Wednesday, June 21, 2017

When it comes to travel, it’s the business

Whilst not quite having the romance of train travel, getting to the UK any way other that jet propulsion would be quite an undertaking.  As much as I love riding the rails, the distance between Sydney and Manchester might be too much even for me.

So, an airplane it is, and all the associated rigmarole this brings.  Checking in online.  Getting to the airport hours before you are due to fly.  The pain that is airport security.  Not that I think we should reduce this security, not for a moment, but, you have to admit, it is a bloody painful process.

 


Working your way through lines that snake around those mobile barriers.  All the while, some little kid is lifting up the spring loaded barrier and unclipping it, throwing the queuing system into disarray.

Once you have negotiated this, you then have the screening.  Ensuring you have no liquids in your bag.  Scratching your head and wondering of this is one of the airports that make you remove your iPad from your carry on, remove your shoes, belt, or even your watch.  You then go through the scanner yourself, only to beep and suddenly remember the erroneous 10 cent coins rattling around deep in your pocket.

Survive all this, and you still have to negotiate the retail hell that has become all but the tiniest airports.  You are deposited into the duty free stores, which are harder to navigate than IKEA on a Sunday morning.  With thirteen after shave samples, on those little cardboard strips, in your pocket, all you want is a cold beer.  Where has the pub gone?  It has been given a facelift, a very modern name, and is now a gastro-wine-artisanal-microbrew-resto-eating establishment.

By the time you eventually get your beer, you have to down it rapidly, as the announcements start that your gate is open, and plane ready for boarding.  So you skull your beer, and run to the other side of the airport, where your gate is located, only to find that your plane isn't in fact boarding.  Yet every passenger has decided to start queuing in anticipation, even though everybody has a seat booking, and a boarding card that proves it, and will all get on the plane.  Eventually.

You know you are going nowhere fast.  You would have had time for a few more ice cold pints, a burger with hand cut chips, and a bag of pork scratchings.  Now you are going to have to settle for a dry bread roll, and a little aluminium tray with a scrawny chicken sausage and a cheese omelette with a splash of brown water in a plastic cup, masquerading as coffee, whilst having yourself elbowed from both sides, and trying to drown out the screaming child in row 44.  Oh the joys.

 

Unless.  You accept the airlines very generous email offer to upgrade to business class.  And so this is what we did.  I have never before been offered a reduced rate upgrade. Having had the opportunity to experience the delights of business class previously, with Singapore Airlines, I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. No sir.  

Whilst the above describes the Sydney to Doha flight (15 plus hours), what followed, for the Doha to Manchester flight (approx 8 hours) could not have been more different. Champagne upon boarding.  An a la carte menu.  From which food is served on demand.  On a crisp white table cloth.  With wines expertly matched.  And a seat that fully reclines into a flat bed for your post lunch nap, with a real pillow, and thin duvet.  Not that I did much sleeping. I was far too excited to sleep.

 

As I finished off the last of the cheese board, I totally forgot that I had flown around the world, over the last 24 hours, as we slowly descended into Manchester.  Going home, in economy, just won’t be the same.  All suggestions of best way to snag an upgrade are most welcome.





Friday, May 19, 2017

Confess, who keeps a diary?


Writing a diary is as old as history itself.  Sitting down, at the end of a busy day, and journalling your inner thoughts is nothing new.  And in our crazy world, journalling offers a brief respite, where you can close out the world, and just be mindful of events that have happened.  How you feel about them.  The emotions they evoke.  Reminding yourself what you are grateful for.  What you appreciate.  Mindfulness has suddenly become fashionable, and yet is has been one of the central tenets of Buddhism for centuries.

