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Postcards from Melbourne II – Yarra Valley

All too soon, we were on the final lap of our vacation. The time had just flown past. We chilled at a Vineyard Spa hotel in the Yarra Valley where the roads were quiet, albeit undulating, which afforded us plenty of opportunities to explore the nearby towns on two wheels. As before in Adelaide, we watched the cycling, this time the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, two stages of which started close to where we were staying.

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Yarra Glen

 

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Healesville

Once more, we self-catered for some meals and ate out for others, usually lunches at neighbouring vineyards and cafes. Most evenings we enjoyed watching the wildlife, mainly rabbits and the odd kangaroo, from our balcony, glass of local wine or beer in hand for my beloved and sparkling water for me. All very relaxing after a busy couple of weeks travelling.

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De Bortoli Vineyard and Restaurant

My beloved has been taste testing the local baked goods, particularly pies, scones and hot-cross buns from the many local bakeries. Sadly and very enviously, I’ve had to rely on his reporting of the tastiest pie, the lightest scone and the spiciest bun.British firm Greggs would have no chance in Australia as there’s so many excellent local, family-run bakeries. And so many cafes offer “cream teas” you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Devon, if it were not for the countryside and its miles and miles of vineyards.

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We found another excellent “local” in the next town which served its own craft beers, local wines with a small but excellent lunch and dinner menu. A number of breakfasts and lunches were also enjoyed at a nearby family-run organic café. In truth, we were been spoilt for choice and I’ve never been so well catered for on my new regime.

We also renewed our acquaintance with central Melbourne visiting both the Southbank – site of the Tour’s prologue – and the art gallery where they staged the press conference.

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Jayco Herald Sun Tour Press Conference

 

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Melbourne

The Tour’s last two stages gave us an opportunity to re-visit and better explore the Mornington Peninsula and Gippsland, two locations we’d much enjoyed on our initial leg from Melbourne to Sydney where the roads and undulating landscape are perfect for cycling. Allegedly, Sky’s Chris Froome plans to spend January 2017 training in the Mornington Peninsula.

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Plenty of towering rain forests as well as vineyards

We’ve much enjoyed watching the wildlife, particularly the colourful birds despite their early morning raucous cries. Finally, I met my first koala bear on the road to Inverloch. He was casually sauntering across the road, we stopped to let him pass but he scampered off before I could take his photo – obviously paparazzi averse. They have very appealing faces and are surprisingly large, with thick fur and sharp claws – all the better to climb trees. The following day, we saw another koala but sadly this one had met an untimely end. I made my beloved stop the car to check, but riga mortis had already set in.

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Inverloch

You may recall I had three back massages in as many days at the start of our trip and then none for the next four weeks. My neck and shoulders were feeling stiff from all the riding and my frozen right shoulder had gotten worse. I know; I’m falling apart. While my beloved had his hair cut, I popped into a nearby Thai massage shop for a neck and shoulder massage. This tiny Thai woman, with hands of steel, administered 20 minutes of exquisite torture but I now felt so much better. I topped this off with another chair massage on the flight home.

We’ve never before taken such a long holiday but the time has flown. I’m now looking forward to going through and cataloguing all of my beloved’s photographs and discussing (and blogging further about) the best bits!

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The bits in between – Adelaide to Melbourne via Great Ocean Road

This is one of the world’s most spectacular coastal drives, and a great way to travel from Adelaide to Melbourne, or visa versa.

Once, well out of Adelaide, the landscape changes to the shallow lagoons and salt flats of the Coorong – havens for wildlife and water birds. The hay has long been harvested and the massive fields are just golden stubble. It’s windier here; the trees and bushes cluster together to protect themselves from the elements. There’s plenty of grazing cattle and sheep but no more vines or orchards as we’ve left well behind the coastal towns of McLaren Vale. In fact, towns are pretty much reduced to a large general store/garage/coffee shop.

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Australia’s vastness makes you think about its first settlers and the enormity of their challenge when everything was so far apart and so different from home – wherever home was. We stopped for lunch in Kingston at what first appears to be an unprepossessing shack but I had high hopes because of the lobster sculpture out front. I wasn’t disappointed and we enjoyed a lobster salad for lunch in delightful cool surroundings. Their homemade cakes looked delicious but luckily none were vegan.

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Mid-afternoon, we arrived at the first of our leisurely two-night stops, Penola in the heart of the wine producing Coonawarra valley. Tall trees shaded the road and the vines, planted in mineral-rich red soil were bordered with rose bushes, as they so often are in both France and Italy.

