Category Archives: Travel

Australia Bike Ride – Melbourne

(Blog 3 – February 28)

It’s a long way to Melbourne. I feel you may know this fact.

Two ‘back to back’ flights of 7 and then 12.5 hours respectively in Economy, through several times zones, is hard work. The Etihad baggage allowance of 35kg is excellent but it’s split over 23kg in the hold and the 12kg two in the cabin. To my relief I managed to get all I wanted to take into this quota but I did spend literally hours, back in York, weighing things and agonising whether to take it or leave it.

My worldly possessions at Manchester Airport

The flights were generally fine (about two hours of turbulence on the second flight, however, prevented any attempt at dropping off to sleep) but on the first flight I had talkative neighbours and on the second flight the art of communication was abruptly curtailed by a chap wearing a face mask and his wife wearing a burka. I learned a lot off the noisy neighbours on the first flight. One was heading to India for four weeks with his family to see relatives and escape the British weather. He regaled me with his wife’s need for a stent to be fitted on one holiday trip to the country of their birth. He talked of the stress of sorting this out at an Indian hospital. The practises and quality are variable. We both agreed how brilliant our NHS was. He’d come to Blackburn 58 years ago as an immigrant and worked for Phillips in the town.

The other chap was heading to Islamabad for two weddings that both lasted six days each. The six days I also surmise, due to religion, were without alcohol. How would you cope? This chap was an entrepreneur and we went through his Sheffield property empire, his former Indian restaurant project and his furniture shop. The chap was very modest but I think he enjoyed a conversation about business. My voicing that he might be viewed, by his Pakistani relatives, as ‘Mr Big’ and worth tapping up for a bob or two led him to quip “oh, I don’t tell them about all that!”

I learned nothing from the guy in the face mask other than the fact that he eventually took it off. In reality the chances of getting coronavirus, if it’s in the air, on a flight are as likely as that of being cooped up on a Japanese cruise liner. You have no chance of avoiding it.

At last we arrived but being at the very back of the flight meant a wait.

Much to my relief the bike box appeared confirming that my steed had also made it Down Under.

We’ve all seen the Australian Border TV ‘fly on the wall’ series where various unfortunates and miscreants are stopped at Customs for having the wrong visa, importing half a succulent dead lizard or planning to convert an everyday package into its probable street value, as drugs, of c£100k. I was concerned that my oat energy bars might be deemed as dangerous and toxic or specks of mud on the underside of my mudguards would be identified as a bio hazard. Anyway there was no such problems and I proceeded through all the steps of Immigration and was soon sat in a taxi.

My driver, late of some African country, was garrulous and turned out to be a Liverpool FC fan. It seems the world is full of these glory seekers. To make myself feel better I made a mental note to dock this misjudgement off his tip. In retrospect by the time he dropped me in the Central Business District of Melbourne I think he had the last laugh. The fare convinced me that I hadn’t so much as hired the taxi but actually bought a share in it. So from here it was quickly into the hotel room and I unpacked and assembled the bike before falling into bed for sadly what was a deep but short sleep.

The next morning I was up at Stupid O’Clock and getting sorted before scooting around the centre of town trying to buy various supplies.

One such provision was coffee whitener/creamer. I couldn’t see it anywhere. I did ask one older lady about finding it. She looked puzzled at my question and looked behind me to see if I had parked my rocket (after landing from another planet). She’d never heard of such a product. My other disappointing shock was the discovery that they call crisps ‘chips’. How are they still in the Commonwealth?

Mystery ‘Gold dust‘…..
Pit stop

So the morning was about finding all the items I couldn’t sort in York but by lunchtime most of this was complete and the next idea was to stroll down to the Yarra.