From the greatest diarist of all time, Samuel Pepys, whose diary was written in the 17th century, to Anne Frank, and onto the fictional Bridget Jones and Adrian Mole, the trusty journal has been a haven for getting your thoughts, feelings, emotions down on paper.  And we are fascinated with reading other people's diaries.  To the extent that we many were duped into believing that the diaries purchased for €4.7 million, purporting to be the diaries of Hitler, were genuine.  Of course, these sixty volumes, written between 1981 and 1983 turned out to be the elaborate hoax of Konrad Kujau.

I am guessing that many of you have at some point or another written in a diary.  Many of you may still do.  Some of you will have written one when you were younger, only to be discouraged when an older sibling searched out your most private possession, and read all about your school crush, who you wanted to dance with at the school disco, and how much you hated said sibling.  A brief flirtation with journalling that ended years ago.

I have been fascinated with journalling, and writing from a young age.  Writing by pen and paper, moving on to an old typewriter, and then digitally, as the world changed, to virtual keyboards.  In the last year the balance has swung back a little towards actual writing with the introduction of the Apple pencil that now allows me to write by hand on a digital screen.  With many apps mimicking the look of paper this is as close I will get to “real” writing that is not on actual paper.

And yet.  There is just something about real pens (who can resist the history and allure of a Mont Blanc?), and real notepads.  Harking back to an era where Hemingway would go nowhere without his trusty Moleskine notepad.  And Bruce Chatwin said it was worse to lose one of his notepads than his passport.  There is a magic evoked that can not be matched digitally.

So I have been experimenting with new journalling mediums.  Putting aside the pen for now, and trying out other options that are available online.  Many in the form of apps.  The one I have been using for about a month now is a daily journal app called “Day One” which captures all kinds of metadata related to all your posts, such as your location when you wrote the post, what the weather was like, and even what music you may have been listening.  With the ability to add pics too it is a great way of journalling my day and capturing anything that I’d like to look back on and remember.  

What do you prefer?  Writing in a real diary, or notepad.  Or have you moved to digital, and started reaping the benefits that brings such as tagging, allowing you to immediately find any entry, from any month, or any year.  And allowing you to include photos, be they daily selfies, or memories from holidays.  Do you use a stylus, and try and retain some sense of tradition, or have you moved fully to virtual keyboards.  I would be very interested to hear from all of you who write a diary, or journal, and how you maintain it.

For me the jury is still out as to which I prefer, the traditional, or the modern way.  I will keep experimenting.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What has been happening through Autumn?

So many things seem to have happened since we last spoke that it is hard to think where to begin.  If i was a better write than I am I would write in a nonlinear fashion, dropping crumbs all over, then bringing them all together at the end.  Like a literary masterpiece.  However, you don’t have Hemingway.  You have me.


In the spirit of seeing as much as we can, within Australia, a couple of weeks ago we took an early mark from work, and headed downtown, to our usual car hire place, and from there headed off to Kangaroo Valley.  Somewhere new.  For a couple of nights.


In Friday afternoon traffic, Kangaroo Valley is almost 3 hours south of Sydney, in an area called Shoalhaven.  We have been down this part of the world previously, having once spent a great weekend in Jervis Bay with friends.  Kangaroo Valley is a little further inland, through the picture postcard village of Berry.  And if you know of Berry, you know of the “Famous Donut Van” in Berry.  Needless to say, we got ourselves acquainted.


Talking of “famous” food outlets, Kangaroo Valley has it’s own.  Not wanting to be outdone, there is the “World Famous Pie” shop, something I was not going to miss.  And my oh my.  The pie was outstanding.  Best I have ever had.  Period.  If it wasn’t for the pre-holiday health kick I am about to embark on, I would have brought enough home to fill up the freezer.




Despite the name of our home for the weekend, ironically, we saw very few kangaroos.  Not as many as we see when we visit our favourite spot in the countryside, Mudgee.  I had been teased with the prospect of seeing wombats in the wild, but despite trying to make myself invisible, and wait for them to come out in the evening, the reclusive little blighters never showed their cute, fat little faces.


