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Homeward bound

Near the seaplane landing stage at Rose Bay, Sydney

Near the seaplane landing stage at Rose Bay, Sydney

On Wednesday 9 July we flew out of Sydney on the first leg of our journey home. This meant packing up the tandem: cardboard bicycle boxes, padding and cable ties were procured and it took about three hours, but so far John’s dismantling and wrapping method has ensured that the tandem emerges intact after a flight. Packing the other things was easier, although we had accumulated a few extras during our time in Sydney, including jars of Vegemite for Atul and Amanda with whom we are staying in Singapore for a few days (they came to meet us in Vientiane). Tonight we fly to Rome and head up to Umbria for a Taylor family reunion, followed by the annual Kennedy summer week, conveniently being held in Tuscany again this year. At the end of August we should be back in London and starting to look for jobs.

We have had a great time off the bicycle – spending time with the Packman family, sightseeing and meeting up with friends in

Picnic with the Packmans - and a small sample of their bicycle collection!

Picnic with the Packmans – and a few bicycles!

Sydney, diving on the Great Barrier Reef, walking in the rainforest near Cape Tribulation, seeing crocodiles and kingfishers on the Daintree River – but we do miss the cycling. We hired bicycles a couple of times during our trip to Queensland. It was lovely to potter about for a few hours, although I felt a bit wobbly having to deal with steering, gears and brakes as well as pedalling! Here in Singapore we have joined Atul and Amanda for early morning rides alongside Lycra-clad locals and expats, in my case feeling even more jittery on a lightweight borrowed racer than I did on the mountain bikes in Queensland. As well as getting used to cycling on a ‘normal’ bicycle, we shall have to plan some short trips on the tandem when we get back to Europe – partly to stay fit and keep the kilos at bay, but mainly for the pleasure of riding, being part of the landscape and meeting people along the way, those simple things we have enjoyed so much over the last year. There may even be the occasional tale to tell you, until our next long trip.

Taking the tandem for a last spin in the Blue Mountains near Sydney

Taking the tandem for a last spin in the Blue Mountains near Sydney

Some of you have asked what was the most memorable part of this journey. Rather than one place or incident, we think it will be the friendliness of people everywhere, whether they were waving as we cycled by, taking the time to chat, or offering us a bed for a night or three or several weeks, in the case of amazingly hospitable Richard and Rachel in Hanoi! We feel very fortunate to have stayed in so many places with old and new friends, including the generous Warmshowers hosts and people like Neil and Cate, whom we met when we stayed with Joch and Louise near Adelaide and who gave us dinner and a bed on one of our last nights on the road, even though it was a busy evening for them with work and four children to get to school the next day.

Bill and John at the British and Irish Lions match in Sydney

Bill and John at the British and Irish Lions match in Sydney

We shall also remember the enthusiastic support given to us by friends and family before, during and at the end of our journey: those who saw us off in London, those who cycled with us in France, Switzerland and Italy, those who came to meet us in Parma, Croatia, Istanbul, Delhi, Vientiane, Perth and Melbourne, those who welcomed us to Sydney, and everyone following this blog and sending comments and messages.

To all of you: thank you for being part of our journey, thank you for thinking of us, and thank you for making us feel connected, in a way we could not have imagined before we left.

Not ending on a sunset photograph: dawn at Noah Beach, Queensland

Not ending on a sunset photograph: dawn at Noah Beach, Far North Queensland

Welcomed in Sydney

On the ferry

On the ferry from the Royal National Park to the suburb of Cronulla

After 11,300km and 85,000 metres of ascent (and a few flights and train rides) we have reached our destination.  The build up started when we met Ian at a T-junction in the middle of the Royal National Park, an area of lush rainforest and high heathland which led us to a small ferry at the start of the waterside houses. We had our daily coffee then went into battle with the cars in suburban Sydney. We got to Vaucluse, a beautiful suburb on the eastern shoreland – like Hampstead by the water – at sunset and were given an enthusiastic welcome by Bill and the girls and their nanny Katie, who had all put up balloons, bunting and a banner!

