My aim is to travel from the UK to Brisbane for one of my best friends' wedding. Plane travel is so environmentally damaging so I am looking for another way. I also think that by travelling over land and sea I will be able to understand our world better as I will connect with the people and landscapes and not just look at the departure board in the airport. Any tips gratefully received!! Departure date 1st September.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Visiting Friends and Family

Day 9 - Canterbury - London - How it happened who knows?
After a restless but lush nights sleep in a bed - wow - we start to plan the day that never gets planned and it is bizarre, stressful, painful and exhilerating. Stubbornly and skintly I decide we must persevere without a map. Lots of lovely locals help us out and we have to cut out some of the National Cycle Network (NCN) routes as they are just too windy and scenic and we just want to cover some miles. Leaving Adam in Gillingham I am tired and feel a bit defeated but somehow I pick myself up and cycle another 50 miles to central London. 12 hours on the bike in total, I just kept heading west, asking directions and plodding up and down hills on fairly busy roads. I finally arrived in a crusty heap, delirious with the achievement but couldn't even sit down on the floor in the brightly lit hall of Euston train station I was in so much pain. The fabulous Dav came and rescued me and put me to bed, where I stayed for most of the rest of the next day.
Day 10 - Sleeping with Alan Partridge
My first day off, what bliss. Thanks to Dav and Kelly who looked after me in my weary state. I did nothing much all day but sleep and watch Alan Partridge DVDs.
Day 11 - The Grand Union Canal
Back on the bike and out of London on the Grand Union Canal. It was a bit confusing as although it is mainly an NCN route it started with a 'no cycling sign'. A bumpy but easy ride along past lots of canal boats as the sky got greyer and darker and eventually rained on me. After getting lost around Uxbridge and doing 6 extra miles for no reason, I was starting to get stressed and depressed but finally found the A40 and the road to my Mum and Dad's. Arriving to a warm welcome, a roast dinner and apple crumble made it all worthwhile. Many people have asked me if I am tired doing all this cycling. Although I am it is a nice feeling and as I only have to worry about cycling, eating and sleeping each day it is quite a pleasant, straightforward and simple existence really.
Day 12 - High Wycombe to Farnham
A sunny start and a lazy morning catching up with family and friends and then a lovely and easy ride on the roads to Bracknell. From here it got a bit hilly and the roads a bit busier but in all an easy day, mainly on roads but not too busy. Stopping in a cycle shop near Fleet I found out about Heinz Stucke who has been cycling round the world now for over 40 years. I read his booklet and it really is an amazing tale, he is trying to cycle in every country in the world, so my attempt at 3 countries seems a bit lame! I soon found myself in Farnham drinking real ale (the joy of being in the UK, I am surprised at how much tea I am drinking too!) and catching up with my lovely friend Charlotte, who was to be my host for the night.
Day 13 - Farnham to Coombe Bisset - another mammoth cycle
After lots of fondue and catching up I managed to steal Charlotte for the day to cycle with me. We set off and slowly wandered along some small roads, through some lovely countryside towards Winchester. Arriving here at 4pm I then discovered my aim for the night was about 35 miles away and so set off along the A30 (which I hear is not too hilly - but this is a complete lie!) but somehow make it to the campsite just before it shut in time for a cold shower and bed, nice to be out in the countryside and peace and quiet again.
Day 14 - A very short ride
Yesterday's effort was worth it so I could have a a very easy Sunday ride today. Only a few miles down the road and past the lovely Stratford Tony (strange name for a town) I meet the lovely Kate 'Baggy' Bagshaw and Matt on their bikes, who then guide me safely to Compton Abbas, south of Shaftesbury and up one of the steepest hills of the trip so far. A pub lunch and chilling out was much needed as we enjoyed the local cuisine and cider of Dorset in a proper local pub.
Day 15 - Another rest trying to fix my knees
I have developed very painful knees, possibly as the bike is a bit small or because I am just pummelling them hard. Anyway it is a bit late but I try to stock up on oily fish and buy some Flax seed oil in a attempt to make them better. I also have a very crusty lip due to the wind and sun and start to feel like a wild explorer! More lounging around in the sunshine helps bring me back to a world of normality and not just cycling, eating and sleeping.
Day 16 - Compton Abbas - Bradford on Avon
After another day's rest I was raring to go. Baggy helpfully routed me around the 'very steep hill' and I had a fairly easy cycle, with very little map reading, which was handy as the wind picked up and was desparately trying to push me backwads and sidewards. My knees were still aching but I continued my quest for oily fish to the lovely little town of Bradford on Avon and finally found some Fish 4 Good which is lovely and sustainably caught tinned fish and ate it with some wild garlic from the comfort of my little tent home.
Day 17 - Bradford on Avon to Bristol - Lots of cycle paths
I didn't have far to go today and so had a lazy start. I pootled along the lovely Kennet and Avon Canal to Bath in the sun smiling at all who went by. I think everyone thought I was a nutter and I stopped saying hello after about 50 people had not replied! It was nice to see people living in their canal boats and lots of solar panels and wind turbines getting them powered up too. There was still a strong headwind but it was fairly easy along flat cycle paths and only 25 miles all day. So the afternoon was spent hanging out with Lewis drinking lovely local ale and catching up. Later it was ultimate frisbee with Dave and Louise and more catching up to be done from the last 9 months.
Day 18 - Hanging out in Bristol with a Straw Bale house
Another days rest and I get to check out some friends building a beautiful strawbale house with the help of Barbara Jones (strawbale guru) who I go to the talk of later on that evening. Reminds me how wonderful straw is as a building material, how cheap and warm and eco. After a drink in the famous Star and Garter I try to sleep but cannot and finally drag myself up for the next day cycle. Thanks to Louise who put me up and started me off on the right path and it was off to cross the Severn bridge and into WALES!!!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Tour de France!

