Booting it through Italy

Can you guess where we are yet?

Arriving in the southern Italian city of Bari was a joy but as we cycled off the boat we were plunged into a fashion parade we had not been prepared for. Everywhere we looked Gucci and Prada trotted past. Even the old folk oozed a boutique style and class; demure old ladies entering their grand apartment blocks in stylish furs with yappy little pooches in handbags. We had slept the night on the floor of a ferry and hadn’t washed for days…but we were given a warm Italian welcome, if only from a safe distance; our aroma naturale causing diamante clad shihtzu to warn their owners with a yelp and a grimace of utter distaste. Luckily for us the style in Italy is paired with simplicity; eating was to be joyous with simple foods cooked to perfection and fantastic coffee on every street.

Camping amongst the olives.

After a night in Bari, located on the heel of Italy, we headed inland towards Naples on the opposite coast. To get there we would have to pass through the rural south and the hilltop towns of the Basilicata region. We found the small country roads pleasant riding, lorries laden with the olive harvest and room in the groves for cheeky campers. We were drawn to the small town culture where evenings saw families out on the streets, walking and talking, children selecting from an enticing selection of rich gelato while the adults sip espressos and laugh over warming aperitivo. On the romantically lit cobbled streets of Canosa de Puglia, a little lost in the dark, we were met with much interest. We made friends with Luigi who walked us in the right direction. A professional fisherman he gave us a lucky fishing weight for our first born to put on his or her rod. It was very touching, although a lucky float may have been a lighter gift to cycle home! :)

Luigi - friendly folk in Italy.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing and winding through the small communities up in the hills. While in most parts of the world we have found the majority of people living in the valleys, this region is different with houses packed tightly together at the top of steep hills. This had historically offered protection from enemy raids and mosquitoes in the swampier valleys. Today they offer wonderful vistas and are protection from cyclists who have to be very keen to try and get up to them. In our case, it was my poor route planning. Still every cloud has a silver lining.

Hill top towns.

Views - church spires and fields.

Warm in the sun and cool in the shade.

Seeking refuge at a hillside church.

Spotting a nice piece of grass next to this little church we asked Andreas who lived next door if we could camp there. He had no hesitation in letting us camp and filled up our water bottles but Granny would have none of it. We couldn’t camp out in the cold, she mimed, so Andreas gave us the keys to the old primary school building in the village. It was fun to be back in the classroom albeit in an empty one in a village that we can’t find on the map.

Sunset from the church.

Granny gives us milk and a warm hug.

Camping in class.

What do you carry on that bike?

Half the time we couldn’t tell you all the things that lurk in the bottom of our panniers. However, camping in the classroom gave me the chance to at least set out all of our camp kitchen. Well… we certainly don’t go hungry or thirsty and it is probably unfair to blame Luigi’s fishing weight when we struggle up the hills!

Should be able to rustle something up from this...

Leaving school - back on the road.

The last push to Naples

We had about a week to get to Naples to meet our friends, James and Becky. It turned out a bit harder than we thought with all the ups and downs. It also got pretty cold. One morning on a long descent we were engulfed in a thick and freezing mist. Concerned that cars behind may not see us we decided to outrun the cars at breakneck speed to avoid being tail-ended. It was like a terrifying roller-coaster in a cloud.

Mist plays havoc with my beard

When the sun came out however, we were able to enjoy the rustic charm of the south.

Can't imagine this thing struggles on the hills any less than us.

Getting closer to Naples.

On the outskirts of Napoli.

Shutters and balconies.

We had heard a few warnings about Napoli – the crime, the Mafia – but for us we found no hostility only more hospitality. Mind you when the only thing you have to extort is a ragged beard, perhaps this gives you some immunity.

Traffic wardens.

You will need bigger scissors than those! Local barbers offer their services.

