Hokkaido

The End of the World  • 
The first sign of Autumn as visible in the 1000m climb up to Lake Towada in the centre of North Japan. Due to the countries visited and the sheer time of outdoor exposure, for a long time I've felt in a relentless Summer and the change in the season felt like an internal landmark as much an external...

Girl Bars and Long-lost Islands

Sapporo  • 
I probed him over some of the more complex and sensitive topics within Japanese society.The Kuril islands, North-East of Hokkaido, were a natural place to start having been shown a few covert protest signs inside the garden of the old government house. These islands were seized by Russia the day the...

Honshu

Hachinohe ferry  • 
The next day we missed a change in our perspective at a renowned zen garden, in favour of visiting our childhood dream - a Samurai Sword Museum in the town of Bijzen. The display had a minimalist elegance: the almost millennium year-old steel blades held on simple stands in a long pure white cabinet...

Kyushu & Shikoku

Kurashiki  • 
The precision and fastidiousness of Japan was perceivable before we had officially entered the country. The staff at customs and containment went as far as disinfecting and cleaning the rims and all the spokes on our wheels, everything was checked for specs of foreign dirt that could not be allowed...

The World's Premier Cycle Route

Busan  • 
The Rising Sun Cycle was never meant to pass through South Korea, and yet it was arguably the best country on tour. The original plan had been to cycle from Beijing down the Chinese seaboard to Shanghai, and from there to Japan. But after a conversation with Woo-Jae, a Korean university friend, we q...

You Got Seoul - NOtes

Seoul  • 
After running the gauntlet of steep narrow elevators, and heavily laden wide-set bikes, we were kindly greeted onto the ferry by the chief steward, a well dressed and effeminate man, who I happily mistook for the captain. That mis-labelling was the happiest of accidents, and we were very quickly up...

Big in Beijing

Beijing  • 
Beijing was our first major global city since Istanbul, or possibly Almaty depending on definition. As the capital of China since the 15th century, Beijing is the nexus between the State and its people, where money and power coagulate. It is also the first stop for almost every (non-cycle) tourist,...

Notes - Korea

Busan  • 
After running the gauntlet of steep narrow elevators, and heavily laden wide-set bikes, we were kindly greeted onto the ferry by the chief steward, a well dressed and effeminate man, who I happily mistook for the captain. That mis-labelling was the happiest of accidents, and we were very quickly upg...

Notes - Beijing and Out

Jiaozhou  • 
Although here as in Beijing, these single-story historic 'hutong' districts were levelled wasteland half the time, making way for the vertical villages that seem the only option with society on this scale. We cycled through seeing old bits of furniture standing resolute amid the acres of rubble. Thi...

Notes - Hitting The Wall

Yanqing  • 
As Inner Mongolia blended into North of Beijing, our experience took on a richer and more flavoured hue. The mealtimes became increasingly flamboyant, hotpots and table-side barbecue's burst the gastronomic tension that had built up through Mongolia. As we fell further south the sleeping bag was she...

Into Inner Mongolia

Ulanqab  • 
The difference over the border was one of separate eras and mentalities between the dusty and decrepit town of Zamiin-Uud in Mongolia and the gleaming Chinese city of Erenhot which was grid-split by 3 lane roads lined and laden with immaculate flower displays. The sand and dust whirled up on the Mon...

Following The Donkey Post

Starry starry night  • 
After Lotus, we had a long and ranging run south out of Mongolia true, then through China's Inner Mongolia, before heading East again to Beijing. Near enough we were creating the route taken by the Mongol and 'barbarian' hordes that washed like waves over a millennium on the northern shore of China....

Lotus in Bloom

Lotus Children’s Centre  • 
(NOTES)In youthful naivety I always imagined a preference for having a son over a daughter, but that was turned on it's head during my stay at Lotus. The center is at the moment 2/3rds girls, I couldn't get to the bottom of whether that is systemic of more female abandonment. The baby girls in the n...

Meeting Mahananda

Ulaanbaatar  • 
A diminutive figure, with black hair pulled tightly over his forehead where delicate details of the workings of cranium and veins were revealed through taut fresh skin. Aging only found in the silver strands tousling in the beard, and the regular release of laughter free from the preoccupations of y...

'UB'een framed

Ulaanbaatar  • 
In the run up to UB, almost every waking minute of 10 days solid was cycling or a related activity to power us across 150km or more each day. When this is the case there is recovery, repair, and rejuvenation to be done on every level, from the outermost of kit, to diet and inner energy levels, but a...

Karaoke and Coffins

Pipe dreams  • 
Bayankhongor has a swelling population of 30,000, putting it amongst Mongolia's largest mega-cities. There was 'high' fashion on the streets, a couple of almost coffee houses, and a full two restaurants to choose from. In these nomadic regions, Karaoke houses often prove the only place to eat out in...

Reflections on Roads

Infinite Fly River  • 
The infinite steppe means that real progress on a bike is to be made only with the favour of the wind gods. A decent tailwind can almost double our cruising speed to over 35 km/h, whilst a head wind can crush it near half. The prevailing wind in this season in Mongolia is south-eastward, the eastwar...

Steppe on

Remote place  • 
The Mongolian border guards differed sharply to the megalith of Chinese bureaucracy. At the Chinese immigration desk we were pulled across into a side interview room, and were confronted by two officers: one young, friendly, even rather hip, the other a middle-aged and rather bull-headed individual....

Escorts and Babysitters

It was only near the border with Mongolia where we experienced any of the more suspicious conduct we had anticipated. We had a ruthless looking man dressed in SWAT uniform come and photograph us at dinner, soon after we were greeted by a friendly police duo who asked if they could escort us onto the...

A People's Paradise?

Kalabulegen  • 
On the civilian side of life, there are a few notables from Xingjiang. The Han Chinese are more playful than the many of the nomad peoples we've encountered: winks, jokes and indecipherable laughter spew forth. Faux celebrity photos are a duty we have to perform more than every hour, although there...

Stop In The Name of Love

Hoxtolgay  • 
Within 90 seconds of entering the border town of Shankou, we had attracted the attention of police and were brought to the station for questioning. The Google Translate - Conversation app is your best friend here, and 10 minutes later we were leaving. They politely asked if they could help us in any...

Enter the Dragon

Storm Drain  • 
The 5KM of neutral borderzone between Kazakhstan and Xingjiang China allowed some dramatic tension to build into this remote border crossing. The monumental and futuro-fort 'welcoming' archway was the first statement of intent; second was the razor wire along the border fence: there was one bale run...

Out of the 'stans

Dostyk  • 
The Chinese border crossing the next day gave us a firm reminder in patient persistence and right attitude. We had arrived there at 2.45pm Kazakh time, and were first told by the two grunts on the border fence that we had to take the daily bus tomorrow at noon, and that we had to post the bikes acro...

Thunder and Lightning - Very Very Frightening

Under Bridge  • 
The couple of days to lake were finally tests of our cycling rather than our prowess as bike mechanics. We were wrapped up in a thunder and sandstorm on the first evening. We arrived to our target dinner stop at the moment of impact, the grit in the wind flooded against the windows aswe holed up ins...

Feeling Deflated

Cafe -plains  • 
After this readjustment to the road, the day was going swimmingly. A fiery Korean lunch, was digested with a dip into a desert oasis. It was only then that theme for the next new days burst forth. The punctures tapped in with a quick 'clink, clink, clink'. With a single glance I discovered the culpr...

Almaty notes - drafting

Almaty  • 
From Almaty notes;Almaty as one of the most beautiful city for 500,000 reasons, could be prolonged sensory deprivation, but outstanding natural and artificial beauty. A blend of Russian Central Asian genes.Meeting Mattijs and bowler coffee, in coffee tasting in snazz location and reinvention of the...

Tunnel Vision

Bishkek  • 
The final climb before Almaty was most remarkable for quite how easily we dismissed it. This was more than a vertical km climbed again up to an altitude above 3000m, but after a day's rest at the nomad games it passed like a breeze, my History of the Silk Roads audiobook and the East India Company's...

A Very Kyrgz Affair

Turcan Camp  • 
After a celebratory bottle of cognac and double portion of Lagman (nomadic noodle soup), it was impossible to look past the next challenge: the final climb before Almaty, shorter than this one in length but again reaching above 300m. We would sleep at its base, and give it our best the next day. Bec...

The Hill

Toktogul  • 
The climb up and out from Lake Toktogul will I think prove to be the longest and highest of the whole cycle, right from Ireland to Japan. The reservoir is at 900m and whilst the mountain pass peaked at 3400m, 2500m of uninterrupted climbing over a total distance of 60km. To put that in perspective,...

One Good Day

Toktogul Lake  • 
The border was a busy trading hub, a green river of watermelons seemed to roll down the hill in a bustling trade, as traders from the silk bazaar gawped and greeted our weary progress. At every other border a horde of money exchangers have been spitting rates into our faces, here there were none. Af...

Jessica Christ Superstar

Asaka  • 
A slow burning day across the fertile Fergana plain followed, the conditions were roasting where the wind rushing past heated us like a convection oven. Jessica Jackson, a friend of Rob's Auntie, had stayed for one year aged 19 with a well-to-do local family as part of a cultural exchange, we were n...

Fruits of Fergana

Goya Goli  • 
The next leg of the trip was entered with some misplaced trepidation. We were to traverse the luscious but infamous Fergana valley, a border peninsula of Uzbekistan carved into Kyrgzstan. Fergana had seen recent war and border clashes, it has also been a hotbed of the fiery and militant brand of Wah...

Hooking A Host

Khujand  • 
By this stage in the journey as serial vagrants, we've developed a bit of a formula and an art for giving oneself the best chance of sleeping somewhere safe and made of something more sturdy than canvas. In a way it is reminiscent of a keen uni student before a night out hoping to end the evening in...

A Long Held Dream

Mountain base  • 
Tajikistan broke with expectations. This was a country where 6 years ago, at an even more ignorant age, I had been planning to enter into the roof-of-the-world rally. After an overland adventure, second-hand ambulances and service vehicles were to be delivered as a much needed gift to the authoritie...

Timur of Samarkand and Laziz of Bournemouth

Samarkand  • 
Second to Ghengis Khan, Timur was the greatest uniting figure for central asian nomadic tribes. In Europe, he was known as Tamerlane - he was made lame by two battle injuries from his youth. Samarkand and Bukhara were the twin crowning jewels of the Timurid empire. However, Samarkand is more truly T...

Bukhara

Bukhara  • 
In treating ourselves to the best post-desert lunch Bukhara had to offer, we found some much-missed company to match. We started talking to Natalie and Jerry (?), a couple from Utah who had spent the last 8 years in Moscow as Microsoft employees. They had a lot to say about political relations in Ru...

Shot for Desert-ion

Desert  • 
The desert had saved it's worst for last in the leg between Beyruni and Bukhara, a 300 km stint in the sand that evaporated morale and bodily fluid equally quickly. June had progressed and we were now almost a 1000 km further South than when the deserts had started, and so the afternoons would be pe...

Revelling in Nukus

Beruni  • 
In the town outside Nukus, we thought we had found relief from our gastronomic nightmare in what appeared to be a glamorous temple to food. In the full glory and grime of a day's desert cycling, we pulled up outside an asked if any food was possible. We were vigorously repulsed by waiters and other...

Just Deserts

Desert  • 
The desert plains in Kazakhstan saw the rate of car horns increased from about a third of passing vehicles to more like 4/5ths, the eager encouragement of drivers equaling our growing dismay and subsequent attempts at mindfulness on the matter.However, the most distinctive sound was the camels burst...

Camel's Humps

Beyneu  • 
The lands between Aktau and the Uzbek border are some of the sparsest on our trip, there are stretches of road more than 150 km without anywhere to fill up on water, whilst the midday heat is now peaking at sauna dry heat of 37 degrees. The sun-parched camel remains littering the road side are a tes...

Self Aktau-lisation

Aktau  • 
The expectedly 'boring' birthday on a boat was spiced a little by the 80 km night ride with Steve from the desert port on the Kazakh side to the nearest city of Aktau. The border officialdom had reined differently on different travelers. We cyclists were first off the line, later to be overtaken by...

Caspian Cruises

Kuryk  • 
If there was ever a lottery in life it is the Baku-Aktau ferry crossing. Boats can depart on consecutive days or more than a week apart. The catch is that there is no schedule, you need to be present at the middle-of-nowhere port on the lucky evening before to buy a ticket. Steve, the banker on the...

Azer-bye-drone

Baku  • 
After the crowning glory of Tblisi, the remainder of Georgia echoed rather meekly out until the border with Azerbaijan at Lagodekhi. Although we did encounter the most fearsome off-road section of the trip so far on the cliffs beneath the ancient town of Signaghi, where the cycle-nav had assured us...

Down the Real River of Georgian Civilization

Tbilisi  • 
The riverside ride down run down the Mtkvari from the mountain valleys holding Chiatura through to the capital of Tblisi was a telling progression through the history and settlement of Georgia. We met again with Asli in Stalin's birthplace of Gori, from there the anthropological tour started with th...

Gondola with the Wind

Gori  • 
Our night-time arrival in Batumi was well-matched to its first flavour, after the partially religious prohibitions of Turkey in Ramadan, the nocturnal vices of sex, drink and gambling greeted us minutes after crossing the border. The neon pointers for casinos, ‘gentlemen’s performances’, and bar sig...

Black Sea Tea

Çamlıhemşin  • 
The next few days cycling blur into a single transit of the dual carriageway coastal road: a dazzling Black Sea to our left, the sun scorching our backs in cloudless sky, and the hourly terror of passing through tunnels cut into the cliffside. As a cyclist, the sound of these tunnels is for me the...

Utter Mudness

Samsun  • 
Leaving Amasya we were heading for the coastal city of Samsun, where Ali, a relative of Asli and a serious adventurer in his on right, was waiting to host us. A drizzle darkened into a downpour and we were presented with a choice: stick on this major road and be hosed by HGVs in a broadside of water...

The Amasyian Way

Amasya  • 
After completing our stint in the area of alpine beauty surrounding Yedi Goller ('Seven Lakes'), Rob now needed to experience the reality of road cycling. We spent three long days on the same road right from Eskipazaar to our rest day in Amasya. Initially we were treated to long flowing descents thr...

Alladin and Alican

Yaylatepe  • 
On two consecutive nights in Ducze and it's eastwards mountains, we had the pleasure of two utterly different but equally hospitable and last minute hosts: Alican and Alladin. Alican was found on Warmshowers and as much as anyone I've met on this journey I felt he was cut from the same cloth and by...

A Partridge in Turkey

Düzce  • 
The heat was bearing down upon us on the road to Ducze, and after some poorly-oiled (not fried) bread the night before our bodies were rather malfunctioning on poor quality fuel. We veered off the highway to find cay and some shade. We asked our host-to-be if he kindly had any cay, this rather threw...

Post Plovdiv implosion

Stara Zagora  • 
On a journey such as this or life, it is perhaps difficult to know when or how to count oneself lucky or ill-placed in the favour of the gods. The 'correct answer' for the power of positivity crowd is that one's automatic repose should be pure gratefulness for the gifts of the past and present, and...

Reeling over Rila

Plovdiv  • 
Rila Monastery was a full two day diversion that seemed worth it, not least to survey the Rilski valley it sits in. The monastery itself has been a cultural powerhouse of Bulgaria for more than a thousand years, acting as a centre of learning, language, literature and art. However, it was UNESCO-ed...

A Turkish bridal path back to the bike

Sofia  • 
A truly treasured week in Turkey, I'd drunk the salty coffee of matrimonial bliss without flinching, as my father's stumbling but valiant attempt at a turkish proposal somehow managed to get the important business of the day done. A greater family bonding session in Bodrum followed, which seemed to...

Serbia to Sofia

Sofia  • 
The monastery's magic dissipated as the valley opened to a wide plain north of the Danube. The day's end was found in Drobeta-Severin, where 'Aslita' gets a 5* treatment at my warmshower host Ionut's 'Bike Hotel and Spa': massage, hydrotherapy and blow dry for her, whilst I refill on strawberry wine...

A Monk's Life

Lainici Monastery  • 
Over the next few days, I planned to climb up through the Cernas valley, and take the mountain pass through the nature reserve to return to the Danube river. I had been assured of my route by none other than the tourist official at Corvin, however Asli threw up some doubts here on whatsapp, I pedale...

Camp Corvin

Hunedoara  • 
The other aspect of Romania that has made it quite so special is not the day's cycling, but the night's sleeping. I've had two more spectacular residences in Romania, both accidental and unplanned, and both steeped in history. The first is here, the second will form the next post.Whilst traversing...

Trans-Transylvania

Hunedoara  • 
A short distance after the Romanian the first horse-drawn cart of my journey crinkled along the road in front of me. I was fast enough to snap a photo as seen, wondrous at the 'depth' of Europe I had proceeded to. I was approaching the underdeveloped 'Mordor' as my last Hungarian host Robert had jok...

'Straight outta Camp-ton'

Harta  • 
(^Pardon the pun)The next day down the Danube brought fresh resolve generally, the Spring seemed to be taking it's first steps as the first cherry trees blossomed lining the route in an occasional dash of surreal red violet up setting the well-worn earthy palette of green and brown. A more specific...

Danube Diaries

Budapest  • 
It's not always easy to convey the practical, physical and emotional realities of long-distance cycle touring to family, friends and loved ones. This was especially true for my life partner Asli, whose experience of cycling doesn't extend much past Amsterdam's canals. As such, we deemed it fit and p...

Rivers and Bear Hunts

District of Bratislava I  • 
The next two of days spanned 4 countries: the castles of Czechia, a brief muscat-scented dip into Austria, the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, and a border river run in and out of Hungary. To leave Austria for Slovakia had to cross the river Morava, after wolfing down a last schnitzel, I headed for...

Czech Out

Lednice  • 
A loping cycle along the Czech-Austrian border took me through Znojmo, and couchsurfing host Marek, who's humility and sharp intelligence was incongruous in an otherwise drab border town.The twin castles of Valtice and Lednice form the pick of this period of pedaling. Held in the Liechenstein family...

Mic Czech

České Budějovice  • 
The Czech adventure came out of the cold a couple of days ago. From the white hills of Warmsteinach, I crossed the border near Cheb, up the Ohre river valley, to the famous 19th century spa town of Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary). The beautiful colonnades that span the city, are punctuated by warm spring wa...

Stag Crashers

Würzburg  • 
My maiden 'Stag-Do' also deserves a mention, especially as I was uninvited, and had never met the groom. Casting around for warmshowers hosts in Wurzburg, I came into contact with David, who explained I was very welcome but to be aware that a bachelor party would be in full swing in the house on arr...

The Main Sauce

Warmensteinach  • 
Having not written for a while, this may be some what of a bumper edition.My path through Germany was in the Main river bound, I followed the Rhine and joined the Main at it's mouth city - Mainz. I then followed this river right up to the snowy source above Bayreuth. By the end of Germany, it felt l...

