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.