Dan and Claire on Sabbatical!!

Welcome to our blog, we hope you enjoy following our adventures!
We split our sabbatical in 2 parts:
Part 1 was from March to June 2010 touring around in our campervan in France and Spain.
Part 2 started on the 7th of July when we left Scotland to cycle through Europe and the Middle East to Africa in the remaining 6 months (back for Xmas).
Have a look at the route below and we'll try to post pics as much as we can!


Cycle Route to Africa

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28 Oct 2010

Aleppo to Amman (Jordan)

Syria and Jordan have been truly amazing cycling destinations! From Aleppo we cycled southwards
to the Dead Cities. It's an area full of ruins of Roman and Byzantine cities and villages, sometimes whole cities are still there and sometimes a new village has used the ruins as there vegetable garden!They don't know why exactly they were abandoned, which gives the ruins an extra mystical atmosphere. We slept in one of the smaller ruins, in the middle of what once was a nobleman's huge  house. The local kids from the village over ran our campsite...so interested in these weird people on bikes camping in their playground.
We met an english teacher Mona and her family, who took us to their home and it was very interesting to have a proper conversation with a syrian family. The country seemed a lot more free than we expected, there is a mix of people in the streets from unveiled to fully covered faces and everybody is tolerant towards others. Especially to us and all foreigners, a lot of "Welcome to Syria" and "Do you need anything?". When we mentioned Scotland a lot of them said 'good scotch' and some petrol stations had a liquor store, while we thought there would be no alcohol! A lot of women we met were working and spoke more freely to us than in rural Turkey (where they stood behind their husbands and stayed inside all day). And most surprising was that Dan got chatted up by boys in the Aleppo souq! One of them told his friend in english: "he's gorgeous and he's straight, but not for long"! Hilarious!! This is starting to become a running theme...
But when you get the chance to discuss the situation with people you realise that there are a lot of bad things. Phones get tapped and people get imprisoned without trial. Good education is very expensive and only a few lucky ones can go to a good university. Earning a living is difficult and houses are expensive, a lot of people are poor. Many people we spoke to would go to a different country to study/work if they could...things are getting better, it seems? But all that aside, the country feels very peacefull, it's very safe and all the people are very frinedly and super hospitable.
We visited the ruins of Apamea and camped in the middle of it, seeing the sun rise behind those huge columns was very special.
To get to Damascus we had a few hard days through bare dry mountainous desert landscape, but then we had 3 days at Janwillem and Ingrid's wonderful new home. We enjoyed playing with the kids and being spoilt by Ingrid's cooking and did a bit of sightseeing in the city. We'll definitely go back to Syria and Damascus!
It was hard getting back on the bikes, Damascus had been one of our main destinations and a major milestone of our trip. But we soon got back into it and crossed the border to Jordan. We pushed a bit too far...well stopped for fried chicken! and had to cycle in the dark. Turns our there are a lot of massive mansions near the border, which makes for difficults finding a camping spot. Worked out in the end after a stone throwing 10 minutes...at wild dogs.
The countryside is more beautiful than Syria, with rolling hills and olive groves, red mountains and deep gorges (which are crap for cycling out of!). It is more modern and you see more richness around you (Giant Hummer SUVs everywhere). The people are very friendly and hospitable like in Syria, but it doesn't have this strangely peaceful feeling that Syria had.
We visited the ruins of Jerash, a roman colony. A beautiful complex with a big oval square and views of the mountains.
We're in Amman now where we're enjoying the more modern side of the city. So lots of cappucino's and a great dinner last night in a french restaurant to celebrate our 6400 km.
Tomorrow we leave to go float in the Dead Sea, cycle up the mountains to see Petra and camp in Wadi Rum. Jordan is great!


13 Oct 2010

Syria!!! We managed to get in the country, but we can't write anything in the blog box below...

