miles, 13 mph average30
Aleppo (Haleb) - Mediterranean
Once the centre of the Islamic Empire, Syria covers an area that
has seen invasions and occupations over the ages, from Romans and
Mongols to Crusaders and Turks. Syria gained its independence from
the French in 1946, and whilst officially a republic it has been
ruled by the Assad family since 1970.
the current president, came reluctantly to power after his playboy
brother (and the erstwhile heir) came to grief in his convertible
Merc. Bashir had been working as an ophthalmologist. Initially he
was reluctantly accepted by the people in deference to his father,
but he has gone on to prove his worth making modernist reforms whilst
maintaining a popular degree of antagonism to the United States.
There are pictures and statues of President Assad Jnr & Snr
everywhere in Syria.
Whilst Syria has its own oil, production is in decline and the country
spends over half its revenues on armaments - and with neighbours
like Iraq, Israel and Lebanon who can blame them? Poverty is hence
widespread, according to the BBC average income is less than £1,000
p.a., and the country has no free media.
To quote the UK Foreign Office "There is a general threat from
terrorism. Attacks cannot be ruled out and could be indiscriminate,
including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
On 27th September a car bomb exploded at the intersection of the
Airport Road and Damascus South Circular Road in Damascus. Seventeen
people were killed and many injured". On 26th October American
helicopter-borne troops launched an assault on a building in a Syrian
border village. A friend of mine quipped encouragingly that perhaps
I should pack my mountain biking body armour. Welcome to Syria.
My own experience of travelling through the country was more one
of axis of friendliness rather than axis of evil. I was made welcome
everywhere, offered countless cups of tea, but never hassled or
overwhelmed. If I was lost someone would come to my aid, if they
couldn't help they would find someone that could. As well as Arabic,
in which I had taken great pains to learn a few essentials, some
of the older people had a little French (one moped riding Bedouin
I met was, somewhat bizarrely, fluent in Spanish) and invariably
a conversation would go like this:
Me: "Murr haba" (Hello)
Friendly Arab Bloke (FAB): "Saba al-khayr, kayf haalak?"
(Good morning, how are you?)
Me: "Momtez, shokran" (Great, thanks)
FAB: "Ala fayn?" (Where are you going?)
At this point an English speaker was called, tea poured and I would
be given a bag of oranges to help me along my way.
FAB: "Afwan en Suuriya". Everyone said that to me. It
means welcome to Syria.
I consider myself to be a well-travelled sort of chap, but I'd never
heard of Aleppo
prior to arriving in Syria's second city. However it's quite a size
with a population of three million, who, like the rest of Syria
in the majority Sunni Muslims. Its beginnings date back to the 4th
millennium BC being at the crossroads of two trading routes - west
/ east from the Med to the Euphrates (the western end of the Silk
Road from China) and south / north from India to Europe, and in the
old town some of the original caravanserai
(the Travel Inn of yesteryear) still survive. The city's name means
'milk' (Haleb) in Arabic as the Old Testament's Abraham reputedly
stopped here to milk his cow. Towering above the ancient city is the
13th century citadel
- now a Unesco world heritage
Women, head to toe in black yashmaks, milled about the plaza,
and I wandered down to the souk
to sniff the scent of spices, take tea with the traders
and stare at the silverware for which Aleppo's craftsmen are famous.
The streets of the souk are covered to give the effect of walking
through tunnels and having over 10km of alleyways, its thought to
be the largest souk in the world. These tunnels help keep the souk
at a moderate temperature all year round.
Next stop was the mosque with its polished marble floor
and water fonts,
some time to admire the traditional overhanging balconies,
and enjoy a cup of hot soup from a street trader.
seeing was all a bit too much for some.
I got the wheels turning early, as daylight hours were limited in
midwinter, and wrapped up against the chilly dawn. I rolled through
a land of olive
groves and tomatoes being grown under poly-tunnels. A land of
very odd farm gates.
It was a quiet dual carriageway, but it lacked the romance I had
expected of the Silk Road although in places you could imagine almost
(apart from the overhead cables and satellite dishes of course).
From time to time a vehicle would trundle up the road towards me
on the wrong side of the road. All perfectly normal it seemed, and
always a friendly toot and a wave. When the rolling landscape started
to roll higher I thought I had better stop for some breakfast and
pulled into a bakery
mistaking it for a café. No fuss was made, tea
was poured, and the baker produced some delicious honey soaked cakes
from the oven.
