Thrones of the Middle Kingdom: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Nothing is certain in life except death, taxes, and the need for a public toilet on holidays. This can be a worrisome prospect when travelling through China, not only because of the confusion over signs and language, or the concern over whether you will be required to sit or squat, but mainly because of the urgency in which this need may occur. When asking locals for directions, ‘WC‘ is more user friendly than ‘toilet’ or ‘bathroom’ throughout the country. If you want to be clever, the Chinese pronunciation is weishengjian, not to be confused with weishengmian, which translates to ‘women’s sanitary napkins’. I had a mildly embarrassing experience once wandering cluelessly through a restaurant in Shanghai, my bladder about to burst, asking all the waitresses where the tampons were, much to their amusement. I will leave the reviews of the wonderful restaurants of the region in the competent hands of  Journeys of a Gourmand, https://journeysofagourmand.wordpress.com , and instead tackle the task of identifying the good, the bad and the ugly thrones of the Middle Kingdom.

The Good

The toilets at the Grand Hyatt, located inside the SWFC building in Shanghai, are open to those staying at the hotel, eating and drinking at one of the restaurants or bars, and to anyone else who can hold on to their wiz whilst wizing up the 91 floors it takes to get there. It’s worth the wait. With a bathroom attendant to meet and greet you, the entry into this boudoir is as spectacular as the view behind you. Hair gels, face creams, cotton tips, hand sanitiser are all well stocked to keep you looking presentable. Their Piece De Resistance is the imported Japanese porcelain perfection. So many buttons for you to push in search of the one that pushes your button! This cubicle is so comfortable, that in the midst of contemplating life’s great mysteries I nearly forgot that the GF was nursing a martini at the bar. 

The Bad

There are certain towns in China that are certainly worth the visit, even though they lack a variety of accommodation options. Fenghuang is one such town where you will only find two star hotels with two star toilets. The rooms usually have the option of squat or sit, but both will suffer from shocking plumbing and be prone to overflow. No point changing rooms – as we did thrice to the bemusement of the hotelier – for the problem will usually be endemic to the whole street if not town. The most unfortunate of scenarios will include an insomnia inducing waft accompanying a drip drip drip throughout the stay. 

The Ugly

Unless you have your own mode of transportation, to truly see China sooner or later you’ll need to catch a bus. Therefore, you will need to go to a bus stop, a place you do not want to be with the ‘need to go’. Whilst travelling through Southern Yunnan we still had half an hour left before arriving and the situation was dire. Pulling into the bus station the situation was definitely diarrhoea. Both ran into the bathroom, and simultaneously ran out.

“NOOOOO way!” in unison. 

We held an understanding stare for all of five seconds.
There are no walls except a short one dividing women and men. There is no privacy and as with everywhere in China there is a crowd of people. After a wait in ‘line’, you take your position, a foot each on the two planks running through the room. My face was a centimetre from the old man in front of me, who was casual enough in this situation to be reading a newspaper. The guy a centimetre behind me was smoking a cigarette. There was room for about 15 altogether on the planks at one time. Another half dozen where waiting, watching very curiously as a foreigner crapped. 

I did the worst thing possible.  I looked down.

(All photos Instagram @briana.n.yoga & @nickisalwaysonholidays)

Portugal Beyond Lisbon – Alentejo

 Visit Portugal’s Alentejo region for an outdoor adventure complemented with fresh local produce and breath taking walks.


Portugal strikes back! After nearly a decade in the clutches of the GFC, the South West Coast of Portugal is striding forward towards a new future with an invigorating push into Nature Tourism, well supported by the local community and council. The houses and buildings in every street have been given a fresh lick of paint, bright white with blue, orange or pink trimmings so that when you enter a town you feel like you’ve stumbled onto a film set.

Forget the Algarve for a beach break, the Alentejo region is full of activities for those looking for outdoor adventure. The jewel in the Alentejo crown is the Fishermans Trail, a four day walk along the Atlantic Coast line that, from north to south, starts at the market square in the old town of Porto Covo and finishes on the tranquil beach of Odeceixe.

EAT and DRINK

Add to your time here fantastic fresh seafood, affordable local wines and cheeses, plenty of municipal markets (mercados) and a bounty of Portuguese patisseries, there is more than enough fuel to keep you going along the trail. Keep an eye out for the rated DOC cheeses (queijo) from Nisa, Evora and Serpa regions, all made from sheeps milk with their own regional flavours. Wines from Enoforum, Herdade dos Grous and Cartuxa are all high quality and affordable made from the lesser known grape varieties grown in Alentejo. Broadly, the whites are light, zingy and refreshing, perfect for the local seafood, whilst the reds are mostly full of fruit and also enjoyed young.

WALKING  THE FISHERMAN’S TRAIL

The first stage of the walk from Porto Covo to Vila Nova de Milfontes, is a 20km trail that should take about 7 hours to complete. Start by heading south from the Porto Covo fishing port onto the trail that twist and winds along the Atlantic, passing pebbled beaches and sandstone dunes. Expect to see endemic plant species that have survived the poor soil conditions of the area and exist nowhere else on Earth. Pack a lunch with drinks for this stretch as you will have the place to yourself with no conveniences on the way. From the market in Porto Covo’s main square you can pick up ripe local tomatoes, fresh bread, a small wheel of queijo and a tin or two of Portugal’s famous sardines for a picnic along the way.


(Porto Covo)

Vila Nova de Milfontes is a sleepy seaside town facing south, over looking the mouth of the Mira river and home to great restaurants and cafes. Nestled on the banks of the Mira is Quebramar Beach Bar, serving local fresh seafood. On the dunes is Conversar Comsal, perfect for sunset, with Super Bock on tap (1euro a glass) and ‘Catch of the Day’ (7euro) it’s a popular local favourite. If you plan on spending a few days here, there are surf schools, bike hire and yoga at Love Ashtanga Yoga to keep you busy.


