Monday, 31 March 2014

Manic Monday Morning

So today I have...
  • picked up the passport from Scott's agency with the Belarus visa in it
  • bought a personal locator beacon because for the last week or two most people I've talked to have been helpfully advising how I may die on this trip but apparently a PLB might help
  • visited the Vietnam Embassy again and got the dates changed as needed
  • done a TV interview for ITV about my pothole crash two years ago and recent reluctant payout by Surrey County Council (6pm ITV this evening)
  • picked up five different currencies at Best Foreign Exchange: US dollars, Euros, Polish Zloty, Thai Baht and Malaysian Ringgit (I got Russian Rubles yesterday from a local parkrun friend who had some left over so we cut out the middle-man)
  • got an email from the clinic in Berlin where I was planning to get my second jab for tick-borne encephalitis... to say that they do not stock this vaccine
  • launched a new continental search via for tick-borne encephalitis vaccine
  • released a stressed pigeon trapped downstairs in the lounge... and closed the back door
Now I am going to have a cup of tea!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Visas and Vaccinations

The tunnel goes on but I can see a dot of light at the end now!

I did think that visas and vaccinations were all done and dusted now... but not quite.  Flying over China because I cannot get the Chinese visa means that I will get to Vietnam a month earlier than my visa is timed for.  I've been doing so much rushing about recently that this thought only recently occurred to me, as I was riding my bike the other day.  So I visited the Vietnamese Embassy this afternoon where at first I was told to come back tomorrow because consular services are only available in the morning.  While I kicked myself at the gate in the freezing rain for not having fully grasped the opening hours on the website a few hours previously, a kindly gent of distinctly oriental facial features appeared and questioned my business.  As I described my woeful tale the oriental features softened, and a moment later he had opened the gate and invited me up to the visa office where he entered into spirited conversation (one presumes it was Vietnamese) with the visa lady behind the glass screen, who had been the one, I think, to have informed me a few moments earlier via the intercom, that her office was closed.  Their brief discussion was amicably resolved and I was handed a new visa form and advised to return with the passport, completed form and £25 fee to issue a new visa.  Result! I can do that next Monday when I get my passport back from Scott's Visa Agency with the Belarus visa in it.  What could possibly go wrong?

The Vietnam Embassy was actually very conveniently situated in Kensington on my way back home from the Masta Travel Health clinic near Oxford Circus, which I had also visited today to get a vaccination against Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE), one that both my practice nurse at the GP surgery and I had both overlooked.  Our focus had been on South-East Asia which is chock-full of deadly diseases like typhoid, cholera, rabies, malaria, hepatitis A&B, Japanese Encephalitis... you name it!  I'm protected against all that lot, but we forgot about TBE which is prevalent much closer to home: eastern Germany, Poland, Belarus and Russia, as well as much of Scandinavia (where I was last year, in high summer camping wild in the woods, blissfully ignorant that I was putting myself at highest possible risk of contracting a potentially fatal brain damaging disease) and Austria where it is so common and widespread that all children are routinely vaccinated like ours are for MMR and TB.  The second jab must be given at least two weeks after the first, by which time I should be in Berlin, so now I've got to find a clinic there and make an appointment.

I shall be jolly glad on 5th April when all I have to do is JBP!

Monday, 24 March 2014

New improved route for 5th April

I'm getting the sense that there could be a fair turn-out for the ride to Harwich on 5th April, so I have been tweaking the route a little, searching for small improvements, the most significant of which is we can avoid the Bow Roundabout and all of the A11 as far as Stratford, hurrah!

Here is the new improved route:

If you are planning to join the ride and have a GPS device please load the route in so that if necessary we can split into smaller groups, because it won't be easy to stay all together if we are more than ten or so.

Ride info:
  • Grand Depart at noon from BikeFix in Lambs Conduit Street
  • about 120km at gentleman's pace, circa 22km/h
  • bring a snack to eat on your bike, we probably won't stop till...
  • dinner in Samuel Pepys, then...
  • ferry to Holland at 23:15, or
  • last train back to London at 22:28, or 
  • ride home, or
  • find lodgings and ride some nice quiet Essex/Suffolk lanes on the Sunday

Friday, 21 March 2014

International Cycling Family to the Rescue!

Finally some good visa news to report: my application for a Belorussian visa has been accepted, hurrah!

Following last week's post I decided to give up on Belarus and go the long way round to Kazakhstan via Latvia and Moscow (Ukraine's out of the question now the shooting's started).  A number of kindly Belorussians had been trying to assist so I emailed them my thanks but said I would not be coming their way because their Embassy would not grant the visa.  Within hours I received emails back from three different people telling me how they wanted to help, the most promosing of which looked to be from Michael Kuz'menchuk who is the Chairman of the cycling club Rucheek from Brest:
Today I spoke with the head of the consular department of the Belarusian Embassy in London - Yuri Alexandrovich Prudnikovichem. And we discussed the issue of your visa. He promised to give you a visa during the day, if there is a formal invitation from Belarus . The invitation will be the organization which I chair - "Brook" (in Russian -- "Rucheek").
A few emails later and I understand it's in the bag!  My visa agent went back to the Embassy today with my passport, application form and a copy of Michael's letter... and it was accepted.  Visa will be issued next week.  Belarus here I come, yahey!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The world doesn't want me, but I'm coming anyway

I wonder if the Chinese and Belorussian Embassies in London are colluding?

