Friend of the travel world

Hi everyone, I’m working hard on the Iceland write up. In the mean time, I thought you would like this from a travel friend I met in the States in April. He’s an interesting guy. Have a good read, Tony

Greetings from Eugene, Oregon.

My bike is currently at the Bike Friday HQ having a service, so I’m taking the opportunity to write some notes at the local library. Rather than ride 60 miles from the coast on a narrow overcrowded road, I was able to simply fold the bike and put it in the back of the daily minibus.

Over a month into the trip a lot seems to have happened. Straight off the plane at Portland I picked up a pre-booked rental car. My requested “compact” was not available – they never are – so I was offered an upgrade – in this case a V6 Toyota 4WD SUV (sports utility vehicle). Getting out of the city (fortunately not far) was a bit of a trial, but once on the highways it was great – visited some waterfalls and an impressive dam the next day, then drove through some beautiful forest towards Mt. St. Helens, camping in a State Park campground about 50 miles away – as near as you can camp approaching from the west. On the early morning drive in I was able to appreciate the degree of devastation from the 1980 eruption. The blast zone is huge, and within, all the vegetation is relatively young, allowing you some fine views. The visitor centre has a superb movie/computer simulation which gives a realistic impression of the complex series of explosions and avalanches and explains various aspects of the landscape changes. The crater is constantly smoking as new cones build within it. The mountain will grow again and one day erupt – but not in our lifetimes.

The weekend I was at Mt. Ranier National Park was the last public holiday of the summer, so it was very crowded. That hardly detracted from the magnificent scenery and the superb weather. A section of Freeway I had to drive along to get there (I generally tried to keep to the quieter roads) was fairly intimidating. I was at the 65 mph speed limit and everyone (3-lane road) was streaking past me, including heavily laden trucks, virtually bumper-to bumper.

Locals said it’s rare to get three consecutive clear days at Mt. Ranier, but that’s exactly what I got. On my last night the campground was deserted, everyone elsehaving headed back to work/school. On my final walk I came virtually face to face with a black bear. As some people I had passed just before had said they may have seen a cub, I decided to make a detour. Getting between a mother and its young is bad news! Unfortunately I beat a retreat before I thought of taking a photo.

I drove on to Seattle, dropping off my gear, returning the car to Portland, then taking a very pleasant train journey back. In Seattle I stayed with a couple of photographers I’d met in Thailand at the beginning of the year. Seattle has some fine urban bicycle routes, many following closed-down rail corridors; I’ve never seen so many commuting cyclists in a city. With the bike & trailer loaded I made an early morning departure, taking the ferry to nearby Bainbridge Island and covering over 50 miles (80 kms.) on the first day. That done I could travel at a more relaxed pace around the Olympic Peninsula. Though a large chunk of it is National Park, much of the coast is logging country, which means huge trucks. Fortunately, in the busier areas, the main highway has a wide shoulder, so they are generally little bother. Another section of closed railway line is slowly being converted to cycle track, so I was able to get away from the traffic on a few occasions, though in one rough section I had to push the bike & trailer through separately.

I had been warned about the heavy sea mists that cloak the mornings and leave everything soaking, but have only had to contend with a couple so far. Generally the weather was fine or cloudy for the first couple of weeks. When it did rain I discovered that my expensive rain jacket purchased here in the spring was useless after having been machine-washed during the summer.

Raccoons are supposed to be a pest. The size of small dogs, they can sneak up and steal your food, gnaw through bags left outside, and cause general mayhem. They have not bothered me apart from one night when I was blitzed. One dived into my almost-closed trailer to snatch half a dozen muesli-bars, my waist-bag & camera were knocked off the table, and I could hear the scuttling of feet in the darkness all around. Tiny pairs of eyes were reflected in my torchlight as they backed away. Once I had got into my tent to sleep with my bags they gave me no more trouble.

The coastal highway through Washington gives you relatively few ocean views, and many camping spots are inland unless you are prepared to make detours which to a tired cyclist towards the end of the day are just a bit too far. It didn’t matter; I knew that Oregon was going to be different. First I had to cross the 3 &1/2 mile long Astoria Bridge spanning the Colombia River. It’s not only long – it’s high to allow big ships to pass underneath, has no shoulder, is narrow, busy, and pretty exposed and windy. I gritted my teeth, pedalled like hell and tried to ignore the traffic squeezing past.

I zoomed down the other side, off the slip road, and straight into a dedicated bicycle lane. Welcome to Oregon – the most bike-friendly state of the fifty. There is an official Oregon Coast Bike Route for which the state government prints detailed maps showing suggested detours, almost every State Park, National Forest, and local county campground – and there are many of them, shoulder width, and other useful information. However, my main source of information comes from the superb “Adventure Cycling Association” maps – the full set of 5 covering from Vancouver to the Mexican border (I have the middle three). These show also grocery shops, restaurants, motels, additional quiet/scenic alternate routes, distances, etc. I used these in Utah/Colorado during the spring and was very impressed.

