Sydney to London


Friday 10th April 2015


Three of our friends (Eastern grey kangaroos) came to our house this morning to wish us well at the start of Encountering the Past Part 3.

Three of our friends (Eastern grey kangaroos) came to our house this morning to wish us well at the start of Encountering the Past Part 3.

In the lull between the end of Encountering the Past Part 2 and now, the start of Part 3, I mulled over the fact that I was expended so much time researching and writing about our travels rather than doing what most travellers do, taking a quick snap and pushing on to the next tourist attraction. The reason is multi fold; I need to satisfy my curious mind, understand the past and, along the way, develop my writing and photography skills.

Since commencing our encountering the past adventures in April 2012 my writings have taken on a certain autobiographical element which I will continue throughout our forthcoming journey.

Bev and I both hope that the forthcoming trek will prove as interesting to readers as previous ones have. Below is a map showing our movements over the next five months. We hope you enjoy the journey, our discoveries and my ravings even though they may be a little offbeat at times.

The red/black dotted line represents our proposed route.

The red/black dotted line represents our proposed route.

Prior to leaving Sydney for London (Friday 9th May) we spent three weeks on Thursday Island in far north Queensland visiting our eldest son. Stories relating to Thursday Island and Torres Strait can be found on this blog by searching August & September 2012 and December 2013 archives.

Thursday Island settlement, where we spent three weeks after leaving home.

Thursday Island settlement, where we spent three weeks after leaving home.

During the forthcoming trip we will utilise train, ferry, bus and our foldup bicycles. The foldup bikes we are taking with us are the Terns we bought in Switzerland last year. (Search Swiss Bike Mission on this blog for details of our rides in Switzerland, East Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden). The bike-riding experiences were the highlight of our 2014 adventures and therefore our bikes had to go on this trip. Travelling with foldup bikes is referred to as bike hitching: meaning if the ride is too steep, the roads too busy or it’s raining one can catch a bus or train with folded bike on one hand and panniers in the other.

One of our foldup bikes in its case.

One of our foldup bikes in its case.

For readers who might be thinking about bike-hitching the following information may be of some use. The case measures 900 x 680 x 350mm and weighs in total 30 kilograms, which includes the bike, panniers, tools, spares, helmets and clothes. Cases of these dimensions pass easily through the oversize luggage hole at airports.

Both Bev and I are travelling with approximately ten kilograms of personal gear each and that includes clothes, iPad, cameras, art stuff, MacBook Air, a small canister gas stove, bowls, mugs and food. When we mention to people the gear we are travelling with they are amazed that we can survive with so little. My theory is that I can only wear one shirt and a pair of trousers at one time so I only need two pairs. Once in London the bikes will be prepared for touring and the empty cases will be freighted to Zurich for their return with us to Australia in October.

Bev pulling the bike case to Mt Kuring-gai station.

Bev pulling the bike case to Mt Kuring-gai (Sydney) station.

Before venturing further into the first post, I would like to introduce BBear, the replacement for lost TBear. Avid readers of this blog know we lost TBear last year in Dresden Germany. He jumped off the handlebars of my bike and despite an extensive search we never found him. After losing him I posted the story about his loss and we were surprised by reader reaction. We were sent a replacement by Sophie and Jackson of Melbourne and it is going along with us today. (Search Dresden Part 2 2014 to read about the loss TBear).

A memory of TBear, eyeing a Greek salad on the island of Kythera in 2014.

A memory of TBear, eyeing a Greek salad on the island of Kythera in 2014.

The replacement bear is called BBear, a female bear, slightly bigger than TBear but the same colour and style. Replacing TBear with BBear is appropriate as she has a bell engraved on her chest, we have a granddaughter named Bella and Bev’s nickname is B Bear.   I will tell you how Bev acquired this name when we visit Cordoba in Spain in a couple months.

Apprehensive BBear waiting for the train to Sydney.

Apprehensive BBear waiting for the train to Sydney.

The appearance of the bears in my writings is to make the tbeartravels blog grandchild-friendly.

Friday 8th May 2015.

Twenty nine days after leaving home and being on Thursday Island.

The first serious activity today was to get to Mt Kuring-gai railway station from our friend’s place where we stayed the night prior to our departure. The train trip to the airport, although not direct, was no hassle even though we had our oversize cases in tow.

