View From Here To There By Bicycle in a larger map
View From Here to There By Bicycle in a larger map
An article from the newspaper







Arriveing to Kashgar the furthest western city in China, I was expecting Pokemon games the latest in state of the art modern technology and modern architecture, yet there was a difference, things felt like a lot more old style China than the modern flashing lights of a bustling city, Kashgar was a nice place to arrive to after cycling through the more isolated area of Kyrgystan, there was a bustling food market each night not far from where I was staying, selling everything from sheeps heads to fried fish, I took a taste to the dumplings being made they were made in a light dough mixed with finely chopped spring onions and mince meat,
The west and southern Western area of China is mainly populated by Urghuyr people, they`re a population of people who are looking for an independence to China, they have a more Mongolian and Kyrgz look about them.









Setting off from Kashgar the decision was on to decide what route to take, the north Silk road or the southern Silk road, on my mind was always to take the southern route to hopefully catch a glimpse of the Hymalayas, once I arrived to China and had a good look at the map the northern route looked easier in the way of being more populated with the opportunity to readily pick up supplies along the way, plus it was a shorter distance from there to Korla, the city where I was planning to renew my visa to give time to finish in Beijing, but the optimasi took over, with the thinking i`ve cycled this far, why take the easy route now.
One morning after waking up where the temperature had dropped into the -20`s, on first light I gathered everything together from the wooded area and cycled down the road to a small unmodernised village, nipping into a cafe to get warm and have some food, myself and 6 other guys all wearing uyguhur style hats huddled round a log burner in the dusty cafe.. silence, nobody saying a word, then all of a sudden, Michael Jacksons Beat It began playing... Shouting Michael Jackson..Michael Jackson, Beat It !!..which earned a silent stare from everyone huddled round.


On the Southern Silk road there was vast 100 mile stretches of road with nothing inbetween but snow covered desert, which I started to feel was quite theraputic to cycle on, with the Ipod playing and not a great deal of traffic going by, for some reason my left foot was getting colder than the right, I put it down to being more exposed to the open road, arriving to Ruoqiang my foot was becoming harder to walk on and my big toe had turned a bruised color with frostbite, the ride was looking at coming to an end, I arrived to korla to give my foot time to rest and give time to get the visa extended for another 30 days, spending 5 days defrosting my toe in hot water, I made the decision to renew my visa and press on to hopefully finish in Beijing, Thursday came round I went down to the local PSB office handed the lady my passport, the lady  looked at the passpot didn`t say anything , placed my passport to oneside and called for the head guy from the office nextdoor, he was a kind chap, spoke in broken English, he said it`s not possible to extend your visa, we have given you business F type visa instead of tourist L visa by mistake, the only way of obtaining new visa he suggested was to go to the nearest country Pakistan and apply for a new visa then come back, which I explained was`nt the best option for me so the decision from there was to fly out back home from Urumqi, 7580 miles later.


The ride from start to finish has been absolutley amazing, words just to type are hard to explain, the scenery, the people, the culture, the hospitality in every country, truely amazing.


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Thankyou


R: )




Heading to Kyrgyzstan the feeling of intrepidation came back that i`d felt a few times before on the ride, once on setting off, the other heading into eastern Europe and another time arriving to Iran. Each time being proven wrong on the stereotyped cultures of the countries. One thing with Kyrgyzstan recently becoming a visa free country makes the border crossing fairly straight forward with a quick stamp in the passport and a friendly welcome to Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan is a country with a population of 5.2 million people, wedged between Uzbekistan to the west, China to the east, Tajikistan to the south and Kazakhstan to the north. Looking at the map cycling towards Kyrgyzstan there was always a thought that the next step to China was probably going to be the toughest part of the ride mentally and physically, with the weather and isolation playing a role. From Osh to the Chinese border is 158 miles of interesting rural nomadic life along the famous central Asia silk road, via small hamlet villages such as Gulcho, Akbosogo, Sary Tash and Nura. Nura being a place that suffered a horrific earthquake in 2008 where 75 people lost their lives, the turquoise colored fabricated houses that have recently been built by the Red cross & Crescent charity standing out in the hillside valley. Six km`s after Nura is Simhana, a small gathering of old railway carriages turned into home stays situated directly on the Kyrgyzstan to Chinese border.



Arriving to Osh the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan to Bishkek, is a place which locals believe is older than Rome. Feeling like the last city on earth, winter was set in, the weather was considerably more colder than Uzbekistan people were wrapped up wearing thick coats and hats, market traders were shouting out amongst the shuffling around of people minding their step as not to slip on the icy floor. Along the roadside was stalls of sheep heads, hooves, offal, dried fruits, mobile phone gadgets imported from China and surprisingly fresh fruit and vegetables which i had`nt seen since Iran, imported from hotter climates such as Ecuador and South Africa. I needed to find a cheap hotel for some rest for a few days and have time to look around and get things organised for the next step to China. Not long after booking into a hotel i met an English guy called John, he`d been spending the last three years traveling around Asia, renting out his house back in the UK. It was good to chat to a fellow English guy, though felt at times i`d actually forgotten how to converse in English with not speaking the language for so long. Christmas time was around the corner and could`nt help feeling at times this was making the next bit of the adventure a bit more difficult on the brain, China was feeling so close yet so far away.



Setting off on the Monday to make my way to China, the only guide i had of the route was a photograph on my phone of an article from a tour guide book, which turned out it was more aimed at someone travelling in a motor vehicle rather than a bicycle. Snow had been coming down through the night, I was having doubts whether to set off or wait another day for the weather to fair a little. On leaving Osh and cycling towards Sary Tash in the back of my mind was the conversation John and I had about if the weather is like this here, what`s it going to be like higher up over the pass. The scenery along the Irkeshtam pass, coupled with the higher altitude was literally breathtaking.



