Distance: 20km (on the day we left Paris)
We feel so lucky that wonderful friends - old and new - let us stay in their homes and helped make our six days in Paris memorable. To Marc, Cammi, Ali and Darren a BIG thankyou!
After three days we left Marc and Cammi's place to head to Alison and Darren's for the next three days. We spent more time exploring Paris in detail - walking down small arcades, going to the Latin quarter, tasting the world renowned ice-cream on the tiny island of Ill de Saint-Louis, visiting galleries and, of course, tasting the flan in many bakeries.
On our final day in Paris we went to Disneyland with Alison and Darren. It was a long but fantastic day on the rides. Sam even managed to survive the Indiana Jones roller coaster (only just) and the teacups! We were reminded of what it feels like to be a child - filled with the magic that comes with knowing dreams can come true, especially for disney lovers like me!!
It was hard to leave the comfort of friends and a roof over our heads, but we keep hearing strange noises in the air, and we figure it must be the road to Norway, beckoning... Either that or we are losing our minds...
Saying good bye to Paris we caught the train to Campeigne on the outskirts of the metropolitan area - a fast train that carried our bikes for free. We almost missed the station because a rude conductor told us the wrong arrival time but we managed to get our bikes and bags off the train just in time...
Well, despite the strange title suggesting my excitement at the prospect of seeing the worlds greatest basketball player team up with two other massive stars, today was a tough day for me, maybe as much as the day Shanna wrote about two days ago.
For one, the dysentery (my chosen word for the runs) returned a few days ago. If you get this kind of thing when you are at home, living in a house it sucks, but at least its manageable. When you're on a bike, generally camping in the middle of nowhere, it makes life a little extra difficult.
It seems lately that no matter how much I eat, my energy levels are really low. And running off into the bushes to relieve myself of all the food I just ate really sucks.
Anyway, we both knew that Paris was only 71km and a short train ride away, so we kept riding, and finally made it to Boutigny. We tried to work out which train to catch, and where to change, or if we were even able to take our bikes on the train at this time of day, but it was harder than we thought. And to make matters worse, the ticket machine wouldn't take cash, and refused to accept either of our credit cards.
Luckily for us, a good samaritan came along with his Physics PHD (no really) and solved the problem for us, by using his credit card, buying us the right tickets, 20 Euro less than we would have payed for the wrong ones we tried to purchase. With no change to pay him I ran to the ATM to get out some money. Turning around, my bike was gone, I coulndn't see it anywhere, and where the heck was Shanna...?
Looking back I finally saw them on the other side of the station, holy smokes, how did they get my heavy bike over there I wondered...
Running back, down the stairs and up to the other side I made it just in time to get on the train. Phewww. Whewwww!!!! We're going to Paris!!!!
An hour later, with some more help from Doctor Physics (sorry, we forget your name) we had arrived in Paris, and after Shanna ingeniously worked out how to use a public phone, our new warmshowers (a website for cyclists) friends were on there way to pick us up from the station, on bikes of course.
Riding through the beautiful streets of the city of love we...
Our day in Palermo was spent close to the ferry port, as we were catching our next ferry that night to Genova.
We spent a few hours in an internet cafe, catching up on the news we'd missed while riding furiously through Southern Italy. While we were there, a man with a large gold chain around his neck came into the shop and demanded money from the Indian woman running the place. She nervously handed some over, but it didn't seem to be enough, the man was unhappy. Further words were exchanged and the man left. It took longer for the tension in the air to disappear.
Riding around Palermo we saw fruit stalls, fish markets, bread shops... in the tiny streets dozens of cars and scooters competed for space, beeping at each other and going in the wrong direction down one-way streets. They kept up a frantic pace and in our tired state it was quite overwhelming.
We were glad to board our ferry that night. It was a 20 hour journey and we'd opted for a cabin this time. We had a shower! And beds! The first thing we did onboard was to wash ourselves and all our clothes. We intended to explore the boat - the most lavish we'd been on yet - but fatigue caught up with us and we were quickly asleep.
