Monday, 27 August 2012

Cycling pix from Andy's ride

Woldingham near the railway station. Nice shot.
The Ridge between Gangers Hill and Botley Hill. Love the sun rays.

Camping's not for me...

Andy's Blast and yours truly on Westerham Green.
First, don't say I haven't tried. In 2009 I spent over £200 on a tent. Alright, it was an eight-man tent and we didn't need it to be so big, but there you have it: a Eurohike Buckingham from Millets. It's so heavy when packed up that I can barely lift it to the car. But lifting it is nothing compared to putting it up. The first time was in the New Forest and I managed to get help from friends; the second time, the same (help from friends) but for me one of the big daunting things about going camping is erecting the tent. I should have bought something smaller. A four-man tent would have sufficed, but no, I had to go and buy a huge tent instead – and, of course, I'm paying for it. Big time!

The Eurohike Buckingham – it's going on Ebay.
But that's not all that's wrong with camping. My view is this: I'm happy to go camping if, say, I'm walking the Pennines with a tent on my back and some de-hydrated food in the rucksack. I'm happy to pitch a smallish, one- or two-man tent in a field, miles from civilization and camp under the stars en route to my end destination if there's no B&Bs or small hotels in the vicinity. That's fine, but why make camping a recreational activity beyond that? Where is the holiday in pitching a huge tent in a field alongside loads of other huge tents and then, when you need a leak in the middle of the night you have to unzip the tent door and stand around in misty, dewey, damp night air taking a wazz. Fortunately, I'm a bloke. A woman would have a little more aggravation. Perhaps that's why you rarely hear of women going outside the tent at night for a wee. I can't think of any occasions.

Equestrian sports at the Edenbridge & Oxted Show
Then, there's having a wash and a shower: you can't just stay put, you have to walk 100 yards or more to the washrooms, which, invariably, are full of unflushed toilets, used bandages and horrible smells. And now I've noticed a new thing: people emptying out what can only be described as 'toilet buckets' somewhere – presumably down the toilets in the washrooms. Yes, you can see people, in their dressing gowns, holding a plastic bucket full of shit, en route to the same washroom where you're planning to have a wash and shave. They look at you knowingly as they pass and might even say something like, 'I'm not relishing this job'. No, I bet you're not, so why make a holiday out of it?
Motorcycle stunt riders in action

I just don't get it, but I try until the other big stumbling block, that particularly affects me, hits hard: disorganisation. I wish I was like my pal. He's so organised it hurts! Always has been and it's a great quality. I envy him. Me? I'm just not like that.

When I realised that camping was game on I just got the tent out of the attic, shoved it and a few sleeping bags into the back of the car and drove to Corfe Castle. I only packed a double airbed - for my wife and daughter – I forgot that my daughter might have out-grown her child-size sleeping bag and I just hadn't counted on the fact that they both hate camping.

Classic cars – there were quite a few Triumphs
Night one: no way was I getting any sleep and neither was my daughter. She was cold and uncomfortable and decided it best just not to talk for the entire time we were away – which was not for long. A rain-drenched day walking around Swanage followed. My daughter wore a long face and didn't smile or talk. She didn't eat anything either. She wanted out and so did my wife. Admittedly I did too and had said as much the night before, but I figured that an airbed would solve my issues and that a full-sized bag for my daughter would solve her's. But no, they both wanted out and so we had to leave after just one night.

I drove home through driving rain, reached the house by around 10pm and then spent Saturday doing mundane things like shopping and drying out the tent on the back lawn (it's now in the garage awaiting another session of drying, hopefully today, although rain is promised). Generally, I feel bad about coming away when all I needed to do was buy a sleeping bag and an airbed, but my wife and daughter were not prepared to make that the solution and besides, I'm well in the red financially and couldn't cope with even a smallish purchase like a sleeping bag and air bed. Even if I had bought them, the pressure was on to just come home and I've spent the weekend occasionally wimpering about the whole thing. Still, you live and learn and we all made a decision: no more camping.

Birds of prey aplenty – I think it's an eagle, not sure
To add to our woes, while we were away, some nob cheese climbed over the side gate, broke into the garage and stole one of our mountain bikes. Unfortunately for whoever it was, the bike in question was not in good nick and was virtually useless (as I'm sure he or she discovered). The police were called and, of course, we can get money off the insurance for the stolen bike. Amazingly, my top-of-the-range Kona was still there – because it was padlocked (thank the Lord!). My daughter's bike, which was unpadlocked, was still there too. Perhaps they didn't want a girl's bike.
Alpacas too!