Day 1 Paris to Meaux – 30 miles

Finally I get to the front of the queue in La Poste and discover that my bike has arrived. Hooray! Thanks to all the guys at CAT and The Holey Trail cycle shop in Machynlleth for lending me the bike. With nowhere else to go I stand in the entrance and put it all together. Sadly no tool to attach the pedals and so I walk it to the nearest cycle shop, Laurent Cycles, who kindly fix me up and with a bit of oil and my excitement bubbling up, I am ready to go. I get my new IGN cycle and walking map out and head to the canal. The first 20km are along the canal and I zip along in the sun enjoying the sunshine, the signs of spring and the freedom of being self-propelled. The day slips past quickly and I am soon in Meaux and find a campsite for the night. This is going to be easy……

Day 2 Meaux to Dormans – 50 miles

Things get harder. I travel about 50 miles to Dormans and all I can remember is undulations, dogs barking, 3 killer hills, beautiful champagne fields and an aching bum. I am trembling as I finally lie down to sleep and hope for better the next day.

Day 3 Dormans to Reims – 40 ish miles

Spurred on by the prospect of meeting Adam in Reims, I pack up early and feeling surprisingly spritely I cycle without much stopping for 40 miles to Reims. Beautiful scenery, a simple combination of green fields, brown earth, yellow flowers and blue sky, and perfect weather for cycling – sunshine and a little breeze and it is a joy to be alive and moving forward. Meeting Adam is great , we have so much to catch up on and babble for hours. I have managed to organise my first couch surf of the trip (should have done it sooner) and we spend a fun night with Tristan and Lisa drinking champagne and eating cheese and hanging out.

Day 4 Reims to nr Laon – The Vagabond Cyclists on the run!

Adam’s enthusiasm and energy spurs us along. After a little fall when my wheel got stuck in an old tram line we are sprinting along another canal. Through some lovely woods and to the disappointing Caverne du Dragonne. We make it to Laon for a quick sirop du menthe and then find our way out and make camp in a nearby wood.