Three cakes later, three teas and a struggle to get the baker to
accept any money and I was on my way. I climbed up to a crest
and could see for miles down into the Orontes valley
below. The river had seen its hey day long ago and now the waters
are siphoned off for irrigation upstream in the farms of the Al
Ghab, and what remains is used for cooling a line of chain smoking
power stations whose sulphurous fumes rasped at my throat, such
that I was glad to be climbing out into the mountains of the Nusayriyah
- a northern extension of the Lebanese chain.
At the top of a steep and endless climb up into the mountains
about 25km east of the port city of Latakia is Saladin's Castle.
Its strategic position goes back in history to the Phoenicians who
controlled this site in the 1st Millennium BC, and were still holding
it when Alexander the Great arrived in 333 BC. Saladin didn't come
along until 1188 but he never took up residence and his name was
only given to the castle in the 20th century. The Crusader's nemesis,
Saladin was sultan of Egypt and Syria and founded the Ayyubid dynasty
that came to rule most of what we now call the Middle East. As a
strict Sunni Muslim, even Christian chroniclers maintain that he
did not order any of the killing and maiming and putting the heads
of his defeated enemies on spikes that is so readily associated
with the Crusades. After Saladin had captured Jerusalem, the English
crusaders were so eager to retake the holy city that a special 'Saladin
tithe' was imposed, although you could avoid the 10% tax by joining
the Crusade itself. Tax or death? Plus ca change! The tithe funded
Richard the Lionheart's crusade, but all attempts made by Richard
to re-take Jerusalem failed. However, Saladin's relationship with
Richard was one of chivalrous mutual respect as well as military
rivalry. When Richard became ill with fever, Saladin offered the
services of his personal physician and Saladin sent him fresh fruit
juices chilled with snow, as a treatment. At Arsuf, when Richard
lost his horse, Saladin sent him two replacements.
I was enjoying a late lunch overlooking the castle
when Claus and Petra arrived on bikes so heavily laden that I wondered
how they had ever managed some of the gradients that had had me pushing
my lighweight bike. Tourists are very rare in Syria so to meet two
cyclists that had enjoyed many similar trips to mine was a one in
a million chance and we spent the evening together in Latakia exchanging
stories and tips. Whilst their cycling experiences spanned many years
and great distances, they couldn't understand how I could travel so
light. It had never occurred to them that travelling as a pair they
could have been carrying so much less but had doubled up on things
like tools, spares, first aid, cameras and so on!
|Syria & Jordan
108 miles, 11 mph average1
Mediterranean - Crac Des Chevaliers
I didn't sleep at all well and got up before the alarm knowing that
the day would end in a big climb. After two hours in pitch-blackness
I'd passed Jablah and missed any opportunity to properly see the
4th largest Roman amphitheatre
in the world and was beginning to wonder if the sun would ever rise.
I checked my watch and discovered that I'd misread it earlier and
it was still only 4am! Idiot. Now I was not only tired from riding
but sleepy as well. I found a bus shelter, put all my clothes on,
including a hood and two hats, and fell fast asleep for a couple
I swept through Baniyas as quickly as possible - it's a major oil
terminal so once again the power plants were pumping out the fumes,
and headed inland to see the crusader castle at Marqab.
It was perched at the top of another sharp climb and by the time
I reached the top I was shaking and in a cold sweat. That turned
out to be the first symptoms of gut rot and not just fatigue as
I'd hoped. A dash into a grove of eucalyptus and a couple of Imodium
soon rectified the situation but I was left feeling washed out all
A few miles
south of Tartus lie the remains of the Phoenician city
This part of the Mediterranean coast is known for its ancient civilisations
and evidence of the oldest known alphabet (Ugarit) was discovered
not far north from here. The Syrian's were also writing music and
using coins while we Brits were still banging rocks together.
With the snow capped Lebanese Mountains
to my right I started to climb inland and whilst the rural scenery
near Safita was lovely, those killer gradients were back. I needed
to ask for directions continually and found that the locals didn't
recognise the castle's French name but would smile and point when
I asked, "Ayn, Qalak al Hoyn?" but I had to refuse the
tea stops offered as politely as possible as the sun was starting
its rapid descent and I desperately wanted to reach my next destination
in good daylight. The signposts were often in Arabic or sometimes
were even more confusing.