 A cycling holiday

So began a fantastic week cycling around Naples and Pompeii with our mates. It was a lovely change to have the company of friends for a week. You can read about this fun-fest in Becky’s Guest Blog. Thank you both so much –  a week was too short but it gave a boost to push on home through Europe and its challenging winter. x

Cycling Naples with our good friends James and Becky.

After saying our goodbyes to our fond friends as they headed to the airport, we got utterly lost in the steep back streets of the city centre. We discovered some lovely old buildings and atmospheric alleys but it was time to start cranking out the kilometres and press up the coast. Next city – Rome.

The old streets of Napoli.

Lost.

All roads lead to Rome

It was exciting to be on the road to Rome, another big landmark. Tree-lined avenues, flat and straight, guided us in the right direction. The fertile and long-established fields, groves and gardens, were charming and we couldn’t help but wonder about all the care and toil that must have been invested in this land over the millennia.

What did the Romans ever do for us?

Following the west coast.

Coypu or water rats - cute from a distance.

Rome

Arriving in Rome, the skies opened and we ended up in the outskirts of the city eating cheap pizza and trying to warm up. We were excited because we had the prospect of some comfort and hospitality from Anna, a friend I had made during my teacher training. We were apprehensive though; her lifestyle of teaching, living and partying in the centre of such a trendy city sounded very glamorous. Dripping puddles into our plastic chairs and Kat pulling rogue strings of mozzarella out of my beard, we felt less than glamorous.

A warm and welcome drink - Anna's flat in Rome.

It was a strange moment when we met. Anna was just strolling down the road after popping into a supermarket on her way home like it was just everyday life (it was).  Us, on a heavily-loaded tandem taking on the Roman traffic and snaking effortlessly around potholes and ringing our bell at passers-by like it was just everyday life (it was). Crossing paths on a zebra crossing, I think we all had a double take. Once we managed to get the tandem and all the bags up into Anna’s flat a glass of wine was well received. Of course it was just like old times and to our relief we were able to hold our own in Rome.

Anna had the inside scoop on the best food in town.

It was fun to go out for drinks, meet interesting people and be a tourist for a few days. Yes, we had missed all this and we were both taken with the Roman lifestyle. If the food, passion and buzz were not enough, history surrounded us and the echos of the past still reverberated in even the smallest corner of the city. Rome was a great city just to walk.

Italian passion.

Don't forget to look up.

Saints above.

Rome by night.

Tourists at the Trevi Fountain.

Ignoring the tourists, it really is a romantic spot!

Gazing up at the roof of the Pantheon - 2000 years on it is still a sight!

Fountains everywhere.

Beard envy...

Time to leave the lovely company and luxury of the flat. Thanks Anna! x

Back on the bike, time for a few trophy shots - The Colosseum.

Crunching the numbers… Tandem Turners do the Vatican, country number 17

The sun was out in the Vatican even if the Pope wasn't.

On our way out of Rome we made a quick visit to Vatican City. It was a reminder that statistics don’t always mean much. Here we took a few snaps, looked at the Nativity and chatted to a few other visitors. Then cautiously under the watchful eye of the best casino canada police managed about 50 metres of cycling before we crossed the ‘border’ back into Italy. In the space of 20 minutes we had added a country to the list and a flag to our bike.

Numbers and statistics on a cycle trip can reflect a narrative. We will often recognise and recount the events of a day long passed by just looking at a set of GPS data. Kilometres in deserts or climbing uphill or headwinds represent real sweat and tears but numbers are in themselves meaningless. The Vatican = 1 country, Australia = 1 country. 100 kilometres on mountainous dirt roads and 100 kilometres with a tailwind on flat tarmac are different stories and emotions, although the numbers are the same. And perhaps it is with genuine relief that we probably won’t break the World Record for the longest tandem journey because while that number would represent an epic adventure, perhaps our memories of these years would end up being framed by that number and the real meaning of our time together reduced to a numerical distance.