One morning after waking the sun was skirting the tops of the mountains, the normal thought to see the sun rising was ahh warmth!!, the opposite would actually happen, the temperature would plummet to -8 degrees colder somewhat. Looking into this it`s something to do with the earths atmosphere which is given the term Semi-Diurnal Tide, where the suns rays take time to reach earth and heat the air which has already been warmed from earth through the night. When the temperature plummeted down to -20, things got cold, a small hamlet of houses were up ahead, I thought to myself, I need to get warm, looking for a house with smoke from the chimney, a guy standing in a door way beckoned me in for a cup of tea, he must of read my mind. Sitting with his family inside, we shared a tin of caramel with some bread, followed by sardines in tomato sauce. By the time I left the temperature had risen to -10 degrees, which felt like t-shirt weather compared to -20.





Arriving to Simhana a small hamlet town of old railway carriages built directly outside the Kyrgyzstan border gates to China, I took a seat made of old truck tyres on the steps to a carriage, glancing up at the line of trucks looking at the Chinese lettering on the cargo containers and having a surreal moment of being so close to China after months of cycling.


Facts

The capital of Kyrgyzstan is Bishkek.

The currency of Kyrgyzstan is the Som.

Kyrgyzstan is famous for it`s walnut fruit forests that are the largest walnut forests in the world.

Kyrgz and Russian are the official languages.

The main industries of Kyrgyzstan include small machinery, textiles, food processing, cement, shoes and sawn logs.

The highest peak in Kyrgyzstan is 7437m, peak Popeda.

The main industries of Kyrgyzstan include small machinery, textiles, food processing, cement, shoes and sawn logs.




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One thing I was looking forward to when arriving to Uzbekistan was a bottle of beer, from the month spent in Iran where alcohol is illegal to the whirlwind tour of Turkmenistan I was getting an urge for a drink, not a massive drink just a couple of bottles. The vision I had of Uzbekistan was of a free`er land than to Iran in people and society, in hindsight it did`nt quite feel like that, police checkpoints were dotted regularly along roads and the freedom of wild camping was hindered having to register each night in a hotel or guesthouse, due to regulations tourists must carry registration slips as proof of residency each night, if found without deportation is what can normally happen, sometimes it was`nt always possible to find a place that`s licensed to accept tourists or was within cycling distance.

Eventually crossing the border after having a bit of an episode as to which nationally i`am, I thought I was loosing my mind at one point, handing over my passport I was asked what nationality, I replied British, the guard replied Britannia? pointing to the computer screen which was in Russian lettering, I said no i`m English which created a confusion, then explaining i`m from the UK which is also called England and Great Britain, created further confusion, after being firm looking the man in the eye, I said im British, British!, he looked at the cover of the passport pointed to where it says, & Northern Ireland, replied, Ireland? with a straight face.



The first night in Uzbekistan unable to register to a hotel, I stopped at a man named Asan`s house who I got talking to in a small town called Qarakol, On the night we went to meet his friends at a restaurant down the road. Walking in, there was a table full of food and 2 bottles of vodka on the table, myself and Asan sat down to eat and join in with toast after toast of drinking shots of vodka from soup bowls. waking up in the morning washing my face with cold water from a tin jug, everything was basic living, we sat and ate stale bread with a fried egg. Looking up from where i was sitting there was a large poster on the wall of an immaculate very expensive looking living room with glistening table & chairs and flowers in vases.

The following days cycling towards Samarqand felt quite a false sense of security with the midwinter weather of central Asia i`d been expecting, one freak day reached 26 degrees Celsius in Samarqand, other days was coat wearing weather a bit more like an Autumns day, then three days later within two miles of leaving Almalyk snow appeared.



Arriving to go through a tunnel in the mountain side an army officer beckoned me to stop and to show my passport and visa, we had a bit of a joke about vodka, then I set off on my way through the tunnel to go to the other side where i was stopped again to show my details, the only thing I can think of was in case I`d made a quick identity change. After going through three tunnels the final one was downhill to Qoqand, through all the ride until then I`d never been so cold, there was a freezing fog in the air which gave the first sense of midwinter weather. Passing a women on the side of the road, catching her out of the corner of my eye, sitting there knitting with no gloves on selling apples!




Some facts

Uzbekistan is the only doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of only two such countries worldwide.

Before 1991 Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union.

The population to Uzbekistan is 26.8 million.

The vast majority of Uzbekistan's citizens are Sunni Muslims, at 88% of the population. An additional 9% are Orthodox Christians, primarily of the Russian Orthodox faith. There are tiny minorities of Buddhists and Jews, as well.

The area of Uzbekistan is 172,700 square miles (447,400 square kilometers).

The highest temperature ever recorded in Uzbekistan was 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). The all-time low was -31 Fahrenheit (-35 Celsius).

The Uzbek economy is based primarily on raw materials export. Uzbekistan is a major cotton producing country, and also exports large amounts of gold, uranium, and natural gas.




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Turkmenistan is a country that borders Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to the north, Afghanistan to the south east, Iran to the south and the Caspian to the west.

A three day transit visa was all that I was given to cross 450 km through Turkmenistan, from what i`d heard five day visas are normally issued with the likeliness of sometimes three, I must have drawn the short straw. Any longer time to stay a guide is needed which Is around 200 dollars a day, though still had in mind on arriving to the border that I could make the crossing in three days. The plan was on the first day to get to Mary which was 170 kms away, the next day to somewhere between Mary and Turkmenabat the third day ride up to the border at Farap and cross into Uzbekistan.