Since reaching Oregon the scenery has been often stunning, with the Pacific to my left, and some beautiful forests to my right. Some of the park campgrounds are huge – up to 500 sites – but now autumn is here many are almost empty except for weekends. Of course, on a bike the Oregon government looks after you. There are special “hiker-biker” sections in the State Park campgrounds with no vehicle access, and your meagre $4 includes a timeless hot shower. (Hiker-bikers in Washington pay $14+ extra for a metered 3-minute shower that often doesn’t work, in my limited experience.)

In contrast to the scenery, I’ve found the coastal settlements to be generally bland uninspiring places, commercially geared towards the summer holiday surge. Resorts are sprawling along sections of the coast, as are retirement homes and weekenders for the wealthy Seattle & Portland middle classes. However with the overheated US property market continuing to implode, the level of development will surely slow for a few years.

I’ve met quite a number of other cyclists doing trips of varying distances – most impressive being Damian from Argentina (Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – a 2-year marathon). It isn’t unexpected as this is supposed to be the best time to ride the coast – the window of opportunity between the busy summer traffic and the miserable winter storms. The weather this year has been somewhat unusual along the coast (where hasn’t it been?) and my week of sunny weather was broken a few days ago not only by two days of consecutive rain – but serious rain. On Sunday 2 ½ inches fell – most of it while I was riding – until the road became so awash that I had to stop. As I had packed a wet tent from the night before nothing looked as inviting as the motel signs as I entered Florence. Intermittent rain looks likely to continue for at least another week, though generally showers, and not the heavy storm I had to contend with. The further south I go generally the lower the rainfall.

Some people ride the route staying only in motels along the way I wouldn’t want to, even if my budget was big enough. Though you can travel light, some of the best times of the trip are spent in the campgrounds (assuming that you enjoy and are used to camping), meeting other travellers, seeing wildlife (even raccoons!) , watching the sun set over the Pacific while you are eating or cooking dinner, or just watching the flickering flames of a campfire. However on Sunday all that was forgotten, and I was more than happy to have the heater going full-bore drying out my tent, watching movies on cable TV, making freshly brewed coffee and eating muffins!

I’ll be off tomorrow – back to the coast to continue south. Unfortunately I arrived a week too early. Blues mega-legend B.B. King is doing a concert here in a week’s time, and British veterans Jethro Tull play the night after.

Next news should be from somewhere in California.

Cheers Jeff Holmes

Four days in berlin

The second gig of the winter tour took place over the four days 4-8 October 2007. What a trip it was.

I took the train from my local town just outside Birmingham to Gatwick, West Sussex – not London as many people think. This train journey should have allowed me to arrive for the flight in time, but due to the marvellous consistent latefulness of England’s rail network, the journey got later and later. by the time I arrived at the airport terminus, they had closed the gate to my flight. However, another lady was also late and after some swift persuasive talking by the ground staff we were permitted onto the flight. Two hours later and with a forward hour change, I arrived in Berlin, Germany’s capital.

On arrival around 11 pm German time my female friend was there to meet and greet me. After a bear hug we caught the above ground train to where she lived. I had arrived in the eastern part of the city, once cut off from the western part by the Berlin Wall, which had been erected in 1961 as part of the battle of the Cold War. However, it had been demolished in 1989 when communism in Europe was abandoned. My friend lived in an apartment block in a central area of the west part of the city. The train ride took around forty minutes and once we arrived, we walked to her flat and crashed. She showed me were I was to sleep, on her uncarpeted concrete floor! She had only just moved flats and the place had no furniture, plus the fact people don’t tend to use carpets in Germany.

I settled in and we caught up on each other’s lives and gossip. This was to be a relaxing trip so the next day we rose late and made breakfast before entering into the morning sun in search of Berlin’s cultural entertainment. The street she lived in was quiet and it was not until we hit the main street that I noticed any sign of life. The pavements were wide and the curb edges were low. They were so low that I tripped on several and later twisted my ankle on another. We finally hit one of the main streets and the pedestrian traffic increased. We swerved around the many pedestrians, tackled the cross walks and tried in vain to beet the busy traffic on a typical late Saturday morning in Berlin. Eventually we found what we were hunting for, a large food hall in an even bigger building. Once inside we hit the escalators, riding each one until we reached the fourth floor. Here was a dense crowd of stylish locals dressed in casual but fashionable clothes – my friend described them as we walked. Up on this floor of expensive display cabinets holding all items from glassware to jewellery we found the food hall. This was a labyrinth of counters offering tasters of various delicacies in the hope that a simple try would tempt a person into buying a selection. The smell of fresh food was everywhere, and the aroma awakened my food glands – the heat of the building had me sweating and the aroma had me drooling. I tried some fresh bread that tasted faintly of nuts or seeds and I also had some home made cheese which was delicious. We circled round passing many stalls before nearing the fish counter. There was every fish imaginable and you could smell them for a good distance. I bought some dark German chocolate which was extremely bitter and then we hit the bar. My friend sampled some wine while I had a bottle of Sprite and settled down to absorb the atmosphere.

