From Finland’s fields to the forests of Sweden!

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After a few weeks hiatus I returned to Helsinki for the rest of my adventure! Helsinki to Stockholm to Oslo, west across Scandinavia it is! …As quick as physically possible given the toll it’s taking on my bank account. At this point the cheap world of Russia seems a distant dream away!
To say Finland was a shock to the system is an understatement, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such never ending hills. Even on the flat the hill is always there… Just waiting maybe 5miles down the road >< I have never sworn at so many inanimate geological features in my life! 20140712-211118.jpg20140712-211209.jpg20140712-211231.jpg
Helsinki in a nice city, but if I’m honest I can now see why so many travellers i’d previously talked felt a touch underwhelmed. Unlike the other Scandinavian capitals it’s lost the unique feel and become, dare I say, just another metropolitan city. I didn’t stay long, some places you are drawn to, others less so. Personally I think Finland’s charm lies in it’s wilderness, not in Helsinki! …nothing wrong with that!
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The fields of Finland go on for ever, it’s amazing! The hills are a pain but if anything it prepared me for Sweden, and now it feels like I have thighs that could challenge Chris Hoy! So cheers Scandinavia! Finland was also a good introduction to Swedish weather, a truly unique phenomenon. At times cycling along a road I could estimate the time of a torrential downpour just from the black cloud I was slowly moving towards! Sure enough I’d have ten minutes of sheet torrential rain then sunshine as i cycled out! It’s crazy!
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Talking of awful weather I can’t forget that damned day when after spending all night shivering to sleep, cursing myself for skimping on a cheap sleeping bag. I woke to a blizzard. Yup, not even kidding. Needless to say I got back in my tent and rearranged my whole route so that instead of heading north through Finland I went straight west to Stockholm… Hopeful for the sun!
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Despite the constant deluge and one day of snow I actually had a great time in Finland, and the few Finns I met were always welcoming… If slightly quieter then their Swedish neighbours!
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I took the Turku-Stockholm crossing and had absolutely zero problems! All across Scandinavia I can honestly say traveling by bike has been a breeze, probably because it’s so popular! On that boat there were two other cycle tourers and two motorbikes, we made a right crew! It’s getting to the point now where not a day goes by that I don’t run into another cyclist and hear tell of their crazy adventures… When I run off and do this forever you can blame all those fools who did it first!
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So I made it to Stockholm!! And my god do I love it! Stockholm is a beautiful city, modern and you really can feel it. From all the aspects that I’d love to change in England, here they are miles ahead… Look at the cycle lanes for pete sake! And this was taken during torrential rain, in a building site! 20140712-214330.jpg20140712-214348.jpg
The centre of Stockholm is gorgeous, it reminds me of York. It has a gorgeous old section on the central island, narrow cobbled streets and Viking museums – what more could you need?
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I love Sweden, really do. It is lovely! Stockholm was great although I must say the further west across the country I’ve gone the more “Swedish” it has felt, from the arrival of the little traditional red cottages…
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To the gorgeous Swedish churches..
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The people too, they have just got more and more welcoming and helpful! It got to the point where on receiving a puncture a bloke actually pulled up within a few minutes of me flipping the bike to ask if I needed help. On many occasions people have offered me good and water – when I’ve looked particularly rough by the roadside haha. The hills here really take it out of you to begin with, although the views are one hundred percent worth it! The hundreds of lakes make for some dramatic descents and gorgeous camping spots. Now the sun has come out I honestly can’t think of any other part of the world I’d rather be cycling through, it truly is beautiful…. Mosquitos being the only downside so far!

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Talking of Swedish lovely Swedish people, in one campsite the two fellas running it let me stay in their lodge for no extra charge just because it was going to be a chilly night and they didn’t want me being cold! …first night in a bed for a week and gosh it was lovely!! Bless them! I even got to sit out and enjoy the sun like all the middle aged german couples doing their leisurely motorbike tours!