Arriving with Ian at the Packman house

Arriving with Ian at the Packman house

At the Harbour Bridge (watched by Ian and Varya's daughter)

At the Harbour Bridge (watched by Ian and Varya’s daughter, who came on her scooter)

The next morning Bill took us on his usual route into work and after 10km of high octane cycling up and down hills through the Saturday traffic (rather a shock after so many days on rural roads and the comparatively quiet Prince’s Highway) we were at Circular Quay, by the Opera House looking towards the Harbour Bridge, a stunning setting for our journey’s end. We were joined by Nick, my friend from university who now lives in Sydney with his family; Ian, fresh after our long ride the previous day despite getting a puncture on the Harbour Bridge on his way home, who came with Varya and their children; a friend of John’s from university, Yvonne, and her daughter; Mike, one of John’s old colleagues; and Steve and Liz, the friends we met in Halong Bay in Vietnam in January. It’s surprising how many people we seem to know in Sydney and after our very enjoyable arrival lunch we already have social engagements to look forward to as well as sightseeing!

With the Sydney Opera House as a backdrop

With the Sydney Opera House as a backdrop

When Fiona returned from Beijing we ended our day of celebrations with a glass of champagne. We remembered how, nearly two years ago, when Bill and Fiona and the girls were about to leave London for Australia and John and I were first thinking of a journey on the tandem, the idea of Sydney as a destination took hold. It seems extraordinary to be here at last.

Over the next few days we shall try to adjust to a non-cycling life and write a final post to share with you as we close this volume of tales from the tandem.

Champagne under the welcome banner with Fiona and Bill

Champagne under the welcome banner with Fiona and Bill

Old friends, new friends: Australian hospitality

On the Old Prince's Highway, NSW

On the Old Prince’s Highway, NSW

Heading north towards the sun

Heading north towards the sun

Thursday 6th June: Sydney is one day away! We are happy to be reaching our destination but also daunted at the prospect of no longer being ‘on the road’. We have had a great ride along the coast in Victoria and New South Wales, sometimes by the sea, sometimes through dense forests of eucalyptus and lush pastures.  The friendliness of Australians has delighted us every day, whether it is drivers stopping to check we are ok when we’ve paused to look at the map, or the offers of coffee or even a bed for the night.  We are reminded of the legendary Georgian welcome – and grateful that it does not involve vodka!

The Warmshowers website has been an amazing source of hospitality.  It is an extraordinary feeling to

A top tip from David: the showercap over the helmet trick!

A top tip from David for rainy days: the showercap over the helmet trick!

cycle towards a place where people you have never met will welcome you into their home and give you a bed and dinner. This is how we came to spend very enjoyable evenings with David and Deb, keen travellers to Europe and David a veteran of two Paris-Brest-Paris races (he is made of sterner stuff than us!); Gez and Jen, who hosted us on their 17th wedding anniversary, the night before an early morning radio broadcast and a golf tournament respectively; and Maggie and Paul, who welcomed us and a cycling couple from Korea as well as two Spanish women travelling around Australia by car whom Maggie happened to have met that day.At Paul and Maggie's

In Metung (Victoria) we stayed with Bev and Vic, who had invited us to visit when we met them in

Bev and John on the lake near Metung (John suitably nautical in his gift Guernsey)

Bev and John on the lake near Metung (John suitably nautical in his new Guernsey)

Rajasthan in December.  They spoiled us with good food, chats by the wood burning stove and a boat trip with a dolphin sighting, then sent us off with warm jumpers, a flask of coffee and a stash of ANZAC biscuits – highly calorific and long lasting, they were supplied to Australian soldiers in World War One and will have to be banned from our diet when we stop cycling!  We also stayed with old friends Tim and Lisa, who recently returned to Australia after living in Africa and have a house overlooking a lake where Tim can land his seaplane.  He took us on a flight over the coast we had just cycled up and it was even more beautiful from the air.  We spent a wonderful few days birdwatching with the children, eating local oysters and catching up – with the added bonus of a visit from Atul, whom we had last seen in March when he and Amanda came to meet us in Vientiane (Laos).

Tim's shed: built on an Australian scale!

Tim’s shed: built on an Australian scale!

The view from Tim and Lisa's house - the seaplane has just landed

Looking down at the lake from Tim and Lisa’s house – the seaplane has just landed

Tomorrow our friend Ian is going to meet us in the Royal National Park and cycle with us into Sydney.  We have a couple of steep hills and a ferry crossing before we reach the Packmans, then on Saturday morning we will cycle with Bill (P) to the Opera House to end our journey with a celebratory photo and lunch.

