The Dedegol Mountains, Isparta, Turkey. This year’s challenge?

22nd to 29th December 2007
3rd Cycling Week Oria for Christmas and to Brindisi

Stoker at Christmas

Days 24 to 31 Saturday 22nd to Saturday 29th December Oria for Christmas and to Brindisi


Having been on the move since 29th November we are now taking a week’s holiday before travelling onto Greece.

We booked this lovely apartment on the internet to have somewhere nice, safe and comfortable for Christmas. The photographs do not do it justice. It is in the very heart of the ancient town of Oria. Within walking distance are everything we need. Supermarket, restaurants and bars are open and busy. Friendly people abound.

In our build up to Christmas we had chores to get out of the way. We have a well defined division of duties. The stoker sorts out the many practicalities. Clothes need washing and shopping needs doing and much more. The management’s sole duties extend to maintaining the tandem and cooking. To be fair this does involve a fair bit of work. Having spent nearly a month eating “out” we enjoy cooking what we like when we like. Not having to deal with waiters and strange menus, and frequently no menus at all, in our less than adequate Italian is nice for a while.

We like a quiet, away from it all Christmas and Italy is a very good place to do this. The hype here is far less than in the UK and much better for it. The people do not seem to be so besotted with the expensive side of a UK Christmas.

Our apartment, a restored house deep in the old town, has air conditioning unit heating and an open fire with a plentiful supply of logs in the tiny cellar. We had fires every night. On Christmas Day we had delicious vegetables roasted over the fire with baked potatoes cooked in the embers. It was all enhanced by the strong local red wine.

We were invited across the little square by our friendly neighbours for drinks and Christmas cake. We also enjoyed talking to all our children and some of our grandchildren on the phone. It was a very pleasant quiet day.

Farewells made to our friendly neighbours we left on Saturday via the lanes to Brindisi for our overnight ferry to Patras in Greece.

 Chestnuts roasting over an open fire

Oria rides and walks

Oria is a very pleasant centre for easy cycle rides but not so good for proper walking. The main difficulty for outdoor activities is the climate. In an ideal world we would like to be about three degrees warmer. We are cycling in long trousers and winter tops and it is a bit chilly when we stop. There is probably a short window in early spring or late summer when it would be ideal here. How you hit that window is beyond us.

We cycled out in every direction. The terrain is flat and Oria on its hill is visible much of the time. This belies the fact that navigation is difficult as it often is in flat country. On a journey like this we cannot carry detailed maps of any area. The map we do have at a scale of 400,000 is, as the Hitch Hiker’s Guide says about Earth, “wrong in almost every significant respect”.

The management devised some really nice routes on tiny lanes using the GPS. Route planning this way is like looking at a map through a keyhole and bringing up the detail with binoculars. It also taught us to rely on our instrument. This is not as bad as at sea where not to do so risks death and destruction and it is an almost painless way to learn this lesson. Finding an uncrossable railway, motorway or car proving track just involves a lengthy detour.

The whole area is either involved with the cultivation of olives or grapes for wine with a few vegetables and some oranges. We were cycling through similar fields most of the time. There is very little serious agro business sized fields here. We especially enjoyed going north where there are many trulli houses in all states of disrepair and preservation. It is easy though rather risky to explore some of them.

We are not serious walkers but we have seen few paths in this part of Italy. Our walking has been confined to exploring Oria. This was fun but did not take long. There are also some good rail and service bus trips which we did not do.

The Tandem

You could, and perhaps should, say that any mechanical breakdown is the fault of the management. Before we left and until the chain broke the tandem felt good and was going well.

The chain, a high quality sram, had done around 6,000km. With the Rohloff gears we would not have expected problems at that usage. What was also interesting and caused quite a problem was that the new chain would not run on the worn sprockets. Again we were surprised that they had worn that much in a relatively short distance.

Anyway the management was not happy. It is a long and messy job changing our chains with the unusual configuration we have. He had to do this twice because the new chain did not work and the old one had to be put back.

Mind you two good things came out of it. It kept the management busy which is best and makes the stoker’s life more enjoyable. The other thing is that she got a new chain, her old one being needed for spare parts.

Oria as we rode in

Help and advice from you, more needed

Thanks very much to everyone who helped us identify the flamingo. The consensus was that it was either an immature bird or one which had not been eating enough pink food to become a proper pink colour. One person suggested that it was a rednosed flamingo and another that the beak was a funny shape because it kept running into things. Well it is Christmas.

We would now like some help and advice of a technical nature. In the process of putting the old chain back onto the tandem it needed careful cleaning and inspection. Extra virgin olive oil is nearly as plentiful and just as easily available here as water. The management immersed the chain overnight in olive oil before carefully cleaning and inspecting it. Back on the tandem the chain looks just as good as it would have had the job been done with Finish Line.

Some questions emerge. Firstly are there likely to be any adverse effects from using extra virgin olive oil? Should we continue to use it as a chain lubricant or go back to Finish Line? Can the oil the chain was soaked in still be used for cooking? These are all important questions and there may be others we have not thought of. Olive oil is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than Finish Line and used on bikes it could rejuvenate the Southern Italian economy.


Now that we are about to leave we dare to comment. We have been living with Italians since we left Bristol. We have not had the opportunity to speak to anyone from the UK.

Their way of life is totally different from ours. Even in mid winter they live outside. We have seen people drinking coffee at pavement cafés at 7pm with temperatures of less than 10 degrees. In the afternoon everything shuts and the whole world is quiet. We first came across this on the ship when the master disciplined the crew for making a noise in the afternoon.

Sexism is rife. Few men will look the stoker in the eye and most make the mistake of deferring to the management. The streets and cafés are full of men with few women to be seen. Bimbos abound on television with women seldom taking a lead role.

In terms of technology of all sorts but especially computing they are way behind the UK. After a while it becomes aggravating that appearance is more important here than function. The bathroom and kitchen will look good but there will always be something seriously functionally wrong with them. They do of course love their mobiles and cars, usually at the same time which can be disconcerting. They drive badly but don’t seem to hit things. This is fortunate because they don’t strap the children in and often have them on their laps in the front. Still, in a Catholic country there are always plenty of kids.

We don’t believe they have any grasp of the concept of global warming and the need for change. They are dirtier and do less recycling than any other part of Europe we have been to while using huge amounts of plastic. There is rubbish everywhere and the average Italian just chucks.his fag packet in the gutter. They often can’t even be bothered to put rubbish in the communal bins, preferring to leave it in a stinking heap beside the bin. The only good thing is that because they are such poor builders and no longer have EC money for roads there are no crane cities.

Having said all that and trying to ignore the sexism, which is not easy, the Italians in the main have been lovely. If we stop in the street someone offers help. Those where we have stayed could not have been nicer and we have not been ripped off. As strangers to the UK there is very little chance we would have been invited in at Christmas. They are a warm people but culturally and educationally far different from Northern Europeans.

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