Our accommodation was a perfect little cottage, called “The Hammock”, with an open fire that we got roaring in the evening.  The temperature drops a lot when the sun goes down, and when I saw the open fireplace I was in my element.  I am not sure what it is about fire, but getting it started becomes an obsession.  Then keeping it going becomes hypnotic.  Hearing the fire crackle, feeling the heat, watching the flames, with the alcoholic effects of a few large, full bodied, glasses of red wine (bought from the local winery, some 20 minutes from the cottage) it was a heavenly evening.




We were soon back in the real world, back in the city life, so why not make the most of it. As we had been away so recently, we decided to remain closer to home for the Easter break, and instead booked one of our famous city "staycations".  We seem to be getting around most of the hotels in Sydney, and Easter saw us staying at the Old Clare Hotel, in Chippendale.  On the site of the old Carlton and United brewery.  For UK readers, it is where your Fosters lager used to come from.  The area has gone, and is going, through massive regeneration, and is fasting becoming one of the places to be in Sydney.


The hotel is on Kensington St which has become a restaurant hot spot, which also incorporates “Spice Alley”, a fascinating blend of old and new, housing numerous excellent Asian eateries.  Definitely worth a visit, if not an overnight stay, if you are in the neighbourhood.




And with all the eating and drinking that has been occurring, virtually non stop since Christmas, there has been the inevitable addition of a few pounds around the waistline.  If you love food and fine wine as much as I do, who said bon vivant?, you will know that it is not a one way street.  You have to put the effort in to keep from blowing up like the Michelin man.


I continue with my gym work, and weekly 5 a side run out, but have added something else to my repertoire.  Dynamic Pilates.  Yup, you heard right, I have started doing pilates.  The kind where you lay on what looks like a torture bed.  Or something you may have read about in 50 Shades of Grey.  All springs and straps.  With less pleasure.  I’m assuming about the pleasure, of course, having had no experience of anything you may have read in any of EL James’s “best sellers”.


It is amazing how fast an hour passes when doing pilates, focussing the mind, breathing in tune to the exercises, compared to time spent on the treadmill in the gym.  I’m not afraid to say I loathe running.  Unless it is on a football pitch.  Running, for runnings sake is not what i was created for.  And the time I spend knocking out a few kms on the treadmill seems to drag in comparison.


That said, needs must. So, for the next few weeks, my aim is to shift my “winter coat”, in time for my European summer.  Alcohol canned (which means abstention, not drinking tinnies) for a month.  Exercise upped for the month.  And no treats in between (after I have eaten all my Easter chocolate).

Wish me luck friends.

P.S. voting in Australia is compulsory for all citizens, which now includes me of course. So this month also saw me casting my first ever vote here in Australia, in the local by election. This Yorkshire lad is already making his contribution.

P.P.S. In the last couple of weeks, the government has announced sweeping changes to how you achieve citizenship. Seems I got in just in time!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Celebrating Australian citizenship in Mudgee


It is easy to see why it is called “nest in the hills”.  Some 3 and a half hours from Sydney, in mid-central New South Wales, Mudgee (from Moothi, which literally means nest in the hills) is a world away from the bright city lights of Sydney.  And with over 43 wineries to explore, it is an oenophilia’s paradise.  On the couple of weekends we have stayed, we are steadily working our way through the best of them.


Taking the Old Bells Line of Road, up through the Blue Mountains, we stopped briefly in the apple capital, Bilpin, for a piece of the world's best apple pie.  Pushing on, arriving mid afternoon at Riverlea Cottage, south of Mudgee, we were greeted by Toto and Guinness, the family dogs, like we had never been away.

In the 12 months since we were last here, not much had changed, just the addition of guinea fowl it seems.  And why guinea fowl you may ask?  Just as I did.  Well, the brown snake I almost stepped on whilst walking in the paddock answers that one.  Depending on what you read, the brown snake is reputed to be the second most venomous snake in the world.  I'll say that again.  The second most venomous snake in the WORLD.  And I almost just stood on one.  A recent blog had me celebrating making it past 44.  Making 45 was looking decidedly at risk.

