Archives: Diary

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Week 25

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Alison Gould

Our prayers and thoughts of loving kindness are with Alison this week, and we send all our love for healing and well-being. Her most recent message to the WhatsApp group was to say that this diary “makes me very restless to travel again! Still off to Cornwall tomorrow for a week or so and hopefully some sunshine, not that I’m complaining – it’s been fantastic here the last days  Pity I can’t walk further in it… but very impressed and grateful to all you youngsters! 🏃‍♀️🙏🙄”. Maybe therefore all of us ‘youngsters’ can dedicate this week of walking to Alison, and as we go along we send her our love.

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Imamzadeh Shahzadeh Hossein

We’ll start the week with the peacocks, who are now south of the city of Qazvīn, nearing Tehran. Qazvīn is located in north-central Iran in a wide, fertile plain at the southern foot of the Elburz Mountains. It’s an old city, founded in 250 CE, and was an important base for the establishment of Islam and the city flourished from the 7th century. In the 13th century it was destroyed by Genghis Khan but soon re-established itself as a trading centre, and remains that today. It’s famous for it’s bazaar’s and bathhouses, and stunning architecture.  The peacocks are the first to visit this city of firsts – Qazvīn is home to Iran’s first modern hotel first modern school, first paved street and is Iran’s first municipality – so all in all a first rate place for our first team to visit first!

Up the road in Turkey the wee monkeys have been rushing along, and have closed the gap on the snow leopards considerably, so are now only 25 miles behind. And as we always like to mark milestones in this diary we can’t let the fact of the wee monkeys passing the half-way mark go by without giving them a special mention and a group hug! It’s been a great effort by all the wee monkeys this week, and an inspiration to the other teams. Well done everyone!

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Turkish Coffee

Maybe the secret to their burst of energy has been to keep themselves zinged with strong Turkish coffee! It’s guaranteed to keep you going, and at only 11 calories per cup you’ll walk that off in no time – well, it will depends how much sugar you put in, I suppose. As I thought about Turkish coffee my mind turned to other food and drink from Turkey and I found a fabulous page on the BBC Good Food website that should satisfy all tastes. Maybe diary readers could try their hand at one or two of the recipes and let us know how you got on with it? And why limit it to Turkish cuisine – if you have a good recipe to share with the others that originates in one of the many countries we’ve passed through then why not use the diary to share it? Pass it on to me and I’ll include it. You’ll get extra credit if you include a picture!

The wee monkeys didn’t make up so much ground this week by going on touristic detours but if they had they may well have been tempted to visit the Diyadin Canyon, not far to the south of where they reached on Sunday. It’s an impressive natural feature, but one they’ll have to save for another day.

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Diyadin Canyon

The snow leopards are a bit further along, still in the striking valley that has been their home the past few weeks. Having just through the town of Doğubayazıt, I hope they took some time out to visit the Ishak Pasha Palace, with its stunning view of Mount Ararat, the supposed resting place of Noah’s Ark, an amazing sight, and our featured image this week. You can virtually climb it if you like, and it will give you a glimpse of the landscape (and weather!) of Turkey that our Chaparda Challenge has passed through.

43It’s been a week of high energy travel because our tigers, too, have been zipping along and are through and well past Budapest now. I hope they took at least some time to stop and enjoy this most beautiful and historic city. But maybe, as with so many of their other stops, they’re more interested in the natural world than whatever city life has to offer. If so, they’ve reached a good spot today – Magan Zoo, a private zoo that has, among other things, Siberian tigers, Bengal tigers and…. Highland cows!! Oh I hope they visited and took some photographs! And just so you know, the Hungarian for Highland Cattle is “Skót felföldi marha”. So now you know…!

Seeing that so many of our teams have been racing along this week it’s no surprise that our miles are up on the past few weeks – 549 miles completed by all teams, which is great. Well done. 

We’ve added £259 to the fundraising total, thanks to a generous patient of Emma. Please thank her on all our behalf, Emma.

Have a good week ahead,  don’t forget to send me any favourite recipes of food from the countries the Chaparda Challenge has passed through, and please continue to send positive, loving and healing thought to Alison.

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Week 24

On our Chaparda challenge we love breakthrough moments, where a significant milepost is reached, and so far we’ve marked quite a few. Today we have another two more to celebrate, and that’s team snow leopard passing the halfway mark and our teams combined passing the 10,000 mile mark. Special congratulations to our snow leopards, and keep it up! We’re all very proud of you. As of today, Sunday, the snow leopards have completed 51.1% of the route, and have collectively covered 2905.5 miles. Amazing!

The snow leopards are ending the week outside the village of Kirkdikme high in the mountains, but in a very fertile plain. Googling this particular village brought me to a delightful web page and series of photographs, one of which I’ve chosen for our featured image at the top of the diary for this week. It shows children from the village school planting trees in their school yard, which is seen in the photo beside the village Mosque. 

Seeing these children planting trees put me in mind of the carbon offsetting project we supported and blogged about prior to our last Chaparda Clinic, the Chinese Medicine Forestry Trust. We added a donation to CMFT to account for flying to India – a small gesture perhaps but of great importance for the life and health of the planet.

It struck me that these children are doing what schools all over the world are doing, and what groups like CMFT are doing, modelling good behaviour, and it was lovely that our snow leopards were able to stumble upon it. 

