Saturday 31 March 2012

Rhodes, Greece - Off-road Rhodes

I have cycled through more beautiful, off-the-beaten-track places than I can count on my bicycle trip so when Bart and I cycled south down the west coast of Rhodes through the ugliness of mass tourism, I wondered if we had made a mistake coming to a holiday island. But we quickly discovered that the secret to happy touring on Rhodes is to go off-road.

Our ferry from Turkey arrived on the Greek island of Rhodes as it was getting dark and we had a fun evening cycling madly through the narrow, dimly-lit alleyways of the medieval town trying to find a room for the night. Next day, after a morning of wandering around the beautiful cobblestone roads and narrow passages, we cycled through the gates in the ancient city walls to pop out into the modern town and start cycling down the west coast with its endless strips of bars, cafes, restaurants, ugly hotels and partly-built resorts. Fortunately we found a pleasant escape route as we picked a dirt trail that climbed up into the mountains. What a change! Soon we were cycling through lemon and orange groves and up through little terraced plots of vegetables as farmworkers downed tools and finished their working day. We pitched the tent that evening beside an olive grove and listened to the tinkle of the bells on the goat herds as the setting sun cast a peachy light on the rocky mountain above. Further meandering along the quiet off-road trails of Rhodes took us up into the high lands, past deserted monasteries that looked out over the hills and sea and through little mountain villages. At one village we stopped for lunch in a small cafĂ© as we had been unable to buy any food that day. We wondered if we had somehow offended the owner as she scurried off across the street after we gave her our order … but she quickly returned with potatoes freshly dug from the field and in ten minutes we had delicious, fresh, home-made French fries!

We came back out of the hills to enjoy a relaxing day in the picturesque coastal town of Lindos with its typical skinny streets and whitewashed buildings. In the morning we walked through the village which, like most of the island, was deserted awaiting this year's first influx of tourists. In the afternoon we sipped drinks at a little bar right at the edge of the crystal-clear, aquamarine sea – I had always imagined doing this on a Greek island one day – and raised our glasses to riding off-road in Rhodes!

Photos in the Greece folder!


Saturday 24 March 2012

Marmaris, Turkey - The lost world

Our bicycle adventure across Turkey has come to an end in the out-of-season, seaside resort of Marmaris. Turkey has given us some brilliant cycling and wonderful experiences with the Turkish people. Last Thursday was a typical day cycling in Turkey. It went like this ...

We woke with the rising sun in a woodland high above the river with snow-capped mountains around us and the sounds of the morning call to prayers from a village mosque. After a couple of hours on the road we pulled into a small village to buy bread and cheese and drink Turkish tea.
We cycled on following directions we'd been given in the village but before too long we seemed to be a little bit lost in a maze of dirt roads with our food supplies dwindling. It's funny how sometimes things go wrong but end up for the better! We popped out into a slice of paradise in a place that felt like a lost world -red-roofed buildings were stacked on the hillside beside terraced fields being worked by hand, mountain views were all around and we cycled passed blossom trees covered with flowers and orange trees heavy with fresh fruit.

We pulled off the track to make a picnic lunch and had no sooner sat down than we were invited by a young woman, Tazjen, to come to her house.
It was a simple house but comfortable and homely. Tazjen gave us a lunch of eggs, bread, yoghurt, olives and vegetables. You may think that there is nothing unusual in that but as she showed us around we learned that all the food had come from the family's plots adjacent to the house - wheat grew in the terraced fields which they milled themselves to make bread; chickens provided fresh eggs every day; four cows produced milk to make yoghurt and cheese; olive trees yielded delicious green and black olives; and fruit trees provided bananas and apples. We were so impressed by Tazjen's traditional skills and warm friendliness to two strangers.

After lunch we continued to pick our way over steep climbs and twisting descents on gravel tracks before eventually finding the dam that we should have crossed early that morning. It was late now with just an hour before dark so we threw the tent up on an exposed, rocky shelf above the dam - not a pretty spot but the stars and planets were spectacular after dark and we slept well after another great day cycling in Turkey.

We are now waiting in Marmaris to catch a boat to the Greek island of Rhodes for the next chapter of the adventure.


Sunday 18 March 2012

Pammukale, Turkey - Landing on our bums in butter

You may not know the traditional Belgian saying “landing on our bums in butter” but I’m assured by Bart that it means you have been very lucky with good and kind hospitality. And so it was that we applied the expression time and again to our first week cycling south through Turkey.