The welcoming committee
Enter the guinea fowl.  As our saviours from snakes.  Apparently.  Somebody had told Helena that they were a good deterrent for snakes.  And now Ned had more mouths to feed along with the dogs, the alpacas, and the chooks.  I assumed the many kangaroos we saw managed to feed themselves. What I hadn't accounted for was dealing with the infamous Huntsman spiders.  Quite possibly harmless, everybody tells me, but just the sight of the bloody things are enough to give you a cardiac arrest.  THAT little critter was something I wasn’t going to deal with.  Cue shouting for Ned!

Australia Day finished with us stargazing, with a chilled bottle of locally produced wine.  And with zero light pollution, the effect was amazing.  But the day started with me meeting Tony Abbott (ex prime minister, originally hailing all the way from London) at my Australian citizenship ceremony in Mosman.  A journey that started on a bitterly cold December morning in Halifax, 2010, posting my permanent residency application off, which was granted on 26th January 2012, culminated on 26th January 2017, with the grant of my citizenship.  I am thankful to call home a country that welcomes immigrants, and builds its strength from the diversity that we can bring to a country and it's culture.



My struggles at times, settling into a new culture, thousands of miles from family, friends, and my beloved football club, have been well documented here.  I have to be honest and admit that on many occasions I didn’t think I would reach this milestone, becoming Australian.  But if you just focus on the days, the years have a way of looking after themselves, and here I am, a dual national, with opportunities now opening up in front of me.

Regardless of what happens now, from trying another country, a new culture, immersed in a new language, doing a doing a stint closer to home, or just taking an extended break travelling, having the passport allows us to return to Oz at any point.  Remaining in Oz, or returning later to downsize our life and live the quintessential laid back Aussie lifestyle.  There are many little towns that are perfect for such a life.  And what a life.

Reading here about something called "stress"!
Which is one of the reasons we love Mudgee.  A typical conversation goes something like this;

“Where are you from?”

“Sydney.  We are just up in Mudgee for the weekend.”

“Ah, Sydney.  I went there once.  Never again.  Too busy, too many people.”


And returning on the Sunday, to Mosman, brought this starkly into life.  Crossing the road, on a pedestrian crossing, the lady driving the car was revving her engine, actually edging onto the zebra crossing, and shouted out of her window for us to hurry up.  City life, for all it’s upsides, leaves a lot to be desired.

Tree change anyone?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Reflections on a fantastic Xmas 2016

I have said it before.  And it needs saying again.  I live in a very beautiful, picturesque part of the world.  The village I live in has everything I could ever want, or need, without having to leave the confines of the post code.

But when I do venture out, beyond 2088, I am always greeted with new, and amazing sights, and experiences.

That said, into year 5 of living in Sydney, and with the daily drudge of the commute into the city, with everybody else, heads down, engrossed in their smartphones, it is often easy to miss what is in front of you.  Slightly take for granted that my office, in the architecturally magnificent, restored old General Post Office in Martin Place, is in the centre of Sydney.  One of the world's most visually stunning cities.

So, it is with delight, that when we have first time visitors to Sydney, as we have had over Christmas, I get to see Sydney all over again, vicariously, for the first time.  The first sight of THAT bridge, and the Opera House, as the Mosman Bay ferry rounds the bend at Cremorne, and Port Jackson comes into view, in all her glory.  This time of year, we also have the joy of seeing one of the many large cruise ships, docked in Circular Quay, speculating on where they are headed for the season festivities as they enjoy their sail away party, which is an actual thing, apparently.  Which you would know, if television programmes about cruise ships were amongst your favourite shows too.