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Slowly but surely I crossed into Norway! A rather painful experience when I saw the dramatic increase in the price of my food! It deffinatly feels like one of the richest countries, and there is no way I can stay here long!… After a few days here In Oslo it will be a brisk cycle south back to the relative comfort of Sweden!
Now I feel I would be lying if I didn’t put this in, but unfortunately I did have a touch of trouble on my way Into Oslo. Turns out the city has a slight drug problem… For those who can’t tell the “slight” was sarcastic. It is impossible to walk far before the huge heroin problem rears it’s head. For me it became evident before I was even in the city. A guy, totally off his face, stopped me on the bike – now I didn’t realise he was high as a kite until a few minutes in. That’s what cycling up the huge hill into the Oslo fjord will do to your senses. In short the guy was so confused that I wasn’t speaking Swedish, grabbed my arm to steady himself, he was so gone he could barely stand, At which point I pushed him off and continued my slow progress up the hill leaving him to his spinning confusion! Luckily at the top of the hill I found some other cyclists he’d offended and they were already calling the police. To be honest it was just a “in the wrong place at the wrong time” situation. On the plus side the cyclists were so lovely and took me straight to my hostel! So silver linings and all that eh! Apparently Norway’s drug problem is partly the result of such high prices for all other substances… Such as beer and cigarettes, it ends up cheaper to turn to Heroin. Sad eh.

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BUT… Despite it being a bit rough, there’s no doubting Oslo is a gorgeous city. The constant stream of tourists means you rarely hear anyone actually speaking Norwegian! The streets are packed with performers and there is beautiful architecture. If you can work out how these guys did this then please enlighten me… And all those confused tourists

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I did get to a few sighs around the city for free, the opera house really is an epic building. The sloped roof goes from the very top of the building right into the sea, although I do agree with everyone saying it would be much more fun to come back in winter and sledge down it instead of making the trek up to the top!

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But by far my favourite experience in Oslo has to be the Viegland installation, a stunning sculpture park. Seriously I liked it so much I went twice!! If you ever end up in this part of the world I can’t advise it enough! So I’ll leave ya with some pictures… Although they do no justice at all. From here it is back to England and I guess real life, sigh. Wish me luck eh, guess the fun always had to end eventually! Four weeks of life on the bike left!

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Trans-siberian adventures!! Vladivostok to Moscow!

