Monthly Archives: November 2015

Touchdown in Asia

After merely setting foot on the continent in Istanbul, I am now firmly  in Asia. On Kathmandu airport I got a visa on arrival and after collecting my baggage in the chaotic department hall, I found a ramshackle taxi that brought me to Thamel.

Here be dragons Kathmandu

Here be dragons
Kathmandu

In the morning I went out to find some breakfast and settled for an ‘American breakfast’, which, frankly, would leave a  lot Americans puzzled.
In the afternoon I got my trekking permits arranged. The whole process went remarkably painless and within twenty minutes I got both my TIMS card and the Annapurna permit.

My hotel has an intermittent electricity supply, but the management has posted a schedule in the lobby:

Electricity time table

Electricity time table

The schedule is important when you want to charge your devices or if you want to know when the 18 year old hippies down the hall will stop listening to Jefferson Airplane..

In preparation of the trekking I was planning to do, I set out to buy a small backpack of some 40 liters. At first I was charmed of a Chinese made North Face copy that had the text Keep wlaking (sic) stitched on it. Eventually I opted for a Nepali made Deuter copy where I broke off a zipper of one of its compartments. As for the quality, I had no illusions that the other models would be better and it gave me an edge in my bargaining position.

Danteshwori Devi Shrine

Danteshwori Devi Shrine

In Kathmandu I did little sightseeing as I’ve been there before and wasn’t that keen on spending longer in this city than necessary. These days, tourists are supposed to pay a whopping 1000 rupees to visit the Durbar Square, but it’s easy to walk around and follow some back alleys to get on the square.
Close to Durbar Square is the Danteshwari Devi Shrine (see photo above), which means: The shrine of the goddess who alleviates toothache. People nailed coins to a block of wood in the hope that the goddess might help sooth their pain. In the immediate vicinity of the shrine there are several practices of dentists for those whose faith is feeble…

 

 

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In transit

In Istanbul I bought a cardboard box and took apart my bicycle. It wasn’t easy to fit everything in the box, but in the end I managed. To transport the panniers, I bought a big floppy bag that would suffice to get my belongings back to Holland. Up till now I have had many questions regarding the weight I was carrying and I never knew an answer to those as I’d never taken the trouble to weigh all my baggage. When I was checking in, I was a bit anxious about the weight as my ticket gave me an allowance of 25 kilograms plus 8 kilograms of hand baggage. To be prepared I had brought small bag in which I could reallocate some items so as to take maximum advantage of my allotment. When I put the big bag on the scales I was somewhat surprised to learn that everything I owned (with the sole exception of the bicycle and the clothes I wore) weighed less than 20 kg…

In transit

In transit

After arriving at Schiphol airport, I colleccted my bicycle from the odd size bagage handling sytem and managed to get it on an airport trolley. The cardboard box was close to falling apart and I needed help from a custom officer to tape the box up in order to avert scattering the arrival hall with bicycle parts.

It was wonderful to be two days in the Netherlands to visit family and friends before I flew to Nepal. Even though it was November, it was still beautifully green and I deeply enjoyed the autumnal smells… It rained a lot however, and with my batteries recharged, I was eager to get back to the airport to travel to warmer environs.

Teddy bear in Doha Airport

Teddy bear in Doha’s Hamad International  Airport

In Qatar I had a long layover and when strolling around the new Hamad International Airport, I found a huge sculpture of a teddy bear which had his head stuck in a big table lamp. It was made by the New York based Swiss artist Urs Fisher and was bought by a member of Qatar’s royal family for 6,8 million dollars. If that sounds like a lot of money, bear in mind (pun intended) that the new airport was built at a cost of 15,5 billion dollars…
It is made of bronze, weighs close to 20 tons, is 7 metres high and is suitably ugly for a modern international airport.

After another uneventful flight I arrived safely at the mayhem of what is otherwise known as Kathmandu International Airport.

 

 

 

Bicycle in a box

Some indications you don’t like bicycle touring anymore:

– You discover you forgot to lock your bicycle and you think: oh, whatever…
– You covet the small backpack some savvy traveller is carrying and start to imagine how easy it would be to just jump on a train.
– You hate rain more than anything
– Or, no, you hate head wind more than anything
– Or, actually, it’s rain and head wind at the same time that you hate more than anything.
– You walk around town and see another bicycle tourer. You think: poor bastard..
– You walk past a beggar and want to ask him: wanna bicycle?

