Albufeira


The six beachside restaurants in Albufeira are lined up looking out over the crystal blue waters of Southern Portugal. The scene is set with a traditional gaff topsail schooner slowly sailing across the bay. 11.30 in the morning and its already 30 degrees (86F for those yet to convert).The seats are filling up as tourists search to quench their thirst, and escape the ever warming sun. The GF and I sit down and order a couple of small beers that arrive cool and inviting, little beads dripping down the glass. Another couple sit in the chairs beside us and before their bums hit the seat the husband orders two ‘cocktails of the day’. These arrive all psychedelic, layers of yellow and orange and splashes of blue, garnished with a mini fruit bowl and tiny umbrellas that shout ‘look at me, I’m on holiday’.

The husband looks slightly embarrassed at the drink in front of him, but gives us a nod, a wink to his wife, and then to the world at large proclaims,

“Well if you can’t enjoy your holidays, what’s the point, eh?”

We both stay silent but nod our heads in agreement and give a smile. 

‘Another?” the GF asks pointing at our empty glasses. 

On point, the waiter comes over before I can reply and repeats the question. We nod.

Before the waiter gets a chance to leave, the husband grabs his attention with a short “senor”, then quickly downs the remaining 2/3rds of his cocktail and informs,

“We’ll be having some more, thank you very much.”

“Same again?” 

“Nah, let’s have a bottle of champagne”, announced loud enough to gain the restaurants attention plus a few of the tables next door.
The bubbles arrive with a pop and two flutes are filled just as our small beers hit the table. Fate would have all four full glasses in front of us at the same time, so, all making eye contact, we touch glasses, and give cheers.

“Good to be alive!”, the husband states in an attempt at small talk. We agree with a smile, which he takes as an invitation for conversation.

“Hope this weather holds for the next ten days. Just perfect”. 

More agreements from us and general chit chat follows on how good the day is. He’s not lying, the Algarve has really turned it on.

“Like I said, ten days in heaven for us. How long did you say you’re staying?”

We hadn’t. 

“Actually, we are just riding through”, I reply giving a nod to the bikes resting against a post in front of the restaurant.

“Very tempted to stay a night or two,” the GF adds.

“You should be treating your girl,” the husband adds, throwing back the glass of the bubbles, which is quickly refilled by the waiter who really is being awfully attentive.

We don’t reply, and are willing to leave the small talk at that, enjoying ourselves in the heat and serenity that sitting on the side of the ocean brings.

The blissful pause does not last long.

“Must be mighty hard on those bikes”, the conversation is about to resume. “Where have you ridden from?”.

“Lisbon”, the GF answers briefly.

“Blimey, all the way up there! You need to give your lady a break,” this with a stare directed accusingly at me.

“Lisbon was 6 weeks ago”, the GF in my defence.

“What, 6 weeks?? Seems an awful long time. It isn’t THAT far. You could drive from Lisbon in an afternoon. You could’ve seen every square inch of Portugal in that time. You could have done plenty. 6 whole weeks, you could’ve, could’ve done anything!”

The lecture ends.

“To be fair, we needed the first week just to recover from travelling the previous six months through India,” the GF nonchalantly pips in.

“India!” the husband exclaimed.

“Oh do shut up!”, the wife speaking for the first time throws at her husband.

Dropping the F-Bomb


The F-Bomb has been dropped. Yep, after nearly three weeks in the seat we finally got a flat tyre. I was never prepared.

When we first bought the bikes, having told the assistant we were planning on spending at least several months on tour around Europe, he gave us plenty of helpful tips on bike maintenance. To be fair, his customer service was immaculate, and I was happily upsold into anything he suggested to make our trip a success. I asked many questions and confidently he assured us both that with a blue thingy to remove your tyre, a pump and a couple of spare inner tubes we had all we needed to fix our bikes on the road. The only thing he couldn’t sell us was an out of stock 15mm for the bolt holding the back tyre. The GF easily picked one up at the thieves market in Alfama the next day.

Before we rode out if the shop, I innocently asked how to change a flat tyre. The assistant erupted with laughter, slapped me on the back and called to his colleague.