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Well after a surprisingly pleasant 16hr ferry from Korea to Russia, followed by a slightly less pleasant 5 hour bus ride to Vladivostok I finally made it (on time) to the trans-Siberian Eastern terminal!!
My first full day in Russia turned out to be Victory Day – a totally unplanned and welcome coincidence! Although waking up at 7am to drums below my window and tanks rolling through the street was slightly worrying until the locals explained what was going on! 20140519-102757.jpg20140519-102928.jpg20140519-103001.jpg20140519-102946.jpg
While personally it was a bit too much of a macho gun show for my taste, but I can’t deny that the Russian’s put on a good show. It seemed the whole city was out as well as everyone from every other city on the east coast! I didn’t stay out long, the police were directing people from one place to another – and given I had no idea what the hell they were barking on about I decided to stay well out of their way! The evening show was much more to my taste! Some lovely Russian girls from my hostel even escorted me!… Although I still say the fireworks at roundhay bonfire are better!
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Vladivostok itself is a very Russian city, but deffinatly not metropolitan. Many of the buildings are in dire need of restoration and walking around isn’t exactly the safest of choices… Only because of the poor infrastructure! The “pavement” along the sea front doesn’t last long before it becomes a gravel path and on the other side of the road beach users simply walk along the railway! In the city centre I nearly managed to drop 5ft down a huge uncovered manhole, (even tho yes I’m sure I would of made it onto you’ve been framed) it turns out the pavement was full of these holes… Not exactly health and safety on the standards I’m used to! I’m just glad I wasn’t going down that street at night. It would of been like playing minesweeper! Although that being said I did come to quite like the city. It has a smattering of Russian architecture although finding them requires a bit of searching.
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The city’s history and use as a naval port is hard to forget, even when the tanks have left. Battleships sit in the harbour and the city is scattered with war statues and tributes to the fallen.
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When It came time to go for my train to Moscow while I was sad to see the back of this side of the world, the feeling was slightly eclipsed by the impending prospect of getting my bike on the train. I managed to get hold of the company previously who’d told me that the bike was free but it had to be in a box. Now my original plan had been to get a box in Vladivostok but given the apparent lack of bicycle shops, I failed on that account. My second failure arrived at the terminal which concluded in a last minute scramble in the ten minutes before the train was due to leave to find my ticket… Which for some reason I’d accidentally not printed out the night before. Sigh. Luckily this was sorted by a lovely English speaking bloke and afterward I managed to find a back entrance to the platforms so I didn’t take my bike through the sea of metal detectors and policemen which is Vladivostok station!
And so the fun begins. Dashing up to my carriage I was greeted angrily by the female conductor who seemed to take personal offence at the idea that I was going to try and bring my bike into HER carriage! After point blank refusing me, I nearly gave up hope. Luckily a Russian fella walking past seemed to bypass all she was saying (much to her annoyance) and told me to take the wheels off, then he picked up the frame and walked straight on! Ignoring her protests! I scuttled after him with my wheels and by the time we’d found somewhere to put it the train was moving! I guess a reasonable success, although I did spend the next 4 days getting evil eyes from her.
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My carriage was the cheapest available and contained a hell of a lot of beds! To begin with the train was very quiet but as soon as our route merged with the other transiberian routes we were full!… The smell was impressive. There is little to avoid it when your stuck on a train for 7days with no showers and the only privacy is two TINY toilet cubicles. Still I am actually not complaining, I paid less than half of what most websites say tourists should expect and although my carriage buddies were mostly army men being transported and oil miners on their way home from Siberia I met some great people!
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These fellas, all oil miners refused to leave me alone! (Once they realised I wasn’t American) they kept barraging me with questions about my bike then showing me pictures of their children, and once the beer came out I even got a couple of marriage proposals since they were so enamoured by my adventures! Haha, and then there was my bunk-buddie Demitry who I met while his sobbing girlfriend refused to take her arms off him until the conductor was shouting at her to get off the train! He was slightly embarrassed but got over it quickly haha!
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Despite the company I still spent most of my time reading or staring out into the countryside – which looks suspiciously similar to the Yorkshire dales I might add! After a few days they all begin to blur together, passing through so many time zones Is endlessly confusing. I never seemed to know what time it was or if I should be tired or not! The only thing that seemed to mark our movements west was the station stops!
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If there’s one thing I’ve learned, haggling over the price of super-noodles with old Russian women is not my forte! Oh and that it is actually possible to live on noodles for a week! – I had little choice given my train didn’t even have a restaurant carriage, the price you pay for being cheap! Haha, good job I don’t mind roughing it! Coming into Moscow the train got hellishly busy, it was all I could do not to kick people off the end of my bed when I got tired and wanted sleep!
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When my final night on the train did come I was deffinatly ready to arrive! And so 6 days later, 7 if you don’t include time zones, I arrived into Moscow! Let the fun begin in Russia’s biggest city’s, Moscow and St.petersburg!
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Moseying along the coast to Hiroshima!

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Well, it took 4 days cycling to make it here from Kobe and 2 days mooching around recovering from various ailments but I’m here in one piece!
The roads been long and the weather pretty rubbish, I’m not going to lie, from the sound of the weather in England I’d of been better back home! I’m such a fair weather cyclist, as soon as the sun left it meant three days moping up and down hills waiting for it to return. Cycling through fishermans villages and winding through mountains is a lot less fun with the wind battering you instead of the sun!… Even though the fishing villages were awesome… Theres always something to be looking at, from the hundreds of platforms to the rusting boats!

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But to top off my bad mood with the weather, just after setting off from my break in Kobe I managed to get food poisoning. Sigh. Just my luck, from undon noodles and tofu, of all things! Thankfully I was able to wait for it to pass in a lovely hostel which gave me an extra night and I even stayed in their sister hostel further down the coast in Kurashiki the next day! Favourite hostel group ever. The hostel in Kurashiki was so nice! Run by a host of international volunteers that night they happened to be having a “dumpling party” with all their local friends! All the guests were invited – just me and a Swedish fellow!
…here’s an action shot!

