In the summer after college had finished, I as most students do, had far too much spare time. I found myself spending hours on google maps, looking at all the incredible places in the world. I found patterns which are so alien to anything we see in the UK, that they inspire a new way of thinking about travel (take a look at the area around the Kara Sea). One which addresses modern age technology, and seeks to use it as a inspirational tool . This lead me onto another set of adventures, the Google Map Adventures, In which I would look for a natural point where a journey was at the B part of A to B, and go there.
For this trip, I looked at the southern tip of Italy, Reggio di Calabria. I left it at the back of my mind while I travelled around some of the rest of the world (much of which is documented earlier in LongTimeSpent). But last summer, this idea came into fruition. Laura, whom I met at University, had a family home in Malta, and so I decided to extend the trip onto Sicily and then across the Mediterranean to little island of Malta.
So in the olympic summer of 2012, one of my best friends, Louis, and I went on a cycling trip. Naturally I took my camera along for the ride, and Louis, brought a guitar… which he strapped on the back of his bicycle. We aimed to only spend money on food, and drink, and vowed NEVER to push our bikes. (this resulted me walking probably less than a kilometre that month, most of which was around supermarkets.)
Initially we aimed to cover 100 miles per day (the London to Brighton bike ride is 56 miles) but we probably averaged 90 miles, and only reached 100 a few.
Our route would take us through France, Germany , Switzerland, Liechtenstein (if we’re counting), back into Switzerland, Italy (the Vatican City…again if we’re counting), Sicily, and then Malta
I’ve posted a few of the photos below, and will write a little description below each. This is a pretty long post, with lots of photos, so please bear with it and let them load, I hope it’ll be worth the wait.
We passed through so many idyllic french villages, which you don’t get to see when travelling any other way, and its a real pleasure. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”
a bit of a skip in the Journey here, this is the bridge in Zurich, Switzerland. In northern France, around the Alsasce region however, there were some beautiful golden evenings sunshine which I will never forget. The way the sunlight reflected off the corn was surreally enchanting.
The stunning Lake Walensee, we followed a line of lakes down from Zurich while approaching the Alps, these proved a good spot for taking much needed washes, and the icy water would sooth our muscles
A well earned sunset
This was our camp spot, free of course, and incredibly peaceful.
Liechtenstein, a pointless goal in the trip, and a kind of mental halfway point, even though it was less than a third of the way!
Just about to start our highest climb of the trip, and it was clearly going to be a ….
Another free camping spot, halfway up the Alps. We hadn’t carried any food with up except 5 biscuits, and Louis had ‘accidentally’ eaten 3, leaving me with a mountain to cycle up and only 2 biscuits for fuel. But it rained and the wind blew like a hurricane that night, repeatedly pulling the pegs out of our tent and blowing our things away, which Louis fetched, and so redeemed himself.
At the top of the Julier Pass (about 50km from bottom to top, and reaching 12%), feeling very smug as the only cyclists amongst a bunch of lazy motorcycle tourists… Until a man pulling his kid in a cart behind his bicycle reached the top.
If you’re lucky enough to have ever felt that feeling where you know everything is going to be easy, and ‘downhill from here’. That is the precise feeling I had when I began rolling down this road. literally hours of freewheeling followed.
some nice Swiss scenes
and finally at Lake Como, just in time to watch the sun go down, and pull open a bottle of red. The next day took us through some of Nothern Italy’s flatland which was dull, but we powered through it and achieved our longest distance day.
And over the Apennine mountains which run the length of Italy, these actually seemed harder to ride over than the Alps, there was a heatwave with temperatures over 41 celsius, thats 105 fahrenheit. But the pleasures of a sunny Tuscany would soon follow.
One of the best camp spots of the trip, just off a sheltered holiday community beach south of Naples. After a party, at which we hadn’t yet worked out that everyone knew everyone (apart from us) we became quite notorious.
Mozzarella and Salami Shop
Stopping for a rest on the Amalfi coast, which has to be one of the most pleasurable, and toughest coasts to cycle.
Louis finally managed to get the Guitar out. While cooking up dinner (half a kilo of pasta and tomato sauce…again!) on the promenade we managed to confuse an Italian policewoman to turn a blind eye to us cooking there. A compromise of moving our pans slightly to the left was drawn up, and she left.
Torrential rain is never welcome when you have very little places to keep dry.
With nowhere to pitch up for the night, and it being in complete darkness, we found a lime grove to set up in. Mud would be an understatement. If ‘Stuck-in-the-Mud’ was to be played in real mud, rather than a school playground, this is the mud they would use. We spent 2 hours in the morning cleaning it off everything.
