Saturday, 30 November 2013

Along the road to Rome

Bullet Points

-After catching a ferry from Patras in Greece, we’ve spent ten days in Italy cycling from Bari on the East coast to Rome on the West.

-We're actually now in...North Africa! A blog of our Spanish experiences will be coming soon but for now Morocco is just outside our door and begging exploration!


I have to admit that I expected the open and often spontaneous welcomes we’ve so often received along our journey to come to an end upon arriving in Europe. Our experience in Italy was a far from it.

There was the farming family, who took us in on our first night. To them we must have been a bizarre sight arriving out of the darkness, dressed in our high-viz vests and flashing lights, but despite this their welcome was warm.

In the hill top village of Accadia we arrived on a cold dusk, the rain setting in. Out of the local store emerged Antonia. Perhaps we looked a bit bedraggled I don’t know, but whatever our appearance Antonio perceived we needed a bed, some warm shelter and a meal, and all of these things he proceeded to gift us enthusiastically. 

Antonio: The king of the Kitchen and all round top guy.

Half way along the journey, in the city of Benevento, we spent two days and three nights with Massimo Mazzone and his wonderful extended family, dossing down on their office floor. Massimo is a transport planner and involved in the development of the EuroVelo cycling routes. His wealth of knowledge assured that our route through Italy was anything but straight and flat, yet so extremely interesting and rewarding.

Massimo and family

With the shortening daylight hours we found ourselves often being caught out by the early Italian darkness. One night, again dressed up in high-viz gear and with flashing lights, I knocked upon the door of Eugene and Sabina to ask if we could camp on their lawn. As it panned out I had chosen the most wonderful home on which to door knock. Camping on the lawn evolved to sleeping inside, which then lead to coffee, then beers, and before long we sharing a wonderful meal together with their friends in a lounge overflowing with laughter and singing and even toasts to us!

Eugene and Sabina: An incredible welcome in Castelliri after being caught in the dark...again!

And finally in Rome, I could not believe our good fortune, hosted by Paolo and Giusi and their two girls Greta and Yola, in the heart of the old city, in fact on the same street that Julius Caesar was born on! Paolo, a journalist and cycling activist, is planning his own cycle expedition around the world, his 50th birthday celebration. An incredibly creative and adventurous character, he builds his own bikes from scratch, right from the welding of the frame, and we loved getting to see the local ‘bike kitchen’ that he’s involved in as a volunteer.
Paolo. He'd visited NZ in1995 and ever since has mourned the Diamond Pasta recipe for 'Good Italian Cooking'. He even kept this momento framed on the wall of his home to serve as a reminder of how badly we misrepresented his home country's fine cuisine.

 Along the way this little part of Italy has been a unique cycling experience. Unlike many parts of our journey the land has been inhabited almost constantly, the rolling green hills dotted with houses and mini farms, often clustered into classicly cute villages. To weave and wind our way through this style of civilization was a playful cycling experience. Every hill top would have a village, often hemmed in by ancient city walls. Again and again we would wind our way up through the lanes and then whizz down the other side. I will remember fondly any time we stopped to ask for instructions and true to their reputation yet another friendly Italian would exuberantly and dramatically wave their arms wildly and give us a long list of instructions, all in Italian of course. Our lack of understanding and dumbfounded looks did nothing to stop their eloquent and detailed descriptions. Repeatedly we would emerge none the wiser but very entertained! 

Belmonte Castello. Winding our way up to another grand village on a hill top.

Classic Italian beauty.

Weaving through the lanes of Veroli.

Anna looking out over the sprawling civilisation.

On a more serious note, our route to Rome also lead us to the town of Cassino, site of the famous World War Two ‘Battle of Monte Cassino’ in 1944. My Grandpa Yeoman, now aged 91, was a conscientious objector at the time of the war, he was willing however to serve as a medic and served for some time at Cassino. We found our way to the cemetery for Commonwealth soldiers, and wandered amongst the graves, of which many were young New Zealanders. The experience was moving. I was left reflecting on how many people all over the world never got to farewell their lost loved ones. I was also filled with a huge respect for my Grandpa, and for all those who witnessed such atrocities and yet have managed to retain their sanity and return home to build good lives.

Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Arriving in Rome was awesome!! To ride through the arches of the old city walls and down the ‘Via Labicana’ to the Colosseum was absolutely brilliant.  Everything was so big and so grand and for us such a culmination of a great Italian experience. 

Needs no introduction. AWESOME!!!

Riding Rome.
Rome does things BIG. Ollie at the Pantheon.

Over looking Rome from Piazza del Popolo. The Vatican most prominent on the skyline.

Fontana de Trevi.


Thursday, 14 November 2013


Bullet Points:
- We travelled by ferry from Cesme, Turkey to Athens, Greece.
- We rode for five days from Athen to Patra.
- We caught a ferry from Patra to Bari, Italy.

