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.)
happy to move out
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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(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




A Surprisingly Pleasant End to an Unsurprisingly Good Year

14 01 2013

The good year we expected. It was just your bog standard year, you know the type: loads of parties with friends, family gatherings, quitting of jobs and cycling 5000 kms to Asia. You know nothing special, no point saying anymore about that really.

New Year, although we were not expecting to have a bad time it turned out to be really rather special. We were due to celebrate it separately. (Can you see where this is going yet?) Rose had booked cheap flights back to the UK for Christmas and New Year to be with her family, particularly her beautifully pregnant younger sister. Whilst Jim was remaining at the coalface- those puncture repair kits won’t pay for themselves you know. I (Jim) arranged to go to Istanbul for 2 nights with my Mum and her Terry to visit sister Rhi (formerly of the Rosy and Jim TDW Cult) in her new Galata pad.

So whilst Rose was living it up in the good old North of England with our two best friends, Real Ale and Cheddar cheese, Jim was on a culinary tour of Istanbul with an Istanbulite (Rhi) and the author of A Rough Guide to Istanbul (Terry).

We started the day with a swish coffee in Cafe Konak, check this for a view (and no that isn’t Robert Redford- she gets that a lot)!Moved onto Tantuni for brunch. Tantuni is spicy beef fried and served in a durum wrap. Before moving on to baklava,  ice cream and tea in the afternoon.  We then watched the excellent Life of Pi in 3D which was fantastic. Then whilst the oldies went for a lie down, me and my sis went for a few swift beers at a English microbrewery that she knows of.

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Feeling somewhat appropriately merry we made our way back across Istanbul managing to avoid the customary groping in Taksim square towards the meyhane, Gurme Boncuk, to meet the wise ones for our New Years Eve dinner.

After several bevvies and a one hour dash via 2 tubes our bladders were somewhat at capacity, so we dashed into the restaurant eager to find the toilets. As a result the scene that greeted us almost resulted in a very embarrassing accident.

Joining the oldies at the table was Rosy Pose and Little Jas, one of my all time  top 11 friends.  My slightly drunk and high on anti bladder release adrenalin brain was saying, “I know these faces but they don’t belong in this restaurant, who ordered them?”

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After avoiding the afore-mentioned embarrassment I regained my composure and set about getting to the bottom of the mystery. I think I’ll let Rose take over from here….

I had just spent a lovely week back home, visiting the family, holding the babies: my niece Melissa, nephew Lewis and friends new addition Freya. I ate lots of lovely food, met up with almost all my friends and even had a turn at karaoke at the family christmas party! After a training visit to York to see Jemma Buxton was my next stop and the lead up to the most expensive night of our lives.

First I had a lovely tapas dinner with Izy and got to play kitchens with Lewis and generally love his new words and cuddles. I met Jas in the pub and we were catching up and chatting about new year and our respective plans. I said I was going to Ben and Cats in Manchester then get the plane to Antalya on New Years Day. Jas didn’t have much plannedl, just maybe go to someones house. I told him where Jimi was and their plans and then suddenly we shared a look across the table at exactly the same time, we both knew what the other was thinking…”what if we went to Istanbul to surprise Jimi?” The seed was planted!

8:37pm 30th December 2012.

Jas got to work on his super duper phone and looked up flights for the very next morning. As the evening wore on and I had a few more glasses of wine the idea seemed flawless and of course it was the only way we wanted to spend our New Year. Jason was driving so he cant even blame the alcohol for the rash decisions we made. We then got a call from Jonathan (Jimis dad) asking us to go to his for wine and cheese and a catch up. Off we went with the help of a few bottles of wine from Co-op and indulged in a midnight feast of cheese, scones, crackers, red wine. The idea was firmly planted by this point and with Jonathan saying, “Don’t be ridiculous, Istanbul in the morning! Ha that will never happen,” we were spurred on.

So at 3am Jas and I parted with Jas saying, “I’ll call you at 7am, look at flights and make a decision then.” “Ok Jason, of course you will.”

7:03 am 31st December 2012

After 3 hours of drunken sleep…..Brrrriiiiing brriiiing brriiiiing! “WOW Jason you meant it then?” “I’ll be there in 30 minutes was the reply.”

8:07am 31st December 2012

Jason and Rose in a Nissan Micra driving to London Stansted, ticketless, hoping we could buy a plane  ticket from the airport and be in Istanbul in time for the new year celebrations and at the restaurant at 8pm to meet everyone…easy!

