I have been wanting to get back to the U.K for 15 yrs, so one year ago, before we left New Zealand, Lindsay told me about an invite he had received from a friend/colleague to his wedding! I was overjoyed.
As it turns out, between us we have numerous friends and some family that we both really wanted to catch up with. So this holiday became the adventure of the year as we worked our way to and from different groups in Sweden and throughout the U.K.
Our first visit was to Stockholm to visit my brother Grant and his family. This includes my two fabulous nieces Bianca and Olivia, and Grants partner Kristina along with her two son’s Alexander and Carl whom Grant has become a kind of foster father to. My brother and family extended their hospitality to ensure Lindsay and I were very comfortably looked after and fed, and we totally enjoyed our stay.
However, it turns out the proof of Aunty and Uncle love, requested by all our nieces and nephews throughout the world, is the love that only lolly/candy/sweeties can show! And what is the most requested! Jolly Ranchers – requested from NZ to Sweden; they all want the old fashioned hard candy…YEK!
The Wedding in Derby, England
After three nights in Stockholm we flew to Manchester where we hired a car and drove to Derby for a three night stay. We had a fabulous time at David & Natalie’s wedding, everything from the venue to the catering, and music was great. As was the company.
After Derby, Lindsay and I enjoyed a day worth of driving through the English countryside as we headed towards Edinburgh in Scotland where we were to spend 4 nights. Lindsay and I are both fans of getting of the main road and exploring the back roads, villages and out of the way sights.
We stayed with Scott (whose business also happens to host this website/blog). Scott’s an old kiwi friend of Lindsays whom he met watching an All Blacks game in a Scottish pub, back when Lindsay lived in Scotland. Scott’s generosity was incredible; he shared his home making his room available to us whilst he slept in the single bedroom. He fed us fabulous home made food, and gave us the grand tour of Edinburgh. Although we had lived in Scotland before, we’d never really seen Edinburgh the way he showed us. Thank you Scott, it was awesome.
Lindsay and I both love Scotland. I suspect it’s because we both enjoyed great experiences with friend whilst we lived here; that and the Scots aren’t to different in humour and lifestyle to Kiwis. We spent a bit of time driving around visiting friends in Kilmarnock, Glasgow, Tillicoultry, Dundee and Edinburgh. We both really enjoyed catching up on the changes in our lives and rekindling old friendships. We’re both pretty keen to get back soon.
From Scotland we flew down to London for a final three nights where my fabulous little brother Sam and his lovely girlfriend Elle shared their awesome flat with us. The day after we arrived Sam took the day off and together we explored central London upon my request, visiting Hyde Park first before heading up to Oxford St and then down to Soho. London was nothing like I remember. Im pretty keen to head back however and do some more exploring at some stage. I still love it, though I don’t think I could live in London. In all honesty I think Im just over living in cities.
This post is a little late. It’s now April which meant we were in DC just over 3 months ago. And although the freshest memories have gone, I wanted to share a little of what we saw of this very different and pretty part of America.
We arrived in DC late in the evening, and after a small mix up we decided to take the Metro from the airport, which by the way was pure delight after travelling on San Francisco’s Muni/part underground whose stations can be quite dirty and unloved.
We stayed with Blair a Kiwi friend, his American wife Tara, and their children. It was a delight to walk into a quintessential American home complete with a large Christmas Tree aglow, shining through the living room window to the dark street outside. Tara had even installed a little Christmas village complete with tiny lights and a working Thomas the Tank Engine train set – very cool.
We headed out the next day to check out the main tourist sites that DC is famous for including our picture with the Whitehouse in the background. It reminds me of the time in 2003 when I visited Graceland in Memphis – both are just not as big as you imagine. The Whitehouse is surrounded by hotels and buildings, and a short way from a busy road that runs in front of it.
We had plans to do further exploring, but in late December even without snow, the wind whipped through the parks chilling us to the bone. We gave up on exploring and headed into the Smithsonian National Museum of Modern History which included original Muppet characters, a transplant of Julia Child’s actual kitchen, really old cars, and a massive American Flag…the flag which in fact inspired the National Anthem the Star Spangled Banner. It was here that my understanding of American Culture, so different to many other western nations, really started to come together. This discussion is long and meant to be had conversationally.
