Saturday, 28 March 2015

Should have gone out on Saturday...

Andy's ride on Saturday
There's no excuse, Saturday was the best day in terms of the weather and despite the fact that the weathermen said it would start raining by lunchtime, it didn't. Sadly I didn't go out on Saturday morning – although Andy did (see route map of ride). It was touch and go as to whether Sunday would work, but, having risen an hour earlier than usual (the clocks went forward last night so it was really 0500hrs when I got up) it looked alright outside. A bit dark and grey, perhaps, but certainly fine for cycling. So, having made the tea and watched a bit of BBC Breakfast (Saracens beat Harlequins 42-14 in the rugby and Wales did well in the footy thanks to Gareth Bale – not that I'm a fan of either sport) I headed outside to notice that it had started raining. Judging by the greyness I knew it wasn't going let up so I texted Andy and said I was going to see how things were in 15 minutes. The truth was it got a little more persistent, although, having said that, it's now 0745hrs and...hold on while I take a look... it's still raining, albeit not heavily. I think we'd have got a soaking, put it that way, even if we'd rode to Warlingham Green and back.

So here I am, sitting in the conservatory and there's been no cycling all weekend. Not good. We were going to go to Westerham today but it'll have to wait until next week. Hopefully, bearing in mind that the clocks have gone forward and the daffodils are in bloom, the weather should improve. Next weekend is Easter and that means we can cycle more than just our usual two rides (there's Good Friday and Easter Monday added on too).

Anyway, until then, enjoy your week.

An old shot of our bikes somewhere out there...

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Café & Cycle Store in Westerham

Our dreams in tatters! A bike shop and caff!
On a chance drive to Westerham yesterday for a teacake and a pot of ginger tea – well, I didn't set out solely to drink ginger tea and eat a teacake – I stumbled across this rather interesting shop. Interesting in the sense that it reminds me of a conversation between Andy and myself while sitting on the green sipping tea and munching our traditional cereal bar. In essence, when the Kent market town's Barclay's decided to shut up shop there was a 'to let' sign over the door. As we sat there, Andy and I dreamed up an idea for a bicycle shop combined with a café – just what the doctor ordered, we thought. What dyed-in-the-wool cyclist could resist a decent caff AND bike shop combined? A place where they could enjoy tea and cake AND get their bike fixed? We thought about it often but didn't really go any further than that. But now, somebody has grabbed the bike by the horns and opened a combined café and bike shop and here it is (see pic).

Seeing it I had to laugh. Somebody had stolen our dream! I went inside and, if I'm honest, it was a little too Lycra monkey for me, a little too 'boutiquey' and mildly minimalist and the caff was certainly no way near as 'cosy' as the Tudor Rose across the green, but hats off to those who opened it and good luck.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Diarr-Rio! When it all went wrong...

Well, not drastically wrong. I'm now back in the UK after a relaxing flight home, but the bit before was a bit trying to say the least and very disappointing as I'd rather hoped that Thursday (my last full day in Rio) would be spent seeing a few of the sights as opposed to one site (a building site across the road – see view from my hotel room shot in earlier post). You see, all was well with the world. I went down for dinner around 8pm on Wednesday night having completed a little bit of work in my hotel room. There was a live band playing in the Atlantico restaurant as I took my seat, ordered a glass of Malbec, asparagus soup and sea bass followed by a fresh fruit salad. The view of Copacabana Bay at night was spread before me and I was glad that all the hard work was over and day of sightseeing lay ahead.
The 'Sofatel' – much needed sofa for weary old me

The food seemed fine enough and by 9pm I was back in my room and ready for bed. But around midnight things changed. I awoke with a stomach ache and lo and behold I had the shits! Just what the doctor ordered. That toilet observation window (see pic in previous post) would have been most unwelcomed had my wife been sharing the room with me – why was it there, I often wondered, who wants a window on people taking a dump? Fortunately I was alone so in many ways the TV was on but nobody was watching. In short a broken night led to chronic weariness the following day. I lolled about and slept until around 11.30am when I got my act together enough to extend my check-out by a couple of hours and then went back to my room to pack: tiresome at the best of times, much worse when under the weather.