First problem of the day, Jason had no passport so we had to go via Doveridge (Staffordshire) to collect his passport a change of clothes and then off to London to catch the 14:10 flight to Istanbul we saw advertised. That means we have 3 hours to get to the airport,hoping there is no traffic, park, buy a plane ticket and get to the check in before it closes…easy!

9:32am 30th December 2012

The sat Nav said 2 hours 45 minutes that means we would be there at 12:15 if all went right, and there was no traffic. We arrived at London Stansted at 12:06, parked the car, the shuttle bus took us to the terminal and we were inside the airport by 12:15. “TICKET OFFICE CLOSED: read the sign in front of us… problem number 2.

We went to the Atlas Jet desk and politely inquired if we could buy a ticket for the Istanbul plane leaving in 2 hours. ” The ticket sales man is not here so I cant sell you a ticket sorry.” Problem number 3.

Just by chance the computers and internet were right next to us so we got onto them straight away and found the website to book the flights. (it was a minor problem that the flights had gone up by about £50) We added all the details into the system with our hearts racing as check in would be closing very soon. After a minor issue of credit running out on the pre-pay machine Jas finally put in his details and his flight was confirmed, he was going to Istanbul…or so we thought!

I added the details and was using Jason’s credit card to pay for the flight, “SORRY WE DO NOT ACCEPT THIRD PARTY PAYMENTS ON THIS SITE” read the notification in bold red letters on the screen. Problem number 4. That was it, Jas was going to Istanbul – on his own. I hastily made a call to my mum, ” Mum could you put £100 in my bank straight away I’m in London airport and want to fly to Istanbul in less than an hour and check in closes in 20 minutes. “Of course love Ill do it right away!” (Mum your a life saver)

Brilliant I thought, Ill just book the flight with my card and we can be on our way. I added the details only to be told the flight was no longer for sale as the airline had withdrawn them. Of course, its 10 minutes until check in closes, no one would be so stupid as to think they could book a ticket 30 minutes before the plane leaves. (Oh yes there are) Problem number 5.

I called the ticket sales number and they said sorry there are no tickets for this flight, they are no longer for sale. So I sulkily went with Jas to check in and say my goodbyes wondering how I would get from Stansted to London then Manchester in time for my flight on 1st back to Antalya. The train to Manchester was £100 and I started to feel a little silly.

Problem number…I cant remember! The man at the desk said, “there is no confirmation of this flight so you are not booked on it. I have called the sales UK Manager and there are no details for you sorry.” “Surely there must be something you can do?” He spoke to the manager and he said Jason could buy a new ticket from him and get on the flight….hold on if Jas can buy a flight surely I can do the same I politely asked to speak to the manager. “If Jason gets to buy a ticket, please can I also have a ticket?” “Sure give me your details and ill get you both on the flight right away!” Were we hearing right?

1:45 pm 31st December 2012

Jason gave his card details and to our delight two boarding cards were printed and handed to us with the words, “dont worry you have to go through security and go on the shuttle across the airport to the plane but it will wait for you no problem!”

Me and Jason were giddy that after all the problems and near misses we were finally going (to even our own disbelief) to Istanbul right now. In the hurry Jason left his phone at the security and the assistant said don’t worry ill go and get it for you, the plane will wait. You would think we were some kind of VIPs and the airport was on hold for us. This was all too good to be true.

14:15 31st December 2012

Alas no phone arrived so we boarded the plane which had in fact waited for us. Jason cancelled his phone literally just as we  left the runway, saying I have to go I’m on a plane.

We were brought Efes and a tasty meal as we soared over the Alps to a beautiful sunset and great view of the snow capped mountains. We couldn’t really believe we were actually on the plane after all that had happened, 4 hours sleep and a hell of a lot of adrenalin and hare racing going on all day. I may add that Atlas Jet are a fabulous airline, free luggage, loads of leg room, tasty food and drinks and very friendly and helpful staff.

As we landed at Istanbul airport, I asked a girl if by any chance she was going to Taksim Square and if she wanted to share a taxi, sure she did, she was surprising her friend there as well. (She had of course had hers booked for months).

So we arrived at the restaurant and was quite funny trying to explain to the manager that it was a surprise and not to tell them we are here. Finally he said, “oh Supris” which is very similar in Turkish. We sat down, had a well earned beer and waited with baited (although boozy) breath. In the midst of all the excitement at the airport and thinking it would never happen, I had text Lem to say I couldn’t come and that Jas would be coming alone, I had forgotten to text to say I would now be there, so even she was surprised when she climbed the restaurant stairs to see me and Jas sitting there.

