Ola, Amigo


 (Photo Instagram@nickisalwaysonholidays)

European Cycle Tour is a go-go!

Left Lisbon on the 25th, Foundation day in Portugal, coincidently ANZAC day for the antipodeans, and headed south. Because of the public holiday there was confusion about which ferries were working to cross the Tagus and we ended up at a different spot across the river than planned. Riding for ten minutes was enough to be totally lost in suburbia. Shit! Should of bought a MAP!

Did circles trying to find the right road south to Setubal and finally attempted to take the freeway until a car slowed down and, with my rough Portuguese translation, told us to ‘get off the fucking road you dickheads’, with a wave of the middle finger. So we pushed back to the closest patisserie and had a much needed espresso and Portuguese tart. Too much riding in front of us for the preferred cerveja. 

Met a keen cyclist soon after who spoke enough English to help. A friend in need is a friend indeed, and Santos was happy to take us south with some added stops at his favourite lookouts if we cared to join. A private tour guide! Luck was favouring the brave.

I asked how far,  and our new amigo replied ‘four’. OK, we can do this. 45 minutes (and further than the four kilometres we were expecting) plus a few steep hills later we reached a magnificent view over the Atlantic and the sprawling coast of the Costa da Caparica.  Then a relaxing roll down the hill and through the national park.

I enquired how far our amigo usually rode in a day.

‘Six’ Santos informed me. I worked on this maths problem as we left the beach heading back into the hills. Were we on a northerly route. Oh no.

Lesson learnt. A person wearing a zootsuit’s perception of distance should always be quieried.

We arrived back to where we first met our amigo, three hours and twenty photos since our initial encounter, nearly five hours since the ferry. A big fucking circle! He said he would love to show us more but had to meet his mother in law. 

We reminded him we were trying to head south to Setublal.

‘Oh, of course’, he said and took us half a kilometre up a side road we had previously overlooked and dropped us at our turn off.

He checked his watch and warned us that the day was now getting late and Setubal was maybe too far. Perhaps to Sesimbra would be wiser after such a long ride.

Obrigado. 

Turns out Sesimbra is a beautiful port town with amazing cuisine, a place that we could of missed without the help of our amigo 

Wandering Wino

Needing travel inspiration?

Look no further than your local wine shop.

Visiting vineyards is a perfect pastime for the vagabond. A wiz around a winery has so many winning attributes. You can drink wine, spend time outdoors, learn about the micro climate and terroir of the area, drink wine, catch a glimpse of some wildlife, ride a tractor (probably not) and of course, drink wine. Like all good travels,  visiting a vineyard is a learning opportunity that helps broaden our minds. However, this information may or may not be remembered depending on how many ‘tastings’ you complete.

Wines are so integrated with the travel experience that names of destinations ARE the names of wines. Bordeaux, Rioja, Montepulciano, Burgundy, not just you’re favourite bottles but actual towns and communities. Other places are infamous because of their wine: Barossa, Rhine, Napa are all valleys full of vines. So what makes wine and travel such a winning combo?

STRUCTURE

Choosing a vacation destination can be a real dilemma. Why not head to the home of your favourite plonk. This way, at worst there will always be good drink near by. Touring through wine districts gives much needed structure to a holiday. Maps are needed, directions must be found, accommodation sorted, all for the good cause of tasting some of the local vino. Sounds like the holiday is ready to bottle. 

LENGTH

From a short lunch at a local vineyard to a year in Provence, wine districts offer it all. What you need to decide is how much free time you have and how much wine you’re willing to consume. A short stay can include a vertical tasting of the vines, for longer stays try and fit in a horizontal tasting of the region. And if you’re not enjoying yourself, just spit.

PRICE

For those on a tight budget head to the New World. Stay in Stellenbosch for a pinotage party, go mad for Malbec in Mendoza. Looking for something more complex? Rack it up in the Rhone or wine and dine in Washington State. Searching for something sweet? How about heading to Hungary for Tokaji. Prefer to travel the back palette? Have a tipple in Turpan or at Tarija, both places where I’ve found excellent valued vino that the locals don’t let leave their hometowns. Talk about a good reason to visit.

On My To Do List



1. Chateau Grillett, France. The Viognier voyage of a lifetime.

2. Inniskillin, Canada. Ice wine in Ontario.

3. Chateau Musar, Lebanon. Because wine will win over war.
Got any wine travel advice? 

Vineyards you recommend to visit? 

I’m all ears!
#MWWC25

Beginners Bike Tour

  YOU’RE DOING WHAT???