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The Route of the Aras River

The village of Kirkdikme is close to the source of the Aras River. As a river it’s nothing of note at this point but just like our Chaparda Challengers, it follows it’s own mammoth route and it becomes one of the regions most important waterways, flowing for more than 660 miles through Turkey, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan, finally flowing out into the Caspian Sea. A small stream becomes this fabulous river – who knows what those trees planted by the children will become!

A little way behind the snow leopards (thanks to Sasiki posting her saved-up miles!) it’s the turn of our wee monkeys to pass through the city of Erzincan, high up in the Bingol Mountains. It’s not exactly a country town – the population is over 100,000, around the same size as Dover, and being an important hub for all the surrounding towns and villages there’s always plenty to do. And plenty to eat… Do you like cheese? Well, you’re in the right place for one of the best goat cheeses in Turkey, Tulum cheese.

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Erzincan University

But if you prefer to improve your education then Erzincan University might be for you… it’s an impressive campus with a great range of schools and faculties, and perhaps the wee monkeys have roamed around a little. But in the end, perhaps the only thing they need to learn is that the snow leopards and the peacocks are both ahead of them, so they need to get a move on! And don’t forget, Erzincan is prone to earthquakes, so best to keep moving!

The tigers, meanwhile, continue their progress through Hungary and have passed the town of Tatabanya, the capital of Komárom-Esztergom County. It’s a mining town with a fascinating history, surrounded by the most beautiful countryside, whose jewel has to be the Szelim Cave, though it has a bit of a grisly history, which you can read for yourself. Tatabanya wasn’t always the County Capital, and most people who know Hungary are surprised to learn that it is. That’s because Esztergom, to the north and having a commanding position over the river Danube (as we’ve often seen), is a more strategic and ‘classical’ position for a capital. In fact Tatabanya only took that title from Esztergom in 1950, by dint of its increased population!

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Esztergom

If the tigers can bear a diversion to the north then Esztergom will not disappoint. St Stephen was crowned there as the first king of Hungary in the 11th century, so it’s steeped in history. The Basilica  is the largest Church and thanks to it’s massive dome the tallest building in Hungary. The castle, the museums, ‘Watertown’, and so much more make it a wonderful place to visit. I had my first glimpse of the Basilica and castle from a boat on the Danube and it’s one of those sights you never forget!

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Zanjan Stone Caravanserai

Far to the south the peacocks continue their sojourn through Iran. They’ve now passed through the city of Zanjan, keeping to a fertile valley, with the imposing Qaflankuh Mountains to the north. Zanjan is famous for its handicrafts such as knives, carpets and sandals. It was once a main centre for ornate and high quality knives but foreign imports (not from Sheffield though!) have had a negative effect. Rugs and carpets continue to be made here, and silversmiths keep the art of filigree alive. Zanjan has one of the oldest Caravanserai in the Middle East, a reminder of the importance of the Silk Road to this whole region of Iran. Caravanserai were roadside inns where travelers (caravaners) could rest and recover from the day’s journey and are to be found not just in the Middle East but all around the Mediterranean and North Africa as well. I first came across the word ‘Caravanserai’ through the beautiful music of Loreena McKennitt and you can treat yourself to a listen here if you’ve never heard of her. She’s a wonderful Canadian artist.

I hope all our teams have found their own caravanserai for the night! It’s the end of another week and as mentioned earlier, we’ve broken through the 10,000 mile barrier! What an achievement! We got there by adding 427 miles to our total, so very well done to everyone. Unfortunately, no donations were received this week so if people could press their family and friends to support Word Medicine it would be appreciated. 

Enjoy the week ahead and as temperatures and rain both begin to drop please don’t let your enthusiasm follow suit!

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Week 23

Before we highlight the achievements of our teams this week, we couldn’t open our diary without acknowledging the amazing feat of endurance that Emma carried out yesterday, Saturday 11th.

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The 3 Lochs Ultra

She took part in the ‘3 Lochs Ultra‘ a long-distance endurance walk through some of the most beautiful but toughest scenery in the Scottish highlands. In only 20 hours Emma walked 49 miles, starting at Luss, on Loch Lomond, then over to Gare Loch, then on to Loch Long. She climbed a total of 7,000 feet through the Arrochar Alps (to give a sense of scale, the most iconic peak in the Arrochar Alps, though not the tallest, is Ben Arthur (known as ‘The Cobbler’, and it alone is  2,900 feet high) and descended to the end of the trail back onto Loch Lomond at Tarbet – only 10 miles from where she began! What a great achievement. Emma, we’re very proud of you!! And not only that, her 3 Lochs Ultra has so far raised over £500 for World Medicine – and by adding the miles to her Chaparda Challenge it’s catapulted the peacocks well into Iran!

As we’ve mentioned team peacock, let’s begin the diary this week with them. Since crossing the border they’ve made amazing progress, and are now well past the town of Tabriz, an ancient city on the wonderful Silk Road. Tabriz has a population of more than 1.7 million so it’s not only ancient but bustling and modern as well. How ancient, you may ask? Well, for some scholars, biblical clues and archaeological evidence puts the city’s Ajichay river as being the river that flows out from the Garden of Eden. That puts Tabriz at the gates of paradise! 