View across the river

This is the river that runs through Melbourne and close to the centre has the MCG (Melbourne Crocket Ground), Australian Open Tennis venues and the Olympic village. Melbourne hosted the Olympics in 1956 and the Commonwealth Games in 2006. The MCG has evolved as a stadium over the decades but today is a massive structure hosting cricket, Australian Rules Football and other ad hoc sports. I wanted to get from under the eaves of the stands and see the pitch. However, a tedious ‘jobsworth’ said me that the future of mankind would be threatened if I went past a temporary barrier and so this photo shows how close I could get. The setting in a Park is delightful and watching a Test match here would be remarkable.

Inside (just) the MCG

So noting this was to be a relaxing day I strode off into the suburbs and had amassed 30,500 steps by the time I got back to the hotel. What’s that you ask? Yes, of course I had got lost!

All the major brands are here

This Central Business District is attractive and resplendent with premium brand shopping and sky scrapers of shiny steel, glass and concrete but may not be typical of the suburbs. My unforeseen ‘walkabout’ had found unremarkable but tidy residential housing that may be more representative of the Australia I was to find later. The town planning seemed spacious compared to anything on our busy little island. It’s hard not to imagine this might be a Canadian or US metropolis in design. The centre is beautiful and well serviced with trams and rail links. In fact there was the odd bicycle lane as well.

Back in CBD the millennials abounded. They were either students or employees from within these tall buildings. ‘Café Society’ was evident on most street corners as were the ubiquitous phone headsets enabling the young upwardly mobile to perambulate and communicate. I have a great cynicism that much business was being discussed on their phones although I did like to speculate that conversations were dissecting the news that someone had illegally penetrated the stationery cupboard and made off with the ‘post it notes’. I suppose they were ‘talking’ into their phones rather than walking along looking at them. Needless to say I was an unusual sight, given my age, amongst striplings. I concluded anyone over 32 years old was lost, a tourist or a cleaner.

Spot the old person!

The ethnic mix is diverse. Voices on the street might reveal some European languages of tourists but the number of folk of Chinese heritage is large. As I type this the next table has a very boisterous conversation in Mandarin (I assume) of office workers taking their lunch. In fact throughout the city the signage of shops or business for Vietnamese, Korean or Chinese services is common. Given the climate, democratic processes, political freedoms, economic opportunities and commutable proximity to Asia it is obvious why so many want to emigrate to this piece of rock.

‘Chinatown’ part of CBD. There has been a Chinese community here for 150 years.
Not sure this will catch on in Acaster Malbis

The next day after another poor night’s sleep (due to pernicious jet lag) I sorted my temporary replacement SIM card for my phone and visited the Immigration Museum. It is only latterly in the last few decades that the Government has allowed non-white immigration in the volume they have today. Historically Britain’s former white colonies ie. South Africa, Canada and Australia have had racist histories as regards the acceptance of people of colour and probably even worse as regards the indigenous populations. Very interesting. In the 1830s the population of Australia was 70,000. Today it’s nearer 25 million.

There’s quite a lot to uncover and not least was my discovery that at its peak the Australians had 60,000 troops deployed in Vietnam. It’s hard not to think that this was exclusively a US war. (New Zealand also had a small involvement).

After a recommendation I visited the State Library for Victoria. It’s a beautiful building with wonderful spaces and exhibits within.

There was a little time left to take the bike out of the hotel for a test spin and I went back to the Yarra river. There is a fantastic purpose built cycle path beside the water.

So my packing for my departure north is complete and I’m ready to leave this urban centre. Sadly this £9.99 bargain from B&M will remain. You can take the boy out of Yorkshire but not Yorkshire out of the boy. As the case has wheels I did wonder about dragging the 2,500 miles to Cairns but the moment passed!

Goodbye old friend

Australia Bike Ride – Prologue

(Blog 2 – February 22)

My bike rides in the USA were such life defining events that still today not a single day goes by without something coming to mind about a person met, a hill climbed or a sight seen. I wanted to have one more epic ride.

Australia offers such an adventure. I’ve never been to Australia but have genuinely loved the country and people from afar. It seemed time to get acquainted.