Arriving to the Sarahs Turkmenistan border at 7.30 am from Iran, I walked in a small room, handed a guy in a white coat my passport, noticing a basket full of thermometers on the desk, he handed me one from a jar filled with liquid and ask me to place under my arm, peeling the sweaty base layer away from my skin, I placed the thermometer under my arm pit, after a few minutes handed him it back where he jotted the temperature down on a piece of paper, then i headed to the room adjacent to hand in my passport along with an extra twelve dollars, for some reason I had a two and a half hour wait to get through, i asked the guard a number of times what`s happening, another guard walked over and asked where im heading to, I mention Mary as port of call he then asks what hotel am I staying in, I was planning to camp but didn`t mention that, he then gave me a name of a hotel to go to and that they would phone to say i`m on my way, phone to check my arrival and not to go to anywhere else apart from Mary!

After waiting the realisation of arriving to Mary on time was slipping away, pushing the bike on to the final check points I handed my passport to a guard to be checked, he looked at the passport and replied, ahhh..English man in New York, the words English man in Turkmenistan rolled from my mouth. Pushing the bike up to the next check point, a balaclava clad guard with an Ak47 rifle slung over his shoulder was pacing the pot holed wet road, making eye contact with him, I turned to the guard in the office window to hand my passport, where he replied, terrorist or tourist?, definitely not a terrorist and then again hardly not a tourist i thought to myself with only been given a three day transit visa.



Stopping at a truck stop cafe, it sunk in Turkmenistan felt different from the Islamic republic of Iran, women were not wearing the Hijab, there was two guys drunk sat on a bench drinking a bottle of beer, this felt quite a shock with coming from Iran.



From there I hitch hiked to a side road which lead to Mary and headed a few hundred yards, negotiating my way past a bull in the road, there was no way id make it to Mary with the road conditions and time of day it was, so hitch hiked to Tejen where i stopped in a hotel type place there. Jumping out the back of the cow dung ridden truck, passing a sheep hung up being slaughtered I walked into the entrance lobby come reception, three women with gold teeth gathered round pointing, holding their noses, miming that I smelt and to take my trousers off, for some reason I was starting to feel like I was in Cuba, though never been there.

The next day after the realisation I would`nt make the crossing in three days I hitched a ride to Mary with a 24 year old truck driver, he could speak a little English, I asked him what Turkmenistan people thought of England, surprisingly he said nothing is known about England here, there`s nothing on tv or the media.



Thinking about it, three days in Turkmenistan doesn’t really turn out to be three days, counting the time to get through the border, the one and half hour time difference, the road conditions where the maximum speed for a truck on the main road is 45 kmph, all in all three days in Turkmenistan turns out to be a day and a half anywhere else.

So much happened in so little time, one word can only describe. Turkmenistan!, an interesting friendly place.


Facts

Turkmenistan has approximately 5,100,000 citizens.

The official language of Turkmenistan is Turkmen, other languages spoken include Russian (12%), Uzbek (9%) and Dari (Persian).

The area of Turkmenistan is 488,100 square km, or 303,292 square miles.

Turkmenistan exports natural gas, cotton and grain.

The Turkmen currency is called the manat.

The Seljuk Empire collapsed in 1157. Turkmenistan was then ruled by the Khans of Khiva for about 70 years, until the arrival of Genghis Khan.




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The time was passing slowly cycling the 30 km`s from the eastern Turkish town of Dogubayazit towards the Iranian border, things almost felt in slow motion, not knowing what to expect on arrival to the border, the magnificent view of Mount Ararat was towering directly adjacent to the road, there was hardly a cloud in the sky, sun shining, a crisp stillness in the air, the feeling of anxiousness, nervousness and excitement came over in waves.



Approaching the border a guy in a sandy colored waste coat appeared from a herd of cows that were mingling at the border gates, he introduced himself said he was official! and offered to change Turkish Lira to Iranian Rhial and Dollars to Rhial, the price he offered for the 25 lira i had on me was not far off the price google search engine gave as a rate, so took him up on his offer, not knowing and since learning that google shows the bank rate, not the black market rate which is nearly three times as many, never mind, it was some money to get going with.




Arriving to the passport control section of the border three guys approached wearing suites, i rested the bike in the next room and came back to show my passport, the three men who i assumed to be customers in the que, began asking some questions, then a few more questions, then a few more questions, i`d like to see it as a more friendly integration than interrogation. My bike was in the next room which had been there ten minutes or so by now, so i excused myself from the huddle to make an exit to the bike, just before i had chance to take one step i was distracted to the other side of the room where i was asked some more questions, the one that made me swallow my adams apple was, but why are you coming to Iran? said with a perplexed confused look, to which i replied, to meet the people, see the sites and try the food. I was then directed into the tourist office where a well spoken English speaking lady introduced herself, further mentioning she thought that cycling is a great way to see a lot more of the country, i left feeling positive. Walking through to the next room to where the bike was, i heard welcome to Iran mentioned three times coming from different directions, feeling rushed, noticing one guy sitting on a table near the exit as i walked through the door squeezing the bike through behind me. There i was over the border into this mystical land, rolling down a hill lined with oil tankers along one side that were waiting to pass into Turkey. The first thing i noticed was the personality and happy feel to Iran, i`d only been in the country 10 minutes there was a genuine feel and niceness, i was trying my best to see the negative with English cynicism but even that was broken down, people were smiling in the streets, beeping there car horns, waving like i was a long lost relative.