There was a hot grill behind the bar and I could smell the aroma of cooking pork and feel the heat from the fire. We spent a good part of the afternoon there before slowly moving on to explore some more of the city’s central streets. Each day followed a similar pattern, we would rise around mid morning, have breakfast which usually consisted of fresh bread and eggs plus orange juice and a cup of tea in my case and coffee for my friend. Then we would hit the streets around mid day and go walking in the cool air of the day. Often we stopped at a cafe for wine or tea – whatever we could find. There was a cafe opposite my friend’s apartment and on my third day we went and had lunch there. It was slow and relaxing. My friend would order in German, the drinks would arrive first, later followed by food. However, nothing was rushed. In the bars, paying was a nightmare. You paid when you left and not on each order like in Britain. This meant in a subtle way you usually drank more and built up a nice tab. Getting a member of the bar staff’s attention could take a good twenty minutes if not longer. I had a type of white sausage at the cafe and my friend had mushroom soup. The small banana shaped sausages came in a round bowl accompanied by mustard and vegetables. The sausages tasted reasonably good.

In the late afternoon on the Sunday, we went to the castle. The grounds are free to walk but it costs to enter the fortress and former residences. However, the grounds are large and produced a pleasant walk. It was very quiet and with hardly any wind and some light left in the sky, we enjoyed ourselves strolling along in the silence of the environment. We went to feed the swans that live in the lake within the grounds. They came expectantly, hissing and making a seal like cry. We threw bacon flavoured crisps at them – apparently it is one of their favourite delicacies. Several other birds could be heard calling in the early dusk and it was very peaceful down by the lake with hardly a soul to disturb the ambiance. This is a pleasure that I would highly recommend. The inside of the castle is also a good idea if you have the time and money.

Each evening was spent relaxing in each others company: either at my friends new apartment without the furniture and carpets or at her friends. I slept on the floor for the first two nights and on different couches for the last two evenings. This all added to the adventure, not knowing where I would end up each night, a different location and building to familiarise myself with. Some of her friends liked similar music to me and we rocked the evening away. My friend cooked one night and we ate out on another occasion. It was out near some stables in a park area . We found a lovely bar-restaurant and were almost the only customers. I bought a meal of grilled meat for both of us, it consisted of chicken and pork with dumplings. It was cooked local and was delicious – the dumplings were fantastic. The meal of meat plus two glasses of white wine and two Sprites cost 25E including tip – about £16. My final day was spent just relaxing at the flat before I caught the above ground train back to the east and Shoenfelt airport for my afternoon return flight to Gatwick. It had been a relaxing visit on my winter tour. Next stop, Iceland.

Winter Tour

Hi everybody, this is the Tony Giles Experience Winter Tour. Tony is on tour again; travelling the globe and anywhere else that is worth a visit. The travel gig began in mid September with a couple of days in London. I stayed in a HI hostel called Holland park near Kensington High-street.

The hostel is an interesting affair, priced at £15.70 a night, dorm bed per member. It is situated in the middle of a large park. It is only minutes walking from either Holland Park or Kensington High Street tube stations. However, it is not the easiest to locate. It his hidden inside the park and on dark nights or in rainy conditions as when I was trying to find it, then the job can be difficult. If getting off at Holland Park tube stop, exit the station, cross the road and turn left walk along the side of the park until you find an opening. Go up a rough path that inclines. This is named Holland Walk. Once at the top of the hill, look for a gate on the right. Enter into the park and follow the small narrow paths. This will eventually take you to the hostel. If you have time and the weather is nice then the walk is relaxing and peaceful. If taking the tube to Kensington High Street, then again exit the station and cross the road. Once across using the lights, turn left and follow the road until you come across an opening with a gate on your right. This is the park entrance. Follow the wide path up hill, looking for the signs to the hostel. It will eventually appear on your left. There is another gate and a driveway which eventually bends round to the right. there are several stairs up to the hostel entrance. Breakfast is included in the price. It is not the easiest hostel to find and the beds in the dorm rooms are awkward. The dorm I stayed in had beds in sets of three with the middle bunk perpendicular to the bottom and top bunks. There were no ladders that I could see which made getting in and out of bed fun!! This is hostelling, a challenge and all part of the experience. I booked two nights but only spent one night there in the end as I stayed with a friend the first night.

