Archives for category: Travel

Nothing to say, just the photo.

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Enjoy the view of the clearest beach in Mauritius, Perybere. These are my roots.

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In Australia we celebrate the Queen’s birthday around the second weekend of June. It is the official start of the ski season in Australia, and we get a three day long weekend. Never mind the fact that Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday is on a different day. So I took the opportunity to take the family on a mini road-trip to Country NSW, South West of Canberra. My Uncle and Aunt in their retirement have just moved to a town called Cootamundra, so this is a perfect excuse to go for a trip and pay them a visit. Even better, we had a second excuse for a trip to visit my cousin (their son) who is doing his medical studies intern year at a town called Young, some 50km North of Cootamundra. If I was going to go on a road trip, I had to bring the bike.

The first stop on our trip was the major regional centre of Goulburn. We chose this town to break up the trip for the kids, and grabbed a bite to eat at the local Worker’s Club bistro. But I was also lining up a morning ride around the town the next morning. Little did I realise that this would be ill-fated. At 6am it was -2 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit) and foggy. This is the coldest weather that I had ever set out to ride in and the one thing that I don’t have in my kit bag is gloves for this temperature. I was wearing full-fingered gloves, but they were only temperature rated to 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). I was struggling after 2km in, where an intense pain began attacking every single one of my fingers and thumbs. By 4km the pain was so intense that it felt like screws being driven into the bones in my fingertips. This is the first time I had to cut short my ride due to weather. I couldn’t even pull off my gloves and helmet when I got back to the motel after 9km. If only…

On to Cootamundra

The morning was not all lost, so after the kids took to the local park in Goulburn we headed off to Cootamundra. It is a couple of hours drive Southwest from Goulburn (which itself is a couple of hours drive Southwest of Sydney). The weather had warmed up to a beautiful bright sunny Winter’s day with a gentle breeze, topping out at 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit). After a hearty welcome from my Uncle and a tour of their new abodes in Cootamundra, I kitted up for round two for the day. No maps or planned routes, just the new Speed Steed and a couple of bidons. Off I set and it was glorious. First I headed Northwest, into a very light headwind. I hit a dead end at the foot of a small hill where the road had gone from paved to compacted dirt gravel road. Unfortunately my attempt at riding “Strade Bianche” style would have to wait for another date as this road continued onto private property.

I doubled back on my route, heading back into town. But the ride didn’t stop on my return, and I headed out again but this time West towards the town of Griffith. The road was nice and wide, with little to no traffic and no dead ends this time. Then about 4km out of town was an intersection where I saw a rider coming towards me from the right. The locals always know where to ride, so I turned right and headed out North nodding my thanks for guidance to the rider as he passed me. Ahead of my on the horizon I could see another rider probably about 2km in front of me. That is how straight the road was, I could see more than 2km ahead on the tarmac. More importantly, I had a target to catch. My Cervelo S3 responded and the I picked up the speed past 36 clicks. 10km later I caught my prey, who started struggling when the road picked up to over 5% gradient. As I overtook him, I gave him a shout and even though he didn’t have the legs that day it was clear he was enjoying his ride too. I climbed another hill a further 5km ahead and then judged that daylight was waning – time to turn around. But not before posing the bike against the beautiful countryside.

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The return into town was great, and mostly downhill. I took the longer route back into town which landed me South of where I started. A few more detours with some short sharp hill climbs and it was time to wrap up the ride before sunset with the inevitable descent of winter night chill. That was not before I swung by the local bottleshop in the town centre to grab my Uncle and Aunt a nice bottle of Pinot Noir, which is the Australian version of the Burgundy drop.

I will definitely come out and ride here again, given that my relatives have set up base here. The roads are not perfect, but are decent enough to have a good spin with lots of different routes around and neighbouring towns within an 80km round trip. The day may have started with a painful abort, but finished with a beautiful winter day ride leaving me with a smile on my face.

My recent Christmas holiday included Paris as our real travel destination. Paris is a city that I am quite familiar with having lived and worked there some years ago. It is a big, bustling, but also coy city. You might question the description, coy, but the majority of Parisiens keep to themselves and lead their lives in the midst of the Napoleonic grandeur doing their own thing.

