Smile




“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” Dr.Seuss



I’ve got a list labelled ‘Rewards for Future Nick’, some slaps on the back in lieu for all good deeds done. Unfortunately, there is also a growing ‘Get Off Your Arse and Do’ list for Future Nick to accomplish. But for now, having just completed a month of yoga, which also entailed a month of healthy eating (read: a month off the booze), the GF and I are due some well earned rewards. Bonus, we find ourselves on the beach in Goa with a week of relaxation up our sleeves.

High, high up on the rewards list is an overdue re-tox. I’m dreaming of sparkling wine at sunset, Sula being the local Indian supplier, followed by a cleansing Goan Kings brewski or two, complemented with something fresh from the tandoori. They’ve actually got a rapidly growing wine industry in India with some great producers of plonk … but back to the story.

Feet in the sand, sun setting over the sea and a month (I may remind you of this a few times) off the booze, the glass in front of me is full of tantalising bubbles, mere moments from my mouth. 

A long overdue “Cheers” is said in earnest, coinciding with that magical sound of glasses chink-chinking.

I inch the nectar upwards.

“A quick toast”, the GF announces. The glass will have to wait, but hey what’s another second or two after a month off the booze (you were warned).

“I’m just so proud of you”, she states, glass held high. “Proud that you fully committed to the whole month. Thank-you.”

The glass is getting warm. The sun is touching the ocean. I need to reply. Something short. 

“To us!”

Glassware is re-clinked.

Then, intuition takes over.
Hand grabs glass, arm lifts hand, glass touches mouth, liquid begins to flow.

“Aaaarrgghhh!”, I scream. 

I’m the first to admit I’m a baby when it comes to pain, but this is something else. A shooting sensation has just run straight through my front tooth, piercing my brain. I drop the glass as both hands reach up and cover my mouth.

The GF gulps whilst peering over the rim of her glass. She’s staring wide eyed at me in agony. She gulps again. Then gulps once more, finally asking after my well being.
My well being is not good.

Luckily, Goa is renowned for its dentists, and within ten minutes by rickshaw I’m lying flat on my back, in the dental chair, sober as a judge, mouth wide open.

Dentist goes tap, tap, tap.

I go aargh, ow, OUCH!

Seems there is a ‘minor emergency’, his words not mine. 

Now is probably a good time to confess that seeing a dentist was THE top of my ‘Get Off Your Arse and Do’ list, as I had been experiencing and ignoring some discomfort for some time. 
After a revealing X-Ray, a brief consultation, a local anaesthetic, and on my request a second local just for good measure, the dentist pulls the front tooth clean out of my head, and with it a huge cyst is drained, GROSS, and I’m prescribed a week of antibiotics.

‘You will no longer be in pain,” I was reassured. “Just remember, no drinking with the antibiotics this week”. 

I can only, barely, smile.

(Thanks to Beth of https://travelingwinechick.com/ fame for suggesting the prompt word ‘Smile’ for #mwwc28 and to https://thedrunkencyclist.com/ for the reminder to write! )

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Ambition Tightens Hamstrings 

Thus ends my first ever month of early mornings on a mat, bending and stretching at a yoga shala. To be honest, walking towards the shala that first day, I would of laid a bet on my attendance being 50%, tops. 

“I’m so happy that you’re joining me for yoga”, the GF smiled me that smile. 

“I’m proud of you”, she added with earnest, “and actually, it’s kind of romantic”. Wink, wink.

Yep, that’s me, Mr. Romantic, but my mind wandered. Surely there would be the sneaky sleep in, a handful of hangovers and a couple of can’t be f**ked’s throughout the month. But, 30 days later, I can say I went the distance, and I’ll also let you know that it was neither a problem nor a big deal, but a real pleasure and a lot of sweat.

I started as a COMPLETE novice (I now consider myself a beginner), but I was able to pick up a thing or two about yoga along the way.

Firstly, yoga is not just for girls or the incredibly athletic posers of Instagram. Gawking around the shala on my first day, the diversity of students was obvious. People from all over the globe, of every shape and size, every age and colour, all together sweating and bending their way to bliss. Some stretching with the finesse of a Russian gymnast, some struggling to touch their toes (me). There is an oft quoted saying thrown around Mysore, “Yoga is for everyone, that is everyone EXCEPT lazy people.” 

Also, yoga is not a religion, nor a cult. Yep, there’s chanting in a dead language, Sanskrit of all things. Weird right??? Any weirder than ten thousand blokes standing around every Saturday at Stamford Bridge, all in unison yelling, 

“Blue is the colour, football is the game. We’re all together, and winning is the aim.” ???
Not really. 

Sure, yoga is full of philosophy and advice on how to live a better life, much like religion. But, hey, I’m always open to suggestions. As Alain De Bottom noted in his book, Religion for Atheists :

Some people can remain a committed atheist and nevertheless find religions sporadically useful, interesting and consoling.” 

And so it is with yoga. I’m open to ideas on becoming more mindful of how to eat, consume and act. I’m not too proud to acknowledge that I need some good advice every once in a while. Yoga offers a great opportunity to hang out with a lot of flexible, considerate and super healthy people.

As the GF always says,”Be part of it. practice yoga”.

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 am told) is appropriately packed with tourists who flock to line up, to wait, to buy tickets, to enter 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.