In the beautiful Hunter Valley
So, how to best plan for visitors?  Regular readers of the blog will be aware of my love of a spreadsheet.  Not the boring kind I have to maintain at work, tracking annual budgets, and project forecasts.  But the more exciting kind, if there is such as thing.  Burger rankings.  Wine tastings I have done around the world.  And the one that gets recycled the most, the “See everything in Sydney in a week, or two, tour” spreadsheet.  Where all that seems to get changed each time it is used are the dates.

Planning for our visitors, the most recent of which arrived on these shores on December 18th, is spreadsheet nirvana.  Into Google Sheets (other applications are available) I go, save a copy of the last used, update the names of the guests, and away I go.  Wine tour, tick. (Special thanks to Sam at Kangarrific for what is perennially the world's best day trip).  Bondi to Coogee walk, tick.  Spit Bridge to Manly scenic walk, tick.  Blue Mountains day trip, tick.  Proper Aussie barbie, tick.   Xmas day on the beach, with beers, tick.  Chicken schnitty, tick.  Nothing gets left to chance.  Nothing gets left out.

I’d like to think, and hope, that all our guests go home with a real sense of what Sydney is like, and having had some quintessential Australian experiences.  Tim Tams included.

And in return, I get to learn things myself. Who knew “dabbing” is not just the latest dance craze?  That you could get “black jack” scented vapers? (a pretend cigarette, if like me, you were clueless).  And that you can actually buy “In The Navy” briefs.  Say whaaat?!?  Every day is a school day in my life.  Thank you Serge, and Serge, for those snippets of information.

Much fun was had over the holiday period, and I am just thankful we still had a regular bottle recycling collection.  I think we kept Dan Murphy's in business over Xmas.



The lads obviously brought their drinking boots.  After we warned them we would be sup’ing.  Being from the area in and around infamous Blackpool, they assumed it would entail many visits to Yate’s wine lodge, Wetherspoon’s, and the Tower ballroom type pubs and bars.  Little did they know this entailed a long board, a paddle, and much balance, as we attempted to traverse middle harbour at Balmoral.

Stand up paddle (SUP) boarding is harder than the people gliding out in the water would have you believe.  That said, one of our party was annoyingly good at his first ever attempt.  Most of the hour was spent trying to dunk him in the invigoratingly chilly ocean, once he had been suitably reassured there were no sharks lurking ready to take a large chunk out of him.  At least in the water he was safe from spiders.  And safe from pictures of spiders, which seem to cause the same involuntary reaction, which at first I worried was a stroke.

What is the first thing an English person wants to do in Australia?  Yes, determine the hottest part of the day, find the spot with the least amount of shade, and sit there.  And sit.  Well, I don't need to spell out the result to you.  You have all (Aussies excepted) been there yourself.  Day 1, first degree burns.  Whilst my call for shade on the first day ignored, the rest of the holiday followed a “safety first” approach.  Slip, slop, slap.

End of the Bondi to Coogee walk - beer awaiting

I'm sure the good memories will last longer than the pink faces that were still in evidence as we said a very sad farewell.  A great holiday, with great company.  You are welcome back anytime chaps.

Squish squish.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Happy New Year (almost)


Henry David Thoreau.  Robert Louis Stevenson.  F Scott Fitzgerald.  Anton Chekhov.  Jackson Pollock.  Billie Holiday.  Marvin Gaye.  And not forgetting Steve Irwin.  I have succeeded in avoiding this illustrious list of people.  People you may well have heard of.  And due to some of their life accomplishments may have assumed they lived long, and fruitful lives.

The truth of it?  All dead at the youthful age of 44.  I have read the lives of some of these people, and the amount they crammed into their 44 years is nothing short of amazing.  And can leave you feeling like you could be doing more with your life.  Taking more adventures.  Living, over merely existing.  If you knew at the outset, that you only had 44 years to do everything you felt you wanted to do, how well would you think you did, or are doing, in achieving this?  And as the year draws to a close, what better, cliched time to spend a little time ruminating on this.