So you can imagine my shock when we arrived only a few days in the wake of the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo. When the incidents occurred, we were over at Disneyland Paris and you could see an immediate and overt increase in Police and security presence. So when we got to the city centre for our last night before returning home, there was an uneasy feeling pervading the fabric of the city. Like I said, most Parisiens do their own thing and lead their own lives most of the time. Quite often neighbours have only one thing in common, that they are neighbours. But Charlie Hebdo was on everyone’s lips, and when red beret soldiers in flak jackets are walking around flaunting their automatic rifles around the prime tourist destinations something was up.

But I was not going to let that stop me or my family from touring the beautiful city of light. We stayed at the Pullman, Eiffel Tower and I wanted to walk around the locale of my old office. The tower itself was only a block away, right on our doorstep. Capturing it never gets tired.

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The Seine itself was quiet, but that was not surprising given it was the middle of Winter. As always there were several canal boats unassumingly moored on its banks.

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I was shocked to find the big ‘Je Suis Charlie’ banner draped on the Palais de Tokyo. Normally these pillars hold the banners for the latest exhibition of modern art.

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At Place d’Iena, the location of my old office, both the French and European Union flags flew at half mast in solidarity.

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I was surprised to see electric car charging booths on quite a few streets. I am a keen fan of Elon Musk’s Tesla, but these little electric buggies were new to me as were their berths. Maybe Australian politicians could learn a thing or two from where France is going with clean and sustainable transport. (I still want the Tesla – Model S P85D please…)

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Did I mention there were Police everywhere? If you look to the end of the platform you can see several gendarmes – they were everywhere.

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When we emerged out of the metro at the L’Arc de Triomphe, the first sight we were greeted with was… three burly gendarmes making their presence felt on the Champs-Élysées.

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The L’Arc de Triomphe itself was bearing the projection of solidarity for the whole city.

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Paris remains a city in love with movies since the time when Lumiere gifted the world with his new performance medium. There are more cinemas in Paris than there are pubs in Dublin.

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We were making our way to a restaurant that I dined at regularly when I was working there. Though it has changed hands and has a new proprietor Oscar remains a great restaurant which is well patroned by the locals. I think most tourists in Paris are hoodwinked by the overpriced eating establishments when all it takes is to walk off the main streets to find fantastic food and wine at half the price without the BS. The team at Oscar made us feel welcome even when we were dragging two children and a wet pram into their restaurant – so I (and many others on tripadvisor) definitely recommend this place to dine.

Even with all the unease and tension, the city remains the city of light. And when my boy saw the Eiffel Tower light up and glitter for the first time, for a brief few moments the tension was pushed away.

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Hopefully the next time I visit it will be under a different set of circumstances.

Addendum: I wrote this post last night and overnight tragedy befell Copenhagen too. Two worlds are colliding right now; one secular, modern, and liberal (but not necessarily without religion or morals) against the other ultra-doctrinal, intolerant, and archaic. Neil Degrasse Tyson tells us that colliding worlds are not a good thing at all.

While I am not in Paris for St Valentine’s Day, I imagine that a few more locks will be added to the Passerelle Debilly today.

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Summer is in it’s final month here in Sydney. But being Summer it also means water and outdoors at night. One of our favourite things to try and do each year is to attend the Open Air Cinema between the Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. It is not cheap, but seeing at least one movie during the season has become a tradition of ours. The first time we went was to see the movie “Saving Grace” which turned out to be quite hilarious for two reasons. Firstly good movie, and secondly we watched the entire movie in a torrential downpour with ponchos on. I suppose a big part of what you pay for is the stunning location to watch the movie – here was our movie theatre for the evening.

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For the uninitiated, you can get caught out with the way the whole thing works. There are no reserved seats, and one of the first things you have to do is lay claim to yours for the evening (not before grabbing a Lindor ball though – though no black or blue ones were on offer).

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For the evening I was ‘Bill Collins’ of “Golden Years of Hollywood” fame (it’s an Aussie thing).

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Once the seats are secured, then it is off to get fed and watered. This is the best way to catch dinner and a movie with a great view. Again, reserving your seats for the dining is essential to.