The rest of our exploring was done from the warmth of a car. I would really like to get back to this historic city to explore and view the monuments and buildings so entrenched and familiar in my memory from watching them on a screen, but never seen in real life.
Our final days were spent with Blair & Tara’s family. We had New Years to celebrate which turned out to be a quiet affair. We started with a raucous evening meal with our hosts and their friends before heading into town, only to discover bars set up to party, but patrons missing, probably due to the cold. That’s okay – we found the free glasses of bubbles, and borrowed a few party hats and whistles and made our own fun!
The last day of our Christmas break saw Lindsay and I wandering around Gunners lake, close to Blair & Tara’s home. It seems it would often freeze over in winter, but not this year, or at least not while we were visiting. On our return Tara introduced us to Velveeta dip. I suspect it’s the stuff of American children’s birthday parties, or for consuming when watching a big AFL game. Its a very yellow thick melted cheese, mixed with a simple tomato salsa, made for dipping nacho chips into. I feel its an acquired taste, that might stick your insides together if it had the opportunity to cool. However, some might find it a little addictive!
Ten years ago, a slightly naïve, skinny white guy with an overloaded bicycle set off from his house in London, aiming for New Zealand.
I had been living in London, but wanted to go back to New Zealand. I’d travelled around Europe and the Middle East by bus, boat, train, but I’d had enough of that style of travel. I wanted to be able to go where I wanted, stop where I wanted, and see the world in a different way. So I went by bicycle.
I was at a stage in my life where I could do it. I was single, I had the money, and I had the time.
So I set off, thinking how hard could it be?
Yeah, well, there were a few tough times along the way, but it’s not as hard as you might think. In aggregate it seems a lot, but on a day to day basis it’s mostly about dealing with simple challenges: Where will I get food? Where will I sleep? Should I turn left or right at the intersection?
I’d done a lot of reading, I’d spent time getting my gear sorted out, I had maps for Central Asia and China…but once I actually got on the road in Europe I realized I still had a lot to learn. I had to figure out how to look at a map and identify good cycling routes, loading/unloading the bike, what sort of food I needed through the day, etc.
As much as anything, I needed to figure out my routines on the road. But the good thing is that I had plenty of chances to practice. You figure out your routines, and they become default. Next thing you’re taking it easy, eating your morning pastry beside yet another river-side bike path, and life is good:
I made it to Turkey, growing a nice beard along the way:
From Turkey I headed through Iran, this time with some company. I’d been alone across Europe, but now I would bump into other touring cyclists regularly.
Central Asia meant cheap vodka & beer, sometimes with rough consequences. But then THERE WAS A SUPERMARKET! You know your perspective on life has changed when you’re marveling at shopping trolleys, aisles, and air-conditioning.
Kyrgyzstan presented a new sort of challenge, having to replace my passport & visas. But I had time, I had money, I could work through the logistics. It was a little frustrating at time, but I kept calm about it.
I think that’s one of the things I learnt about myself along the way. I can just roll with the punches, dealing with situations as they arise, and not getting all worked up. When I was stuck between Iran & Turkmenistan, I sat down and went to sleep, rather than ranting and raving. A lot of patience is required when applying visas too.
Some of my best riding was in China, from the deserts in the West, to the crowded cities in the East. It felt like China was where I really hit my rhythm on the bike. I figured out how the cities worked, navigation was simple (follow the G312!), food was an adventure…it was a good time. Even when I did look like an extra from The Walking Dead:
That’s what comes from only wearing sandals for 6+ months.
I spent four months riding across China, before heading south through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. I had some great company along the way, including my sister and her husband.
Remarkably, in Malaysia I caught up with my old drinking buddy Jan, having last seen him months before in Uzbekistan.
I put the bike on a plane from Singapore to Darwin, Australia, and rode through the center of Australia. The support crew for the first half made all the difference:
It was hard going for the last few weeks, knowing I’d come a long way, but still had a tough slog to go. I’d gotten used to the bustle of Asian cities, and the typical Australian roadhouse doesn’t offer quite the same level of excitement.