Guarding the mountain pass between the sea and Homs is the most
important and well-preserved medieval castle
on earth. Crac des Chevaliers was the headquarters of the Knights
Hopsitalier during the Crusades
and as a young lad I'd marvelled at pictures of its ramparts and
made wooden swords to fight off the dreaded Turk. The castle was
expanded between 1150 and 1250 and eventually housed a garrison
of 2,000. The inner curtain wall is up to 100 feet thick at the
base on the south side, with seven guard towers 30 feet in diameter.
Cycling up there on paved roads was difficult enough, so I'm not
surprised the castle has hardly ever been captured in its thousand
|Syria & Jordan
126 miles, 13mph average2
Crac Des Chevaliers - Malula
The high ground east of the castle was rough arable land,
that seemed to be sparsely
occupied by Armenian families with their herds of goats,
occasional donkey and women folk dressed in brightly coloured brocade.
I met one such woman as she walked along the empty road to collect
water. I wanted to take her photo, but as I stopped the poor girl
shrieked, dropped her bucket and took flight. I suppose its not
every day you see a man dressed like Marcel Marceau astride some
strange machine and talking in a language you've never heard before.
I spent the next few hours expecting to see a pick-up truck full
of angry Armenian men coming after me with pickaxe handles.
Turning south at Homs I decided I'd take a detour into the country
to see a large lake. I found the lake
alright but it was really just a cooling reservoir for the local
power station so I headed off through narrow lanes between vines
and almond groves. Farm workers waved, snotty nosed kids stared
in disbelief and no one seemed to know where Damascus was! The road
became smaller and turned into a track. Then as I came to the end
of the track at a large metal gate I heard the sound of gunfire.
I'd accidentally wandered into the middle of a military zone and
had been merrily snapping away with my camera. I retraced my wheel-tracks
as stealthily as its possible to be in luminous yellow lycra and
eventually I rolled up to the Lebanese border a few miles north
of the Golan Heights and found out from the gun-toting, tea-offering
guards that I was nowhere near where I wanted to be. The only way
to Damascus was to go all the way back to the lake - the detour
had cost me more than 30 miles.
The road south quickly falls into the rain shadow of the mountains
and turns to desert.
The desert was...umm...deserted, although I did pass a few small
towns and some bee-hive shaped dwellings,
but food and water were in short supply so I stocked up whenever
possible. I relished the empty tranquillity of the desert, its hues
changing from golden brown to ochre to calico to white as I moved
south, lit by the stark sun and never ending sky.
It was clear I wasn't going to make Damascus that night but I'd
been told there might be somewhere to stay in the mountain villages
to the north of the city. I passed the caves
at Yabroud at sunset and started the climb to nearly 2000 meters
in complete darkness. They say the silence of the desert at night
can be deafening. But there was one sound I did not wish to hear.
Out of the still night I heard the sound I had been dreading - a
howl and then a bark. That bark set off more barking from unseen
dogs all around. I didn't want to turn around and flee downhill
so I resolved to moving steadily upwards, working with breath to
spare in case a sudden sprint was called for. I caught the outline
of a big grey dog in my front light and as he turned to see me a
strange thing happened. As well as the main bike light, I wear a
helmet-mounted torch that gives a focussed beam of light wherever
your head is pointing. If you look into the beam its so strong that
you'll see nothing but green spots for the next minute or so. The
beam caught the dog's eyes; two flashes of amber retina reflecting
back at me, making him yelp and duck for cover. I repeated the process
with the whole pack, zapping them off as if I was some kind of alien
with a laser gun. I think I may have even made "dzzoosch, dzzoosch"
At last I reached the top of the climb and flew down from the darkness
of mountaintop into the welcome twinkle of the lights of Malula.
I arrived in the village square and three local men approached from
the shadow of dim streetlight. Having addressed them in Arabic,
they immediately switched to English and after I asked if there
was a hotel the first said I could stay in the monastery if I wanted.
I thought he was joking and explained that even though I was travelling
by bike and probably looking a bit shabby I could afford a hotel
if one was available. "No, no" he insisted, pointing to
a tiny door
in a nearby wall "You must stay with us here in the church.