Check-in was amusing as the attendant was a jolly girl of Chilean background who quizzed us about our intentions in Spain. With great enthusiasm she peeled off a list of must visit places and foods we must try. I suggested to her that she obviously had an interest in food and she exclaimed, ‘food is my life’. I promised her we would sample some of her meal suggestions and write about them in the blog.

The 24hour Qantas flight was via Dubai. For readers not conversant with Australian airline history QANTAS is Australia’s national airline. The name is derived from Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Service. The QANTAS story began in 1919 when a pair of Gallipoli veterans, Fysh and McGinness heard of a ten thousand pound prize offered by the Australian government for the first to fly from England to Australia in under thirty days. Fysh and McGinness set their minds to the task and eventually QANTAS was formed.

The first overseas flight for QANTAS was in 1935, a four-day trip from Brisbane to Singapore then on the 4th August 1938 the first commercial flight from Sydney to England was successfully undertaken.

For many years QANTAS used flying boats which carried only fifteen passengers. Stopovers each night were spent in luxury hotels while aircraft were moored in a nearby lake or seaport. The flying boats travelled at 240 kilometres per hour, providing there was no head wind. A journalist at the time wrote: ‘In the air the flying boat was as graceful as an albatross: her four Pegasus engines, each of 920 horse power seemed to run as smoothly as motor cars’.

This is how it was in flying boat days. Image from Qantas Airways Archives.

This is how it was in flying boat days. Image from Qantas Airways Archives.

These days the pride of the QANTAS fleet is the Airbus A380 and it was on this monstrous but stylish aircraft we travelled. Aeroplanes have always fascinated me because of their engineering excellence. It amazes me how hundreds of thousands of parts come together and function. My earliest memories of jet passenger aircraft was when the Comet, a British designed and built aircraft, arrived in Sydney in the 1950s. The airline publicity blurb stated, ‘ the Comet is so steady in the air that it is possible to stand a pencil on end and it will not fall over’. The Comet at first was successful beyond expectations but metal fatigue set in after a few years and they literally blew up in the air due to decompression. Investigations into the loss of the Comets were the largest air crash investigation ever launched in Britain.

QANTAS A380. Image from Qantas heritage Collection.

QANTAS A380. Image from Qantas heritage Collection.

On the tarmac, a QANTAS Airbus A380-842. Image credit: Darren Koch via Wikipedia

On the tarmac, a QANTAS Airbus A380-842. Image credit: Darren Koch via Wikipedia

The original kangaroo symbol appearing on the tail of the aircraft above was adapted from the Australian one-penny coin. The symbol above is referred to as the ‘retro design’.

An unusual view of an A380. Image from official Airbus file.

An unusual view of an A380. Image from official Airbus file.

The A380 Airbus first took to the air in 2005 and in the past ten years Airbus has received 317 orders of which 156 have been delivered. Emirates Airlines has the most number on order with 140 ordered. QANTAS at the time of writing has twelve A380s in operation. If you think you would like to have an A380 as a sky entertainment venue it will cost you around $550 million.

The A380’s wing is sized for a maximum take-off weight of more than six hundred and fifty tonnes and with 310 000 litres fuel aboard it has a range of 15 700km. It can travel at more than 900km/hr and has seating for 525 people in a typical three-class configuration or 853 if an all economy class configuration was employed.

The cost for an A380-800 Airbus journey of 14hours is around $11 500 for food and drink, $13 000 for staff pay, $37 000 for airport taxes and navigation fees and $250 000 for fuel.

Our take-off was so quiet that I asked Bev whether we were in the air.  I was busy reading and didn’t realise we had left terra firma.  The flight from Sydney to Dubai took 13 hours and 10 minutes. Dubai is located on the northwest coast of the United Emirates (U.A.E.). on the Arabian Peninsula. We, like many Australians travelling to Europe via Dubai, do not give a lot of thought to where Dubai is exactly. We know it’s in the oil rich Middle East but that’s about it. The map below shows exactly where Dubai is.

Arabian Peninsula Map.

Arabian Peninsula Map.