We spent most of the next day on the ferry - reading in the sun, floating in the pool (fulfilling another of my lingering cruise dreams) and watching a movie. It was great to have a relaxation day! We were just getting ready for another swim and then a nap, when we were informed that we had to leave the cabin, as the final few hours of the voyage they would be preparing for the next group of passengers - we had to take our things and wait on the deck.
When we arrived in Genova we headed straight out of the city. We needed to camp to save some money! After a couple of short detours to the supermarket and a bike shop, we were on our way. On the outskirts of the city we found a place to camp - on the beach behind some trees. There seemed to be an infestation of mosquitoes, but we assembled the tent in a different spot and quickly jumped inside as it was getting dark.
The spot we'd chosen had some cardboard laid out - which was perfect for sitting the tent on. And it seemed it was the perfect spot for a reason. Just after 10, when the final traces of light were leaving the sky, the people who lived there returned with their garbage bags of possessions...
We waited amidst the cars and trucks to board the ferry. Some of the freight being loaded on was amazing, these guys have some incredible skills to be able to pack it all so tight.
The ferry left around seven, and shortly after that we wanted to sleep, but we could find nowhere to lay down- we'd bought the cheap deck tickets... Despite, Shanna fell asleep in the lounge, but was soon woken up by one of the ship's staff, telling her 'you'a cannotta sleepa herea.'
About this time the world cup semi final started, and the ship and its temporary inhabitants suddenly roared into life, Italian, German or Spanish, united yet separated by a common cause. Concurrently, for those not interested in football, or more interested in other things, the disco/cabaret began, the ship ablaze with a heady concoction of sounds and smells, cheers and cries, swooning and singing, and a strong aroma of sea spray and alcohol.
Around midnight we finally nodded off in a remote corner of the upper deck were we'd found a place to put our sleeping mats. Quickly we fell asleep with only the roar of the ocean winds in our ears.
Loud speakers and people brought the ship back to life at 5am, bloodshot eyes opening through a haze of exhaustion to see the sun rising across sparkling waters. The cigarettes were produced just as the city came into view.
As the wind blew across the whitewashed 'pont', the fresh ocean breeze filled our noses with the scent of Sicily whilst we what this city, reportedly run by the mafioso, would have in store for us.
We'll keep what we saw in Sicily for another time, but just tell you that we came into contact with the mafia, a nervous shop keeper, some delicious food, the intoxicating smell of markets, fresh fruits, meats and fish, and saw a city teaming with life; paradox, and men and boys, crowding the streets of Palermo's bustling metropolis, a city striving towards modernisation amidst an old world of decay.
In the morning we found the archaelogical site of Pompeii.
When we learned that we were able to ride our bikes through the massive site we went back and retrieved them.
Then we spent almost three hours perusing the incredible ruins of this once thriving city, now protected in the night by a pack of energetic dogs... Even on bicycles this was exhausting- never could we have comprehended the sheer size of the excavated city, the ancient buildings seemed to stretch on forever, you could spend days here and still not see everything.
Back on the road and headed towards Napoli through the narrow cobble stone streets. Riding these gives me a great respect for the cyclists who have competed on these over the past century, I agree Cadel, cobbles are far worse than pave (a small cobblesstone)...
Just as these thoughts were rumbling around in my head and slam, a car door, a really big car door is opened onto me. A moment to react, I turn the bike just enough not to feel the full impact... My bag is ripped form my bike, a hole in the bottom, a small buckle, a broken box inside the bag, but I'm OK. Phew.
The rest of the day I ride scared, it is impossible to ride far enough from the parked cars in these narrow streets to avoid more possible doors, and there will be more (at this time we had already been lucky to avoid others).
We reach Napoli, relieved, sweating, and amidst the chaotic traffic we find the ferry terminal.
Waking to a beautiful panorama of Dubrovnik bay and its capital we wondered just why it was we were leaving this place. But we'd already bought our tickets and it was too late to turn back now.