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The Blue Mosque, Tabriz

Tabriz has the most wonderful and amazing Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest in the Middle East, and the largest roofed bazaar anywhere in the world. A sight to behold, for sure, and a worthy UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a city famous for Azeri culture, stunning carpets, teahouse bath-houses, the beautiful Blue Mosque and Armenian Christian churches visited and chronicled by Marco Polo

I’m not sure the peacocks hung around too long to see all that’s on offer in Tabriz, which is a pity. They end the week far to the south, in the shadow of the stunning Mt Belqeys, heading for Tehran.

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Çöp Şiş Kebabs

In Turkey the wee monkeys and the snow leopards continue through the Pontic mountains, 40 miles apart. The wee monkeys are in the valley that runs alongside the Kılıçkaya Dam and reservoir, an enormous hydro electric scheme providing electricity for most of the region. The snow leopards, meanwhile, are in the mountain pass that leads them up and over towards Erzincan. We’ll visit there next week all being well, but for now, there’s not much to distract the wee monkeys and snow leopards, so we’ll let them plod on, perhaps dreaming of the many varieties of kebab found in that country that gives its name to the delicacy!

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The Monostori Fortress

In Hungary, the tigers have reached the small town of Csém, a good base for museum visiting. To the south there is the Kocsimúzeum, or carriage museum, dedicated to the variety of horse-drawn carriages that the region is famous for. To the north, on the banks of the River Danube, is the Komáromi erődrendszer, the largest fortification system in Central Europe, while on the other shore of the Danube is the Kelemantia, an ancient Roman Fort that is well preserved. Those culture-vulture tigers are spoiled for choice this week…!

At the end of the week we’ve added 449 miles to our tally, and thanks to the massive effort of Emma we’ve also added £476 to our fundraising, bringing the total raised so far to £2,138. 

Well done everyone, but especially Emma, for going above and beyond the call.

Have a great week everyone…!

Iran Border

Week 22

Progress this week has been steady and at the same time exciting! Two of our teams have crossed borders, and that’s always something to mark in a special way.

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White Bengal Tigers

The first team over a new border was the tigers, who have now crossed into Hungary, making good progress on their way south. Already through the town of Győr, they’re spending the night outside the Kimba Elefant Park – yes, it IS Hungary!! I was disappointed to see that though the park has elephants and giraffes, and a number of more domestic animals like donkeys and horses, they don’t have tigers. Too bad, thought I, no kith and kin for our tigers to visit. But that was to underestimate the cunning and resolve of team tiger…!  I say that because in Győr itself there is a larger zoo, Xantus János Zoo, which has a wide range of animals in their care. And yes, you guessed it, they have not just any old tiger but in fact a family of white Bengal tigers! They’re very beautiful and no doubt our own lovely tigers enjoyed a nice visit with their Bengal cousins!

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St Ignatius of Loyola Church, Győr

Always on the lookout for links to World Medicine, I came across a stunningly beautiful church in the centre of Győr, dedicated to St Ignatius of Loyola. St Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuits, and our newest WM initiative is the Refugee Friends project at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in London. The church of St Ignatius is now in the care of another Catholic religious order, the Benedictines, whom the tigers met recently at Melk Abbey in Austria.

Linking as we do to the Refugee Friends project, it’s worth noting that JRS have recently posted blog about how our Refugee Friends clinic is working out. Read the blog here, but as a brief summary – it’s brilliant! Congratulations and thanks to Barbara and all involved for getting it up and running, with all the limitations faced due to Covid, etc. A marvellous achievement with obvious benefits to our refugee friends.

Further to the south of our tigers we find our wee monkeys and snow leopards continuing on through Turkey. They’re both on the long ascent through the Niksar Valley, on either side of the town of Niksar, up into the southern reaches of the Pontic Mountains. This mountain range has some fabulous peaks, but are not for the feint hearted- the 10 highest peaks in the range are all over 3,000 metres, or 10,000 feet, so more than double the height of Ben Nevis. Luckily the route our walkers are on keeps a bit lower, as it hugs the valley. But still, colder nights and cooler days are ahead, so be prepared!

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Niksar Castle
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Zinav Lake

You’ll get a good idea of the landscape and vegetation of the area by visiting Niksar Castle, an impressive ruin high above the town. The trees that we see growing  all around are larch and pine, which were traditionally used for building the houses in the valley, some of which are preserved today. As you’d imagine for a place in beautiful mountains, there’s no shortage of beautiful places to visit!

The snow leopards end the week close to Zinav Lake Nature Park, so they may head there for a bracing swim in the lake! The wee monkeys, meanwhile end the week close to the ancient and ‘Holy Well’ of Kilise Suyu, a spring that has held water for hundreds of years, and a site thought holy by Greeks and Byzantine travellers. So, a fitting place for our Chaparda travellers to pitch up for the night!

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On the border

The second team to cross a border this week are our peacocks, who have crossed from Turkey into Iran, at the Gürbulak Border Crossing. This is pretty much the main border crossing for access to Europe so it’s a busy crossing point, open 24 hours and 7 days a week. It seems like one of the more imposing border crossings that our challengers will have to make, but reports on websites I’ve looked at tell me that it’s very easy to cross, and presumably our peacocks found it so.

Once into Iran the first place they come to is the town of Bazargan. It’s a very important border town now so it’s hard to believe that even 50 years ago there was no road from there to Turkey! It was with the growth of Iran’s oil wealth that trade escalated and the border became important. The census of 1966 had the population at only 783, but in 2006 the census records a population of over 9,000. 

To give you a sense of Bazargan, it’s located at an altitude of 1,550 metres, so as you can imagine, it endures very long and harsh winters. I think the peacocks are getting through at a good time, though, as it’s still fairly comfortable for travelling. For more on the village and its history take a look at this extract from the Encyclopaedia Iranica, which will be my bedside reading for the coming weeks, I think!

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Chapel of Dzordzo

Anyway, the peacocks, as usual, didn’t hang around to meet the locals and by the end of the week they’re well to the south, past the town of Maku (which would you believe has its own international airport, a sign of the importance of this frontier, I think). But with any luck they will have detoured slightly to visit the UNESCO world heritage site dating from the 14th century of the ‘Chapel of Dzordzo‘.

They’re spending Sunday night close to the town of Nazok-e Olya, though there’s little on the internet to tell us much about it. I suspect, sadly, that this will often be the story of our journey through Iran!

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Emma before trekking 49 miles…

We can’t say goodnight to team peacock without a special mention of Emma, and her amazingly arduous weekend coming up. On Saturday coming, September 11th, she’s taking part in a trek called the ‘3 Lochs Ultra Challenge‘ which will see her cover 49 miles in one day and night, along Scottish loch shores and over mountains, starting an ending on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. She doing it to raise money for World Medicine, and we wish her every success. If you want to sponsor her, or ask your friends and family to sponsor her, then head over to our World Medicine Homepage to read more about it.

So that’s our week – breaking new ground by entering Iran, which will be a great learning for me! if anyone would like to contribute to the diary for this phase of the journey especially I’d be more than happy to share the load!! Otherwise, it’s bedtime with Encyclopaedia Iranica!

Our challengers have covered 355 miles this week, and thanks to sponsors of Emma and Chloe we’ve added a healthy £197 to the fundraising tally, bringing us to £1857 in total.

Thanks to everyone for all you do and have a good week.

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Week 21

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The Austria – Hungary Border

Well, we’ve seen once again this week that the tigers like to keep us on our toes. After a few weeks of, shall we say, ambling along through Austria taking in the sights and enjoying what was on offer along the way, they’ve had a big push this week and are now just a mile from the Hungarian border. They’ll cross tomorrow but for tonight they’re in the border town of Nikelsdorf, a lovely place to spend a night and reflect on all that the beautiful country of Austria has afforded them.

Two highlights to look out for – given that the tigers like to cycle and have spent a lot of their Austrian journey on the river Danube they’ll maybe want to follow the “Discovery Tour – Danube meets Lake Neusiedl“, a 94 km cycle route that covers much of the beauty the region has to offer. If that seems a bit strenuous, given the long road ahead, then maybe a better option is to visit the Nickelsdorf Bee Garden, a sanctuary and learning centre to come to know more about the habitat and life of bees. It’s an interesting project, set up specifically as a trilingual enterprise, so in German, Hungarian and Slovak (bordering as it does all three countries).

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Eleşkirt

As the tigers prepare to cross Hungary our other teams continue to make their way through Turkey. It’s another milestone week this week, not because we have any new members of the 1000 mile club but because team peacock has crossed the half-way mark! As of this weekend they have now completed 52% of the journey. That’s fabulous, and huge congratulations to all of the team. The halfway point was reached as they made their descent from the mountains where they’ve spent the past few weeks and now, at the end of the week, they’ve just passed through the town of Eleşkirt.

To say the peacocks have descended the mountain is a bit misleading, I’m afraid. All they’ve done is drop a bit lower than they’ve been, and now find themselves in a large and fertile valley, with a great view behind them of the mountains they’ve crossed.

This place they end the week, Eleşkirt, has ancient roots. The castle close to the town has been occupied through history by Romans, Persians, Armenians, Arabs, Greeks Byzantines, Georgians, Seljuk Turks, Mongols and once more by Turks. That’s some archaeological and historical record! There is a 17th Century mosque here, as well, so a place to get a feel for ancient Turkey.

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Pontic Mountains

On the other side of the mountain our snow leopards edge ahead of the wee monkeys, to begin the climb that will take them up into the spectacular Pontic Mountains. They’re ending the week in the Erbaa plain close to Erbaa itself, the town the valley takes its name from.  Maybe they’ll not have time this visit, but a short detour to the north would take them to the even more spectacular Sumela Monastery, pictured above as our featured image,  a 4th century Greek Orthodox monastery that was a working monastery until the 1930’s. It’s a spectacular building, and was recently restored by the Turkish government and is quite rightly a UNECO World Heritage Site.

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Osmancik Castle

The wee monkey’s meanwhile, are in Osmancik, in what has become the main rice-growing region of Turkey. Osmancik, too, has it’s spectacular mountain building, not a monastery this time, but a castle. The town is located on an important river crossing  on the ancient Silk Road to the orient, so has long had a strategic value, hence the magnificent castle. Like the Chaparda Challenge, the Silk Road is another fascinating long-distance journey. Who knows, when we reach Chaparda could that be the next mission?! It would be a doddle, as it’s only 4000 miles…!

We noted last week that wee monkey Saifidin had completed 999.5 miles, so we enrolled him into the 1000 mile club trusting that in his next walk or run he’d pass the 1000 mile marker. We’ll he’s done much better, having ended the week on a personal total of 1088 miles. 88.5 miles in one week Saifidin – that’s pretty impressive!

But not only Saifidin – everyone is really pulling strongly this week and would you believe we’ve added 734 miles in total this week – that’s amazing, and more than doubles what was covered last week! Well done everyone. We’ve also added £157 to the fundraising total, so all in all, with the peacocks now more than halfway, a pretty spectacular week – take a bow, all Chaparda Challengers!

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Week 20

Imagine spending a whole week on the top of Ben Nevis and you’ll get an idea of how the peacocks have passed the last seven days! They’ve walked through terrain that has steadily risen and have just passed through the city of Erzincan, which is around  1,200 metres, or 3,900 ft,  above sea level. The summit of Ben Nevis  is 1,345 metres or 4,413 ft so you’re more or less on the top of Britain’s highest peak! 

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The Pontic Mountains, Turkey

But don’t imagine you’re on top of the world just yet – if you look to the north you’re gazing at the Pontic Mountains, which reach heights of nearly 4,00 metres, and if you look to the south  you’re very close to Akbaba Tepesi, at 3,400 metres – so be glad you’re going through a valley and not over the tops!! Unsurprisingly, it’s a region of Turkey famous for it’s beauty spots, and one of the most visited is the Girlevik Waterfall, close to where you’re stopping for the night. It’s the image at the top of our diary for this week.

We don’t hear too much about Turkey in our news normally, but sadly, it does hit the headlines because of earthquakes, and Erzincan was the centre of a terrible earthquake in 1992. It’s not had a major earthquake since then but amazingly it’s had 1 earthquake in the past 30 days and 16 in the past year. So, dear peacocks, please don’t hang about too long…

The yo-yo journey that our wee monkeys and snow leopards entertain us with each week goes on as usual, with the wee monkeys dropping behind a bit this week after doing quite a leap-frog last week. But there’s nothing in it, really, with the snow leopards only 17 miles ahead. Given that both teams are nearly 2,500 miles into the journey that’s pretty remarkable!

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Lake Abant, Bolu

They find themselves either side of the market town of Bolu tonight, somewhere we know already, being the place where Niamh reached her 1000 mile mark. Bolu, like Erzincan, is quite high up in the hills – 742 metres above sea level, so hopefully cooler than other parts of Europe at the moment. As with most mountainous areas, beauty is the main attraction, and for Bolu, it’s Lake Abant that steals the show. If our teams prefer to stay in town it seems the main thing to do is… eat! The web lists many restaurants for Bolu! But there are of course wonderful mosques to visit, such as Sarachane Mosque, and there are the  historic Orta Hamam Turkish Baths, as well as the town museum.

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Ultravox, with Midge Ure in the exact shirt and tie I used to wear…!

In Austria, meanwhile, the tigers have now reached Vienna, a city full of wonderful places to visit and things to do. The high culture of Vienna is plain to see and that’s what I should be highlighting in this diary. Sorry, though, I’m going to lower the tone now, and amazingly, link our tigers to Vienna by way of the fabulous Ultravox! Ultravox, as anyone of my generation knows, recorded ‘Vienna‘ – in reality a poem but also a powerful song that had a great video (if you like that sort of thing) – take a look! And read this from The Guardian about how Vienna came to be written. But did you know, the band Ultravox started life as the band Tiger Lily…! Those tigers…! They get into everything! 

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Saifidin of the 1000 Mile Club!

Going back to Bolu for a moment, we’ve already mentioned that it’s where Niamh clocked up 1000 miles. Well, would you believe it’s also where Saifidin will achieve the same great feat of entering our 1000 mile club! To be honest, though, I hesitated whether to feature it this week or next week. You see, technically, he’s not reached 1000 miles yet. But take a look at this…! A half a mile to go…!! That’s a stroll to the end of the street and back! So Saifidin, CONGRATULATIONS!! Maybe Amir and Najma can be persuaded to tell us some stories in WhatsApp? Or you yourself of course, Saifidin – tell us about some of your long walks and  runs.

So there we are, the end of week 20 and another great marker reached. This week our teams completed 351 miles in total and we added £25 to the fundraising. Well done to all our teams and have  great week ahead.

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Week 19

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Turkey

OK, let’s talk Turkey… I don’t mean fundraising (though it would be good to see more of that…), I mean that country between Bulgaria and Iran that seems to be 10,000 miles across! The peacocks are halfway across, and the wee monkeys and snow leopards are both just south of Istanbul.

I think we all need to know from the wee monkeys what was in those apples they were munching on last week? The new superfood, obviously! On the strength of that wonderful fruit they’ve now zoomed through Istanbul, stopping to look at nothing as far as I can tell, they’ve caught up and passed the snow leopards  and have ended the week about 25 miles ahead of them, overnighting in the port city of Izmit. I hope they at least take time there for a paddle in the sea or a turkish bath!

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Izmit

Izmit has grown into a bustling port city, and holds a strategic position at the head of the Sea of Marmara, where it supports the shipping needs of much of Turkey’s export goods. Though it’s ancient and historic (archaeology dates its foundation back to the 8th century BCE) Izmit is now a pretty modern and industrialised place. It’s important for its freight port, oil refinery and massive paper mill (which provides half of Turkey’s paper) so it doesn’t sound like the kind of place you’d enjoy a stroll along the prom prom prom where the brass bands play tiddle on pom pom

That said, Izmit boasts three museums (you’ve a lot of history to show off when you’re over 3000 years old!) a fun fair, remarkable rock formations on the coast (our featured image at the top of the diary) and a lovely coastal park. So not a bad place to stopover, all in all.

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Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul

Those snow leopards, though – a bit distracted by the delights of Istanbul, methinks…  I wonder if they delayed a day or two in the city in order to enjoy something classically Turkish? Who could blame them – I know I’d delay a journey in order to be able to see this particular Turkish delight: the Whirling Dervishes, who dance to get closer to God. Click to get a taste of them.

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Koyulhisar

The peacocks are now high in the mountains and no doubt glad to be in something of a cooler climate for a while at least. They end the week close to the town of  Koyulhisar. With it’s various parks, mosques and museum it seems a nice place to take a break. It’s been a steady climb into the mountains on a long straight road, hugging the Kelkit River, where I guess the peacocks may have stopped to paddle a few times – but no swim suits – modesty, please!

I’m glad that we’re passing this part of Turkey in the summer, as it’s high enough for snow and gets very cold in the winter – it makes me think that the tigers might have to get a move on…!

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Chloe and her grand-daughter!

Sorry to say, ‘getting a move on’ might not be the motto of the week for our wonderful tigers. Not a lot of miles clocked this week except by Chloe, so they’re still close to Sankt Pölten, on the way to Vienna. Perhaps the night skies over Austria have been so stunning of late that the tigers have taken a keen interest in the stars, and have spent a few nights observing them at  the Leopold Fig Observatory. Who knew astrophysics was their thing…? Those tigers…!! But hang on… maybe it wasn’t astrophysics that grabbed their fancy. Maybe it was OFFROADING! Yes, that sounds more like our tigers!

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Emma

I’m really delighted to announce that we have a new member of the thousand mile club. Congratulations to Emma who passed this wonderful milestone this week. like daughter like mother, eh? I should have got Niamh to spill the beans on Emma but looks like I’ve missed my chance. Of course, Niamh, you could always drop some juicy stories in the WhatsApp group! Well done, Emma, you’ve been an inspiration and a driving force behind this whole Chaparda Challenge and we’re all so proud of you and pleased for you to have passed this milestone.

Not only has Emma passed the 1000 mile mark, but her personal fundraising total has passed the £800 mark – £883.76 to be precise. that’s a fabulous amount of money to have raised for World Medicine, Emma. Thank you so so much. All of the money raised this week – over £176 – was contributed by friends and patients of Emma and in all that brings our fundraising total to £1,659.

The total distance covered this week was 384 miles, so a big thank you to everyone.

Sorry I didn’t make the coffee morning on Saturday but by all accounts it was a great success, so could we try for another one in a few weeks?

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NADA materials from Phoenix

And how fabulous to see all the donated items from Phoenix for the Refugee Friends Clinic which opens on Wednesday afternoon. We look forward to hearing how the first day went.

So another eventful week passed, and enjoy the week ahead.

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Week 18

Three of our teams are now in Turkey, and there’s a certain poignancy to their being there this week, given what we’ve witnessed on the news. Though the fires are well to the south and west of the route of our Chaparda Challenge, still,  we know that when one part of a country suffers so badly the whole country carries the pain. So our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Turkey and in Greece and elsewhere who have had such devastating fires to deal  with these past weeks.

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Harvesting apples at Bağdan Tarım

Even if there are no fires I imagine the heat is pretty intense for our wee monkeys this week, as they make their way through the flat dry region of northern Turkey. It’s well known for being the orchard or garden of the country, and if you’d like to take your mind off the heat and see a working farm you may enjoy the nearby  Bağdan Tarım Orchard, which grows lots of apples! Among other varieties you can find there are Granny Smith’s and Golden Delicious, so that might be a wee taste of home for you all! No doubt they’ll do a nice chilled cider as well, if you ask nicely!

if you want to see something of your terrain then you may like to see this video – it features Terzili Göleti, which is a fishing lake pretty much right where you’ve stopped for tonight. No doubt you’ll not sit through the whole 10 minute video but flick through it and  you’ll see the landscape you’re walking through and also something of the reality of what the hot climate does to vital water sources.

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Çamlıca Mosque

Quite the opposite of the country life, the snow leopards are living it up in Istanbul. Tonight they find themselves in the southern part of the city, in what is called the Asian side. It’s a mix of the historic and the new – there’s a 19th century Turkish bath, lots of shopping malls, but the highlight, and only moments away from where you’ve stopped tonight, is the Çamlıca Mosque, the largest Mosque in Turkey ans surely one of the most impressive religious buildings you’re ever likely to see.

Thank goodness the snow leopards ended up in this part of Istanbul and not a couple of miles to the north, on the European side of the city – true, you might have enjoyed a trip to Marks & Spencer (I kid you not) but you’d have to go into Trump Tower to find it!! Good grief…! And by the way, don’t try to Google ‘Marks & Spencer Turkey‘ unless you want to, you know, buy turkey!

Anyway, the snow leopards are well and truly in Asia now so congratulations to them.

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Amasya

Further to the south the peacocks are in the mountains, so hopefully enjoying a bit of cooler weather than the others. They’re close to the fascinating city of Amasya, ancient and beautiful, famous for it’s castle, the ornate tombs hewn into the cliffside and the city museum.

Mummies are the main attraction of this museum, and to be precise, a collection of mummies dating from the 14th-century İlkhan period. The bodies were mummified without removing the organs. The Lonely Planet Guide Book helpfully tells us that “they’re not very suitable for squeamish or young eyes”. Looking at the photograph I think I could have worked that our for myself!!

Anyway, Amasya looks like an amazing city to visit and maybe to hang out in for a while to avoid the heat of the valley. Knowing our peacocks, though, they’ll not be sticking around!

The tigers are also in a city tonight, the city of Sankt Pölten, close to Vienna. Sankt Pölten, I’ve discovered, is twinned with the city of Wuhan in China, a union no doubt sealed long before Covid 19 made Wuhan a household name for all the wrong reasons. The things you can find out on Google! And for those who like trivia, Wuhan is also twinned with Manchester!

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Ray’s Food Truck

In Sankt Pölten, the tigers find themselves in the oldest documented city in Austria, and it’s got remarkable Baroque architecture but it’s also a shrine to modern futuristic design. The old and the new. The tigers always seem to stumble into the high culture. This week, apart from the baroque glories surrounding them, they could choose not one but three different castes to visit close by: there’s Schloss Totzenbach, Schloss Kreisbach and Schloss Goldegg (though it’s now a golf club!). If you just want a good cheap Austrian meal (we’ll ignore the tofu!) and an early night then maybe the other end of the culture spectrum is for you – Guten appetit, as they say in Austria!

So the end of week 18, and a pretty energetic one it was. By their collective hard work our teams have covered an amazing 556 miles this week – fabulous! And a special word to acknowledge hard work of another kind, taken on by Barbara Robinson, who has now got everything in place for World Medicine to begin its new ‘Refugee Friends’ acupuncture clinic in partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service in London. Barbara has written a lovely blog to accompany the opening, so please read it, and pass on her details to anyone you think might be able to volunteer for the project. Thanks, Barbara, for such hard work to get this off the ground.

And thanks everyone, for another good week. Sorry to say nothing was added to our fundraising this week so an extra push on that score during the week ahead if you can.

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Amir writes: “A free afternoon ambling around East London and the now very corporate Canary Wharf. Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos whilst actually walking. Thankfully, the train home provided the perfect frame to get a quick snap!”

A final word of thanks to Amir for what I would call ‘photo of the week’ posted on the Chaparda Challenge Mission Page – wonderful! (Click this or any  image to enlarge, by the way…)

Our coffee morning is on Saturday – details will will be published on the WhatsApp group shortly I think.

Have a great week.

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Week 17

I’m grateful to the wee monkeys for ending this week in Sofia, Bulgaria, since the peacocks and snow leopards both appeared to have whizzed past! More fool them, I say!

As the wee monkeys will be finding out, it’s an impressive city with an impressive, if often sad, history. Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria so you can imagine it’s got quite a story to tell. With 2,000 years of history, it’s had to work hard to retain its Bulgarian identity – over those years it had  Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet occupation, with each leaving its mark. I particularly like the feature image of our diary this week – this is St Sofia, who, you’ll agree, looks pretty modern and clean. Well, that’s because she’s new. She replaced an enormous statue of Lenin and now overlooks the city with a much more benevolent eye than her predecessor! Does anyone else think she looks a bit like Emma?!

She’s not the only religiously important part of Sofia, either. In the centre of the city is what’s known asThe Square of Tolerance, with four enormous and very active places of worship all sharing the same small space, within a short walk of one another. There’s a Mosque, a Synagogue, a Serbian Orthodox Church and a Roman Catholic Cathedral. 

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The Three Piggies

As luck would have it, there was the chance today to enjoy a little bit of children’s opera, at an open air performance of  Alexandar Raichev’s ‘The Three Piggies’ – surely the wee monkeys wouldn’t miss out on animal antics with their piggy cousins?!

We’ll leave the wee monkeys to revel in culture and go and catch up with the snow leopards who may be engaged in something as far from the high culture of opera as you can get! I saw the name ‘Nymphes Princess’ on the map close to where the snow leopards are and was intrigued… what could it be? Obviously more high culture, I thought, as nymphs are creatures from Greek mythology and tend to personify nature in some or other way (so water nymphs, tree nymphs, and so on). Among other great painters,  Raphael, Rubens and  Rembrandt have all painted nymphs, so I had high hopes.

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Nymph Princess Casino

Imagine my disappointment, therefore, to see that Nymph Princess is  an enormous casino! Please don’t go! But if you do, play for the team…!

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Kestrel Sanctuary

However, I’d much rather you took a small detour to the east and visited the kestrel sanctuary that you’ll find in the mountains. it’s a sanctuary and breeding centre for the ‘Lesser Kestrel’ ( Falco naumanni)  which was once one the most common breeds of falcon in Europe but which has been decimated by pesticide use and the destruction of its native nesting grounds. Though it’s a bird of prey it actually survives mostly on insects, so crop sprays have caused havoc with its food supply. Maybe the casino could adopt a kestrel chick or two?! It’s 40 Bulgarian Lev (around £17) to adopt a kestrel, and I wish them well (the kestrels, not the casino!).

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Melk Abbey

The tigers, meanwhile, continue to hug the river Danube in lower Austria and will soon be in sight of Melk Abbey. When I say in sight of it, they’ll know what I mean – it cant be missed!! It’s a massive Benedictine monastery built on a cliff high above the Danube. Church architecture was often used to make a statement and this Abbey is a good example. it says ‘we’re here and we’re important’! It’s both a working (in fact I’d rather say living)  Benedictine Abbey but also a cultural centre for the town of Melk, and has a great programme of events, if Gregorian chanting doesn’t do it for you. I must say I love it, but I know it’s not to everyone’s taste! Have a listen to the monks of Pluscarden Abbey here in Scotland to decide for yourself… Márta- Pluscarden Abbey is just down the road from you near Elgin!