This blog was to be named ‘An Idiots Guide to Bike Touring‘, but I am such a beginner that I’m not even sure if I am at the idiot stage yet. Pushing this trivia aside, the clock is quickly counting down to the start of our first ever bicycle tour. But I’m jumping ahead. Let me take you back to when the seed for this adventure was planted.

Turpan, July 2015. 

A little town beside the vast Gobi desert on the Silk Road in Xinjiang, China’s Wild West. It’s hot, 40 plus, 104 to those of you who’ve yet to switch. The GF and I have just spent the day at the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, a truly fantastic reason to come this far away from civilisation. Sightseeing completed, we were sitting under the vine trellis at Dap Hostel, grapes hanging down within reach, drinking impressively cold Qingdao brewskis. There are six of us at the communal table, the total number of foreigners in town. Until…

BANG BANG BANG. 

The big old wooden gates of the hostel are flung open and in walk a couple pushing bikes. We are in the desert, seriously hot, and for what it counts Turpan is the second lowest place on earth. In other words, close to the fires of hell. Not a place for cycling.

‘We are French, en we need e room’. 

We collectively stare in awe as the pair push past. They haven’t got a bead of sweat on them. The girl is wearing makeup for crying out loud. They are uber cool.

Before too long they join the communal table and tell their story. Let me recap for you. Having caught flights from Paris to Inner Mongolia where they bought bikes and bike bags, they started peddling south. That’s it. Their speech is brief, giving us all ample time for questions.

‘So, you ride a lot in France’, the Irishman on my left asks.
‘Not since I was 12’, the French girl replies, taking a long drag on her second cigarette since she sat down.
‘And no problems on the road?’, the Kiwi chips in cheerfully.
‘But of course! There are many problems’, the Frenchman states. ‘My brakes don’t work’. 

Two Englishman put down their beers and take a step towards the bikes parked beside the table. 
‘Looks like you need to tighten the….’, giving a thin wire a tug, ‘Yep, that’s fixed it’.

Without a word of thanks the Frenchman says in an off hand manner, ‘Well, I would not know, I know nothing about bicycles’.

So it turns out that the trip for the frenchies to this point was done mostly by bus and train, bikes in luggage. However they were adamant that this was merely the start of a long journey, the plan being to continue on to the beaches of Thailand.

Later that night, lying under the fan in our room. 

‘The audacity of those frenchies to just think they can jump on bikes and cycle the world’, GF states staring at the ceiling. 

I agree with a long hmmm. 

Audacious‘.

And with that the seed was sewn and we are now in the UAE about to board a plane to Lisbon where a couple of bikes are sitting in some shop somewhere just waiting to meet us. Then the panniers will be packed. Panniers, now that’s a new word I’ve learnt, they are the bike bags. 

Maybe I have reached idiot stage after all.

Any tips for a beginners bike tour?? I am all ears.

Month in Mysore

 (Photo: Instagram@briana.n.yoga)

This piece is an extract from the novel ‘Stretching Truths: Travels of a Yogini’s Boyfriend’.

Landing in India is always exciting, and I had a blissful month in beautiful Mysore to start.  You can always tell where the rich live in India because every second house is a private doctor’s residence and the locals have perfect teeth as there are dentists everywhere. Gokulam, Mysore  is such a place, but with the added bonus of housing the famous KPJAYI shala, the Mecca for Ashtanga yoga. 

There seem to be more foreigners than locals in Gokulam, visitors from over 60 countries come to practice, a figure the local guru proudly throws around. All are very fit and healthy looking, with the air of zen around them, a benefit that comes from keeping a dedicated diet and doing hard yards on the mat. My GF fits right in.

“Who are you practicing with?”, is the go to conversation starter in Gokulam. 

“What? No yoga??”, a baffled bi-sexual beefcake asks in disbelief, disgust spreading over his radiant face. I realise a better excuse is needed to justify my excistence, literally as there are ‘Yoga Students Only’ signs on the front doors of some hotels.

However, there is a loophole in Ashtanga yoga that I will share with you. Ashtanga, the mantra goes, is 99% practice and 1% theory.

“I’m here for the theory”, just believable enough to blend in, the best way to get out alive when immersed within a gang.

The yoga tourist does have an interestingly different type of holiday. I dove further into their world by picking up some volunteer (read ‘unpaid’) work at one of the local cafes. A dedicated yoga student will start their day in the shala EARLY and sweat it out, sometimes for hours, building up an immense hunger. 

The cafe is  all low tables and pillows, with soft sounds of the rainforest playing through speakers, as the Yogi’s and Yogini’s arrive, carrying mats of questionable smell tucked under their arms and sustainable glass water bottles at hand. Breakfast is THE event of the day, after the actual practice of course. 