Camping on the road to Naples

Italy was proving to be one of the hardest countries to wild camp in. The well-populated coast and fenced off land was proving a bit of a headache. This was further frustrated by the fact that there were hundreds of campsites lining our route, none of which opened until April. In China underpasses became the fail-safe camping option. In Italy we discovered that the best place to find a place to set up home was by slip-roads and on roundabouts.

Perfectly cut grass beside a motorway slip road.

We began to plan our camp spots around the spaghetti junctions we could find on the map and this practice saw us camping in some strangely private places, just metres from the thunder of highway traffic.

Traffic oblivious to our evening camps.

Waking up in a boggy puddle on the middle of a major roundabout - happy times in the big red tent...

Cooking lessons from our Italian family

One Sunday morning after an hour’s cycling a car pulled up across the road and the driver waved us down enthusiastically. We struggled to understand what he was trying to say but it soon became apparent that he was inviting us for lunch. While we had barely covered 10 kilometres, we couldn’t resist the offer of Sunday lunch from such an excited man. We were not so sure if the passengers were so keen on the idea.

Bruno, son and translator.

We arrived at a warm apartment and were quickly welcomed by the family.  As we chatted and relaxed in the communal kitchen, my eyes were drawn to the fridge, which groaned with cured meats, cheeses, olives, preserves and alluring smells.  Anna Lisa was keen to cook us a local dish and we decided we liked the sound of Amatriciana, the most traditional pasta sauce from this region around Rome.  While I talked a bit about bikes with Riccardo, Katherine was shown how to dice and fry pig cheek and time the adding of the few simple ingredients that make this centuries old dish.  The food was a real treat, but as the case should be, it was the warm company that lingers in our memory from those few happy hours.

Our very own Italian cooking class from Anna Lisa and Chiara.

Enjoying homemade Italian food with Riccardo.

Pisa

Pisa was wet, very wet. While we have learnt to put on a brave face and try to enjoy the sensation of being soaked to the bone, it is easier said than done.

Kat loving the rain.

The river Arno that passes though Pisa was threatening to burst its banks and the army was bought in to bolster the banks with sandbags and big metal walls. Luckily, the rain retreated and the river banks survived. We enjoyed our moment as minor celebrities when an English couple staying at the same guesthouse recognised us from an article in Chat magazine. It took some time to realise this as we were slow to admit that we had been in the magazine and they were slow to confess they had read it!  It was lovely to chat English though and realise how close we were to home; they had just popped over to Pisa for the weekend!

Hanging out in Pisa.

We enjoyed a day off and then did our duty of holding up the old tower for a few minutes before we left.

Well it had to be done...

This friendly Japanese photographer manages to make the tower look nice and straight.

Rain, mountains and risking rims

It was not far to France now but Italy had a few little challenges up its sleeve…

First the rains returned with a vengeance, making the roads run with torrents, hiding potholes and stripping Hooch of lubrication. The upside was that children’s playgrounds became viable for camping – no kids, climbing frames to hang our soggy socks and a squashy rubber floor away from the mud…

Wild camping is child's play.

One day we narrowly avoided being caught in these hail stones.

Then the mountains came and while burning off the extra pizza calories, we discovered our rear rim was splitting yet again. Hurtling down the coastal descents became seat-of-the-pants affairs. On massive downhills in Uzbekistan we had learnt to launch ourselves up emergency runaway sidings and sandpits to prevent over heating the brakes. In Italy we careered off the main road, up small private driveways and doused the rims with what we had available on the bike – cheap red wine. This rather decadent technique causing claret steam to pleasantly choke our breath away. Lidls wine pricing, we salute you!

What a view. Better get ready with the Merlot...

While sorting out a new rim we were taken good care of by Serge and Andrea in Lavagna.

A new rim ordered, we were back on the road. We took a risk and arranged for it to arrive in Nice, a few hundred kilometres away in France. Hooch would just have to hang on a few more days. Come on Hooch!

