Hi & welcome to our first Blog on Horizons Unlimited,
After so many years of reading every corner of the site its hard to believe we are doing our own trip and Blog story.
This is a recent shakedown trip with gear and bike mods as we will take to the UK..
This first Blog is really just practice to see how this web Blog thing is done and to see if I can get words and pics up without any screw ups. I will try to keep this Blog short as we are in the middle of packing up the house and making all those millions of arrangements you need to do so you can be out of the country for a year - thankyou to our family and friends for looking after stuff for us. I am sure this trip would be near impossible without this support back home. Mostly its the government and company bureaucrats that make it all difficult.
For instance we only just got our passports back from the Pakistan embassy in Australia where they held them for 5 weeks before approving our visas! To say we were worried was an understatement - 4 days before we are supposed to fly out and no passports! All because some bureaucrat thinks entering Pakistan on a motorcycle is a special case. I wont bore you all with the tales of incompetence from the Aus bureaucrats in charge of phones, banks, power etc. Honestly I dont know how they can be so good at incompetence and I am starting to wonder if other travellers have all these difficulties getting stuff sorted before they go.
Anyway, enough of the moaning, we are on holidays for a year!!!! Nothing to moan about there....
A little bit of background about ourselves -
John: a chemical & environmental science graduate with a lifetime passion for motorcycles, travel, camping and other outdoor pursuits. His motorcycling has spanned 25 years of mostly dirtbikes, but also a sportbike and naked roadbike mixed in there too. Adventure biking started about 10 years ago with a XR600 with big tank and some outback trips with mates. Married to Alanna for 20 years, currently living in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Alanna: a pre-school teacher with a passion for travel and an acceptance of her husbands motorcycle addiction, but only a relatively recent convert to travelling as a pillion. Recently told her worried family & friends that she would travel in the aircraft toilet or baggage hold if it meant she could travel more, so being a pillion wasn't so bad.
John's long time goal was to travel overseas on a bike, initially deciding on South America, but a few years ago changing plans to the classic Europe to Australia overland route through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal. Alanna wasn't going to miss out on that, so this meant buying a bike suitable to 2-up for a year. After a lot of reading, riding & arithmetic (pun intended) I decided on a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 with a few modifications - suspension mostly - to cope with 2 of us and luggage/camping gear for a year. This sounds like we are large and carrying too much gear, but we dont exceed the GVM and we really have been very frugal with gear, it just adds up quickly!! I am sure the two-up travellers out there will understand. I will do a more detailed Blog on the bike some other time - for those interested.
We packed the bike ourselves, at our house, on my dirtbike trailer... including topbox, 1xpannier and tankbag in the crate
In the pouring rain...
...in a Harley crate!!!
I had to spray-out the Harley labels for everyone's sensibilities....
So the bike was delivered to the freight handlers at the Port of Brisbane around the end of February 2006 and was loaded onto a ship for the 6 week journey to Tilbury Docks in London, due to arrive on 14 April just a few days after we touch down in the old country. Hope we all make it in one piece.
Only 2 days until we leave now - with a 2 day stopover in Singapore on the way.
See ya on the road, or when we get home.
Being new to this blog thing and being the Queen of Verbose I (Alanna aka Lan) am going to give this my best shot as John (aka Skill) has handed over the writing to me. He is in charge of bike stuff and technology, although he will edit and add to the Blog as required.
Many thanks to our good friends Kath and Sean for lending us their PDA and collapsible keyboard. It feels such a luxury to be typing this in the comfort of our accommodation listening to music and drinking a G & T. Life is good.
So I guess I will start at the day we left..............................My goodness, what a day! It felt quite surreal to hop out of bed in the morning knowing we were now on twelve months holiday and leaving the country for a similar period of time. The phone rings continuously, friends and family wishing us well and telling us to stay safe. We breakfast with my Mum, and close friends who have arrived from Perth on the early morning red eye flight. They then drive us to the airport where we discover our dodgy $15.00 suitcase has a broken zip (we bought them from a junk shop to get our gear to London, until we pick up the bike and panniers) After a few minor adjustments the problem is solved, bags are checked in and glasses of champagne are ordered.