That and we were now in a hurry to get to Switzerland, where our friends Sev and Francois are waiting for us to meet them at the Saint Bernard hospice, at 2480 meters in allevation, one of the highest motorable passes in Europe and the highest point in last year's Tour De France. But first we had to get there.
We made it to the bottom of the mountain in five minutes and stocked up on food for the eight hour journey to Bari, Italy. We had originally planned to cycle to Split and catch a ferry to Ancona, but the traffic in Croatia pursuaded us to leave earlier than planned. Once we arrived in Bari we would catch a ferry or train or bus further north, closer to Switzerland.
The ferry was filled with Italian pilgrims who would spontaneously break into a chorus of gospel singing and were frequently fingering their rosary beads. They even took over the inside salon for an hour an held an impromtu worship service. We wondered where they had been...
Arriving in Bari as the sun was getting low (why do we always arrive in new countries when it is getting dark?!) we went to the train station to see about catching the night train to Ancona. There were a few trains running - but we couldn't take our bikes. We were referred to the information desk where a little English was spoken. They had the same answer. No bikes. But Italians love bikes?! Apparently you can only take bikes on some regional (country) trains not inter-city, and even then only on certain trains marked with a bike on the timetable. The office staff were not helpful and just wanted us gone. They had no timetable for me to check if there were any trains we could catch. And provided no options for us to consider. So the train was out.
We tried to find the bus ticket office. But again, no one was interested in helping us and it seemed the office would be closed by now anyway. It was dark - too dark to find a campsite - and we were stuck in this city. We searched for a cheap hotel, and the cheapest we could find was 60 euro - our most expensive one for the whole trip, and a dump compared to most places we'd stayed. We needed internet to look at our options for getting out of this city, so we cycled around the Bari in the evening dusk, until we found, in a dimly lit alley way, a small internet cafe with four big black guys standing outside. Can we go in, we wondered...
Dejectedly we spent hours looking up ferries, trying to find out about buses and trains... without really finding any economically viable options. How do people with bikes get around in Italy?!
Distance: 25km riding, lots more on a ferry
We attributed Sam's fever to our lack of sleep for a couple of nights and his ongoing health problems, and the itchy rash to one of the noxious, spiky plants we'd cleared for our tent the night before.
When we woke we rode back to the small shop Sam found the night before and bought some cereal and yoghurts for breakfast. We went to a nearby deserted beach and ate, before spending some time swimming in the clear water. We decided to relax for the day and just enjoy the beach. We found a small water trough and tap nearby and washed a lot of clothes, towels and our sleeping sacs and hung them to dry in the hot sun while we swam.
It was a great day and we enjoyed going back and forth between the water and the rocks (not sand). We ate some delicious bananas and more yoghurt, and happily packed away our dry laundry a few hours later.
In the afternoon we headed back to the port to eat some food and get ready for the overnight voyage. Onboard the ferry we locked our bikes in the hull and took some of our bags up with us. We had bought the cheapest tickets which entitled us to a seat outside on the deck all night. Again, the ferry was well below capacity, and we happily sat on a deserted section of deck watching the sun lower in the sky as we sailed out of the port.
A scout of the ship to find a place to sleep revealed a deserted foyer inside with carpet and a power point! Both cameras, the video camera and laptop were all out of power! So we set up and started charging things. A couple of hours later a noisy group with many adults and children (Arabs yelling at each other incessantly for no discernible reason) decided it was a good spot and started to set-up in our corridor too. We didn't hesitate - we packed up our things and moved to the next foyer. We didn't want to be kept awake by their noise (and they were SO noisy already).
Around this time Sam started to get the shivers again. He said he was freezing cold and we pulled out one of our sleeping bags for him. For a while he was ok to sit there in the sleeping bag, but the shivering got worse (even though his head was burning) so I blew up one of the mattresses for him to lay down. Despite ear plugs, an eye mask and head rubs from me, he was unable to fall asleep. I got some panadol to try and bring down the fever, and I was very worried! Some children started running around the corridors and up and down the stairs (even though it was well after 10pm by this time), Greeks and Asians were determined to yell at each other, and when I walked around the ship I couldn't find anywhere quiet to go. The best place was outside on the deck - where the strong cold wind prevented people congregating, except to smoke by themselves.