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Penola was a quiet country town where everything had closed down for Australia Day, though thankfully not the large supermarket. A historic area, we rode around the marvelling at the huge forests, the impressive World Heritage Naracoorte Caves and the brilliant Blue Lake at Mt Gambier. We also rode around the 20-odd vineyards but weren’t tempted to indulge in any wine tastings. I have enough trouble staying upright on the bike as it is.

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Refreshed from our two-night break in a delightfully spacious and well-appointed motel suite with a veranda, we set off on the next leg, past delightful old fishing ports to lunch in Portland, Victoria’s first permanent European settlement back in1834. The place was chock full sturdy stone buildings that reminded me of those in Scotland.

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The countryside changed once we were back into Victoria. It was greener and wilder though there was still plenty of forests and herds of cattle. This section combined the rugged scenery of the “shipwreck coast” with hinterland forest.

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We passed by Tower Hill Reserve, a wildlife haven sitting on an extinct (thankfully) volcano. Then it was onto the Port Campbell National Park, which included the Bay of Islands rock stacks with sweeping views of the Bay of Martyrs, the Grotto and London Bridge.

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We spent two nights in Apollo Bay, between the lush foothills of the Otway Ranges and the white sands of the bay. As before, much of our exploration was conducted on two-wheels and finally the luxury of a selection of restaurants open for dinner. That said, our most memorable meal was lunch at a seashore shack serving fish caught that morning with what my beloved declared were the “best chips ever!”

On the final leg of our journey to the Yarra Valley, we witnessed the aftermath of the recent terrifying forest fires on the Great Ocean road that extended either side of the road for many kilometres. Amazing really when the area is so green, you wouldn’t imagine it could be so combustible.

The Yarra differs from Coonawarra in that it’s much more undulating, the vineyards are further apart and there are plenty of cattle, few sheep and lots of horses. It’s hard to believe that our trip will shortly be coming to a close.

 

 

 

 

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The bits in between – Sydney to Adelaide

As we left behind the lush, manicured, green suburbs of Sydney on our 1380km drive to Adelaide, we encountered golden scrubland punctuated by trees, grazed by cattle and sheep somnolent in the warm morning sunshine. The road was undulating at first with gullies, creeks and water holes but it gradually became flatter and, as we neared our overnight stop in Hay, dotted with small vineyards.

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Goulburn was our first port of call. It was Australia’s earliest inland city and is famous for wool production, which explains the town’s giant statue of a ram. We dined at the Niagara Café, first opened in 1902 by a Greek called Nick and still run by his ancestors. The cafe had last been updated in the early 70s and was clearly a popular luncheon spot. Photographs of Greece and its sporting triumphs covered the walls.

Some 250km later we filled up the tank in Wagga Wagga (many crows – another Hitchcock reference?), the garden city of the south. I have insisted, we fill up with petrol at every opportunity. I didn’t want us to run out.


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We broke our journey overnight in a forgettable motel in Hay on the Murrumbidgee River, another of Australia’s premier wool growing areas. During WWII it was home to three prisoner of war camps. I suspect no one ever tried to escape. We dined in thanks to the local supermarket as all the cafes had closed late afternoon and neither of us fancied a takeaway.

The following day, we were now on flat pastoral roads with endless blue sky, scrubby grass, knolls of trees, and plenty of cattle and sheep as far as the eye could see, and beyond, as the road snaked endlessly beyond the horizon.

We stopped for a light lunch in Ouyen, a small town at the junction of the Calder and Mallee highways, roughly mid-way between Adelaide and Melbourne, at what appeared to be its one and only restaurant.

As we drove closer to Adelaide, the countryside changed again, with more and more vineyards and orchards amidst the scrub, as we entered the fertile Murray River plane. We reluctantly gave up our organic tomatoes at the border control between S Australia and New South Wales. Just as well we’d eaten the peaches and apples the night before.

This leg was a question of getting from A to B as quickly as possible but it nonetheless provided us with some spectacular countryside, an insight into what life was like in the Outback and what a challenge it must have been for the early settlers.

The towns en route had charmed. You had a sense of going back in time, particularly when you looked at the cafe menus. They reminded us of small neighbourhood restaurants, providing excellent home cooked food just like my grand-mother used to make.

We also pondered what did Aussie families do to entertain their kids on long journeys before technology helped them out? It would have been pretty useless to play either pub cricket or even I Spy. Still there’s always the Spelling Bee or Mental Arithmetic, two of my Dad’s favourites. We sang along to the selection of tracks on my beloved’s iPhone. Luckily the roads were deserted so no one could hear us. Neither of us can hold a tune.

