Goodbye japan! And briefly, hello korea!

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Well my time in japan has come to an end, it was a long month, 850 miles along the coast from Tokyo to Fukuoka. It’s been an experience but it’s time to move on!… But the hell known as ‘golden week’ (equivalent of Japanese school holidays) has been foiling my every turn! Even now I’m in korea the hordes of Japanese holidaymakers are getting in my way… In every possible way! From fully booking out the ferry from Japan to Korea to fully booking EVERY BLOODY HOSTEL in both japan and the south coast of Korea! I’ve been lucky with accommodation, on one occasion after over hearing a woman screaming outside a hostel – about how she refused to pay for a room she wasn’t staying in… I managed to sweep in an hour later and take her bed hehe! And thank god I managed to wrangle a last minute spot on the ferry after two days trying!

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The ferry was an experience, 6 hours with about a million children running around with parents already looking like they wished they’d just stayed at home, I took to hiding on the deck to prevent the stares of all the curious children and adults burning a hole into my cycling gear… Even though I must admit it looks odd to be kitted out without the bike with me! Not to fear, it was sat waiting on the other side, not a scratch, thank god!
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Busan was insane, full of tourists, the streets were still buzzing with life even at 11pm while I was desperately searching for a hostel. Unfortunately golden week had spilled over here too – I cant escape! On the verge of giving up and finding a nice bar to spend the night chilling in, some lovely women in a hostel took pity on me and let me sleep in the common room of their hostel! Bloody lucky! -even though not the best sleep I’ve ever had, waiting till 4am for everyone to finally go to their beds and trying to ignore the smell of the fish markets which covered the 6 floors below us!… Even if the view was fabulous.
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Unfortunately my time in Korea is more rushed than I would of liked it to be and I’m pretty much just in a race to reach my ferry to Russia in time! So after a night in Busan it was onwards to Seoul! I managed to sneak my bike on the KTX ‘Koreans high speed rail system’… Ten minutes before set off I was found by a conductor who was scandalised and kept obviously saying “only folding bikes – this not allowed” but I decided ignorant foreigner was probably the best way forward so in reply to “only folding bikes” I’d
reply “take the wheels off? Oh okay!”. It didn’t take long until, a few minutes before departure she went “uh okay keep it on!” 1-0 to Amy!

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Seoul is a lovely city, if I’m honest I think I probably prefer it to Tokyo. It has a very unique feel. The proximity to North Korea isn’t east to forget and I’m sure it’s the same for those that live here. The statue above is one of hundreds across Korea that hopes for a one day united Korea again. The story behind it is of a South Korean solider who saw his younger brother, who was fighting on the opposing side during the Korean conflicts, dropped his weapons and ran over to him. Seoul feels open and hopeful, for a metropolitan city it has managed to keep a very unique and Korean atmosphere. I imagine you could spend weeks here and never get bored but alas I’ve gotta be moving on!

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I left Seoul by bus… Stowing my bike in the undercarriage while the driver was mobbed by an angry group of Koreans complaining that the bus was late! – he was very confused when he saw me taking it off at the other end, but I was just relieved Id made it in one piece!
After getting the bus across the north border I’m kind of relieved that I didn’t cycle it in the end… Turns out the north-east of Korea is a huge mountain range! Probably would of taken my slightly longer to cycle than planned!

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Even in the small seaside town of Sokcho there was still no room at the inn. I tried every hostel but no joy. Finally I found a campsite on the beach and after persuading the bloke in charge that my tent was so small I would be able to find room on his already full site, he eventually came round to my way of thinking. He even let me stay for free! Perhaps since him and all the other Koreans had so much fun watching me having a one on one battle to keep my tent standing! Who needs a t.v eh!

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Sokcho beach is gorgeous, one of the nicest I’ve been on. I can understand why Koreans flood here in the summer. I stayed up watching the fireworks which seemed to go on all night. Although Korean food isn’t really to my taste… The tanks stuffed to the brim with live sea creatures or stalls full of what looks like dried octopus or fried crabs, yea, not really my thing. Although I can tell you Korean cakes are lovely!!
But now it is onward to Russia and hopefully to the trans-siberian, provided all goes to plan. Part of me feels things are going to smoothly – hopefully my good luck won’t fade just yet!

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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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Kobe – beer, noodles and coffee shops

