Happy New Year

I hope you’ve all had a very enjoyable Festive Season and are looking forward to 2019. Of course, for those of you who continue to celebrate until Epiphany, just carry on!


We had a surprisingly lovely time before Christmas in Paris (see future posts on our trip) and spent our first festive season in Italy. We’ve previously spent the holidays in USA, Germany, Austria, Australia, UK, France, Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland. Last year while we were in Austria, we’d decided to spend Christmas 2018 at home in France. And that remained our intention until late November when a hotel we frequently stay at sent us news of their Christmas offer – sold!

We had a relaxing few days in the Italian sunshine enjoying some farniente and la dolce vita. (I’m far better at the latter rather than the former.) Of course, we’re accustomed to spending Christmas with just the two of us, doing exactly what we want. This year was no exception.

The hotel provided us with a slap up fish based Christmas lunch which was nice and light, providing like me you skipped dessert. That aside, we spent hours wallowing in the briny waters of their thalasso facilities and generally being pampered head to toe. Oh, and we might have had a few glasses of Aperol Spritz!


The warm sunshine encouraged us to take part in the daily walk along the sea front being amused by the antics of the children, and quite a few dogs. The town had embraced the Festive Season in a big way with plenty of attractions for young and old. Many of the hotels and restaurants were open for business, and doing a roaring trade.

We returned home after a leisurely three-day stay and continued to uphold our holiday mood, largely encouraged by the continued sunny weather. Even better, my beloved’s leg/hip has sufficiently improved to enable us to go out on our bikes together – happy days!

12 days of Christmas: day 8

We love heading over the border into Italy for a bit of farniente and la dolce vita, which may or may not involve a couple of Aperol Spritzs! If we go for a couple of days, we’ll typically stay in Alassio at a hotel where we feel right at home. It has a Thalasso therapy centre and what the French call pied dans l’eau (seafront location). I took this photo in April from the jetty, looking back towards the town’s seafront with its pretty multi-coloured properties. I love towns which are right on the seafront, much more family friendly and so much more enjoyable to wander around as they’re often traffic-free. We’ll be spending Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day here this year – our first Italian Christmas.

Yet another trip to Alassio

The rationale for our most recent trip was a few relaxing days away so my beloved could use the hotel’s Thalassotherapy facilities to sooth his hip which is becoming ever more painful. Of course, I too enjoy the jets in the salt-water therapy pool and found the warm herbal baths soothed my current chesty cold. We also attempted to be digital free for the trip. I succeeded but my beloved and his iPhone are rarely separated, only when he misplaces it.
I always enjoy the splendid views on the drive over to Italy particularly when the weather is still warm and sunny. So sunny in fact that after our arrival we sat out on the beach on the hotel’s loungers enjoying the warm sunshine. We’ve stayed at the hotel many times but sitting on the beach is a first for us. I did have a quick paddle in the sea but frankly preferred just listening to the waves lap the shore. I find that really relaxing.
Obviously at this time of year, the place is blissfully quiet. There’s a few holiday makers, but it’s mostly residents. All of which means it’s easy to get tables in our favourite restaurants. However, because my beloved can’t easily walk far, we confined ourselves to those closest to the hotel – no hardship.
We first saw this particular hotel back in 2009 during its renovation, while we were staying in Alassio on the cycling club’s annual trip. We stayed in a nondescript hotel at the far (noisy) end of Alassio which was favoured by OAP coach parties. Someone on the committee had organised the trip and I assumed had chosen this particular hotel so as to remain within our budget. However, I later found a number of much nicer hotels, with better facilities, including car parking, for the same price.
The presence of so many OAPs in the hotel meant that if we didn’t go in for breakfast and dinner promptly they’d picked the buffet clean, just like a bunch of locusts. Not that the food was anything to write home about. The hotel also made us unforgettable packed lunches to eat while we were out riding around the area. After three trips with the club where neither the accommodation nor the food lived up to its billing, we decided to call it a day. Instead, we decided we’d go on our own, staying and eating when and where we wanted.
We took my parents to Alassio the following October, my mother’s last trip abroad, to show them the hotel where we’d stayed when I was eight, in neighbouring Laigueglia. We ate however in the restaurant just down from this hotel which was still undergoing renovation. My father was much intrigued by the works and we promised to take him there once it had been completed. A promise we sadly never got to keep.
Lunch was an enjoyable affair as the restaurant has a conservatory over the sea which affords diners lovely views. We had one of the prized corner tables which I’d pre-booked. My mother had the fried fish which she insisted on eating with her fingers. My father was always concerned that her behaviour (she had Alzheimers) would attract undue attention but no one batted and eyelid and the staff were very solicitous. Eating at that restaurant always brings back warm memories of that luncheon.
We’ve spent time in the area most years either because of cycling events such as Trofeo Laigueglia and the Giro d’Italia, it’s a useful mid-way meeting point for clients from Milan and Turin or as a lovely place to enjoy a few days of fare niente. It’s a change from where we live, even though it’s only just over the hour up the motorway and, because of its sandy beach, the place has a real seaside vibe.
When we were last there in April, we noted with some dismay that our favourite place for Aperol Spritz and nibbles had changed hands. We rapidly found somewhere else to enjoy our evening drink and nibbles. There’s not exactly a shortage of great bars. This time we needed to find one closer to the hotel and chanced upon one near the main station. This bar’s Aperol Spritzs were excellent, as good as my beloved’s, and the nibbles plentiful, all for a bargain Euros 5,00 per head! This has now superceded the excellent and longstanding Bar Roma, where Ernest Hemingway used to drink – that man drank everywhere!
During our brief trip, we took full advantage of the thalassotherapy facilities and I enjoyed a bracing walk around town on my own, ostensibly to get some food to take back with us though I did, of course, indulge in a spot of harmless window shopping. We may try to fit in another trip, post my beloved’s hip-replacement op, as you can never have too much of a good thing!
Please note that in order to maintain my digital detox, all the photographs were taken on previous trips

