To be continued…

Well, I landed back at Heathrow last night (btw, only in England can £5bn be spent on a new airport terminal where you still have to get a bus from the plane to the terminal building…), and took four hours on the tube with delays and closures to get back to my brother’s. Welcome back to London!
Seven weeks cycling undone in eight hours of flying and trains!

This morning I started my old job again. It’s very surreal being back, but great telling stories to all my old friends and colleagues – one even helpfully pinned a newspaper article about the guy going around the world on a penny-farthing to my new desk divider and wrote “how it’s done!” on it. I pointed out even the article notes he only completed the tour on the third attempt, so I have two attempts left!

The blog will continue with plans for the next trip. Currently I’m thinking spring 2010. I’d like to leave in spring so I can get to the southern hemisphere before the northern gets too cold, and I won’t have earned enough money or done enough extra planning by spring 2009. Spring 2010 is a year and a half in the future, so blog entries will likely become much less frequent. Don’t worry though, I am alive and actively thinking about and planning for the next trip.

Heartfelt thanks

Just want to say a big thankyou to everyone over the past 3 months who helped me get this far:

  • Friends and family at home, who kept sending me supportive messages.
  • Jo and Alex in France, who gave me a pick-up a week into the trip – I needed it!
  • Giuliano and family in Italy, who kindly showed me around Ascoli and gave me a meal and place to stay for a night.
  • Sven in Greece, who was a great travel partner for the week we travelled together.
  • Bike shop owner in Alexandroupoli, who was so kind and generous to passing travelers.
  • Rahman, Fatih and family in Kesan, who gave me a place to stay and fed me a wonderful iftar.
  • Ahmet and family in Tekirdag, who also gave me a place to stay and a wonderful meal.
  • The family north of Selimpasa, who let me put my tent in their garden, and fed me a meal.
  • All the cyclists I’ve met en-route, who offered advice and encouragement.
  • Finally, everyone in Istanbul, who have kept my spirit going for six weeks of bureaucratic-induced limbo and tedium.

I wouldn’t have got this far without you all, and I really appreciate all the support from everyone.

Postponement

I’ve been thinking about this for the past 6 weeks in Istanbul. After so much thinking I’ve come to the very difficult decision to postpone the trip. I’ve been “travelling” for 3 months now. Except I’ve spent half of the trip so far in Istanbul trying to arrange my onward journey. There are many reasons to postpone, but the main one is that I don’t want to continue the trip how it is. It turns out I was/am woefully under prepared. I had no travelling experience and no cycle touring experience. I read a few books, bought some stuff, and jumped on a bike trusting that “it’ll all work out”. Turns out it’s not that easy.
I figure it makes sense to abandon this attempt and call it a training run. It was starting to take far too much time and therefore money to salvage it. As winter approaches, time is money, as the more time I take, the more money I have to spend on warm clothes to get through eastern Turkey as it gets increasingly cold.

Here in Istanbul I was going through the preparations for continuing the journey, and actively hoping I’d be held up. I hoped Iran would refuse me a visa, that would give me an excuse to quit. I hoped India would refuse. Why was I hoping to not be approved for visas? Surely a traveller should hope and wish and prey that visas are granted. That is the only way they can continue. I was hoping to be refused. To eventually have so many roadblocks that I literally couldn’t continue. That way I could return home with a story of how it wasn’t me that failed, but the situation that made it impossible.

I wanted to quit, but only if I had a good excuse to save face to people back at home.

I was no longer doing the trip because I wanted to, but because I wanted to live up to other peoples expectations. I’m a stubborn person, and I like to prove a point. But to be unhappy for the next year or longer because I want to prove a point or because I was ashamed of returning home, that’s no way to live. Then came the revellation that, so what if people think I failed? James, my brother, honestly didn’t think I’d get past Dover. I proved him wrong many times over!

How many people can claim to have cycled from London to Istanbul? How many have done it on a Brompton folding bike? How many of either group left with no experience whatsoever of cycle touring?

I think I’ve achieved something, even if it wasn’t my original plan. Many grand schemes have failed for many reasons. Mine was for two reasons: lack of experience; and the plan being too ridiculously grand. Five years cycling around the world with no real experience of travelling outside Europe and US and no experience of cycle touring! I was kidding myself!

But this trip has given me some experience. I have made mistakes. I have learnt a lot. The seven weeks from London to Istanbul have given me valuable knowledge of how to travel. In future I will put more planning into possible routes. I will put more thought into the equipment I choose. I will be stronger in the knowledge of what it takes to cycle long distance. I won’t make the same mistakes again.

However, I want to stress this is a postponement. Sometime in the future I will continue and go for a second attempt, I just don’t know when. But when I do, the date will be published here, and until then I will update the blog with planning for the second attempt, which will of course still be on a Brompton folding bike. Smallwheelsbigworld is not dead!