After checking out and ordering a cab to the airport for later – I was flying out of Rio at 1055pm – there was nothing left to do other than to find somewhere to crash and this meant one of the sunloungers by the pool, the business centre and then some easy chairs adjacent to the first floor Atlantico restaurant, which might have been the cause of the problem (there was no way of really knowing). While I never drank tap water I did clean my teeth with it and I used the water from the mains to wash and shower, it could have been that although I was hardly going to wash simply by tipping loads of small bottles of mineral water over my head; or it could have the fresh fruit, which I'm guessing was rinsed in water. Who knows? The long and the short of it was that I was weary I couldn't really risk finding myself at the top of Corcovado in need of a toilet, so first I sat in the business centre reading Ayn Rand, then I moved to the poolside where I lay for a couple of hours until around 5pm when I found the wonderful sofa covered in cushions (see pic above). I set the alarm on my iphone for 7pm, and then having fallen asleep, I awoke and just lie there for 10 minutes or so until the time was right to find my car to the airport. I was feeling alright, but I was weak and tired and things weren't going to get any better.

In the cab, I gazed out of the window onto the busy streets of Rio. It was busy, there was a lot of traffic but eventually I reached the airport, bade farewell to my driver and set about the boring and tedious process of going through security. I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the name Richard Reeve I feel like reaching for my revolver. Once through I discovered that Rio airport was a pretty sparse place: a couple of awful food outlets and and duty free shop and that was it and the last thing I wanted to do was risk another bout of stomach problems so, having not eaten all day, I continued to fast and eventually it was time to board the plane. Unlike the journey out when I was sitting in seat 37b (the exit door row so plenty of leg room) I was now in seat C30, an aisle seat, so I had plenty of room (for just one of my legs, the right one). Fortunately seat 29 C in front of me was unoccupied and offered plenty of leg room as there was no seat 28C (just 28A and 28B). I asked the steward if I could change seats and he said I could. Result!

This stark shot of Rio airport sums up how I felt...
For the next nine hours I slept – or rather dozed – and didn't give a damn about the odd bit of turbulence, which the pilot later apologised for, stating that it might have helped passengers who were trying to sleep. He was right in a way, the 'gentle rocking' as he described it over the intercom prior to landing, did help and with only 1hr, 59 minutes left of the flight I found myself awake. I listened to Brian Eno and Karl Hyde's album High Life but was bored by the start of track two and switched to Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Edward Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory (highly appropriate as we approached the UK) before deciding to watch Top Gear, a kind of 'best of' entitled something like Ambitious but Rubbish, it was brilliant, and soon we landed at Terminal Five Heathrow where a car was waiting to take me home. When I got there, nobody was in and I had to wait around 10 minutes before I could get in and now, here I am.

No cycling today, I didn't think it wise, but I'll be back on the bike tomorrow morning without fail especially if the weather is as good as it was this morning, although it's clouded over now and is bloody cold...compared with the weather in Rio! Remember, it was 33 degrees, not the pathetic 8 degrees it is here in London.

Friday, 20 March 2015

A few more images from my brief time in Rio de Janeiro

Yours truly on Copacabana Beach, Monday 16 March 2015

Room 656, Sofitel Copacabana Beach – note toilet observation window

This view from room 656 of the Sofitel Copacabana

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

My last night in Rio...

It's odd. Odd to think that I can actually sit here, in my hotel room, and write that I've just had dinner, al fresco, looking out on to Copacabana Bay, the light sea breeze, the music from a live band playing no more than a few feet away and, well, that's it. Incredible. And all thanks to the wonders of air travel. Odder still, perhaps, to consider that this time tomorrow I'll be arriving at Rio's international airport ready to embark upon an eleven hour flight home to London.