Day 5 - Molinchat to nr Ham an easy day

We woke up slowly with the sun warming us and continued the vibe with a lovely slow day. We began our habit of cycling about 20km, stopping for coffee and hot chocolate, then cycling 20km more and lunch of cheese, pate, apples, then 20km more and a beer and sirop de menthe and then a short cycle to find our bed for the night. We went through lovely little villages with every dog announcing our arrival and saw sleepy French village life and some interesting old buildings and churches slip by. We met and chatted to a lovely old couple selling pommes de terre and they kindly gave us some and some parsley and onions and send us on our way with a smile. It is so lovely to receive a warm welcome, to be able to communicate in French and to feel we are being helped along our long journey. Another night’s snooze in some woods by a fishing lake. Beautiful location and slightly better bed planning as Adam kindly collected some dried reeds and I got some dried leaves for a more luxurious pad. With a little fire we cook our potatoes and enjoy the end of another day.

Day 6 – 49 miles to Arras at speed

We are both re-energised and decide to take to some larger roads and get some big distances covered quickly. There are not too many cars and it saves on map reading so we soon speed along. Unsure if it is the roads, the coffee, my luxury bed, the new padded cycle shorts, the singing or Adam’s motivational chunterings that is the most helpful but it is great to be covering such big distances. It feels so empowering and the exercise feels great. After more sirop de menthe, an explore of Arras, Adam gets even more cheese (a worrying cheese and church fiend he is becoming!) and we get a new map and head out. We find a village about 6km away and sleep in the sweet smelling and beautiful bluebell woodland. Taking care not to squash too much we reason that it is natural to have wild boar in these coppices and do our best to behave like them.

Day 7 - Sunday day out

A cold and misty start and it takes me a while to get going. Adam is still full of energy and drags me along as we go through some weirdo towns and the scenery gets a bit less beautiful. The annoying slog hills get more frequent as teams of brightly coloured racing cyclists zoom past. It also seems the whole of France has taken to the road for a Sunday out. Sometimes my legs feel like they are pedalling through mud and I just can’t breathe but I push on an somehow arrive in Lumbres to hear the first stage of the election result. The slimy looking Sarkozy is in the lead.

Day 8 – Over to England!

A quick zip to Calais….. Well 45km of determination up slow, slog hills and both our legs are tired now. We reach Calais and catch the 14.05 ferry and are soon back in Dover where it is drizzling and grey – Hurrah for British weather. It does make us waterproof our bags though and realise we have been lucky the last week. It also helps to get us moving and after what feels like Mount Everest cycling out of Dover we find a national cycle network route and follow it successfully (until the signs disappear…grr) through the garden of England with hedgerows and life and barking dogs galore. After a brief and focused adrenaline rush on the A2 we make it to Canterbury, 55 miles today and it hurts but we feel light and happy too.

Sorry no photos, I can't get them off the camera.....

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A 'holiday' on The Continent

As I write this I can hardly believe the last few days have been and gone. Ever since my Mum suggested that she and my sister took a holiday and came to visit me, I have been excited about the prospect of being with 2/4 of my family and most of all people I know and love. They took trains through Scotland, England, France and Italy to meet me and together we explored what Genoa had to offer at Easter.

We wandered (no mooching allowed!) around and found some markets, including a lovely Farmer's Market with delicious local produce - most notably Pesto Genovese - the original pesto, fresh, bright green and yummy. It was nice just to wander the old, narrow streets and babble about my travels, hear their news and stop for the odd ciocolatta. We popped into a few elaborate Catholic churches - I always love the echoey and still sound and calm in these great churches, if not the decadence. We decided not to join the mile-long queue for the aquarium but were happy to stand in awe of the wooden pirate ship and be glad my vessel was sturdier. There wasn't much else to do except weary our feet walking and eating and savouring the culinary delights of Italy. Many places were closed for Easter so it was hard to find anywhere but we 'lucked' upon a nice outdoor cafe for pasta Genovese (pesto) and seasonal spring lamb and cheesecake.

The next day we decided to get the scenic funiculaire to Casella. We found our way along with lots of others with the same idea to the little station and hopped on. The one hour journey took us up and out of Genoa and through some beautiful countryside, three valleys of lovely scenery, little villages and signs of spring (and summer too- I think the nature in Italy is confused- climate change perchance?) Wood anemones (we think) and elderflowers. At the end of the line there wasn't actually that much to do but join the throng and buy an icecream. So we assented and tried to ignore the proud list of E numbers displayed. In the evening more eating with slightly less success but still tasty, local seafood. I even managed to eat some 'Good Fish Guide' recommended clams! Feeling fat as anything we rolled home to sleep.

