Sunday, 27 May 2012

England Here We Come!

The time has finally come.....bikes have been bought, panniers packed, camping equipment assembled & our things have been reduced to 1/3.  After a wonderful couple of weeks with family, friends & strangers we're ready to set off on our next adventure.  At dawn tomorrow we'll leave the centre of Istanbul & head westward towards Bulgaria, beginning the long journey home.

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul
We're so excited to finally be heading off on the bike trip - something we've been planning & looking forward to for a very long time.  It finally became real when we bought the bikes - there's no turning back now. :-)  Lots of people have shown great interest in our trip & we must say a HUGE thanks to everyone who has visited our fundraising page so far & made a donation to New Life Foundation.  It's been a great motivation and we've been overwhelmed by the support that's been shown.

Tasty Turkish Treats

The past couple of weeks have been really wonderful & we've had such a great time seeing family & meeting new friends.  It's fair to say we've been spoilt rotten - first by John's cousin & family in Hong Kong, then by our various couchsurfing hosts and this weekend by John's folks in Istanbul.  We've also been pretty astounded by the kindness of strangers - Istanbul has no shortage of friendly people wanting to say hello and help where they can.  Yesterday on a stroll through the park, we noticed an amazing coal-fired water heater being used to heat a kettle - I asked if I could take a picture & the next thing we knew we had 4 cups of tea in our hands & a large family stood around smiling & chatting away in Turkish.  Even though neither of us could speak the other's language, it really didn't matter - we were all happy to have met the other & somehow managed to establish who was who.

Our new couchsurfing friends

Like Father Like Son
It's been a great week in Istanbul - a wonderful city rich in history with a west/middle eastern blend & plenty to see & do.  It's been great to see John's parents & although we're still loving the travels has made us excited about getting home & seeing everyone again.  First things first though - we must saddle up & be on our way.  Wish us luck!x

Goodbye Istanbul, it's been fun!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Kicking Back in Southern China...

Paddle boats in Green Lake Park, Kunming

For those eager fans who've been desperate for our next instalment we must apologise about the wait – unfortunately China doesn't seem to like our blog, or a number of other websites for that matter... I'll try not to ramble on too much, but after 3 and half wonderful weeks in one of our favourite places so far, there's a lot to share.

Lots & lots of beautiful flowers

After weeks of city hopping, the lure of rural China was great and came at just the right time... we decided to split our jaunt between 2 provinces – Yunnan and Guangxi. If anyone has seen the BBC documentary 'Wild China' (I highly recommend it to everyone) you'll understand why we were so drawn to the country, & Yunnan in particular. Home to a large percentage of ethnic minority groups, it is an area rich in diversity yet one of the poorest regions in China. The scenery is spectacular and despite the hordes of (mainly Chinese) tourists in parts, it's still easy to feel like you're in the middle of nowhere.

To our amazement, even the cities of Southern China felt laid back & peaceful compared to the frantic streets of Hanoi. Large villages with a mere 1 million people compared to the mega cities of Bejing & Shanghai, we felt at ease straight away. The only problem we had was the language barrier – a significant issue when 'dog' is dish of the day on many a restaurant menu. Our attempts at Mandarin greatly bemused many passers by, shop keepers & ticket sellers, at which point we usually resorted in pointing to the Chinese characters instead.

Even the signs in English managed to confuse us...

Definitely one of the highlights of our whole trip was the 4 days we spent hiking in Yunnan through the magnificent Tiger Leaping Gorge. Broken up by good food & cheap guest houses along the way, our days were spent hiking the mountain trails & enjoying the stunning scenery all around.

Our final week before coming to Hong Kong was spent in Guangxi province, staying at an English School in the town of Yangshuo. Using the great website Couchsurfing, we managed to bagsy ourselves free accommodation, food & drinks by leading 2hr 'English Corner' sessions with Chinese students. Somehow we managed to stay 7 days yet only do 2 English Corner classes, but still spent a lot of time hanging out with our students outside of class. We were taken on a bike ride into the beautiful countryside & to our first Asian karaoke experience at the local KTV. Lets just say John was reluctant to give up the mike once he got started...

Us & the other volunteers

We had a great time & felt really privileged to get to know the other volunteers and the students, all of whom went out of their way to make us feel comfortable & enjoy our time in Yangshuo. It was the perfect end to our time in China.

China is an incredible place & I'd definitely recommend you pay it a visit.  We only saw a small area in our short time but managed to get a good feel for the country & met some of the friendliest people we've come across on our trip.  Now in Hong Kong, with less than a week left in Asia, the focus is on our return to Europe & the bicycle tour!  We head to Istanbul on Monday where we'll be meeting John's folks and hopefully purchasing lean, mean cycling machines at a bargain price.  Fingers crossed...