London, it is a fantastic city for anyone who has never had the opportunity to visit. The transportation networks are fantastic – even during rush hour which is an experience not to be relished. The underground ‘tube’ system takes you all over London and you can get to places in minutes. Every station seems to bring you out near a famous place or attraction. The multinational population adds to the flavour of the great city’s attractiveness – not to mention the plethora of museums, all free entry, the gardens, statues and sites of historical note – and I must not forget to mention the palace and guided tours.

I spent two delightful days in the English capital on this visit, meeting up with friends and exploring some of the less expensive sights. Each evening was spent in a pub somewhere drinking lemonades and catching up on old times. My one day of note was spent wandering. I began my day by taking the tube to Leicester Square and finding a cafe for breakfast. I had an egg and sausage sandwich and several cups of tea before setting off on a gambit around the cobbled area. Leicester Square seemed busy enough with the morning commuters and shoppers. I strolled along sweeping with my cane, trying to avoid outdoor cafe furniture and advertisement signs plus the iron pillars set in the middle of the square to stop traffic from driving down the pedestrian area. At one point I found a kind of park lined with large plant pot structures. There were pathways which cut through a section of grass. In the middle of this area you could almost get away from the noise of the city, but not completely. After an hour or so there I walked to Trafalgar Square and listened to the two large water fountains, sticking my cane in one and getting splashed by the cool spray. The weather was windy with a weak sun which fluctuated between warmth and coolness. I wandered towards Nelson’s Column and tried to touch the four lion statues guarding the column. This monument is in place in recognition of Lord Admiral Nelson’s achievements at the battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic wars 1795-1815. The battle of Trafalgar occurred in 1805 off Spain with the British naval fleet led by Nelson engaging with French and Spanish ships. Nelson was fatally wounded during the long battle but rumour has it that he did not die until he new victory was assured.

You can climb up onto the monument to touch the lions but the column itself is out of reach. I tried to climb up to feel the lions, but after nearly falling off twice! I gave up and just traced the body of the large cats with my cane. They are magnificent. Later, I took another tube to a stop called Elephant and Castle where I went for a look round but found nothing of interest before heading to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Unfortunately, when I entered the enormous cathedral and asked about a self-guided tour, I discovered not only that it cost nearly £10 to enter, but also that the audio guide handset had no way of allowing you to follow the numbered exhibits. You had a card with corresponding exhibit numbers on, which you had to enter into the hand held device once you were at the item of interest. However, this was in no order which meant a blind person would struggle to find the exhibit of interest and not be able to know what number to insert. I got my money back and after a brief wander around the outer area of the vast building, I attempted to find the exit. I managed to leave the monstrosity with help and made my way back to the tube. Later that evening, I met up with yet another friend in Kensington and we had a delightful evening in a pub near the tube station. We had a meal which only cost £17 for the two of us. I met a lovely barmaid from Demark who had silky smoove skin and a good humorous personality. She laughed when I said she had beautiful eyes!!! So the Winter tour has begun and it has been a successful start. Next stop, Berlin, Germany.

Travelling blind

How a blind person travels.

It was the height of summer and I was half way across Canada, a magnificent country that more resembled a continent. My next challenge was to cross the remainder of this great land, explore its complement of mountains, parks and wildlife and, if possible, reach Alaska before the weather changed for the worst.

I was particularly happy now that I was re-united with my backpack. After an hour’s journey, I crossed into the Mid-West province of Manitoba, with its lakes and flat land. I changed my watch by one hour to Central Standard Time. At the Winnipeg Backpackers, I was met by the owner who welcomed me with somewhat of a surprised and anxious attitude. He had not expected a blind visitor. Nevertheless, I soon put him at ease stating that I was an experienced traveller and was very independent. The hostel was an old house with many stairs and a tiny wooden porch.

Initially, I was shown upstairs, but it was later suggested that the basement might be easier. I said, “at least down there, I would have a good mountain view!” After that remark, we got on famously. Winnipeg is a quiet mid-western town with little to do except walk by the rivers or visit the large historical museum. The weather was, once again, hot and the mossies were out in force. I went in search of a food store, and made dinner after re-locating the hostel. I asked for directions to the store and walked until I came upon a crossroads, then by using my alert hearing I waited until it was clear and crossed to the other side. All I had to do then was locate the store, which was hidden deep within a car park. I waited until someone passed by and got them to show me the way.

I asked a shop assistant for my goods, then retraced my steps. I counted the small roads I had crossed and when I felt I was near the hostel, I began searching for a path. This is how I do the majority of my travelling.

Taken from

Chapter 9 of second book

Seeing The Americas My Way


Tony Giles