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The bits in between – Melbourne to Sydney

We drove the longer coastal route heading past the lovely Mornington Peninsula on the Alpine road, then onto the South Gippsland and Princes highways. As a keen MotoGP fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Phillip Island, home to the Australian MotoGP. Sadly we couldn’t look around as the circuit was playing host to a classic car rally – acres of gleaming chrome, polished by thousands of loving owners.

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The island reminded me of childhood holidays on the Isle of Wight. Its two largest resorts were even called Ventnor and Cowes. It’s obviously a popular spot for bikers, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Harleys in one places. What’s the collective noun for loads of Harley Davidson bikes?

I enjoyed the most amazing vegan lemon tart in one of the island’s many cafes but sadly couldn’t persuade the owner to part with his recipe though he gave me enough information to be able to replicate it when I get home.

We then sped through the vast wilderness and rugged coastline of Wilson’s Promontory towards Toora and the eminently forgettable motel (the one and only) for our first overnight stop.

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We both had a good chuckle at the breakfast menu that included spaghetti on toast. Remember those overcooked bits of pasta swimming in a sickly sweet, orange viscous sauce? Stuff of childhood nightmares!

The redeeming feature of the first part of our trip was the landscape, particularly the beautiful wetlands with its granite outcrops, eucalyptus forests and Agnes Falls.

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The following day we headed further up the coast stopping in Sale for a coffee and then onto the amazing aquatic wonderland of Gippsland Lakes for lunch.

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The ever-changing landscape was a cause for delight and, to be honest, the highlight of the trip. We stopped overnight in the seaside town of Eden that has this beautiful cemetery overlooking the gorgeous white sandy beach.

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On both days breakfast and dinner were supermarket sourced where I’ve found a pleasing supply of vegan goodies, along with plenty of fresh, seasonal and local produce. Not unnaturally, outside of the larger towns, many cafes and restaurants close up shop at 4 o’clock, though there are always plenty of takeaways – fish and chips anyone?

The landscape north of Eden was much greener and its pretty rolling hills dotted with idling cattle more reminiscent of an English countryside. We’ve spotted plenty of native birds and a large rabbit and kangaroo crossing the road ahead of us. Sadly, most of the wildlife we’ve seen has been road kill though the roads have been excellent and largely empty of daytime traffic.

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We passed through the pretty town of Narooma before stopping for lunch at the quayside in Bateman’s Bay where crowds of gulls intently watched us, channeling the spirit of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

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The last stretch of our journey was along the Grand Pacific Drive taking in Jervis Bay and Wollongong before retreating inland to the lush green vegetation and rolling hills of the Sydney suburbs.

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During our three-day trip, the scenery changed dramatically yet subtly as the kilometers ticked past. Flat wetlands, transitioned into almost impenetrable rain forests to undulating open spaces offering tantalising glimpses of the ocean fringed by white sandy beaches, sometimes on both sides of the road. Some things were constant – the dairy herds and lush green pastures. It really was an eye opening trip.

 

 

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Postcard from Adelaide

After a very pleasant 10-day stay in Adelaide, I totally understand why it ranks as such a desirable place to live. With a population of around 1.5m, it has leafy suburbs, plenty of open green spaces, beaches nearby, an abundance of excellent sporting facilities, architecture spanning the ages since the town’s inception – many built from honey coloured stone with gingerbread trimmed verandas – lively arts scene and plenty of excellent restaurants all serving vegan/vegetarian options.

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We organised our stay in Adelaide around the first race of the WorldTour season, the Santos Tour Down Under, whose organisation is based in Adelaide. The riders stay in the one hotel for the duration and the longest transfer from any stage finish is just 90 minutes, though the riders can and do ride to and from most of the stages.

Adelaide CBD
Adelaide CBD

The event showcases the region from the Barossa Valley, the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Way, to the Shiraz Trail and the coast. It’s held during the Aussie summer holidays and the organisers slot the racing into a magnificent Festival of Cycling for recreational cyclists and their families.

Glenelg
Glenelg

Participation and inclusion is the name of the game and anyone in Australia who’s a cycling fan heads here. At least 50% of the spectators ride to watch part of the stage. We did too once the temperatures had dropped below 40C! Fortunately the climate is dry rather than humid.

Victor Harbor
Victor Harbor

The countryside is spectacular with vineyards, olive and fruit trees covering acres of undulating yellow ochre terrain. There’s plenty of small towns with family bakeries and restaurants offering great local produce.

Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills
Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills

While places like Hahndorf have a decidedly Germanic feel, many of the others make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to UK of the 1960s, though not the restaurants. My beloved was delighted to revive childhood memories with a fragrant and delicate custard tart and a steak pie, with a mouth-watering rich filling encased in light pastry. I can’t say it was just like his mother used to make him as she’s always been dreadful cook but it was probably closer to my mother’s or grandmother’s cooking – wholesome, regional and seasonal.

New World Hour Record holder, Dr Bridie O'Donnell
New World Hour Record holder, Dr Bridie O’Donnell

Aside from the road racing, we were also privileged to watch former professional cyclist, Dr Bridie O’Donnell break the Women’s UCI World Record. Remarkable given that it wasn’t undertaken at altitude and Bridie doesn’t have a background on the track. It was such a special moment to watch history being created.

Adelaide Oval
Adelaide Oval

We also went to watch the semi-final Big Bash between Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Thunder. I love live sport and while I would never claim to be a cricket fan, 20/20 is dynamic, fast paced and exciting. The tickets are inexpensive and everything is done to encourage families to visit. The victors, Sydney Thunder, went on to win the final which we watched in our local.

We were staying in an area with plenty of great restaurants but one really stood out. A massive pub with a music venue, gaming room and upscale restaurant attached. It was justifiably a veritable goldmine which perfectly catered for the local population’s demographics – empty nesters and young professionals. While we were on target in the restaurant, we definitely upped the average age in the bar.

While Adelaide has a multi-racial population, there’s many Brits who’ve relocated there for a better lifestyle and I can now understand why. It might have been my maiden visit to Adelaide but I’ve a feeling it won’t be my last.

 

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Postcard from Sydney

We departed Sydney under leaden, rain-laden skies after three gloriously hot, sunny days where the temperature peaked at 42C! Thank goodness for air con and SPF 100.

Darling Harbour at dusk
Darling Harbour at dusk

We stayed in a hotel close by Darling Harbour, an area we both know well. My beloved usually stays here for the exhibition centre while I was here on my own in 2010. It has the advantage of a great choice of restaurants within easy walking distance, the Sydney Fish Market which has a large lobster with my name on it and it’s handy for public transport.

In 2010 I made exhaustive use of the hop on – hop off bus to visit all the usual tourist sites. So don’t expect shots of the iconic Sydney Opera House this time around. This was our maiden opportunity to cycle and drive around the area.

Eastern shore and that well-known bridge in the distance
Northern shore and that well-known bridge in the distance

With the mercury rising steeply we headed for the shoreline, its cooling breeze and spectacular property porn. We covered the northern and eastern shorelines of Mosman, Manly, Rose and Double Bays affording me plenty of window shopping opportunities – much the best kind. The beaches were gloriously sandy and not, unlike Bondi, overly populated.  The weather demanded frequent pit stops,my favourite was ice-cold fresh coconut water.

Barely populated Manly Beach
Barely populated Manly Beach

There was little chance of us getting homesick. In one restaurant  our waiter hailed from neighbouring La Colle sur Loup where his parents run a small restaurant we’ve eaten in. In another, our Parisian waitress afforded us a further opportunity to chat in French – don’t want to get rusty.

Sydney was buzzing, both with local residents and holiday makers enjoying the Sydney Festival and taking full advantage of the warm sunny weather which frankly we found scorching and saw us taking frequent refuge in the shade.

Pyrmont Street Art
Pyrmont Street Art

The weather burst late on Thursday afternoon with a torrential storm and downpour. We sought refuge in the hotel gym and pool. Friday morning the mercury had dropped to 15C as we headed for Hay, the first stop on our cross-country dash to Adelaide. Oh, and that lobster had a lucky reprieve – next time.

Postcards from Melbourne I

Thankfully our luggage, including the two bike boxes, fitted into our hire car and we sped away to our first destination – a discount electrical store to buy a GPS. Yes, you can hire them but Herz’s hire charges equate to the cost of three sat navs. Then it was off to our first stop in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran for four days.

We stayed in a well-appointed, bright, penthouse apartment with a large balcony just off the High St intersection with Chapel St. For once, we raised the hip neighbourhood’s average age and no doubt looked like tourists to the locals. My beloved looked particularly out of place lacking tats, man-bun and a bushy beard.

We spent our first day thoroughly checking out the locale and finding loads of great restaurants that catered for vegans (and me), including a great breakfast (Amici Bakery) spot with superfast broadband. Prahran has its own daily covered market, which saved me from feeling homesick. I could and did spend hours wandering around there.

