Slow Race to the Fast Race


(Photo Instagram @nickisalwaysonholidays)

Lucky to be in approximately the right place at approximately the right time, the GF and I decided to ride the first leg of this years Le Tour de France, from finish to start, to see the BIG RACE for ourselves.

We slowly headed to Le Mont Saint Michel, a truly fantastic destination. Slowly because, we ride our bikes at around 15km an hour (approx. 10 miles). Slowly because, in the morning the first thing we do is stop for a coffee. This usually involves a patisserie as well, we are in France after all. Slowly because, we stop for photos. Slowly because, at midday we stop for a long lunch, usually a picnic or ‘plat de jour‘ or moules frites. Slowly because, in the afternoon we stop to refuel on liquid carbohydrates (beer). And, slowly because, even Lance Armstrong after a hit couldn’t ride fast on our tanks.

We finished the leg in three days (one day was a rest day in Granville). The winner finished in just over 4 hours. Humbling indeed.

(Photo Instagram @briana.n.yoga)

Flying Bicycle


Oh no. I have morphed into the two most disliked passengers at the airport. I am THAT passenger with way way way too much luggage for flying, the one who breaks the baggage handlers back. AND, I am also THAT passenger who is super super super late, recklessly sprinting down the hall, losing control of the trolley, too panicked for apologies. The GF, pushing an identical load, glides towards the check-in having somehow gotten 10 metres in front of me. A huge winning margin considering the circumstances. Not that it matters with so many people in line. A line, I quickly realise, that is way too long to wait in. A line we will simply have to cut. Oh no. Now I’m THAT passenger too.
C’est la vie, we are flying to Paris!

Reassembling bicycles at baggage collection is a bit of an oddity. The first bike is back together and ready to ride as the carousels start spinning, signalling another aeroplane’s arrival. The second bike is in action not long after. Tyres pumped, panniers saddled, helmets on, we are off. There is something exhilarating about riding bicycles through an airport, like breaking an unwritten law of travel. Through the sliding doors into the arrivals lounge, past the chauffeurs holding name cards, a man with a bunch of roses, and all the other family and friends waiting patiently for the next arrivals, we were greeted to smiles of wonder and awe. A strange sight for sure.

Navigating Paris is simple. Find the Seine and follow it. So of course we get lost. 

“Excuse moi, which way to the river?” The GF asks some workmen in her best French.

“You are a BEAUTIFUL WOMAN”, a workman replied.

Welcome to France, I thought.

Peddling past the pedestrians, traversing traffic, crossing train tracks and we finally find the river flowing through the City of Love. A single poppy grows miraculously between the pavement on the bicycle track leading into town, a sign of the beauty to come.

J’aime Paris!
(Photo Instagram @nickisalwaysonholidays)

Night in Giverny


Rolling slowly down Rue Claude Monet on bikes in Giverny during Spring leaves quite the impression. Rows upon rows of flowers are in full bloom, white wisteria, yellow irises, pink and purple tulips, red poppies, all making for a kaleidoscope of colours. The tiny town of Giverny (pronounced ‘shiver-knee’ I learnt) is appropriately packed with tourists queueing in the long line, patiently waiting to purchase tickets into Monet’s Garden, where once inside they all try their best to take photos without too many others in the shot. The town itself has enough gourmet restaurants, slick cafes, museums, art galleries and artists studios to keep one entertained. Giverny is extraordinarily beautiful. 

The GF and I roll to a halt, look at each other and in unison declare, “We’ll stay!”

We need to find a room. 

This is difficult. A futile search finds the whole town full. Of course. Spring, sunshine and a Saturday, a perfect combination for those prepared. We are not. What to do? 

We need to find a drink.

This is easy. A table on the pavement outside Gaudy  awaits the GF and I. A bottle of rose quickly found, and the glasses clink as our eyes meet. People watching is one of our most pleasurable pastimes and this spot was above par. 

A flash convertible pulls up, and the spitting image of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman steps out and heads straight towards us.

“So I see you’ve found my favourite table at my favourite restaurant in Giverny”, he confidently states. Spotting our camera he offers to take our picture, which he does, about twenty shots in all. Our new friend is invited to help us with the wine.

Conversing in quick and fluent English, taking a phone call in Swedish and talking French to the waiters who seem to know him well, he is often up and down to mingle with the locals walking past. He is an industrialist (his description) and loves impressionist art and, more so, loves Giverny. 

“What? No room?”, on hearing our predicament. Another phone call is made, and with this our invites arrive for a dinner party, board include. 

Leaving the bikes at a local gallery to pick up the owner and the resident artist who are also dinner guests, we all jump in the convertible and drive a short way out of town to a magnificent property on the Seine.

The hostess leads the GF and I to our quarters to refresh, pointing out points of interest of the house which sprawls down the bank. An art book is opened on the bed, the page a print of exactly the view we are looking at, painted by the late Pierre Bonnard. It turns out we are to spend the night in the old French impressionist’s bedroom.

A river punt pulls up and docks on the bank, and our host, looking the part with a blue beret, disembarks accompanied by Mademoiselle, an octogenarian with immaculate taste.

The conversation flows, along with the wine and the food, and for the umpteenth time in my life I wish I spoke French. We learn that the local mayor of Giverny is at odds with the local shop keepers for wanting to cap the number of tourists in the town. The artist explains the new work being shown. The host winds up an antique music box, La Vie En Rose plays. Our new friend laments that his estranged wife wants him committed…..again.

The wonderful night winds down with the octogenarian tapping her glass to deliver words of wisdom,

“The key to youthfulness is to never dwell in your own sorrow, but to always smile, for everything will turn out for the best.”

The GF and I couldn’t agree more.

(All photos Instagram @nickisalwaysonholidays)

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)

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.

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 

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)

Why blog? 

 

  “Nick, you are always on holidays, you’ve got heaps of free time, why don’t you write a blog or something about your experiences?” (From friends and family).

“Nick, you need a creative outlet, perhaps it’s time to start writing?” (One of the nicer voices inside my head).

“Nick, you are a wealth of information and have lead such an exciting life, please write a blog. Please?” (From the world at large, in my dreams).

My justifications not to blog in the past have followed a familiar theme along the lines of ‘just because I like to read/eat/watch films, it doesn’t mean I want to be an author/become a chef/direct movies’. 

Short, witty analogies that got me of the hook…until now.

What’s changed? In a word, attitude. Rather than try to avoid something I thought may be like that dirty three letter word, J-O-B, I decided to embrace something new. Well new to me, anyhow. I’ve always been a bit slow with technology. Didn’t get my first e-mail address until the late ‘noughties, plugged in my first mobile phone when 3G came into play and am still yet to stalk, sorry ‘search’ long lost friends on Facebook.  So here I am, like a kid with a new toy on Christmas, typing away with a big cheesy grin on my face.

Before leading you all down the track too far, I should outline what this blog will be about. I’m not putting up any boundaries around topics of discussion, but I will dab into travel (which I do a lot of), food (trying to cut down on), foreign culture (the one thing you know more about when you know you know nothing) and the general state of my mind. Probably throw in a book review or two, if I wasn’t typing this I would be reading. I may even give a secret away on how to be alwaysonholidays.

n

(If I get slack and don’t post anything, there will be a photo or two on Instagram @nickisalwaysonholidays)