Still smiling! (on the beach at Mollymook on our 13th wedding anniversary)

Still smiling! (on the beach at Mollymook on our 13th wedding anniversary)

The coast from Tim's seaplane

The coast from Tim’s seaplane

Australian autumn

May mushroom (Australia)5pm on a Thursday in May. John and I are holed up in a cabin in a caravan park in Korumburra, a small town in Victoria. The heating is on and we are wearing wool long johns and drinking tea as rain falls on the flat roof. Damp clothes are hanging from every hook and we are gradually warming up after a wet and windy day cycling along the South Gippsland Highway – not our original plan, but the ferry to Phillip Island was cancelled because of the bad weather. We wore our waterproof trousers for the first time Sri Lanka and must have been looking quite bedraggled as we had sympathetic comments from people along the way (of the ‘you chose a good day for a bike ride’ variety); some even asked kindly whether we had somewhere to stay. Just days ago we were putting on sun cream and wearing sunglasses as we cycled by the sea.

Great Ocean Road

Marked as a town on the map, but clearly no longer serving coffee

Marked as a town on the map, but clearly no longer serving coffee

So many contrasts in the last few weeks: long stretches of empty road through pine plantations; beautiful limestone formations on the Great Ocean Road, constantly being eroded by the sea (part of one called London Bridge collapsed a few years ago so it is now sometimes known as London Arch); huge areas of pastureland, with glossy well-fed cattle, reminiscent of an English landscape until you see a kangaroo or an emuEmu at Tower Hill; a quiet, out-of-season atmosphere in most places, except one weekend when the Mount Gambier jazz festival meant even a campsite 30km away was busy: we fell asleep and had breakfast the next morning to the impressively professional sound of student bands rehearsing in the camp kitchen. Muesli and ‘Blue Moon’ – a good way to start the day!

Melbourne in the autumn, from Simone and Lindsay's apartment

Melbourne in the autumn, from Simone and Lindsay’s apartment

After the countryside and the coast, we had a blast of city life in Melbourne, where we were spoiled by generous friends. We were hosted by Simone, a friend from Strasbourg days, and her husband Lindsay, who introduced us to the delights of the city centre, gastronomic and cultural of course but also possums in the park! The Packman family – Bill, Fiona, our goddaughters Phoebe and Esme and their sister Jolie – flew across from Sydney for the weekend and whisked us up the tallest tower,

The Packmans pause for a photo

The Packmans pause for a photo

along the river on a boat trip to the port (the busiest in the southern hemisphere), and round the city on trams; we stopped to watch street performers, eat, and hear about work, school and life in Australia. Another friend, Brett, took time off work to give us an insider’s tour around the city and along the bay, where kite surfers skimmed across the water. And after being waved off by Simone as we started on the last push towards Sydney, we stopped for one more coffee, this time with Anna, an English traveller we met on the Indian Pacific a few weeks ago.

Tea at sunrise on the beach at Anglesea (Great Ocean Road)

Tea at sunrise on the beach at Anglesea (Great Ocean Road)

Autumn really has arrived here: in Melbourne the London plane trees were turning and in the countryside the mornings are cool and there are mushrooms in the woods. All wonderful, the only thing is that I keep forgetting it’s May, not October, which means we are close to the end of our year of travelling. We have now cycled over 10,000km, had three punctures (one in France, one in Italy and one in Western Australia – not a bad tally!), and tried swopping positions once. This experiment was conducted one afternoon in an empty carpark in a small town:

Anglesea: tea yes but no morning swim...

Anglesea: tea yes but no morning swim…

unfortunately the combined weight of John and the luggage on the back was too much for me and I lost control within seconds. John had automatically clipped into the pedals so went over with the tandem and grazed his shin; I was a most unworthy ‘captain’, jumping clear immediately and taking a photograph, while we were both still laughing. If we try again, it will be without any luggage and perhaps some body armour for the brave person on the back…

'Do you ever change positions?' Pete asked the other day.  Here is the answer!

‘Do you ever change positions?’ Pete asked the other day. Here is the answer!