Father Peter will be most pleased to meet you." Having already
contemplated a night under the stars in my bivvy bag, the offer
of a cold church floor didn't seem too bad so I followed Brother
Father Peter was everything you would expect of a Greek Orthodox
priest. A giant of a man, swathed in black and sporting a beard
big enough to loose a badger in, he welcomed me into the 3rd century
building that had been his home for ten years. The bike was parked
under the stairs
and I was shown to my heated en-suite room. After that the vow of
silence and a £10 voluntary donation didn't seem too high
a price to pay.
|Syria & Jordan
36 miles, 15 mph average3
Malula - Damascus
Knowing there would be no point trying to ride further south than
Damascus that day, I decided to have a day of leisure. Its largely
desert south of the city and if I reached the Jordanian border too
late it would be closed
and accommodation might be unreliable.
Father Peter invited me for a sumptuous breakfast of homemade jams,
yoghurt and baby aubergines stuffed with pickled walnuts, peppers
and garlic. After eating he gave me a tour of the chapel
that is full of priceless icons and relics and where services are
conducted in Aramaic, as the village
is so remote it is now the last remaining place in the world where
the locals still speak the language of Christ.
After more Arabic coffee, I said my goodbyes and rode though the
village to take a last look up at the monastery
and back out into the high desert hills.
The scenery was epic; sandstone cliffs
that soared skywards and a road of glass that stretched
front of me. I passed Islamic mosques
and Christian churches
in equal numbers before a high-speed run down into Damascus in time
to hit the rush hour traffic. I think the rush hour here lasts from
7am to 8pm, and I wove my way between dented yellow taxis jammed
four deep on a two lane highway. Damascus calls itself the 'fragrant
city' but the only fragrance I recall was the essence of spent gasoline.
Syria's capital prides itself on being the oldest continuously inhabited
city in the world, with archaeological remains that date back to
6000 BC. It was the Aramaeans who first established the water distribution
system of Damascus by constructing canals and tunnels diverting
water from the Barada River. The same network was later improved
by the Romans and still forms the basis of water system to the old
part of Damascus and feeding the Hammam in the ancient souk.
I took some time out to soak in the souk, get beaten to a pulp by
a big hairy masseur, have four day's stubble sliced off my chin
and get refreshed with more tea.
It was here in around 36 BC, that John the Baptist fell foul of
a canny political plot. After being so delighted by Salome's erotic
dance (sometimes referred as the dance of the seven veils) the Roman
governor Herod granted the dancer any wish. Legend has it that she
was prompted (thus absolving Herod of any direct responsibility)
to ask for the troublesome Baptist's head on a plate, and this very
head is now said to remain in a shrine within the Grand Mosque
of Damascus. The main entrance to the mosque has some of the most
work and inside services,
prayers and speeches seem to continue around the clock. One cleric's
tajweed (the melodic recitation of the Qur'an) was so soulful that
half of his congregation were moved to tears.
Whilst the Romans were good at stomping around and poking people
with sharp metal objects they weren't too hot at maths. Have you
tried adding up two columns of roman numerals? Meanwhile the mathematicians
of Damascus were using the Arabic numerals we use today to great
effect for their trading, price negotiations and engineering. It
was this advantage that was a contributory factor in the decline
of Roman power and it wasn't until the European armies came back
to Syria during the Crusades that our current numerical system was
adopted from the Arabs.
My day was cut somewhat short as the citadel was closed for repairs
as was Saladin's mausoleum
and the national Museum was just closed, so I bought some sugared
almonds in the souk and took a take-away dinner back to my no-star
hotel room. Total cost for the day out - about a tenner.
That afternoon I got chatting to Hatta, a Canadian Muslim journeying
south to Mecca on the Hajj with 50 other Canadian pilgrims. He had
been many times before and seemed to be the spiritual leader of
his group. It appeared to me to be a phenomenal act of dedication
to make such a difficult journey combining hours of connecting flights
and great cost, but it is the duty of every ablebodied Muslim to
make the Hajj at least once in their life. I asked if I could come
along and he said I would be most welcome assuming I would convert
to Islam and learn the Qur'an in the next three days.
|Syria & Jordan
125 miles, 13 mph average4
Damascus - Amman
As ever I hit the highway out of town before the traffic awoke.