We moved our things outside - careful that nothing blew away in the wind - and set up on the deck. The noise of the wind drowned out any other noise and we were able to get a decent sleep for the rest of the night protected in our warm sleeping bags and comfortable on our mattresses.
When we arrived in Pireaus the plan had been to ride away from the city and start our journey through Greece, but Sam was exhausted and weak, so instead we found the cheapest hotel we could find with a shared bathroom- but still $30 Euro per night... expensive by our standards.
For a few hours we explored the streets of Athens and in the afternoon we watched a football game in a public square surrounded by expensive (for the cool people...) cafes while we surfed some free wifi.
That night the mad fever came back and the rash got worse... So it looks like we'll be staying another day.
Thanks to everyone for all of your support and positive comments on the site, it really keeps us going.
Distance - 25km riding
The city of Ephesus - once the second largest city on the world (behind Rome) and home to the Ephesians (of Paul's epistle).
Here we found some amazing ruins of a once great city - and the ruins clearly indicate how grand that city was. Huge columns ornately carved, mosaic tiles lining walkways, and two stadiums for entertainment. Walking the streets we imagined how the city would have looked in 2 AD - when it was at its peak. We imagined the man-power that went into carving each piece and constructing the buildings. It was all very impressive.
After a couple of hours exploring this historic city we drove back to Ayvalik to catch our ferry to Lesvos. Leaving Turkey was the most simple customs process yet. We walked into a building and the desk was right there. Within minutes our passports were stamped and we were in no-man's land. It all happened so fast we forgot to spend the last of our Turkish money. Luckily there was some overpriced food and drinks on the ferry for us to buy. As we waited for the ferry to leave we watched hundreds of small fish swimming on the surface of the water alongside the pier. It was an amazing site.
The ferry was practically empty - about a dozen passengers on a boat that could carry almost 600. We lay down on some seats and slept for an hour until we arrived in the port of Mytilini.
In Mytilini we bought tickets for a boat the next night to Athens. These tickets were cheaper than the ferry from Turkey! Even though the voyage was almost ten times longer.
After buying our tickets we had less than an hour until it grew dark and we needed to find a camping spot outside of the city. We jumped on our bikes and rode hard - hoping to reach the outskirts of the population and set up our tent before dark. We stopped a few times to check out places, but it took us almost all of the light to find somewhere. As we rode, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the sunset and wished we could stop to enjoy it, but we had to find a camping spot. When we did, we weren't sure if it was a public park or part of someone's huge property. Either way, we climbed a small fence with our bikes and set up behind a patch of trees - the beach across the road. It was a cold night and we decided to forgo a swim until morning.
We had no water so Sam went in search of a shop while I got the beds ready. It was a long time before he returned and I was getting worried. He'd had to ride back about 15km before finding a small shop. We sat on some rocks by the water eating the best yoghurt ever and drinking our water, before climbing wearily into our tent.
It was a restless night - with Sam plagued by extreme fevers, profuse shivering and itchy hands and feet.
Distance- 28 slow kilometers.
After seeing the great wall we boxed our bikes and managed to get them to the airport; more challenging than it sounds.
Relieved to finally be heading off we realised that we were a little early, our plane wouldnt be leaving for another 8 hours.
The time went faster than we thought and soon enough we were lining up in a Chinese queue... An hour or so later and we were asked to pay four thousand US dollars to check in our bikes... Luckily Shanna had printed out an email she had received from the Etihad hierachy that said bicycles were to be included as normal luggage.
Another hour later and at 2am we were heading off to Turkey. Still too excited to sleep we looked through the in-house movies- an amazıng selectıon...
After a stop off in the United Arab Emirates we landed in Istanbul around 16 hrs later. We made a huge mess in the airport, taking our bikes and assorted gear almost completely dissasembled and putting everything back together again. Two hours later and we were cycling towards Istanbul!!!
