Saturday, November 3, 2012


The air, thick with spring,
tarmac beckoning once more -
to the 'gong we ride.

Tomorrow I will clip in to my new bike (!) and head off on the road again.

Just a day trip this time, without luggage but with many companions. A ride with a difference - to raise money to help those suffering from MS - Multiple Sclerosis. To help fund research, to help find a cure perhaps, to help people do everyday things that we take for granted. Like riding a bike.

To donate to this worthy cause simply click on the link below. Even though the ride is tomorrow, donations are still accepted until the end of November.


And the new bike ?

After much deliberation I decided on a Surly Long Haul Trucker. Basic black with 26" wheels (Schwalbe Marathon Plus 1.75" tyres), trekking bars, half and half pedals (an adventure in itself, learning to ride, or rather to mount and dismount, using these) and of course my old worn in Brooks B67 S.

It's still a work in progress, lacking mud guards and racks but I have begun the gradual pannier makeover with an Ortleib bar bag. And Neil's new bike ? It is scheduled to make an appearance next year...

*text & pics - Gabby

Friday, February 3, 2012

Crazy Guy on a Bike

Trapped between four walls,
I'd rather canvas again -
memory's sweet sting.

Finally, now the Christmas craziness at work is over, and since the rain here in Sydney has been relentless, I've had time to finish putting the gory details of our jaunt across Europe into readable form. Well, I hope, anyway.

If you would like to read more about our bike journey last year either click here or go to the Crazy Guy on a Bike website (there is a link on the right of the page) and search for 'Blame Dervla Murphy' by Gabrielle Massey.

Camping in the Fontainebleau Forest

And while you're there get inspired by all the other excellent journals...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of Bush and Beach

High up in the gums
Kookaburra laughs madly,
Magpie's notes ring clear.

Well, it's been a couple of weeks of culture shock but we've finally become accustomed (or is that enured?) to hearing the Australian accent, to cycling on the left side of the road and to having more than two sets of clothing to wear.

Relaxing at my mother's house in Brisbane's bayside suburbs, we were awoken early every morning by an avian chorus – magpies, butcher birds, kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets, scrub turkeys and top knot pigeons all vying for her attention and for food. 

Kookaburra on mum's front patio

Hungry magpie and butcher birds

At night randy koalas grunt from the tree tops and flying foxes chatter and screech in the trees out back. A couple of large blue tongue lizards roam the back yard. And there's a redback on the toilet seat. Only joking - the redbacks are in the garage.

It's nice to see wild life again.

Our first task once we arrived (after sleeping off the long flight) was to find a replacement bike for Neil. Unfortunately we had to leave Neil's bike behind in Istanbul. It was either that or pay €1000 excess baggage – we flew with Emirates and had to include the bikes in our 30kg luggage allowance. Despite bringing barely any clothing back with us, the bikes (boxed), panniers, camping gear and a few souvenirs had us weighing in at nearly 40kg each, sans carry-on.

At €50 per kilo for excess baggage, we decided it was easier (and cheaper) to replace one bike than our camping gear. So Neil's bike, having had the most problems along the way, lost out. We stripped off the Tubus and Old Man Mountain racks and the Brooks saddle before leaving the bike in a box with a sign 'free to good home'. Hopefully somewhere in Istanbul, someone is now enjoying riding a free mountain bike they found near the airport.

As luck would have it, the second bike shop we visited, on Middle Street in Cleveland (can't remember the name but it was something like RT's Bikes),  had a second hand Trek 520 touring bike for sale – one of the models we had been thinking of upgrading to. Neil snaffled that quick smart. We also got plenty of good advice on where to ride and where to avoid (very handy as Brisbane and Australia in general does not seem to have a good reputation for driver tolerance of cyclists – a couple of cyclist deaths in the first week we were back made us more cautious than usual on the roads).

After a couple of rides around Wellington Point, Cleveland Point and Victoria Point, I was keen to go further afield – to North Stradbroke Island. Or Straddie, as the locals call it. A large island in Moreton Bay, North Stradbroke Island has kilometres of sandy surf beaches - Main Beach on the eastern side is 32km long. After Fraser Island, it is actually the second largest sand island in the world. Point Lookout, on the northeastern corner, is at this time of year a popular place to watch for migrating whales. I hadn't been there since my university days more than 25 years ago and figured it was time to revisit.

We waited for my sister and her family to join us from Sydney, the kids on school holidays. Then we all trooped over one fine Saturday on the water taxi, to join more family already camped at Adder Rock near Point Lookout. They had already seen whales and dolphins off the beach near Adder Rock but we weren't to have the same fortune.

On the water taxi - Neil's bike's first proper outing

Neil, not happy at being on the other side of the camera

Keen to arrive at Straddie

The road from Dunwich (there is only one road) where the water taxi terminates is fairly smooth with a hard shoulder, that we used as a cycle lane, most of the way to Point Lookout. Through bush all the way, it undulates diagonally across the island for close to 20km. A lot of the bush has been regenerated after sand mining. The majority of cars passing us were four wheel drives, festooned with multiple fishing rods, kayaks, surf skis and surf boards. It is possible to drive along Main Beach by four wheel drive, after purchasing a permit. In the centre of the island is Blue Lake National Park, which we didn't visit this time.