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We went with friends this year, and managed to get tickets to the Christopher Nolan film – “Interstellar”. I was quite chuffed! It was the first time our mates had been to this Open Air Cinema – which for me was a real shock because they are proper movie buffs. Every year we try and go see anything, so long as we go. But it was a bonus to get tickets (and they sell out real fast!) to a movie that we both wanted to see. [side note – last year we saw “Anna Karenina”… nuff said about those two hours of my life lost forever]

So as the sun set on our meal which was watered with a couple of bottles of New Zealand’s finest, the pre-show experience begun. Lift the screen!

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Yes, the screen is firmly planted within Sydney Harbour. Now the only gripe that I had about this year was that I missed out on the latest Peroni beer advert which is usually screened before the film. Apparently there was a minor firework display which was more important. [second side note – unless the fireworks display is great and loud, us Sydneysiders will be very critical. New Year’s Eve anyone?]

With all that harbour and skyline behind the screen you would think it would be a major distraction to watching the movie. Except, the sound is awesome! No chance of a directionally challenged fruit bat ruining the evening by crashing into the screen, its sonar is overpowered by the fantastic audio setup.

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So we settled in to watch the movie, and had a good time interrupting our fellow movie patrons by discerning whether there were flaws in Hollywood science. The robots were cool, the spaceships were cool (not Rebel Alliance cool, but cool), and the story was cool.

[third and final side note – sorry ladies but I don’t know what the fuss about McConaughey is, he looked a bit ragged in this movie 😉 ]

While it is hard to get tickets, if you are in Sydney over the January / February period this is quite an experience. Our friends loved it and I think they will be return patrons. I definitely recommend it, and look forward to going again hopefully next year. Just be prepared with a poncho…

This week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack?’ is Doorways. Very late to the show this week, and the first time in a long time that I have posted to the travel theme.

I love doors and the efforts that people go to as a decorated entrance to their [choose type of construction] house, castle, temple, church, apartment… And I have so many door photos in my travel stash – no wonder my wife wonders what I shoot at sometimes. Here is my go…

Starting in the Royal Palace of Bangkok, Thailand. Yes that is real gold!

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Still in Bangkok, but really a world away, is this beautiful entrance into one of the buildings at Jim Thompson’s house.

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A little further east, to the beautiful city of Kanazawa, Japan. This is modern Japanese architecture at its best, and I love the curtain pattern.

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Further east, to the heart of the country is the imposing doorways at Nijo Castle in Kyoto. This was the power base for the shogunate for centuries.

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Over in Europe, and I could have done this whole post on doorways in the Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia. This was my favourite with intricate carvings.

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Across the pond by ferry, and this was the doorway entrance to our hotel in Helsinki, Finland on the same trip. The ceiling paintings are the highlight.

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In Paris, France, there is a treasure trove along every street of doors – modern, classical, and some antique. But this caught my eye in the 8e arrondissement. I love the metal work and the little critters all over the “branches”. Someone wealthy lives here!

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In the Mediterranean, the stunning island of Santorini, Greece has doors of all shades including pastels. Beautiful island…

 

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The historic university town of Cambridge, United Kingdom has some eclectic architecture. But these three simple entrances were what caught my eye.

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Finally the door with all the irony in the world. It was not the door so much at the Rockefeller Center in New York City, USA – but the stone carvings on either side. The symbols of communism at the very centre of heart of capitalism.

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We were fortunate to have spent the weekend just past up in the New South Wales Hunter Valley – wine country! Of course with a drive of just over two hours it provided me the opportunity to pack my road bike steed on the roof and plan for a ride. I had never ridden up in the wine country before, but have driven through the valley on many occasions. What I recall is the poor quality of the roads up there in certain sections, and many of the smaller vineyards being access via unsealed roads. So to be honest, I was a bit nervous riding up there – particularly with the speed differential between me as a cyclist and the cars travelling at 80kph (50mph). And being wine country, I had noticed that many car drivers are a bit tipsy wobbly behind the wheel. I planned two morning rides on the Saturday and the Sunday, but this trip is the only one where I prioritise the vine before the bike and I only managed to squeeze in a Saturday morning ride (I know that this breaks Rule #11 – I will pay penance at Velofix later this week).