In the last week I ticked over to the ripe old age of 45.  And I am still yet to either write a book.  Write a song.  Paint a masterpiece.  Or even wrestle with an alligator.  I am not one for writing new years resolutions, much preferring a personal list of things I would like to experience, and accomplish in the year ahead.  Just ensuring that I am personally happy that when I do come to expiring, hopefully another 45 years from now, I do so with a smile on my face.

2016 has been a very good year.  I started as an Australian resident, and finish as a citizen.  My application all approved, and just the formality of the ceremony, which I will attend in Mosman, on Australia Day, 26th January.  The timing couldn't be better.  It will be 5 years to the day that I awoke on a cold winters day in Halifax, to an email informing me I had been granted my Australian Permanent Residency, after a 2 year wait.

A short while later, in August of that year, I was ensconced in a large Singapore Airlines business class seat, sipping champagne, about to embark on the biggest adventure of my life to date.  
Relocating to the other side of the world, sans job, sans accommodation, and sans family and friends.

Riverlea Cottage, Mudgee

And here I am still, over 4 years later, still enjoying life in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, whilst getting to explore this glorious country.  2016 saw a first visit to the wine region of Mudgee, in central New South Wales, and 2017 will see a return visit to the idyllic little country town.  City life does leave you yearning for the peace and quiet of towns such as Mudgee, which doesn't even have any traffic lights in the small centre.

January of this year also saw me ticking off something I had wanted to do for many years.  Since first watching the Australian Open tennis, in a hostel in Adelaide, in 1994, I had wanted to witness the spectacle in Melbourne first hand.  Being even better than I expected, with a great atmosphere inside and outside the tennis arena, this is something that will definitely be repeated in the future.



One item that always makes my “year ahead” list is to visit somewhere new in the world.  And this year, this was achieved having finally made it to Canada for the first time.  Having heard first hand how beautiful British Columbia is, and about places such as Kelowna, and the Okanagan valley, I had wanted to get a taste of Canada.

An epic road trip that started in the city of angels, and traversed the west coast, through the Big Sur (unfortunately passing up the opportunity to stay at the Post Ranch Inn - this time) up through San Francisco, and the wine region of Sonoma, into Portland (with a visit to Powell's Book Store, where I could have spent weeks browsing the thousands and thousands of books), enjoying the world famous mac ‘n cheese at Beecher’s in Seattle, and across the water to Vancouver Island (with a first trip on a seaplane), finally culminating back over the water, in mainland British Columbia, in Vancouver.

Big Sur, California

I am not sure what 2017 holds, and where will be visited for the first time, but I sure will have a good time planning something. There may even be a spreadsheet involved!

Here’s hoping you, and your families, have a great and safe New Year.  

See you in 2017.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Beautiful Ubud, Bali


The heat is different in Asia. It is a heat you can smell, as well as feel.  And maybe that is in part due to the sweet, pungent cigarettes that I only seem to smell in Bali. That everybody seems to smoke.  And I mean everybody.  The humidity is in the high 90s.  And your body (and some would say your hair) knows it.  And it tells you.  All the time. The only respite is a refreshing dip in the villa’s private pool.


We stayed at Ubud Padi Villas, somewhere I would highly recommend.  A short 10 minute shuttle transfer from the centre of Ubud, this is isolated enough to let you feel you are the only people here. There are 10 private villas, all around a lush green central area that doubles as the outdoor restaurant. That said, breakfast was served in the room in each day, eating on the deck by the soothing sounds of our pool.

Breakfast is served
Ubud is full of great food options, and we have some excellent choices for both lunch and dinner within walking distance. Terracotta was an inspired choice, but even this was topped with a splurge at Kubu restaurant, in the Ritz-Carlton resort, a 10 minute walk away (or 5 minute golf buggy ride) from our villa.

Kubu is a river front restaurant, where you get to sit in your own private cocoon.  And indulge in a world class menu, whilst listening to the Ayung river charge by.  We went for the 6 course degustation, which was excellent, complemented by the chef's complimentary numerous amuse bouches.  Not that we needed dessert, I had elegant sufficiency, but after my heads up to the wait staff, Victoria got serenaded with a rousing rendition of happy birthday, and was presented with a beautiful little cake.