A few miles to the southwest of the city is the approximate site
(no one knows for sure) of St Paul's epiphany. Saul (as he was then
known), a Greek Jew who had been granted Roman citizenship, was
on his way to Damascus under the authority of the religious (Jewish)
authorities in Jerusalem, to annihilate the early Christian community
there. En route he received a vision, was temporarily blinded and
as a result converted to Chrsitianity. Ever since this time 'the
Road to Damascus' has sybolised a dramatic and unpredictable change
for the sake of higher ideals.
dawn I was deep in the red As-Safa desert
and a tail wind blew me along the flats, cruising at well over 20
mph. I was 50 miles into the day by breakfast
time. Eating at any grotty roadside joint seems like a recipe for
poisoning, but I figured that once anything has been dropped into
the boiling fat
any germs would be well and truly dead. I survived almost exclusively
on omelette, shawarma (chicken wrapped in flat bread) and falafel,
as they were the only things I knew how to ask for in Arabic!
By 9 am I made the border passing only a few small towns and the
local Viagra factory.
Then the trouble began. Two hours of shuffling paper, queues, stamps,
exit visas, entry visas, fees and chitties and I was through. All
my earlier speed wasted and the prospect of riding into Amman in
the dark at evening prayer time was now a very real and very depressing
prospect. Somehow the wind had changed direction
to blow in my face and the flats had become hills.
I gritted my teeth and the blown sand gritted the teeth of my gears.
I finally emerged from a five-mile barbed wire causeway into The
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It's a small country with few natural
resources, but it has played a pivotal role in the struggle for
power in the Middle East. Jordan's significance results partly from
its strategic location at the crossroads of what most Christians,
Jews and Muslims call the Holy Land. It is one of two Arab nations
to have made peace with Israel and has a key allegiance with the
USA. The desert kingdom emerged out of the post-World War I division
of the Middle East by Britain and France. It has none of the oil
of its northerly neighbour and yet average incomes are double. The
difference is immediately noticeable by the number of private cars
on the road and the availability of recognisable brand names in
shops and on advertising hoardings.
100 km south of Damascus, the ancientcity of Jerash has an unbroken
chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,000 years and
lies on a plain surrounded by wooded hills and fertile basins. Taken
from the Greeks by Pompey in 63 BC, it came under Roman rule and
was one of the ten great Roman cities. Regardless of its magnificence,
someone had left their old bike leaning up against the south gate
to the city.
Under the Romans it was known as Gerasa, and the site is now generally
acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns
anywhere. Hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated and
restored over the past 70 years, Jerash has examples of the grand,
formal provincial Roman urbanism comprising paved and colonnaded
soaring hilltop temples,
spacious public squares
and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and
Amman, the capital of Jordan, is a mostly new city with a few remnants
of its former glory and is situated high on a hilly
area between the desert and the fertile Jordan Valley. The climb
into the city seemed eternal and the traffic horrendous. By the
time I found a hotel I was shaking with fear, cold and exhaustion.
|Syria & Jordan
38 miles, 20 mph average5
Amman - Dead Sea
My last day was going to be a nice easy one. I had a quick look
at the second century Roman Amphitheatre
and the far more recent King Abdullah Mosque
with its dazzzling blue dome.
I had the Mosque to myself but that Friday eveing it would throng
to the sound of a thousand worshipers celebrating the first night
of Eid. Eid al-Adha, to give it its full name, is the Festival of
Sacrifice to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to
sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. The devil
tempted Ibrahim by saying he should disobey God and spare his son,
but as Ibrahim was about to sacrifice his son, God intervened and
instead provided a lamb as the sacrifice. In the last few days I
had seen trucks of sheep and goats on their way to the cities to
meet their fate as today these animals would be sacrificed as a
reminder of Ibrahim's obedience to God. The meat is then shared
out with family, as well as the poor members of the
I rode south where the road still traces the path of the King's
Highway, reputedly the world's oldest continuously used route, connecting
the Red Sea to the River Euphrates. It was onced used by Muslims
on their way south to Mecca (they now fly or go down the desert
motorway further east) and is still used by Christians as it connects
many holy sites such as Mount Nebo and Bethany (the place of Christ's
baptism on the River Jordan) although this is now in an Israeli
military zone and somewhat off limits to nomadic
Being so close to the Israeli occupied territories (Palestine),
I came across even more Army and Police checkpoints than usual.