Copacabana Bay from the Sofitel's Atlantico restaurant
Before I flew here I was in two minds about the place. I'd heard bad things about crime and let's not for one minute suggest that there isn't any crime here; there is, but, touch wood, so far, I've not experienced anything and I hope I don't. For me, however, the key thing is the weather. It's been 33 degrees here and, at an early hour it's been at least 25 degrees. You really can't go wrong, especially when you consider it's March. March! I dread to think about the weather back home, but when I left Heathrow it was drizzly and grey. Now there's a phrase: 'drizzly and grey'. But it sums up the United Kingdom both in terms of the people and the climate. Horrible! I always feel a million times better in the sunshine and we don't get enough of it in the UK.

Asparagus soup...
 So, I've been sitting in the Atlantico restaurant looking out over the bay, listening to the music, breathing in the fresh sea air, eating wonderful, fresh, exotic fruits, it's been incredible and let's not forget that during the day I've been working. And I'm serious about that: I've been working. Even tonight, after the business was officially over, I sat here in front of my lap top working until around 1930hrs before considering dinner. And now I'm back, it's 2039hrs and I'm sitting at my desk, in front of the laptop, writing this blogpost. If you've been reading my posts you'll know that I'm in two minds about what to do tomorrow and a lot of it hinges on what happens with the hotel. I have to check out by noon, which means I can enjoy a leisurely breakfast – fresh papaya, fresh mango, fresh melon, wonderful fruit juices and, of course, an Earl Grey tea – before working out what to do regarding a possible late check-out. I'll need one as my flight home doesn't leave until 2255hrs. That means I need to be at the airport at and, therefore, I've got the whole day in Rio. The thing is I've also got my suitcase and laptop and what the hell do I wear? I know, that sounds a bit girly, but there's no option other than shorts and a tee-shirt here in Rio but if I've got nowhere to change, like in a hotel room, then I might find myself arriving at Heathrow in the same shorts and tee shirt and the chances are the shorts (which are basically trunks) will be wet from a swim in the sea (if the weather's hot that's definitely what I'm doing and I'd like a dip in BOTH hotel pools too if possible).
Sea bass main course.

While having dinner and listening to the band and staring out on Copacabana Bay I watched people playing football and was reminded of the old cliché about Brazilian footy players and how they all start by playing on the beach. Well, one thing I will say is that the standard of the basic 'jumpers for goal posts' game over here is at the top of the curve. I mean seriously good football. Not that I know much about the 'beautiful game' but I guess I know enough to spot decent players even if I am watching from a distance of over 500 yards (and it's dark).

It's odd. That's the second time I've said that, but it IS odd. There's all this talk about high crime rates and how things can literally kick off at any second and at any place, but people wander around outside of the hotel, they play footy on the beach, ride bikes along the cycle lane skirting the beach, wander alone or with pals, nobody seems too worried, but that's not to say there aren't problems...there are BIG problems. As for me, well, I've stayed in basically. I have been to the beach and swam in the sea and it was fine, but I haven't gone for a wander as I might have done in mainland Europe or the USA. Fortunately the hotel offers me everything I need so why wander out? Which brings me back to my planned trip. I'll have to organise whatever I decide to do tomorrow because, for some reason, every night I've been here (apart from Sunday when I arrived) I've gone to bed early and by that I mean before 9pm. And here I am again, it's 2053hrs and I'm thinking about getting some kip.

Fresh fruit salad...
Dinner was great: asparagus soup followed by sea bass and then a fresh fruit salad with passion fruit sorbet. Wonderful! And let's not forget the Malbec and the still mineral water – it was all good. I'm starting to yawn, the air con is full on and needs to be turned down and I need to get ready for tomorrow (it's going to be a long day unfortunately).

Hopefully I will do something, but it all depends on what the hotel says about me extending my welcome. Currently check-out is noon, which might be okay, but I'd like to have access to a room for most of the day, otherwise I'm just camping out all day and that won't do, will it?

What to do on my last day in Rio?

