in Turkey taught me a lot about cycling and actually living in Turkey as a cyclist. (Me and Jimi will live in Turkey for 6 months from November.)

The first thing I noticed about cycling through the city of Antalya, when your cycling along the road is that people in cars don’t go slower, they don’t wait patiently for you to pass; they beep long and loud until I eventually had to pull in on the pavement and wait for them to pass!!

There are no cycle lanes and as a cyclist you have to decide wether to cycle on the pavement and avoid pedestrians, or dodge through beeping traffic.

So with Jimi still not able to ride a bike due to a silly car door; I decided to do a little bit of riding in Turkey. (Not the two day mountain ride we had planned.)
I thought I’d cycle to the beach, have a swim and then cycle home. So in between dodging the tram, ignoring the angry beeping car drivers and on occasion dodging pedestrian walking in the middle of the road I made it to the beach.

Another difference of Turkey which I cannot decide is a good thing or not; kebabs are eaten any time of day, not just at 11pm after frequenting the bar!

So after a ride to beach, sweating in the heat, hungrily I tucked into a Turkish kebab at 1pm in the afternoon! This can never be a normal food of choice for my lunch but in Turkey this is standard.

I am looking forward to my Turksih experience, not necessarily the beeping swerving cars but definately the kebabs at midday and the amazing scenery that Turkey has to offer.





Lycian Way- ‘Like’

14 04 2012

We have been in Turkey for a week, so here’s a little story about what we got up to.

We come here a lot to visit my (Jim) Mum, she’s lived here with Terry in Antalya for 7 years. Mum writes a column in a English language national newspaper and is a Primary school teacher too. Terry is a travel writer and Archaeological Tour Guide.

A few years ago Terry was part of a team that way marked and wrote a book about the Lycian way, a 509 km way-marked footpath around the coast of Lycia in southern Turkey, from Fethiye to Antalya. We have been meaning to walk a stretch ever since and as I still can’t cycle since I killed a car door with my chest we couldn’t complete the cycle tour in Turkey we had planned.

So we took a bus from Antalya and after a couple of changes were in Olympos, an ancient city that once housed Romans, pirates and Greeks. There are also some rather more recent dwellings, treehouses, which are home to a new generation of travellers- the backpackers! It is now a well established destination on the ‘packers circuit of Turkey. We chose to stay at Bayrams on my sisters recommendation and guess what? She was right as usual, a lovely little place that had a fire in the evening that everyone gathered round and enjoyed dinner and cold beers together, it’s 35tl each including breakfast and dinner!

But back to the Lycian Way, we did the leg that starts in the Ruins of Olympos and heads west up a steep valley. It is clearly marked with red and white stripes. We hiked for a couple of hours until we reached some more ruins where we sat and downed our water. We were drenched in sweat, I can see why they don’t recommend you do it in summer, a cloudy spring morning is hot enough. The four bottles of Efes the night before had not helped our hydration levels.

We ‘liked’ the Lycian Way and if you like walking you will too. Especially if you, like us, enjoy hiking away from the crowds of the Alps and such places. We didn’t see anyone all day but we’re sure we heard something big in the woods. Although we had just watched the Liam Neeson film about wolves 2 nights before.

Oh I almost forgot, there is a beach to read (sleep) on and a sea to swim in!





The bike is dead, long live the bike…

12 03 2012

… but on the plus side I’m still here!

Sad news on the bike front though. Potentially “the bike” was fatally wounded in a collision with a car door last week. You will be pleased to know that the car door did not make it either, the Horizon gave as good as she got.

I was on the way home from work last Friday in the bike lane when with no time to react the passenger door was swung into my chest. Now although this still sounds bad when I write it a week later I must point out that I was very lucky. If the impact of the corner of the door was any higher then it would have been throat, teeth, eyes and it would have been much more serious. Also there was a conveniently placed wall that I landed on, as opposed to the floor which likely would have meant wrists or collarbones. As it happened I escaped with a dent in my chest, whiplash and the usual cuts and bruises.

I was well pleased with the emergency services response. Within 10 minutes there was 3 paramedics (2 vehicles), a passing doctor, 3 fireman and later in A&E another doctor and a policeman; all of whom were very good with me. To be fair to the people in the car responsible they seemed really nice and were of course incredibly apologetic. They also made sure I got their details, something I was incapable of thinking about and then they reported it to the police too.

All this has of course given me the excuse to take up one of my favorite hobbies legitimately- surfing the net for “bike porn” as Rose calls it. I’m thinking (dreaming) of a Surly Long Haul Trucker.





A (little) bit more training

29 01 2012

With just 6 months until we embark on this sometimes daunting but mostly double mega exciting bike ride we have begun to train a little bit more each week. I’m playing sports at work (I teach Sport in a college) with colleagues and students and in my spare time with friends, I’m also throwing in some core strengthening sessions too. Rose is doing circuit training regularly and begins her hula hoop sessions again next week, and of course we are both cycling to and from work every day. At the weekends we like to try and get out of the city to do some longer rides or walks together.

Being our nearest hills, the Peak District is our favourite weekend getaway, whether by bike, train or our friend Pete’s borrowed Minibus. So with Pete playing the crucial roles of driver, personal trainer and story teller we struck out for a few hours in the snow. Our only aim was to have a nice Sunday out and it developed into a fartlek training session, a continuous fast walk with distances of jogging and sprints up the hills. Pete seemed to find great amusement it watching us slip and slide around the dales whilst becoming increasingly more like a hyper excited Chris Akubusi.

With a light glazing of snow, Goyt Valley could have easily graced any post card today. Apart from the red faced walleys running around in their new Oxfam T-shirts, it was a picture of serenity. I confidently recommend this part of the world to those who haven’t yet been.

Speaking of the world, we have been thinking of our summer amble though Europe towards Turkey. Has anybody out there done any cycling in Eastern Europe or rode the Eurovelo 11, what is it like? Or have you got somewhere in particular you could recommend we visit, we would really appreciate any advice.