“Ha! Imagine starting a bike tour around Europe and not knowing how to change a flat tyre on your bike.”

“Ha! That WOULD be funny!”, the colleague chipped in.

I didn’t think it was funny at all, but decided not to push the point at this period of time. 

Nor did I think it wise to push the whole ‘flat tyre’ point whilst on tour. I figured just speaking about anything to do with a flat tyre would only throw the possibility of it occurring into our universe. I’m a karma kinda guy this way.

So it was to my shock and awe that the GF asked me where the 15mm was whilst packing. This was her terrain. 

“Umm. In the bag near the blue thingy?” I guessed.

“Nope.”

“With the wrench?”, surely I was getting closer.

A smirk spread across her face.
“What’s the difference between a 15mm and a wrench?”, she asked me straight out.

“14?”

She laughed hard, and when re-telling the story to her family, they all laughed harder.

Anyway, travelling is all about learning new things and I now know a 15mm is a wrench, the 15 pertaining to its size. I also can’t help but admire the way the universe works for it was the GF that got the flat tyre, not me.
Photo @ nickisalwaysonholidays 

4 Nights in a Nudist Camp

It’s not that we are afraid of a little rain, it’s just that we ARE afraid of a lot of rain. Precipitation was not part of the plan on the bike tour. The GF, determined to keep peddling like a true champ, took a look at my face and suggested a coffee stop. We pulled into Sagres on the SW tip of Europe, ordered two beers and contemplated our next move.

“A tent in the rain is pain”, I rhymed.

“Wet feet ain’t neat”, the GF replied chirpily. We are cute this way.

Out came the I-Pads and house hunting we went. A few minutes searching the www and an apartment was located 20km up the road being both in our price range and above our current standards, constituting a bargain in our books. A quick check of the BBC weather satellite map. It seemed just possible, by jumping back in the saddle now with the apartment being close enough and the clouds far enough away, to beat the next downpour. We will have the feet up in no time. 

 
Situated inside an Eco-camp ground, with a restaurant and bar on-site, just a kilometre off the beach, the apartment seemed the perfect ark from the forth coming flood. So, finish up the brewskis, put the helmets on and away we go.

Almost.

“Ummm…it says here the Eco-camp has a ‘nature zone’ “.

“What, like a zoo?” I ask innocently.

“Nudie bums”, my GF corrected me.

Well, when in Rome…..(or Salema for that matter)

(Look! Everybody is naked!)


Monday at the Nudist Colony

Weather report: Rain

To be fair it was the first night out of the tent and in a bed for over a fortnight so we over slept and then some. The gray, drizzly weather was a blessing for these conditions. We spent much of the day in the apartment re-familiarising ourselves with a working stove and cold fridge. Went to the on-site bar at dusk, no people there except the (fully clothed) wait staff.

Tuesday at the Nudist Colony

Weather report: Heavy rain

Would of hated to of been in a tent today. The Eco-camp looked eerie quiet. Nobody about except some workman fixing a broken drain (fully clothed).

Wednesday at the Nudist Colony

Weather report: Cold snap and rain

Getting a little stir crazy. Sampled a broad selection of Alentejo wines. 

No nudie bums, except for one in the middle of the night, me, crashing into the walls disorientated trying to find the bathroom.

Thursday at the Nudist Colony

Weather report: More rain

Couple of night caps at the bar before we head off in the morning. In the men’s room an old bloke stood fairly close whilst urinating. Is he the nudist??
 

(All photos @ nickisalwaysonholidays )

Picnics of the World

“Well — I’ll get them to put you up a tea-basket, and you can picnic all to yourselves, — that’s the idea, isn’t it?’

‘How fearfully good! How frightfully nice if you could!”

Women in Love (D.H. Lawrence)


(The most romantic grass in the world?)

For all the travelling around the world feeding my face at fancy restaurants, I still find a picnic hard to beat. Growing ‘hangry’ searching along a dining promenade, my mind will wander to the perfect park or patch of grass that awaits at the most spectacular scenic spots. Getting the right amount of romance and Rose Wine onto the rug takes a little knowledge and patience, but with preparation the picnic is the true winner in alfresco dining. Let me review some of the great picnics of the world.