So as Jimi pointed out earlier, he was desperate for the toilet and did in fact nearly wee himself at the sight of us two sitting there when he thought he would be greeted by just the oldies!

IMG_6164

The night was better than we could have hoped for and the flow of food, wine, Efes and Raki added to the enjoyment of the evening. We even did some Turkish dancing at midnight and shortly after Tez fell asleep at the table, we went onto a club (something we would never normally do) and had a jolly good time! The trip was well worth the butterflies, the anxiety and the money we spent. To top it off, Jas overslept and nearly missed his plane home. But as we now know you CAN check in late and board at the last minute, I guess some airline staff are kinder than others.





It’s starting to feel a little more real!

29 04 2012

So we are going on a bike ride and up until now we have had no bikes!

After many hours of Jimi searching far and wide for the perfect machine, he found me a ‘Ferrari’ as he called it! (Well it was black and red)

Only a small problem, it was in London and we are in Manchester. Thanks to a helpful auntie, problem solved, we borrowed a car and drove to get it. I was assured by Jimi it would be worth the early start, long drive, expensive petrol and heavy traffic jams along the way!

So we set off and hoped it would fit me and feel right to ride. (I secretly think Jimi was hoping it wouldn’t fit me so he could have it.)

After the Sat Nav nearly taking us the wrong way up one way streets, down industrial estates and crazy drivers beeping for nothing, we reached our destination.

Duuuuum duuuum duuuuuuuuuuuum… it was perfect! We were greeted by a friendly face, freshly brewed coffee and a nearly brand new Thorn Sherpa bike, perfect size, mint condition, and dare I say it, beautiful (Yes Jimi I think its beautiful, and not just a bike with two wheels.)

So I have my bike now and it feels as though everything is coming together for our trip, only a few more things to get and we can be on our way.

Jimi had a few days of intense jealousy and looking longingly at my bike until he found a bike which he will go and pick up tommorow… from Edinburgh.

From opposite ends of the country but he has the same bike as me, only a black one (and not as good.)

So now I have THE bike, I need to get practicing on it now and await the big day to arrive. (86 days to go, not that I’m counting!)





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!





Carradice

19 03 2012

A big thank- you to Carradice for providing us with some fantastic looking panniers and handlebar bags. They have kindly supplied us with these free of charge to support us with our round the world bike ride.

They are a lovely firm based in Nelson, Lancashire;

“In the early 1930’s Wilf Carradice first made a saddlebag for himself and discovered it was far better than anything else available. Friends soon asked for copies. By the end of the 30’s Carradice were making tents, rucksacks, sleeping bags and jackets too. Throughout the 40’s and 50’s our bags were the choice of every hard riding tourist or clubman. By the 70’s Wilf was wanting to retire and to pass the firm’s experience and reputation onto someone who would continue to produce bags to the same exacting standards. Fortunately Neville Chadwick, a keen cyclist saw the potential for quality made cycle bags and took the company on. Demand again began to outstrip the production facilities and two moves to larger premises followed.”

I met with David (son of Neville) who now runs Carradice. He was very nice and talked me through the different options, in the end I chose the CarraDry over the SuperC. The SuperC have some great reviews particularly from someone who cycled through Africa with them, but with the memory of wet sleeping bags clouding my judgement I went for the CarraDry, less durable but more waterproof. Time will tell if I made the right choice. Although David did get some extra protection pinned on to the base of ours there and then in the workshop.

David also told me about a guy they had previously helped with bags for worldwide bike trips: Ian Hibell. “In 1963, determined to see more of the world, he left Brixham, Devon, to explore some of the most wild and inaccessible places on Earth. He has pushed, dragged or carried his bike from the fringes of the Antarctica to the jungles of the Amazon, from the Artic to the remoter islands of Indonesia.Naturally there are many extraordinary stories to tell, so many people and places, so many miles. Chased by an elephant, sniffed by a lion, jailed, shot at. More friendly confrontations have led to hospitality by such as an Eskimo princess, a Dyak headman in Borneo, African chiefs and missionaries. 

What a legend! And I don’t use that word lightly, a real inspiration.

As soon as I can join Rose on the bike again we will get away for some more training rides and start testing this lovely looking kit. We will post a review of CarraDry in the equipment section.