Wines and wilderness

Another kangaroo - this time among the vines

Another kangaroo – this time among the vines

Joch and Battle of Bosworth barrels

Joch and Battle of Bosworth barrels

After a couple of days pottering around Adelaide, we set off on ANZAC day, a public holiday marked by dawn services at war memorials. Some of the streets in Adelaide were closed for processions; we heard pipe bands and saw people wearing medals, their own or those of relatives, a reminder of all those soldiers, nurses and others who went to war so far away. We cycled south to McLaren Vale where we stayed at the Battle of Bosworth vineyard, run by Joch (Bosworth) and Louise, who John knew from university. Joch gave us a fascinating tour of the vines, which are grown organically, and the winemaking, all of which looks beautiful but sounds like hard work. We tasted wines from the barrels (mostly French oak) at an early stage of the process and then tried the delicious final versions – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, ‘Puritan’ Shiraz – from bottles at the cellar door; Louise told us which ones we can buy in England, as unfortunately we couldn’t take a case on the tandem! It was hard to tear ourselves away from the beguiling life among the vines between the hills and the sea, where Joch and Louise made us feel so welcome, but we have a date with the Packman family in Melbourne 975km away so we need to keep pedalling.

Rainbow over the CoorongEchidna (South Australia)We are now in Robe, a small town by the sea, after cycling and camping along the Coorong, a 145km stretch of lagoons, salt pans and dunes, where we saw pelicans, emus, kangaroos, a wombat, an echidna (like a large hedgehog that has been telling lies, so its nose is Pinocchio-long) and hardly any people. The wind was not always behind us, which made it tough going at times, but we were cheered on our way by waves from drivers; at one point when we stopped to look at the sea and fortify ourselves with peanut butter sandwiches (white bread too – the full experience) we were offered a cup of tea by Kim and Kevin, who have been on the road with their caravan since 2002! They occasionally stop to do some house-sitting but otherwise are real nomads and clearly love their free, outdoor life. John and I agreed afterwards that although the wide open spaces are wonderful, we couldn’t do the same: how would we manage without family, friends, gardening?! And, as John has just pointed out, there is also the impracticality of fitting a lathe into a caravan.

Kim and Kevin and caravan, and the tandem

Kim and Kevin and caravan, and the tandem

Peanut butter sandwiches by the sea - the perfect elevenses

Peanut butter sandwiches by the sea – the perfect elevenses

Full water bag to get us through a day and a night of camping

Full water bag to get us through a day and a night of camping

The West Beach at Robe this morning

The West Beach at Robe this morning

First impressions of Australia

Kangaroos - not unexpected but still surprising!

Kangaroos – not unexpected but still surprising!

Photo session (Margaret River)Before we arrived in Australia, I wondered whether we would still feel what the French call ‘depaysement’, that enjoyable sense of being away from the familiar. But things were exciting and exotic from the start. We spent Easter at a seminary near Perth as guests of the Rector, an old friend of John’s family, known to some of you as Father Kevin, the priest who married us in Italy 13 years ago; kangaroos grazed close to the house where we stayed near Margaret River with John’s parents: we watched them in amazement every morning, while cockatoos and parrots squawked in the trees and wrens shook their blue feathers in a birdbath; we walked along the spectacular coast, swam and surfed in the Indian Ocean, the surfing after a few lessons with Crystal, who wore two wetsuits to fend off the cold as she coached for hour after hour, managing to get young beginners standing up and surfing waves within a few minutes, the rusty and ungainly British cyclists after a bit longer!

With Kevin at the seminary

With Kevin at the seminary

Breakfast at the seminary after the Easter vigil

Breakfast after the Easter vigil

The extraordinary scale of this country started to sink in when we got back on the bicycle after 10 days spent with Virginia and Paul enjoying the scenery, amazing local wines and food: we cycled through forests of huge karri trees, a kind of eucalyptus which can reach 60m; there was a 70km stretch of road with nothing except forest and the odd car – no houses, no shops, no cafe, no people to greet – a very different experience from cycling in Asia; and one night in a campsite we met some ‘grey nomads’, Ivan and Josie, a retired couple who had been on the road with a caravan for 20 months and had covered 39,000km – just in Australia! They were friendly and generous, like many of the people we have met here: they let us cook our steaks in their frying pan and invited us to have tea by their fire – the campsite had run out of firewood, we draw the line at carrying wood on the tandem and our camping stove was too small to cope with the Australian-sized T-bones John had bought from a local butcher, assuming that barbecuing would be possible. Earlier that day, the caretaker at the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse had seen us arrive on the tandem and, a keen cyclist himself and, it turned out, a member of the legendary Warm Showers website for touring cyclists, he kindly bought us coffees and showed us around. Paul lives in one of the old keepers’ cottages by the lighthouse, which is still working, at the point where the Indian and Southern oceans meet; if you were to sail due south you would hit Antarctica.

