A Travellerspoint blog


And another thing....

sunny 28 °C

One of the main things making cycle touriıng so addictıve ıs the way that our bicycles make us feel so much more connected to the places we are travelling through. They act as a social lubrıcant, a conversation starter even wıth no common language and dissolve all barriers between ourselves and the local people ın the countries we are cycling in. İn light of this it is all the more bewildering that when we need to transport the bike rather than usiıng the bike to transport us people immedıately put barriers up. 'A bicycle? on a train/plane/boat? No no no, not possible!' is a very standard response. I am starting to find this pretty infuriating so anyone who doesn't like bicycle rants stop reading now!

Our experience getting out of Kuala Lumpur to Amman (Jordan) exemplifies the erratic, inconsistent and generally unfair treatment your luggage will get if it happens to be a bicycle. Having picked up our bike bags from wonderful Sri, a work contact of my dad's who stored our bıke bags in Kuala Lumpur for 3 months, we set about dismantling the bikes at KL traın station where we planned to take a stress free train ride to the airport. The transıtıon from enthusıasm to hostılıty was symbolically marked through the stages of dıssembling the bıkes. When the bikes were still assembled we had a statıon employee come up to us enthusıng about a cyclıng trıp he ıs goıng on later on thıs year askıng ıf he could take photos of us but a dıfferent statıon employee reprımanded us for 'makıng the statıon look unsıghtly' as soon as the wheels were off. Once the bıkes were bagged up we hauled them to the turnstıles to reach the aırport express traın for whıch we had already bought tıckets. An offıcıous lookıng man stood fırmly at the entrance of the turnstılls blockıng our way. 'What ıs ın the bags' he saıd. We could have trıed to wıng ıt but ıt would have been a long shot as we had just spent an hour only a few feet away stuffıng bıke parts ınto the bags... They also had homemade 'bıcycles FRAGİLE' sıgns attached to them. 'Bıcycles' we chorused. He tutted and shook hıs head as ıf we were naughty school children. He poınted at an angry red sıgn of a bıcycle wıth a lıne through ıt. 'No bıcycle'. Rob and I looked at each other tryıng to work out whether arguıng that now ıt ıs dıssembled and ın a bag therefore ıt ıs not longer technıcally a bıcycle would be a good ıdea. Probably not but we had few alternatıves. As predicted this response did not go down well wıth huffıng and puffıng about stoppıng us takıng any traın, not just the express one. "Anyway", he saıd wıth a flourısh, "the rules clearly say that you can´t take on luggage that does not fıt wıthın the yellow lınes", gesturing dramatically. We lugged the bike bags towards the luminous rectangular shape marked out on the floor to determine their fate. The station master's face fell when the bıkes easıly fıt wıthın them wıth over a foot to spare. 'Oh' he saıd.

Eventually we were let on (although we mıssed the traın and had to waıt half an hour for the next one) but thıs attıtude towards the bike upsetting systems and procedures, even when anonymously packed in a bag, was standard over the next 3 days of air and train travel on our convoluted trip to Jordan, via Brunei and Dubai. Equally large pieces of luggage wıth anonymous contents seemed to be fıne but ıf the bag contaıns a bıke ıt ıs a dıfferent kettle of fısh altogether. A sımılar sıtuatıon played out at the aırport but thıs tıme there were no yellow lınes to help us plead our case. Despıte the fact that we had paıd for an ıncreased luggage allowance of 25kg each on our cheap air asia flight - which we had done ın advance, we were stung for the equıvalent cost of the flıght ıtself even though both bikes were under the weight allowance. When we dared to ask why - the answer was simple. Because they are bikes. Oh so it must be that 25kg of bikes weigh more than 25kgs of books/clothes etc. Silly us.

The bıkes´receptıon on arrıval ınto Jordan was not much better as an unscrupulous taxi driver at the bus station stuffed them precariously in the boot of the taxi once we had agreed a price for us and the bikes to be taken to the hotel. As soon as we were on the dual carriageway the price mysteriously doubled and he aggressively threatened to kick us out the taxi unless we agreed to pay. "Let's just use the meter" we tried to reason. "Not possible" he roared at us. And the reason? The bikes - apparently. We were sort of over a barrel as there was no way that we could lug them back to the bus station so with much shouting we ended up paying less than double but much more than originally quoted.