After months of cycling, I’ve realized that I’m not the fittest cyclist, and definitely not the fastest. There are many other cyclists who are much faster than me. But I can persevere, and just keep plodding along all day. Then the next day I get up and do it again, and again.
Anyone can ride 100km in a day. The difference is in whether you can get up the next day and do it again.
I tried to settle back down in New Zealand, working a regular job. But the first few months were hard. There’s a sense of dislocation, of not belonging. Even getting used to regularly sleeping in a soft bed was difficult. But I stuck with it, and settled down for a while…but I still had some unfinished business.
2009-2010: Closing the Loop
About 18 months after getting back to New Zealand, I went on the road again, this time to Patagonia. I spent several months in Southern Chile & Argentina, battling rough roads, wind, rain and snow…but with some amazing landscapes.
And then I closed the loop: I went back to the UK, on a sort of pub crawl from London to Scotland. All the countries I’ve visited, and the UK is one of my top destinations. It might not seem ‘adventurous’, but who cares? A great network of bike paths takes you along country lanes, through small villages, there’s always a pub that doubles as bed & breakfast, and English language media is always available.
From there it was back to New Zealand, with one more encounter with bedbugs in Singapore along the way
2011-2015: Now Biking for Two
Life changed in 2011. I got married to Anna, and now our lives are a joint affair. It’s not just about me any more. We do things together: This started with the honeymoon, where we could have stayed in a resort for a week, or gone cycling for a month: Anna chose wisely
We were settled in Auckland, New Zealand for the next few years, going on a few bike trips around New Zealand. Not fully loaded touring – instead we’d go mountain biking, or checking out the new New Zealand Cycle Trails.
Six months ago we moved to San Francisco, where I’m working. We’re getting settled in here, and starting to explore the country (LINK NEEDED). There’s a lot more to learn about this place yet. I don’t know how long we will stay in the United States, given the upheaval at my current employer, and the current political climate. For now, we’re staying here, and we hope to stay longer.
See this picture where I look happy? Well I wasn’t! That’s me pretending to smile when waiting around at the rental car company for 6hrs whilst they found our pre-booked rental car – every customer was grumpy…and some a little shouty on this fairly warm and very muggy winter’s day!
We finally left New Orleans with me wanting to go back for more, and we headed to Ruston, Louisiana some 515kms/320miles away. Our drive out of New Orleans was memorable for the 70kms/43.5 miles we traveled on a suspended 2 lane (in each direction) highway over a Bayou (large marshy wetlands). Travelling for that long distance over water seems a little disconcerting, but I could imagine zooming around on an airboat like I’ve seen on TV shows set in the area…escaping the croc infested waters!
I was somewhat excited when looking at the map, as I thought in the immortal words of Johnny Cash “I’m going to Jackson”. Unfortunately we turned off just before we got there and I didn’t get to check out this famous town.
We arrived in Ruston late in the eve to a lovely warm welcome from our hosts Matt (Lindsay’s friend and work buddy), Tara & their children Audrey & Sam. That night Tara and Matt cooked us up a traditional southern meal including shrimp and large American steaks, cooked on an the amazing Green Egg charcoal grill that would make any of our meat adventuring friends, quite jealous!
Matt had a few items for us to do during our visit to Ruston. No. 1. A walk up Driskill Mountain, the highest point in all Louisiana at 163mtrs/535ft (a far cry from the 7000ft we cycled up a couple of months ago in Denver). But it was a lovely walk through a winter forest with Matt and his family, and a great photo opportunity at the very tip top of Louisiana for Lindsay and I.