Day 3 and we were ready to move on , next stop Milan, where we met up with some friends from when we lived in Italy. More eating on the agenda! as we savoured delicious risotto Milanese and other local fare with Gian Carlo and fresh and seasonal (in Italy anyway) asparagus and gnocchi with Penelope and Gabriele. Thanks to everyone for lovely meals and for coming at such short notice! We had a brief break in between to look at the magnificent Duomo and Central Station. Then it was time for the night train to Paris. Italy is such a fantastic country for 'local food'. They are rightly proud of their culinary delights and local specialities, using fresh ingredients and seasonal produce- why can't more countrys follow suit?

On the delayed night train we were lucky to only get one other person in our 6 berth cabin and none of the lovely teenage school kids. Compared to some of my recent train experiences it was not the best. The beds were tiny and I can't imagine how squashed it would be with 6 people- well except from tales from Mum and Penelope's experience on the way down. Cosy is the polite word for it. Either way it was a popular choice with few seats spare. Nothing much happened, we slept and chatted to our room mate and her ultimate frisbee friends and soon were arriving in Paris. After more local specialities, Gauffres Chantilly and Chocolat Chaud for brekky (well I am in continental Europe now!) it was sadly time to say goodbye again. I felt pretty emotional as I realised I would be alone again, our time had been too short and it had been quite tiring for everyone. I don't know how people do these 'mini breaks' I can't believe they are relaxing. So Mum and P safely back on Eurostar I pull myself together and get practising my French. I get a crepe au fromage, sit on the steps to the Sacre Coeur in the sunshine and look down and Paris and listen to lots of lovely buskers play.

My Paris experience was fun and consisted of tourist wanderings, watching lots of street theatre and buskers, a trip to the Louvre and of course Mona Lisa (pretty small in real life!) eating lots of cheese and the most expensive beer of my trip so far. I chatted to some locals for hours on the steps to the Sacre Coeur, my new home, and tried to sort out bicycle stuff with shops in Paris and at home. Thanks to the guys at CAT and also the lovely Jonathan and co at the Holy Trail cycle shop in Machynlleth, I will soon have a bicycle in Paris and am set to cycle through the Champagne region and see what slow travel is really all about! I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pirate Watches and Barbecue Fun

After one cargo ship voyage, I thought that was enough for me. It was fun and a good experience but it was a long time to be aboard and anyway for no other reason 'once is enough' .... I thought.....I had lots of exciting dreams for my return journey but sadly due to various restraints they were not all possible. Going back through India and meeting Ben and Tabs and travelling on a camel and then through the Middle East sounded like a challenge but was unrealistic and unsafe it seemed. Also visas were hard or impossible to obtain and overland routes were not all open to foreigners. Another idea was to 'go all the way round' but the Pacific and the Atlantic are pretty large bodies of water (!) and I seemed to be having trouble finding sailing options. In the end I decided the best thing to do was take the quickest and most direct route home. This turned out to be another cargo ship from Singapore to Genoa via the Suez Canal. It was approx. 6500 nautical miles in 16 days. I have had to borrow the money but it was worth it to escape the madness of Asia and get back to Europe.

So I boarded the ship at midnight, met the Captain and went to bed. Next day I got to meet the rest of the Officers - German, Polish and Filipino, the Crew -Filipino and the one other passenger, Melanie - Canadian/Dutch a mixed bag we were! Melanie was great and it was so different having another passenger to talk to. We spent a long time chatting to each other and it was great to get to know her. I found there was lots more to do on this ship and everyone was overall more social than my last voyage. I had a tour around and saw the 'gym' (exercise bike, rowing machine and huge sailor style weights!), the pool - small but excellent for floating and swimming in circles. I saw the karaoke machine and the drum kit and thought it looked like people planned to have fun on this ship. I was also informed of the barbecue party on Saturday where they were planning to roast a whole suckling pig.......