Being home, meant that I could re-instate my planned ride with Andy. We met early (at 7am on Warlingham Green) and headed for Westerham where we did what we always do: drink tea and munch on cereal bars before heading back home.

Cycling is good as it often gives you ideas for things to do over the weekend. In my case, the Edenbridge and Oxted Show, which was frequently advertised along the roadside, seemed like a good idea so I set off with the mother-in-law, wife and daughter to Lingfield for what proved to be an amazing day out. We got there around 3pm and entered the showground where there was a load of stuff to do: classic cars, motorcycle stunt teams, equestrian stuff involving stuffy-looking toffs riding around in seemingly period costume, hoping for a place in the Horse of the Year Show, which I'm assuming is later in the year. There was a flower show, prize vegetables, plenty of exhibition stands, a fairground, prize cows, rabbits and chickens, cake competitions, you name it, the Edenbridge & Oxted Show had it. We had a tremendous day and the whole thing was rounded off with a takeaway curry. In other words, all's well that ends well.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Andy goes it alone to Westerham

Andy's Kona Blast resting against Churchill's statue, Sunday 19th Aug 2012
To be honest, I've been feeling fatigued and sleepy. It's probably got a lot to do with flying back from Atlanta and not really taking it that easy. I'd planned to avoid cycling on Saturday, but had every intenton of riding to Westerham on Sunday – but it was a hot night and I got very little sleep and around 5am in the morning I sent the infamous 'abort' text.

Andy, however, did go out, and here's the photographic evidence.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Saying goodbye to Atlanta and coming home...

Well, it was time to head home and the prospect of a night flight was pretty daunting. Why? Because I can't sleep on planes and it means foregoing a night's sleep. I was flying on BA226 from Atlanta to London Heathrow and, well, it was horrible.

For a start, turbulence. I hate turbulence, but it never seems to bother ANYONE else on the plane. Other passengers happily carry on conversation, read newspapers, even queue for the toilets, while I grip hard on the seat in front of me and sweat profusely. Cloud normally brings turbulence and that's another reason why I don't like night flights: I can't see the clouds out there. I only choose a window seat because I like to see what's going on. And if there's turbulence, by looking out of the window (during the day) I can at least comfort myself with the knowledge that the plane is in an upright position.

The problem with a window seat, of course, is that your general freedom is curtailed. If you want to get up and stretch your legs, you tend not to, because you don't want to disturb your fellow passengers, who, invariably, are asleep. How can they sleep? So I sat there, feeling very uncomfortable throughout the journey.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, there were quite a few bumpy bits coming over and then, when we reached the airspace over Heathrow, we had to circle a dozen or so times before landing. I took the Express into Paddington, then the Bakerloo to Victoria and a train home, where, thankfully, a lift awaited me. I've had a nap and now I ought to be heading off to bed, but I've got to finish my blog coverage of the trip and this is it.

Here, then, is a collection of photos with brief explanations of what they are.

Inside Tap, a real ale bar on Peachtree and 14th, Atlanta.
The photo on the left was taken in Tap, a gastro pub in Atlanta on Peachtree and 14th. It was here that my pal Sean Seymour, his fiance Joan and myself met for a lunch time beer on the day I flew back to Atlanta. There's some good beers here, both local brews and foreign stuff – even Old Speckled Hen from the UK. Bombardier too and, of course, Guinness from Ireland. But the best beers were the locally brewed varieties from companies such as Sweetwater, to name but one. Very, very nice beers and I could have sat there all afternoon enjoying a few more.

Tap's blackboard menu.
In fact, the next photograph shows a blackboard of special beers, including Old Speckled Hen. There's also an extensive list of other beers, a kind of beer menu, and there's food available too.

What I loved about Atlanta was the climate: it was hot and according to most of the people I spoke to out there, the weather's always good. They tend not to get snow, but can get ice during the winter months (December through March) but by March the weather is normally good again.

A shot of Peachtree, opposite Tap.
The Marta – I wouldn't take it late at night.
The shot on the left is of a general street scene at Peachtree and 14th, just across the road from Tap. You can see the bright sunshine and can just imagine how most people have a bright outlook as a result. Is it no wonder that in places were there is very little sunlight - think northern Scandinavia and Alaska – there are drink-related social issues? In the UK this year, we've had very little in the way of summer and it's depressing. I was feeling decidedly upbeat in Atlanta, mainly because of the sunny weather. it makes you feel good.