As our overnight ferry pulled into the port in Athens right on sun up, we arrived in Europe proper! Not without some trepidation, because while a lot of things would be so much easier and culturally familiar, to navigate this highly developed world on bicycles and a tight budget could take more creativity than ever! We also arrived with quite a lot of amazement, Anna and Ollie in Europe, in Greece!! How did this happen?! What a long way from Tibetan China!

A fun day in Athens enjoying some of its ancient wonders, and an amazing evening with our Warmshowers host Dimitris, and we were feeling more settled in. Then four days of wonderful cycling along the north side of the Gulf of Korinthos and we were well in love with Greece! The landscape was a mixture of small scale farmland, olive groves, bush covered hills and pine-clad rocky peaks. The lanes winding through this were narrow but sealed, making for wonderfully fun riding between some picturesque villages. Lots of white painted walls and orange tile roofs, and lovely Orhodox churches and squares in the village centres. The later section of riding was along the coast, again lots of bright blue sea, bright scrubby headlands and a few late-season swims!

We loved what Greek food we tried! “Pita gyros” were soft warm pita breads wrapped around tasty doner kebab pork, tomato, raw onion, hot chips and lashings of thick garlic-herb-yoghurt dressing. Delicious olives, feta (must be pronounced ‘feeeehh-ta’ to ensure understanding! None of this Kiwi speed-talking!), dense but tasty loaves of bread and the thickest yoghurt I’ve ever eaten.

We were of course interested to see how life was on the ground in a country that has been in the news so much with its huge financial troubles. In terms of what we saw, nothing jumped out at us as being very different. But we had interesting talks with a couple of people about it. There was some frustration with the government whose policy seemed to them to be to simply impose one tax after another on the population to pay off the massive debts, without trying any more creative endeavours. Each week they would find there was a tax on something else, electricity bills, buying food, building fences. One man joked that next there would be a tax on his dog kennel! Salaries had been nearly halved, but prices had gone up rather than down. Huge unemployment. We were told that some people were “going back to the land”, growing more of their own vegetables, keeping chickens etc. When were things meant to improve? 2018 was the word out there. Seems rather a long time! But people are keeping on, life carrying on. Kind of amazing really.

After four days riding we crossed the striking Rio-Anttirio Bridge linking mainland Greece with the Peloponnese. It is considered an engineering masterpiece, as spanning a plate boundary it is built to withstand tsunamis, seismic ativity and the 1 cm a year drift of the Peloponnese away from the mainland! So it has stretchable sections! Quite a buzz to ride over! We said goodbye to Greece as we sailed out of the port of Patra on a 15 hour crossing to Bari in southern Italy. We are trying to traverse Europe while staying as far south as possible, to avoid the fast-encroaching winter! Sunset time at present is 4.15pm, and for the first time in five months we are sometimes getting more than one rainy day a month! Horrors! The adventure continues!


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Our Little Home

It’s been over seven months now that we’ve been slowly weaving our way across the great landmass of Eurasia. In that time we’ve passed through nine countries. Not one day is the same, I’m constantly in awe of how varied the earth is. One landscape might remind me of another but always there is something new, something different, the variety within nature seems infinite and is quite astounding. There are in fact very few things which remain constant for us.  The changes we experience as we cross another border I find quite phenomenal. Like the wardrobe to Narnia we literally walk through a building and into a vastly different culture with different foods, currency and accompanied mental arithmetic, new written and spoken language, road signage, social norms, driving styles, architecture and building materials, means of energy production, plug sockets, clothing, the list could go on. Our travelling world is dynamic and all this change can send our minds into somewhat of a dazed turmoil as we quite suddenly give up the old that has became semi-familiar and work at adapting to the new. All a great part of the adventure. All taxing stuff!

With all this change and constant unfamiliarity I find myself taking great pleasure and comfort in the little familiar things. Slipping into my snuggly down jacket, sitting down with a good book, settling into the well worn bike saddle for another day, firing up the stove to cook another evening meal, my evening diary writing session, or even the simple routine of brushing the teeth!

Yet the finest and most comforting routine is without a doubt crawling into our beloved tent at the close of another day. 98 times now on this journey we’ve enjoyed this simple pleasure. Surely the most valuable asset we brought with us, our home away from home. Once inside and the zip is closed our world suddenly shrinks into a small cocoon of familiarity. Nothing changes in this little orange dome of homeliness, it’s bright yellow lining brings brightness to any situation. Everyday is sunny inside a yellow tent!

We’ve dived inside, shivering cold and sodden wet, caught short by electrical storms in Kyrgyzstan. We’ve leapt out of it, overheating in the early mornings of high summer in Tajikistan.  We’ve not wanted to leave it and head out into driving sleet high on the Tibetan Plateau. We’ve clung on to our Big Orange as it’s been almost ripped off the ground during a particularly memorable midnight weather onslaught in Greece.

I remember fondly some of the interesting spots our little home has stood upon in these 98 nights, they are varied but the inside of the tent goes unchanged. Orchards and vineyards, petrol stations, cafes, hotel balconies, gravel pits, beaches, river banks, police stations, lakesides, playgrounds, ancient fortresses and castles, road roundabouts, public parks, front lawns and backyards, on mountain tops, amongst yurts, and even inside hotels. 