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The area was also home to a vibrant mix of retail outlets, including several excellent bike shops and bookstores. By day three I’d already bought my full quota of cookery books! The older Victorian buildings reminded me of those in the Midlands and N England, many of which have been beautifully restored and re-purposed.

Prahran proved to be an ideal location from which to explore as yet unvisited areas of sprawling Melbourne and was just a stone’s throw from the coast road, ideal for our daily morning rides. The cycling scene has exploded since our last visit which has much to do with the recent success of Australian cyclists, particularly local lad Cadel Evans’ 2011 Tour de France victory.

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Thursday, while my husband dropped in on a client, I opted for a Pedi. See how easily I’m slipping into the local vernacular. This included another in-chair back massage – my third in as many days. Reunited, we enjoyed lunch at a well-known riverside restaurant, followed by a gentle stroll along Melbourne’s Southbank, people watching and taking photos in the warm late afternoon sunshine.

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Friday we ventured further along the coast to Mornington, which invoked memories of last September’s trip to Sag Harbor with its eclectic mix of upmarket stores, spectacular coastline, soft sandy beaches and plenty of property porn.

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Saturday we enjoyed a very long ride along the coast returning to St Kilda for a late lunch and a stroll along the boardwalk. The weather has been just perfect with temperatures in the mid-20s. Ideal for plenty of activities though I have been slathering on the Factor 100. My two sisters would be shocked, they rarely venture above Factor 4 and have the wrinkles to prove it!

Our few days in Melbourne passed all too quickly. Sunday, we sadly waived good-bye to Prahran and set off on the next leg of our journey to Sydney.

 

And we’re off

Our trip got off to a great start. We had decided to break our journey overnight at the hotel in the Dubai airport. When we checked in we were upgraded to a suite. Extra space is always welcome but for me the star turn was the massage chair which gave my back and neck a great work out. Just what you need after a longish flight.

After a slap up breakfast for my beloved, and fresh fruit for me, in the gi-normous Emirates lounge, we boarded our flight for Melbourne and were upgraded to first class. This trip just gets better and better.
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My beloved frequently gets upgraded, thanks to his fine array of airline loyalty cards. Our last upgrade together was on an overnight flight from Dubai to Frankfurt where I found myself sitting across the aisle from Rafa Nadal and Uncle Tony. I should add Nadal is smaller and better looking in the flesh than he appears on television, and he has a lovely shy smile.

I first tasted first-class travel back in the mid-80s on a business trip to the Far East and, largely due to competition from the Middle-Eastern airlines, it has much refined its offering.

When I first flew with Cathay Pacific I have to confess I surveyed the small cloakroom and concluded if you wanted to join the mile high club you’d both have to be contortionists. Well, no longer! I’m delighted to report that the first class facilities on Emirates include no less than two cloakrooms and two bathrooms for 14 flyers, the latter with a shower and dressing room. I’ve had smaller hotel bathrooms. So did we join? That would be telling!

Of course, the real beauty of first-class is SPACE, each seat is a suite. There’s more than enough room for all your bits a pieces, a spacious chair/flat-bed which also provides a variety of in-chair massages, your own bar, snacks, a wide tv screen, WiFi and all the usual bells and whistles you’d expect if you were paying £6,000 (return) for the priviledge. A bit of a bargain since my debut first class flight in 1984 was £2,600. Thank you Emirates, you’ve gotten my birthday trip off onto a fine footing.

Wise words

A very dear and wise friend said we should celebrate we’ve reached the grand old age of 60 without suffering from any serious illnesses, ailments or injuries. Well, there’s no point in receiving words of wisdom if you don’t act on them. Her birthday was the month before mine and she rejoiced in style at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

Where did we want to spend January? My beloved and I were of one mind – Australia. Now, it’s a big place. You’d need a year to do it justice. We had five weeks, several of which we’d be spending watching cycle races. Now, come on, you didn’t seriously think we’d head Down Under without taking in the first race of the 2016 WorldTour season did you?

My beloved and I both enjoyed our trip to Australia in 2010 for the World Championships when we visited both Melbourne and Sydney. It would be unthinkable not to again include them on our itinerary, plus there’s the Sun Herald Tour and The Great Ocean Race to see. We’re taking our bikes so, even though internal flights in Australia are pretty cheap, we’ll be travelling by car and taking  in some of the coastal scenery and vineyards.