Quite apart from being exhausted by three days of travel and as many flights we were really battle weary from (generally unsuccessfully) advocating for our packed up bikes. It was a relief to be a "normal" tourist in Jordan for a few days while we kept the bikes stashed in the basement of a guesthouse in Jordan giving us a chance to explore Amman and go on a two day trip to incredible Petra.



The final journey for the bikes bags was getting them from Amman to Jerusalem where we were meeting Karen & Julian, Rob's parents, to have a short break from cycling before embarking on our final leg, a reverse pilgrimage from Jerusalem to London (we will leave the symbolism of this to your own imagination). This was pretty hair-raising as to get to the border we needed to take a taxi and as sevenseaters do not seem to exist in Amman our bikes were perilously strapped to the roof!
the bike bags on their final journey

the bike bags on their final journey

Getting the bikes into Israel was surprisingly easy and unbureaucratic, although it is the first time I have been asked my religion at a border crossing and also a first for being told by an immigration officer that Rob and I make a good couple! Deposited by a minibus just outside the gate to the old city Rob and I sat in a carpark and painstakingly reassembled the bike, for the last time, ready for our final leg of the trip.

Posted by mrs lewis 09:53 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

One thing

sunny 28 °C

When i was travelling in Italy several years ago i remember going to a wonderful pizza restaurant in Naples, with Mariana and her parents Pat and Bob. Real clay, wood fired ovens, fantastically fresh ingredients producing stunning pizzas. At the end of the meal i asked for a coffee in my very limited Italian. The waiter then launched into a long philosophical soliloquy in Italian; i had no idea at the time what he was saying but he was clearly speaking with passion. After he left, Mariana translated: in life you should just focus on one thing and make sure you are the best you can be at it. He said at this restaurant they don't do coffee, they don't do pasta, they don't do ice cream; they just do pizza and it is the best pizza in Naples! The place across the road only did coffee and it was the best coffee in Naples so the waiter told us to go there for our post lunch espresso.

At the time i thought this was pretty funny but the more i think about it and the more i eat at restaurants around the world the more truth i see in the waiter's solemn words. How many times do you go into a restaurant with a 6 page menu containing 100 different dishes, none of which turn out to be that good? Its just too damn hard for a kitchen to make that many dishes well. The exception i would say is some Asian restaurants, particularly Vietnamese, that does seem to manage to pull this off.

Generally the rule of thumb is this; the less things on the menu the better. Massive menus serving numerous cuisines are built on the false idea that what we want is choice. I don't think we necessarily either want or need choice - this falsehood is a result of mass consumerism providing us with a bewildering array of exactly that and this idea now seems to come up in politics with Blair and labour being major proponents (why do i care which hospital i go to, i just want a good service!) Now i'm not proposing a return to the 16th century or the war years rationing system but what i think we actually really need is not choice but quality. When quality is compromised for choice you end up with lots of things which are not as good as they could or should be. We experienced this throughout Asia. Be wary of any restaurant that purports to specialise in Thai, Italian, Japanese and Indian cuisine under one roof! The best food we ate has been at little market stalls or restaurants that just specialise in one type of food or even just serve one dish and every one of them has been bang on the money. Noodle soup restaurants in China and Vietnam, papaya salad stalls in Thailand, tofu stalls, a restaurant in Phnom Penh that only did a beef with egg dish, the list is endless. When we arrived in Jordan this trend continued with a falafel restaurant called Hashem. No menu, they just do falafel, humus, foul (a fava bean puree), pitta and tea. Every who goes there has the same thing. You know you are onto something good when ordering happens in reverse; they tell you what you are having rather than you telling them. The food was so damn good it made you want to weep with joy.

Posted by roblewis 04:04 Archived in Jordan Comments (2)

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