The other day the Belorussians also rejected my visa application - because I did not have a hotel booking.  So I booked a hotel.  Then they rejected it again, asking for a signed letter from the hotel manager to confirm the booking.  Today I provided that letter - not only signed but also officially stamped!  To no avail: now they want a letter from a travel company in Belarus accepting responsibility for me while I am in Belarus.  A sense of deja-vu creeps over, not to mention utter tedium.  At least they have provided a list of official travel agencies which I can ask for the letter, so in that respect marginally more helpful than the Chinese.  One fewer hurdle to clear.

I'm not sure I can be bothered though, in which case it's back to plan A or C: ride via Kiev if Ukraine is not exploding; or take a lengthy northerly detour to Russia via Lithuania and Latvia.

Hopefully it will all get easier once I'm on the road... in three weeks and two days!

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Failure of Sycophancy

Following my last post the other day (below) I rolled the Chinese visa dice one more desperate throw, sending this grovelling missive to my contact at the official tourist agency:
Oh no this is really terrible news!  So I am not welcome or wanted at all anywhere in China?  I am greatly saddened, many friends here who have visited China have told me about the wonderful welcome I can expect in your country.  I wonder why the authorities are so worried about a man on a bike wanting to visit your beautiful country and discover your culture and language and food and famed hospitality.  I have already invested much time and money in planning to visit your country, I have been trying to learn some basic Chinese, and I have been really looking forward to the China experience.  I am a harmless tourist wanting to visit your land by the world's most eco-friendly vehicle, ubiquitous in China, the humble bicycle, so I will cause no pollution in your country.  I will spend money and help your economy, and I never drop any litter so there will be no trace of my passage other than some happy memories left with people that I will meet along the route.  This is a very sad day for me.  Is there really nothing else that you or anyone else can do to help me realise my dream to cycle across China which I have cherished for ten years?
The reply was not long coming:
As I said before in Xinjiang we only can get the invitation letter from the tourism bureau for the normal tourists that we are going to receive. My partners in Gansu also say the same. So I am sorry again that I can do nothing for your visa in this case. Some people say maybe you can try the business visa. Good luck.
I think my chances of getting a business visa are vanishingly small, though I have asked my visa agency Scott's to look into it.  They brought further bad news yesterday: the Belarus Embassy also rejected my visa application - because I did not have a hotel booking.  So I booked a hotel.  Today they rejected it again - now they want a signed letter from the hotel manager to confirm the booking.  I've written to the manager to ask for that.  I wonder what they will want tomorrow?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

One month to go, so much to do

I'm off on my world cruise one month today, I can scarcely believe it!  Here's what's keeping me busy at the moment:
  • Visa for China Plan A: I have come to accept that this has failed and I cannot cross the border by bike from Kazakhstan into Xinjiang, China (see earlier posts). Hugely disappointing but SFA I can do about it.
  • Visa for China Plan B: I'm trying now for a special visa to train or fly from Almaty (Kazakhstan) into Gansu, in central China.  I still need a Letter of Invitation from the official tourist bureau there, if I can get that then I will go along to their Embassy in London with it and my passport and visa application form and fees and crossed fingers... Thanks are due to my MP Stephen Hammond who found me an excellent contact in the Foreign Office to help with this.
  • Visa for China Plan C: give up and fly from Almaty to Hanoi or Bangkok.
  • Visa for Belarus: I am applying for this today so that if Ukraine still looks on the brink of WW3 I can give it a wide berth.
  • Vaccinations: the programme is well underway, I'm seeing the nurse every Friday and getting everything I need which is quite a long list and too boring to write down here. I had a sore arm last week but did not feel ill.
  • Buy more kit: it's difficult squaring this with the objective to carry less than I did last year around the Baltic.  Recent purchases have included a mossie net, sterile medical kit, dog whistle, money belt, stuff sacks, brake pads, zip ties and duck tape.
  • Get some miles in my legs: fulfilled by the daily commute and a Kingston Wheeler club run or 200k audax most weekends.
  • Read the stack of guide books that I have borrowed from libraries around London - the inter-library loan system is brilliant!
  • Handover work to colleague at LB Hammersmith& Fulham as we head towards final day on 28th March - they're planning a leaving party for me that day (even though I told them I am planning to come back...)
In any spare time  remaining I'm enjoying following the progress of the riders in this year's World Cycle Race.  I went to watch the start on Saturday 1st March and rode the prologue with them from Marble Arch to Greenwich where we waved them off at around 12:20.  It's early days but none of them yet look to be any kind of threat to Alan Bate's 127-day Guinness World Record or Mike Hall's spectacular 107-day win of the 2012 WCR which I do hope he will get ratified with Guinness one day.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ride to Harwich Anyone?

I'm setting off on Saturday 5th April at noon from BikeFix in Lambs Conduit Street.  If you can manage 125km - about 70 miles - at gentleman's pace then you can join me on the ride to Harwich for dinner, possibly in the Samuel Pepys (we are researching this, recommendations welcome). Thence choice of ferry to Holland at 23:15, last train back to London at 22:28, or find lodgings and ride home via some nice quiet Essex/Suffolk lanes on the Sunday.