Arriving to Maku the first town after crossing the border, a guy was cooking kebabs on a small barbecue on the side of the street, i stopped to buy one, when he asked me where i`m from, i replied England, to which he had a look of concern and fear on his face, he replied, ohhhh England..bad place!!, from him saying that it felt like another door had opened up into this land, to which i replied England say that about Iran, we both laughed.





Amongst the beautiful arid landscape, Iran felt like it was about the people, i went there with an open mind of how the west portrays Iran and came out with meeting some of the most genuinely, warm hearted hospitable people i`ve ever met.




Facts about Iran

In Persian, the word Iran means “Land of the Aryans”,

There is no law on copyright,

Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas and third in oil reserves,

Iran has borders with ten countries, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq and Turkey,

Iran is one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilizations, with his¬tor¬i¬cal and urban settlements dating back to 4000 BC,

Persian writing is written from right to left,

Iran ranks seventh among countries in the world as regards number of World Heritage Sites,

The language that is spoken is Persian,

Iran is one of the world’s largest producers of caviar, pistachios, and saffron,

Turkey east


Deciding to set off cycling north from the sea coast of Manavgat towards Cappadocia, maybe if there wasn`t bombings coming from Syria onto Turkish soil i may of followed more of the coast round to Iran as a new border crossing had recently opened in the form of a bonding gesture between Iran and Turkey, northwards towards Cappadocia was the plan, climbing up from sea level to the small town of Akseki, being at 1500m Akseki is known for the first place for snow to fall in the Meditteranean region of Turkey, it was tough climbing at times with a steady 35 km uphill, the weather was becoming considerably colder with the first rainfall since Bosnia.


Heading to Erzurum the rain had been belting down the day before and early in the morning, as the temperature started to rise the surface water on the road was making the road slippy, cycling on down the main road, a white car passed at a speed, thinking he`s going to fast, next thing thud, looked ahead to see the car spun to its side, take out a sign and land in the central reservation with another car, a few cars stopped, we helped the man out of the car, with a cut to his head i made use of the medical pack and bandaged his head up, the lady in the other car had a bump to her head, luckily everyone was walking.








An eye opener in Erzurum was the Beyram festival which is a Muslim festivel that lasts for four days, where cows, sheep and goats are slaughtered and the food handed out to the poor, mainly i seen cows in the street, everywhere i looked a cow was being slaughtered, one guy offered me some meat, i said no thanks, thinking know where to really carry it, he replyed, you vegetarian?


The east of Turkey felt somewhat different from the rest of Turkey, maybe the fact the area sees less tourism than say the more coastal areas and tourist sights of the Cappadocia region, thinking about it tourism does play a big part in making a name for a country, it seems to be the coastal areas that are more popular, still the generosity and hospitality of the people was still there, though the further northeast the wilder and hungrier the dogs seemed to be getting, arriving to the top of a big hill, there was an army barracks to the right hand side of the road, as just to say i passed the entrance and was on the downhill part of the hill, when one Mastiff dog ran from the entrance, then two, then three, four, five, until my eyes couldn`t move fast enough to keep track of them all, the young guy on the gate post beckoning me on to carry on cycling, laughing with half a smile as though it was entertainment, i jumped from the bike, shouting at the guard to rein the animals in, he seemed to get the message.






Turkey`s  pulled, stretched and put thought to the brain, the shear size and landscape of the place is huge, with going over a hill the temperature and weather would change dramatically, it`s defintaly not all sun, sunbeds and beaches, what made up for some challenging times was the amazing views from the turn of a corner to the friendly hospitality of the Turkish people.







The larger area of Turkey to the east of Istanbul is referred to as the Asian side, after hearing the term a few times in Istanbul i started to expect something different from the few towns id passed coming to Istanbul itself, not sure what, maybe people looked different, ate different foods, it was all sounding like to be a new place.






Setting off from Istanbul to come down the west side of Turkey felt a bit of a relief to get out of the touristy area of Istanbul, a great place as it is, rich in magnified culture and amazing sites,  there feels a difference between the tourist areas and non tourist areas where people go about their day to day lives, Arriving into small towns and villages there was a feeling of this is what Turkey is about, the dusty hot unmarked roads leading to the centre of town, hearing the call for prey from mosques wailing throughout the streets with an amazing passion, from 5.30 in the morning onwards, five times a day, there`s certainly a modern touch, after call for prey there often comes a sound of a touch tone phone as though someone is dialing a mobile, all  the time the ticking over of how people live and do things shining out, guy`s dashing around carrying polished tea trays delivering small cups of Cay, horns beeping, kebab shops, pictures of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk displayed proudly in the streets, shops and houses. It`s an obvious place of this is Turkey, this is how we do things, on a night small decorated minivan style buses drive around town with blue lighting inside, casting a fluorescent blue tinted shadow of the people sitting inside like a type of disco bus, where the atmosphere can be felt from the outside.






Cycling along the south coast it started to sink in the actually size of Turkey, looking at a terrain map put the country in perspective, the place is huge, mountainous, working out the equivalent to say cycling the distance of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria, the heat was being turned up in the south.











Turkeyism, using the phone and the number nine digit been spun round to look like a six, going to use the hot water tap, the hot water coming out of the blue tap, Salt in the Pepper pot, been given a fork and spoon each time when eating a meal, electricity going off in the room, someone walking past shrugging their shoulders and saying `Turkey`.


Turkey`s this country where Mercedes Benz cars drive side by side with horse & carts with no feeling of animosity, hostility or prejudice, an amazing place!!