Missing Il Lombardia

Yesterday, was the race of the falling leaves, one of the five Monuments (major Classics races) of the cycling season. We should’ve been there enjoying the live racing, drinking Aperol Spritzs in some of our favourite cafes and appreciating the wonderful scenery. We weren’t there for two reasons: my beloved’s hip and the parcours.

We prefer to stay in Como rather than Bergamo to watch the race. We’ve done Bergamo, it’s a perfectly lovely town but it’s much further away from us by car than Como. We like it when the race starts in Como, as it did in 2016. Last year’s race started in Bergamo and, thanks to traffic problems, we had a nightmare of a journey to collect our accreditation. Naturally we were expecting this year’s race to start once more in Como. It didn’t. It started in Bergamo, again.

Consequently we were more than happy to watch the race on the big screen. The main action at the pointy end of the race involved last year’s winner who lives nearby in Lugano, Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), initially going mano-a-mano with the winner of this week’s Milano-Torino, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). The latter dropped the former and prevailed to win his first monument and become the first Frenchman to win the race since Laurent Jalabert in 1997.

Despite missing out on a trip to Como, it’s not all doom and gloom. We rather enjoy a bit of la dolce vita at this time of year, the cycling is merely an excuse or rather our reason to visit. Instead, mindful of my beloved’s soon-to-be-replaced hip, we’ve decided to spend a couple of days in Alassio at one of our favourite hotels which has a Thalassotherapy treatment centre. My beloved will be able to soak his cares away during the day and we’ll be able to enjoy nibbles and Aperol spritzs galore in the evening. We’ll be strolling along the shore rather than the lake – a result all round!

In order to have a complete break, we’ll be leaving the mobile phones, iPads and Macs at home. It’ll be a three-day digital detox. I wonder how we’ll fare?

(Two images from the race courtesy of RCS and La Presse – D’Alberto / Ferrari)

Two becomes one

Yes, this is a sad tale about separation and loss. My beloved had arranged a business meeting in Alassio on Monday – part way for both parties. I decided we’d spend the Sunday night there so he could once again enjoy the benefits of the Thalassotherapy centre and a massage. He’d returned late the night before we left from a dental exhibition in Birmingham, his first solo business trip since breaking his leg in early March. We decided to have Sunday lunch in Alassio and booked a table at one of our favourite seafood restaurants which overlooks the sea.