More of a tea 'sack' than a tea 'bag'.
I've mentioned the Marta in a previous post and ok, it doesn't have a brilliant press and people I spoke to said if you ride it, just don't catch people's eye. Well, there are a few 'undesirables' riding the Marta but it's the cheapest way to get from one end of town to the other, especially the airport, so I took it from Lenox, using a Breeze card. I didn't encounter any problems.

Whenever I fly off anywhere I always get to the airport miles too early and spend my time shuffling around the terminal looking in shop windows, flicking through books and then having a coffee somewhere. I stopped at a place on Atlanta airport, beyond passport control, and ordered a grilled chicken roll and a cup of tea. What amazed my about the tea was the size of the teabag – not so much a tea 'bag', but more a tea 'sack'. Just look at the size of it (see pic).
This shot sums up Atlanta for me: sunshine and skyscrapers

Tap is located at the junction with Peachtree St and 14th.
And that just about rounds up my trip to Montreal and Atlanta. They were both great cities for different reasons and while I liked Montreal because you could literally walk for miles and ride for miles too, Atlanta had the weather and I've always loved the Americans. The best hotel of the trip was the Holiday Inn, Montreal, but the best service went to the Marriott where the front desk staff were simply excellent – friendly, helpful and prepared to go out on a limb for their guests. The Holiday Inn offered free wifi in the rooms, which was great. Having to trek down to the reception to use my laptop was a bit of a pain.

Postscript: One thing I NEVER saw in Montreal, by the way, was a Kona bicycle. Everything else: Trek, Specialized and so on, but no Kona bikes. Why? That's a question for the guys at Kona (it's a Canadian bike company).

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Rain stops my I'm off to the mall

I had planned to take a dip in the Atlanta Marriott's outdoor pool, but it was raining this morning and has only just stopped. The rain, of course, has cooled things down a little, which is good, but I'm now checked out of the hotel and at a loose end until I fly off later on today. So, I'm sitting in the hotel reception area, considering a walk across to the Lenox Mall and then I might stroll down to Peachtree and 14th where there's a bar called Tap. I'm going to meet Sean for a quick beer. He's at work so it's a lunchtime drink, and then I'll probably hit the mall again before getting the Marta down to the airport.

Marriott Atlanta reception looking out on Lenox.
I know, I was told that the Marta attracts a lot of undesirable types and yes, it does, but it's fast and it takes me straight to the airport. The alternative is an expensive cab ride. I haven't actually checked how much the cab will cost, but I'm guessing around $50 or more so the Marta it is!

The rain's stopped, but it's a little cloudy out there, but still warm. There's something unappealing about swimming in the rain so I didn't bother. Shame as it would have rounded off the trip. I couldn't cycle here as there are no Bixi bike equivalents. Or rather there might be, but they'll be downtown and I'm in Buckhead.

The mall is appealing, though. Might get a coffee and a bun and do a spot of people watching. Or I could stroll down to Peachtree and 14th. Not sure, but either way, I'm now going to sign off. The photograph accompanying this post is of the hotel's reception area – or a bit of it.

Monday, 13 August 2012

On second thoughts...

... I might have been a little harsh on Atlanta. My pal and former work colleague Sean Seymour, by a strange coincidence, now lives over here so we agreed to meet up for dinner. He kindly paid, which was nice, and he brought along his fiance, who is American. She told me that the Marta was a bit wayward as far as the passengers are concerned – I'll be cabbing it back to the airport – but that generally Atlanta was fine, especially the district where my hotel was located, which is the business district of town.
Atlanta's business district at night.

We went out to Houston's, a steak restaurant down the road from the hotel. That's one big problem with being here: meat! I've eaten nothing but (and the same in Montreal) and today was no exception. I might meet Sean again tomorrow for lunch as I've got a day just hanging around waiting for a BA flight  that leaves around 2100hrs, arriving back in the UK at 1000hrs. I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

I've just come back from Phipps' Mall, a mall full of big names: Versace, Jimmy Choo, all the big brands. I bought a cheap pair of trunks purely because it's 100deg F and there's an outdoor pool upstairs somewhere. After that I'll probably meet Sean and then start thinking about making tracks to the airport.

Right now I'm in the hotel reception and it's nearly 9.25pm. In the UK it's nearly 2.25am in the morning – so I can't call anybody. I'm considering a beer before bedtime, but then again I'm thinking no, just go to bed, watch a bit of TV and take it easy, so that's what I'm going to do.