On Copacabana Beach this morning...25 degrees at 0830.
I've been thinking about taking a trip and there's a lot of stuff available according to the concierge. He's given me a sheet of paper detailing all the trips available and the problem with some of them is that I just don't have the time. There's a number of trips marked as 'Rio by boat' and this includes Angra dos Reis – a full day tour to the 'beautiful islands of the Angra Bay, stops for swimming in transparent clear waters. Lunch included.' Sounds good, but it lasts for 13 hours meaning that I'd probably just get back in time to catch my flight. Actually, it's not a bad call. It leaves the hotel at 0715hrs, so add 13 to that and that's 2015hrs. I take off around 2200hrs...hmmm. it's possible but if there are problems I might miss the flight so perhaps not.

Then there's Rio by Boat. A boat ride into the Guanabara Bay and part of Copacabana Bay (that's where I'm located). This is only five hours from 0810hrs, meaning I'd get back around 1pm. That's definitely possible. I'll steer clear of the jet ski ride (too dangerous and too expensive), the Rio boat club trip involves dancing (not my scene at all and besides it's only on Monday and Saturday) and then there's a private speed boat ride that takes four hours but it's a little pricey for my budget and besides, I'm warming to another day like Monday just hanging around on the beach, having a swim and then lounging by the pool reading Ayn Rand.

A statue of a musician on the beach...
 The land-based trips are all relatively short. There's a trip to Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer, another trip to Sugarloaf mountain, this is what I've seriously been considering, and then there's a combined trip to Sugarloaf and to Corcovado. Lastly a trip to Petropolis – the Imperial City and billed as a 'nice place to visit' as it 'fascinates the visitors due to its historical treasures'.

There are a couple of daily jeep tours to the Tijuca Forest (three hours) and Santa Teresa and downtown, the latter being an exploration of cobbled streets and the neighbourhood's 'unique architectural styles' and the stunning views of the city. The Tijuca Forest is the biggest urban forest in the world and one of the last remnants of Atlantic rain forest.

It all sounds interesting and I'm sorely tempted to check out Sugarloaf mountain as it's only four hours from 0810hrs, meaning I'll be back in time for my flight. But equally, Rio by boat sounds good and failing that the only option is purely to take life a little easy, get some work done, perhaps have a swim in the sea like on Monday and then chill by the pool. One might argue that, having flown all this way to the other side of the world, I should really do something like visit Sugarloaf mountain, visit Tijuca Forest or Santa Teresa and downtown. It would be a sin to do nothing as who knows when I'll be back here again, possibly never. I've already chilled on the beach and by the pool.

Hopefully I'll get another swim in tomorrow morning
Apparently if you visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer you're supposed to make a wish and it's likely to come true, I'm told. I've got many wishes so perhaps if just one of them becomes true, things will be alright. I think I've made up my mind...but then again, I'm not sure. Everybody goes to Corcovado but I wonder how many visit the Tijuca Forest or Santa Teresa? I've not got long to decide and, let's face it, just hanging around on the beach might be a good thing too. I could hire a bike, ride around the bay, then take a dip, have lunch...but because my flight is at the ridiculous time of 2255hrs I could probably do everything...although I'll need a late check-out. Now there's something I didn't think about when I was booking this trip. I can't do anything about that, however, until tomorrow morning...after breakfast, of course.

Another shot of Copacabana Beach...and why not?

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Relaxing in Rio – sea, sun and sunloungers...

View from room 656, Sofitel Rio de Janeiro
Sunday was a tiring day spent mostly in the air. I got a reasonable sleep and hit the breakfast room shortly after writing the last blog post and it was really then that I realised I was in Rio de Janeiro. It's that whole thing about being in the UK one minute and then finding myself on the other side of the world. I'd left behind a drizzly, cloudy, miserable country and suddenly I was looking out from the hotel's first floor breakfast room on to the Atlantic Ocean, the South Atlantic Ocean. There was sunshine and, as always in a foreign country known for its wonderful climate, a lovely scented smell in the air.

