In Tbilisi, after many skype calls and emails, we finally were met by our friend from home, Ewan. Leaving his helmet behind as it didn’t fit in his check luggage (he has made a note to next time bring it in carry on) he quickly rectified the problem by buying a watermelon helmet. The watermelon was very well received by the Georgian motorists, who typically are not so biker friendly. During our stay in the capital, we visited the treasury as well as a museum about russias hold of georgian territory. It all seemed very violent and very recent. Before Ewan arrived, we wandered down the hill to the town public baths in Tbilisi. It was an eye opening experience for us. Immediately split into single gender baths, Jess had her underwear forcibly removed by the old ladies running the bath. She was then ushered into the shower area (what happened to the baths?) and stood there awkwardly for the next twenty minutes with the locals staring at her weird tan lines. I had a much better experience, once I got used to the fat naked local men, and brushed off the ‘bath time’ man who looked at me with his soap and his scrubbing brush and just said ‘bath time?’ that’s a weird question. ‘for you, ten dollars’. ‘Ah no thanks’. The fella was laying out men on one of the benches at the baths (that’s right, the men had baths) and giving them a good old scrub down, first their back, then their front. Bit of a massage, then hurl a bucket of water onto them. A little jealous of that kind of treatment, I retreated to the bath which must have been hovering around 50-55 degrees. Absolutely scorching. I dropped in a toe trying to be casual and snapped it right back out. The one man at the bath tub looked at me and motioned for me to go straight in and put my head under in one motion. I looked at him as if to say ‘are you crazy?’ but his raised eyebrow made me feel a little awkward and I followed his instructions. As soon as I was in he mentioned something in broken english, ‘tree minutes no more, heart, is bad’. Funnily enough I could feel my heart pounding and I only needed a couple minutes in that heat anyway. After a few hot/cold switches I was done too. The following day I returned with Ewan, but Jess opted instead to have a coffee over the road. When we got to the scorching bath I managed to just get in casually after bracing for the intense hot water. Behind me, Ewan followed and squealed as soon as he hit the water, much to my amusement. We cycled out of town receiving more toots than normal due to Ewan’s melon on his melon. Jess and I beeped back, but Ewan was locked on facing forward with no peripherals. we bought supplies at a market and then called into a bike shop so that Ewan could buy a skater boy helmet to fit his image. Ewan has pretty well covered his time with us in the previous blog, so I will add just a few things here. Ewan was super lucky that this section of the trip allowed us to have a swim every day almost without fail for three weeks. The days we missed out on a swim were made up for by double swims once we hit the black sea. On night one on the road, we were treated to a live band who pulled up in an open truck and just started playing, the truck eventually continued onto the road with the band continuing to play. . We took a ‘b’ road soon after that started out as a dirt road, and then… stayed a dirt road for the next 40km. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been too much of a problem but the road often became big chunks of rocks rather than your standard dirt, and Ewan’s bike remained very much a racing bike although he did a good job of making it look otherwise. I was disappointed on a couple of occasions when I rode ahead through a tough patch to turn on my video camera and film Ewan’s road bike attempt, only to have him cleverly dismount and walk the beast through the worst of it. My million hit youtube clip will have to wait. We enjoyed having Ewan along for many different reasons. It was nice having Ewan pointing things out as unusual, that we had become very much accustomed to over the months on the road. Sometimes you forget what’s not ‘normal’. We rode through ramadan fasting month in turkey which was an interesting experience. We asked each time we wanted to eat but were always told ‘no problem (problem yok!), you can eat here, oh and why don’t you eat this too’. many of the locals who were fasting themselves came and sat with us in the park and some even offered us some food! We were very lucky to be brought second dinner on multiple occasions as the locals started eating as the sun had set and the call to prayer had commenced. We were invited into Mustafas family home for ramazan dinner one night. An interesting dinner that led to watermelon being eaten from his fork and many pages of the qoran being read aloud at the table. We later visited his neighbours house to drink water from Mecca and taste some sweet arabian dates. we left with a bag of goodies as we apologised, having to return to check on our bikes that we were hoping were still locked up at the city beach. Further along the black sea coast in Ordu, we were led into town by a cyclist who had caught up to us on the road. He showed us to a bike shop so that Jess could replace her brakes, and pick up a new speedometer and most importantly some fancy fluro stars for her front wheel. On Ewan’s final night on the road, we looked for a campsite just outside of Samsun. as we were making plans a group of 7, yes 7, cycle tourers came riding the other way. We all stopped and had a chat, they had cycled from portugal, on their way to Yerevan, Armenia. Our new friends were also looking for a spot to camp, so we teamed up as a group of ten and headed onto the back roads to find our way to the beach. We had a great time with the crew, swapping stories by the camp fire that