The United Arab Emirates shares borders with Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and across the Strait of Hormuz is Iran. Many of the U.A.E. neighbours are either super rich or wracked in poverty. Countries nearby the U.A.E have varying degrees of democracy. Those with the highest level of democracy are Israel, Kuwait, Tunisia, Lebanon and Turkey. The remaining countries are categorised as authoritarian regimes.  Following are some very basic facts about the countries surrounding the U.A.E.

United Arab Emirates: Established in 1971. Each emirate is governed by an absolute monarch. Islam is the official religion and Arabic is the official language.

Oman: Oman has been governed since 1970 by an absolute monarch. The monarch does not tolerate criticism and rules accordingly. Oman’s human rights record has been subject to scrutiny recently.

Yemen: Yemen is classified as a kleptocratic state (a corrupt form of authoritarian government). The security situation at the moment remains volatile with widespread disruptions. An interesting point to note is that pirates operating out of Somalia work right across to the Yemen. Small vessels such as yachts wanting to access the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal are advised to go via the Cape of Good Hope.

Saudi Arabia: Formed in 1902 and since then has been regarded as an absolute monarchy. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemn both the Saudi criminal justice system and its severe punishments.

Jordan: Considered to be a constitutional monarchy with the king holding wide executive powers. Jordan is classed as a ‘high human development country’ and enjoys advanced status with the European Union.

Syria: Syria is in the middle of an extremely violent civil war. Fighting between government forces and rebels has resulted in the deaths of more than 100 000 people and created two million refugees, half of them children. Many of the refugees have fled to neighbouring Jordan and Turkey. Fighting is going on in Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo; all these cities Bev and I visited in 1972 and it is now sad that these once beautiful cities are in a state of destruction.

Iraq: Regarded as democratic federal parliamentary Islamic government. At this moment civil war still rages and a report in 2011 suggests approximately 500 000 Iraqis have died.

Kuwait: Classified as a constitutional emirate with an elected parliamentary system.

In the 1970s Bev and I visited a number of the countries mentioned above and there was only one country where access was denied and that was Libya. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, leader of Libya, decided to sever all contacts with the outside world. Bev and I were in a shipping office in Beirut arranging the transport of our Beetle from Lebanon to Egypt when we heard the borders had been closed. It was our intention to drive across the top of North Africa through Egypt, Libya, Tunis, and Algeria to Morocco. From Morocco we intended to take the ferry to Spain and continue our European tour.

Gadhafi was deposed and killed in October 2011. Today Libya is one of the most dangerous countries to visit in the world.

Map showing our 1972/3 journey through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon (red/black dot line) and our intended route (solid black line) across the top of North Africa to Morocco.

Map showing our 1972/3 journey through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon (red/black dot line) and our intended route (solid black line) across the top of North Africa to Morocco.

Our flight passed over, or very close to, countries we visited back in what I call the halcyon days of travel, the 1970s.   The countries we have fond memories of in the region are Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.  In the 1970s borders were open and there was relatively little danger for the foreign traveller. In those days there was no ‘war on terror’, the region was calm.

For security reasons we are unlikely to encounter the past in the now troubled countries that we visited in the 1970s so I will have to resort to telling you tales from past journals at some time in the future. However I now relate one to whet your appetite and it relates to the worst night’s camp I have ever had. The reason I chose this one is because according to the in flight map we flew over the exact camp site.

Portion of the inflight map clearly showing Samsun.

Portion of the inflight map clearly showing Samsun.


7th October 1970.

From Trabzon we headed east along the foreshores of the Black Sea. There was a cold wind blowing from the northeast, probably coming from freezing Siberia. The countryside along the edge of the Black Sea is not really that pretty, it’s wind swept and eroded, a result of constant winds from the north and thousands of years of human occupation. The road along the edge of the sea is narrow and in places it is benched into the cliffs, the actual road surface is only a few feet above the high-water mark. Our camp tonight is against the cliff face and only a few feet from the water’s edge. It’s going to be a rough night as the wind is picking up and the sea spray is dousing the Rover already.  

8th October 1970

Last night breaks all records for the worst night I have ever had, I never want an experience like that ever again. Up until now the worst night was back in Pakistan when we were locked in the police station cell and we had frogs jumping on us all night; that night was nothing compared to last night.  