In no time at all, I’d sorted out our itinerary and booked everything. It was time pleasurably well spent. There’s nothing I love more than a spot of planning and preparation while my beloved is just happy to turn up.

We’re staying in a mix of hotels and self-catering apartments so that we won’t have to eat out all the time.  I also needed access to a washing machine to cut down on the amount of clothing for my beloved otherwise he’ll be counting the number of days we’re away and packing the same number of t-shirts, socks and underpants. He does NOT travel lightly.

We’re flying Emirates with an overnight stop in Dubai which should make the length of the flight a bit more bearable. Of course, I’ll spend a lot of the flight sleeping. I have my cashmere blanket, eye mask and headphones which I’ll plug into the music channel, pop on my Do Not Disturb sign, and get my head down. I’m pretty much the perfect frequent-flyer.

If bored, I may scroll through the entertainment options to see if there’s any cartoons I’ve not yet seen. I watched the latest Minions’ movie en route to New York in November – adorable. Surely, it’s time for Toy Story IV or Happy Feet III? Just a suggestion!

By my standards I’ve not organised too much while we’re away as we’ll be out on our bikes as much as possible. I have made a couple of restaurant bookings but some of the ones I wanted to visit have only tasting menus, and not a la carte, none of which meet my specific dietary requirements. However, this won’t be a problem given the vibrant dining scene in Australia.

If the trip is half as much fun as I’ve had planning it, it’ll be fantastic. Anything more will be a bonus.

Postscript: Thanks to iffy WiFi – surely the bane of all travellers – my posts are on delayed transmission.

2015 Highlights

In a year of so many highs, which ones really stood out in yet another busy and thoroughly enjoyable year?

1. Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships

If I had to pick only one, this would be it for a myriad of reasons. Firstly a big shout out to the organisers and the people of Richmond for putting on a well-organised, well-supported fantastic World Championships. None will ever surpass my first in Salzburg  – a girl never forgets her first – but this one came pretty close.

Next, I (finally) got to meet Greig Leach as we began to collaborate on our second book together. On so many levels, it’s odd for him have an editor who’s not American, editing American prose. But I know that I bring my knowledge of the cycling world and obsessive eye for detail which is the perfect counter-point for Greig’s broad brush perspective. Our second book will be published in early February but you can order a copy now.

The World Championships are a great opportunity to meet up with friends old and new, including VeloVoices’ very own Panache. I’ve been working with these guys since 2012 and have still to meet everyone in person! I not only met Panache aka Chris but his lovely wife Audrey, who was nursing a broken foot, his best cycling buddy Chad and his equally lovely wife Belva. I helped Chris, Chad and another of their friends Scott have a memorable cycling holiday at the Tour a couple of years back. I think the next trip might well be in the Dolomites with their better halves! I am poised to lend a helping hand.

Sagan wins Worlds (image: Greig Leach)
Sagan wins Worlds (image: Greig Leach)

I love it when someone I know wins a race. Admittedly, Peter Sagan was one of the bookies’  favourites for the men’s road race title but, with only two team-mates and a season which had not perhaps gone the way everyone expected, the pressure was on. Peter delivered in spades with a swashbuckling attack, a risk-all descent and a hanging on for grim death finish. He was warmly congratulated by his peers and the fans after winning in style – something he does only too well.

2. Three Grand Departs

More by accident than design, this year I was fortunate to attend the start of all three of the grand tours. Impossible to pick a favourite as they were all special for many reasons. The Tour is always fantastically well-organised and I take my hat off to anyone who can organise the equivalent of 21 Royal Weddings with barely a hitch. It runs like a well-oiled machine but its sheer size mitigates against rider and fan intimacy which is much more easily achieved at both the Giro and Vuelta which are both rather more laid back affairs.

3. My Beloved Aston Villa

My late father (far left) holding 1957 FA Cup won by AVFC
My late father (far left) holding 1957 FA Cup won by AVFC

The boys managed to reach the FA Cup final where they were roundly beaten by a vastly superior Arsenal but, more importantly, they managed to (again) stave off relegation. Unfortunately, key players wanted out and were sold to be replaced with a bunch of very promising youngsters, including a player from my French team OGCN. A change of managers has not managed to lift the boys off the bottom of the Premiership where they languish easily in last place. I fear for them, I really do. Let’s hope they get their act together under Remi Gard (who is a disciple of OGCN Manager Claude Puel) and play (much) better in the first half of 2016. I’m hoping Gus will lend us Loic Remy, another ex-OGCN and OC Lyon player, who can score goals.