However, we did enjoy a lovely refreshing swim in the surf under the warm sun (our previous sea swim was in Donegal last October which was hypothermia inducing rather than refreshing). And had some fun on the sand dunes at Cylinder Beach. Did I mention the Gelati van that comes around to the campsites? Mmmmm.

Toby digging in the sand while Neil and Ethan wait for a wave

Ethan and Sam catching a wave, Toby still digging

Lisha chilling out, Home Beach

Sam surfing the sand at Cylinder Beach

Riley, speed demon

Great view from the top

It's not as easy as it looks on the coke ads

Neil and Riley on the walk back to Cylinder Beach

We'll be back for a longer trip another time, I think.

Meanwhile, we have now decamped to Wagga Wagga via Sydney where we are catching up with Neil's family. And unfortunately the time has come to stop lazing in the sunshine and start heading back to the real world – to the rat race, to start looking for work. Where we will be in several weeks time is anybody's guess...

words - Gabby, photos - mostly Neil

Monday, September 12, 2011

Byzantine wanderings

Evening prayer call
echoes around the meydan,
under full moon's light.

After a night that seemed to contain at least 24 hours, including two very interesting border crossings, we arrived at last in Istanbul last Friday morning. By bus. Yes, we cheated. We only cycled to the Black Sea. From Dublin. And frankly, considering the state of the Bulgarian roads, we're quite glad we caught the bus.

Leaving the bus station at first light we cycled along the shore of the Sea of Marmara until it became the Bosphorus, skirting the oldest parts of Istanbul until we rounded into the Golden Horn and located our pension - right by the old citadel wall. Expecting a navigational nightmare, we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was.

Our first view of the Blue Mosque.

Looking over to the Asian side, along the Sea of Marmara. 

After a bit of rest and recovery (from both the bus trip and our cycle journey), we set out to explore the city. So the last few days have been filled with walking, eating, exploring, drinking tea, drinking coffee, eating, people watching, talking, bargaining and even relaxing. We've not enjoyed the feel of a city so much since Amsterdam or Paris.

The weather has been delightful - blue skies and mid to high twenties every day, the nights balmy. We've even had a full moon. We are staying in the tiny shabby chic Sur Pansiyon, a short walk from everything and if we are here mid-afternoon, our hostess brings up a tray with tea or coffee to our room. Then runs off as quick as she can so we don't try to speak English to her, though we get huge smiles when we try one of our three words of Turkish.

Comic ice-cream vendors, friendly cats, loquacious carpet sellers, smooth Turkish delight, crunchy baklava, spicy meze, interesting old buildings, coffee you can stand a spoon in and the simple fact that ducking out for a kebab can constitute fine dining. We won't forget Istanbul in a hurry. It's been a fine end to our journey.

I'll not badger you with any more details but here's a few photos:

Inside the Topkapi palace.

Outside the audience chamber, Topkapi palace.

Topkapi palace.

Blue Mosque from inside the courtyard.

Courtyard detail, Blue Mosque.

Colonnade roof, Blue Mosque.

Inside the Blue Mosque, beautiful decoration.

Gawking like a yokel, inside the Blue Mosque.

Sultanahmet - the Blue Mosque. It's just so photogenic !

Galata tower, over the Golden Horn.

Basilica cistern, built in the 4th century.

Typical Roman brick vaulting, Basilica cistern.

Inside the Hagia Sophia, showing the mish mash of Islamic and Christian decoration.

One of the stunning mosaics, Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia mosaic.

Cat inspecting carpets in the Grand Bazaar.

Tomorrow we pack up the bikes and the next day, fly out to Brisbane for the next part of our adventure - living in the real world.

words - Gabby, photos - Neil and Gabby

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pedal faster

Men showing bellies
expansive flesh on display
what is up with that?

Having checked our bank balance after a few more than expected hotel and pensiune stays in Romania, we came to the conclusion that in order to reach Istanbul before we completely ran out of money we had two options: pedal faster or eat less.

Naturally we chose the former.

And just as naturally, it wasn't quite that easy...

After leaving our plush hotel room in Drobuta-Turnu Severin last Wednesday we started our push. That day we broke three records – fastest downhill (54km/h), longest distance covered in one day (132km !) and most hello's in one village (in Poiana Mare we must have been greeted by nearly every man, woman and child as we cycled through).

The most common greeting was 'Buna', Romanian for hi, but we also heard hello, hola, salud and even one sawadee (Thai).

It was a long day, made even longer by our search for a quiet camp in the fields. There was no quiet corner anywhere – everyone was out in the fields from long before dawn to long after sunset harvesting then shucking the corn. By hand. Eventually we found a sheltered spot just off the road in a field that had already been harvested.