Avola Antica mountain goat.
Noto, the whole town was buildings like this, nothing modern, and it was incredible.
In the sea on the last day before catching the ferry to Malta! We had about 10km to cycle, very little indeed. So we ended up falling asleep on the beach. We had both burnt in some very distinct tan lines, and so I fell asleep naked in an effort to even them up… much to the dismay of an Italian family.
Relaxing on the yacht. A photo which always makes me feel fat now.
Louis and I took the dinghy out, and it ran out of petrol, so we had to paddle the whole way back… possibly the only upper body exercise we got that month…
I hope you enjoy the photos, and thanks for getting all the way to the bottom! If you have any questions please do ask!
Summer has started, I’m finally out of England once more, and you might notice that’s a film camera slung over my shoulder, so there will be more photos coming… as soon as they’re developed.
I’m spending a few weeks on the Cote d’Azur, and then I’m off on a grand cycling tour I may have mentioned previously. Keep posted for photos, and have a great summer.
Central Market, Phnom Penh. You can buy almost anything (fake) here. Also apologies for the lack of posts in the past few weeks. I’ve had university exams to [pretend to] study for, and I’ve bought myself a film camera and haven’t developed the film yet. Keep looking, the summer is now here, and its going to be a good one!
With only a month left until exams are over and the summer begins, rather than revising I’ve been looking through some old photos of my travels around Europe. Its not often you see this view of the track, and I think they make surprisingly effective photos. Although I won’t be travelling on trains this summer, I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting out into the world again and having some new adventures. I’ve just bought my first film camera too, and am eager to get some great photos soon. Another photo which fits particularly well with this series is in my first ever post Long Distance Train Travel
I dug up some more photos from Tian Shan, The first shows the clouds coming in the evening before we left the mountains and retreated back to the city. The second is of the man who invited us into his yurt to keep dry out of the rain.
With the billion or so people in China, I needed to get away and have some peace and quiet, and what better way to do so than with a camping trip. A 4,600 kilometre, 2 and a half day, train ride from Shenzhen took Shane and I to the north-western Chinese city of Urumqi. This was pretty much the end of the line, a city where the communist hammer and sickle is displayed proudly, and the buildings are grey concrete blocks. Surprisingly KFC had still made its way here, but at least they had given it the address of 666.
We persuaded a hotel to let us leave all our belongings in a box in their storage room, stupidly I had sent all my camping gear home a couple of days previously, so this would be a rough and ready trip. I bought a length of rope from a local DIY store, and “borrowed” a bed sheet from the hotel which I could fashion into a hammock. We filled our back packs with tins of food, and some sausages from the supermarket in town, and caught a bus as close to Tian Shan (Heaven Mountains) as we could get. Immediately after getting of the bus a man offered to drive us further into the mountains, by this point we had learnt that westerners seemed to be some kind of prize in China, as everyone wanted to do everything for us. Chinese people are bloody brilliant.
There turned out to be the Xinjiang Camping Competition happening that weekend, and we got waved through all security like VIPs without paying any fees to enter the mountains, another stroke of luck for two almost broke travellers. The competitors had to camp at the bottom of the mountains guarded by what seemed like an army of police (I think it may have been the army) complete with riot vans. Shane and I hiked our gear to the top of the mountain before returning for the evening festivities we had been invited to. We had become hardened drinkers by this point, so the news of a beer drinking competition excited us no end. But first some of our new Chinese friends were insisting to get us wasted on rice-wine over dinner. Shane won the the first round of the competition, earning him the title píjiǔ wang (啤酒王 – Beer King). We both advanced to the final, where I managed to quaff three 600ml bottles in just over 2 minutes, winning a crate of beer which I promptly gave away due to feeling I was about to pop and not wanting more beer. The locals stood no chance!
Night had come, and in a drunken state we retreated back up the mountain to find our camp site, which was hidden in the trees. With only our phones for light this proved to be quite a challenge. I was ready to give up and sleep on a rock on the top of the mountain, but Shane being well versed in finding his way through trees was determined not to give up and eventually found us back to our camp. I fell asleep in my makeshift hammock straight away, and woke up shivering, after what has to be the coldest night I’ve ever experienced. We swiftly collected some dry moss and twigs together and built a fire to warm our frozen skin.
Each day we walked across the ridge of the mountain further away and set up camp further afield. Incredible peaks went on for as far as the eye could see. The air was distinctly un-Chinese in it’s lack of smog. Eagles flew overhead. In the knowledge that I would be heading home in ten days, this felt like a perfect way to draw my travels to an end.