We descended to the garage and as soon as I spotted the lit rear lights on the car, knew I had a flat battery. They hadn’t been on when we’d parked late the night before, I always check. As I opened the door, the alarm squawked into life. That was the offender. Maybe someone had tried to nick my wheels again but this time I had been fully prepared with an alarm and special wheel locks. The battery was indeed as flat as a pancake. We pushed the car out of the garage, got out the jump leads, and an obliging neighbour gave us a quick spark – that’s all it takes – and we were off.

On the motorway, just past Nice Nord, we heard a funny sound. To be honest it sounded as if my exhaust had fallen off but that was unlikely as Tom had just been serviced. Was it us? Was it coming from the plethora of Harley Davidsons which had been constantly streaming past us, on their way home from a Harley get-together in Grimaud? We soon had our answer as with their sirens and lights blazing, the police pulled us over. A first for us!

image
My beloved with his two crutches

We got out of the car to discover one of my beloved’s crutches, which he’d obviously left resting on the bike carrier, had dislodged and had been scraping along the tarmac, hence the noise. As to its companion, we have no idea of its fate. It wasn’t in the back of the car. We presume it was lost somewhere on route. My beloved had rested the crutches on the bike carrier while he piled the bags in the car and then had forgotten to put them in too. He’s going to have some explaining to do down at the pharmacy who lent us the crutches.

image
My beloved with his sole remaining crutch

The police tried hard not to laugh at our explanation of what had happened and waved us on our way, after we’d put the badly beaten up remaining crutch in the car. Luckily my beloved can now manage with just one. Meanwhile, I’ve been looking for a stuffed parrot and eye patch to complete his ensemble.

Things my beloved says: “Would you like to go away next week?”

During my beloved’s recuperation from his broken leg, we’ve had an ongoing joke that I’ll deserve a break when he’s finally back on his feet. I haven’t yet decided when or where but I’m toying with Route du Sud in mid-June. So when my beloved enquired whether I’d like a two-day break at the Grand Hotel in Alassio which has a Thalassotherapy Centre I knew exactly what he meant. He wanted to go there. I played along with the charade and said that would be lovely and would he be okay on his own for three days? To say his face fell was an understatement. I then said he’d better come with me. I could tell that was exactly what he hoped I’d say.

Alassio’s a favourite destination of ours for a day trip for a spot of la dolca vita but I hadn’t been since I took my sisters over there for lunch last April. We first stayed in Alassio back in 2009 on a trip with our cycling club, was charmed by the place and have since stayed there a number of times over the years, as well as enjoying day trips for lunch and a spot of shopping. Alassio has the advantage of being just 90 minutes up the road, and what a road! The motorway offers views all along the coast and whether the sun’s shining or not, it’s always a fabulous vista.

We left after my beloved’s morning physio session and drove as far as Ventimiglia before stopping for a seafood lunch beside the azur blue sea. Ventimiglia’s another regular haunt. We frequently drive over to shop in its large covered market and adjoining shops before enjoying a spot of lunch. My shopping is roughly 30% cheaper in Italy than in France, as is lunch. Mind you, any saving is swallowed up in fuel and tolls.