I probably didn't make as great an impression on our first trip to Bali as a couple.  Indeed our very first holiday as a couple, just two years ago.  Not long being together, we had a romantic week booked in a fabulous hotel, on the beach in Nusa Dua, south of Denpasar airport.

“I'm not a fan of how close the bathroom is to the bedroom, are you?”
“What do you mean, close to the bedroom?  Aren't all bathrooms close to bedrooms in hotels?”
“Well, yeah, possibly.  It's just that usually there is a door you can close.  Rather than these louvre shutter things we have.  It just seems a little…”
“What?”
“...”
“A little what?”
“Oh god! You might want to put some music on.”
“Put some music on?  What are you talking about?  Is everything ok?  Where are you going?”
And with that I knew I was in a race against time.  And my odds weren't looking good.
“Just put some music on”, I shouted from the bathroom in desperation.  Not that I needed to shout. The was no noise cancellation created by the bloody louvre shutters.  And the lack of noise cancellation was my main concern.
“Oh god. Oh my god!  No. Oh no”

Mary J Blige came to the rescue, drowning out my first case of Bali belly.  And the point that our relationship was either about to blossom, or fade like a jacaranda tree at the end of Summer.

If you ever find yourself in Nusa Dua, I'd probably avoid the “Queen’s” Indian restaurant. Especially if you are trying to make a good impression with your paramour.

This time around, I have been a little more circumspect about what I eat.  Not that you really need to be.  As I've mentioned, the food options are excellent in Ubud.  It is more a case of deciding what you fancy that particular evening, and finding one of the many busy restaurants to suit your needs.  The only concession we did make, on occasion, was the amount of wine we would customarily drink on holiday.  Whilst food is cheap, wine prices are astronomical by comparative standards.  In keeping with my somewhat parsimonious nature, Bintang beer was often my drink of choice.


Whilst most of the trip was relaxation, and massages, we did get out and about a little. An activity I would recommend is taking an eBikes cycling tour. I was drawn to this both due to the effort required to cycle in this heat, and the fact that I had never ridden an ebike before.  Going out on the 3pm trip, our small group was led through little villages, to temples, and through the magnificent rice fields. One girl in our group even managed to cycle off the path and into the water ditch that ran alongside the narrow footpath we were cycling on.

We finished at a little uninspiring coffee plantation, where the main attraction seemed to be the civets that were kept in captivity. Civets are a little cat like animal that eats, amongst other things, the coffee cherries off the trees. These are digested by the civet, and disposed of, in the most natural of ways. The “waste” is then rummaged in, and the passed through coffee beans are retrieved, washed (thankfully), subsequently roasted, and ground, to make Kopi Luwak coffee, which is sold at a premium.  If you are waiting for me to explain the reason behind this whole bizarre procedure, I'm afraid I don't know.  Either what possessed the first people to start checking civet shit for coffee beans, or what then drove them to think it would be a good idea to use that for making their morning coffee.  One of life's mysteries I guess.

Balinese petrol station
I would like to tell you how much Ubud has changed in the many years since I've been, but I honestly couldn't tell you.  The whole place was unrecognisable, which tells its own story.  No doubt “aided” by Elizabeth Gilbert's infamous memoir, Eat Pray Love, Ubud has seen an exponential rise in visitor numbers over the last ten years.  And the traffic, or more accurately, the limited road infrastructure in Ubud is bearing the brunt of all these visitors.

It is a very precarious balancing act, appealing to tourists, and bringing in much welcome income to the economy, whilst trying to maintain the beauty of what attracted people there in the first place.  I have seen this done wrong in places, most notably Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.   I hope Ubud, and Bali manage to keep the balance right, and hold on to the magic this little island undoubtedly has.