I booked flights to go in January and even managed to work in some fabulous warm weather bike training in South Africa in November. Even better was that I contacted Louise Sutton at Leeds Beckett University about some proper nutrition for the 40 days away. Louis is a sports nutritionist/practitioner, as well as lecturer, and was interested to help. She set an MSc student, Cameron Blake, on working up a regime. All good? Not quite.

However back to South Africa. On our holiday Anna also cycled, she was having a ball (maybe seeing what my addiction was about). One day after an unbelievably windy stretch, which meant she was working hard, she clambered back onto the bus and looked out of the window. She saw wildlife but the number was doubled. She had double vision. We shortly found out it was Sixth Nerve Palsy and the prognosis was that it would eventually heal but it could be in a few weeks or a few months time. Anna was left to wear glasses with one lens frosted and instructed not drive. In every other respect she was absolutely fine. Obviously I couldn’t leave Anna without a chauffeur and so my plans and flights were cancelled. She described my decision and subsequent demeanour was like living with someone who was grieving!

The present Mrs Ives looking cool in Franschhoek, South Africa about to climb a very steep hill out of the town.

As if by magic on one day in February the nerve started working and the double vision went! The hospital confirmed that all was well on February 13th and I’m now booked to fly to Melbourne on February 25th. The University has continued to offer help and I’ve had some brilliant guidance given and explained to me by Cameron. A tremendous boost. I will elaborate on this regime in future blogs as it can help all endurance cyclists.

Master Blake and his pupil

For those who’ve followed my rides then I have a tested and tried system and a plan. Much of this was in place but I have been left with a mad rush of organisation. Such activities were booking flights again, getting a bike box, sorting out a visa, buying food, finding all my stuff and packing, weighing it and worrying about taking certain items or leaving them behind. When all the obvious things were resolved there was the small matter of understanding the route/camping in detail and not least taking care of things in York as I won’t be back until early April. It’s been hectic to say the least.

The bike was thoroughly overhauled. New wheels and tyres, new chain and rear cassette, new headset, new brake blocks and cables. I have taken this pristine bike and ‘squeezed it’ into a box.  I’m hoping it doesn’t get dropped and bent by baggage handling. The tent and kit in general is as per most of my jaunts. The bike weighs over 13kg and all the luggage, mainly hung over the back wheel, weighs another 13kg. For what it’s worth I’m around 76kg. Let’s hope that the bike was serviced well!

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The bike up on the stand at Cycle Heaven. Lots of component replacement and checking. Thanks Ash, great job (I hope!)

One shortfall is my fitness. I’ve cycled c500 miles since Christmas and also had the odd spin in the gym. This isn’t bad but our wet and windy weather has been savage and I would have done more but for this. There is no way you can prepare for such a long ride other than be in a reasonable condition, I am. I expect I’ll get fitter as I ride along. Initially the weight of the bike and the luggage will take their toll on my quads. After that you get used to the ache!

The route I have calculated has an average distance of 80 miles a day and 460 metres climbing. By any standard that is demanding. The early days involve more climbing and I should be fresher. The temperatures, to start with, are ideal – mid 20’s. As I get further north then the temperatures rise during the day to be around 30°C – this is still very nice.Inevitably there will be many slow days of single digit miles per hour travel. Also I will have to be up and packed after sunrise to achieve getting to a campsite by dusk. I never like to ride in the dark: motorists have enough of a challenge seeing cyclists in daylight.

Other obstacles are bush fires or detours. The latter can be an immense burden on a cyclist. What is an inconvenience and small diversion in a car can be hell on a bike with extra miles or ascents. If there is no other cycling option to achieve the target or get past a hazard I will consider public transport.

As regards social media (or self promotion!) then I shall not only publish a blog on my own website but I shall post occasional updates on Facebook and Instagram. I’ve just recorded an interview with Jonathan Cowap on BBC Radio York. He currently has no immediate date for broadcast but I will alert listeners in the York area when he puts it up. He’s also requested I ‘check in’ once in a while with updates if I come across something interesting. It’s a long way to go to find nothing interesting!