night. Already cooking for seven, they kindly included us in their dinner plans. with all of us ducking off for a shower/swim in the beach among the little jellyfish. In the morning we exchanged some stickers, our Ultimate Peace monster stickers for their personalised caucasian snow leopard stickers – the reason for their ride is to raise money to save the snow leopard of the caucasus. In Samsun, Ewan spoilt us (as he had been doing the entire time he had been around) by shouting us a hotel room for a couple of nights. we watched a movie, played backgammon, and broke some records on the basketball machine at the gaming centre before Ewan schooled us at the tenpin bowling alley next door. We were so sad to see Ewan leave. It had been great to spend a good amount of time with a familiar face and know that we hadn’t really changed at all. The kilometres flew by so we really treat that 1000km differently from the rest which at times have been tiresome. We are very lucky to have such a thoughtful and adventurous friend as Ewan, and we are looking forward to sharing more adventures with him in the future. After farewelling Ewan we checked out of the hotel as late as possible and began the climb inland away from the black sea. We were now bee lining to run a clinic and have a break in Istanbul some 700km away. On this stretch we were a little bit boring and stayed mostly to the highway, to minimise the damage to our legs (we were tired!) as Turkey has incredibly hilly countryside. We passed a lot of chai producers, storks nesting at the top of power poles, and old fellas having a game of backgammon over a cup of chai. Riding into Istanbul was an entertaining affair, we had heard no good reviews of how to go about this from the direction we were entering from (the east). Home to some 15 million people and stretching well over 100km, Istanbul is just massive. Luckily, our timing couldn’t have been any better as it was now ede – the celebration for the end of the ramadan fasting month. Everyone had whizzed by in the other direction from us, leaving Istanbul to head back to their families in the countryside for their holiday. The streets into Istanbul thus where comparatively calmer than usual, and we followed the shoreline until we reached the ferry at kadikoy. There, we were met by Mel, a Canadian frisbee player living in Istanbul with her family, as well as 3 year old Libby and 6 year old Oscar. (While we were looking for Mel, we had both been asking around for the directions to the elusive Ataturk statue Mel had asked us to meet at. I came around a corner to ask a man sitting on a bench, unfortunately for me the corner was wet and slippery and as I hit only my front brakes – rear ones were out of action – I smiled at the guy and made eye contact as I approached, but on the slippery surface my front wheel slid out from under me and I hit the deck right in front of the guy. After all that, he didn’t even know where the Ataturk statue was but I had given him a good laugh). We found Mel eventually and took the ferry across the Bosphorus to… EUROPE! We excitedly and finally made it after 11 months in asia. We had thought of Istanbul for a long time as the city we needed to make it to in order for us to feel like we would finish the ride to London. The city is massive, but beautiful with many mosques and a beautiful old town. Thanks to our hosts Mike and Mel we spent a few days sight seeing, a few nights partying and a few days hung over. Our clinic went excellently with a five hour break in the rain and a turn out of 30 players, despite an Istanbul team representing that day in Lecco at the world championships. After a fun night out after the clinic, we barely moved on Sunday, so postponed our plans to visit the Gallipoli site for a day. We recruited two of the clinic attendees, Ahmed from Egypt and local Deniz to join us for the drive. After a chaotic attempt to book a car with Avis – what a hassle – we finally left Istanbul at 11:30am for what turned out to be a six hour drive to Gallipoli. Deniz, thinking he knew the way, drove us pretty well to Greece before we could convince him to maybe have a look at the GPS and start heading south. However the GPS threw us though a few mountains and perhaps delayed us even more. Thankfully we made it in daylight, catching a museum before closing time, paying our respects at the Lone Pine memorial and spending some time pondering the April 25th Landing at Anzac Cove. It was interesting to hear of the events from a Turkish perspective, their country being invaded by Australians, Kiwis, Brits and Indians and them fighting valiantly to hold off the onslaught- giving their lives with aggressive tactics while their reinforcements were on their way. I will forever think about this conflict from a different point of view. The Turks we met often mentioned Anzac cove and made gestures to show that now Turkish and Australian people have a special bond that has grown from the aftermath of this conflict. As always there were offers for things to do in town over the next few days and unfortunately we had to knock them back this time and get back on the bikes after seven days off. We have been in touch with a bunch of friends travelling after the world championships in Italy, and will now be meeting up with them in Budapest, Hungary this weekend at Sziget Festival. We are riding some big kilometres (120km-150km a day – big for us anyway), in order to catch the final day of the festival on the 17th and see our friends. Unfortunately this means that we will storm through Bulgaria and Serbia enroute, passing a lot of things worth spending time to see. You can’t have it all. After the festival, we have plans to see a lot of Germany and the UK, as well as riding along the Danube for a time.
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