Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas!

What a year! It's hard to think back and realise what a downer we were on last Christmas with the house and everything stalling as it always seemed to. I'd like to say I've completely forgotten that feeling, but I think it's still at the back of my mind...

Our bright spot was our visit to Canada to spend with Martin's brother Lloyd and family, Yvonne, Laura, Amy and Rich.

Anyway, this year we're happily ensconced at HiG's enjoying the festivities. Presents have been opened and I'm enjoying my annual box of Ferrero Rocher. So there's nothing left to do but to wish all our family and friends (both new and old) a Merry Christmas. If you're still out there travelling I hope you have found some new friends to share the day with.

Martin and Victoria

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

New Galleries

Our latest galleries from Bulgaria and Romania are now up.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Men in hats

We had planned to fly back to England last Thursday but various men (and one woman) in hats changed all that. We bought train tickets from Brasov in Romania to Warsaw in Poland and I explained that we had our bikes. The lady at the counter said we'd need to see the conductor but it shouldn't be a problem. It sounded like the same deal as Istanbul - Plovdiv and Sofia - Bucharest so we weren't that concerned.

In fact the journey started out that way too. The first conductor needed 'tipping' to allow us to put the bikes in a spare compartment and all was going well until we reached the Hungarian border. At this point she left the train and a new set of conductors got on. We decided to play dumb and claim the last conductor had said we'd be fine all the way through to Warsaw but he was having none of it. He demanded 20 Euros per bike which would get us as far as the border. Our choice was pay up or get off. It suddenly became clear that we were going to face this situation not only in Hungary but Slovakia, Czech Republic and finally Poland. Forty Euros a time would mean the bikes would cost double what we had and it was mouch more thatn we could afford. Especially when we knew the money was going straight into some bent conductors pocket.

In the end I used my acting skills to persuade him we only had a small amount (less than 5) of euros and a couple of dollar bills which he took as the 'fee' for the bikes to Budapest. We decided to hop off there, find out where we could get a slow train and continue our journey later that evening or the next day. At the station we got our tickets ammended and were told to have a chat to the conductor. Like fools we assumed this would be a better situation.

Margit met us at the station and asked us if we needed accommodation. As it happened we did and she showed us to an apartment she lets out and was generally very nice to us. I nipped out to get us some grub (we hadn't eaten all day) and ended a somewhat fraught day by not being able to recognise our lobby door among the many similar ones on our street. I increasingly frantically tried the key in any number with no joy. In fact, I was about to throw a small stone at a like looking lit window when I remembered a travel agents we'd walked past was 50m further up the street. Two minutes later all was well but it was hardly the perfect way to end the day.

Our train was not until 11:50 and we got up feeling as if we'd made the right decision: a night in a bed always being preferable to one on a train. When the train arrived I headed off to use my charm on the conductor to see if I could get the bikes safely chained up in a quiet bit of carriage near the engine. They'd be in out of the way and it seemed to be an amicable solution. In fact, the only solution acceptable was to give the conductor 40 euros. This would get us to Slovakia where naturally the same game would start again. It was, in every way, too much. If we can't take bike on the train then why weren't we told when we bought the tickets? If you can - as bunging the conductor proves - then why can't you do it in some legitimate way? I was pretty angry at this point and ready to fight anyone in a peaked cap, ready in fact to do what I could to bring the Hungarian state to its knees. In the end we decided the only thing we could do was to get in touch with our old mate Stelios at easyJet and get him to get us the hell out of there.

So while I munched my fish paste pasty (don't ask) Vic went webbing and got our tickets changed. At 5:30pm we were in the air and at 7ish we were calling Wardy from the airport to ask for a room. Thankfully, his floor was available and we spent a couple of relaxing days there with TV we could understand and food options which didn't involving miming and pointing.

While in the Harrow area I nipped back to see the old flat and was dismayed to see our nice hardwood door had been replaced with a white uPVC one with those flat, brass-coloured, parallelogram-shaped numbers stuck to the window. "48" was on one pane, "A" on the other. Another highlight was the Harrow Tesco. (Not a sentence you'd ever expect to read...) While in the checkout queue I was asked to pass the 'Next Customer' bar by the old bloke behind me. As I did he unloaded his trolley and asked me to "guess how much this kettle cost". I told him I had no idea. "£5.27", he replied, "but I don't know how good it'll be so I bought two."

We stuck to our original plan of getting the Thursday train to Darlington and that's where we are now. Hig seemed quite pleased with his present of a sheesha but, to be honest, a bit less thrilled by the stinking cold we gave him as well. Some people, eh?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Escape from Sophia

Our arrival in Sophia was relatively painless and we made our way through the streets to our Hostel (the fantastic Hostel Mostel). And we're still here.... all that is about to change though as we're getting our act together and will be getting the sleeper train to Bucharest tonight.

We do have an excuse for our delay in getting to Romania though. The Romanian Embassy here in Sophia take 5 working days to process your visa. It was annoying though when I got to the Embassy today and handed over my passport and $40US ($40US for a piece of paper!) and they then went through a pile of papers on the desk, grabbed my application which had no changes and then stuck the piece of paper in my passport.

Cheap wine and a three day growthFrustrating, but it has given us an opportunity to relax here and meet some fellow travellers as well as sampling the local beverages. Imported "brand" drinks cost about 6 times the cost of the local brew so we've tried the local rum (with the fantastic name of "Pom"), the local beers and of course the wine. Most of the wine was quite drinkable but when Banz and a couple of fellow travellers went for a late night run they bought back one bottle which cost a total of 0.95 lev (approx 34 of your English pence or 84 Aussie Cents). Unfortunately this wine had the colour and bouquet of red cordial with none of the sugary taste or post-drink hyperactivity. We stuck to the expensive 3 or 4 lev bottles after that!

So our three or so weeks in Bulgaria will finish tonight. We had originally planned to spend about a month in Romania after enjoying it so much on our first trip there back in 1998 (also our first trip together - ahhh!), but time is against us, so it will just be 3 or 4 days before heading up to Warsaw to meet up with Beatre, Gerry, Kuba and Victor and getting our flight back to the UK next Thursday, December 9th.

We've enjoyed our time here in Bulgaria and will definitely come back as there's a lot more here than we realised.

We still haven't got to grips with the yes/no headshaking thing, but we proudly translated a Bulgarian calendar with cyrillic into its Italian food equivalents the other night.
Fame and its trappings

After writing the blog below earlier today I thought I'd have a general surf of the web. I saw a link for this site - The Hungry Cyclist which has been set up by Tom who is doing a tour starting in Toronto and going across Canada and then down through South America by bike. Tom's obsession is all about food (a man after our own hearts) and when I saw that he was going to Cuba I thought I'd pass on some info about the gastronomic delights of Cuba (well, I let him know that it was a bit hit or miss, but you could get lucky!).

After sending off the mail I kept exploring his site and imagine my surprise when I found that we were in his Links section. To quote -

The Big Trip - Full of whacky facts about the two riders and what they are up to this site is great fun!

We promise we won't let it go to our heads.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Cabin Fever

Spot the differenceWe finally got on our bikes again, got lucky with the weather and hit the roads of Bulgaria. It's a pretty hilly country but our route hugged the lowlands and on the first day of riding we set off from Plovdiv and headed down highway no. 8. It's a fairly busy road but the Saturday traffic gave us plenty of room and we whizzed along at 18 km/h. There weren't too many food opportunities to be had on the way but our excitement was very real when we spotted a sign for a service station with the little knife and fork symbol next to it. And it was just outside the town of Pazardzhik, our destination.

We've lost count of the number of times we've fancied sausage and chips over the last few months but for once our wishes came true. The waitress at the "Road House" seemed a little surprised to see a couple of cyclists turn up, especially when we asked to sit outside. Our linguistic overlap was small but the pictures in the menu meant we could get our hands on exactly the sausages we wanted. Life was good!

We managed to find 3 hotels in Pazardzhik; one expensive and crappy, one full and one expensive but with a bath. We chose option 3 and actually got upgraded to an apartment for no extra cost. It was fantastic to lounge about in our first baths since France and I took advantage to the tune of 3 per day. We spent a couple of extra days in Pazardzhik due to a stomach upset for Vic and some sore legs for both but got moving again on Wednesday.

The no. 8 highway was not as pleasant on a weekday and a noticeable headwind (the only type they have) made everything a bit of a grind. It was hard but enjoyable and the scenery was lovely. Hills loomed on either side and the sunlight lit them up when it broke through the clouds. We rode with our thermals, Buff hats and thick socks & gloves on and were just about warm enough. At about 4 o'clock we reached Belovo and it became obvious that it wasn't a big enough town to have a hotel. As we resigned ourselves to getting the train the 20 kilometers to Kostenets we met an Anglo-Bulgarian couple, who own the town's Aladdin's cave second-hand shop, and they showed us the way to a holiday cottage owned by friends of theirs. It's a nice little place but with not much to do...

On Thursday night I decided to nip to the shop to get supplies and managed to take a tumble down the steps and ended up by going right over on my left ankle. I bravely tried to shrug it off but the slightest amount of pressure on it caused me agony. I dragged myself up the steps and back into the room to make a pasty-faced report to Victoria. She said I didn't look good. The swelling started immediately but our proddings indicated nothing was broken. (Photos to follow gore fans!) That was Thursday night and today, Monday, on the advice of the handy doctor next door, I went to the hospital. The doctor prodded me, sent me for an x-ray and then proscribed some ibuprofen gel and tablets and told me not to do much walking. There goes tomorrow's Belovo marathon...