A lady sitting in front of us asks us if we are on our honeymoon? We have a bit of a giggle and say "No something even better, 12 months of holiday". She enviously tells us how lucky we are and when she retires in a couple of years she is going to take up travelling again. As I am walking down the skybridge I suddenly get emotional, my best friend hasn't had her baby (due on the 5th), my soul mate and usual travel buddy isn't coming with us, in fact it is her birthday and she is crook, my nephew has rung me to tell me how much he will miss us, Skill has spoken to his 92 year old grandma who is worried about us despite the fact that she lived in Iran for a short time in 50's when Skill's grandad was working at a sugar mill in Iran. I can feel a lump in my throat and get quite misty eyed. Well this is it are we doing the right thing?
And then just when you are having a tiny bit of self doubt, fate takes over. We sit beside a lovely, gentle man who lives in a neighbouring suburb, and as you do you get chatting about where you are going and what you are doing. He listens with great interest and offers us some advice. "What a trip. Travel now, do it while you can, my wife of 34 years and I were all set to travel next year, but she passed away last year after a very short battle with cancer. You just never know what life will deal you, she woke up with a pain one morning and was gone six months later". He said it with such sinceriity and sadness that any lingering doubts evaporated. Singapore here we come!!!
Made our connection to Singapore, onto a BA flight (very ordinary), had some dodgy six day old gnochi and 1 (yes we only got 1) beer. I must say Singapore Airport is amazingly efficient, through customs, stamp, stamp, stamp. They just love that stampy thing. Out into the cab cue and away, all of that took less than ten minutes. Oh forgot to mention one dodgy suitcase arrived minus a wheel stand, so it keeps falling over. We took up residence in the YMCA, which was marvellous, small but clean airconditioned rooms. With a huge all you can eat English/Asian breakfast thrown in for $80 Singapore Dollars. We were pretty tierd so we were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. In the middle of the night, about 3.30am there was this almighty bang, I leapt out of bed thinking, earthquake, gas explosion, terrorist attack, WRONG, an enormous thunder storm. Quite spectacular, Skill slept through the whole thing, so much for being my protector.
Singapore was Singapore. Incredibly busy and very, very humid. A city of such contrasts, one of the most successful financial cities in the world but in some places they still use bamboo scaffolding. BMWs, Feraris and traffic everywhere yet in amongst this chaos there are little old wisened up men still riding their rickshaw like bikes and not just for the tourists.
We walked down Orchard Road, then up into Fort Canning Park and over to Boat Quay. Back to the Y for a swim, a few beers then down to Raffles Long Bar for the obligatory $20.00SD Singapore Sling.
The following day we checked our bags into storage and walked down to China Town where we spent most of the day, it rained on and off all day, the humidity was stifling, our clothes were soaked, so we decided to return to the YMCA where we spent the rest of the day in or beside the pool.
Had dinner and our last Tiger Beer then caught the MRT (underground/train) to the airport. Checked our bags in all the way to Heathrow and waited, and waited and waited. Good old QANTAS, we were over 80 minutes late leaving. They fed us, the meatballs rivaled the BA gnochi in age. Then we all settled down for the night.
Once again a very uneventful flight until landing. We touched down in Frankfurt and I am not exaggerating the reverse thrust had only just been turned off, and we were taxing down the runway when a lot of the older Germans stood up and started to open the overhead lockers. The Aussie male flight attendant was yelling at them in German, some young guys were telling them to "Sit down, you bloody mugs" and I was not so politely saying "Sit Down", only because I could see my Bombay Saphire duty free Gin lurching from one side of the locker to the other. I had visions of it smashed all over the aisle. Sadly they did not pay any attention, until the flight attendant had to unstrap himself from his seat and threatened them. Mmmmmm Welcome to Frankfurt.
Our connecting flight was there waiting for us, so off one plane onto the next after being frisked, groped and xrayed by German Airport security.