FRANCE

Sunset at Sacre-Coeur 

Getting you out of the restaurants in the dining capital of the world is admittedly a hard sell, but a visit to Montmartre and the Sacre-Coeur is a ‘must do’ when visiting the French capital. Why not pack your rug, and pick up supplies along the uber cool Rue Des Abbesses on your way towards this most romantic of picnic spots in the city of love. Belon No.2 oysters from La Mascotte are shucked and ready to go, grab a chicken and a tabouleh salad at the rotisserie across the street. Don’t forget the Brie de Meaux sold at any number of the delicatessens on the strip, and add some fresh bread from the award winning La Greneir a Pain. Continue to the green grass at the Square Louise Michel below the iconic building. Watch the sunset over Paris and pop a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Rose to wash down the feast.

AUSTRALIA

Brunch on the Mornington Peninsula (outside Melbourne)



A short drive outside the city of Melbourne takes you onto a number of stunning beaches. Bushman’s  Bay on the Mornington Peninsula is the clear picnic spot winner. The walk is full of wildlife, kangaroos hoping through the eucalyptus forest, kookaburras laughing, the place nearly always devoid of people. On the way, pop into Ten Minutes By Tractor for their 10X pinot rose to accompany lunch. Down the road, Red Hill Cheese produce the apt named ‘Picnic Point’ range. A quick stop in Flinders is where you can get the rest of your supplies. Local prawns by the half kilo, and the heavenly Flinders Bakery heavy fruit loaf with poppy seed. As extravagant as the provisions are, the real reason to picnic at Bushman’s Bay is for the secluded rock pools that you can swim in after the meal. Now what Michelin restaurant supplies that! 

(Rock pools at Bushman’s Bay)

PORTUGAL


Afternoons on the Banks of the Tagus

Portugal is the picnickers paradise with so much produce perfect for the rug. Simplicity is key. Pick up a can of Conservas Santos sardines. Eat with local sourdough and fresh tomatoes. The new Mercado da Ribeira market has all you are looking for. Grab a wheel of  Evora cheese. Include some local pate and of course a bottle of Mateus Rose, a Portuguese classic. On any given weekend the party atmosphere on the river may well extend past the picnic. Not to worry as there are many pop-up bars serving sangria and mojitos to keep you fuelled.

Got a favourite PICNIC ? Please let me know in the comments below.

The Whole Point of a Bike Tour Anyway

“what really draws me is the prospect of stepping out of the daylight of everything I know, into the shadows of what I don’t know, and may never know.”

Pico Iyer, Sun After Dark.

(Beautiful blues of Sesimbra)

The hardest part of the day was behind us as the bikes rolled down down down the steep hill of Sesimbra. My GF wiped sweat from her brow, cracked a smile and blew a triumphant kiss my way. 

The brand new tour bikes, literally ridden out of the sports mega-store the day before, looked legit. Packed heavy with all our belongings, the panniers saddled to the sides bulged, another full bag sat precariously on the front, holding all our worldly possessions that we were willing to carry. A passing pedestrian would think us cyclists were old hands at touring, unless they bothered to look closely at my nervous face cringing in concentration with the task at hand. No complaints. Confronting new challenges being the whole point of a bike tour anyway.

This was the first day on a bike for me in over a decade and I was trying hard to control the machine, all the excess weight willing gravity on and causing the wheels to spin too fast. ‘Irony’ sprung to mind, as up to this point the day spent in the saddle was mostly labourious. Tendons and muscles rarely used had been stretched and torn, a reminder of how a luxurious lifestyle under utilised the human body.  No complaints. Improving personal fitness being the whole point of a bike tour anyway.

It was nearly seven hours since the day started, crossing the Tagus on the wrong ferry, to arrive at the wrong port, to get instantaneously and incredibly lost. The 40 kilometre stretch south somehow turned into an 80km tour of the peninsula. No complaints. Travelling to places otherwise not seen nor imagined being the whole point of a bike tour anyway. 