J Cowap
Jonathan Cowap – 9am to noon on BBC Radio York

Melbourne is a place I’d like to look around but there are other jobs to do such as buy the items I cannot buy in the UK eg. a SIM card, certain foodstuffs and a camping gas canister. I shall write again after touch down with how it is going and my next steps.

 

 

Australia Bike Ride 2020

(Blog 1 – February 19)

They say you should never meet your heroes. I’m anxious because Australia is one of mine.

I’ve spent a lifetime enjoying the people, the sports competition, the apparent relaxed lifestyle, their humour, their music and many images of a beautiful country with often stunning scenery. However not least is my gratitude and admiration that so many have fought and died in wars for a freedom and way of life that I enjoy today in Yorkshire.

So what’s the plan? I exit Melbourne on February 28th and start my bike ride of  2,500 miles to Cairns. I’ll trundle through Sydney and Brisbane before coming to rest quite near the top of the country. That’ll be in early April. I will be riding solo – the Grey Nomad Goes Down Under! – and camping most of the way.

A journey north through four States and two time zones

I expect I will find that but also a drifting ship that is slowly but inexorably moving away from Britain and our former Commonwealth. I’ll find a multiplicity of ethnicities, a tilt toward Asia and maybe the USA in its culture, cuisine and language. I’ll find some coastlines to die for and maybe some busy roads nearby that I will have to be careful to avoid dying on.

Continue reading Australia Bike Ride 2020

South Africa – November 2019

Day 1 & 2  

After spending a lot of money on an American Express credit card (in a previous calendar year) we earned a free flight, providing you paid for one. It seemed too good a deal not to fly far away and maximise the benefit. So we booked the flight in and out of South Africa but no other arrangements until my bride amazed me. This amazement was her desire to do a supported cycle tour around Cape Town. By supported we got given the bikes and a route. Our bags were hauled from one set of lodgings to the next. 

Continue reading South Africa – November 2019

York to Vienna by Bike – 2019

August 19, 2019

The Grey Nomad Goes Forth

When Anna suggested a European jaunt to Vienna in August she thought about amazing cake, enormous history, wide vistas of a beautiful city etc. and I immediately thought I could ride my bike there! In fairness one of my favourite films is The Third Man set in post war Vienna with Orson Welles and I note there is a walking tour of the famous images in the city from that 1949 classic. From Vienna we’re planning to get the train to Bratislava for a day trip. This will be my first visit to Slovakia. (They must be excited, I know).

Continue reading York to Vienna by Bike – 2019

Vienna (and a short visit to Bratislava)

August 12, 2019

After a 16 day bike ride, mainly camping, to Vienna I met Anna at Vienna Airport to spend seven days exploring the Austrian capital with a brief day trip to Slovakia. My bike ride is covered under a  separate post, please seek it out.

There really is a lot to like about Vienna and, as I thought, it is one of the most delightful capitals in the world. I’ve been here twice before – once as a teenager with my parents and then in the early 80s I drove here with two pals in a Morris Marina Estate. On the second trip we also took in the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix. Holidays with friends live long in the memory even when, with no little heartbreak, one of them recently died at 59 years old.

Continue reading Vienna (and a short visit to Bratislava)

Girona, Spain – May 2019

May 25, 2019

A quick trip to Spain for some warmer weather was devised by the present Mrs Ives. How could she resist Northern Spain with Ryanair offering tickets from Newcastle at £28 each? 

Maybe a clue as to whether the airline passengers were cultured and interested in the history of this town of 100,000 was clear when the amount of blue on the vast selection of tattoos was only matched by the paint on the carrier’s fuselage. Another clue came when I noted that the destination airport was called ‘Girona – Costa Brava’. 