No 2. on the agenda – a trip to the gun range!!! When in Louisiana, one must do as the locals do. Lindsay had previously told Matt that the all important ‘wifey stamp of approval’ would not be issued for such an outing but I like to keep him on his toes, so off we went. This little trip gave us the opportunity to meet people we would not otherwise get the opportunity to converse with. So much to my delight, and Matt’s slight chagrin, we got chatting to a good ol’ southern conservative. His two best lines included his excitement at the election of the new great president – “you just wait and see how things improve when he gets in”. And when asking where we were living, he told us in that slow southern drawl that “once I visited San Francisco. That’s the land of Fruuit & Nuts”, referring to the very different, liberal folk on the west coast! Lindsay and I were in fits of laughter, and continue to tell the story. I think we’re more the nuuts than the fruuit, but I’ll let you decide 😉
No.3. A tour of Ruston. Ruston is a small city, who’s main economics is built around the Louisiana Tech University. When semester is in full swing, the city almost doubles in size! Our hosts took us on a tour of the campus and I managed to get this great picture of them all…and Lindsay.
This holiday included a LOT of food. And whilst in Ruston we got to sample to a wide variety of local fare including Po’Boys which are basically big meat sandwiches; Gumbo; Home made Monkey Bread; Biscuits which in America are savoury scones which include almond milk and sugar in their ingredients; and of course one breakfast with almost bottomless Mimosa’s – well we polished off two bottles of bubbles! Lindsay was also quite taken with the coffee we picked up at from the drive-through Starbucks. I didn’t think to get a photo of this phenomenon, which is merely a fact of life in the U.S.
After several days with our wonderful hosts it was unfortunately time to leave. We have been invited back for some real adventuring, which we hope to take up the offer of one day in the future.
Our relaxed drive back to New Orleans, from where we would fly up to Washington DC, was through lands that seem typical of what I expected to see in America. Big American flags; Cornfields stretching for miles without fences; extra large 4wd’s. And of course a drive over the impressively large and infamous Mississippi river that makes its way through all of North America.
Oh – and just one little addition for the ardent readers!! Lindsay has a bit a thing with world maps that don’t include NZ including a Reddit feed and the website World Maps Without NZ. Well much to our horror we found that Matt’s daughter Audrey, may also need some educating on this topic…………
“Welcome Mr & Ms Hee-ill” was the first thing we heard when we arrived at the hotel Pontchartrain in New Orleans at about 11pm on Christmas night. Lindsay thought at first this man speaking with a Cajun/New Orleans accent was a bit exaggerated, but it turned out to be real. From now on Lindsay wants to be known by this pronunciation!
We took a 9 day trip on the 2016 Christmas holidays to New Orleans, then Ruston-both in Louisiana, and then to Maryland/Washing DC. But I might split this little blog into 3 as each place was so interesting and diverse.
After our late arrival, we weren’t ready for sleep as the time East Coast time difference was 3hrs ahead of West Coast time, so we headed to the hotels roof top bar ‘Hot Tin’ for a cocktail (Unfortunately there was no cat to be found). It being Christmas day, we thought we were lucky it was open. We weren’t expecting this bar, with sweeping views out to the Mississippi (well there would have been except for the low lying cloud and mist – but we could see a big bridge), to be filled with party goers, with some even dressed in suits…on Christmas Day!! Lindsay tells a story of being overwhelmed for a moment when I went to the bar to order a second cocktail and he was set upon by three 20-something blonde southern bells on the hunt for some man flesh! Fortunately I returned to save him much to his relief, and my amusement. After a genuinely warm conversation with these girls, they went off in hunt of some other single men. Lindsays still recovering…and still telling the story!
Before heading to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) I had asked a few people if they could give us tips on where to stay and what to do. Unfortunately some of it came in a little late (I hope they don’t mind, Ive added their tips at the end of this post for any other NOLA adventurers) but we got enough to set us on our way. Our gorgeous hotel, which was reminiscent of a time gone by, was in the middle of the ‘Garden District’. Lindsay knows I love a characterful old home so after wondering along some of Magazine Street checking out the shopping (a little quiet on Dec 26), and popping into two of the many historic and fascinating cemeteries, he took me off exploring down side streets with all sorts of colourful, delectable, gorgeous old homes. From the stately antebellum mansions, to the old and rustic cottages…all colourful, and a feast for an old home junkie like me.