Sated we drove to Alassio and, once I’d unpacked, I took my beloved down to the Spa where he spent many happy hours in the salt-water pool and adjacent steam rooms while I took a wander round the streets. I know the area well, it’s largely pedestrianised and a pleasure to stroll around. It was warm so I stopped for refreshments and by the time I got back to the hotel my beloved was in our room looking forward to an apero, or in his case, an Aperol spritz. Drinks often seem expensive in Italy but not when you take into account their ample accompaniments. We dropped into another favourite spot, Café Mozart, where the nibbles included a faro salad, fried fish, farinata, crisps, nuts and olives. On top of a generous lunch, this was more than enough for dinner.
The following morning we were first into breakfast before we both headed to the Spa. I’d booked my beloved a massage. To his delight his therapist was Russian, we always find Eastern Europeans to be highly trained and very knowledgeable. She soon sorted out all his blocked muscles and any little niggles as well as suggesting a few exercises for him to do in the pool. She’d also taped up his back with that coloured physio tape you often see on professional cyclists. He was happy as Larry. We lunched in the hotel, outside overlooking the sea. I find the sound of waves crashing  onto the sands so restful which is probably why I fell asleep after lunch!
Later, my beloved returned to frolic in the water while I went food shopping: broad beans, peas, artichokes, fennel and asparagus for a spring vegetable casserole. A mixture of lettuces and tomatoes for salad, foccaccia, vegetable pie and various Italian biscuits for a treat. I also popped into a local wine shop to replenish our Prosecco stocks – running dangerously low- and some local Ligurian white wine. We were all set for a feast on our return home.
For dinner, we returned to where we’d dined the night before for another range of tempting snacks and more Prosecco. We were beginning to realise that maybe two nights hadn’t been enough and resolved to return soon. The following morning we again breakfasted early to make the most of the morning in the Spa before lunching in the hotel. All good things sadly come to an end and we drove back to Nice at a slow and steady pace, largely on account of the Easter holiday traffic, but nothing could disturb our serenity after a relaxing couple of days.

Season’s Greetings

The holiday season starts when I receive my first Christmas card. Most years it’s one from a couple who almost bought our house in Chiswick back in 1993. Their lovely cards typically showcase one of the photographs they’ve taken on their travels. I always think: “That’s such a good idea, I’ll do something similar next year.”

Well, this year I (finally) have! Of course, I couldn’t pick just one photograph, so I went for a montage to sum up our year.

1. Albi, a UNESCO World Heritage site

The rose coloured town of Albi on the banks of the river Tarn

I took this picture of the rose-coloured town of Albi, on the river Tarn, on my iPhone from the ramparts of the cathedral. It was taken during a magical week-end, returning to a place I’d only driven through during the 2013 Tour de France. My beloved had to visit a potential client in nearby Castres and, as we are wont to do, we turned a business trip into something special.

2. The view from our bedroom window

Xmas20155

This view is the main reason we bought our apartment and it’s one of which I never tire. I take a photograph most mornings but some, like this one taken last winter, are more spectacular than others.

3. Alassio, the Italian Riviera

Xmas20153

My beloved took this photograph, with his newly acquired Cannon camera, while we were waiting for the peloton to pass us by on stage two of this year’s Giro d’Italia. We spent the week-end in nearby Alassio and, not long after the peloton passed, I was greeted like a long-lost friend by the owner of the small family hotel I’d stayed in for the Trofeo Laigueglia in February. That’s just one of the things I love about cycling – you make friends everywhere.

4. Getaria, the Basque country

Xmas20154

Our card wouldn’t be complete without a photograph from the Basque country but which one to choose? We have so many. I love seascapes and I took this photograph on my iPhone from the promontory in Getaria looking back towards the coastline. The past couple of years, we’ve stayed in the same five-bedroomed, family-run hotel for both the Clasica and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Getaria is a lovely spot, famed for its Txakoli wine, with plenty of bars and restaurants just a short walk from the hotel.

5. Antwerp

Xmas20152

This shows the crowds waiting for the start of stage three of the Tour de France with the magnificent Het Steen Castle – the city’s oldest building – and the Cathedral of our Lady in the background. After the riders had set off, we had a delightful lunch in one of the many restaurants in the old town.

6. Sag Harbor, The Hamptons

Xmas20157

I adore US colonial style housing with gingerbread trims and this is a particularly fine example of the genre. I also loved that this business in Sag Harbor’s main street was selling French antiques. We witnessed many fine properties on our September trip to US.

7. Costa del Sol

Xmas20156

This was taken by my beloved from the road outside the restaurant where we’d stopped for a long, convivial and typically Spanish lunch. It was on the finishing circuit, not too far from the finish line, on stage two of the Vuelta which played out in the hills of Gualdahorce on the Costa del Sol. This year we were very fortunate to be able to visit the starts of all three Grand Tours, a feat we’re unlikely to repeat.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas

much happiness, good health, and every success in 2016