(Overlooking the river mouth at Vila Nova de Milfontes)

Follow the trail from Vila Nova de Milfontes to Almograve, a 15km walk along the coast. First, you can go out of town and cross the bridge and head back towards Furnas beach or knock a couple of kilometres off the day by taking the ferry straight across the river. From here head down the acacia laden path and watch local fisherman on the rocks and keep your eyes out for the small Stone Age quarries in the dunes. Turn into Almograve for another feast at one of the wonderful local seafood restaurants. There is also a ferry service from Vila Nova de Milfontes that continues all the way to Odemira for those not wanting to walk the whole ‘Fishermans Trail‘ (25 euro one way). 

The third leg from Almograve to Zambujeria do Mar is the only leg with paths wide enough to allow for bikes. This 22km stretch of trail is high and hugs close along the 100mt red sandstone cliffs, giving fantastic views down the coast. Lookout for birds nesting in the craggy rocks and keep heading to the lighthouse at Cavaleiro where you can stop for lunch. The trail leaves the cliffs edge at Bacra, where a taxi can be ordered to take you into town avoiding the last 3km straight stretch of road. Handy if you sampled the impressive list of local wines available at the Restaurant a Barca which is highly noted for their seafood soup (3euro).

Zambujeria do Mar has a magnificent beach formed by the erosion of the cliffs over the millennium. It’s a great place to stay, and you can enjoy dinner at Restaurant Rita who serve big pots of Portuguese Octopus Rice for two (19euro), and have magical sunset views over the town church and Atlantic. Local bars on the Main Street have impromptu Fado musicians throughout the night. 


(Sunset at Zambujeria do Mar)

The final leg of the trail is 18km from Zambujeria do Mar to Odeceixe where many nocturnal mammals will be at rest. Burrows and footprints can be seen on the trail, the signs of the local otter, Egyptian Mongoose and Beech Marten population. Carvalhal beach is also home to a private African zoo, a hundred metres above the Surf School and Bar. From the town of Odeceixe there are kayaks available to paddle the last couple of kilometres to the beach.


(Odeceixe)

Odeceixe is the perfect beachside town to stop and enjoy the fresh air blowing across the Atlantic and reflect on the adventure just completed. Bars, accomodation and restaurants hang off the cliff with mesmerising views over the river mouth and Atlantic Ocean beyond.

All photos nickisalwaysonholidays.
If you have any more information on the area PLEASE add a link in the comments.

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

India taught me…

To travel is to learn, and learning is the greatest gift.  Discovering new cultures and new ways of life are the highlights of any trip. I’m coming to the end of my travels through India and these are some reflections on what India has taught me.

1. Yoga is a great way of life.

My GF is a yoga addict, so I kinda already knew this but for the first time, I immersed myself in the lifestyle. It’s hard not to in India, especially having spent a month in Mysore (the Mecca for Ashtanga yoga). Not to do yoga in India would be a travesty. There are studios EVERYWHERE, and most are by donation therefore suitable for every budget, so no excuses. If you are a complete novice, no problem! Remember that eveybody was a beginner at some stage, just start by practising savasana. 

  
(Instagram @briana.n.yoga doing her thing)

2. Train travel is the BEST travel.

Ok, I may reneg on this as I am three weeks off starting my first bike tour of Europe, but for now I’d rather catch a train any day. For long journeys you have to be a bit organised as train tickets go on sale 90 days before departure, and with a billion plus people they sell out quicker than you’d think. Over peak times and through popular routes, for the express trains book tickets at least a fortnight in advance. There are different class tickets ranging in comfort from deluxe suites to sardine cans.  On overnight travel, a second tier A/C ticket gets you a bed in a cabin of four, with three course meals provided for lunch and dinner, and tea/coffee/snacks  in between. Watching the country click click click by from a train is both romantic and hypnotic. Check out Wes Anderson’s ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ if you need any more inspiration. 

  

(Train to Udaipur,from Instagram@nickisalwaysonholidays)

3. Plastic sux. 

One of the first things to hit you on arriving in India is the rubbish. From talking to travellers who have been returning to India over the years, the problem seems to be getting worse, however there may be a silver cloud on the horizon. Beaches in Goa have installed bins and collectors, and nearly every town has shops that will refill your water bottles. Use these! Let’s say you drink 3 litres a day, on a two week trip you’ll go through 50 plus bottles. Pack a good flask with you and refill for a couple cents at convenient places alone the way. It’s a great service, use it to avoid a dis-service to our planet. 

4. It’s OK not to eat meat.

A highlight to visiting Japan is eating sushi, an assado in Argentina, paella in Spain, shrimp on the barbie you know where. So do as the Romans do, in India, go veg, it’s what the locals do. There are only two types of restaurants in India, veg and the less popular non-veg. These have two sub categories, North Indian and South Indian. You don’t have to follow the food chain too far to realise that the chicken in your tikka masala isn’t the quality you’d get back home, but the dhal fry is to die for. If you go veg on holidays in India you can not only eat as much as you want of the tastiest food, you may find a new and healthier habit forming.

  
(Traditional Rajasthanian thali, from Instagram@nickisalwayonholidays)

5. You are the 1%.

I’m not going to get into the problems of poverty, but one thing that is made loud & clear on any travel to India is that if you can afford the plane ticket over you’re financially more secure than nearly everybody on the street. Nobody likes to be ripped off, but maybe haggle a little lighter, buy some more chai, give away all your coins, and let the kids practice their English on you. Be a Good Samaritan.

India, thanks for the lessons.

n