Onwards for my safety tour and I had to prove that I could get into my red 'teletubbie' immersion suit and lifejacket all by myself which was v. amusing to watch I imagine. A few days later we had an abandon ship drill where we all had to gather at the Muster station with our lifejackets and helmets on, find our 'buddy' and clamber into the lifeboat which was hung precariously at a steep angle by the bow. It was solar powered I was pleased to discover but did never find out if there was a toilet....I think it was just stick your bum out the hatch!

Everyone was super friendly and I spent my days 'hanging out' with the officers on watch on the bridge and trying to understand navigation, radar, charts and even looked in a sextant (they don't use them anymore). We got a tour round the engine rooms too with the lovely Chief Engineer. As it was Easter I organised an Easter Egg hunt and we painted real eggs to decorate the ship. I also celebrated my birthday on board which was strange but fun. I got some champagne and other presents and a hand-made card which was so sweet. Everyone was keen to wish me a happy day and make it fun. It was Sunday and we had had another party the night before (with more roast piglets...eek too cute I couldn't eat them) so I was pretty hungover and just drank more (Campari and Orange at 'Church' with the Officers) and loads of great food (always best on Sundays it is just lucky it was my day too.) I was so pooped and ended up going to bed about 8pm, my earliest crash for a long time on my birthday.

Each day passed fairly quickly. Breakfast 7.30am to 8am then I usually did an hour of cycling (training) and some reading or went back to bed! Then it was time for coffee at 10am. More lazing around reading or writing until 12.30 and lunch. After lunch it was a bit of a swim in the pool and some more reading and writing lots of letters. 3pm was tea time and time to have another chit chat with Melanie and eat biscuits and then it wasn't long til dinner at 5.30pm. The food on board was fantastic, partly due to our cook having been a 5*chef for years! I usually stayed in my cabin in the evening but on a few nights I ventured out. I played 'I Spy' and Charades with the 3rd Mate and swapped music with the 2nd Mate. I also played cards and drank wine with a few of the guys but it was a bit lame as I was trying to teach poker which I have played about 5 times in my life. The Filipinos had the karaoke running 24/7 it seems and a drumkit to keep the rhythm. I had a bit of a go but wasn't as good as Jerrol the Steward. Gutted I didn't have my accordion.

We had a few nights with extra pirate watch. It is a real problem in the Straits of Sumatra and near Yemen/Somalia which was a slight worry but not much I could do about it. By day 11 we were safe and waiting to go through the Suez Canal. We stopped to queue and put the fishing lines out, but no catches sadly. It took 11 hours to transit the Suez Canal. We could only go at 9 knots so as not to make too much wash which erodes the sides of the canal and they have to dredge it all out again. It costs 100,000 US dollars for each cargo ship that goes through and there are about 120 ships a there is a huge amount of logistics and cash here....It was pretty nice to see land again even if it was a lot of sand and electricity pylons and armed guards every few hundred metres. We went under the Peace Bridge, the connection between Africa and Asia, in the dark and then it was time for bed, another busy day over!

Near to the end of the voyage I started to feel a bit of 'cabin fever'. I needed more space and wanted to get out. I had read so much and written a mountain of letters and cycling on an exercise just isn't as good as the real deal. (will she stil be saying this in a few weeks they wonder?!) It was ok, just one day of crawling up the walls is not bad. Soon enough we were heading towards Genoa. We arrived late at night and I woke up to see the most beautiful view of this lovely city in the morning haze and sun. I was going to meet my Mum and Sister the next day who had come to visit which was exciting and in a way this day in port was the worst wait of the whole journey. I got some shore leave and went to the Seaman's Mission and drank ciocolatta and whiskey and tried not to feel like I looked like a prositute sitting there with some Filipino sailors! All in all I had a great time and was a bit sad to leave all my new friends who were all so friendly and smiley and kind. Thanks to everyone.

So now the readjustment takes place to being back in Europe. It is wierd in a way and thankfully we had Mum to speak fluent Italian so we were set for a few days of eating and being on 'holiday.' Will she ever get back to work we wonder......