So for the last 3 days we have sat around the house, listening to the World Service, reading and getting frostbite every time we leave the one heated room. We really need to get out of the village of Belovo so tomorrow, against doctor's orders, we plan to get the train to Sofia.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Back in Europe

To be completely honest, we don't really know anything about Bulgaria except that they nod their heads when they mean no and shake them when they mean yes - no confusion there then.

We had elected to get the sleeper overnight from Istanbul to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second city. We had had a quick scan through our slowly disintegrating Rough Guide and thought it looked like an interesting first stop.

The train journey was broken up with the two border controls - leaving Turkey and arriving in Bulgaria. Every other time we have crossed a border on a train, the officials get on and walk through the compartment checking your passport there, but Turkey was different. The train stopped at what looked like an abandoned cargo station at 3 in the morning. We then were herded into a railway underpass where we waited. Did I mention it was raining? After 20 minutes, we were then directed to a passport office where we were duly stamped out of Turkey. Back to the train and we waited there whilst an immigration officer went through the train and double-checked that our papers were in order. We didn't want to take our shoes off and get back into our bunks in case it was the same story again on the Bulgarian side. Fortunately our conductor came and put us out of our misery and assured us that the Bulgarian Immigration officer would stamp us in on the train. They were true to his word and we were able to enter Bulgaria by just sleepily smiling at the officer from the comfort of our bunk beds.

We then slept comfortably until we were on the outskirts of Plovdiv. On arrival, the bikes and us were unloaded swiftly and the train continued on to Sophia. Our first stop was the local cafe for some breakfast. Not just any breakfast, as we were looking forward to our first sausages since August. Unfortunately, they were out but we made do with the next best thing in pork rissoles. We passed the meal in the hope that the cyrillic alphabet will become easier to decipher as we go along. Some serious study is required.

After breakfast I guarded the bikes while Banz went searching for some accommodation. During his fruitless trawl along Plovdiv's main drag, I was asked the time by Diane, a student. We got chatting and she asked me with a look of concern, "Why do you come to Bulgaria?" and when I answered for tourism, she guffawed and said, "this is my home, I was born here, but I do not love it here, my dream is to go to America". I questioned her further on this and she explained that she is going to Ohio, but has no friends or family or a job there. I told her that I had been to Cleveland seven years ago and she was very interested and was asking me all sorts of questions about what it was like, was it better than here? For the first question, I didn't want to tell her that I only went for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which was undeniably the highlight of all the museums I went to in the States), so I just hedged my bets and said it seemed nice and that the people were friendly. For the second, I didn't feel that I was in a position to answer the question since I'd only been in Plovdiv for all of 45 minutes and had been mainly based in and around the train station for the majority of that. I was rescued by the arrival of her friends from Uni and we said our goodbyes.

Banz returned and since he'd done the talking in the cafe, it was my turn to ring a number in our Rough Guide which was an agency for rooms. Armed with our Eastern European Phrasebook I hunted down a phone and made a call. My attempt in Bulgarian was cut short with a "Je parle francais" which I countered with a "Do you speak English?" which again was returned with a "Je parle francais". I did my best "mon mari parles francais" and hung up for Banz to attempt to rescue the point. He returned as the conquering lingua franca hero - complete with prices and directions to the agency. I guess we need to get to South America or Japan before my limited language skills can be of use again whereas Banz's french has come in handy in Italy and now Bulgaria as well as the villages of France. Within 20 minutes, we were ensconced in our bedroom (with spare room on the side for the bikes) with the telly on (with lots of english channels). Today we were pleasantly surprised to see Boro's game from Sunday being replayed on Bulgarian tv at 3 in the afternoon. Well, it was pleasant until we saw Bolton's blatant time-wasting methods firsthand. Ahh, the joys of foreign tv.

Despite the skepticism of the youth of Plovdiv (our waiter from our first evening also looked incredulous when we told him we'd come to Bulgaria for tourism in winter), we like what we've seen of Bulgaria so far. The people are friendly (and really well-dressed - they would look at home in London) and the food is cheap.

All looks good for country number 9 of The Big Trip.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

You can always start!

Yesterday we were having a wander around a smaller bazaar near our hotel. In the bazaar is a fantastic pipe shop with pipes of all shapes and sizes (our particular favourite being a pipe with Sherlock Holmes smoking a pipe on the bowl).

As we walked past we had the following exchange with the salesman -

Pipe Salesman - Do you want a pipe?
Banz and Vic - No thanks, we don't smoke.
Pipe Salesman - Well, you can always start!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Jumpers and Shoes

On Monday night we packed our bags into an Amman mini-bus, said a tearful farewell to the Chili House and headed off to the airport. Our flight was at 4:30am but the couple of hours or so before we checked in passed quickly enough. We both managed to sleep for the entire 2 hours we were in the air which had the happy consequence of us missing whatever meal gets served at 5am.

When we reclaimed our bags we noticed that something had been taken - the toolkit which is normally attached to my bike but which we'd moved to the tent bag for safety. It's a pain and we have notified the airline and await their next move...

Istanbul has caused us to shift the stuff around our bags so that suncream and shorts are down the bottom and weird things like jumpers, shoes and socks are dragged out of semi-retirement. It's a nice change to wander about wrapped up in what for us is chilly weather.

On Wednesday we visited the amazingly ornate Blue Mosque which is very active but peaceful at the same time. Yesterday we had a Turkish bath which is a real not-to-be-missed experience. You start by relaxing on heated marble slabs before the bath masters arrive to whisk you to an ajoining room. The first stage is a good soaking with warm water and then an all over scrub with a rough cotton mitten. Dead skin and black muck of some nature is stripped away from what you assume is a reasonably clean body. It's a bit like putting the Dyson round for the first time. After the scrub comes a lathering up with what seems to be a pillow case full of shaving foam. You lie down for this part which leaves you so relaxed you can't defend yourself against the massage which is a combination of pinching, kneading and squishing followed by the sort of treatment normally administered in a pub carpark. I now know what Metallica's drumkit feels like. Saying that, it does feel good when it's over!

The afternoon was spent bargain hunting in the Grand Bazaar. I bought a couple of shirts and, faced with a rainbow of colours, chose red yet again. I don't know if the end of the trip will see me swear off red shirts for life or cling on to them like a sartorial security blanket. As we walked along one shopkeeper shouted across that he recognised me from last year when I was in Istanbul, but that last time I was here with my Russian girlfriend. I think he was mistaking me for Sean Connery in From Russia With Love but I'll forgive him for such an easy mistake.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Hot new Jordan pics gallery

Well, we'll get our Google hits higher with a title like that if nothing else...

The following galleries are now up -

Wadi Rum
Aqaba & Amman

We also have a new poll containing Banz's selection of "jokes" that he's thought up about Jordan.

Tuesday morning we're flying out to Istanbul, where we'll spend a couple of days before rejoining Europe and getting on the bikes again as we head to Bulgaria.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Amman for all seasons

The above title is more than just a rather poor pun because Amman has done what southern France, Italy, Greece and Egypt could not; it has given us some rain! On Thursday night, as we sat sampling the delightful middle-eastern dish of cheesy chilli topped fries, the clouds gathered, the thunder flashed, the lightning rumbled (or something) and first small, then large, drops of rain started falling. It was very exciting as the last rain we'd seen was over 170 days in Troyes. It didn't last but we got a second shower yesterday. It was wonderful to get a lungful of that 'after rain' smell we in England associate so readily with cricket, Wimbledon and Bansey BBBQs.

Earlier in the week we visited the amazing site of Petra. The rocky valley contains around 800 tombs, the most spectacular and famous of which is the Treasury. For us this tomb was the highlight of the Big Trip so far and no pictures or words can do justice to catching a glimpse of a column or piece of facade as you approach through the high-sided sandstone canyon. The teasing approach leads to a natural courtyard with the massive tomb at the far end, beautifully preserved and truly awe-inspiring.

I went back for a second day to tackle the 800 step climb to the monastery, a similar structure to the Treasury, which suffers for being viewed second. It was an enjoyable walk up and the views were magnificent.

In the evening we had tea (lots of tea) with the man over the road from the hotel who makes sand pictures inside glass bottles. He was a lovely bloke and showed us the mysteries of his art and gave us the chance to make our own. Vic was first up and made an excellent camel, hills and stripey patterned affair which will take pride of place as soon as we're back in the mantlepiece owning business. My attempt was going swimmingly too; camels were a bit mis-shapen but charming, the hills had character, my yellow sun had passers-by reaching for the factor 15 and the clouds were an absolute triumph. You can only imagine the scene when our friend's brother decided to try to tidy up one of my camels and succeeded in making it worse. I was absolutely furious - it was as if Da Vinci's flatmate had strolled in, grabbed a pain brush and slapped a black 'tache on the Mona Lisa. Frankly, I almost cried but maintained enough dignity to sit in a moody huff. To be fair to the shop owner, he took it all in his stride, stoppered up the travesty and popped on the shelf with the others.

Our journey to Amman was notable for our first experience of a sandstorm. One moment the sky was clear, the next we were plunged into a thick 'lentil-souper' of dust. Yellowy-orange light and visibility of between two and ten metres gave everything a strange unreal feeling. Our driver was of the opinion that the sooner out of there the better and kept his foot down which resulted in one very near miss as a stationery Merc appeared ahead of us. A screech and a swerve sent us perilously close to the car in front and the side of the road but thankfully all was OK.

Amman is a nice town built on a number of hills - there's barely a flat spot to be found - and it has things we'd almost forgotten existed like taxis with metres and shops with prices. Jordan is much more expensive than Egypt but the standard of living here seems much higher.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Censorship of Jordan

After the horrific ferry journey mentioned by Banz below, we were happy to finally be in our hotel room, air-con and the telly on as we searched for some english language programming.

Imagine my delight when I saw that Gone With the Wind had just started on the Jordan Movie Channel. I sit back and enjoy the film as always until we get to Rhett and Scarlett's first kiss. Its cut! Next kiss. Also cut! But they don't just cut out the kissing, they take out the entire section of film between any/all kisses which means that any dialogue or plot is lost. Luckily I could still follow Gone With The Wind, but it made me wonder what the Jordanian censor's scissors would do to a Tarantino film.

I guess 1939 Hollywood morals are still too much for Jordan in 2004.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Plenty of Rum but no Jungle

The Dahab escape committee finally got their act together on Monday and sprung us out of the lounging area outside the Morgana restaurant. The journey to the port of Nuweiba was not quite as smooth as we'd hoped as our cab let us down when the other people we didn't know were meant to accompany us failed to show up (if that makes any sense). Once at Nuweiba things got marginally worse. The check-in procedure was a bit of a farce which meant I ended up having to dash from the brigadier's office (a very nice man) to passport control with a uniformed guard in tow in a bid to get stamps to say we've left Egypt. It was a mad rush to get aboard the ferry for 2:30 but luckily we managed and with only two and a quarter hours to spare! (We think the ferry was due to leave at 3ish but, in Egypt, who knows?).

The ferry was crammed with people by the time it left, all armed with bags of grub, electric kettles(!) and cookers, on full alert for the moment the day's Ramadan fast ended just after 5 o'clock. I discovered a hidden EP50 note which allowed us to get cold drinks and chocolate from the snack bar which we wolfed down when everyone else started eating. Our respect was rewarded with 2 lots of dates from our fellow passengers.

I'd like to try and forget the fact that we landed in Aqaba at 7:30pm but didn't get off the boat for another 3 hours. One day that may happen but only hypnotherapy will erase the memory of the on-board toilets (why is everyone rolling their trouser legs up? Ah...)

Aqaba feels very different from Egypt; the streets are cleaner, the roads have markings, the drivers are less toot-happy and the traffic lights seem to be there for a reason. However, Jordan is a lot pricier than Egypt but nowhere near as bad as Western Europe so 25JD (about 21GBP/47 AUD) gets us a nice hotel room with air-con and a great view of the harbour but no turn-down service or choccy on the pillow.

Yesterday we went to Wadi Rum, Lawrence of Arabia country, and spent a day bumping around in the back of a pick-up truck marvelling at the desert-and-sandstone-mountain scenery and stopping to ride a camel (which did an awesome Chewbacca impression) and take lots of photos. It's a fantastic place and, despite the fact that there are plenty of other groups in jeeps knocking about, one that really feels big and empty. Our evening was spent tucking into a delicious Bedouin meal of chicken, spuds and rice in a big tent made of blankets and watching the stars. (Galleries will follow when we find a place to upload the pictures.)

We are now back in Aqaba and head off to Petra on Sunday with a bit of luck.

Blimey, I managed a whole Jordan post without mentioning Winston Churchill and the back of a taxi.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Gravitational Pull of Dahab

Well, we're still in Dahab. We did mean to leave earlier this week, but, well, you know....

To be fair, I have had a job this last week. The 880-odd pages of The Count of Monte Cristo aren't going to read themselves. Believe me, I've tried. I've been lugging it around (front left pannier) since picking it up from Martina Franka in Italy. I'm up to about page 500, but Banz is starting to get nervous as he knows it will soon be his burden to carry.

On Tuesday we did actually manage to rouse ourselves away from sipping fresh mango juice and reading the great works of literature to take a day trip to the Blue Hole which is a popular snorkelling spot near here. Although full of curious fish, I was disappointed to see that a lot of the coral was dead. I also had to admit to our French snorkelling colleagues, Nicholas and Xena, that the Great Barrier Reef was much better for snorkelling opportunities.

It was fascinating watching the scuba divers float about 10 metres below us and send their silver jellyfish bubbles of oxygen up. We're both keen to learn to scuba dive, but money and time constraints have made us decide to add that to the to do list when we get back home.

We have decided that we are definitely leaving on Sunday. It will be a short hop to Nuweiba, from where we will get the ferry to Ataba, before making tracks to Wadi Rum (Lawrence of Arabia's stomping ground) and then heading to Petra to try and recreate the closing scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (minus the galloping horses of course).

From Amman, we will fly to Turkey (Syria - you don't know what you're missing!), before re-joining Europe and taking in Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Poland.

Our original plan was to head straight through from Poland to the Baltics and then Russia. This original plan did not take into account that we would be getting to Russia in approximately January. It didn't work for Napoleon and Hitler to invade Russia in winter, and somehow we don't think it will work for The Big Trip.

So bearing this in mind there are two simple facts. One, we have some fantastic friends in Warsaw (thankyou Beatre and Gerry and to Sandra for arranging) with whom we can leave our bikes and two, Easyjet now fly from Warsaw to Luton. So, for 70 pounds round trip, we have decided to return to England for six weeks to visit family, friends and see Boro play Partizan Belgrade in the Uefa Cup.

It also give us the opportunity to satisfy the food cravings that seem to stick in the mind soon after the question, "If you could have any food right now, what would it be?" is uttered. I've never wanted bacon more since I've been in a country where you can't have it.

We arrive on December 9th and are heading straight up to Teesside (trains are stupidly expensive the week before Christmas) and will be back down in London for about 10 days before we return to Warsaw on January 31st. Its not cold in Russia in February is it?

We hope that the Jaflong, Wagamama's and the Parmo retailers of Teesside are now on high alert.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Lazing in Dahab

As ferry veterans we were looking forward to the short hop from Hurghada to Sharm el-Sheikh but the reality was somewhat different to our expectations. A genuine attempt at security (x-raying all our stuff before and, somewhat bizarrely, after the journey) bookended the sort of ride more suitable to Chessington World Of Adventure than the world of mass passenger transit. We had wondered why passengers were not allowed on deck during the crossing but after 10 minutes, when the boat started pitching, yawing and doing other weird things from "The Dictioanry Of Maritime Terms", we understood why. It was at this point a member of the crew started handing out wax-paper bags. I can only think it was because it was too rough to put our litter in the bins.

Against the odds we bumped into Andre again and we arranged a taxi to take us and a Swiss chap the 80 or so kilometers up the coast to Dahab, a laid-back traveller haunt. The atmosphere here is very different to the rest of Egypt and much needed it is too after 5 weeks of bartering for everything from bottled water to souvenirs and being lured into papyrus shops. There's coral reef to explore here but as appealing are the beach-front cafes where you can lounge all day drinking pop, nibbling snacks, reading and musing on life's problems with closed eyes. We managed to stretch breakfast out until 6pm the other day but we're not proud of it.

From here the plan is to move on to Jordan where we expect to stay for a couple of weeks before flying on to Turkey.

Oh, and tomorrow it will be 6 months since we set off from Stockton Town Hall!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Just to let you all know we're safe...

From our last blog you should know that we are currently in Sinai. Fortunately we are not in Nuweiba or Taba, but in a place called Dahab which is about 70 kilometres away from Nuweiba. Dahab is very safe and you would not have known that the blasts had happened. We are going to hang around here for a few days before we head north to Jordan. Obviously we will wait to see what the situation is before progressing, but everything appears that this will be an okay route to take.

Our thoughts are with our two Israeli friends from the feluca trip, Ohad and Hagar, who from discussions with other guys from our feluca, we think were in the area. Hope you are both fine and please let us know that you got home okay.

There is a lot of info at the BBC website here, if you want to read more as well as a map of Sinai here.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Big Blog

As you can see from our gallery updates quite a lot has happened since our last proper blog. We finally left the desert oases for the Nile courtesy of a dusty 9 hour train ride. The carriage was pretty basic but quiet and the bikes got to ride in the same level as comfort as us. The journey may have been hot and slow but it was made for us by the staion masters at Kharga who saw us arrive on our bikes and insisted on getting us seats, making us tea and letting us use the phone to arrange our accommodation in Luxor.

We had been advised that Luxor could be a bit hectic so we arranged a tour from Cairo. This involved us getting the train to Aswan, sight seeing there and at Abu Simbel before felucca-ing down the Nile to see more temples.

There are two dams at Aswan, a charming little one built by the English and a monstrosity of Russo-Egyptian construction. Sadly for us we spent our time at the High Dam which has to be the least photogenic and most dull touristattraction in the world. If only we could have spent more time at the smaller one which looked interesting and atteactive... Our other attraction in Aswan was the temple of Philae which was one of the many moved to avoid being swamped by Lake Nasser. Philae reached by boat and is pretty spectacular. Much of it seems in good order but it was unclear if that is due to the reconstruction or not. Definitely a good place to visit.

