FAREWELL MOOSE COUNTRY — STOCKHOLM TO SYDNEY
a story about the most boring map in the world.
Initially I thought the last post, Sweden, would be the final one for Encountering the Past Part 2 but there are two events I must tell you about before bringing our odyssey to an end.
The first is how we packed our foldup bikes for their return to Australia and the second is about my thoughts, knowing that our Emirates flight from Stockholm to Dubai was routed to fly over the Ukraine. The Ukraine was in my mind following the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 by a missile, believed to be fired by pro-Russian separatist forces only three months prior to our intended flight.
PACKING OUR BIKES.
If the reader has been following our bike riding adventures they will know we bought two Tern foldup bikes in Zurich and toured along Lake Zurich, Lake Wallensee, the River Rhine and followed the north flowing rivers, the Elbe and Oder, through the Czech Republic, East Germany and Poland and eventually rode around Copenhagen and parts of Uppsala in Sweden. At the end of our touring we couldn’t bring ourselves to abandon our bikes so we decided to bring them home with.
My first thought was to make cardboard boxes for the bikes and even though the box dimensions were within the limits of oversize luggage I abandoned the idea as I doubted if the box would have provided much protection. In lieu of the box, I decided to pad and shrink-wrap the bikes and attach a couple of labels, ‘Bike Handle With Care’, hoping considerate baggage handlers would heed my request.
Arriving in Bangkok we took a taxi to the One One Hotel in the Sukhumvit area. The taxi driver at the airport sized up our oversize luggage and decided he could fit our padded bikes, our hand luggage and us into his small taxi. Bev sat in the back seat nursing the bike packages and I squeezed into the front with the hand luggage. The ride to One One was without event and at the hotel the staff were amused that a couple of oldies like us travelled half way around the world with bikes. I’m sure our bikes were the first into the hotel as it had only been open for a few months.
It is generally accepted that Thailand is the ‘Land of Smiles’ and following the hospitality extended to us by the hotel staff and all those who we came in contact with I can confirm that the adage is definitely true.
Bicycle riding in Bangkok has its limitations because bike riders are very low on the ‘give way’ scale. Also, it was hot and humid during our stay) and not at all conducive to riding a bike. In Thailand it is hot, bloody hot or unbearably hot. However, bike riding is on the increase and this is borne out by the number of bike shops appearing in the city. Most cycling is done in the parklands, not necessarily along busy traffic thoroughfares of the city. What bikes there are in the busy areas are mostly used as beasts of burden. The following image shows an example of one taking a rest.
At one of the Bangkok bike shops on the showroom floor were two Tern suitcases specifically designed for our bikes. The cases, called Airporters, were designed for travel on international aircraft. We decided to buy the cases as during the stowage of our bikes on the flight from Stockholm my bike suffered a bent pedal crank gear (which I remedied using my shoe as a hammer). Another encouragement to buy the cases was the price, they were around 600% less expensive than in Switzerland and because the cost of living in Australia is fast approaching that in Switzerland we were not going to buy them any cheaper at home.
Prior to packing our bikes in our newly acquired cases I cleaned the tyres and pedals because if I showed the quarantine officials at Sydney airport photos of my efforts at cleaning they might not want to remove the bikes from their cases and fumigate them. Fumigation at airports of items such as walking poles, tents and pegs, walking boots and bike tyres and pedals is an attempt to keep nasty soil-borne bacteria out of Australia.
And now for the unveiling of our new foldup bike cases.
Passing through airport departure lounges with such large cases created some amusement. Asian folk in particular were fascinated by the size of the bags and to avoid questioning about what was in our large cases I drew a bike on a piece of card and held it up when I saw inquisitors approaching. A couple of travellers asked me where they could buy similar cases for their luggage. The cases measure 32 X 72 X 89cm and weigh 30kg when loaded with bike, panniers, helmet, spares, tools and clothes. I hope we do not start an oversize luggage craze because if that were to happen airline baggage handling would have to be completely reorganised. I’m guessing that not too far in the future airlines will charge for oversized baggage.
AND NOW TO THE UKRAINE & THE MOST BORING MAP IN THE WORLD.
It is obligatory for us when in a foreign city to visit the English language section of at least one bookshop as there are titles tucked away in the English section that rarely turn up in bookshops on home ground. The last time we were in Stockholm (2006) I bought ‘The History of the Compass’ and this time I bought Simon Garfield’s book ‘On the Map’. Garfield details in his book why the world looks like it does on maps and along with historical facts he presents to the reader mapping facts in an entertaining way. In ‘On the Map’ Garfield suggests and, I’m inclined to agree, that the most boring map in the world is the flight route map that pops up on the screen in the back of the plane seat in front of you. Some passengers become transfixed to the map, watching it from the start of the flight to the end and I’m sure their avidness is an attempt to wish away the thousands of kilometres and hours ahead.