Armed to the teeth, usually with a tank parked up to the side, the
first guard bade me to pull over. "Sporty!" the guard
said. "Yes, um, thanks" I said in reply. "You're
sporty, sporty!" he said again somewhat impatiently, "Sporty,
yes, cycling, yes, good for the heart" I pointed at my chest.
A second guard closed in "Your passportee eef you please!".
The first major town south of Amman on the King's Highway is Madaba.
In the Church of St. George in the middle of town, there is an amazing
representing the Holy Land and its surrounding regions. Once familiar
with the map's orientation (i.e. not the north - south norm that
we are used to), clearly visible are Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, Nablus,
Al-Khalil (Hebron), Ariha (Jericho), Egypt and the Nile, Turkey
and Lebanon. The mosaic was made around 560 BC, originally composed
of over 2 million pieces, and measured 95 square meters of which
25m still exist.
known as Pisgah in the Bible, is where Moses lived out his remaining
days and viewed the Promised
Land that he would never enter (Deuteronomy 34: 1-8). Mount
Nebo still offers that fantastic view westward,
with a vista that includes the Dead Sea, the West Bank, the Jordan
River, Jericho, and, on a clear day, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There
are actually two peaks on Mt. Nebo, Siyagha and al-Mukhayyat. During
the sixth century CE, a Byzantine monastery was constructed at Siyagha.
It was built on the foundations of an even earlier chapel, which
was erected by monks from Egypt during the third or fourth century
AD.The ride from the mountain
down to the Dead Sea should be included on one of those lists of
the top ten things to do before
you die. Losing 1200m in altitude over 20 miles, the
temptation to blast it all in one manic speed-fest had to be resisted
and a little time to stop and stare needed to be employed. I passed
Bedouin camps with their traditional tents
of black goat hair and gave my first camel
quite a fright as I freewheeled past at 30 mph.
The Jordan Rift Valley is a dramatic, beautiful landscape, which
at the Dead Sea is over 400 metres below sea level and is the lowest
on the face of the earth. The Dead Sea is 50 miles long, 9 miles
wide and the northern and larger part is very deep, reaching at
one point a depth of 430m. The Dead Sea is land-locked so that water
evaporates, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and
minerals that supply industry, agriculture and medicine. Because
of its extremely high content of salt and other minerals, it is
devoid of plant and animal life. Although sparsely populated and
serenely quiet now, the Dead Sea area is believed to have been home
to the Biblical cities destroyed by God for their hedonism: Sodom,
Gomorrah. So, if you ever wondered where the word 'sodomy' came
The leading attraction at the Dead Sea is the water itself - some
ten times saltier than seawater and rich in chloride salts of magnesium,
sodium, potassium and bromine. The unusually warm, mineral-rich
waters have attracted visitors since ancient times, including King
Herod and Cleopatra. All of whom have luxuriated in the Dead Sea's
rich, black, stimulating mud.
I'd forgotten how buoyant the water is reputed to be - it's a sensation
of floating on an invisible li-lo, but the salts stung my eyes and
smarted at those chaffed areas known only to cyclists!
I finished the trip off by treating myself to a visit to a five
star hotel and watched the sun slip down over the occupied territories
of the Palestinian West
Bank. My story should end here but for one last incident. As
I was leaving and wheeling my trusty bike across the lobby of the
vast hotel, a young and attractive Arab lady approached demanding
"What ees these? What ees these!" Uh-ho I thought, perhaps
I should have slipped out of the tradesman's entrance, but no, next
thing she was insisting on a ride. The porter and I steadied the
bike whilst she climbed on board with no hope of reaching the pedals
as we wheeled her around the sumptuously furnished marble foyer.
Arab businessmen, some in suits, some in Shumag (the red and white
checked head scarf) and thoub (the splendid white robes) looked
on open mouthed in astonishment. I was enjoying the fun and thinking
I was leaving anyway so if I got thrown out now it would be no great
loss, but noticed the porter's anxious co-operation, so we hurriedly
completed the lap of honour and the young lady sauntered off. I
explained to the porter that in more than 10,000 km she had been
the only person apart from myself that had ridden my bike and asked
if the hotel usually allowed cycling indoors. He apologised unnecessarily
profusely saying "I had to do as she requested as she is the