There were a number of factors contributing to my bad night. First and foremost, I had the runs badly, which meant every quarter of an hour or so I had to get out of the Rover and do my stuff. Before venturing out I undressed as it was raining and the rain combined with sea spray made the outside environment very wet. If I had ventured out with clothes on they would have got drenched and I would have had to sit the remainder of the night in wet clothes. After each of the tortuous loo visits I crawled back into the vehicle, dried myself off and dressed again. The process of in/out and getting undressed and dressed again and again and the physical effort required to crap drained me, it was running out of me like water.   At around 5-30 am I couldn’t stand it any longer so I took to driving with Ian asleep in the back.

Between Trabzon and Samsun many large rivers run into the sea from the south and flood-outs from these rivers have created expansive alluvial flats. Corn, tobacco and sugar beet seem to be the main crops grown in the area. In the east of Turkey there is extensive agricultural activity, there are few tractors or harvesters around, most of the ploughing is done with bullock and a single deep rip plough, harvesting is done by hand. The ploughmen in these parts were all old blokes who leaned on their ploughs for either support or to add weight to the plough so it worked in deep. Ploughing with oxen is slow work. An ox with a heavy wooden plough in tow does not move at breakneck speeds. To work the land in those parts you would have to be tough and hardy. From my observations life as a farmer would be nothing but repetitious laborious work. I was of this mind because farmhouses and outbuildings were dilapidated and dreary, there was no affluence evident anywhere, the whole area had an abject air of poverty about it.

(Note:The English area of land measurement, the acre, was determined from the area one man and one bullock could plough in one day.)

9th October 1970

GOAT’S MILK CHEESE A CURE FOR THE INTERNAL:  Last night was a good night; I didn’t have to get up. Just as well as there would have been no cover for major loo activities. It seems the owner of the eating-house where we ate last night was right! ‘Goat’s milk is good for the internal’. Ian had a lousy night, he tossed and turned all night. He reckons it was because he was sleeping across the front seat of the Rover and couldn’t stretch out. I slept in the back of the Rover and didn’t know it was time to wake up until Ian started the Rover and commenced driving; it was 6-30 and Ian had had enough and wanted to move. You don’t last long lying on the floor of a Landrover without a mattress when the vehicle is on the move, the bolt heads become too difficult to accommodate.   On this journey, not staying in the one place for very long means a lot of the daily happenings become a blur, I guess it’s culture shock.

Early morning we stopped at a nondescript village and had chi and porridge. The porridge as best we could determine was made from barley and buckwheat and on the top was copious amounts of goat’s milk yoghurt and sugar beet cubes, it really was the best.   I will be looking for more of this concoction as we travel through Turkey.’

And now back to the reality of today.



Unfortunately we cannot say we slept well last night. One never does when travelling in economy class and, in addition, my mind was a whirlpool of thoughts about the forthcoming trip. I can’t wait to get on my bike.

Every time we fly I seem to get a big body sitting in front of me and because of the weight factor every move they make is exaggerated. Their mass pushes my in flight media screen in the back of the seat further than normal and sometimes so close it’s impossible to focus on the screen. I think a courtesy protocol should be introduced when putting seats back and big people should be made aware of their movements for the person sitting behind. Prior to pushing my seat back I warn the person sitting behind me. Last night there was an Irishman sitting behind me who was returning to Ireland for a family visit and we chatted about places in Ireland. Sitting next to us was a young Sydneyite who was involved in robotics. He began his working career as a motor mechanic and now he is involved in the design and maintenance of robot claws of the type used to move radio-active products around. I am now much wiser as he showed me a movie of the claws on his iPhone.

What an amazing place Heathrow airport is.   International airports are like a bicycle wheel, the hub being the terminal and the spokes, aircraft flight paths.

The spoke-hub distribution paradigm.

The spoke-hub distribution paradigm.

The hub is the airport buildings and the converging spokes the flight paths of aircraft coming from and going to destinations all over the world. The spoke-hub paradigm is commonly used in transport, telecommunications, freight movements and computing (star networking). Because the system is centralised it has its drawbacks; for example, if one aircraft is late the whole system can be affected.

On many occasions when sitting in busy airports I think about the logistics and traffic analysis involved to keep the hub running efficiently. Aircraft come and go with very little time in between. If there were long periods of inactivity the ground staff would be sitting around twiddling their thumbs and that would be no good for airport profitability. In the world of aircraft movements the aim is not to starve the hub but keep it well fed with aircraft arrivals and departures on a constant basis. In the case of Heathrow the hub is fed with seventy million passengers annually, which sounds a lot but it is not the busiest airport in the world.