At 0700hrs it was hot. Hot enough to go for a swim in the sea, although I left it until I'd enjoyed a decent breakfast. And that's something else I love about hot places: I can rest assured that the breakfast will consist of exotic fruits and fruit juices. Brazil didn't disappoint. I had a couple of dishes of fresh melon, papaya, kiwi fruit, you name it, plus similarly exotic fruit juices and there was even a decent cup of tea, which, believe me, is unusual in a foreign country. I enjoyed a Twinings Earl Grey tea without milk. There was, of course, bread – or rather breads – and a range of cooked items, but I have a new rule: no cooked breakfasts. I've had my fill of sausages and bacon and anything fried and I try to stick to healthy stuff.

Breakfast over I took a stroll around outside the hotel. I was wary of Rio's high crime rate but around the hotel things seemed to be alright. There's a cycle track that runs around the entire bay and I can hire a bike for around 25 Reals, which is about a fiver. I might do this, but I might not as I can also take a tour to the Sugarloaf mountain, although I'm not planning that until Thursday, the day I fly back to London.

The view looking down from room 656
So, there are lots of people around and they're all wearing shorts and tee shirts and jogging along the beachfront or riding bikes or sitting on the beach, some are swimming in the sea. The beach is wondeful: there are golden sands and everything you can imagine. I've taken a couple of shots of yours truly on the beach, which, at the time of writing I can't upload because I don't have the special lead needed to complete the task.

There are lots of people standing on and paddling surfboards, it's the new craze. They're slightly bigger surfboards that the conventional type – much wider – but I see a lot of novices falling off and then having a devil of a job getting back on again. The sea, however, is calm, it's a safe bay and after finding myself a sun lounger (courtesy of the hotel, which owns a small collection of them) I sit there for a while and then head for the sea. The water is warm and, in all honesty, this really is heaven. It's something I've needed for a very long time: to swim in the sea again. I can't remember when I last did it, but it was probably in the cold and grim waters off the coast of Felpham on England's south coast.

I swam up and down for about half an hour, treading water, floating and enjoying warmth of the sea and the beautiful scented air and then I got out, dried myself and wandered back to the hotel where, in a short while, lunch awaited me.
Another swimming pool adjacent to the Atlantico restaurant

The beachfront is separated by a cycle track and a fairly busy road, but it's easy to cross and all was well. As mentioned, there is a cycle hire shop next to the hotel and, I discovered, an entire mall, which in some ways reminded me of Montreal and the huge mall 'underneath' the Hyatt Regency. This one is smaller an quieter and the shops weren't that appealing so I moved on.

Last night at the cocktail reception for the conference I'm attending somebody remarked that the quality of the food in the hotels wasn't as good as it is outside, but that most people were worried about the crime in Rio and so stayed in the hotels. Well, the food here at the Sofitel was wonderful. I had the option of an a la carte menu or the buffet and chose the latter. The food was wonderful: beautifully cooked rice, beef, fish, vegetables, I had one of everything plus a glass of wine and some much needed mineral water.

Copacabana beach from the hotel's Atlantico restaurant
In the afternoon, I found time for Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, this huge brick of a book that I've been slowly reading over the past few months. It's good. I found myself a sun lounger by one of the hotel's two swimming pools and then at 1800hrs, after a pleasant shower, donned suit trousers, a shirt and tie – which seemed out of place in the heat – and went to the aforementioned cocktail reception where, incidentally, I actually saw cocktails. Normally the word 'cocktail reception' is used but there are never any cocktails. I opted for beer, cold beer and, of course there were the canapés and then I headed for my room. It was only 2000hrs but I was tired, not jet-lagged, and decided to hit the sack.

Right now it's 0630hrs, I need to get ready for breakfast. The problem now, of course, is that I know people from last night's reception, which means I might not be able to take breakfast alone. I hope I can. Better go, talk again later...

View from the 1st floor Atlantico restaurant