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Ten days of ‘rest’ and it’s on the move again! Although it was probably more tiring that the 500miles previous!… The drinking rates and erratic sleeping hours of students is hard to keep up with after the relative peace and quiet of the Japanese coast and mountains!
Kobe itself is a lovely city and once I’d finally found my way around – yes involving a lot of trail and error, a lot of error, it could of easily been called home! 20140420-173556.jpg
Despite being under twenty (the legal drinking age) I had no trouble. The Japanese are very trusting and always polite, it feels like the kind of place where if you left an iPhone5 in a club you could be safe in the knowledge it would make it’s way back to you eventually! Even in supermarkets all you have to do is press yes on a screen to ‘prove’ you are legal! The locals are always friendly – if deservedly curious, I get SO MANY people asking about my lip ring, they aren’t big on piercings or tattoos here (apparently tattoos are still mainly reserved for members of the mafia!). That and what country I’m from are usual staples. Although most people speak basic Japanese they are usually limited to the basics but bless they alway try to make me feel welcome.
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In bars they are incredibly chatty, it’s a very Japanese thing – host bars, essentially what you pay extra for is good service, instead of the bored bartender who would rather be anywhere but serving you right now (I.e me when working in Yates) it is part of the bartenders job to ask about your life, make you feel welcome, it isn’t odd to come to a bar here alone, as you will always be chatting to the staff, they seem to alternate too, So you don’t get bored of their conversation! They struggle with me because it seems wrong just to let me have a quiet pint – even though I’m more than happy with it! – in Kobe however the constant presence of a Japanese student meant translation central, with full conversations happening through a drunk bored twenty year old- I do wonder what they must of censored/cut out!
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On finding out about my adventure the lovely staff at this bar decided they wanted a picture with us crazy gaijin, I’m hopeful it will disappear into the midst of lost photos on her camera and not that our faces will grace the bar wall… Or just as likely their Facebook advertisements! It was full of lovely people though, I don’t have quiet the same problem as most western girls going to japan… as I’m usual mistaken to be a man (I’ll excuse them given the short hair and fact I’m a foot taller then nearly all Japanese women. But a lot of western girls complain about staring men, who badger, want photos, etc. meh personally it’s not an issue, but I deffinatly don’t understand the Japanese obsession with looking pale or stereotypically western. On some days in 20degree heat I will be cycling in shorts and tshirt fully sweating while comming towards me is a local covered in heat to toe with gloves on and not kidding, a face mask!? I don’t know how the commit so much to it! I deffinatly don’t have that drive in how I look.. Don’t you dare say it shows!
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Ha and yes, here we are at the purikura machines! Apparently the thing to do for young Japanese girls, they makes your skin paler (good luck with me, id probably disappear) and your eyes bigger and rounder. All to make you more ‘kawaii!’ (Aka cute!) I don’t have the actual picture but instead here we are modelling for your enjoyment. We gave the Japanese amusements ago which was great – if pricey, although they’d deffinatly give blackpool a run for their money! The love of manga, gaming and cosplay is almost as strong here as the west presume it to be. They have floors of department stores devoted to card games – god if they’d sold English copies I could of finally completed my original Pokemon collection, but it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve had total conversations in bars with Japanese men resorting to throwing back and forth the names of Japanese TV shows (which were brought to England) which we both love!… If you couldn’t tell already the bloke on the right is doing spider man hands and the one on the left kamehameha from dragonball z. A great conversation that started with them shouting ‘david beck ham.. erm… wayyyy runey’ Across the bar at us, talk about transcending language barriers!

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I had a great time in Kobe, it was actually quite useful being shown all the secrets that you can only learn by living in a place! I tried sake (like watery tequila) not for the faint hearted but so cheap its hard to turn
down, was attacked by a wild boar – fear not, I did survive, and discovered my favourite dish – udon and tofu, simple yet lovely! But after over a week in a cramped student room bring on the new horizons!

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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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Bring on Tokyo’s English summer!

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Well it’s all looking up here! I’m feeling better, the bike is functional and the cherry blossoms have started blooming, even the Japanese have had their cameras out!… I’m glad, makes me feel like less of a tourist! The 20+ degree weather we’ve been having is probably what’s brought them out, but bloody hell it is not doing the same for me! 12-3pm is pretty much a no go zone for English fools that forgot to bring shorts (wearable off the bike) or sandals – aka me. I got caught out today and if it had not been for a vending machine selling ice cold drinks In the final trek home I think my jeans might genuinely of been scissored to a more appropriate length!

20140329-143125.jpg I’ve stayed in two “hostels” in Tokyo… Due to poor last minute planning. The first a capsule style hostel. Now the bedroom I can deal with, to be honest I quite like it, mainly because so far I’ve had ground floor pods it’s like crawling into a snug little cave, it’s even got a light and shelf!!…and could probably fit two people at a push, in a dorm of 28 people a few extra a night aren’t really being noticed by the receptionists! – bloody cheap backpackers! The only real problem here is the women’s slippers! Okay I have no issue with the Japanese flip flop hygiene rules but when the ones provided in the lady’s toilets only go up to size 3, anyone who isn’t the standard 5ft slender Japanese frame (aka people with size 8s like mine) might as well not be wearing them since half your foot is hanging off the end anyway!!! The hostel is at least 60% Americans so I can’t be the only one!

20140329-144639.jpgThe second hostel was more of a guest house and CONSIDERABLY more expensive, but the only place not fully booked since it was a Friday night. Pft, if Harry Potters closet had only contained mattress and small table it would of been identical. Luckily I crashed for about 15 hours and the absence of distraction or murmuring Americans probably helped catch up on lost sleep!
Where did I loose sleep? Well… Bloody Tina! Haha, but it is so nice after saying goodbye to so many people to run back into old mates again! We hit the bars in shinjuku, deffinatly not productive in curing my jet lag but interesting none the less, They have a seating charge!? Not just the huge popular bars/clubs but in small bars too! Pft not impressed! Luckily the bar was gorgeous – being with Tina helped, she stopping me from going in the “gaijin bars”. An easy mistake to make – even though one was especially appealing with Rue Paul cackling from the television and everyone gathered around, there was so many Americans it might as well of been west Hollywood!

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Yup of course instead we found the shadiest looking Japanese place and went in! Seriously, look at the ominous green door, barely any signs or anything! Still – it was epic… Kesha was booming and we had no trouble getting served even though I’m under age and Tina only just. They were shocked when we told them I was “20”, maybe I should be concerned. Fantastic night topped off with cheap pizza and invitations to all the weekends events, Tina Walsh it has been too long since we last painted the town red!

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Now I’m feeling better I’m ready to get out on my bike! The sun is tempting me it’s almost perfect cycling temperature, but only two more rest days to wait, and I do have things to organise. I don’t even have a map yet! At this rate I’ll be doing it all by compass, god it’ll be an awful repeat of the shambles that was my attempt from Rome-Naples and no one wants that! Plans to be made, things to be bought and sunblock to be applied! Let the journey begin please, I’m ready to leave the metropolitan hopefully for somewhere quieter!

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