In Atlanta...pronounced 'Atlanna'

On board the Delta flight from Montreal to 
Atlanta, 12 August 2012
I flew out of Montreal on a Delta flight. The flight time was just two hours and 49 minutes, which was great as, for some reason, I was expecting it to be much longer. On the flight I got chatting to a guy who runs a transport company out of Nashville, Tennessee, and he told me that if I was staying in Buckhead, which I was, that I could get the Marta.

The Marta is a train and yes, it goes straight to Buckhead, so I thanked him for the advice and off he went to catch a connecting flight to Nashville (it's about 45 minutes in the air from Atlanta).

Atlanta airport is huge and when we eventually stopped at a gate it all got a little confusing as the baggage reclaim was on the other side of the airport. Coming from Canada, I didn't have to go through passport control, which was good, but at the time (this was yesterday) I thought it a bit odd.
I'm sorry, Mr Marriott, people don't need so many pillows.

Anyway, I had to get a train to the baggage reclaim but when I got there, my bag was already on the carousel, which was cool. So, bags in hand, I jumped on to a shuttle bus that took me around the perimeter of the airport to the Marta and then out to Buckhead.

Then it all got a little worrying. There were some strange and some would say undesirable characters on the Marta (some guy with loads of tattoos who looked decidedly dodgy) and then, when I got off, more shady characters of the rapper variety hanging around on street corners asking for money. Mildly intimidating when you're carrying a heavy suit carrier and a laptop and have an English accent. I was forming a poor opinion of Atlanta and wondering whether I'd be holed up in my room for the rest of the trip.

The view from my Atlanta Marriott hotel – not as good as
the Holiday Inn, Midtown, Montreal.
The first thing I noticed about Atlanta was the heat. It's 100 degrees F here – that's hot – and it gets hotter apparently. But combine the heat with the rappers and it all gets a little oppressive, although I was told that it's a pretty safe city.

I went to Shula's, the hotel restaurant, and ordered tuna steaks and a glass of Sweetwater beer, a local brew (and very nice too) and then I sat outside, yes, you heard me, I sat outside, in the heat, and watched the closing ceremony of the Olympics. What the hell was Brian May doing entertaining Jessie J? Anyway, beer, food and back to the room for a well-earned sleep and then up at 7am to have breakfast and go off to meet the subject of my interview.

I was going to moan about the Marriott. I was going to mention that breakfast here is $17!!! And they expected a tip! This morning's breakfast was the first really healthy one, consisting of fresh fruit (strawberries, melon and pineapple, followed by yoghurt, a slice of Danish pastry and a cup of tea). But I was going to moan. I was going to moan about the number of pillows on the bed, the loud colour scheme (which is sported by Marriotts the world over) AND the fact that WiFi ain't free in the room (although it is in public areas like the bar where I write this now).

This view from the 20th floor of my interviewee's office was
pretty good, though!!!
The Holiday Inn in Montreal was better: Free WiFi, breakfast was free and so was the vibe. The Marriott is corporate and I don't like it. Also the service at the restaurant in the Marriott was poor: I and other guests were left standing around wondering what to do rather than being met by somebody who directed us to tables and so on. So I wasn't happy, but the reason I'm not going to moan about them is this: other than the service yesterday night in Shula's, the front desk has been really helpful and friendly – so all is forgiven.

This isn't the sort of place where you can go cycling and if I had a choice of here or Montreal I'd head back to Montreal. It's calmer, people are happier (or they seem to be) and there's no rat race to speak of. In addition, the scenery's better and there are no rappers standing around on street corners asking for money.

Yeah, all round, give me Montreal over Atlanta, but I'm here until 9pm tomorrow night before I fly home, so perhaps my view will change. I might need a swim in the open air pool tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

At Montreal airport...

I arrived at the airport far too early at 11am, having checked in on-line from my hotel room. Why so early? Well, I got up early, had some breakfast followed by a one-hour walk (30 minutes each way) along Sherbrooke.

Montreal is an amazing city and one of the great things about it is the lack of traffic. The roads are virtually empty, like they used to be in the UK back in the seventies. Sherbrooke is an interesting road too. Nearer the centre of town it's where you'll find the Hilton and the Holiday Inn and a few others, the Opus being another, not forgetting the Ritz Carlton, but if you venture out and, as I did, turn left out of the Holiday Inn heading in the direction of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, the landscape changes dramatically. The office blocks disappear and suddenly you find yourself in an exclusive and very peaceful environment. Not only no cars – seriously, hardly any – but there are quiet suburban streets and elegant apartment blocks.