The Italian Riviera kept us in vistas and took our mind off our wobbly wheel.

A fun evening navigating the back streets of Genoa

Meet Paul, walking the length of Italy, for the Jo and Mya Fund charity.

More rain.

Nearly there. Light at the end of this wet Italian tunnel.

Skies seem to clear as we leave Italy for our last push through Europe.

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Cycling the Land of Gods and a Christmas Turkey

A long time before Italy…

Half way through our sprint through China, my mum had asked where we thought we would be for Christmas. Never thinking we would even get out of China, we had plucked for Istanbul. But having flown to Georgia, we were way ahead of time, arriving in Turkey’s biggest city exactly a month too early. Fortunately this gave us the opportunity to leisurely soak up the vibrancy of this city which, once we got beyond the tourist touts, completely got into our blood stream, becoming our favourite city of the trip so far.

A problem with Hooch’s special gear system was soon fixed at a fantastic new bike shop and Rohloff service centre dedicated to cycle touring. For anybody cycling from the east or the west we would highly recommend dropping by for any maintenance or to replace any tired/broken camping equipment. Plus they are an interesting and friendly bunch with plenty of cycle touring experience. Their website is: http://www.bisikletgezgini.com/english

Due to how long we had before my family arrived for Christmas, we decided to cycle on and give ourselves a head start by getting as far as we could, leaving the bike somewhere, before taking public transport back to Istanbul. We were all set to leave Istanbul but then we got chatting to an elegantly bohemian-looking chap in his mid-twenties with a delicate handlebar moustache who was staying at our hostel. We so enjoyed talking to him that when he suggested a walk to a tranquil tea garden overlooking the Bosphorus we thought one more day wouldn’t make a difference.

It was a beautiful day with a beautiful view set in beautiful gardens. We and our new friend shared, along with plenty of tea, tales of our home countries, both of which held special places in our hearts. But unlike us, our friend was unable to go back to his home country. He had to flee in order to avoid military service, in order to avoid being ordered to kill his own country men, women and children. He was a refugee from Syria and meeting him startled me into reality.

When reading online newspaper articles about the atrocities that are occurring in his country, whilst shocked and dismayed, I had forgotten that the figures quoted are not just numbers. Each and every single ‘one’ of the thousands and thousands of people affected is an individual person who has dreams, fears, loves, hobbies, families, friends, stories, jokes. Our friend was not somebody that we could not relate to, being some ‘foreigner’ from some far off distance country. Quite the contrary, he was a man that we could easily see ourselves sitting with on the banks of the Thames, drinking with, talking about his art and photography, talking about our trip, making jokes together, sharing an affinity, as we were doing in Istanbul. He was somebody that we could be friends with.

Hearing him tell us of how he worried about his parents he left behind in Damascus as they did not want to leave their home, how he is trying his best to make a living with his photography, his plans to set up a project to help rebuild the lives of the thousands of Syrian refugee children who are traumatised at what they have witnessed and who have not been to school for years and how he battles the guilt that he is ‘safe’ whilst others he love aren’t, made the conflict in Syria all of a sudden seem very real; not just some story read in a newspaper. He, along with his ordinary fellow country people, are caught in the middle of the crossfire between the government and rebel forces, in the middle of international politics played out within the United Nations. Our friend never asked for any of this. All he wants is peace, to live his everyday life which was once filled with all the things we take for granted, in the country he holds in his heart, his home. 

Saying goodbye to our friend was hard to do. I just wanted to do something to make everything all right but then, as now, I had no idea what that could be. All I was able to do was hug him tightly, wish him all the very best and hope with all my heart that one day we can visit him in Damascus, for him to show off to us the sights and sounds of a city restored to the vibrancy he described before this horror began. I sincerely hope that day is not far away.

What, no stamp in our passport?