Determined not to freeze to death, and armed with a Pocket Swiss-Army knife, we set up our second camp and proceed to cut down a dead tree with the tiny saw blade. This took hours and hours and hours. But eventually we had a fire which successfully lasted through the night. We speared a couple of sausages on sticks, roasted them over the fire, sang about our worldly conquests and hummed away on a harmonica. This is the life.
After five days, the weather turned worse, torrential rain poured down, our food had run out, and my hammock had ripped so badly I was practically sleeping on the soggy ground, so we decided to head back to Urumqi. Soaked to our bones we set off back to the bottom of the mountains when some local Uyghur people ran out calling us into their yurt. they stripped us down and dried our clothes over a cow pat fuelled stove while we waited for the rain to subside. They fed us some offish kind Naan bread (which apparently originated there) and what must have been yak butter. Delicious….
Two chinese guys happened to be also in the yurt, and they happened to be going back to Urumqi. Much to our surprise they had managed to order a taxi to drive up the mountains to come and collect them. I thought this must be from the road at the very bottom of the mountains, but no, the taxi had driven up the mountain in the rain and came right to the door of the yurt. All in all this is going to be a pretty hard camping trip to beat, and it proved to be a successful remedy to the hustle and bustle of city living.
I returned to Brighton for a couple of days over my Easter break, after a heavy night out with some of my friends we awoke to a day which was surreally calm, we were all feeling a little worse for wear and the weather suited the mood perfectly. We walked along the seafront to town to get some breakfast at a pace which would make the most elderly of tortoises look like Usain Bolt. Even the sea couldn’t muster the energy to form a wave. There was no wind, yet a single yacht sat on the horizon.
China has to be one of the funnest (excuse my English) countries in the world. I had been travelling for a while with a Canadian guy, Shane, in the north of Vietnam, and he had decided to change his plans and come into China with me.
We booked our train tickets from Vietnam’s Capital, Hanoi, to Nanning, just over the border in the south east of China. Shane was a couple of days over his welcome on the Vietnamese visa, and mine would run out on the day we would travel, and we still had both of our motorbikes to sell. Needless to say we were cutting things fine.
Previously I had been travelling with my girlfriend, who had at this point become my ex-girlfriend. I knew we were on the same-ish schedule, but when we boarded the train and she was sitting not just in the same carriage, but in the next row of seats, it became apparent this was going to be quite a border crossing.
At the border we were awoken by some other passengers, or guards, I don’t recall. Dazed we hauled our bags onto the dark station platform, and through to security. The guards pulled up Shane on his overdue visa, and took him into a side room. They wanted a bribe to let him through, I overhead him casually tell the guards ‘I don’t have any money with me’, they said ‘okay’ and let him on his way. Surprisingly easy.
Upon slowly re-alighting the train, I dozed off and awoke in China. It was the early morning, but a sticky anticipation hung in the air. Lu, a Chinese girl we met on the train helped us work out where a hotel was, nobody seemed to speak any English here, I loved it.
From there on out China kept getting better and better. It was the last month of my travels and I was determined to make this count even more than the previous half year. Nanning is a city which the guidebooks play down to be a mere stop through from Vietnam into China. To me, it was a city which let the imagination run wild, anything and everything seemed to happen on the streets here, the back streets were full of colour, smells, and sounds. Chinese text shouted at us everywhere, at night the city turned to sin. It didn’t feel wrong to hit the clubs here.
The first night we decided to explore, without a guide we had no clue where to head, so we would have to trust the hopefully kind heart of a taxi driver. We sat in the back seats and pumped our arms up and down, while I sang ‘Disco Disco’ and Shane dropped me a beat. He understood, and much to our surprise took us to the best club in town, Soho.
We seemed to attract the attention of nearly everyone inside, the men handed us more drinks than we could drink, and the girls flocked in all directions, I felt famous. Then things went blackout and the next thing I know Shane is hauling me into a taxi, where my consciousness oscillates until Shane is convinced the driver is taking us in the wrong direction. Shane drags me off the backs seat, and pulls a couple of cardboard boxes out of a bin at the side of the road.
We wake up in the morning, without a clue to where we are, some local guy is washing his car next to my head, and everyone is staring at us lying on the floor probably thinking, ‘what the hell are these two white guys doing?’. I take the cheat cards which Lu had written for us and we get a cab back to the hotel. I think, ‘I need to learn Mandarin’.
The next day we went back to the same club, this time we were more prepared, but received the same treatment as the night before. Shane met a model who invited us to come back to her place, the only catch being it was a four hour train ride north to LiuZhou. Outrageously drunk we bundled ourselves into a taxi back to the hotel (which we now knew directions to), stuffed our belongings (and the contents of the mini-fridge) into our backpacks. It was now 5am, so we ran to the station where Tank met us with three sleeper tickets, and three bowls of Laoyou noodles.