Initially cycling into the Turkish capital was a scary affair, traffic flying past us at light speed, and sometimes seeming to only swerve right at the last moment.
But then we found a walking/cycling path that closely followed the bay into Istanbuls old town, the water sparkling with a beautiful turquoise hue, and we stopped many times to admire the crumbling centuries old architecture in the cool evening air.
Whilst looking for somewhere to stay in the narrow picutesque cobblestoned lanes of Istanbuls stunning archaıc former CBD, partly surrounded by a 1500 year old wall, we found a man making kebabs on the side of a little laneway- we stopped to sit on a little pine wicker chair, and ate one of our best meals since...
Distance - 680km on the bus, 28km on the bike
A few hours into the bus trip to Kunming we realised there was a problem. The bus slowed down while going up a hill and then spluttered to a halt. The driver got it moving again amidst a cloud of dark, toxic smoke and we pulled over by the side of the road.
The driver and a few others, including Sam and Francois, got out to have a look. Francois is a mechanic and was keen to have a look to see if he could do anything to get the bus going. After about 15 minutes the bus started again. Francois came back and said he didn't think it was fixed. He said there were problems with the the fuel pump and he thought it needed to be replaced, but all they could do was clean it.
Sure enough, the bus soon stopped again. Another break to have a look and see if it could be fixed. It was the middle of the night and we were all cramped and tired. We just wanted the bus to keep going.
After the third stop Francois stopped getting out to help, and we all became used to the frequent jerks as the bus stopped in the middle of the road and the driver forced it back into action. Progress was slow, as the way to Kunming is uphill (Kunming sits at 1890m altitude). We couldn't sleep very well as each lurch of the bus woke us.
In the morning we stopped for a toilet break and some food while the bus was checked over again. The toilet block looked modern and clean - thank goodness! It had been 9 hours since our last toilet block stop! But as we walked in the smell was overpowering. And inside was the dirtiest bathroom I have ever seen (up until that point). The facilities were modern, but the water had been disconnected. I checked 8 cubicles and couldn't stomach any of them. Then I found a sit-down toilet (as opposed to the squat style the Chinese use) and it was the cleanest of all.
Breakfast was cake and juice from the nearby service station while we watched the driver under the bus. We didn't know how far we were from Kunming, but we knew we should have arrived an hour ago.
The bus started again, sounding the best it had the whole time, and we all reboarded. We soon passed a sign pointing to a town and we eagerly checked our maps to see how close we were. Still about 150km! And although moving a bit faster than it had during the night, the bus still moving slowly.
It was hot, smelly and cramped on the bus to Kunming. We were stopped at one point and police got on - checking IDs and doing bag searches. Many young men were told to leave the bus and taken into a van by the side of the road... they returned looking shaken but relieved. One of the men near us indicated that the police were looking for drugs.
Finally, we reached Kunming. Well, the bus stopped and unloaded us, so we must be in Kunming. And only six hours late.
As we loaded our bikes a crowd gathered to watch us. Severine and Francois attract even more attention, as they have a tandem. Once we loaded we decided to head north, as we hadn't passed a city yet and that must be the direction. After 10 minutes we asked a guy selling drinks which way to Kunming. He drew a little map for us and we headed off. But it was still confusing. How far away was this city?
It was windy and a dust storm seemed to be blowing around us. Many roads were bumpy and as trucks passed dust blew into our faces. We found a sign pointing to the city but it was an expressway and we weren't allowed through. We followed a terribly rocky road in the direction of the city and eventually found a series of highways and interchanges. Finally, two hours after we got off the bus, we were riding down a street in the city and saw McDonalds - time for some food!
The McDonalds tasted good, the ATMs gave us money, and the hostel we checked into had free internet - life was good!
We spent the afternoon riding our bikes around Kunming looking for bikes wheels. This time we followed two uni students who were so helpful in finding shops and talking to the owners. Unfortunately we didn't find what we needed and would need to look again the next day, but the day ended on a high - with delicious pizza, potatoes and cheesecake at a western cafe. It was good to be in Kunming!
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia