Having always lived in places where, by and large, we fit in, cycling through China, where we couldn't have stuck out more if we'd tried, was an eye-opening, life-changing experience. We'll never forget it.
Wherever we go, people pepper Stephen and me with a steady stream of questions about our worldwide bicycle trip. One of the most asked is "Have you ever gotten sick from the food?" So far, the answer is no, and we're crossing our fingers that it stays that way.
Travelling in China can be a bumpy road. There have been days when Stephen and I just look at each other in astonishment: this is what cycle touring is all about!
The policeman comes into our room. It's almost 10pm, and we have been at the hotel for five hours, but it is clear that there is something he needs urgently. He says a few things to us in Chinese. We give him our now well-practiced blank stares of incomprehension.
In China, we are Foreign Tourists, with a capital FT. There is no way to disguise it, to pretend we belong here, to go unnoticed in a crowd. Still, we are surprised by how rare the sight of a non-Asian tourist is on the streets of Beijing. So much so, that after a few days, we start to do as the Chinese do, and gape openly at any white people we see.
Hungary, a country that is known for her magnificent capital city and not much else. But we soon discovered that Hungary is far more than just Budapest.
In the winter there is skiing. In the summer, you can take a cable car to the top and hike through the alpine meadows, admire the wildflowers, throw snowballs at your friends, and visit the herder's settlements to view their unique wooden huts.
The best thing about bicycle touring is the contrast. You experience the discomfort of being outdoors in all kinds of weather, eat a variety of strange foods, both good and bad, and sleep in lots of unorthodox places. With the first leg of our bicycle tour, from Rome to Russia, behind us, Stephen and I have been reflecting on the best food, drink, and accommodation we've had.
In the West we have an inbuilt weakness. We don't want to impose. We don't want to put someone out. We just don't want to make a nuisance of ourselves.
You won't be able to avoid all arguments and squabbles while you're travelling, and it wouldn't be great for your mental health to try. But with a little practice, you can erase most of the unnecessary bickering and resentment, and truly enjoy each others' company day after day after day after...