After walking for 30 minutes, I turned left and found myself in a street full of boutiques and coffee shops. I was tempted to linger awhile and perhaps I should have as I ended up taking a cab to the airport and now here I am, eating a chicken sandwich with fries and drinking tea. I could have left it at least another two hours, but I'm here now.

This hangs from one of the ceilings in the public
area of Montreal Airport.
The sun's shining, the skies are blue, with a few clouds dotted here and there and I'm about to drink some broken Orange Pekoe (for the first time since 1987 while in India). It's a black tea, basically, just like English breakfast. Anyway, my flight leaves at 1525hrs and – much to my delight – the flight duration is only two hours and 49 minutes. I've got a window seat too, which is good.

On the cycling front, I'm not holding out much hope of a ride around Atlanta, but I might be pleasantly surprised. Yesterday we cycled around Montreal on the Bixi bikes, I was reminded of David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries, which have been mentioned on this blog before. Byrne takes a foldable bike with him whenever he travels or tours with his band and he always gets around the cities he visits using pedal power. I'll have to check out what he has to say about Montreal and whether it tallies with my experiences – except that Montreal isn't covered by Byrne. Perhaps he's considering a follow-up book of further adventures.

Airports are funny places, they're always so sparsely populated and grey. There's something very calming about an airport: rows of empty seats and deserted thoroughfares with occasional flurries of activity around foodservice outlets, like Houston's, where I'm sitting now having finished that chicken sandwich and fries. I had beef soup as a starter, which turned out to be a meal in itself – a stew no less –and now I'm writing this post and sipping on my aforementioned Orange Pekoe tea.

Chicken sandwich with fries at Houston's on Montreal 
Airport – beyond passport control.
Airports, of course, are the hubs of the international world where brands like Toblerone rule supreme. What is it about the international world that's so weird? It's a world of its own in a sense, that exists between security and the departures gate. All the merchandise is tacky, but ubiquitous, and I'm sure that there are people who try to capitalise on this strange and transient world. Whenever I find myself in the international world, there's always Toblerone and then in a brochure in the hotel room, perhaps, an advertisement for the Blue Man Group, a band of baldmen who have painted themselves blue and do something, I know not what, but they've managed to gain similar status to Toblerone and other 'international' brands, like U2, Apple and many others. In the same way that all countries have a central bank and a national airline, perhaps there's some rule that says all nations must have a Blue Man Group – or do the original band simply tour a lot? It just seems to me that whenever I'm in a hotel room, anywhere in the world, flicking through the free entertainment guide, the Blue Man Group are virtually guaranteed to be playing somewhere. Perhaps there's a prize for anybody who turns up to a Blue Man Group gig with a Toblerone, a U2 CD and an iPod.

The international world disappears while you're in the air – unless you take a glance at the in-flight magazine's duty free brochure where all those horrible international brands can be found again, except, perhaps, the Blue Man Group, although if there is just one Blue Man Group, perhaps they'll be travelling to another country. They only disappear when you're back on terra firma, in your own country, where they seem to keep their distance, apart from occasional reminders from those 'international' entertainment brands, like Dame Edna and, more recently, Sacha Baron Cohen who is well and truly gunning for Toblerone status.

I'm rambling now, because I've got nothing else to do, although it's neary 2pm so I'd better go look for my plane to Atlanta. I've just discovered that it won't depart until 1605hrs.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Another Bizarro cartoon...

See post below this one for details of my ride around Montreal on a so-called Bixi was great!

Cycling around Montreal, Canada...a long way from Westerham

Yours truly with his Bixi bike in downtown Montreal
 on 11 August 2012
Nothwithstanding a walk around town early this morning, punctuated as it was by a pleasant breakfast in the aforementioned Presse Café, I resolved to take on a Bixi bike and cycle around Montreal. Now for all of you out there thinking it's dangerous, remember you're basing your assumptions on London and how rubbish it is; this, on the other hand, is totally different. Yes, there's traffic, but nowhere near as much as in London or, in fact, in the UK as a whole.

My Bixi bike down by the harbour. Well worth a ride.
I picked up my Bixi across the road from the hotel and then, after the usual faffing about with getting the bike out of its dock, off I went. I hasten to add that my pal Ken from the office was with me; he, in fact, used his credit card to get the bikes on the road and I later paid for lunch.