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…and the finnished product!

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After all the mixture was made we were the manual workmen putting the mix into cases and creating dumplings, and if I was the person in charge… I would of sacked myself! -and the Swedish fella! We were deffinatly sub-standard to the locals whose dumplings were closed with tiny intricate designs done with care while mine just… Well, weren’t.
At least we created endless entertainment while everyone tried to teach us the correct way! The locals were so lovely and on learning what I was up to one of the local girls decided she was coming with me! – much to the outrage of her boyfriend and sister – to who she quickly reassured she was joking! Haha! When she heard id be setting off at 8am she decided she wasn’t meant for this lifestyle! Nevertheless a few of them came to see me off, bless them I’ve never had a morning leaving party! But the hostel owner was insistent he wanted a picture for the wall!

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The final day coming into Hiroshima the sun finally began to shine! It brought out the cyclists too, with loads of roadies going past me! Hiroshima lies on the coast which meant I was likely to have a descent into town- it didn’t let me down! I had an epic 10mile or maybe even 15miles coasting down the mountains! Yes I must of annoyed quite a few lorry drivers on the narrow roads but they aren’t exactly the most renowned considerate drivers so I don’t mind blocking their way for five minutes.

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Hiroshima itself was an amazing city, to recognise that everything here was built in the last 60years is incredible. It is a hub of international tourists and my hostel was full of them! Families as well, not only backpackers. There was two families both with two kids under ten, one German, one Swedish – of course all the kids running around spoke fluent English as well as their native tongue. God it makes me ashamed sometimes, not that the Americans felt any better!

20140427-154941.jpgHiroshima peace memorial park, and museum was flooded with Japanese school children as well as international visitors. It is a beautiful memorial and tribute to those that died as well as the survivors. The museum was intense to say the least but I think the approach it takes disregarding sides in war and focusing on disarmament on a world scale makes it universally relevant from a unique perspective given that the population in Hiroshima have and still do suffer so much from the affects of nuclear weapons. The city itself is incredible given that original estimations after the bomb had said trees still would not of grown here, even now – the speed at which the people rebuilt is so impressive. I like Hiroshima, the city has a very unique feel, I felt very welcome! Deffinatly hope to come back, but for now I have the final stretch of my Japanese adventure to conclude, it’s onwards to Fukuoka, the final stop for japan!

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Tokyo to Kobe… Success!!

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Well stage one is complete! 450 miles down the coast from Tokyo and I’ve just arrived in Kobe! Ready for a few days off the bike to say the least. It’s been a busy few days! I went through the concrete jungle that is Nagoya.
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Spending hours sat in the shade of one of the many huge raised main roads that enter the city was monotonous to say the least, it’s easy to think your getting no where when everything looks the same as 15miles behind you! I can’t really judge the city though, I only passed through, places to be and all that! But I did get to stay in a great hostel! Very bohemian, the first proper “backpackers” hostel I’ve found in japan! Although still full predominantly with Japanese there were a handful of us from further afield. But mainly I’ve been the only westerner for miles!- the sunburn and freckles is giving me away.
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From there I took short cut through the mountains to Osaka. Yes, it was a bad move. They are bloody massive!!!! The first day was an experience to say the least! Now hills I can manage… I’m from Yorkshire, I’m used to them. But the last few days have been another level! I guess we’ll start with going up.
Setting off in the drizzle was probably not the best omen but despite a fleeting thought to hide in the hostel for another day, I powered on!… Well, by 12 I was contending with torrential rain and massive inclines.
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On the plus side the rain was spurring me on to ride faster, so you know, pros and cons. BUT THEN, on rounding a corner we came to it… The “Japanese cyclist death trap” that I’ve read so much about, the tunnels through the mountain. Now to begin with it was a slight relief to be out of the rain, but once I was 1km in and the echoing lorries weren’t sufficiently being drowned out by my blaring headphones I decided it was time to hurry on up and get out! BUT that day deffinatly wasn’t to be on my terms… The tunnel just got steeper and steeper, luckily the road was quiet so the experience really could of been worse, never the less I was relieved when I could finally see the “light at the end of the tunnel!”
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HA you think that is the end of the drama!? OH NO, on leaving I quickly discovered not only had the torrential rain previously experienced graduated into a thunder storm! – but also I’d climbed so far up in the tunnel that I was now just under the cloud line and it was SO SO cold. I tried to power through but eventually with soaked feet and frozen fingers I took shelter in a bus stop. Believe me, had the wether not finally stopped having a hissy fit at me I probably would if just stayed there for the next few days!