Later we headed to very central French Quarter which is now a tourist mecca. It reminded me of our time travelling around Cambodia particularly Siem Reap, both with a very strong French History. However it seems time halted in this area when in the early 19th century Napoleon sold Louisiana to U.S. The buildings have a strong French flavour but are far more bright and colourful than anything I saw (in my short visit to Paris many years ago). I suspect the colour is due to the Spanish and Cajun influences. The buildings, pavement, everything seems as it would have been. There are plenty of very expensive French influenced antique stores to shop in and lots of bars and restaurants, most pitching jazz and blues, and true southern delicacies. However, Im not a fan of the heavy tourist pitch. Bourbon street specifically had a strong smell of vomit from the usual tourist fare with cheap drinks served in plastic yard glasses, and individuals attempting to peddle their restaurants fares. But the streets running parallel are definitely worth checking out, and smell quickly improves the further away from Bourbon St you get.
A friend had recommended getting away from tourist food and trying some of their haute cuisine. So Lindsay Yelped his way to Toups Meatery where we found some utterly divine, cajun influenced food and the most wonderful and friendly waitress who we for once were happy to tip. As a side, I asked her what the large cat sized creature was, with a long think tail that had run across my path on our walk to the restaurant. It was a Nutra Rat. I never want to see one of these again.Apparently they have nasty big teeth, equalled with a nasty big bite!
I’ve been told from many who have traveled to NZ, including the Aussies, that NZ does the best coffee in the world, and its available everywhere even in small towns. We’ve struggled in San Francisco to find great or even good espresso (Americans treasure their drip coffee above all else), but in NOLA it seemed there was a fairly abundant supply of good espresso coffee, though your out of luck if your after a flat white! On our final day (Actually after we’d travelled to the far side of Louisiana and back) we quickly popped out to Marigny area to see if the coffee was even better there. You see, the hipsters have discovered this area and now its an up and coming boho part of town. Where else would you expect to get good coffee? Unfortunately like San Francisco, it seems New Orleans doesn’t get going till late morning so no other shops were open, but we happened across this lovely coffee shop, where I got my morning expresso to set me up for the day.
Before leaving town we headed to the the Unites official WWII museum. Unfortunately I was a little unwell, and we were short on time, but definitely worth a visit.
Lindsay and Anna
Lunch – not very NOLA but very nice. La Casita, on the way if you walking from the Garden to French Districts. https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-casita-new-orleans?osq=mexican+food
Other links included in text
Freetoursbyfoot.com …we did French Quarter ghost tour (just ok) and the Garden District/Lafayette Cemetery tour (REALLY GOOD!…our guide was Sarah and she was great). Must reserve a space online. The organization offers free tours but asks for donations at the end. pharmacymuseum.org -quite interesting. You can just look around, but I recommend taking the short guided tour. I think they only have a guide available for one tour per day.
Food: Jacques-Imos is really good and is a fun place out of the Quarter. Coop’s is in the French Quarter. It used to be very good however the last two people I sent there said they didn’t care for it much. I don’t know if they’ve changed cooks or anything like that. Acme oyster house is defintely packed with tourists but they are really good oysters.
Oh, Magazine Street in New Orleans…lots of fun shops and good food.
Charlotte – “NOLA is epic you will have an amazing time. We were there for a week and didn’t get around everything we wanted within the city limits”
Howlin’ Wolf Sunday night hot 8 brass band (they are in my top 3 so seeing them for $10 at their local was incredible. HW also holds comedy on a weeknight
Spotted Cat Club – this is a good start for music into her French quarter but most of the music clubs are quality so you just have to find what you like.
Gazebo Cafe in French Q. – Order the roast beef Po’ Boy
Whitney Plantation (we took Greys bus lines) if you book two greys bus tours you get a discount. This is the only plantation we toured. It was amazing and we were provided with a true account of the history by a historian who descends from the Israelite slaves. They provide umbrellas but they only have a few so hat and water. Probably cooler now than when we went
Airboat swamp tour – take sun protection and water. We went with Airboat Adventures and they were great
**you can get a one day plantation and a swamp tour deal, Whitney Plantation wasn’t included with a deal so we booked boat separately.
Buy a 1, 3 or 5 day jazzy pass for the street car up to the Garden district – wander around the mansions (they are something else)
Visit the Cemeterys – pay the $5tip at the gate for a tour worth it otherwise it’s just another cemetery (I was interested in the history).