There we were, handing our passports over, no need to have a wad of cash in our other hand to pay for a visa this time. A quick double take at Steve’s clean-shaven passport photo, then his face, then his passport again. Then with a jovial wave and the prospect of no more stamps in our passport we finally made it into Europe via Greece.

I’d read that wild camping in Greece was illegal. Being a bit of a goody-two-shoes, I was a bit apprehensive of breaking the rules but seeing a perfect camp spot, I knew I just had to get on with it straight away otherwise I would lose my nerve. So we set up camp, about 300 metres from the main road, tucked in amongst some trees, invisible from the road, dismissing evidence of dogs as just that of shepherd dogs. After a nice dinner, then probably an episode of Spooks on our laptop, we drifted off into a deep sleep.

2am. Cold and pitch black. We awoke with a start to the sound of a pack of dogs, barking viciously, getting louder and louder as they got closer. Barks sounded as if they were coming from every direction. We felt surrounded. Our presence in what we presume was his territory had really displeased one dog. It sounded big as we traced the noise of its thuds circling the tent. His barking sounded like he was calling for back-up. Then he began a snort/growling noise that chilled my blood as we could sense he was sniffing right under the fly-sheet of our tent. Both terrified, not having a great deal of experience with dogs, let alone wild dogs, we stared wide-eyed at each other. My gut reaction was to try and stay as still and quiet as possible hoping the dog would get bored and move on. Steve obviously didn’t have the same instinct as he unconvincingly said ‘There’s a good boy!’ A quick dig to the ribs and we were both on the same page again.

We clung to each other in the middle of the tent, as far away from the sides as possible in case the dogs tried to bite us through the flimsy material. Being cold it wasn’t long before nature called for the pair of us but hearing at least one dog still pacing outside we daren’t. The night time can always make things seem so much scarier. Noises are louder, dogs bloodthirstier, imagined scenarios more horrific. It was the first time wild camping that I felt truly vulnerable. Nobody knew where we were. We couldn’t be seen from the road. It didn’t seem to be a spot where there would be regular passers-by in the day. All we had for protection was our cooking knife. Ideas of going out and reasoning with the dogs were soon dismissed. Making a run for the road was dismissed. Sitting still and hoping for the best was all we could do.

The hours dragged by as we shivered from the cold and anxiety. I’ve never wished for daylight more than I did that night. Eventually we must have nodded off as we awoke to the sun’s glow on the tent. It all sounded quiet outside and by this time the call of nature was more urgent. Steve went out first, armed with the bike pump. Back to back we surveyed the scene around us. No sign of any dogs. Each of us took turns wielding the bike pump as the other let nature take its call. Both of us sighed in relief that we had made it unscathed through the night. Bags packed, tent packed and out of the corner of my eye I saw a dog running towards us. A cry to Steve and we re-armed ourselves, Steve with the bike pump, me with the fishing rod. The dog approached, sniffed wearily and then drifted off in the search of some food to scavenge. Surely that sorry sight of a dog could not have been that terrifying beast from last night. We’ll never know but you can be sure the next night I found myself a perfect stick to beat a dog with.

Practising with my new dog stick. I am sure I can terrify more than just dogs!

European-ness

For those first few days of cycling through Greece the air was bursting with us air punching and shouting ‘yesssss!’ as we would point out to the other a familiar European sight. ‘Look, there’s a Lidl.’ ‘Yesssss!’ There’s a bikini beach.’ ‘Yesssss!’ ‘Look, graffiti’. ‘Yesssss!’ ‘Coffee-shops and bars everywhere.’ ‘Yessss!’ ‘Stone-washed denim jeans.’ ‘Yesssss!’ I don’t really know what it means to be European but the longer we have been away, the more we feel European. Like siblings, we have our different qualities, quirks and arguments, but underneath it all we share a long history that makes it at least easier for us to understand where the other is coming from and despite strains recently with the financial crisis, shared values that we should continue to cherish and improve upon; democracy, freedom, equality, respect for human rights. Or maybe it is just the shared love of walking around a Lidl’s discount store!