Exact statistics as to which is the busiest are hard to get, however Heathrow is up in the top five. Airports that exceed Heathrow numbers are: Jackson Atlanta 95 million per year, Beijing 81 million, Dubai 70.5 million. The numbers are staggering and if one lets the mind wander to the services required to service these numbers it is mind-boggling.

Author Robert Wicks wrote an informative book entitled Heathrow Airport Manual and in his book he stated: Heathrow cafes sell more than 26,000 cups of tea, 35,000 cups of coffee and 1,050 bottles of champagne every day and more than 974 tons of chips per every year. More than 200,000 bags are put through Heathrow’s security system.  London Ambulance Service first response teams within Heathrow terminals ride mountain bikes. One bottle of Chanel No 5 is sold at World Duty Free every nine minutes. Breakfast is the most popular meal of the day at Heathrow with almost 5 million eggs, 6.4million croissants and 4.5million rashers of bacon served every year. There are over seventy thousand people working at Heathrow.

The land on which Heathrow Airport is located has a very historical background and even though there are many references, getting the facts took some time. One thing I have concluded is that the majority of the seventy million passengers passing through the airport annually do not know they may be walking nearby to or over an early Iron Age fort or through an historic highwaymen’s lair.

At Heathrow we were met by the daughter of my friend Ian who I drove overland with in 1970. The plan now is to spend a few days with her family, then on Tuesday 12th May, take a train to Portsmouth and board a Brittany Ferry for Santander on the north coast of Spain. The map below shows the Brittany Ferry route from Portsmouth to Santander Spain, the starting point for our journey south to Morocco.

Ushant Island (France) and Cape Ortegal (Spain) are the theoretical boundary points of the Bay of Biscay.

Ushant Island (France) and Cape Ortegal (Spain) are the theoretical boundary points of the Bay of Biscay.

That’s the end of the first post for Encountering the Past Part 3. Bev and I hope you will tag along with us over the next five months, I’m sure there will be adventures but maybe not as exciting as they were in the 1970s.

The next post an unusual one I have to admit relates to the Wanstead Village dog show and a visit to Central London.

Post a comment, we would love to hear from you. Fred, Bev and BBear.



About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
This entry was posted in Odyssey #3 2015: UK Spain Morocco France. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Sydney to London

  1. Jessica Hornsey says:

    This is so cool Bev and Fred!! Some of my friends like reading your blog now too!! Love Jessica The Jumper 🙂

    • tbeartravels says:

      Dear Jumping J

      Pleased you are plugged in. If you are watching on a regular basis I will try and do some watercolour drawings (other than maps) for you to ponder. I’m looking forward to the colourful block dwellings of the back streets of Fez Morocco.

      Keep jumping Fred and Bev.

  2. Erika Angst says:

    Hello Fred, Bev and BBear, we wish you a wonderful trip through Europe, lots of wonderful encounters with wonderful people and good roads to ride on:) It’s great that BBear is travelling with you! Love Erika and family

    • tbeartravels says:

      Erika and Rolf
      Good to know you are with us ono ur travels. Bev and I are in Santander northern Spain at the moment and today we are heading for Salamanca. Slowly making our way south. Salamanca has some great bike paths but the same old city problem…broken bottles…and thus flat tyres. We have had three in the past four days. Must admit I’m getting quicker at changing and repairing tyres, I can now do it in 10 minutes.

      Keep well see you later in the year. Fred and bev

  3. Hi Fred and Bev,
    Following your new blog woth interest. Thanks for the information about heathrow and the countries of the Arabian peninsula.
    Ray and Maree Dart

    • tbeartravels says:

      Ray and Maree
      Thanks for the contact, it’s good to know friends are out there reading our blog. Bev and I are in Santander northern Spain at the moment after coming across from Portsmouth on the ferry about five days ago. We didn’t intend staying so long here but the bike riding is fantastic and as well we were held up inside for a couple of days because of rain. In all our Encountering the past travels over the past two years we have had little rain so we can’t complain. Hope all well with you both and the Tamworth winter is not too taxing. Fred and Bev

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