But the final hill down down down into Sesimbra was also a great test, and not only for the new brakes. This was a test of fate. I tried to suppress a niggling fear of the unknown, for we had no idea what was to be found in town, no accommodation organised. Our only expectations being the heavenly plates of salt grilled makeral, teasingly advertised on regular billboards during the last 15 km stretch into port. These billboards acted like giant carrots, perfect motivators for the legs to push the pedals, as a well earned hunger grew. No complaints. Expecting the unexpected being the whole point of a bike tour anyway.

Finally reaching sea level we quickly acknowledged that the town was in fact built to facilitate thousands more tourists than were scattered on the promenade that afternoon. The hotels were fanned around the hill in a huge arc, highlighting the strip of beach below, illuminated like a golden centre stage of a huge amphitheater. There was a relaxed holiday atmosphere. A couple walked their dog on the boardwalk, flip flopping along in bikinis and board-shorts. A man, seemingly forgotten, was half buried in sand on the beach. A boy kicked a big inflatable ball along the sea lapping at the shore. What a treat! The weather perfect, the sun still shining after 8pm at night, the sea admittedly chilly but good for a splash, and the full choice of restaurants, bars and beds. It was all working out the way a bike tour should anyway. 

 

(Above the beach, Sesimbra)



All photos nickisalwaysonholidays 

Day Trip from Lisbon


Lisbon: always a good idea!

following the locals south is an adventurous way to spend a day or two exploring the other side of the Tagus. 

Lisbon is on everybody’s ‘to do’ list this year, but what if you are lucky enough to have a couple of extra days up your travelling sleeves whilst you are in the area? Drag yourself out of the bustling bars of Alfama, away from the fantastic Fado and head south!  Go west to Cascais is a popular option, but following the locals south is an adventurous way to spend a day or two exploring the other side of the Tagus

Add one night?

This loop of the south is suitable for a day trip in a car, or add an overnight stay in either Troia, a ferry trip from Setubal, or the port town of Sesimbra for both have plenty of accommodation options. This trip would take 2 moderate/difficult days on bikes, a beautiful and rewarding way to enjoy the coast. Saying that, if you packed the Lycra you may be able to pedal the whole route in a long day!

The Trip

From Lisbon by car cross the Tagus over the historic ’25th of April’ Bridge. This should remind you of the famous San Francisco bridge seeing as it was built by the same company and painted the same colour red. If you are on bikes catch the ferry to Almada, and look towards the Atlantic to see the bridge in its full glory.

Now that you have crossed the Tagus, head westward to the ocean. Follow the N377-1 and you will find yourselves with a beautiful stretch of beach with national parks and small seaside towns. Stop in at Costa da Caparica for breakfast at one of the many restaurants on the dunes. You can follow the N377-2 parallel to the beach and take a walk through the Arriba Fossil National Park. On a mountain bike, at low tide the beach makes a great track all the way to the cape. A quick heads up, you may catch an eye full as this part of the coast is for nudists! 

Beautiful blues of Sesimbra

Continuing along the N377 which turns inland, take the right (south) on the N778 to the fishing port town of Sesimbra. There are plenty of places for lunch along the promenade here. The beachside restaurant Portofinos is always popular. For a real seafood treat, head a kilometre around the harbour and eat at one of the seafood shacks – packed with local tourists for lunch. The town is famous for its Carapau, a grilled mackerel dish (plate of 4 for 8euro), some of the freshest fish in Portugal. 

Views from the road whete James Bond’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was shot

The real adventure starts as you leave the port town and head into the Arrabida National Park, a magical area with the micro-climate of the Mediterranean. Pass along the vineyards on the N379 and turn directly into the national park following the N379-1. From here there is a steep climb over the range with breath taking views of the Sado River. Expect to see golden beaches, aquamarine blue waters and schools of fish swimming close to shore. The area is a breeding zone for many birds that float high with the rising air currents up the hills and over the park. Stop at any one of the beaches here where you can re-fuel at one of the restaurants perched on the small sandstone cliffs. 

Outside the Arrabida National Park is Setubal, from here you can take the N252 north back towards Lisbon

Any thing to add to this trip? Please let everybody know in the comments.

All photos nickisalwaysonholidays 

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 

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.