We ended up in a holding pattern above London for 40 minutes, something we could have done without. Anyway nothing too eventful, except British customs didn't like the fact we didn't have a return ticket. We explained we would be riding our bike to leave and produced the carnet, which proved nothing, but it seemed to appease them. Then out to find Mo. There he was waiting for us complete with sign Alanna & John Skillo, just like in the movies.
We were invited to stay at family friends (Fred and Myra) vacant flat in the London district of Kentish Town. It is gorgeous, a brown brick house with an enormous black door nestled in amongst rows of similar houses distinguished only by their different coloured doors. The local pub is at the top of the street, 200 metres away, and the High Street and Tube station is less than 5 minutes walk. Unbelievable, Skill said to me "Don't get used to it, it's all downhill from here".
We didn't suffer from jetlag at all and have been on the go since arriving. Into Central London which is a visual feast of Spring colour, of course it is cold and rainy but I still love London. We went to the War Cabinet Museum and Churchill Museum on Wednesday and walked all the way down to Buckingham Palace and into Hyde Park.
The bike arrives on the ship today so the shipping agent believes we may be able to pick it up next Thursday. So we have another week to kill here in London which is not difficult to do, there is just so much to do. What is the old Samuel Johnson quote, "When a man is tired of London he is tired of Life" We plan on donning the wet weather gear, packing our lunch complete with our new thermos and heading off to Little Venice (near Paddington Station) via the Camden Lock and London Zoo.
Well I should have bored you all enough by now so take care.
Cheers & Beers,
Lan & Skill.
PS Lan's Quote for the week: "There are many ways to read a map"
The Bike Story so far..............
Friday 25th February We deliver the bike to the shipping agent in Brisbane.
Tuesday 7th March the boat leaves Sydney
Wednesday 12th April Rang the shipping agent (London), yes the ship is due in tomorrow afternoon and it appears to be on time. Ring us back after Easter - maybe Tuesday afternoon
To keep ourselves occupied in the meantime
We did take that walk to Little Venice by Regent's Canal, it is quite amazing to see all these waterways and beautiful long boats right in the middle of London.
After a fairly long hike we decided we would catch the tube home from Paddington Station, mmmm well that would have been fine and dandy but large parts of the underground were closed for maintenance over Easter so we had to underground hop from one coloured line to the next to get home, it would have been quicker to walk. Anyway we had a swift pint at the local and all was right with the world.
Next day we went to British Museum with every other person in London, we did manage to catch a brief glimpse of the Rosetta Stone as two rather rotund, loud girls stood in front of it obscuring it from view for about five minutes.
Like everything in London the museum is steeped in history and the architecture is stunning. We both really enjoyed the Reading Room with it's squillions of books. My thoughts immediately turned to Dad and Dave (Landy), they would love this place.
After we were tierd of looking at old things it was off to Covent Garden where Skill just had to have a Cornish Pastie. I have to stop doing the conversion thing, but $10.00 AD for an overgrown sausage roll is a bit steep don't you think? Although Skill did remind me that I paid $5.00 AD for 150 grams of beans,($33.00 a kilo) like I said it is best not to convert.
Next day it was off to Greenwich, planned to catch the tube to Embankment and then a boat to Greenwich. Wrong, boarded the tube and sat motionless for ages. Announcement: smoke in the tunnel at some place I could not understand, so off we got and caught a Bus to Tottenham Court Road, (it's the only bus we know how to catch) and walked to Westminster Peir to catch the boat. We had a great day, Greenwich is really something special. Apart from being home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Meridian Line it is a truly beautiful village with so much to explore. The highlight for me was seeing John Harrison's clocks (developed to determine Longitude at sea) at the Royal Observatory. I must confess to being absolutely addicted to the movie "Longitude" so to see the four clocks in the flesh was pretty special.
We also visited the Royal Naval College designed by Chrisoper Wren 300 years ago. It has a magnificant Painted Hall and Chapel with the most exquisitely decorated/mural ceilings and walls, which rival many of the others we have seen in our travels.
Next day we went for a walk on Hampstead Heath with Sarah, Mo and Freddie to Kenwood House which you would all recognise as the setiing for "Sense and Sensibility" and part of "Notting Hill".