The peacocks continue the long and winding road through Turkey and are now close to the capital city, Ankara. It’s been the Capital since 1923 but it has a much more ancient history of course. You have to work hard, though, to find any of the history of it’s Celtic, Galatian, Greek,  Roman or Ottoman past. Now it’s mostly a modern city.  The population of Ankara is almost the same as the population of Scotland, so for  me, it’s just too big and I’d not be spending long there, personally. I’m a country boy at heart!

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Hazim Dagli Nature park

Being a country boy, if I was in team peacock I’d be spending this Sunday evening in a place close to where you find yourselves on the road, the Hazim Dagli Nature Park. I wonder if they have any kestrels?!

So the end of another week on the long road to Chaparda, with lots to share with one another. You’ve covered 378 miles this week and we’ve had £50 added to our fundraising, which now stands at £1,533.

Keep up the good work and remember that any contributions to the diary will be most welcome, otherwise you just get me wittering on week after week…! 

the WhatsApp chat has gone a bit quiet of late so please log in and let us know how things are going – it’s a great way to keep in touch and an encouragement to each other. Don’t forget the coffee morning on August 14th – bring your own cake…!

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Week 16

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Niamh Brady

I said we’d mark a very special milestone this week. To be precise, though, we’re marking a very special one thousand milestone! Niamh, superwoman of Team Peacocks, has this week passed the 1000 mile mark on her Chaparda Challenge! As of today she’s walked 1031 miles! Well done, Niamh, and thank you, on behalf of all of the Challengers.

I thought I couldn’t let such an important moment as our first 1000 mile challenger pass by without saying a bit more, which will no doubt embarrass Niamh tremendously. What follows is highly trusted information, but like any good reporter I will never reveal my sources (but Niamh, it wasn’t your dad!).

What does this highly trusted source say about Niamh? Well, in a nutshell she is loving, loyal and incredibly committed to everything she does. She has lots of friends, likes to party  but also likes to be with her family. She is very funny and is known for her very Celtic hair. Once she was kissed by an entire school bus of Moroccan kids in Marrakesh! 

No doubt the entire team of peacocks also want to kiss her for getting them so far along the road to Chaparda. In fact she has single handedly (or more precisely, double footedly) contributed 45% of the teams distance. Amazing! Niamh, we’re very proud of you and thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do.

It’s also worth noting that Niamh’s fundraising page has raised £268 which again, we are all so grateful for. So Niamh (and Malky, her trusted companion on so many of her walks), please take a bow (a bow-wow from Malky perhaps).

So now, a little gallery to celebrate Niamh’s achievement…

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Golcuk Lake, Bolu, Turkey

And what of everyone else? Well, our challengers find themselves all in different countries this week.

Team peacocks continue to amble through Turkey and tonight find themselves in the town of Bolu. It’s the regional town of the Bolu district, an area of forests, lakes and hot springs – so maybe a nice hot bath after a long day of walking. Looking at the photographs you could still be in Argyll (apart from the Turkish flags, of course!)

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St Valentin, Austria

Team tigers are making their way through Austria and have reached Amstetten. Wikipedia tells us that Amstetten  has “several churches” and also “several bars and clubs”. Being Sunday maybe the tigers themselves have enjoyed both?! A few days before reaching Amstetten team tigers passed through the town of St Valentin, and I wonder if any of them though to look for love there? Well, too bad! The town website is very clear: “Our namesake is not Valentin von Terni, after whom Valentine’s Day is celebrated, but Saint Valentin of Raetia, first Bishop of Passau, then hermit and hermit on the Zenoburg in Mais, today’s Merano.” So now you know… get back on the road!

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Monastery of St Roman

Our wee monkeys continue through  Serbia and we hope they’re enjoying the cooler climate in the mountains. Tonight they’re close to Mount Bukovic, popular with mountain bikers. Maybe for something a bit more peaceful they’ll spend the night at the Monastery of St Roman, a Serbian Orthodox monastery that looks very pretty.

106_507281752Meanwhile the snow leopards have crossed into Bulgaria and have already hot-footed it past Sofia but I hope they had the wisdom (see what I did there…?) to stop for a while and take it in. It’s Bulgaria’s Capital and its largest city. We’ll maybe have a chance to visit when other teams pass through. For tonight, then, just to the south of where they are is the ‘Spiritual Centre Nash dOM‘  so I imagine our snow leopards being there, taking some space and time to reflect on all that’s passed these last 16 weeks. Or maybe they’ve just gone to the nearby KFC which is where’ they’ve landed on the map! Opinion about that particular eatery is divided in the reviews section, as you’ll see if you click the link… Evg Gan says “My favourite restaurant”, while Dima Medvedev says “Wow, it’s soooo bad! Totally unedible, practically everything that’s what on the menu.” Hmmm – who to believe?!

So there we are – the end of another week. Historic, with Niamh passing 1000 miles (I’m tempted to link to a recording of me singing ‘I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more’ but I’ll spare you). Four teams four countries. 371 miles covered by our teams (I’ll put that down to being too hot to walk!). Another £25 added to the donations total, but also lots of great fundraising ideas have been pitched in the WhatsApp group. So let’s get to work on those.

Have a great week ahead.