We headed off along Sherbrooke and then hung a right into the quieter, more leafier streets, riding for a good mile before turning left and heading west in parallel with Sherbrooke but some way further down. It was very pleasant and very European too. Remember that everybody here speaks French and that there are some language barriers; even those who can speak English find themselves requesting that we slow down so they can understand us. It's really odd being in Canada and finding that everybody speaks French.

The streets were quiet and leafy and there were apartments, nice apartments, lots of them with bikes padlocked to wrought iron balustrades running up steep steps towards front doorways. All very quaint and with a pleasant aroma of Southern European cooking – think garlic and seafood.

Down by the river.
While being bang in the centre of Montreal and just a mile or so from Sherbrooke, we could have been in a peaceful suburb miles from anywhere, it was that serene. Montreal certainly offers an appealing lifestyle that I could certainly get used to.

The scenery varied: one minute quiet apartments, the next rows of shops. One minute it was quaint, the next it was slightly downmarket and then we found ourselves in the Latin quarter and decided to stop for a beer, followed by a short ride to Les 3 Brasseurs on Rue Saint Denis for lunch.

Lunch over we headed for the St Lawrence River and then it was simply a case of retracing our steps back to our respective hotels. I had a steep climb up towards Sherbrooke but when I reached it I turned left and headed down towards the Holiday Inn. I wanted to stay out all day so I turned right up University and then right again, coming round, down Hutchison, or it might have been the next road along and back to the Bixi station from where we had hired the bikes.

It had rained earlier on this morning, but had stopped before I hit the streets around 0810hrs and while rain was promised, there was nothing but heat, albeit greyish skies. Looking out of my hotel window, it's still very pleasant out there: warm with a few clouds and no blue skies to speak of, but nice all the same.

I wont say I'm not tired, because I am and there's a temptation to take a nap, but I won't. Instead I'm here writing the blog and considering another walkabout before calling Ken to decide where to go tonight.
The Saint Lawrence River, Montreal, Canada, Saturday August 11th 2012.

Tomorrow I'm flying to Atlanta in Georgia, USA, as I've got an interview there on Monday and then I'm flying home to the UK on Tuesday evening, arriving Wednesday morning.

I'm so glad that I've recorded a bike ride overseas. Whether the same opportunity will present itself in Atlanta, I dont know, but hopefully it will.

I love this cartoon from the newspaper...

Up early for breakfast and a wander around Montreal

Saturday morning around 0815hrs. I stood in the middle 
of the road to take this shot. Isn't life nicer without cars?
The phrase 'wall-to-wall meetings' applied to Friday, but now it's Saturday so officially it's a day off. I was up with lark and wandering around Montreal looking for a café to have breakfast. And to be honest I didn't really find one and ended up going into a place on Sherbrooke, across the road from my hotel.

Now you see it...
What's amazing is that, on a Saturday morning in central Montreal, around a quarter past eight, there's virtually no traffic on the roads. Compare Montreal with London or, dare I say it, even Croydon and check out the pic above for evidence of how quiet things are here.
... now you don't!
So I'm wandering around, I find all the well-known brand names, Claire's Accessories, FCUK, La Senza – yes, even Theo Paphitis has made his mark here – and then I head back up the hill towards Sherbrooke and the Presse Café, which sells a range of pastries and stuff, all the usual fayre you might expect from a coffee shop.

I ordered a cup of tea plus eggs, bacon and toast and while it wasn't the same dimensions as yesterday's mammoth feast downstairs, it was fine and, as you can see from the photos, I finished it, bar a strip or two of bacon. Not bad for just $6.95 with a banana thrown in. The tea, by the way, was much nicer than yesterday's.

Having already walked some distance along Sherbrooke and then down and back up again, this time I headed east (I think) along Sherbrooke (it's a road) and then down into the Latin quarter, back and round again and now I'm back in my hotel.

Shortly, I'll be checking out a Bixi bike. I'll probably ride down to the river and then back again – not that I haven't had my exercise for the day already.

Tomorrow afternoon, I fly down to Atlanta, Georgia with Delta Airlines and then I'm on the red-eye back to the UK, getting back Wednesday morning around 10am.

What's this all about?

An office building named after our former Prime Minister?
I spied this rather odd-sounding office building across the road from that row of Bixi bikes in the previous post.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Everything's the same the world over...

A Montreal Bixi bike, sponsored by Rio Tinto Alcan.
Globalisation? Don't you just hate it? Wherever you go, everything's always the same and here's another example: Boris Bikes – in this case 'Bixi' bikes – but why not? Beats hailing a taxi any day and it's sponsored by Rio Tinto Alcan, a huge mining company and producer of aluminium.