Carnivalia (Netherlands & Rhineland)

Koblenz  • 
The one afternoon I spent in the isolated Dutch province of Limburg was enough to catch the Dutch carnival in full swing. I assumed the brass bands, tractor-pulled floats, and mass enforced fun was an exceptional lucky timing on my part. 10-12 processions in as many towns and 2 days later, I've seen...

D-Day (Belgium)

Geraardsbergen  • 
2 days rolled into one, and originally planned as such. My host Judith says it was a mad attempt but for a pro cyclist without panniers in Mid-Summer, so partly reassuring...Despite the meticulously labelled bike routes of Belgium, these were some of the tougher days, the neck is starting to cramp f...

Brighton to Playden

Playden  • 
After another warm stay with Laura and Freddie, a much tougher day enfolded than route or weather should have given. So much so that a small bit of encouragement from an equally ragged (and possibly tipsy) ‘Harry’ on the Hastings promenade, hit home fairly deeply: “I hope you make it to where you wa...

Bramdean to Brighton

Brighton  • 
A canopy of blue above, heading to the coast, and light in the heart. Again, please.

Bath to Bramdean

Bramdean  • 
A misty morning start parting from the Mother's nest, and along a complex of canals to Devizes. The Caen Hill Locks in Devizes were the engineering marvel to be savoured, the 29 consecutive locks is the longest series in the UK, they are the brainchild of the Victorian wizard John Rennie, here for m...

Raglan to Bath

Bath  • 
Well-stocked and well-cared for by a biological mother, rather then the one-night adoptives I'e grown accustomed to, I set off homeward bound, lighter in spirit and weight (she'd taken most of my panniers). This proved crucial during a tortuously steep hill section North of Chepstow, of which I'm un...

Llandeilo to Raglan

Raglan  • 
Ceaseless punchy welsh hills left this journeyman gasping, and the desolate landscapes only punctuated by sheep did nothing to dispel stereotypes. The castle tour began in the afternoon with Abergavenny's pictured below - manifestations of the ancient animosity between England and Wales. A rivalry t...

Rosslare to Llandeilo

Llandeilo  • 
A previously cancelled ferry is also late a late delivering one, sparking a time trial fever to attempt to get unfeasibly far down the road as planned.Thankfully, an off route but utterly fascinating Neolithic burial chamber (pictured) cured the fever, and I settled for a new closer night stop with...

Waterford to Rosslare

Rosslare  • 
A scrappy day in mindset and practicality, not helped by cancellation of the evening ferry, all lessened and loosened by the alternative day spa at Kelly’s wrinkly resort in Rosslare.....

Monkstown to Waterford

Waterford  • 
A cross-country morning matched afternoon cycling the 'jewel in the crown of Irish cycling infrastructure': The Waterford Greenway, a narrow-gauge railway track converted for cyclists.Major thanks go to the new hosts and self-professed bike nerds Susie O'Shea and her partner James, long may their t...

Killarney to Monkstown (South of Cork)

Monkstown (South Cork)  • 
A brief poem spouted in the saddle today on yesterday's reflections:.From Dingle to Killarney,A lover left too far behind me,From the sea where Irish fishermen seek to stand,all the way to a stand-in mother's hand,Brimming with barley, head to the wind,Here's to now and the cycle begins.A stunning m...

Dingle to Killarney

Killarney  • 
The wind wrenched away any tears on Asli's or my cheeks at the starting point of Slea Head - the most westerly point of Europe, also a memorable film location for much of the recent Star Wars saga. A moment long-anticipated but short lived in the gale-force winds.A good starting day, and after spec...

Brandon's Journey West

Brandon's Mountain  • 
6th century monks traveling to America and back in traditional currach boats may see the stuff of fantasy, but it was our local myth not far from our cottage before the trip. St. Brandon purportedly spent 40 days and night in fasting and meditation atop a mountain (we visited - pictured), before set...