Blue Mosque water colour

Blue Mosque water colour

My first water colour. I only have black, though.
Black is not a colour…
Duh…

Next post will be from Nepal but I won’t be riding a bicycle this time.
The bicycle stays home…
I mean like, seriously, what were you thinking?

 

Istanbul

The Topkapi Palace was filled to the brim with selfie stick wielding tourists, replacing the once familiar vista of scimitar bearing eunuchs. The museum was vast, but I was particularly fascinated by the incongruous collection of relics on display in the left wing. Among the curios were Abraham’s saucepan, a turban that once belonged to Joseph, the staff of Moses and a rather rusty sword of David.

They were protected from the visitors by glass, which seemed appopriate, given the desirable qualities ascribed to them.

Moses’s staff could be useful should the need arise to produce water from a rock. The approach seems to firmly hit the surface, but with care, or the water might turn into blood, which can get messy. Other applications of the staff are the bringing down of plagues, most notably those involving frogs, gnats and locusts, but it’s hard to find a justified course to bring this into practise, unless, perhaps, you are a terrorist with a biblical predilection. Finally, it can be used to make a lasting impresion on bystanders by turning it into a snake (sources are not clear on how to retrieve it afterwards, so better do this last).
Abraham’s saucepan could be put to good use for cooking noodles.

Sketch I made of the Hagia Sophia

Sketch I made of the Hagia Sophia

On my repeated excursions through the Old Town, I frequently inquired after the price of döner kebabs as I found them a very agreeable and generally affordable means of sustenance.  There seemed to be an inverse relationship between the price of a döner kebab and the distance to the Blue Mosque.

Where y is the price of a döner kebab and x is the distance to the Blue Mosque

Where y is the price of a döner kebab and x is the distance to the Blue Mosque

When I went over to the Asian side I took the opportunity to make a few sketches of the Maiden’s Tower, a pretty building just off the Asian shore. These were my first attempts at what is popularly known as a cityscape. If it looks familiar, it might be because it features in two James Bond movies, most distinctly so in The World Is Not Enough.

Maiden's Tower 1

Maiden’s Tower 1

Maiden's Tower 3

Maiden’s Tower 3

 

 

 

To the City

The morning I left Edirne I met Malik in the kitchen of the hostel. He put the spaghetti leftovers from his meal of the night before in a paper back.
What are you doing?
I put this outside for the dogs.
For the dogs?
Yes, Turkish people love dogs.
No, you can’t love dogs.
Yes, we do.
Not possible.
Yes, Turkish people just love dogs.
That’s because Turkish people don’t ride bicycles.
Within the first hour I had two dogs chasing me. The first one was big and scary, with drool running from its mouth. Luckily, it seemed to hold back and ran only a few metres alongside my bike. The second one was a scrawny cur that wasn’t able to induce any fear. Still, I wished Turkish people would stop feeding these dogs spaghetti (or cannelloni or tagliatelli), it seemed to raise unnecessary expecatations.

Snakes in Ottoman Turkey

I had no time for taking pictures of the dogs. But this Turkish painting shows a snake. Snakes are dangerous too.

In a restaurant I ordered soup.
Çorba, I said, testing out a new word I had learnt.
Işkembe? the proprietor asked.
Uhm, yes, I answered, unwilling to admit I had no idea what he  meant. Five minutes later I was chewing on some animal’s guts again. With some extra intestines added for the foreign guest who had plainly expressed his fondness for the dish.

Riding into Istanbul along the D100 was not pleasant. It’s not that the Turkish people are deliberately trying to kill you, but more the likelihood of ending up a victim of their unimpressive driving skills. At some point I was riding on what was technically a six lane motorway, fearing for my life.

In Istanbul I took residence in a hostel very close to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. The location meant I was now woken up by the most accomplished muezzins, who, nevertheless, still called for prayer at an ungodly hour, but at least in a very skillful, if not slightly hysterical, voice.

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Pomegranate juice in Istanbul

Istanbul. A menu had English translations in brackets and so I discovered that a dish could be ordered  either ‘spicy’ or ‘painless’. Then I found out that the Turkish word for ‘hot, peppery’ and ‘painful’ are the same.