Newcastle Airport was awful. The toilets were a health hazard (why?) and there wasn’t a coffee shop open on Saturday night. You could join the well oiled Geordies at one of the bars and ask for a coffee but somehow you’d not be convinced about the quality unless it had a Bailey’s in it. The flight was noisy and badly managed. The safety briefing was inaudible (yet the later announcements on selling booze, food and duty free items were crystal clear). One mother with what appeared several children taken out of school (the following week) was peripatetic up and down to the aisle with the task of taking her flock to the toilet. This caused regular havoc with the trolley as it slowly edged up the plane dispensing refreshments but in effect blocking the aisle. Folk wandered around and squatted in the aisle to talk to friends. This was necessary as Ryanair make you pay extra to sit next to friends and relatives. If you don’t it is random seat allocation. A group of men shouted to each other on the plane as two twins, less than a year old and bewildered not to be in a bed at this late hour, bellowed their lungs out with blood curdling yells. Finally when landing the men sang ‘Wonderwall’ at volume 11?

Continue reading Girona, Spain – May 2019

Sri Lanka – February 2019

March 4, 2019

Sri Lanka Day 1 – Prince Philip, Rucksacks & Sleep Deprivation

So this is the start of a trip to the Indian sub continent. I haven’t visited before and I have some preconceived ideas as to what to expect but little else. Before you ask then I’m not taking a bicycle but something a lot more troublesome: I am taking a wife.

On the day of departure I’m not proud to say that I was as truculent and fractious as a hormonal teenager on Saturday afternoon. Leeds United were losing 0-1 at Rotherham United. Like a captive emerging from a dungeon I started to lighten up when we knocked in the equaliser and when Klich slotted home the winner I couldn’t have been a more agreeable companion seeing the bright side of all inconveniences and bordering on intolerably cheery. I can’t explain why this matters so much but it does. As the leader of the Free World would say – ‘Sad’.

However as I started this draft on our flight to Sri Lanka, via Dubai. A man in the opposite aisle fell asleep quickly after take off and was snoring. The sound that the Emirates’ A380’s engines makes was as attractive as a gentle breeze catching the palm leaves on a desert island in comparison. I’d hoped for some respite even if it meant he died in his sleep.

Continue reading Sri Lanka – February 2019

Capital Punishment (or cycling in London)

Matt Gray

October 13, 2018

There is a misconception (usually flung around by those who have no experience in the matter) that cycling in London is a fool’s errand, a sure-fire way to the hospital or the morgue. They believe that every driver in London is a killer, wishing to etch numerals onto their dash with every cyclist they maim, and equally that every cyclist is a menace to society with their renegade riding.

I have been cycling in London for four and a half years now, and the only time I have been injured was when I took a turning too swiftly in winter and misjudged the surface ice, bailing spectacularly. I skinned my side, dislocated the chain beyond the means of a simple roadside fix, resulting in a 30 minute walk in acute agony. To be a safe cyclist in London you have to simply have a different mindset to cycling elsewhere. It helps that my primary cycling experience has been in London; I barely cycled during my youth in the countryside. Then again, cars in the countryside have fewer obstacles to slow them down, meaning they drive roughly twice the average speed than they could ever manage in your average central London street.

To test the waters and decide if I even wanted to cycle in the city, I decided to take one of those ‘Boris Bikes’ which were then supported by Barclays, and are now supported by Santander, out for a spin. Why banks sponsor these things alludes me. I would imagine life insurance companies would be a better fit. After fiddling with the self-service machine, which promised me 30 minutes of ride for only a couple of quid (and emphasising the surcharge if you get unfortunately held up in traffic or find yourself miles away from one of their stations) I had the contraption in my grip. 

It’s a miracle I didn’t just abandon the idea of cycling then and there. No wonder people think cycling in London is so dangerous when you have this beastly bicycle beneath you pulling the strings. Within seconds I felt as though I were attempting to tame a wild horse.

For those who are lucky enough to have never been on one of these death traps, let me paint a picture: A large clunky frame that is pulled to the earth by such weight that steering is almost impossible. A chain lies protected behind a case that only adds to its already burdened heft. There are gears on these things but it takes both hands to crank the stiff mechanism so in the interest of staying alive in an already frightful endeavour I stuck to its preset, which might as well have been labelled ‘rigormortis’. They clatter over every small bump and chip in the tarmac to the extent one fears for one’s fillings. They stop at the pace of a snail traversing treacle. There were beeps, there were honks, there were fists and offensive hand gestures. And they don’t provide helmets with these things either. We don’t all have barnets like Boris.