Our stay in Aswan was whistle-stop as our only night's stay was interrupted by our 3am alarm call for Abu Simbel. All those wishing to visit Rameses II most blatant (and successful) attempt at being remembered need to be in the 4am convoy for the near 3 hour drive. This temple was also moved piece by piece and I think anyone who has blearily heard the alarm going would second our mate Doug when he asks, "While they were moving it, couldn't they have moved it closer to Aswan?". Saying that, the massive four figure fronted structure, carved into the rock face and looking out across the water, is an amazing sight. The boy Rameses certainly made the most of his 60-odd years of Pharoanic power.

We'd packed a 9 hour day in by 1 o'clock when were shuttled off to meet our felucca. We'd heard a few bad things about them but had decided to book something with people we trusted in Cairo to avoid the pitfalls. When we arrived on the boat there was already some tension in the air as a few of our fellow travellers had been hanging around since mid-morning being told various things about the departure time. When we set sail though the problems melted away as we tacked serenely across and down the Nile. The huge steamers sailed past every now and then but we didn't regret our decision for a moment as we chatted to Myka and Andre (our boat had us 4, the other, 10 or so others) and lazed about reading while the palm trees slid by. An unexplained stop to take on an extra crew member caused brief tension ('5 minutes' is Egyptian for 'I'll see you when I see you') but all in all we had a good first day aboard. After dinner we bonded with the other crew by playing an excellent murder/mystery card game.

Day 2 was meant to involve a camel market in the afternoon but we backed out when we learned the transport to would be at rip-off prices. This threatened the good humour of the boat once again but things soon calmed down once we were back on the water. This was a defining feature of the felucca ride: when we were sailing, all was good but when we weren't... The problems were minor but avoidable and while they didn't make the 2 night journey something we regretted, they certainly created an atmosphere of tension between customer and crew which could have been avoided.

Day 3 involved an early start, temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu and mini-bus ride to Luxor. The next two days saw us visit temples at Karnak, Luxor, Valley of The Kings, Hatsetshput and Valley of the Queens which has left us slightly burned out from the sight of obelisks and statues. They are all interesting in their own way but I think time and distance is needed for us to fully appreciate them all.

We needed a few days relaxing in Luxor after our temple visits and we went back on our principles and paid a few visits to The Kings Head pub. The atmosphere was relaxed, they had English footy on and had mashed potato on the menu. What more could you ask?

We are currwntly in Hurghada with many a German ("Do your Jimmy Cagney")but we get the ferry to Sinai tomorrow.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Another mass gallery update...

Between fighting with feluca captains and seeing yet more temples (sad, but if I never see another Egyptian Temple, it'll be too soon), we have managed to do an update of our time in Luxor, Aswan & Abu Simbel, Feluca Ride and back to Luxor again...

They are -

Aswan and Abu Simbel

The Feluca Trip


Andre's Feluca Collection

Blog to follow shortly...

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Egyptian drivers

We have been in Egypt a month now and have witnessed a lot of the locals driving around from various viewpoints. We've been pedestrians engaged in a high-stakes game of Frogger and taxi passengers steeling ourselves for the negotiation phase of the journey. We've cycled and tried mainly to stay out of the way and ridden on buses (mini, micro & normal) and wondered exactly what, if any, is the maximum capacity of such a vehicle.

For all our travelling, this is what we have discovered.

1) The horn has many uses but the most common are :-
- telling someone who may not see you that you are coming their way
- telling someone who has seen you that you're not stopping
- asking someone who's in your way to move over
- expressing your joy at being able to move freely
- expressing your frustration at not being able to move at all
- advising the person in front that there is a gap in the wall of traffic
- saying 'hello'
- saying 'goodbye'

2) Crossing the road is safe as long as you have your wits about you or when you use a little old lady as a shield.

3) The inside lane on a muli-lane road is reserved for stationary traffic, donkeys & carts, pedestrians, street sweepers and anything out of the ordinary.

4) Headights after dark, when on out of town roads, are used in an intricate ritual which can be difficult to understand at first. Do not be confused or alarmed when the driver turns off his lights as another car approaches, this just enables him to make his vehicle more noticable when he turns them back on. The intermittent flashing that follows this initial greeting seems to be a way of communicating about road conditions and the location of RADAR traps.
The other side of the desert

(See the galleries for our Western Oases pics.)

The road from Cairo took us, via the bus, across to the most northern Western Oasis town of Bahariya. I was recovering from a cold (not paint-fume induced sniffles as first thought) and Vic was just at the start of the same ailment. We spent a couple of days straightening the kinks from our mudguards - courtesy of the luggage loader on the bus - as well as buying the water and scouring a conservative Muslim town for alcohol to burn in our stove.

When the day finally dawned for our 180km ride across the Black and White deserts it found us in high spirits and confident mood which even the blazing sun couldn't evaporate. Yet... The Baharia - Farafra road is a fairly busy one with commercial vehicles making up the bulk of the early traffic and safari tours taking over towards lunchtime. Whatever the vehicle, they all gave us a toot and a wave. One guy in a pick-up truck even stopped, 3-point turned and gave us a big handful of dates! It was great feeling that people were looking out for us and keen to know what we were doing.

The breeze was at our backs and our legs felt no ill effects from drag racing the locals on our way home the night before! The Black Desert is so named for the dark dusting which is sprinkled over the more conventional yellow-coloured sand, making the hills look like slightly singed caramel desserts.

Onward we rode and had 40 kms under our belts before our first attempt at a lunch stop. In the comfort of the hotel we'd decided to put the tent up at 12ish and snooze until the day got cooler but the constant breeze, lack of suitable tent pegs and general wind-catching properties of a huge sheet of nylon made it impossible. From my vantage point on the crest of a tiny bank I proclaimed that I could see trees in the distance. (Being still within the confines of the oasis this wasn't as deranged as it may sound.) Victoria was skeptical but humoured me. In what goes down as a rare triumph for yours truly the trees and, incredibly, a couple of buildings duly arrived not 5kms down the road. We had stumbled on Baharia's ambulance station, which must be pretty busy looking after camels with twisted ankles but little else. The trees and shade were soon honoured with two napping cyclists.

Our afternoon session took us rather gallingly past a cafeteria which could have sold us some of the water we had dragged this far. But never mind. With 50-odd kilometers on the clock and sundown approaching it was time to find and out of the way spot for the night. The plan was see a secluded nook, haul the bikes into and lay low until it got dark. We were probably being a bit overcautious but didn't necessarily want to advertise where we were sleeping to any passers-by. As if by magic, a cluster of trees and small dunes approached only 30 metres from the road. The clear road. Like a flash we were pushing the bikes across the soft sand, sand which really didn't make it easy for us. As if by magic the traffic started up again and we could tell from the toots we'd been spotted. We pondered what to do but the decision was made for us when one pick-up truck stopped up the road. Time to move on. As we passed him he asked if we were going to sleep there and I made the universal "dodgy tum" sign. He offered to take us to a hotel but we declined and kept moving.

Darkness was fast approaching by now and the desert flattened out. Fifteen minutes passed before we came across a couple of sandy mounds that fitted the bill. The road had been clear for ages so we set about the task of dragging the bikes to safety. Predictably, this was the signal for cars to approach from all angles but this time we made it in time. We made a quick meal of sand, corned beef, eggs and sand before tucking in under the stars. I slept with one eye and ear trained on the road for a couple of hours before finally dropping off. The next we knew we were waking up covered in a heavy dew.

Soon after we got up we realised we had problems... Perhaps fate had seen my dodgy tum mime. Maybe I'm allergic to sand. Whatever the reason, things were looking bad for us doing 2 more days in the desert. We battled on a few kilometers more before taking advantage of a rare bit of shade and settling in to wait for rescue. We didn't have long to wait. First Said and Mahar stopped to chat, give us water and breakfast but sadly not a lift as they were heading the wrong way. The next passers-by were Sophy and Suliman who were heading to Farafra and soon had us loaded in the back of their pick-up. They wouldn't hear of accepting anything for their kindness and even ended up buying us drinks a couple of nights later as we sat up till 2am chatting. (It turned out they were staying at our hotel.)

We can't say we failed as we had a fantastic day's ride and a night under the stars but it was sad that we weren't able to accomplish what we set out to. Still, our desire to cycle has been reignited after so many weeks of trains and buses. All we need now is a bit of luck and towns that are closer together!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Off to the desert

Our last few days in Cairo have been spent sorting out the bikes and researching our water requirements for a 3 day ride through the desert. Our plan at the moment is to pop a 1.5 litre bottle in every pannier and the water bag on the back. Although the road between Bahariya and Farafra oases has no roadhouses there are plenty of passing jeep safaris who will help us out if we get short. Hopefully, it won't come to that though!

Our ride between oases takes us through the Black Desert, the White Desert and past the Crystal Mountain. I'm guessing the Emerald City will be on our route although it's not mentioned in The Lonely Planet. We are going to attempt 60kms a day and sleep behind a handy sand dune when we get tired. Watch this space in a week or so when we reach civilisation again!