Free walking tours in the French Q. (Pay a tip)
WWII museum. We aren’t really ‘military/war people. We expected to be a bit “meh” about it but ended up staying 5.5hours! Ammmmazing and a little expensive but amazing.
If you haven’t already download the TripAdvisor App. Save the places you want to go in the app prior to going and when you are close to one of your stored interest the app will alert you
The French quarter art market is nice (we spent waaaay to much money there!) as is the normal market.
Bourbon street is something you have to do even if only once. – buy a daiquiri and wander around the streets it’s nice because the drinking culture isn’t like oz or NZ people are more relaxed – dance! Find a night club and dance like no ones watching!
Once you get past the cheap local joints. Go for the nicer spots and be blown away. Catfish and crawdads are not what New Orleans are best at. Their haute cuisine is out of this world as is their jazz and blues
There’s gator tours and in the swamp (I didn’t do) and some good evening walking tours. Some voodoo shops are funny for their entertainment factor
Find good blue grass and jazz in the evenings, check out the 2 main cemeteries and surrounding plantation houses during the day
Food. Maybe 1 day of crawdads and po boys then get into the real diner side of south cuisine. TripAdvisor can help there
I don’t want you to think that we spend all our time hanging out in liberal enclaves in California, or hipster gin bars in Polk St. Sometimes we venture further afield. Earlier this month we got away to Denver, Colorado for a weekend.
Arriving late at night, the drive to the hotel was pretty dull…flat lands, freeways, and monstrous stores…Anna was not impressed. But then the sun came up to a clear but bloody cold day, we went out to explore, and pretty soon we said: “You know, this looks like the sort of place we could live.”
Interesting neighborhoods, nice old homes, the city feeling busy but not overwhelming. Plenty of options for physical activity too. Bike paths everywhere, trails along the river, and the mountains nearby, offering plenty of options for mountain biking, snowboarding, etc.
We didn’t plan it, but the annual Denver Parade of Lights was on while we were in town. So we stuck around to watch it:
You can’t see it all that well, but these are “lowrider” cars. Hilarious to watch, but maybe not the most practical. Note the angles some are on:
On Sunday morning we went out mountain biking with Nick from Front Range Ride Guides. This turned out to be a fantastic choice. We could have just hired bikes, but going with a local guide made it a much better experience.
We met Nick just outside Denver, and then travelled with him to the trailhead. He provided top-quality full-suspension bikes. No crappy rental fleet, these were good bikes, like I would like to own.
It was still clear and cold, starting off below freezing, warming up to maybe 45°F/7°C. The rivers were half-frozen, and you can see a little snow lying on the ground. We were super-lucky with the weather – a couple of days later and the temperature dropped a further 20°. We were able to have a great day out biking:
Nick was great company, easy to ride with, super-knowledgable about the area. He was clearly a very experienced rider, but he had the ability to work with different levels of riders, and make you feel at ease. We needed it too – you can see from these shots that we were up in the mountains. Something like 7,000 feet, and we’d only just arrived in the area.
Riding along flat to gentle inclines was fine, but as soon as we started climbing the lungs started burning. Later we’d stop, and my legs would be jelly-like, as if we’d climbed much further.
The ride was nicely paced, with great opportunities to stop and check the view, with a nice long downhill trail followed by a gentle ride back down the dirt road to the trailhead. Well-balanced, and perfectly finished with a couple of beers back at the parking lot, enjoying what was really a superb day, considering it was 3 weeks from Christmas.
We could have hired bikes ourselves, and spent time researching trails, consulting maps, getting lost, etc. I’ve done that sort of thing plenty of times in the past. But I’m glad we did it this way. No hassle, just turn up and bikes are ready to go, you don’t have to worry about navigation, someone can advise on trail choices, etc.
The best thing about this particular setup was that it was totally customised to us. No large group tour thing. This was set at our pace and ability, with no pressure to keep up, or waiting for slower riders. We got to do exactly the sort of riding we wanted to do, with someone who knew exactly what they were up to. Highly recommended, and we’ll catch up with Nick again when we return to Denver.