Facts about Turkey

Turkey was Founded in 1923 by M. K. Ataturk.
Currency is Turkish Lira (TL).
Turkey borders Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria.
There`s three climate zones,  Mediterranean, Continental and Black sea.
The highest mountain is Mt. Ararat, approx,5165 metres, It`s believed to be resting place of Noah's Ark.
Main industries of Turkey are, auto industry, textiles, food processing, mining, steel, petroleum, construction, limber, paper, tourism.
Turkey is slightly bigger than Texas.






On my mind coming to Turkey was the thought of getting hold of some euros to pay for the fifteen euro visa on the border, thinking was now turning into more of a target mission to get hold of some, looking at the map in Bulgaria there was  a less busy road that nips into Greece then to Turkey at a similar distance as travelling to Turkey direct from Bulgaria.



Crossing the border to Greece the shade wearing border guard glanced at the passport and waved me on very cooly, the heat and dry landscape hitting, reminding of when visiting Crete when i was younger. It was about twenty miles of cycling in Greece to reach the infamous cash point, which was as close as fifteen yards to the Greece Turkish border, five miles before reaching there, i asked  a guy for directions him pointing and speaking in Greek, and looking at the bike miming what i thought was a hill up ahead, setting off further down the road and coming to a ford river crossing, this is what he must of ment..





Crossing the Turkish border and handing the guard a fifty euro note turned into what was like one of them games at the fair ground where you`ve got to watch three cups to try and guess which one has the coin under, entering to Turkey hit like a culture shock, though i don`t think it was Turkey as such, more the fact i`d passed through Bulgaria to Greece to Turkey in the space of a day, In Greece the clock was a showing an hour forward than Bulgaria.

Within fifteen minutes of cycling in Turkey, i was in a park eating fish, peppers and melon from a newspaper laid out on a picnic table ,drinking Raki with four guys, one playing a banjo.




Cycling from Silivri the town before Istanbul a guy pulled up in a new model transit van, wound down the window, the first thing he said was, Hi, i don`t speak a lot of English, would you like to put your back in the back, i`ll give you a lift into Istanbul, i politely declined,shock his hand pointing to my shirt explaining that im trying to clock up the miles to raise money for charity, random acts of kindness like this have been giving a massive moral boost.





Heading into Istanbul i`d heard the traffic was chaos to get into the centre, it was. Though car drivers did tend to watch out, there was a coast road on the map closer towards the city which was smaller than the main roads going direct into to the city, i headed for there, stopping to ask a taxi driver for directions,  he said yes to all directions i was pointing,including where i`d just come from, amazing. Once on the road it was busy at times though i suppose more steadier than the main roads going in.





Istanbul was this humongous amazing place of a city oozing organised chaos, amongst the running of modern day trams, Mosques, kebabs shops, calls for prey, Turkish sweet shops, restaurants, office blocks, markets, rug shops and a cosmopolitan of people and more.













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It`s about time i written something in the blog, i know.. to be honest i didn`t anticipate how much time it would take getting things sorted at the end of a day with winding down after riding, and then on the odd days off the brain feeling like the gear box has fell out, it feels just putting snippets doesn`t give the trek justice, i suppose something is better than nothing.
The madness and organised chaos seems to be becoming a way of life, where everything seems to be becoming lost in translation in an international game of charades, from drawing a picture of some chips on a waitress`s note pad, to asking for a cold bottle of water and the guy pointing to cigarettes behind the counter, to asking for the toilet, taking a slight bow in the way of a thank you and desperation for the need, then being led to a prayer room filled with rugs in the side door of a petrol station.


After coming from Sarajevo  close to the border of Serbia in the republic of Serbia district, i stopped at a petrol station for some water and a look at the map, the pump attendant walked over out of the blue, to say up ahead for 15 km`s the road ends and turns to asphalt, with 23 unlit tunnels, he didn`t have to much of a luck of concern, i remember his words, go slow. it was 4.30 pm by this time and was considering camping up and covering the distance the next day, eventually the road literally ended, tarmac one side, one lane potholed road the other, pressing on through tunnels 400 metres long, pitch darkness where the torch wasn`t bright enough to shine a way, after 5 km`s the back wheel popped on a rock, the pump didn`t work to fix,so pushed the bike on, after 2 km`s the pannier rack bolt snapped, dropping the rack to the wheel making for heavier pushing, getting dark and considering to camp only to be swayed by the warning signs for mines on either side of the road, sweating, thirsty and running on adrenalin i arrived to a small village, where thankfully some  nice people helped and allowed me to stay the night at their place, waking up at 6.00 am to coffee and Raki




Crossing into Serbia felt like cycling in a cross between Switzerland for scenery and England for atmosphere, but then the large print on the sign entering said welcome to Serbia, prices of things were cheaper than western Europe and the people friendly, i had a puncture one day at 5.30 pm outside a car garage, the guy working there walked over, the first thing he said was Raki,when i turned that down.. Brandi?, settling for a can of lager with his family on the lawn to his house, the day after at 5.30 pm another puncture happened outside a garage, the bike literally rolling to a stop as the tyre deflated, not sure if this was happening for a reason, sitting down to fix the bike in the garage forecourt and meeting friends as though we`ve been friends for ages.








It got me thinking if Bosnia and Serbia had a coastline like Croatia ad Bulgaria, with out a doubt these places would be tourist resorts.

Heading to Bulgaria from Serbia was near enough one straight road which must have been a through road for tourist coming from Bulgaria and Turkey, near enough every other car was a Dutch and German car with a dash of UK cars.Bulgaria felt like it was holding onto something tightly, crossing the border gave the first sense of arriving to Asia with a heat that felt like someone was blower a heater to my face.