Winter in Europe

Our decision to go through Greece was mainly because of our concerns about a European winter. Our original route, drawn out when we had dreamily believed we would be cycling a never-ending summer, was to go through eastern and central Europe. But, with our ‘a bit on-the-cheap-side’ equipment, we knew we would be very hard pushed to enjoy cycling and camping in snowy conditions. So with that, we ripped apart our original plan, and decided to follow Greece’s coast to stay a bit warmer.

The new plan paid off with some pleasantly bright and crisp days along a spectacular coastline. The scenery begged you to ask what sights it had seen through its ancient history and fuelled the imagination to explore its rich mythology. With all the camp sites closed for winter, and now armed with the dog stick, my apprehension about wild-camping fell away and with such wonderful spots I was glad it had.

Cycling around Lake Vistonida.

Greek Orthodox roadside shrines (kandylaki). These shrines may be dedicated to a life lost, but just as well to a life spared.

Inside the shrines are a candle and a picture of a saint and even ancient ones looked extremely well taken care of.

Cloudless days meant for cloudless and chilly nights. Even my baby wipes froze!

But it is okay. We were warmed from the inside by Steve's latest addition to his repertoire of campsite chips. Hmmm, boiling oil over a petrol stove in a tent. Health and safety? Pah!

A pleasant view in that direction.

And yet another pleasant view in that direction.

Cycling the coast, we had many lovely camp spots where Steve could do a bit of fishing in the evening. I hear you ask, ‘Has he caught anything yet?’ Has he ‘eck as like! But it always makes me smile as I finish off setting up our camp bedroom, watching Steve confidently stride off into the setting sun with his rod in one hand, a beer in the other, believing today was the day of the big catch.

Camping in a spare piece of unused land in between some rather posh houses.

Fifty-one shades of grey.

Olive trees in Greece. Some we saw looked centuries old.

A steep to and fro to get to but the view was worth it.

Even the birds take the time out to enjoy the Greek views.

A mysterious view around every corner. Kavala, a city that was founded in 7th century BC by the Thassians.

At Kavala we cycled through one of the arches of an impressive aqueduct, known as kamares, that dates back to the Byzantine period.

However, there were some things that seemed strangely European. The huge gates and fences that marked the boundaries of people’s properties really took us aback. Alongside these, most of them had signs warning of extensive alarm systems and vicious looking guard dogs. It dawned on me that it is the same at home, everybody has their bit of land and marks it clearly for all to see with a fence, wall or gate. ‘This is mine, stay out’, it seems to say. But after the openness of so many of the countries we have travelled through now, I had quite forgotten this quirk. No longer would we feel we could march up to a door and ask for water or to see if it was okay to camp nearby as these barriers and warnings clearly didn’t invite you to do that. But all the Greek people we met day-to-day were as lovely, accommodating and keen to help us as any other nationality. It’s just with their homes that they seemed to want to create a divide and unwelcoming facade.

The other thought that flickered through my mind when I saw these structures dedicated to keeping strangers off and out of their properties was how much the residents must worry about their home and possessions. Worry to the point of paranoia even. To erect the signs and barriers you must be worrying about the safety of yourself and your things. In turn seeing the signs makes you worry about your safety, thinking that something must be amiss here to warrant all this. I couldn’t help but think that it was these structures that created a feeling of fear and unease rather than ‘strangers’ here being any less honorable than any other parts of the world. Interestingly it also seems that the less you own materially, the less you worry. 

Cycling past a snow covered Mount Olympus, Greece's highest mountain and home of the Twelve Olympian gods of the ancient Greek world.

To get to the city of Larisa we had two options. We could cycle there directly through the narrow Vale of Tempe on a bicycle-unwelcome road or go the long way round meaning an extra 40km. With night only an hour or so away we decided to take the direct route.