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(Still managed a selfie in the bus shelter though!)
But finally let up it did, and so finally I descended back to the land of normal temperatures and with still soggy feet I rolled into Nara!
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One hundred percent my favourite Japanese city so far, arriving into Nara turned one of the worst days into the best! It is the ancient capital and here they have a peculiar set up with the local deer, traditionally considered messengers of the gods, they weren’t hunted and so their population here is MASSIVE. They roam the streets and are stalked by both Japanese and foreigners trying to get pictures and they really couldn’t look less blaze… Unless you invested in some crackers in which case you will be mobbed by a horde of twenty deer relieving you of them.

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How I managed to sit and eat my dinner in the park in peace I don’t know, perhaps the group if dads trying to lead the deer away for pictures with their terrified looking toddlers had something to do with it!
I had no idea of the popularity or history if Nara until I arrived there, it’s really just lucky chance that I decided to stop there! I scraped the final bed in a hostel, convincing the land lady that I would be fine in a mens dorm even though she seemed horrified at the idea! I had a great stay chatting with an Aussie and some English fellas all night, and then a traditional Japanese breakfast complete with home made miso soup! Can’t be beat! (Even though I do still miss my full English!)

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For the first time I’ve been asked for a photo, it’s an odd thing. While I was getting ready to leave a group of Malaysian women saw me and attacked me with questions! Before whipping out there camera, nicking my helmet and glasses- giving them to the elderly mother to wear and then we all posed around my bike! Deffinatly different! And so somewhere a lovely group of Malaysian women have me in their camera. I’ve had small kids running up to me shouting “harrrow” and adults wishing me well in both Japanese and English, peoples responses are always funny to see. I do wonder when people will stop asking me how old I am and then being shocked at the answer!… Ha, but I bet it’s just as annoying (if not more) for older people who get it!
Form Nara I dropped down to sea level in Osaka, a terrifying ordeal, it was steeper going down than coming up! But eventually and in one piece I’ve made it to Kobe! I’m going to hibernate here for the next few days, repair my wounds and eat a hell of a lot!…and then it will be onto Fukuoka and Korea! But now I think a well earned pint is in order!

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…on the road again!

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I’m finally on the move! I think this is day four and thank god I’ve finally settled onto the bike. It’s been an interesting process, day one leaving tokyo I managed to fall off twice, much to the confusion of local Japanese who could just see a gaijin sprawled on the floor shouting a range of luckily indistinguishable English. Bless them they did try to help, but given that both incidents were firmly my fault I was too embarrassed to be graceful about the situation! So yes my knees are now a mismatch of scratches but what kind of cyclist would I be if they weren’t!
As you can probably tell from my nose (que photo above) I’ve also managed to get sunburnt, sighhhhh! I have now found factor 50 sun cream (cheers for the English/Irish complexion family) and no wonder I struggled to find it, it looks more like morrisons own deodorant than sun cream. But yes, you guessed, am currently sat in my hostel with nose, arms and calves covered in sudocream… There’s no way I’m getting out of the horrendous tan lines with this one.

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Despite all this I’m actually having a damn good time, I went past mt. Fuji the other day!… Too impatient to wait for the clouds to clear pah, no photo is perfect, my camera wasn’t even good enough for a selfie, disappointment. Can’t deny it was pretty cool to see, up close the original plan of climbing it seemed too painful to actually attempt… Vesuvius was one thing – that mountain wasn’t half covered in snow! I most certainly do not have the fortitude to put up with the cold up there! Also I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be up and down in time for bed!