Today we finally managed to visit the Egyptian Museum which is 5 minutes walk from the hostel. There's no getting away from the fact that the antiquities are amazing but the place could do with a bit better organisation. It seems almost wilfully disordered which means you need a guide to make sense of it. As is the Egyptian way much of the time the terms and conditions change somewhere between beginning and end and both parties leave feeling cheated. I must stress however that this isn't ALWAYS the case.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A brief journey through the Egyptian parcel post system

Yesterday we popped to the post office to send a parcel of souvenirs to Australia. This is what happened...

i) we found the right building at the 3rd attempt and were told by the guy in the foyer to head up to the 2nd floor...

ii) where we saw The Man At The Packing Station. He examined the parcel for contraband and, on seeing it was just the standard tourist stuff, sent us to The Nice Lady Down The Hall...

iii) who took our details, the recipient's details and informed us there'd be a EP7 'application fee', which is payable at the office next door...

iv) which is staffed by three guys, one of whom - The Worker - took our paperwork and application fee and produced two triplicated receipts. He handed them to us and sent us to The Man At The Packing Station...

v) who showed us a patch of floor where we could box up the stuff while he checked our paperwork. (There was a short pause for noon prayers.) He then took a look at my Oz learner's licence (thankfully accepated in lieu of our passports) before sealing our parcel with official string and lead weight. He then sent us to The Weighing Man...

vi) who lives in a building round the corner. The Weighing Man ensures our papers are in order and our parcel properly addressed and weighed before taking our cash. He then hands us back our form and sends us back up to The Nice Lady Down The Hall...

vii) who takes it, swaps it for a chit and sends us back to The Weighing Man...

viii) who takes the chit, returns our exasperated "you've got to laugh" looks and confirms, to our relief, that it's over.

The Egytpian Post Office: an excellent way to get fit and meet people. (Give yourself 2 hours.)
Desert Safari

When we arrived in town we noticed that the desert safari options were many, although probably not varied, so we put off making a decision immediately. Luckily for us, as we lazed around the pool, fate was working away in the background... Tom and Nicki were planning to stay at The Desert Rose and met a man on the bus from Alex who did safaris in Siwa. Separately Hayley and Louis bumped into Ahmed and before you can say 'happy sand-realted coincidence' the trip was arranged. There were 2 more spaces in the jeep for us which was handy.

Ahmed of Siwa Safaris picked us up at 11ish and we were soon heading towards the edge of town to a point where the road neatly cuts a lake in two. The left side is fresh water and the right salt, complete with a solid ice-white crust. Pretty amazing to look at really.

From here we visited a ruined village, heard a shaggy dog story about tomb raiders before having a look at a 5 metre deep natural spring. The cool clear water seeps up through the porous rocks here forming a beautiful natural pool. We all looked at it longingly but this one's not for swimming in. Thankfully we only had to wait a few minutes longer before we were putting our cozzies on and diving in an even better natural pool. The water is cool without being cold and is constantly flowing up from underground. Our schedule had us here for 4 or more hours and we all spent as much time as we could swimming, diving in and, somewhat childishly, taking it in turns to fetch a specific rock form the bottom.

This took up most of a brilliantly laid back afternoon, along with lunch and a quick dip in a nearby salt lake, which is a very odd experience. The water is shallow, warm as on bath night and home to a billion salty needles. We hobbled out to a deep enough spot and, being ultra-careful not to get any water in our eyes, laid back and bobbed like corks. It's a great novelty which wears off about the first time you run aground and get a bum full of salt spikes. It's also a bit hard on mozzie bites and grazes!

After the salt we needed one last dip in the pool before visiting a Bedouin mud village which was occupied as recently as 100 years ago. The mud bricks are baked hard in the sun but are not as happy in the rain. Each downpour causes major damage although the last big rain was in 1984. Our safari so far had been around the outskirts of town but with sunset approaching we headed towards The Great Sand Sea. Ahmed certainly knows what he's doing which was highlighted when a rival jeepster went flying past us only to get thoroughly bogged 5 minutes later. Anyone seen the latest Ray Mears?

The desert sunset was very pretty as seen from our spot on the top of a dune and, as most had a contemplative moment, I took the chance to jump off the top and get sand up my shirt. Our camp for the night was a couple of thick balnkets sheltered from the wind by the jeep and a windbreak and it was here that we ate the hearty veggie stew and couscous which was the best grub we'd had since getting to Egypt. And from someone who's dined at KFC Alexandria that's pretty high praise.

With full tums and a ceiling of stars it was an early night for all. The breeze soon died down but the air stayed beautifully cool and Vic and I slept so soundly we didn't even notice the visitors who investigated camp as we slumbered. Tiny mouse footprints came from miles of empty sand to have a sniff at our campsite. One track came within a couple of centimetres of my blanket before my feet scared him off.

In the morning we woke naturally to see the sunrise before tucking into bread, cheese, jam and lashings of tea. No-one was in any sort of hurry so we headed back sometime in the middle of the morning after a good chat and a hair-raising dune descent or two.

All in all it was a fantastic trip with the emphasis on relaxing as much as sightseeing.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Mega Gallery Update!!

We have slaved round the clock to get our Egypt galleries up to date. And here they are...

Siwa Town
Siwa Safari

Also, the more observant of you will notice the main gallery page looks slightly different. Don't worry, the other galleries are still there if you need your weekly fix of Boro at Cardiff.
Siwan Desert Rose

After the general malaise that had affected us in Alexandria, it was with a spring in our step that we stepped onto our bus to Siwa. We had heard and read many things about Siwa - a place geographically isolated from the rest of Egypt until a road was built in the 1980s, where they speak a different language and where Alexander the Great made a pilgrimage to see the Oracle to confirm that yes, he was the son of Zeus and therefore a god and could rule Egypt.

The journey of 9 hours seemed to pass quite effortlessly with a couple of stops along the way at resthouses in the middle of nowhere as well as people being dropped off at places where there was nothing but desert as far as the eye can see on all the points of the compass.

Another question raised was the piles of rocks in straight lines heading to the horizon on both sides of the road and about five metres apart. What do they mean? Are they borders or symbols of land division or something else entirely?

We had prebooked our hotel and on arrival were greeted by several Siwan boys of about 10 (all with perfect English) who wanted to take us to our destinations. All guessed that I was Australian, so either they're a good judge of accent or a lot of us Aussies make the journey. Mahmood was the first boy to talk to me so we chose him to take us. We went round the corner in his donkey cart before being deposited with his older brother (maybe Dad?) and they took us out to our hotel in their 4wd. On the way we were offered a Desert Safari as well as taxi service whenever required. Although persistent, there was no real pressure and it made a nice change from the "Hello, where you from?" hassle of Cairo.

After being dropped off by Mahmood at the Desert Rose, we were greeted by a group of German holidaymakers who were occupying the pool. We soon joined them and the last couple of days travel and stresses were eased away by the cool underground spring fed water. We were to spend a lot of time in the pool before we left.

The Desert Rose is a totally appropriate name for the hotel. However, the one problem for us being the connotation with the rubbish Sting song of the same name which we thankfully only know the chorus of.

After relaxing in the pool, we were soon greeted by Ali, the caretaker and shown around. As the sun set, we watched from the roof terrace and chatted to an Aussie couple from Bendigo, Louis and Hayley. The four of us chatted for quite a while before hunger pains and the mosquitos drove us to the kitchen where Louis and Hayley shared their provisions with us (our hunger had returned after an enforced fast before the bus journey).

There is no electricity at the Desert Rose, but the lanterns and candles only add to the atmosphere as people sit around reading, chatting and playing backgammon (Banz 2 - Vic 1) around the central courtyard.

Our stay in Siwa followed a pattern of a lot of relaxing, chilling and resting apart from our Desert Safari which we'll write about seperately. Although not every site was ticked off, our stay gave us a definite taster for more and when I go back I would most definitely stay at the Desert Rose again
Ice Cold in Alex

After general embassy disappointment and the realisation that we can't just chill out in Cairo for too long, we caught the train to Alexandria. The train takes you through the Egyptian Delta and it was interesting to watch the city give way to farmland before again giving way to the suburbs or Alexandria.

The oven-door heat of Cairo was replaced with the sea breeze of Alexandria. We had got off the train one stop early and so after a bit of working out where we were, we jumped on the tram and headed to our hotel. Our first choice, the Hotel Union was full and so we took our chances with the Hotel Crillon. To put it mildly it was dirty and creepy, but budget options in Alexandria are limited - prices start at around 50 - 80 Egyptian Pounds (roughly 5 - 8 British Pounds/12 - 20 Aussie Dollars) for budget accommodation before jumping to $100US a night. We didn't get to try the breakfast that was included without choice as a bad case of Ramses Revenge had overtaken us both (we both prefer the Chessington Ride). Our first night was spent lying in bed, listening to the call to prayer and realising that we were a long way from home.

We managed to get out of the hotel about 1pm and shoved some comfort food down our throats from McDonald's (I was craving a milkshake for some reason) before taking on the services of a man with a horse and cart to take us to two of Alexandria's main sites, both with links to its former glory. Our first stop was its new library which looks impressive from the outside though we didn't venture inside as you require a ticket, and they were only for sale a few blocks back. After wandering around there, our man calmly took our horse and cart through three lanes of traffic on either side of the road and headed off to Fort Qaitby, which is built on the former site of the the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The ride was interesting as we got to see beach life Egyptian style. The beaches were packed and the few women that we saw swimming were still wearing full dress (trousers or skirt, long-sleeved shirt and headscarf). I decided to hold off on swimming until we got to Siwa.

The area around Fort Qaitby had a definite promenade feel to it and we were quite happy to wander about as men fished on the rocks nearby and kids dared each other to jump from the highest ones into the sea. As the Lighthouse was completely destroyed in a couple of earthquakes in 1303 and 1329 there is not a lot to see, but it was definitely worth the journey to soak up the atmosphere.