Like us, you may imagine Turkey to be a hot and sunny country but after we sailed away from Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara we cycled up high into freezing, snow-covered mountains. The first night we pitched the tent in a little wood and woke to heavy snow falling gently through the branches. We cycled on up huge climbs and down chilling descents in blizzards of snow, passing through little towns and villages tucked in the hills. In this wintry weather we were really lucky to experience wonderful kindness and hospitality from the friendly Turkish people. In Harmancik we got a room in the house for visiting school teachers – though we had to convince the manager that we were married to be allowed to stay in the same room! Then in Dagardi we had only to ask about a room at one of the many cafes where we stop on the road for warming, traditional Turkish tea and within minutes a phone call was made and we were led to a gorgeous little room with comfy mattresses and a wood-burning stove. The people even insisted that we stay for free. Then there was our first experience of a Turkish campsite. For no charge we pitched our tent on a wooden terrace in the trees with a view to snow-covered mountains and the proprietors even ran us a hot Turkish bath in the evening! It’s not all been rough living though - in the hot springs resort of Simav, for the princely sum of £13, we treated ourselves to a room in the “thermal hotel” whose natural hot spring water heated the bed and even the floors where we laid our laundry out to dry! Countless times on the road we are called over to join people for tea and we were even served lunch by a friendly group of road workers – Bart is still talking about how delicious the meatballs were!

It’s fair to say that most of the time in our interactions with local people, we have no idea what is going on but it always seems to turn out that we land on our bums in butter.

More photos on Flickr.


Thursday 8 March 2012

Istanbul, Turkey - Counting cats

The sun is shining but the air is cold and the wind has a winter's edge - it's early March in Istanbul. We wander the narrow alleys of the Grand Bazaar, wake and fall asleep to the muezzins calling Muslims to prayers in the mosques, gaze over the waters of the Bosphorous from Topkapi Palace, scoff hot chestnuts in the square wrapped up in our winter woollies and count the stray cats catching the weak rays of the sun. In Islam cats are revered so the strays are fed and cared for - they can relax. We, on the other hand, can't relax but must get on our bikes and start pedalling south through Turkey. I'm using the word "we" again. You remember I met Bart in New Zealand? (click here) Well, we are together again for more cycling adventures that will hopefully bring us some "Turkish Delight".

Photos from Istanbul on Flickr - click on the link.

Friday 2 March 2012

Sydney, Australia - Dances with dingoes

“You wanna get yourself a big stick, luv” was the advice from the grey-haired, old man who appeared mysteriously out of the bush in the gathering dusk of Myall Lakes National Park. Mine was the only tent pitched at a lonely national park campground and I’d just cooked and eaten supper inside my mosquito net that I’d hung from a tree – the little biters were out in their millions again. I took the old man’s advice and before it was dark I found a big stick. This was not to beat off the men, as you might imagine … or as I might hope … but to beat off the dingoes. I was slightly alarmed when the man said there were five or six hanging around and that he had been attacked by one but thought he was probably just trying to impress the tourist. But sure enough, as darkness descended, a dingo wandered into the camp on the left and another appeared on the right, both much bigger than I had guessed dingoes to be. I’ve dealt with domestic and farm dogs chasing the bike throughout my trip but a pack of wild dogs stalking my tent was an altogether more frightening prospect. I waved my stick and shouted in a loud, gruff voice “get away” and they disappeared into the shadows. But I still felt a bit nervous so there was only one thing for it – I moved myself and my belongings into the long-drop toilet, which was quite roomy and not at all smelly, and slept there. Unfortunately I did have to share it with a rat that ran over my head during the night and a rather scary looking spider whose huge web took up more than its fair share of the bed!

I’d stopped at Myall Lakes on my cycle tour along the coast of New South Wales, a trip where I’ve mingled with the surf crowd on golden beaches, cycled through eucalyptus forests resounding with the maniacal laughter of the kookaburras and hopped on and off little ferries that potter back and forth across the bays or through channels in the mangroves where pelicans hang out in large flocks. I arrived in Sydney from the appealingly-named suburb of Manly on another ferry that gave me a spectacular view of the famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge as it chugged into the city. Sydney is a swanky, modern place and seems to be populated entirely by people who look like they just stepped out of a fashion magazine and by beautiful, tanned women who saunter serenely along the waterfront promenades in floaty summer dresses. I, meantime, stomp around in my rotten trainers that smell like a possum died in them, feeling not at all beautiful, just hot and sweaty.

Extreme heat is the name of the game here so I’m always happy when the day’s cycling is over and I can slip into my thongs. Before you start picturing me in a type of skimpy underwear, let me explain. In Britain we call them “flip-flops” but in New Zealand they are “jandals” and in Australia they are “thongs”. They are that ubiquitous and classic piece of cheap, airy footwear much loved the world over except in Scotland where you’d likely loose toes to frostbite if you ventured outside in your thongs!

Australia is hot but it’s not always dry, as I discovered when the continuation of my cycle trip south of the city was brought to a premature end by monsoonal rains that brought unprecedented levels of precipitation and flash flooding, clearing the famous beaches of their beautiful people. So, on a rather damp note, my brief tour in Australia is over, as is my time pedalling down under. And as the days and months on the road accumulate while the trip budget diminishes, it’s time for me to fly back to the northern hemisphere for the final leg of my bicycle journey and the return ride to Scotland. Keep watching as I cycle home across Europe from the exotic, eastern city of Istanbul.

Portobello here I come!

Photos on Flickr - click on the link to the right and click on the pics.