No joke. I’m currently sleeping 11hours a day minimum… It’s a joke! It isn’t even a choice! It’s like I sit down to do something and then BAM it’s 8am, time to get on the bike! Almost seems like a waste paying for a hostel when I’d sleep just as well on a clothes line! My current evening plan in a hostel (most of which don’t have wi fi) consists of get in, eat as much food as possible and get in the bath before I fall asleep on the next available flat surface. Yes Japanese hostels have communal baths, not separate showers… This social aspect is not something I have yet to contend with since I have been the only woman present in EVERY hostel outside of Tokyo. Not kidding! Haha I feel guilty that they have to open up the female area just for me but oh well!! It’s particularly luckily there is no one else present since I don’t think my oil stained legs would go down too well, and I am not kidding IT WILL NOT COME OFF.

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After going over the mountains on my first night… worst hostel decision of my life – yes, let’s choose a hostel at THE TOP OF THE BLOODY MOUNTAIN, WHY NOT EH!? Sigh now that was a beasty walk… Yup, defeated on the first day to push my bike 5km up a hill steeper than any in the Yorkshire dales, and there was some kind of geothermal stuff going on because steam was coming from the grates in the floor! Most disconcerting to walk over I can tell you! On the plus side it did mean that the morning after consisted of a ten mile (not exaggerating, I measured) descent to the coast! The road was perfect! I reached over 35mph and the bike was raring to do more!… That is deffinatly one way to check the brakes you totally readjusted that morning are working.
The coast here is gorgeous, I’ve seen loads of surfers and billabong shops are becoming as common a Starbucks! Unfortunately it took a few days before I could see it, I’ve been less than a kilometre from the coast for most of the time, but the coastal wall at Tokyo extends for miles and miles, then it turns into other forms of defences. Only today have I really seen the beach and coupled with the sun it makes a good change from the noise of Tokyo! All I need now is my sunburn to heal so I can knock out the flip flops and shorts!

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The apparently lonely life of a solo traveler in Italy!

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The question “aren’t you lonely when your away”…often coupled with “don’t you have any friends?” (Charming I know) are so common I’m thinking I should come up with an amazingly witty set response which I can use to explain the truth of it to everyone who has obviously never travelled alone. It takes SO much effort to make traveling a lonely experience.
When it gets to the point that you can’t sit outside a supermarket making up a sandwich without being wished “Bon voyage” by a passing elderly lady. When you are constantly being quizzed by hordes of passing men as to the weight of your steed. Or can’t go for an evening snack in a small bar without ending up drunk with the barman (que photo)…

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…and his rabble of teenage friends (the awesome group above – with a rather red faced version of myself) none of whom spoke a word of English – to say I spent most of my time indebted to the translate app on my iPhone is an understatement! But regardless, in the safety of Europe you are never really in a language barrier. Even when too inebriated to spell english correctly on my phone we resorted to easy topics! Bands, place names, big name brands, movies – American TV is deffinatly popular across Europe!

Then there is what I learned in Sicily… To both my pleasure and annoyance (the alone time on the bike had thoroughly ended) was the ease with which cyclists can chat! The roadies that came to cycle along side me didn’t want Indepth life conversations – they wanted distances traveled, climbed, where you were going, bike technical jargon that I don’t even understand in English! But it really did come easy… And when they got bored with either the conversation or speed, away they could go! Although shocked at the low numbers of female cyclists I encountered in Italy I must say all the blokes were the example of kindness, shouts asking if I needed help/a pump were frequent whenever I stopped for a breather!

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This lovely bloke saw me struggling over the hill/mountain north of Messina, in torrential rain and gale force winds it felt slightly like god himself was against me that day. He didn’t speak a word of English but when he realised we were going the same way refused to leave my side, when the winds got so bad I could barely move the bike he physically put his hand on my back and pushed me up! Not even exaggerating the situation! It is a good job I’m not a proud individual or it might have been a touch soul destroying. But god I needed him! Salvadore you are the nicest man I’ve met in a long time! Amidst cheers at the top he attempted to give me detailed directions onwards before leaving for home. That man turned one of my worst mornings Into my best, hopefully one day I will return the favour!