As mentioned in the previous post, it's been raining here the last couple days and it's raining now. My plan is to get out on a Bixi tomorrow, but if the rain persists, even on the other side of the Atlantic, I'll be sending myself an 'abort' text.

It's safer to cycle over here than it is in London. They have the cycle lanes sorted out, but I'll report tomorrow – if the rain eases up.

A whole row of Bixi bikes. 
Bixi, by the way, is a combination of the words 'bicycle' and 'taxi' and the plan for tomorrow, hopefully, is to ride over to the river and back and take in the 'old' part of town, which is full of cobbled streets.

A big breakfast...much needed!

Now you see it...
They say the Americans 'supersize' everything, well, the Canadians do too. But first, I must take back what I said yesterday about the hotel reception area being a bit skanky. After a fairly good night's sleep, I saw the hotel in a different light and discovered I quite liked it. I was going to go out for breakfast, but decided instead to be sensible and use the breakfast vouchers provided. you don't!
The end result was this amazing breakfast, which cost me just five dollars - that's what, £2.50? What did it consist of? Well, there were potatoes, like sauteéd potatoes, then there were two fried eggs, I chose ham, but could have had bacon or sausage and, as you can see, there was a huge pile of fresh fruit too. There was also what I think they call cinnamon toast – very tasty – and the whole lot was washed down with a cup of tea.

Now, the fruit was the only stumbling block for me. I've never been a fan of Hawaiian pizza because of the pineapple and it's that combination of sweet and savoury I don't like. Today, the fruit and the fried eggs? No. But other than that, it was fine and either way I ate the lot. It set me up for the day, which was good.

Weatherwise, it's not so good: driving rain. Amazing! I spend the whole summer in the UK in the rain and then I fly over here and it's more rain and cloud. I'm told it's now sweltering in England.

The view from my Montreal hotel room...

Holiday Inn, Midtown – the view from room 1601
The time is 0724hrs local time and I've got to go and have breakfast – for which they've provided me with a voucher. I thought I'd take a shot of the view from my bedroom window. As you can see, it's pretty cloudy out there, but it's not cold. Apparently, they've been having really good weather here, but now that I've arrived, of course, it's gone and clouded over.

"We'll also look back at what marked the beginning of the end of Creedence Clearwater Revival..."

Yes, even the morning radio is a tad better quality than back home. I'm listening to Canada's Radio 2 and it's, well, lots of good 'cowboys on the trail' outdoorsy music.

Breakfast beckons! Then on goes the suit and I start working – something else that's the same the world over.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Montreal...I've just arrived

The view for the entire journey looked like this...
Well, I say I've just arrived. We touched down, after a good flight of 6.5 hours (all very smooth but lots of cloud in Montreal) around 8.30pm and it's now 10.44pm. In my world, however, it's 0345hrs (UK time) and I should really be hitting the sack.

Staying in the Holiday Inn, Midtown, in the centre of Montreal. Bit of tacky reception area, I thought, and right now, as I sit here blogging, I can't find any powerpoints in the wall so I'm working off the battery, which is almost flat.
...and this!

It's warm here, which is nice. By warm, I mean outside. Obviously it's warm in the hotel. But listen, I really must be getting some sleep as little things are troubling me. The lift is controlled by a card system and it was taking me a heck of a time to work it out. Eventually, somebody told me how to do it and now I'm in my room and the TV's on. I've been flicking through the channels and managed to catch Usain Bolt's 200m win.

Montreal's a strange place. Everybody speaks and sounds French, perhaps because they are French Canadians!

Anyway, got to work tomorrow so I'm signing off. My plan is to hire a bike and ride around town. I'm here until Sunday afternoon so I should get the opportunity. After Montreal, I fly to Atlanta, Georgia.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Two years ago...

Doesn't time fly when you're enjoying yourself! Click here for what we were doing two years ago.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Putting the i in the phrase To Let

Check out those blue skies! Pic taken on Sunday 5th August 2012.
Compared with Saturday's appalling weather, Sunday was just fine (until later on in the day). We decided to cycle to Westerham. The sun was shining, there were blue skies and all was good with the world.

When we reached Westerham green the benches were wet so we stood by Churchill's statute and drank our tea. A man with an old Velocette motorcycle arrived, a black one, and a handful of original Minis drove past.

Our fantasy bike shop was still displaying a To Let sign.