Our man was waiting for us and promptly took us back to the downtown area. When we arrived we paid him the agreed fee plus a small tip. He took them both and with the money in each hand gestured that the main fee was for him and the tip for his horse. It was very sweet and is something we need to remember when we're being hassled by our next papyrus or perfume seller.

We were too late to see two of the other sites in Alexandria which we had wanted. The Catacombs and Pompey's Pillar will just have to wait until next time we're in Alexandria when hopefully there will be more options for budget accommodation available to us there.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Papyrus, perfume and Pyramids

Our first steps on African soil took us through Cairo airport, past a half-hearted customs man and across the car park where our transport to the hostel was waiting.

"Good job they sent a minibus", remarked Vic as we wheeled our 8 bags, 2 boxed up bikes across the tarmac. Predictably, we were not heading to the minibus but to a small, battle scarred taxi. The driver was unfazed and soon had the bikes on the roof, lashed securely with a bungee cord and what looked a lot like a strip of cotton sheet. When we arrived at the hostel we were mobbed by assorted helpers who lugged our stuff up the stairs (unasked) and then milled hopefully around. They were out of luck this time as our trip to the bank had left us with nothing smaller than an Egyptian 50 pound note.

Since arriving on Monday we have visited the pyramids, explored downtown, been to a couple of embassies, been laid low with an upset stomach, had ample opportunity to buy papyrus and relaxed.

The pyramids were as incredible as they promised to be. The hustle and bustle of cartmen and camel wranglers adds to the atmosphere of the place which is only half an hour's bus ride from Cairo. We didn't take them up on their offers of transport deciding to wander the site ourselves which gave us the opportunity to spend time at the bits we wanted to. I had a claustrophobic trip inside a pyramid, down a steep, low ramp to the the stifling interior. There's not much down there and the bustle of fellow tourists makes it difficult to get any feeling of mystery or solitude. We are planning another trip to see the nighttime sound and light show.

One small setback we have had has been with our Syrian visa. We were unable to get it before leaving as it would have expired sometime in Italy or Greece so we had to apply here. The official at the embassy made it pretty clear that the rule about applying in your country of residence was not one he could bend for a British passport holder, whatever the reason. Vic's Oz passport would have been fine as was that of a Canadian guy who applied in the same circumstances as us. We have exhausted our options here but will try again in Jordan.

The locals round our hostel never miss an opportunity to chat to us as we wander about. Frustratingly this often leads to a predictable series of events...

i) our new friend has a cousin in the UK and a mate in Oz
ii) he's not trying to sell us anything...
iii) but if we have a moment (just a moment) he would like to show us his home
iv) which happens to be a papyrus/perfume/nick-nack shop

There follows an offer of tea and a sales pitch. We are becoming better at escaping - we find that having to dash back for a call from the embassy a good one - but it's sad that we are starting to view all people who approach us (and there are plenty who don't want anything other than to talk) as hustlers.

Saying that, if anyone does want some perfume, I can let them have some Omar Sharif for a very good price.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Olympics Footnote

Yes, we really can't let the Olympics go... Its kind of surreal seeing them on TV after actually having been there. There is also the added bonus of Egypt getting their first gold medal since London 1948. Never mind that we were sitting watching the Greco-Roman Wrestling and ridiculing it with them the day before their man took home the gold. A gold medal is a gold medal.

We have also been able to follow all the furore of the "Lay Down Sally" incident. We just realised we had talked to couple at the Australia-Italy Baseball match who had a daughter who was in the Rowing Eights. Her name definitely wasn't Sally, but the name Lindsey is ringing a bell even though a fruitless search hasn't been able to confirm a Lindsey in the Eights for us.

Whilst packing our bikes into cardboard boxes at the airport, two members of the Swiss Women's cycling team came along to put their high-tech bike boxes through the oversized luggage section. We got chatting to one and asked her how her games had been, was she happy with her results and would she be at Beijing. We told her we had been at the Men's Road Race, the Time Trial and the Track Cycling. We didn't realise until we later saw a photo of the Women's Time Trial winners that we had been chatting to Karin Thuerig who had won Bronze.

Missed a great photo opportunity, but that's another reason to go to Beijing!

Footnote: Banz reckons he recognised her but didn't want to say anything, but I'm not so sure....

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Final Olympic galleries uploaded

The last of our Olympic pics are now here...

Days 6 & 7

Days 8 & 9

Olympics Report: Days 8 & 9

These were the events which for us may have been non-starters. We'd booked the tickets before we set off and had them delivered to Hig in Darlo. To get them this far we needed letters of authorisation, photocopies of our passports and poor Hig to stay in waiting for the postie and playing on his PC. From there they had to meet us in Greece and that was where another mate came to the rescue. Gibbo, who I met on the Spanish golf tour in 2003, is an Athens resident so we got his address and Hig popped them in the post and we crossed our fingers. The tickets arrived on Friday and I met Gibbo outside the Olympic stadium in between events for the handover.

Thanks go out to Hig and Gibbo for the parts thet played in the tickets' Athens-Darlington-Athens journey!

Our big tickets were for the a swimming finals night which was high on quality and understandably less so in quantity. The first event was the women's 50m freestyle which was won by Inge de Bruijn. Having seen her compatriot get gold earlier in the women's TT we thought the Dutch must be scooping the top medals by the bucketload. A glance at the table showed us that we'd stood through their national anthem on 2/3 of the occasions it's been played at these games.

The event we were looking forward to most, the men's 1500m freestyle final, did not disappoint. Grant Hackett was the big medal hope and duly led from the start but he was chased gamely by the American Larsen Jensen (or is that Jensen Larsen?) and Brit David Davies. Hackett's two pusuers closed the gap, Davies to a length or so and Jensen actually managing to draw level with 2 lengths to go. The crowd loved it, the Aussie swimming coaches less so. Slowly over the last 100m Hackett showed his class and eased away to clinch the gold with Davies clearly overjoyed to get on the podium. (Apparently, Hackett celebrated long and hard later that evening to such an extent that he was unable to make his destination clear to the Greek-speaking cabbie. With great resourcefulness he called the only person he knew who spoke Greek, an Aussie actor from Melbourne, who explained what was happening and saved the gold medalist from a night on a park bench.)

The remaining swimming highlight was the women's 4x100 medley relay which was unexpectedly and excitingly won by Australia. Britain were disqualified, perhaps for walking instead of swimming. The US won some relay or other too...

Day 9 saw us get up early after a night's carousing to watch Japan marmalise Greece in the men's baseball. A rowdy home support were subdued by the Japanese scoring but came to life as three tiny Japanese girls screamed their team on. Every "Hellas, Hellas" cheer was matched with a "Nippon, Nippon", slightly higher in pitch and lower in volume. After a fair bit of this interplay the Japanese girls sportingly started a cheer for the home team. Not wishing to be outdone the crowd responded in kind which led to the bizarre situation of the three girls cheering on Greece and the rest of the crowd shouting for Japan!

The heat of the day sapped us but we had to stagger to the bus and Metro to get to the Olympic velodrome to watch some track cycling. It's our first experience of this and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We saw women's and men's sprint which generally involves 2 slow (almost walking pace) tactical laps and one lap of hammer down sprinting. Great fun to watch. After that we saw the women's pursuit bronze race followed by the final. The Katy Mactier (OZ) vs Sarah Ulmer (NZ) gold medal race was a corker with the Kiwi girl breaking the world record to win.

The evening concluded with men's team pursuit. This is 16 laps where two teams of 4 riders each start on opposite sides of the track. The GB team were the first to impress by actually catching and overtaking their French opposition. The Oz team were next up and not only did the same thing to their opposition but set a new world record in the process.

Sadly our Olympics ended here. We have had such a great time that we are definitely going to start a Beijing fund for 2008!

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Olympics Report: Days 5 - 7

Day 5 was the cycling time trial for both men and women. We managed to get a pretty much prime spot, about 50 metres from the start ramp with the finish line 30 metres down the road across the central reservation. In the time trial riders go off individually and race against the clock. This means there's always something happening be it riders starting, reaching a checkpoint or finishing. In the women's defending champ Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel did it again with Aussie hopeful Oenone Wood 6th and Brit Nicole Cooke 19th.

The men's competion featured a host of big name cyclists who went off in 3 batches. Britain's Stuart Dangerfield in an ice-water soaked suit covered the 48 kilometers in 1:03.00 which was good enough for a top 30 finish. The main contenders went off at 5pm and at the splits it became obvious that the medals would be going to 3 of 4 riders; Michael Rogers of Australia, Ekimov the Russian and the Americans Bobby Julich and cycling legend/hero Tyler Hamilton. (For those who don't know, Hamilton broke his collar bone in the 2002 Giro d'Italia and rode on. The pain was such that afterwards he had to have 11 teeth which he'd ground down capped. In 2003 in the Tour de France he broke his collar bone again on day 1 and rode to 4th place.) In the end it was Rogers who missed out by just 3 seconds with Hamilton first, Ekimov second and Julich third.