I set off at 6:30 on Saturday morning, and what a glorious start to the day it was. The sun rising over the hills gradually illuminating the vineyards from long shadows. The air was fresh, wine country is farming country. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza, which provided me good access to high quality tarmac to roll on from the get go. The first part of my ride was up North through Lovedale.

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The vineyards on some of the properties are quite close to the roads, and you get a real sense of what you are riding through. It kind of makes you thirsty…

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The other non-wine farms are just as picturesque. This view of the rising sun through the eucalyptus trees created stunning shadows for many metres along the northern stretch of my route.

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I was disappointed that there were no grapes on the vines, but it was the wrong time of the harvest season. Still, the weather has been pretty good, the vines looked healthy, so hopefully it will be a bumper year.

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It was not flat on this ride, and as soon as you get off the main roads it becomes quite bumpy and gravelly. There was also a fair amount of roadwork going on that is not due to be completed until next year some time. For the stretches that were complete, the road was smooth as glass – the sort of road that cyclists dream about on a perfect ride. But it was far too bumpy for my liking through Pokolbin on 23mm tyres. It was so bumpy that as I headed back through the Eastern section of Pokolbin, the rattling shook my light completely out of its socket at 45kph. I had to slam on the brakes and backtrack to see if I could find where it had bounced off to. Fortunately it was still working and easily found, albeit with a few battle scars inflicted by some harsh gravel. While there I decided to ride up to Hope Estate winery, where I got married. It was surreal being in the saddle riding up the long driveway, knowing that my wife and two children were sleeping back at the hotel. Since we were married back in 2008 the property has changed significantly, not to mention the paving of the driveway.

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As I was heading back, the wind was beginning to pick up quite strongly. Later that afternoon as we were driving from cellar door to door I noticed the wind was properly buffeting everything. By the time I headed back the morning had well and truly arrived, with the South Eastern part of the valley in full morning glow. Quite a sight.

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I will definitely ride up here again, but now better prepared. Here are my tips for riding up in the Hunter Valley:

  1. Recon your route in the car properly (via a few cellar door tastings if you can). The conditions of many stretches of road were not what I remembered them to be. And for whatever reason, many of the roads are not very well maintained.
  2. Go early – the valley is practically asleep before 8am and the roads are only being traveled by sober drivers who are trying to go about their business. For this ride I only passed one other cyclists and perhaps was passed by 30 cars in total.
  3. Swap out your rubber to some wider and harder wearing tyres (28mm if you can). It was like riding pave or cyclocross in some sections. Which leads me to my next point…
  4. Consider riding a cyclocross or flat bar hybrid / mountain bike. While the road bike was good for riding on the good roads, there are many unsealed roads that are more akin to riding the Strade Bianche.
  5. If drinking copious amounts of wine the day/night before then hydrate up. I was parched before I had even started riding.
  6. Be prepared for the elements. It is windy and exposed through the valley, and the sun is quite strong.
  7. Enjoy the view! There is no point racing through this area, it is picturesque and beautiful. I made sure to take it in while in the saddle and I definitely noticed many different things riding than I have ever done behind the wheel of a car.
  8. Be self sufficient for the ride, nothing is open in the early morning. It would appear that the valley does not kick in until 10am, so sourcing any refills would have been a no go.
  9. Watch the speed difference between you and the cars. While most of the roads I rode on were marked at 80kph, I would not have been surprised many were travelling faster.
  10. Make sure you ride up there! I was contemplating leaving the bike behind, but it was a beautiful ride up there in the wine country.

 

This week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack?’ is Metal. There are so many metal objects that I photograph on my travels that this was difficult to trim down to a select group of 10. So my criteria was cool, unique and very metal.

My first photo is from my home country, but not my home city. This is the Opera House in Melbourne which always gets overlooked by the Sydney Opera House (and rightly so!). Its metal spire is fantastic and tall. I love its geometry.

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Going to North America, I remember my trip to visit my brother in Toronto where I took my son for a walk in his pram to the Distillery District where I found this rusting hulk of a truck. I love the character.