Being a waiter gives me a ‘fly on the wall’ view of the daily life of the yoga tourist. Interestingly, although everybody is very health conscious, anal even, about what they eat, they consume a LOT for breakfast, an event that lasts for hours. The whole experience is a bit like watching floodgates open.

Just a soy chai and plain toast to start, inhaled as it hits the table, followed by ragi flakes with more soy milk splashed on top, another chai. Pause. Something scrambled, usually tofu occassionly eggs if you’re a beginner,  and onto the first mug of black coffee. This is woofed down, ‘more coffee, please!’. Not a request, but demanded as the first hit of caffeine kicks in. Ragi pancakes follow, a dry heavy alternative to the fluffy style you may invision. This should be the end, even for the hungriest, but the glutten free chocolate cake comes out of the oven, and the crowd goes wild. Why the chef doesn’t bake two, or ten for that matter, is beyond me, but the cake sells out and those who missed a slice give me as evil a glare as somebody on a yoga high can muster. Not so much scary but INTENSE.

Eavesdropping is habitual for hospitality staff. Om shanti shanti, savasana, pinch-my-arse-ena, are all part of the lexicon. The dilemma of killing mosquitoes can become a heated discussion. The barriers to binding hands when your body is contorted in a box are high also high on the agenda. Kino McGregor’s latest Instagram post is always a hot topic.

The days can end after breakfast in Gokulam, as yogis have an afternoon rest, and then a liquid dinner at Anu’s, saving room for tomorrow’s morning feast.

Been to Gokulam? Did I forget something??

Udaipur 

  

(Photo: Instagram @nickisalwaysonholidays)

Warning:

This is not a travel guide, nor an itinerary for the tourist to follow so they can tick off boxes from a predetermined list. This is a picture of Udaipur, the beautiful city and it’s friendly inhabitants. Hopefully this will encourage the traveller to visit the state of Rajasthan in northern India and explore all that Udaipur has to offer.

Why people would settle in Udaipur is instantly apparent as you cross the open arid plains of Rajasthan, up and over the Aravali mountains and down into the city, where the picturesque Lake Pichola sits, full of clear blue water pumping life into an otherwise inhospitable landscape. The lake can be crossed by footbridge onto a small finger of land, Hanuman Ghat, where hotels, restaurants and tourist shops have sprung up in response to the demand this city attracts. The beauty of this oasis is accentuated by the huge City Palace that hangs over the lake, a sprawling complex that commenced construction in 1553 and took nearly 400 years to complete. Lake Pichola also hosts the uber cool floating Lake Taj Hotel, a retreat where Bollywood stars and famous cricket players can escape the spotlight and paparazzi.

A small hill centres the city on which two main roads intersect at Jagdish Temple, from where tourists flock onward to the gates of the City Palace. More interesting are the narrow side alleys where the locals live shoulder to shoulder, so tight even the rickshaws can’t squeeze through. On the alleys you can see old carts being pushed by vendors selling vegetables or sugar and spices or small knick knacks, shouting prices at the prospective buyers overhead who hang their heads out of the thin tall terrace houses. True window shopping. One alley winds its way up to the local school, perched on the hill with a breathtaking view. Exploring on a Saturday, the schools courtyard had been transformed into a cricket oval, the young students eagerly encouraging my GF and I to join in. I was quickly dismissed by a 10 year old fast bowler, Adarsh, who after taking my wicket whisked my GF and I off on a personal tour of his school. The pride he showed for his hometown and its sights was consistent with that of all the locals we met. 

Mornings have been spent in Prakash’s yoga shala followed by breakfast on the lake, listening to the local ladies, drenched in their bright multicoloured saris whack whack whacking away at the washing. Then a wander/wonder around the Bada Bazaar, past the fabric sellers, fruit stalls, snack shops selling irresistible sweets, the silver shops the region is famous for and a traditional shop with matted flooring where you can pick up an authentic Rajasthanian turban. The afternoons require a visit our favourite chai wallah whose store is impeccably clean with bright green wooden tables and an ancient radio blasting Bollywood ballads. The early evenings are majestic on top of a roof at one of the Hanuman Ghat havelis, looking east as the last rays of sun light up the City Palace. Above the lake there are flocks of birds; black ducks, kingfishers, green King parrots, stalks, pigeons, doves, wrens and finches, all being looked down on by a handful of kites circling high above. The numbers are incredible, and you can’t help wandering if the Chinese had similar vegetarian diets, would there be this array of wildlife around the ancient lake of Hangzhou?