One more long slow hill, Romania.

The other problem with wild camping is the combination of extremely greasy factor 50 sunscreen, copious quantities of road dust and sweat coupled with a lack of water. So we decided to alternate wild camping with pensiune stays where camp grounds weren't available.

In most villages, the young boys would compete to see who could get close enough to high-five one or both of us. We just hope they washed their hands afterward.

Thursday night we stayed in a hotel overlooking the Danube at Corabia after a measly 113km, enjoying the shower and airconditioning as well as the cooked breakfast the next morning.

By Friday, as we got closer to Bucharest, the villages were increasing in size and showing a little more wealth. The houses had more land around them, with a few flowers - not just used for farming. We still passed flocks of grey and white geese by the road side. Plenty of turkeys and chickens as well, and carts drawn by horse or donkey loaded up with corn cobs. But there were also more Audis and Dacias (the Romanian Renault rip-off) on the roads now. 

Turnu Magarele, Romania.

Common to the rest of the world Romanian drivers, whether of horse and cart or brand new Audi, drive single handed – the other clasping a mobile phone to ear. Or even better, texting. We liked the way oncoming car drivers could simultaneously drive, talk on the phone, honk the horn and wave at us. We just wished they could stay on their side of the road while they did it.

Friday, we started to wilt. Neil's insomnia had been acting up and Iron Guts Gabby ate something that disagreed slightly (ok, it was more like a twenty round punch up than a slight disagreement but you really don't want the gory details). So we stopped at the only hotel for 50km in either direction after cycling only 88km.

Unfortunately it happened to be a four star hotel. With a bath. And wi-fi. And the hugest bed in the world.

Budget ? What budget ??

Friday night we both got worse so decided to stay another night. Slight problem - no more rooms, the hotel was fully booked. So we had to ride on to the next town – more than 60km away.

Naturally this is where we hit the worst stretch of road in Romania. Huge potholes and stomach cramps do not mix well. Travelling extremely slowly, it took us most of the day to cover the 63km we could normally have covered before lunch.

Once in Giurgiu we relaxed for two nights in the comfortable Hotel Sud (slumming it in three star) before heading off on Monday, 280km to go to the Black Sea coast. It seemed so close, an easy three days we thought.

Concrete apartment block next to our hotel, Giurgiu, Romania.

Not quite feeling recovered, we still managed to cover 117km over countryside becoming steadily more hilly. Another long day, another wild camp, another field, another stunning sunset, another wonderfully starry night. For the first time we were starting to look forward to finishing our journey rather than enjoying the journey itself.

Neil cooking dinner at sunset, wild camp near Calarasi, Romania.

Another peaceful sunset.

Dawn over our camp, in a corner of someone's field.

The long grasses are covered in tiny white snails.

The second last day, Tuesday, was the worst. After crossing the Danube by ferry to Silestra, we continued along the south side of the river before farewelling it, our companion of the last couple of thousand kilometres, and heading for the coast. At Silestra we met some new, unwelcome, travelling companions – cobble stones.

Cobble stones are pretty enough to look at and certainly lend an air of historic credibility to a village. But to cycle upon – well, printable words fail me. Between Silestra and Ion Corvin, where we collapsed on Tuesday night (in a bed), a distance of more than 50km, possibly one third of the road was cobbled.

Think of the saying 'cobbled together' and you have a better mental image of the roads we travelled. We didn't even take any photos we were so shook up. And after nearly 5000km of puncture-free cycling, I manged to get a puncture (through kevlar lined tyres) after a really rough section. There were also lots of hills. With cobbles.

Roadside workshop.

The scenery was actually quite nice - large expenses of grape vines, roads lined with walnut trees and a few enormous fields of sunflowers ready for harvest, that would have looked amazing in early summer in full flower.

Our last glimpse of the Danube, east of Silestra.

Interesting pensiune decor, Ion Corvin, Romania.

Wednesday. At last. Our final day on the road. Luckily there were no more energy draining cobbles after Ion Corvin, and after the first 40km even the hills started flattening out as we got closer to the coast. Then the busy roads started and we were among city traffic again.

Roadside picnic table, with accompanying rubbish tip.

Monastery near Adamscli, Romania.

Picnic lunch in the shade of a walnut.

Only 35km to go !

Last leg on a busy highway with no shoulder.

All we wanted to do was to get to the water, maybe have a swim, definitely have an ice-cream, then find a hotel. Naturally it wasn't that easy. Navigating city traffic with a really basic map (no street names) is never fun and at the end of a very tiring three days cycling, Neil made one last heroic effort and finally got us to the water's edge.

Traditional self photo - us by the Black Sea !

Congratulations !

Not to swim, but for an ice-cream. It was enough. 4963km from Dublin and we were finally looking at the Black Sea.

And the water IS almost black in colour. Unlike the Danube which was not blue.

Next stop, Istanbul. By bus.

words and photos by both of us