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Still in North America, but across the Southern border is the fabulous New York City where there is metal everywhere. This sculpture in front of the UN Building says a lot as to what the true purpose of the UN is. Maybe the Security Council should have this sculpture placed right in its centre. I love its message.

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Washington DC is the home of the Smithsonian Institute and in my humble opinion the best museum in the world is the Air and Space Museum. My jaw dropped when I entered the foyer and looked up. The Bell X-1, SpaceShipOne, and the magnificent North American X-15. I love its speed… anyone say Mach 6.7!

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In Asia, on one of my numerous trips to Singapore I spied my dream car parked out the front of my hotel. I wanted to take it for a spin, but the owner took the keys. The McLaren MP4-12C is a magnificent beast made of exotic metals (and some carbon fibre no doubt). I love McLaren orange.

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I have posted this photo from Tokyo, Japan before. I don’t know the name of the building other than the writing that is on the front of its metal cladding… the NOA building. I love its architecture.

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Over to Europe, and on a dinner night out with work colleagues I took this photo in Paris, France. I am not going to tell you where this is – you can try and guess. I love the lines.

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Over to the UK and in London, I took this photo of the gates out front of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. A place that was the equivalent of the Pentagon in its days. I love the detail.

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Up to the university town of Cambridge was this motley collection of student transport. There were definitely no carbon-fibre steeds in this bunch. Apparently at the end of every graduating class the town council has to go and cut a whole heap of dumped bikes from their moorings. I love two wheels.

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And finally the geek in me had to come out. Everybody knows that the real galactic hero of the Star Wars saga is this little chrome dome. This was taken in Sydney at the Powerhouse Museum when they had the travelling roadshow of the costumes and props from the movies. I love R2-D2!

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This week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack?’ is Rivers. Really late to the party this week. Work has been busy and a quiet Friday night in at home is allowing me to finally post.

I am going to start in the USA first with the river that defines the Big Apple – The Hudson River. They even land jumbo jets on it… This was taken from the top of the Empire State Building about 5 minutes after the viewing deck had opened, and we were blessed with a phenomenally clear day.

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One of the many work trips that I took was to Pittsburgh, and I had the fortune of going on a sunset dining cruise with my American work colleagues on the Monongahela River in the city of steel.

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Over in China, and we went to Shanghai for our honeymoon a few years back. It is a crazy, bustling city, which has created its own version of New York in Pudong on the banks of the great Yangtze River. The river is naturally brown with sediment, but that brown haze in the air is pollution.

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One of the other stops on our honeymoon trip was to the town of Porvoo in Finland, located on the Provoonjoki River. The red painted houses are famous for the honour that was paid to the visiting Swedish King over a century ago.

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Zurich in Switzerland was a city that I briefly visited. Located on the Limmat River, it is the home of Swiss banking, but not really all that interesting a city for tourists.

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Paris in France is so popular for tourism, particularly along the banks of the Seine River. But this photo is one that most tourists are unlikely to ever have the opportunity to shoot. It is taken from the top of the offices of the Mairie de Paris (Mayor). I had the opportunity to attend a work meeting on the top floor to which our meeting hosts ensured that we took photos from the unique balcony position. Too bad about the grey sky, but you can’t have everything.

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My last trip to the UK was also the first opportunity that I had to visit the venerable university town of Cambridge, located on the River Cam. The students gladly made some money by driving the gondolas for visitors.

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Finally back home in Australia and the iconic river of the city of Brisbane – the Brisbane River. This river flooded to catastrophic consequences a couple of years back. The boardwalk that I shot this photo from was ripped away from its position among all the other flotsam.

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Tennis fans would be familiar with the Yarra River in the city of Melbourne. It is the traditional bath for the winner of the Australian Open. There are cycling paths along the river for many kilometres and rowers ply their trade up and down on most mornings.

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Finally, one of the best things I have ever done as a traveler was to take an open door helicopter ride over Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Running North to South is the East Alligator River, which is full of… crocodiles. This was one of the most fantastic experiences that I have ever had as a tourist and the camera didn’t stop shooting while we were flying.

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