Arriving in Sofia felt like Barcelona, a nice place, urban, rustic which came more to life when it got to night time


Camping in the tourist coast of Split i was in two minds whether to go as originally planned east to Bosnia and Serbia or carry on south east to Albania, Montenegro, Greece then onto Bulgaria, it was mainly being swayed by hearing other poeple travelling that way saying how the area was more like Croatia but untouched from tourism. The decision was on, something was telling me if i did`nt go originally planned to Bosnia & Serbia, i`d regret it and feel i would let visiting these countries down, having two days rest in Croatia i set off east to Bosnia, not really knowing what to expect apart from what the western European media hysteria had produced about these countries.

Arriving to the border of Bosnia and crossing over things did start to feel more original in an ordinary way of living way, people were sitting outside coffee shops sipping coffee, i had been warned earlier in Croatia, when drinking coffee in Bosnia to drink it slowly, taking up to an hour or more to drink a small cup, drinking coffee fast as being the biggest insult, asking is there any more customs i should know, no, just don`t drink coffee fast, this was the only thing stopping me from having a cup early in the morning, not to be unsociable, just had in mind to get to Mostar and find my way around there.







Arriving into Mostar hand on heart, was a shock, modern looking high rise buildings built within the new part of the town were sprayed with gunfire, looking at bullet holes then looking at the people walking around something didnt seem to fit right, from a war that was what 17 years ago people were living like any other city or town, there were shops, restaurants, cafe bars,
Bosnia feels like a country with a strong heart and a balance of determination.

Croatia

Coming into Croatia from Slovenia there was a steady flow of cars crossing over the border, Aurillian and Joffrey the two hitch hikers from France who i`d met earlier had got a lift ahead to the border where they were getting passport checks, a few miles of cycling in Croatia felt like the dusty hot heat and newly tarmacked roads of the Mediterranean, the temperature was a big difference from Italy and gradually higher than Slovenia, getting used to the heat was a bit of a push, at one point 35 miles of cycling was feeling like 70 miles, after 5 days it started to feel like weathering had kicked in.





Cycling through Croatia gave this false sense of my own planning at times, along the tourist coastline could well have been Spain, moving more in land through small villages and towns felt more like the original Croatia with people going about their day to day business, glancing at an English guy cycling through with a ton of stuff loaded on a bicycle.




Croatia has this stigma in the UK that it`s a poorer country, though because it`s cheaper than some countries should`nt make it any less different, there`s lots of new cars on the roads, Croatia seems to be this country of what living within means is about a beautiful place.

Slovenia

Arriving to the border of Slovenia to take a picture a lady passed through in a car, smiled, waved, pulled up the car, dashed over and placed a pear in my hand and pointed to the border with a big smile and said Slovenia.



The crossing through Slovenia to Croatia was only 25 miles, the weather was warm, the fields green with rolling hills and beaches that gave the feeling of Spanish UK holidays in the 60`s with a touch of modern day class.

Italy

Italy seems this cool calm place with an undercurrant of where 75 year old men muscle in if your chatting to a woman in their vicinity.
Coming down the otherside of the Nufenen pass in Switzerland to the nearest city Bellinzona could well have been Italy, it felt like Italy, people were speaking Italian, looking Italain, there were lots of shop signs advertising pizzeria, still had 55 miles to go to arrive to Italy.
Arriving at the border was merely a turn of a corner and there was Italy with a steady flow of cars crossing over, it was 7.00pm a storm brewing so was a bit of a rush passing through, with no passport checks, once into Italy it was good to buy a couple of oranges and a nectarine for the price of one euro fifty, heading into Como it was getting late and wanted to get to the outskirts of the city to find a camp spot before darkness, pushing on east uphill to Erba where i spotted a campsite so stopped there for the night and caught up with the 3 week old washing that was starting to Sing out of tune rather than hum.

Cycling across north Italy was nice steady cycling, nice roads, with getting the hang of the road signing being a bit of a problem, Breische sign posted 29km away then following the direction of the sign to come to another sign saying Breische 34 km, that day did an extra 25 mile cycling of a scenic route, the north of Italy was quite flat just over from the alps and was some what becoming gradually warmer the further east.






The Italians seem to have this great sense of when drifting off out of focus when riding, to beep their horn or give the thumbs up.
On the warm nights camping, sometimes the tent`s not been needed though probably would helped to keep the midgies at bay.

Within about 30 miles of the France Swiss border things seemed to be looking a little more Swiss, architure on houses had wooden facias and features and were more sparesly dotted about on hill sides, it was quite strange coming up to the France Swiss border, i wasnt sure what to expect and or where abouts it was, i had an idea from the map, it was a case of turning a corner and there it was a grey cannopy with a cabin either side of the drive through section, there was nobody around to hand over passport it was a case of cycling through.
France one side Switzerland the other in the space of 10 yards, cycling into Switzerland i was looking around for any differences, looking at road, shop signs to see if they were spelt different from France, things were still in French, i thought German was the language of Switzerland.
Entering Switzerland was like a ghost town, for 1 pm on a Saturday i was expecting people to be on the streets and roads mingling, there was know one around, very very quite, there was not an ery feeling about the place but more a peaceful feeling, the air was clean.
Arriving at the nearest town Porrentruy, i stopped at a corner shop for a bottle of water, walking into the shop felt like a scene off Back to the Future the movie, the guy behind the counter was serving someone, everything felt peaceful and quite, they going about their buisness, i was trying to work out what language was being spoken, i heard Au`revoir, so was getting more confused, took the water to the counter the guy said bonjour, i asked him what language is spoken here which he said French, ahh

Heading into the town centre there was a few more people wondering around, went into the local supermarket where everything was very clean and neatly in order, even eggs were painted in their boxes, green, sunburst yellow. Sitting outside eating, a girl Anna originally from Kazakhstan was unlocking her bike, she said modestly and in a refreshing type of way i would like to help you, i asked if there was anywhere to charge phone ect, Anna went over to the bar near by where she came back and, said yes it`s ok to charge things their, heading over to the bar i parked the bike outside where Anna introduced me to the lady behind the bar, Sonia. Where in five minutes of talking Sonia offered if i needed any clothes washing, wow which i politely declined. Orhan, Sophias son came downstairs where we got chatting, after a while i went to set off to find a camping spot for the night, when Orhan offered that i stay there for night, it felt re`freshing to have a bed for the night and be able to think and work out the route for the following day.