Tank took us around her town, showed us all the little locals places which the ‘cool kids, models, and socialites’ hang out, we lit one of those Chinese lanterns down by the Lijiang River. Each of us wrote some wishes on the side. Tank wrote ‘Every Day be happy! Get more money.’; I wrote ‘Be successful in love, life, happiness, live long, fast and bring greatness to the world.’, Shane wrote ‘To find BIG Party & marry Tank’. It crash dived into the river, leaving hoards of laughing Chinese and two gutted travellers. We went to Tank’s fashion show to cheer ourselves up and meet some nice Chinese girls.
At the show we met three local business men who were in town entertaining clients for the night, we had been given front row seats, and all the food and drink we could stomach, and now these guys had invited us to come to their town with them the next day. Our luck seemed to be on for China, and Shane and I were absolutely loving it.
The next day we got up bright and early, but obviously after Tank as she wasn’t in the apartment, so we wrote her a note, and left. The businessmen were staying in a nice hotel in town, and had a Jeep waiting for us when we arrived. They had a fake police siren mounted on the roof of the car, and we sped down the motorway towards Guilin at what seemed like at least twice the speed limit.
Guilin was one of the ‘Lonely Planet’ destinations, and as such Shane and I weren’t too keen on staying for long, we had a rule that if we saw another white person in town then we’d leave the next day. After a quick dip in the river we went back to one of the guy’s houses, where we got dressed up to go out for dinner. That night we dined on Century (rotten) eggs, intestine, and fish head.
After dinner the businessmen wanted to take us out on the town, I guess to show us how they partied, they said we were going to a KTV, apparently we had a private room booked. A maitre d’ ushered us to the room with purple velvet sofas, and a line up of girls in long silk ball gowns. A little set back by the situation, the businessmen explained that the girls were not prostitutes and just were going to spend the evening with us. I was sceptical but went along with it anyway. KTV turns out to be Karaoke Television, I consider myself lucky to have been in China, because with the exception of the Chinese trying to sing in English, my rendition of Tom Jones’ ‘Sex Bomb’ makes me quite frankly the opposite of what the song would be suggesting.
Jack, one of the businessmen, who’s house we were meant to be staying at for some reason did not want us to come back to his, maybe the girls had wound him up enough to want a free house for the night. So he took us to this massage parlour, where we were handed a baggy set of silk shorts and a shirt, and a big white dressing down, told to have a shower, and taken to a room. Where two masseuses massaged Shane and I to sleep.
According to our rule, we had to leave that day, the stench of white man was too strong in this town. I’m not normally one to retract on my steps, but we both agreed that catching a train back to Nanning was the best plan.
Love was in the air. It was ‘Chinese Love Day’, officially called the Qixi festival. Couples were out in their hoards on this warm night, buying all sorts of tit and tat and ridiculous Chinese made unnecessary products for their other halves. Men donned matching t-shirts to their girlfriends, their trying to hide the embarrassment faces suggested they were forced into doing so. Shane and I thought it would be a good night to hit the clubs again.
That night I met Chao, a sweet, and stunning, local university student. For the next few days she was determined to show me the ins and outs of herself and her city. Apparently the place to hang out was the water park/zoo. Dubious of whether this really was the best place to go, and a bit pissed off my swimming shorts had been forgotten/stolen (probably forgotten) in Hanoi, I decided to go anyway. Chao promised me that it was possible to buy new swimming shorts at the park, what she didn’t say is that the only type available would be skin tight speedos. I’m not a guy to get that embarrassed by the things I wear, but speedo’s on a day out with a girl you’ve just met?… I manned up and wore them anyway, and to my surprise people seemed to like them. We met a chinese couple there who we arranged to have dinner with later, what they didn’t say was that we would be eating boiled pig brains intestine and bone marrow. A feast not for the feint hearted. While I politely bit into the soft moose like brain, and sucked the marrow out of a chunk of bone, Chao had decided to give me a Chinese name. After discussing the matter with the couple she decided on Long Wang 王龙, I was delighted with her choice even before I found out the English translation, which was Dragon King. What an honour, ‘I love China’ I thought.
The next day Shane and I decided that we had spent too much time in Nanning, and we left in the morning. Our ambition was to get to Taiwan, just without paying for a ticket. First we had to catch the train to ShenZhen, one of China’s wealthiest cities in Guangdong Province. After the reasonable fourteen hour train ride, it felt not dissimilar to stepping into the future