After the presentations we headed to the press tent to hang about and were rewarded with an unbelievable chance to see the medalists on their way in. We were allowed onto the road with them and there were only about 10 fans about. On their way in I took Tyler's photo for some random bloke who got me to take the snap of them together on his mobile phone. After they went in we had maybe half an hour of hanging about. We weren't sure if they'd be coming back out but a prominently dressed US cycling fan (Dory. See gallery!) seemed to think they would so we waited. Return they did and incredibly we got Tyler and Bobby Julich's autographs as well as photos of us with him, newly minted gold medal still round his neck! Throughout the mini-scrum Tyler kept smiling for our cameras and autographing results sheets. What a truly great sportsman!

It'd be hard to top that but the Australia vs India men's hockey match came pretty close. The tannoy got things going by playing Punjabi MC for the Indian fans, who didn't need much encouragement, and Down Under for the always vocal Aussies. The game itself was a cracker. India scored first which brought a massive cheer from their numerically superior supporters but celebrations were cut short 5 minutes later as Oz equalised. Australia went 2-1 up early in the second half before 3 minutes of madness saw their lead doubled and then cancelled out at 3-3. The score stayed this way, despite pretty constant Oz pressure, until, with three seconds on the clock, Michael Brennan popped up to score the winner. We had moved to an Aussie enclave after the GB match (we got slaughtered 5-1 by Spain) and, as you can imagine, went nuts.

We've also seen women's hockey where Oz drew 2-2 with Korea, men's baseball when Japan caned Canada 9-1 and the Oz female basketballers silence a booing home crowd with a ruthless 77-40 destruction of Greece.

Finally, during a baseball game, if the ball goes into the crowd then you get to keep it. In the Australia games we've been in spots where the ball never goes so I have had to spend the odd 15 minutes milling about food concourses with small children waiting for mis-hits to land. With no joy. At yesterday's game we were sat in a more likely spot and a Canadian obliged by sending one into the crowd 20 metres from where we sat. As the ball was in the air I was scrambling across the seats trying not to shred my shins and, to a lesser extent, tread on people. The spectator under it declined to make an attempt to catch so when the ball landed there was a happy Teessider prepared to suffer splinters and grazed knees to dive on the ball. The crowd roared (perhaps only in my head) as I raised the captured ball aloft. Second best Olympic moment ever!
Gallery updates!

The galleries have been updated with new pics from mainland Greece and the Olympics.

Find them here :-

Mainland Greece

Olympics: days 1-4

Olympics: day 5

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Olympic Report: Days 1 - 4

We were in a bar on Friday night and the TV was showing a packed sporting venue shin-deep in water. "Great", I thought, "the test match is on". But as wider sports lovers are probably aware, the footage was from Athens not Manchester. The ceremony got us fully into the Olympic spirit and raring to go for our first event, the Men's Road Race, the next day.

We managed to get a good spot just after the first corner and saw the riders take the first couple of laps. The prospect of 5 hours in the sun was a bit too much so we decamped to the ticket booth to pick up our tickets for the remaining events. After a coffee and a quick e-mail check I headed back to the course and found a fairly quiet spot 130 metres from the finish line for the last 3 laps. From here it was more about atmosphere than the view and there was plenty of that as the spectators thumped the Athens 2004 hoardings as the riders approached and whizzed past. In the end Paolo Bettini took the gold and I walked off with a (somewhat blurry but he was shifting) photo of him 10 seconds before he crossed the line.

Sunday was a full day at the Helleniko Complex for Men's baseball and hockey. Not a combined sport but it's an idea for the future... Australia took on the highly fancied Cubans. The gap in quality was pretty wide at times but to their credit the Australians kept themselves in the game till the very end, frequently getting out of tricky situations, and were a bit unlucky that 2 Cubans managed to latch on to score a couple of home runs. In the end the Australians had men on bases in the 9th but couldn't do enough to get them home. Nevertheless, it was a cracking morning's entertainment and augers well for the rest of the competition.

In the evening was hockey and we saw Korea draw with Spain. The Koreans were cheered on by a small but noisy cluster of fans who drummed up a bit of partisan support. It was a bit sad when Spain equalised but the noise level from our right never dropped for a momet. England on the other hand did enough to overcome an occasionally useful Egyptian side. Highlight of the day was when an Egyptian lad cynically took out one of the GB players and then writhed around in agony. This didn't stop him being sent off and it was a touching moment as he limped off, hand in hand with the physio.

Yesterday was tennis at the main Olympic complex. It's a great place, full of sweeping arches and reflecting pools. We had a decent shop before the Philipoussis - Rochus match started but perhaps we should have stayed in the megastore a bit longer. The Poo comfortably took the first set before going 3-0 down in the second. At this point he seemed to lose interest and tried to win every point in 1 or 2 shots. In the end he lost the second set 6-0 to the fun-sized Belgian and then got off to a slow start in the final set. In all Philipoussis lost 9 games on the trot, with barely a game point in any of them, before rallying briefly, very briefly, and going down 6-1. His mind was clearly elsewhere.

On the way out of the stadium Vic was interviewed (we think for Oz TV) about Thorpedo's victory in the 200m freestyle, which came as news to her. We're not sure if her reaction will make the Australian airwaves but here's hoping...

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Where to spot us at the Olympics, and

we need your suggestions for a banner. We figure that this will probably be our only personal visit to the Olympics (well, until Brisbane 2016, or Stockton 2020), so we're going the whole hog and want to do a tacky banner so you can pick us out of the crowd when you're watching Australia vs India in the Men's Hockey (you were going to watch that anyway weren't you?). So add any suggestions you have (preferably clever and witty - reflects better on us that way) to the tag-board.

Anyway, our events (so far) are -
(All times are Greek times, for England minus 2 hours, for Queensland, add 7 hours and everyone else go to

Saturday 14th August
12:45 - 19:10
Men's Cycling Road Race
Men's Cycling Road Race Medal Ceremony

Sunday 15th August
10:30 - 13:30
Men's Baseball Preliminaries - Cuba vs Australia

18:00 - 21:30
Men's Hockey Preliminaries - Korea vs Spain
Men's Hockey Preliminaries - Great Britain vs Egypt

Monday 16th August
17:00 - 23:00
Men's Singles First Round
Women's Singles First Round
Men's Doubles First Round
Women's Doubles First Round

Wednesday 18th August
13:00 - 19:00
Women's Cycling Individual Time Trial
Women's Cycling Individual Time Trial Medal Ceremony

Men's Cycling Individual Time Trial
Men's Cycling Individual Time Trial Medal Ceremony

Thursday 19th August
18:30 - 22:00
Men's Hockey Preliminaries - Great Britain vs Spain
Men's Hockey Preliminaries - Australia vs India

Friday 20th August
20:00 - 0:00
Women's Basketball Preliminaries - Australia vs Greece
Women's Basketball Preliminaries - Nigeria vs Brazil

Saturday 21st August
19:30 - 21:00
Women's 50m Freestyle Final
Men's 1500m Freestyle Final
Women's 50m Freestyle Medal Ceremony
Women's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final
Men's 1500m Freestyle Medal Ceremony
Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final
Women's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Medal Ceremony
Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Medal Ceremony

Sunday 22nd August
Cycling Track
Women's Sprint 1/8 Finals
Men's Sprint 1/16 Finals
Women's Sprint 1/8 Finals Repechages
Men's Sprint 1/16 Repechages
Women's Individual Pursuit Final 3-4
Women's Individual Pursuit Final 1-2
Women's Individual Pursuit Medal Ceremony
Men's Sprint 1/8 Finals
Men's Team Pursuit First Round
Men's Sprint 1/8 Finals Repechages
No relation to Olympia Dukakis

Well as you can imagine there is talk of nothing else in Greece besides the Olympics. The Banseys have also been caught by this excitement and can only imagine that this will reach fever pitch by the time we reach Athens tomorrow night.

Today, we thought we would get in the mood with a day trip to Olympia. We're currently staying in Pyrgos, a pretty, small town on the coast about 100km south of Patras. From here we caught a bus to Olympia. The journey should only take half an hour, but our bus was packed with Greek pensioners who'd made the journey to market and were on their way home laden with goods. This stretched the trip close to the hour mark as they were dropped off at various tin sheds in the middle of nowhere.

We finally reached Olympia and had a quick look in the Museum which housed the antiquities found at the site as well as giving an overview of the history of the ancient games. We then wandered down to the site itself. As you can imagine it was besieged by American, German and French tourist packs all following their leaders like sheep. If there is one reason for independant travel, then surely this is it. Luckily for us the site is large enough for you to wander off in any direction and lose the hordes.

Whilst the ruins haven't been excavated to the extent of say, Pompei, there is plenty to see and the feeling from being in this place of history was definitely worth the journey and wandering around in the Greek midday sun (mad dogs and Englishmen.... and Aussies). You can understand why they have no trouble lighting the Olympic flame from here. In the aforementioned Greek midday sun we had the hilarious site of a German presenter having to film a piece where he had to run the length of the ancient running track before saying a few words to camera. The cameraman obviously had it in for him as he had to do it twice whist we were there. After the second attempt, the presenter did his run and speaking part and then headed straight for the shade of an olive tree (definitely the smartest way to escape the heat).

A good site with more info about Olympia can be found here.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Reasons for Chilling in Kalamata

Says it all really....

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Good news everyone

The planets have aligned allowing us to upload new pictures to the galleries. The new additions are :-

The Ionian Islands

We also have 2 brand new pages! One dedicated to a certain sweaty someone who likes riding up mountains and one highlighting the heroes and villains of the Big trip.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Fallen Hurdles

Well our plan to cycle to the Mani Peninsula fell at the first hurdle.