We cycled up to the toll booth, Steve warning me to be cheery and to pretend as if we didn’t know bicycles weren’t allowed on this road as I backtracked on my previous agreement and whinged that we really shouldn’t be on this road. We were waved to a rest area where a man came out to explain that the road through the gorge was narrow and dangerous. The only alternative he gave us was the round-about route. When we suggested that we would much prefer to cycle this way and whether he would forbid us, covering himself, he reminded us that he had told us this way was dangerous but if we chose to ignore his advice it was on our heads be it.

The thought of an extra 40km when this route was only ten made our decision for us. Off we cycled as dusk began to descend. The gorge was absolutely stunning as we weaved in between sheer rock faces towering above us on both sides, the lowering sun making the rocks glow warmly. The Pineios River ran down below us. The gorge was narrow, only 25 metres wide in some places. Traffic was light and with our day-glow outfits we were easily spotted. Nevertheless, to take my mind off my natural instinct to worry, I tried to imagine who would have explored this gorge throughout Greece’s ancient history. Later I found out this had been the scene of numerous battles with armies of Athenians and Spartans, numbering 10,000, gathering to fight off the Persian invasion of Xerxes in 480 BC. I didn’t contemplate for too long that this valley’s recent history is now notorious for terrible road conditions and truly horrific traffic accidents.

A quick stop in a rare lay-by through the Vale of Tempe.

Once out the other side of the valley, night came quickly and so we looked for a spot to camp. Nestled in a thin strip of land between the road and the railway track we had another very cold night. The next morning, tired having had little sleep as we were too cold, over excited at the prospect of seeing family, we decided to cycle the short distance to Larisa and begin our Christmas holidays earlier than planned.

Last night of cold before quitting for Christmas.

All I want for Christmas is you…

We left the bike and most of our bags in the safe hands of Kiki, Adonis and Kostas at the cheap and cheerful hotel we found near the train station in Larisa. They were quick to correct our use of the name Istanbul, instead referring to the city’s old name of Constantinople, suggesting old wounds are yet to heal. After a train and overnight coach we once again found ourselves in the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.

Staying in the back streets of Istanbul.

And before I knew it the day I had been looking forward to for an entire year was upon us.

Anticipation rises at the arrivals hall.

I'd waited a whole year for that hug and it didn't disappoint!

We spent a couple of days exploring Istanbul with my mum before my brother and his girlfriend flew out to be with us. And what an eventful couple of days they were.

Outside the Blue Mosque.

It wouldn't be Christmas without roasted chestnuts.

As we disembarked from the ferry on the Asian side of Istanbul we walked straight into a huge demonstration. We were doing our best to work out what the demonstration was about but there were so many different billboards we struggled but it all looked peaceful so off we went to explore the back streets and their markets.

Discovering the markets over the Bosphorus on the Asian side.

After a little while the urge for an Efes beer was overpowering so we found ourselves a nice bar to sit outside and watch the world go by. Not long after sitting there I found my eyes watering and mentioned to Mum and Steve that somebody must be cutting some strong onions. Mum agreed and then suddenly everybody around us began suffering the same. All at once it dawned on us that tear gas must have been used against the demonstration. The bar man quickly herded all of us inside and shut the doors as we watched people walking past coughing and spluttering and covering their faces from the gas. At this point we were quite a long way from the demonstration so I dread to think how powerful the tear gas must have been where it was released.

Once the tear gas had dispersed we made our way back to the ferry port, passing a vandalised bank and talking to a man who was very keen to explain that the demonstrations were because the Turkish people strongly wanted to defend their secularism and were angry at the alleged corruption that seemed to go through the heart of the government and included the arrest of the head of the bank we saw vandalised.

The following day we were checking out the main avenue in Istanbul, Istikal Street, when disaster struck as Mum was so busy checking out all the sights and sounds, she didn’t notice the huge pot hole which completely knocked her off balance. Being a big brave solider, Mum dusted herself off and managed a smile throughout the rest of her trip, never revealing to me how much pain she was in. When she got home, an x-ray showed three broken ribs! I wish you’d told me!

