London to Istanbul – stage one

Greetings from Hanoi!

You may well l ask how the heck did I get from London to Vietnam so quickly? Allow me to explain. After 56 days, 5 hours and 27 minutes in the saddle, 357 litres of water and 124 bowls of pasta I arrived in Istanbul. For those of you interested in statistics, here’s a few for you; I’ve cycled 4,554km crossed eleven countries and it’s taken 70 days including 14 rest days, some of which were leisurely, some more city break. I’m seven kilos lighter, two inches taller and I’ve grown a beard.

To make the trip easy to follow, I’ve invented a terrific system called ‘stages’ to classify each bit of my journey around the world; I’m calling the ride from London to Istanbul stage one. Here’s a few highlights from stage one; I made friends and entertained people in Salzburg, I crossed the Austrian alps in the pouring rain and watched the sunrise at Lake Bled in Slovenia. In Zadar, Croatia, I shared a bed with a young Frenchman named Alan, in Albania I partied with the locals at the Nouvelle Vague and read Byron on the beach, in Greece I met my friend Aphrodite, ignored the crisis, quaffed 12 euro cocktails in a rooftop bar with a view of the Acropolis and camped at Lake Marathon.

While in Greece I met another French guy, the improbably named Kevin, and we cycled together into Istanbul where we spent 12 days visiting mosques, eating corba and drinking inordinate amounts of tea. We even went to a shopping centre (they’re very popular in Turkey, 270 are being built or planned); the Marmara Forum. It was MASSIVE! My sister and mum visited for the weekend; we walked about a bit, took coffee at Taksim Square, relaxed in a hammam and ate menemen. Then I flew to Hanoi.

It’s not often in life that you get the opportunity to travel with a good friend for a long period of time. To each have the time, money and inclination to go on a massive adventure is rare indeed. My friend Donna (of Haute Culture fame) lives in Hanoi and is just about to complete her two year contract at the London College of Design and Fashion. Two weeks ago was the end of year graduate fashion show. Perhaps the most unlikely event to attend for a guy that is travelling with just one set of clothes, the best of which are hiking trousers and a loose cotton shirt. I walked into The Melia Hotel looking like a shipwrecked Hollywood movie star and as the tallest and only person in the room with a beard; it was hilarious.

Donna and I plan to travel from Vietnam to India together, we expect it’ll take six or seven months, then visas permitting I’ll cycle back to Istanbul, which would join the line from England to Vietnam. I will still be cycling. Donna will take a bus, a moto or whatever comes her way. We’ll call this stage two.