Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse Culture Shock

The first half of May I spent in Bishkek where among other things I was to be a guest speaker at various places including universities and a private language school. Now I know many of you would take this sort of thing in your stride but for me, despite jumping at the opportunity, it was something of a challenge. I am not a teacher or lecturer, I have never been much of a public speaker and, despite having done some acting, I suffer from stage fright. For these reasons I requested an informal setting and asked that the stress be on question and answer sessions. Armed with some photos, a guitar, my book and a vague plan I embarked upon my ‘college tour’. Each venue was different, some had taken my request more seriously than others but the atmosphere was mostly relaxed. I began most sessions with a short series of photos, then went on to talked about my book and ended with one of my own songs. In between a fair amount of improvisations was called for depending on the group. On the whole though there was plenty of room for dialogue. For three of the most frequently asked questions I had no answer: read more

Ostrich Time

Ostrich Time

It is a widely held belief that when confronted by unpleasantness or danger ostriches bury their head in the sand hoping that the danger will pass. Although this is a myth the concept has past into our languages. The Dutch have named the activity of avoiding inconvenient or unpleasant issues after this large flightless bird: The Ostrich Policy (Struisvogelpolitiek ). In English we talk of ‘ burying our head in the sand’ in order to avoid uncomfortable facts. read more

Aerodrome

Aerodrome

When I was a boy I used to cycle from my house to Croydon Aerodrome. Not a great distance for an adult but quite a ride for a small boy. There we used to watch the planes landing and taking off. Croydon Aerodrome was once THE airport for London and England. The rich and the famous; politicians, film stars, opera singers, athletes and royalty would pass through the airport lounge. It was a glamorous, bustling, glittering place….. a long time ago. read more

Running on Empty

Running on Empty

It’s ten o’clock the clouds are still hanging low over the valley. I set off on my racing bike.

Two kilometres alongside the river, back to the village. Through the small market place.

This is where the climb starts. The plan: a 32km continuous uphill ride with two mountain passes, and ending at a ski resort. Yvonne, travelling by car, will meet me and we will either have lunch on a terrace with a good view, or a picnic somewhere on the mountain side, before I ride back to our campsite. read more

Breb

Breb

According to the guide books Maramuras is the region where you will find the most authentic Romanian culture. A region where time has stood still. Judging by the church clocks in the area this seems to be the literal truth.

If you happen to be driving on the road from Budesti to Ocna, possibly on the way to Sighetu, you may by chance look down into the valley. An elegant double church spire and one or two rooftops betray the fact that there is some sort of settlement hidden beneath the trees. There is no signpost. However, if you want to investigate, a roughly hand painted board will point you towards the only road down into the village. This narrow paved road, with relatively few potholes, will take you to the middle of Breb where at a seemingly random point it will fade into a series of equally narrow, sometimes steep stone and dirt roads leading in all directions. read more

Dangerous Roads

Dangerous Roads

It’s never good to boast or brag about ones achievements. Nonetheless I couldn’t resist a little bit of boastfulness recently. It came about like this: on returning from our trip to Georgia I was looking for details of one of the stages we had cycled, the route over the 2620m Zagari Pass to the highest inhabited village in Europe. I found all the information I needed on www.dangerousroads.org a site for 4wd enthusiasts as well as this comment: “ Any driver attempting this route should have supreme confidence in their vehicle and their driving skills”. As it happened  this same mountain track was featured in a TV programme ‘The Worlds Most Dangerous Roads’ a few days later. This was my chance to impress my more car orientated family and friends . Most of them, I fear, would prefer to have bicycles banned from the roads altogether. They find it more an eccentricity than an achievement or adventure that I spend my summers cycling up and down mountains in obscure countries. read more

Sarajevo

Sarajevo

No – it was not love at first sight! How could it be when even the city’s own publicity says the best things about it are the surroundings and the inhabitants? The city itself is, indeed, not specially attractive. There is an unremarkable river and not much noteworthy architecture. Many buildings are scarred, damaged, neglected and decorated with graffiti. Of course it does have its good points, like Bascarsija, the historical and cultural centre of the old city. A network of small streets, formerly a bazaar. Too many tourists and far too many souvenir shops for my taste. On the other hand it has a multitude of busy, attractive street cafés and restaurants. Ideal places to do what Bosnians everywhere like doing best: meeting friends, drinking coffee, chatting and watching the world go by. read more