John and Paul, guide and caretaker, at Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

John and Paul, guide and caretaker, at Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

John climbing the Gloucester Tree, used to spot fires until planes took over

John climbing the Gloucester Tree, a fire lookout on a karri

The Indian Pacific at Cook, Nullarbor PlainAustralia’s vastness is yet again on show as I write: we are crossing the Nullarbor Plain on the Indian Pacific train, on a two day journey from Perth to Adelaide. For hundreds of miles there have been no trees (hence the name Nullarbor) and no sign of life, except at an eerie place called Cook, where the train stopped briefly and everyone got out to walk along the empty high street. Only five people now live there (we didn’t see them); there were a few trees and lots of flies. It was here we were able to see the full length of the train: 27 carriages, about 20 cars on a two-storey transporter, and at least one carriage just for luggage, including the tandem. We could see now why the train staff had been so relaxed about taking it!On the road in Western AustraliaReady to surf, Yallingup (C)

Mad dogs in Cambodia

Sugar cane juicing

Sugar cane juicing

Don’t worry, we haven’t had any canine trouble: Cambodian dogs take a sensibly nonchalant approach to life, not quite sleeping in hammocks like their masters but almost.  No, I am thinking of us pedalling in the heat, with the line from the song – ‘mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ – trotting through our heads.  Even off the bicycle, walking around Phnom Penh or in the hills by the coast, the sweat factor has been high.  It’s no wonder Cambodians get up early, go to work and school early, and build houses on stilts so they can retreat to the shade in the middle of the day.

Sugar cane juice, lime, ice - perfect fuel in the heat!

Sugar cane juice, lime, ice – perfect fuel in the heat!

As we crossed the border from Thailand, we were struck by the poverty here.  The roads are rougher, the villages dusty and the cows skeletal.  We saw ox-drawn carts, makeshift camps by the side of the road, and slash and burn agriculture encroaching on the forests.  Not everyone is poor, of course: there are lots of new 4x4s, especially in Phnom Penh, many driven at murderous speed, even when the road is full of schoolchildren on bicycles.

Some of it is good news...

Some of it is good news…

Schoolchildren in Cambodia

It was extraordinary to marvel one day at the splendour of Angkor and despair the next as we visited the ‘killing fields’ outside Phnom Penh; it seems miraculous that the country has survived at all, given what happened under the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s and the subsequent political wranglings and corruption, which continue today.

Fishing boats in Kampot, CambodiaTalking to expats running guesthouses and shops gave us a sense of some of the good things happening and the joys and frustrations of life in Cambodia.  In Kampot, French chef Jean-Claude took us to see fishing boats coming in at dawn: we watched while he inspected fish, shrimp, crab and squid and decided what to cook that evening.  In a guesthouse by the sea, Marco was having a less enjoyable time: the website said it was a family-run place, with good food and a boat with a captain, but he was alone and frantically trying to mend his water pump.  No water, no electricity, no cook, no family, and no boat captain but the sunsets were amazing and we had a great time – the water and electricity did come back intermittently and Marco doubled up as chef and skipper!

John giving Marco a break  on a trip to islands near Sihanoukville

John giving Marco a break on a trip to islands near Sihanoukville

The coast near Sihanoukville marked the end of our South East Asian leg.  Before flying to Perth we had two more days back in Phnom Penh dismantling the bicycle and trying out street food with Jockel and Natie, new friends from Munich.  We have now cycled more than 8000km or 5000 miles, just over a thousand of them in SE Asia, and done 65km of vertical ascent; we have not changed positions so I still get to see John’s lovely though sometimes damp back; and we haven’t had a puncture since Italy.

Street food sampling in Phnom Penh with Natie and Jockel

In Phnom Penh with Natie and Jockel

Next leg: Australia (some of it).

Rush hour in Phnom Penh

Rush hour in Phnom Penh

Exercising at dawn by the Mekong in Phnom Penh

People exercising at dawn by the Mekong, Phnom Penh

Sunset at Ream beach