At 7pm chants and chimes are heard from the local temple, whilst the mosque starts its sermon. Rather than being conflicting noises, these rituals sound harmonious as the sounds drift over the still lake. A harmony that will be remembered on the travels, ever alwaysonholidays.
  

(Photo: Instagram@nickisalwaysonholidays)

Reverse Culture Shock

FACT: Travelling around the world has never been easier.

The tourists are HERE! A quick look on Instagram will confirm this in an instant, no pun intended. Taking a gap year is a rite of passage for many Western (and increasingly so, Eastern) students. The Aussie bartender, away in the UK has become a cliche. Throughout India you’ll find back bending yoga students of all colours, shapes and sizes. It’s common to see Canucks constantly clicking cameras in exotic locations. And, how is it I ask you, that Kiwis seem to seep out of the cracks of pubs worldwide at the first clap of the Haka every time the All Blacks take the field? Travelling and immersing yourself in a foreign culture is part of the joys of life, but this can make for a hard landing on your arrival home. Reverse culture shock is real, beware!

My family and friends have inherited a Eurocentric culture, a culture that is at polar opposite to the places I like to explore. Being alwaysonholidays it can be confronting to realise the habits you’ve picked up conflict with home norms.

Sitting inside my family abode, the Asian habit of kampai-ing drinks was seen as a little quirk, but when I continued by tasting food from every plate on the table, gasps were heard. The whole idea of the rigid three course meal threw my eating habits right off course, so I scooped in some ice-cream in the kitchen, pretending to check on the roast. And how was I to realise the consume wasn’t a finger bowl? The meal was finished off with an appreciative belch that in hindsight was best reserved for a Beijing Buffett. On leaving I gave the host a small gift of fruit, I know I will receive an invite back, it’s Christmas soon.

Unable to decipher their true meaning, I’m prone to giving romantic interpretations to the foreign conversations around me whilst on the road. A raised French voice, I imagine, is forced from the fallout of a ménage a trois, a rolling Spanish lisp an accurate account of a bullfight, a loud Greek is delivering an empathetic speech for freedom and democracy. But, back home, on the train, around the streets of my childhood, over coffee at the local cafe, all I hear and comprehend fully is the complaints about bosses, the  bad reviews of bands I don’t know or more common than not, loud English profanities better left unsaid. It’s true sometimes that ignorance is bliss.

It’s me that’s changing, not you. My blue eyes gets me photographed throughout China, have helped land a plum role on Vietnamese TV and attracted many a lush look in Peru. But I can’t complain, for the traffic is orderly and easily navigated on my way to a long overdue catch up with my high school friends. And there will be no surprises in the cocktails and drinks that will flow. However, I’m never home long before I start screaming, ‘Hey, I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!”.

The Dumb Waiter

 

I eat out a lot. This is not a boast, just a reality of being alwaysonholidays. One of the greatest highlights of travelling through a new country is exploring new foods – after all a nations dish is a window into their culture. From entering a haveli in New Delhi for dahl markhani, to sampling okonomiyaki inside an izakaya den in Osaka or immersing ones self in an Art Deco masterpiece to taste bouillabaisse in Paris, there is one common factor that can ruin any dining experience. The dumb waiter.

The dumb waiter can be found standing at the front desk, flipping through blank reservations, looking for your name when you’ve just walked in off the street.

“And just HOW many in your party?”, he will inquire with a smug of superiority.

The reply of two will be met with a deathly silence. My GF and I exchange a glance, we won’t be staying. 

However, being alwaysonholidays, I’ve got time to spare. I enquirer about the picturesque table at the window, the one with the view. This is met with more silence, as the dumb waiter scribbles in his book, before finally conceding, “THAT table is for reservations only”. As I said, we won’t be staying.

The dumb waiter is also an expert at the interruption, arriving half way through your meal. He produces a personal business card, butting in on the conversation to try and sell a day trip to the local ‘must sees’. This is followed by a memorised speach on the highlights of  the town, made from his summary of Lonely Planet. The speil wraps up with some pricing, and an offer of a friends discount (wink wink) for a trip with him, a tour we won’t be taking.

The dumb waiter can turn up at the end of the night, creeping around for the tip. He’s the guy you never saw, as he has been eating in the kitchen, or covertly drinking, crouched down behind the bar. Red wine on his lips, a speck of sauce on the chin, he will tell you his name writing it down on the bill, insinuating you received attentive service. He concludes with a suggestion that you mention him on Trip Advisor. It’s time to leave.

To hell with the Michelin guide, the quirky review in Lux,  for the dumb waiter is the death of a dining experience.

n