Cycling through 100 miles of Switzerland i started to think it was a myth that Switzerland was hilly, not to say it`s not a hilly country, but rather the roads were built in the valleys of the mountains themselves, making the roads flatter than roads in say the UK, and started to come to the idea that the Uk roads were more hilly to cycle, upon coming to the Alps i could`nt have been further than the truth and ate my words and choked on them, the GrImsell pass was 15 miles, 2165 metres high of constant up hill , with cars and motorbikes racing past like it was Monti carlo the 2nd, coupled with blazing heat, it was bruital exausting and at one point the heat nearly took hold, eventually getting to a huge Dam and what i thought was the top, i celebrated by having a Nectarine, only after a couple of mouthfuls to look up and see more road etched into the shear mountain side spiraling from left to right, still another 8km to go.







The following day was as tough if not tougher, with 9 miles 2478 metres high of constant uphill, the weather was over cast which helped, at most points up the pass i found it impossible to ride and had to resort to pushing, two people along the route pulled over to offer their help in a lift to the top, pointing at their car, which i politely refused. Eventually reaching the top the same time as 6 Belgium motorcyclists we got chatting, they all took it in turns to try pick the bike up and could`nt believe how heavy it weighs.








Ferry/France

Arriving on board of the ferry cargo area within the car deck, the ship worker tied the bike against the steel pillar, i was left considering what to do with the my worldly possessions of bags on the bike, an English couple Helene & Nigel who were on there way back home to Italy must of spotted my deilema and offered to store the bags in their car until we crossed, it felt like someone had passed me a pair of arm bands to swim the channel, going up to the deck we sat and chatted, Helene & Nigel bought me a cup of tea which i felt gratefull for but a little put out as they insisted to pay for.

The start of the Bon voyage in what the French say. After cycling off ship i knew there was a campsite close to the port, it was a case of taking a guess as to which way to turn, i headed left into a suburban area of Calais and stopped to ask three french guys where the camp site is, it felt strange, a little alien to be cycling into a foreign country knowing this is going to be the next 10 months or so way of life, after talking to the French guys and a little amusing with each other i cycled on taking off on the left handside of the road, 300 yards up the road the French guys started shouting, on the right, on the right.

Cycling through France this past week or so has been up, down, down and up and round about, i`m trying to think of any other situation that gives these types of feelings in massive magnified proportions to say, being at home in the comfort of home, the feeling of freedom, lonlyness, happyness, sadness, seem to be on a grand scale sometimes in waves, over the slightest little thing like dropping something while riding, finding something in a place where you knew you had put it, spilling a bit of food on clothes, to managing to dry some clothes on the bike while riding. The first week or so, has been spent getting into routines, and habits, not that i`m a creature of habit at all at home, quite the opposite but in this situation i think it`s best to get into routinely habits to make things easier, like packing of equipment and general keeping a focus, though i fractionally lost that at one point when cycling out of Bethunes to Avion, heading south as the compass points and finding two roads, a toll road and a motorway, the only roads heading in the direction of travel and not being able to cycle on them, having to cycle back through the town centre to take a smaller road from the other side of town, the feeling of frustration and unfocussed once heading in the right direction soon dissipated.


By Thursday 5th July i felt i was slowly getting into the stride of things pushing out more miles at an easier pace which is pleasing, the miles up until then have been on the lower side than originally planned, probably has alot to do with the lack of long distance cycle training before the trek.








I love France, eveything about France is French, the air, the water, the weather one minute it`s sunny the next minute thunder and lightening, the opening hours of the shops, from 12pm they close until 3pm, i was wondering why everytime that i get to the shop they`re either closed or are closing, their modesty, was sitting on a wall of somebodys house as they drove their 4x4 down the driveway, i moved away from the wall, a lady wound down her window and said Bon appetite and motioned to eat something, the language seems so basic, all of the words learned and forgot from school i`m sure it would be easy to pick back up spending a bit more time here. After a broken pedal mishap i got talking to a street cleaning guy, asking him where the nearest bike shop is, not that i understood alot of what he said somehow got the jist.







Heading further southeast towards Switzerland it felt like France had opened up, cycling through rural countryside, small villages, i stopped to ask a family that were sitting inside their garage if i could fill the water bottles up, they couldnt speak much English as my French, when the lady went to fill up the bottles the guy was shouting Schnaps, she came back with the waterbottles filled with water and ice and bottle of Shnaps which i turned down pointing at the bike, us all laughing, had my thoughts on pressing on another 15 miles, it`s not a race and would of been good to stop, i think getting that balance of time, place, when and where. That night made it to a small village called Rimaucourt around 9.30 had a look about and parked up behind the village restaurant, was considering sleeping in the sleeping bag for the night, the weather was nice, quite a mild night, the ground was quite stoney, once it got dark headed to a small bridge nearby next to a river to pitch up the tent for the night for an early start in the morning

The weather seems to be getting that gradually warmer, noticeable within 60 miles of cycling, still bursts of rain from out of know where, French weather can be the only thing to call it.