I returned the contraption to the machine with minutes to spare vowing to myself never to board a Boris Bike again. And I haven’t since. Recently there has been a call for cyclists to register their bicycles and have registration plates tacked onto the back. Those calling for this claim that cyclists are a menace and cause death. This is false. Cyclists cause 0.01% of all road fatalities. Most of the time it is the cyclist themselves to watch out for, never the bicycle itself.

They can be a mad bunch, cyclists. Those hardcore cyclists who zip themselves to the nines in Rapha lycra thinking they are Geraint Thomas making the final push for the Tour de France as opposed to a twat simply on their way to the office. Those who skid behind you at lights, then swerve around and accelerate away, bemoaning your existence as though you are in the wrong for not knowing that red lights are government mind-control tricks. Those who flirt with your rear wheel in fourth while you saunter in second. Those who use the rule that if someone crossing between Belisha beacons is less than half way across they won’t mind if you don’t hesitate for a second before continuing on your way. After all, their cyclists in London and they simply must make record time wherever they go. 

So I guess my ultimate argument here is not to fear the cycle, but rather the cyclist, but I’d like to think that the vast majority of city cyclists are as careful as I am. They stop at red lights, allow people to cross Zebra crossings with a smile and a howdy do, are never going fast enough to even knock the wind out of a fly, and don’t have slanging matches. 

(Speaking of which, as a little side note, I once witnessed a taxi cut in front of a cyclist in Bloomsbury. It was not this sight that was of note; if the London cyclist has a prey larger than the red bus, it’s the black taxi. No, it was the reaction of the put-upon cyclist and the subsequent reaction. What began as a fervent hand gesture mutually shared soon became a hostile situation. I was following the action from ten feet behind, and observed the cyclist deftly reach one arrogantly fingerless-leather-gloved hand behind him and unzipped the side of his bag. From within he unsheathed a mighty spanner of considerable length. Such an obvious display of Freudian behaviour I had hitherto rarely seen. Then he accelerated to catch up to the cabbie, and began whomping the rear window with his whacking wrench. Glass in London is stronger than other cities, however, and the window remained intact. Both parties stopped and pulled over, but by this time I was overtaking and, alas, saw no more. I’d like to think they bonded over being natural enemies and perhaps shared a pint. At least until they glassed each other.)

There is something freeing about cycling in a city where most of the roads are at a standstill or a snail’s crawl, and people stressfully queue at bus stops at rush hour unsure of whether or not they will get a seat. I leave the house at the same time every morning to go to work and can tell you down to within thirty seconds or so exactly when i will arrive. I also get a seat, guaranteed every time. 

Ireland – Four Nights in the Republic – September 2018

September 19, 2018

Another early start and befuddlement as the alarm goes off at 4.15am. Ryanair’s flight to Dublin sets sail at 6.30am and we need to get our skates on. On arrival we found Leeds Bradford Airport (40 minutes drive at this ungodly hour) was gridlocked as other airlines also had Stupid O’Clock flights to Greece and France departing. Getting through Security involved patient queuing with hundreds of others. The present Mrs Ives was in meltdown about them shutting the Gate and our missing the flight. She had to dawdle in a long security queue, however, we got to the Gate  20 minutes before the flight took off.

The flight to Dublin was attracting weekend revellers. In my adjoining seat was a chap leading a stag weekend. It had started the night before with 5 pints at the Saltaire Beer Festival. Add to this only 4 hours sleep and he wasn’t in great condition for his first Dublin drink at around 9am (followed by karting at a nearby track). He’d never been karting before and so looking at images of the outdoor track on his phone we discussed how to cope with wet asphalt, late braking and other tactics.
Continue reading Ireland – Four Nights in the Republic – September 2018