Given to us nearly three years ago as a wedding present by my family, our little tent has become much more than just a shelter. It is the one thing most familiar to us as we journey. It is our mobile home for these days. It is a daily place to retreat to and the feeling as we zip up the door, lie down and pull the sleeping bags up tight for another night is always one of happiness! As I write the rain is drizzling, the goat bells (that’s right, not cow bells) are chiming, the distant dogs are barking and the wind turbines are humming, and I’m tucked up all cozy and getting those happy vibes once again.

Thanks Whanau for our little home of 2013!


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Western Turkey

Bullet points and route description:
-  We road west for 8 days from Antalya to Fethiye, Datca, Bodrum and Kusadasi.
-  From Kusadasi we visited Ephesus, and then bused and ferried on a side trip to Istanbul.
-  We returned to our bikes at Kusadasi and rode to Cesme to catch the ferry to Athens, finishing 2500km of riding in Turkey!

Photos and some choice details:
Leaving Antalya we chose a route heading through the hills, looking for relaxed rural Turkey again after the somewhat touristy coast! We found it, in narrow winding lanes through the forested hills, in classic wee villages, and in amazing hospitality yet again! Being put up in the village cafeteria was a highlight, and we spent that evening celebrating the second night of Bayram Kurban, their four-day holiday. 

Riding the windy hill roads from Cameli to Fethiye

About to tuck into the third course, pomegranates, apples, peanuts and seeds. With a wonderful extended family gathered in Kizilcadag for Bayram

After three days through the hills we popped out on the coast again, straight into bling marina towns and wide roads cutting, instead of winding, through the hilly country. After some adjustment, we again found peaceful places to ride on the Datca Peninsula. The forested hills, calm water and idyllic inlets and islands reminded us a bit of the Marlborough Sounds.

Peaceful late afternoon at our campsite, Datca Peninsula

Beautiful boats in bling town Bodrum

We made our way north up the Aegean coast to Kusadasi, including in our journey a fun ferry ride across one great inlet. In Kusadasi we were lucky enough to stay with a WarmShowers (couch surfing equivalent for cycle tourers) host called Ege Ertas, a really top-class guy and brilliant host. We shared wonderful meals, conversations and laughs. He is studying to be a tour guide and is an enthusiastic fountain of knowledge about his country, as well as being a critical thinker about its future. It was great to get an insight into student Turkey.

Visiting the ancient city of Ephesus was really special. Inhabited since about 1000BC, for a while the Roman capital of Asia Minor, it was abandoned in around 600AD because its harbor became progressively more silted up, thus cutting off the city’s transport and trade means. It now stands 10km from the sea. It is also amazing to imagine the Apostle Paul preaching in the city, and the early church that grew up there through some pretty hard times.  We stayed right up until closing time, and as the cruise ship crowds gradually cleared off for their dinners, we had the place to ourselves, and wandering through the quiet, spacious streets was wonderfully atmospheric!

In the Grand Theatre, Ephesus. Trying out the great accoustics!!

Wandering the great streets in the early evening quietness
Leaving our bicycles and luggage at Ege’s place, we made the pilgrimage by bus and ferry to the great city of Istanbul. For us this has always been a special destination in our journey. Since Shanghai we’ve been on the road to Istanbul, with plans beyond that a lot more fluid. So it was very special for us to arrive here, coming in by ferry to the mouth of the Bosphorus, with the Aya Sophia and Blue Mosque forming our skyline.

For five wonderful days we wandered the narrow cobbled streets of the old city, gazed up in wonder at the high domes of the mosques and churches, rode the trams, buses and Bosphorus ferries, and sat by the Galata bridge over the Golden Horn with the fishermen, food sellers and the coursing bustle of city life moving all around us, listening to the call of the gulls and the call to prayer.

Downtown Istanbul and the Golden Horn

Fishermen on the Galata Bridge

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Camii) by night

On the Bosphorus

Now we've just completed our final stage of Turkish riding, from Kusadasi to the port town of Cesme where we catch the ferry to Greece. Our last day in Kusadasi we headed out with Ege and a friendly Austian cyclist named Ursie, cruising happily on our light bikes in the Dilek Peninsula National Park for the day. Special stuff!

The bike gang!

Ege, Ursie and Anna picnicking in the National Park
We are sad to leave Turkey, in that happy thankful way! It's been a wonderful country to ride across these last seven weeks. When I think of what I'll miss most, I think straight away of the Turkish chai (cay) in it's trademark small curved glasses. On my first days in Turkey I thought these were rather a silly idea, but now whenever I see these glasses all the Turkish chai memories come flooding back into my mind and heart. Memories of being welcomed, of being cared for, of being allowed to share in conversations and village life, of being given shelter from storms and refreshment in the heat. Special times spent with incredibly generous and welcoming people. We are once again feeling so very thankful to have been able to journey here.