Watch your step! The offending pot hole in a street littered with them.

Leaving Mum to rest after her fall, Steve and I headed back to the arrivals lounge once again, full of nerves and excitement at meeting my brother, Tom and his girlfriend, Ellie.

I'd waited even longer for this hug.

First night out on the tiles.

Getting to know Ellie around the Grand Bazaar.

Spice..

...and all things nice.

Soaking up the atmosphere on the busy streets.

Inside the Aya Sofya, built under the orders of Emperor Justinian, completed in 537 and reigned as the greatest church in Christendom until 1453 when it was converted into a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror. Now it is a museum.

Mosaic of Madonna and the Child.

Exploring the atmospheric corridors of Aya Sofya.

The blue mosque built a millenium after Aya Sofya and still in use as a mosque today.

They still used the same light fittings though.

An evening drink overlooking the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya in the background.

The basilica cistern, built in 532, was used to store water for the Great Palace and the surrounding buildings. It once held nearly 80,000 cubic metres of water, delivered from nearly 20km of aqueducts.

 Christmas Day

It was Christmas Day for us but just another day fishing for these guys on the Galata Bridge. Steve was gutted as he'd left his rod back in Greece.

Christmas Day morning coffee and cake.

Christmas Day dinner and not a turkey or brussel sprout in sight.

 Then we were suddenly on our own again

After a few magical days with my family, easily picked up where we left off since we last saw each other, they were gone again. But knowing that at least we had an end date in sight the goodbyes were not as hard to say although that didn’t stop my tears!

Feeling low after saying goodbye and waiting for our coach to take us back to the bike, we met this chap from Libya who cheered us up with some ideas for Steve's beard.

 New Year’s Eve

New Year's Eve was a low-key affair; a night in the tent, foggy weather and we were asleep by 9pm, but not before we devoured a huge bag of pistachios a chap waved out his car door window for us.

New Year's Day. We had a huge and unexpected climb up through the mountains of Mount Parnassus.

Into the clouds we went, not that pleased to notice people coming down the mountain with skis attached to their car roofs!

Over the mountains into the town of Amfissa.

This whole area was full of ancient olive groves.

Above the harbour city, nestled in the mountains, lies Delphi, the place the Ancient Greeks believed to be the centre of the earth as determined by Zeus.

What a view for a lunch stop.

Once last go at fishing in Greece.

We'd read we could catch a ferry from here to cut out some distance but judging by the sleepiness of the small village, not today by the looks of things.

Greek islands

Cycling the Rio-Antirrio Bridge which crosses the Gulf of Corinth linking mainland Greece to the Peloponnese. Apparently this is the 'world's longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge'.

A view from the bridge. As we were cycling along the bicycle path of the bridge, I was going on about how now we were in Europe they really thought about cyclists and their need for a lane. As soon as the words were out we got to the end of the cycle lane only to find a narrow, multi-level staircase which you had to carry your bike down to the road beneath. Not that thought out then!

Crossing the bridge we headed straight for the port of Patras where with only minutes to spare we boarded the boat to our next country, Italia!

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Details of our homecoming

Bonjour!

As we begin to cycle our last 400km on foreign soil our thoughts are turning to our return to Blighty. We will be setting sail for Plymouth on 16 March, docking at 1.30pm. We will be spending a few days down there before we cycle the final leg to London.

On 29 March we will be leaving Hampton Court Palace at 10am to cycle along the Thames to Westminster and then to Penge for a PARTY at 2pm!

If anybody would like to cycle the last section from Hampton Court Palace you are more than welcome. It would be smashing to catch up with friends, old and new, so if you would like to join us at the party, we cannot tell you how excited we would be to see you there. Send us a message for more details.

See you soon!

Kat and Steve xxxx

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