Wednesday, 23 March 2011


A whirlwind change of state it definitely has been. I reluctantly left Beijing on March 9th, the day my visa expired, but after a night on a southern China airport bench I crossed the border a day late in Guangzhou, thankfully to no remark. Then it was Bangkok again, the familiar, warm, memory-filled city I arrived in way back on November 18th. Curries eaten, flights booked, bike boxed with the help of Marc, another great, thought-filled dinner with friends Tyler and Tara, and fleeting friendships with more interesting people (Martin, Stef, Lindsey and Kyle), I left on March 15th after 5 days in the heat. Huge excess baggage charge paid, a night in Moscow airport passed quickly with yet more new friends (thanks Line and Jasper), I arrived in Berlin on the 16th. Welcomed by another, even more thorough search and drugs check than in Japan, lasting an hour and requiring my lovingly packed bike to be unpacked in the middle of baggage claim, and resulting in me (wrongly) testing positive for heroin or opium but nothing being found amongst my 42kg of luggage, despite the excitement of the sniffer dog. Ahh, Europe!

Berlin has been my favourite city to date without a doubt; the place I feel I could spend a few years. I was supposed to have got back on my bike on Monday and be a couple of hundred kilometres away by now, but thanks to the huge number of things I want to see and do (the usuals; Brandenburg, Reichstag, Holocaust Memorial, The Wall, Jewish Museum, etc. etc., as well as the slightly more alternative; Tacheles art squat, all-girl Roller Derby, an undercover mission to the Cold War era 'listening dome' atop Teufelsberg), I haven't even managed to unpack my bike yet.

Departure is now slated for Friday but is likely to change - the details of the above along with a selection of the already 500 photos from the city will have to be filled in from home.

For now though, just a couple:

Tacheles - art squat, social space, beautiful atmosphere, but possibly soon to be demolished.

The unfortunate crucifix reflection on the GDR-designed and built TV Tower, with the omnipresent Berlin graffiti. This shot taken from the 'death strip' behind the Berlin Wall.

Inside the 'listening dome' atop the Teufelsberg Cold War era US comms. interceptor, one of Berlin's many underground, alternative attractions

Friday, 11 March 2011

Catching Up with Photos in Bangkok 2

Crazy Lantern Festival Fireworks in Beijing

Qin Shi Huang's Terracotta Army in Xi'an

The eponymous hazy, polluted Chinese city, replicated many times over - it's incredible how quickly the lack of sun, or even sky, affects your mood.

Inside a mosque in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter - a really interesting mixture of Arabic and Chinese influence with a minaret pretending to be a pagoda.
This mosque also has a tablet inscribed by Zheng He, the eunuch admiral of Ming Emperor Zhu Di who, according to the controversial but persuasive book 1421,
set sail and mapped much of the world before Magellan, da Gama, Columbus, Cook, et al.

Cycling atop the 14km of old city walls surrounding Xi'an

Catching Up with Photos in Bangkok

So here I am in this city for the third time, only this time it is with a head full of Great Memories rather than one full of Great Expectations. Accompanying that though is the least clear picture of what I want to do or where I want to go that I have had on this trip. While I sweat my way through a few Thai curries, regain some of my tan lost in the wintry north, and foster a plan, I'll just post a selection of the many photos that I've been promising while in China, starting at the top with Japan, then Korea, The Great Wall, Crazy Beijing Fireworks and the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an.

The Japanese shinkansen, Bullet Train, that took me from Tokyo to the port of Hakata


Downtown SeoulKing Sejong the Great (I think) and the incredible part aztec/part sci-fi Korean characters

Ancient Temple Guards (Seoul)

Bustling food market in Seoul with great BBQ and fried snacks

The imprisoned North Korean cheerleaders mentioned in this post, and the names of numerous others suffering the same fate

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling

More to follow in post 2...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

This Time Last Year... Day 16 on Day 381

Tuesday 2nd & Wednesday 3rd March 2010
Malbuisson, France - Col de la Givrine - Geneva, Switzerland

Woke up before the alarm. I guess my body is adjusting. Cereal and coffee for breakfast. Faffed a lot for some reason - no real target for the day (still 1 night before Geneva) and it was rainy and grey. Changed route plans and headed back east to Vallorbes where I sat in the sun a while and enjoyed not pushing on. Entered Switzerland and made for Lac and Vallee de Joux which after some hills was lovely - houses with a lake to the front and ski lift to the back! Sun was in and out but generally pretty nice. Sat in the village for a while eating lunch by a stream, quite hot in my black jacket and wooly hat. Les Rousses back in France was my target and I had thoughts of a long lie-in and short day into Geneva, however as well as being a stop on the Tour de France this year it turned out to be a pretty big ski resort, and apparently it's the holidays here so everywhere was complet! That was that - bought some supplies (gnocchi) and headed out of town in the snow - stopped at an Auberge Jeunesse 1.7km down a hill in the wrong direction - €38!!! No way, wild camping it is. Pulled into a small side road not far away and pushed the bike along a cross country ski track, finding a decent spot underneath some wood machinery. The snow was thigh deep so I stamped it all down to make space for the tent - set it up with water poured on pegs (to freeze them in) and guy ropes to trees, it was perfect! Gear in the vestibule, sleeping mat and bag laid out, cooked dinner (v. tasty gnocchi, chorizo (from Toul) and Passendale cheese (from Belgium)). Ate biscuits, wrote, text and got to sleep early. I woke a couple of times (about 03:30 and 06:30) but was toasty warm the whole night. Heard skiers and a piste-basher but no bother.

Got up at about 8am to start packing up - tent was down by 08:45 and I was up the road by 9 - v.chilly, 6 layers needed. Turned out I'd camped about 100m from the top of the Col de la Givrine at 1232 metres! I thought I had the Cote de Nyon to climb but on passing through St. Cergue and buying a pain au choc (CH francks, oops!) and putting on more layers I realised I was at the top and it was all down hill - confirmed when I rounded a corner to see the snowy peaks rising above the clouds, and on closer inspection Lake Geneva below! A perfect breakfast spot - orange juice, coffee, baguette, butter, jam, honey. Perfect? I'm not sure, but pretty damn nice!
The descent off the actual mountain was about 5 miles, my first real proper mountain descent, but it was just so cold! I was shivering pretty violently by half way but enjoying it. It was another few miles of downhill to the lake shore and then a nice cycle lane along the main road that skirts the water. I'd pictured this to be pretty beautiful but with the big houses shut away to the left and various houses/flats/garages on the right there wasn't much to see apart from the odd glimpse of the lake and some boats. I still had a good few hours to spare so rode very leisurely into Geneva, stopping to eat and take out some Swiss Francks. Found it pretty tricky to get around the city but found the fountain and had lunch - Reblonchon and sausage baguette. Had a few people stop to chat, then the rain started. I set off for Leandra's with plenty of time to spare as I had no map or directions, just a rough location in my head from a memory of a Google Map. As it turned out I'd passed by within 50m but missed the road name - Mum helped me out from home with the help of Google Maps!
I was welcomed by Leandra, her boyfriend Andrin and best friend Laura - they helped me with my bags and I settled into Leandra's bedroom - she'd given it up for me : D I checked in online for the first time since Luxembourg, showered and had a lovely pasta dinner. Leandra and Laura both went out for sports/dancing so I caught up on emails, and then we played Uno and ate cereal 'till late. Great to be here.

An excerpt from my hand scrawled day-to-day diary.