For me, watching the map prolongs the agony of a long haul flight so I rarely turn it on. However, on the flight from Stockholm to Dubai I made an exception because I wanted to know if our flight was going to fly over the Ukraine as Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 did when it was shot down in July. The fateful downing resulted in the loss of all 283 passengers and 15 crew.
Below is a photograph of our flight path from the in-flight map and it clearly shows a deviation around the Ukraine.
There is no dispute that our flight path deviated around the troubled country. The Ukraine is just above the ‘t’ in the city name Istanbul. Prior to writing this post I consulted an aeronautical engineer and asked him how accurate the in-flight maps are when it comes to aircraft location and to my surprise he said the order of accuracy was around two metres.
These days it is getting more and more difficult for airlines to avoid flying over conflict zones. If our aircraft had taken a more easterly route it would have taken us over Iraq and a more westerly route over Syria, both countries experiencing serious conflict at the moment. I’m not suggesting for a minute that if our aircraft flew over Iraq or Syria would have succumbed to the same fate as the doomed Malaysian flight but one does wonder.
The growth of air travel since man first took to the air is phenomenal. Estimates vary as to how many people and aircraft are in the air at one time; some experts estimate up to five thousand aircraft conveying up to half a million passengers. These incredible numbers are set to increase when the populations of India and China become more affluent. A point of interest is that only 10-20% of the world’s population has been in an aeroplane and most of them are from the USA and Europe.
My first flight was when I was around seventeen years old. A friend and I took a holiday to northern Queensland. By today’s standards the holiday was far from luxurious; we experienced heavy rain and flooding and one night we found ourselves sleeping in our small tent pitched on a picnic table to avoid the rising floodwater below. The problem is when there are floods, dry-land creatures want to share the high and dry spot with you. On the night in question we had centipedes wanting a piece of our commodious abode. The holiday was in some ways rather taxing so I decided I would fly back to Sydney rather than expose myself to the rigours of hitchhiking, unlike my friend John who took the cheaper option.
John and I went adventuring on many occasions and our mode of transport was a Lambretta motor scooter. Reminiscing about those days I have come to the conclusion that we were plagued with bad weather everywhere we went. On one trip to the south coast of NSW we became stranded due to rising river and creek levels and on one occasion the only way across a flooded creek was to carry our scooter, palanquin-style.
Oscar Wilde once said ‘Youth is wasted on the young’. For me, this was not the case because at every opportunity I would be off adventuring. I certainly did not waste my youth. Following are two images of youthful expeditions.
The classy car in the above image is an Austin A30 and at the time was considered to be state of the art. A straight-4 engine propelled us along at 70mph (110km/h) with a fuel consumption of 42mpg (under 7L/100km) and for the car buffs, I quote, ‘acceleration 0-80k/h in 29 seconds’.
On a nostalgic note, I bring Encountering the Past Part 2 to an end. It was intended to write a critical and evocative end to this post but I have decided to keep such ravings to some other time, maybe at the end of Encountering the Past Part 3.
The next Encounter is to commence in April 2015. Our new adventure is to take us first to Thursday Island in far north Queensland then to London. From London we take a train to Portsmouth then a ferry across the Bay of Biscay to Santander in Spain. From Santander we head south in a small van with our foldup bikes and bed in the back to Portugal and Morocco.
Returning from Morocco we intend retracing our 1972/3 journey through Spain. It will be interesting to see if Spain is as carefree and accommodating as it was in the 1970s. From northern Spain we will travel through France by train and bike to the UK where we will revisit places and friends from our earlier trips in the 1970/80s. After the UK it will be to Paris and Zurich and then to Bangkok and back to the Land Down Under.
Encountering the Past Part 3 will take around five months. We hope you will travel with us and share our joy at being able to revisit the past once again. Avid readers of tbeartravels will know that Tbear was lost in Dresden during part 2 of our odyssey (open August 2014 archives in http://www.tbeartravels.com to read about the sad tale). However, there is a new bear which will accompany us on the forthcoming journey. During this trip, providing I can master the technology, I hope to place videos in forthcoming posts. On the handlebars of my bike I will have a ‘Gopro’ camera, which is a about the size of a matchbox. For those who do not know the Gopro world read about this amazing technology on the web.
The first post for our new odyssey will appear in May some time. In the meantime, if you would like to post a comment please do so and, don’t forget, if you want to be alerted by WordPress when we put up a new post click on ‘follow’. At the moment the tbeartravels blog averages 50 hits per day, the record has been 180. To date there has been more than 30 000 readers, not a lot compared to some celebrity sites, but Bev and I are happy that some people out in the big wide world appreciate our efforts.
Thanks to all the friendly and hospitable people we have met during Encountering the Past Part 1 & 2.
The world is full of people we would like to know better and we hope to find a few of them during Encountering the Past Part 3.
‘In light of our station in life we can see no good excuse for not going.’