Jon

Don’t be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid. John Keats.

Kindness of strangers

Across the road from where I’m staying in Istanbul is a cool bar where I met a lovely American girl who is travelling around Europe. She told her parents about my trip, they checked out my website, and emailed to say when I get to the US I’ll have a place to stay with them, and probably with their family in other parts of the US.
I’m blown away! Thankyou!

It also meant when I got back to the bar yesterday I got to say “guess who I got an email from?! Your mum!”

Pakistan

Situation seems to be deteriorating.
Fergus said he had armed police escorts the entire way from Quetta to India, and a secret intelligence officer in Taftan (border town with Iran) told him: “Get your petrol, I will get you water, and get the h*ll out of here!” for his own safety.

There was an earthquake in Quetta just hours ago, with reportedly 150 people killed. The FCO hasn’t picked up on it and advised on travel in the aftermath yet, but my hunch is it’s not going to make things any better.

From that it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll dare to cycle across most, if any, of Pakistan.

Also, the FCO did update its advice on Pakistan a couple of weeks ago adding:

The Ministry of Foreign Afffairs has informed diplomatic missions in Islamabad that “all foreigners, including diplomats, may not move out of their city of residence without proper security and prior co-ordination with the law enforcement agency with regard to their move or visit.”  No further information has been provided by the Pakistani authorities on how this requirement will be implemented.  The British High Commission is urgently seeking further information on the procedures and whether they will apply to all British nationals.

After reading that, who knows if I’ll even be granted a visa! My passport is currently in the care of Fedex on its way back to London for my brother to go to the Pakistan High Commission and get me a visa – I can’t apply anywhere except my home country of residence.

It’s a shame, Fergus also says the people are fantastic, which is what I’ve heard from many others as well. At the risk of sounding like a beauty queen contestant: why can’t we just have world peace!

Iranian Visa

This is how to get an Iranian visa in Istanbul. Again, this is for British citizens, and it may vary for other nationalities, but this should help.
To get to the Iranian Consulate, walk up the hill from Sultanhamet tram stop, take the first major right and walk down the hill – the Consulate is on the left.

The easiest way to apply is online through an agency such as www.iranianvisa.com – indeed, if you go to the consulate and ask to apply for a visa, you will be directed to this website instead. To apply online you will need the relevant information and a scanned copy of your passport. The application takes however long it takes – mine took 3 weeks, but it was the end of Ramadan. If you are lucky enough to be granted a visa, you will be emailed a code, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran will fax an approval to the consulate in Istanbul.

You then need to go to the consulate with this form filled in. You will be given another form and told the fee and to get things photocopied. For British passport holders the fee is 95euro, or you can ask to pay 125euro for the same day service.

Fill in the additional form, get photocopies of the additional form, the info page on your passport and the Turkish visa in your passport, pay the fee at the bank across the road from the consulate, and go back to the window in the consulate.

Hand everything across including two passport photos, and wait for an hour if you paid the extra, or return the next day if you didn’t pay the extra. Obviously throughout the process give sensible answers – probably not a good idea to tick the box for “politics” where the form asks for your reasons for visiting for instance…

Indian Visa

If anyone needs to get an Indian visa in Istanbul, here are consise instructions for British citizens, but will apply to most other nationalities as well.
To get to the Indian Consulate, from Taksim Square walk north along Cumhuriyet Cadessi until you see a sign for the “Crazy Horse Show” on the right. Next to the Crazy Horse Show is the Dortler Appartments – the Indian Consulate is on the 7th floor.

Visa applications close at 11am. You will need:

  • your passport;
  • a photocopy of your passport;
  • a “letter of introduction” from your own countries consulate;
  • payment of US$50 in cash;
  • two passport photos;
  • the visa form (available at the consulate at the time).

You also need to know where and when you will enter and leave India. It’s no big deal, just pick somewhere sensible and put approximate dates in – you won’t be held to them. Passports can be picked up between 5pm and 5:30pm four working days later, i.e. if you get your application in by 11am on Monday, it will be ready at 5pm on Friday.

Rip off (also known as “consular fees”)

This is the “letter of introduction” I need to get an Indian visa, that cost me 150ytl (59gbp). No wonder at the Consulate-General they referred to me as a ‘customer’. No way that letter should cost 59gbp – it only took them a minute to put the information in the template and click print. For information: the letterhead is a black image printed on with the text (it starts as a blank white sheet of paper); the name, passport number and passport issue date are all in bold. I’m posting all this for information only. If people see this and decide to make their own version and avoid a 59gbp fee, that’s their decision, and I certainly can’t condone their (probably illegal) actions, however sensible they may be.
Hmm, photo was hosted somewhere else and has disappeared. Will put it back up when I get a chance.