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)

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