Tuesday 18th April Rang back shipping agent, Yes the boat docked on time but the container has been held up in Customs for inspection, ring back the following day. Pressing them for details as to whether this was a random check, they answer "Officially" Yes. BUT unofficially the Government has been threatening job cuts so all of a sudden there has been a dramatic increase in container inspections by British Customs".
Everytime you turn around in this wonderful city there is something else to marvel at, yesterday we sat in the sun and gazed at the Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall. Then off to the Natural History Museum for Skill and the Albert and Victoria Museum for me, which was an all day affair.
Wednesday19th April Rang back shipping agent. Container is out of customs but will need to be delivered to the warehouse and unpacked and processed before we can get it. Maybe Friday or could be Monday. Please, please can we get it Friday. They would try....
Thursday 20th April We get back from a day in town and have a message, the bike will be devaned (container speak for unloaded) at midday Friday, but we will need to get Customs clearance paperwork first. Yay!!
Friday 21st April. D DAY WE PICK UP THE BIKE.
Get the Tube to Tower Bridge then up to Fenchurch Station and onto a train to Tilbury. Arrived at Tilbury with no map on where to go (The A to Z street directory doesn't go that far) so ask the lady at the train station who tells us to go across the bridge, end of instruction. Talk to a waiting bus driver who tries to send us back towards London to a district called Custom House. No we want Customs House Tilbury Docks. Oh well in that case straight up the road and the Dock entrance is on the right.
Do as we are told and arrive at the entrance of Tilbury Dock where we are briefly interrogated by the guards who point us in the direction of Customs House, hopelessly so as it turns out. So find a dodgy old canteen, it was like stepping back in time, all the workers had on those little white coats with their initials on them, just like you see in the old English TV Series. After causing the only bit of excitement in their day they finally agreed that Customs House was in a completely different direction from the way the guards had sent us.
Twenty minutes later we arrived. Up the stairs where Skill proceeded to talk to a lovely young man who was completely and utterly confused, they were not used to mad Aussies wanting to organise their own customs clearance. We had just begun the process when the iron shutters came down and the LUNCH 12.00 - 1.00 sign came out. Buggar. However we must have impressed the young man with our tenacity and he came out through another door and helped us fill out the paperwork and in under 30 minutes we were on our way.
We asked him where the best place to catch a cab from would be. Back into the town centre (which was a bloody long way back through the front guarded entrance, about 50 minutes walk), however he was such a sweetie that he let us out through the back gate (for staff only) and we were back in town in five minutes.
Searching for a cab rank, we spied a huge orange sign that said TAXI and after some skillful negotiations they would take us to the warehouse at West Thurrock for 10 pound. Bargain. So off to West Thurrock (not a place for the faint hearted after dark I should imagine) The container was being unloaded when we arrived and we could see the bike crate looking decidedly worn, but intact. However it would be another hour before the paperwork clearance would be through. So off to the very, very dilapidated "Fox and Goose" for lunch and a beer.
An hour later the paperwork from Customs is through and we pay 75 pound in fees to the agents, we can now start to unpack the crate. What a giggle I didn't even get a look in, all the boys stopped work on their fork lifts and came to help.
We could not have been luckier, they were so incredibly helpful. Most shipping agents charge you quite a bit of money to get rid of the crate, but one of the guys was planning to ship his bike to NZ at Xmas time so he was more than happy to take the whole crate home. Another guy was building a green house so he was happy to take all the self tapping screws. (And I hid the rest of the rubbish in an old wheelbarrow) They kept coming to check on us to see how we were getting on, even offering a battery pack if the battery was flat.
After helpful directions to the A13 and the nearest servo, handshakes all round, we were off, managing to make it all the way back to Central London in peak hour traffic, avoiding the Congestion Zone without a wrong turn. How impressive is that. Thanks to Sarah for her fantastic navigational instructions.
The bike and all our personal effects arrived in perfect condition, and the bike started first turn of the key. Skill is a happy boy.
Well guys on that note I'll say good bye, and now the adventure really begins.
Cheers & Beers,
Quote of the Week: "The journey, not the arrival matters" T.S. Eliot
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