At the top of the big hill on our way out of Kalamata, we came across Diana Rooms. The views are amazing as from our room we look out over the mountains and sea. The room has untold luxuries (for us anyway) of a fridge, tv and air-conditioning all for a very reasonable price. So, within about two minutes of arriving we quickly decided that we'll stay here for a week, chill, read and watch telly (the Greeks have the right idea of subtitling english shows instead of dubbing them that the French and Italians do) and use this as a base to explore Mani.

So far, we haven't moved far from the room in case we miss an episode of Lizzy Maguire or The World's Funniest Commercials, but we plan to.

After our week in the sun, we're heading back north to pay our respects at Olympia (maybe an offering or two to the gods for the Aussie Olympic Team), before making our way on to Athens for the Games themselves. We've managed to book into a Youth Hostel Dorm for our stay, as the prices some of the hoteliers are charging would scare a Saudi prince. We looked up one hotel we stayed at two years ago on a visit to Athens and the islands. We paid 40 Euros then. We looked it up a week ago and its charging 380 Euros a night now. It was barely worth 40.

Book Crossing

Whilst reading an imported copy of The Sunday Times (Banz had to read about an English cricketing victory in as much detail as possible), we read about this site, A simple, but great idea (as all good websites are), where when you've finished reading a book, you "release it" into the world after writing a review on BookCrossing's site. We've been doing a similar thing with putting the Big Trip's URL into books that we've left behind, but on the site you're able to actually leave a note where you've left it and people can "go hunting". For our reading list, go here.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Postcard from Patras

Our island hopping schedule took us from Kefalonia to Lefkada, seemingly the windsurfing capital of the world, for a couple of days of swimming and lying on the pebbles.  The lounging around gave us plenty of reading time and we have now reduced the weight of books we're carrying to such an extent that we can be seen hovering round the English language sections of the Greek Waterstones.  Or maybe that's because (call us Ishmaels) we're too scared of Moby Dick.

We are now in Greece's 3rd largest city, Patras, and have been here a couple of days doing big city things.  Yesterday we went to the cinema for the first time since Darlington to see Troy (when in Rome...) and Spider-Man 2.  We were prepared to set up camp at the multiplex until we saw the rest of the films on offer - although we were briefly intrigued by "Rrrrrrr!!".

The plan for tomorrow us to catch the train down to Kalamata and then ride down through mainland Greece before a quick hop to Kythira and Crete.  It's been a while since we've done any proper cycling and we're a bit nervous.  Not as much as we were at the start but then Stockton high street will do that at the best of times.

We were wondering when we'll start to feel the pull toward Australia rather than the pull away from England.  At the moment we still get the English papers if we can and the general feeling is of looking back not forward - when we're not simply looking out at the crystal blue Aegean that is...  We reckon the Trans-Siberian will finally snap the invisible cord tying me back to England.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

The stats intro, altitude sickness and Vs cheetah pages have been updated.
Also, an all new Big Trip reading stats page has been added !

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Grecian 2004
We have moved on since the last post, as we must really.  The journey from Catania in Sicily to Taranto in Puglia (on the arch of the sole of the boot of Italy) was a 2 day, 1 ferry & 6 train epic which involved far too much loading, unloading, waiting and dashing for our liking.  The lastest "should we send BoB home" referendum saw a swing from 1 yes and 1 abstention to a landslide 2 yesses  (does that look right?) with Brindisi earmarked as the end of the road for our trusty trailer. 
BoB's big day in Brindisi finally arrived courtesy of Rob Walsh's Italian cousin at Tavoni shipping.  The original measurement and, as a result, price were on the high side but a bit of creative dismantling and the discovery of a box which could have been made to measure saved the day.  We had a night at the youth hostel (typical guest book comment: "THIS PLACE ROCKS!!!!!!!") to repack our stuff, get rid of any unwanted items and generally rejig things.  It was a bit surprising how easily this was done, especially as we are carrying enough books to be able to make an impromptu shelter should the tent fail us.  (And having read 'Robinson Crusoe', don't think we couldn't...)  Packing BoB off was a slightly sad affair but it will make our lives a lot easier when we catch ferries and trains although it will mean a reduction in the number of admiring glances and inquiries we receive.
Our destination from Brindisi was Sami in Kefalonia which, we were unreliably informed by the ticket agent, we could reach from Igoumenitsa in Greece.  We duly disembarked at 4am after a pleasant night sleeping on deck only to be told (when the port woke up) that we'd have to continue on to Patras.  That was where our boat was headed before we got off.  Nevertheless, 2 ferries later we were there.  Well, here really.  The budget is loving the place almost as much as we are although its appreciation of the hills, crystal blue water and pebbly beaches leaves a bit to be desired.
I went for a ride today; a 50km round trip up the island's high point, Mount Enos.  The views were incredible all the way with towns, valleys and the coastline showing themselves as I climbed.  On the way up I managed to outsprint a chunky farm dog (thankfully he was more built for 1-on-1 savagery than speed), outfox a herd of goats (I manoeuvered them to the side of the road using pebbles (no goats were harmed in the making of this blog)) and outsmart anyone who said I'd fall off twice (the last 7km were up a loose gravelly road - ask my knee and elbow if it was easy riding).  On the way down I managed to overtake a car and clock up a rather alarming 72 km/h on what was the best descent of the trip so far.  Well, since the last one...

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Downtown Palermo

It seems appropriate for us to be in Sicily to mark the passing of screen legend Marlon Brondo. We passed "Corleone" on the train but it's wasn't known if they were in special mourning for the man who will be forever linked to their town.

We spent a couple of days in Palermo then caught the train to Catania to avoid the drivers, hills and heat. That was yesterday and today I cycled 30-odd kilometers up Mount Etna. Well, once you've conquered the mountains you might as well move up to volcanoes. I got to 1900 metres which is as far as the snack bars and tourist tack and that was as far as I could go. The road from here is for minibuses and hikers so I left them to it and freewheeled home.

One of the best things about riding the bike is that it gives my hair a devil-may-care windswept look. It hasn't been cut since we set off and the last time it was this long the A-Team were on TV... I have also discarded my conscientious shaving regime in favour of getting the orange plastic razor out every week to 10 days. Or couple of weeks maybe. As I result I go from being a shaggy scruff to a shiny, clean shaven scruff. A miraculous transformation which has hoteliers and campsite owners wondering if my younger brother has turned up.

This post is brought to you courtesy of local restaurant opening times. As soon as the clock strikes 8:00 we're decamping to the Chinese over the road. Sweet and Sour pizza and fried rice please mate.

Friday, July 02, 2004

We're off to Sicily and Updates Available Now

We're currently waiting for our ferry to take us from Sardinia to Sicily (cue the whistling of the Godfather theme).

We're not cycling much in Italy as bascially every Italian driver is nuts and thinks they don't need to change their line when overtaking us (cue me seeing a campervan overtake Banz with about 2 inches to spare).

We'll see a bit more of Sicily as well as visit some good friends in Southern Italy before we get a ferry to Greece and continue riding there. Rural Greece is meant to be very quiet (though hilly), so we're looking forward to that.

In the meantime, just so you haven't forgotten our smiling faces (they are except when hill climbing), we've updated and added the following pages to the Galleries -



France - Nord Pas Du Calais

France - Picardy

France - Champagne

France - Burgundy

France - Rhone Alps

France - Provence

France - Corsica

Italy - Sardinia

as well as updating the following pages -

Overall Statistics

Physiology Changes

Burning Questions

and of course, scroll down for the latest poll.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

What I do when Banz rides up mountains....

I've been relatively quiet on the blog front since the start of the Big Trip, which those of you who know me, may well find surprising....

Of course I've been sharing the daily adventure and logistical necessities with Banz. From sending him out each morning in search of croissants, to telling him where I exactly want the tent positioned (usually as far as possible from where he has dumped all his panniers on the ground, whilst I leave mine stealthily attached to my bike and just wheel them to the new location), the struggles and rewards are generally shared between us. That is, except for the masochistic world of hill climbing.

As our mate Spence asked, "What does Vic do while you're off doing your Julie Andrews impression??".

Obviously this impression is totally at odds with Banz's, who hopes to run into Tyler Hamilton in a bar one day and be able to say, "That Mt Ventoux eh?"

For his two big mountain rides that have been described here, I've been more than content to either indulge myself in the girly pastimes of either shopping (Mt Ventoux Day) or improving my tan (Corsica nightmare ride day). By the way, the tan on my legs is fantastic and obviously gets better each day I ride.

Don't get me wrong, the satisfaction of reaching the top of a hard climb and surveying all below you and knowing you got here under your own steam (as well as lugging four excess novels knicked from the book exchange at the last campsite) is a fantastic feeling. The downhill section which lasts for approximately one fifth of the length of the uphill is also brilliant as well as seeing the speeds which your computer would have no hope of registering under normal circumstances.

It's just that well, climbing for the sake of climbing seems a bit silly to me.

I don't want to start sounding like a girly girl who doesn't understand the offside rule and so thinks football is stupid, but the whole thing of climbing these hills just strikes me as pointless. Nobody could've been prouder of Banz than I was after his successful Mt Ventoux ride, and, in a weird sort of way I was prouder of him after his unsuccessful day in the mountains in Corsica, and I'm more than happy at shout at him, "GET ON THE PEDALS!!!" as he heads off, its just not for me.

I'll ride up hills - but only if they're in my way.....