A little nervous we cycled the last 8 kilometers to the Syrian border. We spent the night at Ahmet’s house in Reyhanli and were clean and well fed, so ready for a possible disappointment. After 4 border stops on the Turkish side (passports, customs, and registration number of the bike haha) there is 2 km of no men’s land: a road in the steaming heat with high hills on both sides and outlook posts on top. Then we saw the Syrian flag and the start of the border and we both got a bit quiet. There was a big queue of cars and mini-vans in front of the border and we went in line. And then we saw that the big building on the left said “passports and immigration”. They had a big sign saying: people with visa from the embassy please show it to the officer for a stamp, people without visa please get one at the duty officer. So after some waiting, paying at the bank, walking backwards and forwards with papers with stamps etc we got our Syrian visa and were ready to go! Almost an anti-climax after a month of worrying if we could get in J.

We’re in Aleppo now and the first impressions of Syria are wonderful. The people are as friendly and hospitable as in Turkey (we had many cay and coffee stops on our first 50 km of cycling), they have amazing coffee machines everywhere and the landscape has a very different feel about it with deep red earth. Aleppo is full of little alleyways with beautiful old houses with courtyards (we’re staying in one of them), churches and mosques and you can see the citadel high on a hill.

We’ve not written much about our last 10 days in Turkey though. So we’re sure you’re wondering about the pervert? They weren’t the nice American couple that we met when we were about to have lunch in a field...but some weirdo and his wife who stopped us at the roadside. He was really overly friendly and insisted that we take his photo, in Turkish. You could just tell he was up to something, so we politely gestured that we must go! After trying to stop us a few times we eventually stopped, we thought they were just really eager to practice their English. Anyway, within seconds of stopping the guy pointed at Claire and me, then him and his wife and said ‘sex party?’. We were in shock! Did he just say sexparty??? He did! Now who in their right mind would want to have sex with two cyclists who obviously hadn’t washed for days? We politely declined, as Claire didn’t like his teeth and she had bad shoes :o). That’s a joke....We weren’t really very polite and they seemed to get the message!

Anyway, the cycling from Aksaray to Adana was totally amazing, some of the best we’ve had. We cycled through the valley of Ihlara (Cappadocia) with its ancient rock churches and dwellings in a beautiful gorge. We had a bath in a thermal spring and met so many nice people!!! The route we took went straight though the mountains and we had such cold nights with frost on the tent. One night we even slept in our down jackets! We crossed 2 passes over 1700m and were chased by dogs a few times...all exciting stuff :o)

Have a look at the photo link above to follow the days or click this http://www.flickr.com/photos/40131711@N05/

Take care

Claire and Dan


7 Oct 2010

Mini blog...We're in Adana, Southern Turkey

Uttcha, its been good! We've cycled though some amazing landscapes, met some lovely people and a pervent on scooter (with his wife!); crossed a large set of mountains with several passes up to 1800m, even had frost on our tent one night and been chased by huge dogs!

But these stories will have until our next rest day; which, fingers crossed, will be in Syria! We're going to cycle to the border and see if we can get visa there.

Take care
Dan and Claire

ps we're in a lovely hotel...so have been enjoying it too much to sit down and write lots :O)

pps. Didn't leave the hotel, it was raining!

1 Oct 2010

In the newspaper!!

A quick note to let you know that we are in the Press and Journal (scottisch newspaper) today!!

They shortened our story a bit, this is what we wanted to say about the overwhelming kindness:
"so much has happened over the journey from Scotland to central Turkey that it’s hard to pinpoint a few notable highlights...there’s just so many. But the most overwhelming feeling is humbleness at the kindness and hospitality of others towards us. There is a saying in this part of the world “If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart” and the people we’ve met on this journey truly know how to give of their heart. There is hardly a day that goes by without someone either offering a simple tea or as much as a full meal or even a bed for the night. The kindness of humanity really never ceases to amaze us; you just have to open yourself up to it. We’re fairly vulnerable on bikes, camping in farmers fields or on some desert plain or hiding from the blistering sun. People see this vulnerability and offer to help you. This human kindness and openness to strangers really increases the further east we travel, also we think it’s a change in us too. We’re becoming even more open towards others and much more inclined to always say ‘yes!"

We also put all the photo's of the last weeks on Flickr so have a look:

On to Syria now.
Love C&D