Cycling from Luxeuil les-Bains in a south east direction to Belfort towards the Swiss border, after about 12 miles cycling arrived at a roundabout with Belfort signed posted to the left along a motorway with visable signs for no bicycles, walking, scooter or tractors, so turned off to head to a place called Lure thinking in mind to stop for a cup of coffee, after passing one cafe on the right and coming to another bar cafe just after i pulled up to rest the bike against a lamppost outside, turned around and a lady, Veronique was walking out the cafe with a book of a cyclist Philippe Jacy who`s been cycling around for years who she had met at the same bar cafe, she could`nt believe it bumping into each other as she explained she was just about to cross the road to give the book to an older lady who used to do many miles years ago cycling with her husband, after a cup of coffee and great talking about France and coincidance of our meeting outside, Veronique was on the phone to the local newspaper and mayor where a journalist came to the bar to ask details and take a photo for an article in the newspaper, quite surreal moment, great people, great talking.

Setting off







The sailing from Dover to Calais courtesy of DFDS Seaways, Thank you.


Setting off from Hythe heading to Dover, the main road leading to Dover was a busy dual carriageway which was raging with a 30 yard viewing distance of fog, i pulled into a layby for 45 minutes to wait until the fog lifted, it kept lifting then reappearing thicker than before, i decided to make a dash for it, heading down the dual carriageway as fast as i could, i just wanted to get off the road, it felt unsafe, the next turning i turned off it was a little bit of a longer route but came direct into Dover town.





Sunday 1st July, Morning of setting off.
Grabbed some breakfast at the hotel buffet then rushed down to Big Ben, feeling quite apprehensive and on the other hand focused with the journey in mind,Julie and i arrived there at 8.50 am, was surprisingly quiet, a few tourists dotted about, weather was nice, broken cloud with sun, perfect cycling weather i suppose, it was one thing i hoped for was nice weather to set off from London. Said goodbye to Julie then headed off in a south easterly direction,the compass is proving more important than the map itself, the map is detailed but the smaller roads are not titled which is a bit of a bugger, managed to push 43 mile`s the first day which is lower than expected, stopped at a place called 5 oaks green in what i thought was a secluded pear tree orchid until a dog popped it`s head in the tent, turned out to be a dog walking spot,had an ok nights sleep, not the best. The following day headed to Dover expecting to arrive there at 6.00 pm stopped at a cafe called Small Herb in a little town outside of Folkestone named Hythe, had a coffee got talking to the Jayne the owner and her son Graham who offered a stay at there house for the night, it felt a little strange being offered a bed to stay and food for the night as my mind was in tent camping survival mode, it`s one thing im going to have to try to adjust to is people`s generosity while on the road. Sat and chatted to Jane, Graham and Martin, Janes husband and there daughter, really nice people, i felt tired so couldn`t really function much, had a good nights sleep and a couple of slices of toast in the morning.








The bike packed..just!!



The bike just about packed with a few things getting put to one side to make room for other vital things, so that`s the solar shower out of the equation, set aside with the option that i could always jump into a river for a wash, the night before setting off felt weird i`m trying to think the best way to describe it, it was a bit like a depressing Christmas if you know what i mean, there was a slight sense of looking forward to something but not sure what, the Sunday morning came round Julie and i walked down to the train station at a fast pace rushing not miss the train, just 6000+ miles to go, once at the train station had a cup of coffee to wake up, bumped into a few friends who i had`nt seen for a while, while they waited on one platform we wait on the other, which turned out we were waiting in the north bound platform from a town 350 mile`s away north of London, can only get better!, the train arrived 20 minutes late with the previous train being cancelled so twice as many people were on the train the platform guard was shouting to get the bicycle to the end of the platform with the bags off ready to put on the train, the train pulls up, the bike has to go in seperate carriage to everything else, for some reason the guard wants to insist on me leaving the bags on the bike and the bike unlocked as they are rushed for time,it got little stressed as i told him these are my belonging for 10 months, battleground Britain.

Once we arrived at the hotel i was told it`s not possible to take the bike into the room, im not sure why , the bike was in better condition than the room itself, so after taking the bags upto the room a mission had to be plotted to sneak the bike upstairs, once the porter was looking the other way and after a few near misses the bike was upstairs safely in the room while i tried to get my head around the final packing of what & where things are.


Bike/Equipment







The bike, equipment and clothes ready to be packed..everything but the kitchen sink
Apprehension, excitement and nerves are the emotions juggling about on the run up week to setting off, mixed in with a focused concentration of things still yet to organise, they`re not major things, well i say not major, there`s insurance to sort out which can be done over the phone up to the day before setting off, ideally i`d like to get that sorted out asap then that`s another thing off the list, then there`s bits and bobs like copys of passport, passport photographs for visas, extra bolts for the bike, what else, a supply of vitamins,ohh and a magic letter written up into the language of the countries that don`t speak English explaining what i`m doing, just to make things that little bit easier as my other languages are very close to zilch. mental note, must look into buying a few phrase books.
Towards the end of the week on Friday is the final dose of jabs covering rabies and meningitis, arm feels like a pin cushion, have got to say the NHS staff have been amazing with helping out with info and stuff. Another good thing is PowerTraveller have supplied a sponsor donation to the ride in the form of a PowerGorilla portable charger which i`m over the moon about, will certainly make things a lot more convenient to charge up whilst on the move.