Andy asked, "Is it just me or does everyone have the urge to paint an i in a To Let sign?"
"No, I feel the same way too," I replied.
"That's good. I thought I was the only one."
Less than one hour later...storm clouds over at Andy's.
"The thing is you'd have to do it properly, with stencils and stuff. I think if I won the lottery I'd buy a van, get some stencils and a high visibility jacket – you've got to look the part – and then travel the country doing it."
"Yes, we'd have a great time – pub lunches, staying in a Premier Inn...."
"And I wonder how long it would be before the police stopped us?"
"Not sure, but it wouldn't be a big crime."
"No, because you're not damaging anything other than a To Let board, which is temporary anyway."
"I reckon people wouldn't even notice we were doing it."
"No, and invariably the places we'd be doing it to would be vacant, so we wouldn't be disturbing anybody."
"We'd need ladders."
"Yes, and a decent tool box full of different-sized stencils and tins of spray paint."
"And a Pantone book to match the colour exactly."
"More tea?"

The ride home was good. Andy parted halfway down the 269 and then, as we both approached home – Andy in Caterham and me in Sanderstead – we noted heavy black clouds over London. Fortunately, we both avoided a soaking this time round.

Caught in a downpour at the Tatsfield bus stop

Rapeseed oil fields near Botley Hill on Saturday 4th August 2012.
When I woke up on Saturday morning, it had clearly been raining. Everything had that drenched appearance and even the air seemed damp. The word 'abort' sprang to mind until I realised that it was only 6am and that a lot could happen within an hour. I held back and instead made a cup of tea and sat in front of the computer checking emails and blogs.

By 7am, I was almost ready to go, but was waylaid by this and that and when I finally reached the garage, I found that my bike was concealed behind a huge mattress. We had a new one on our bed and this was the old one, cast out and waiting for the local council to take it away. My bike was behind it and it was unpadlocked. I'd unlocked it earlier in the week, but never went out on it, preferring instead to walk to the pub. But that's another story.

Everything seemed sluggish as I hauled myself and the bike up Church Way. I'd sent a text to Andy explaining that I was running about 15 minutes late and eventually arrived on Warlingham Green at 0740hrs – ten minutes later than my intended time of arrival.

Time was short. I had what turned out to be a pointless appointment at the bank and Andy had to get back too so we headed off for the Tatsfield Bus Stop. The weather was looking alright, but we figured that it might rain and decided that the bus stop was the best place in a storm.

When we got there we sat and chatted about this and that and then, as the weather began to look really murky we watched a recumbent cyclist riding towards us with powerful headlights mounted on his helmet. He stopped to take cover and he told us how he bought the bike because he'd had a slipped disk at the top of his neck and it was easier than riding a conventional bike. He was out on a 30-mile ride.

The strange thing about cycling is that, for years, it's been regarded as a bit nerdy, until recently. Today, a lot of people are taking to riding bikes to save money on train and bus fares into work and because it's a good way of keeping fit. I think the nerdy aspect, however, has transferred from traditional cycling of the two-wheeled variety to recumbent cycling, which I think will always be a bit eccentric, probably because it's just a little too close to the Sinclair C5 for comfort.

The B269 about a mile north of Botley Hill. Note general dampness.
The rain was getting heavier and showing no sign of abating and soon Andy and I were looking at our watches. We decided to head back home regardless of whether or not we were going to get soaked. The conditions were treacherous so we stuck to the off-road path the length of the B269. Andy left halfway along, taking his off-road path towards Wapses Roundabout and I carried straight on. The rain stopped but there were plenty of puddles and the roads were wet.

I stopped halfway along the road and took the two photographs that accompany this post and then powered my way towards Warlingham Green, Sanderstead and home – where a warm shower awaited me.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Westerham and Hosey Common

Westerham on Saturday followed by Hosey Common on Sunday. The original plan for the Sabbath had been Edenbridge, but we're always up against time and the fact that we both have families to be with at the weekends. Don't get me wrong, it's not that we couldn't have got there – to Edenbridge – but there were, surprisingly, some big hills. Turning right just past Westerham Green and up Hosey Hill wasn't easy, but we managed it. There were plenty of woods on either side of the road and, if anything, it was a little bit gloomy.

My Kona at Hosey Common near Westerham, Sunday 29 July 2012.
We'd met on Warlingham Green at 7am instead of 7.30am, which gave us 30 minutes to play with, but when we hit what would have been an amazing downhill ride, the prospect of coming back up didn't appeal, not because we couldn't do it, but because of the time it would take. So we stopped, turned the bikes around and headed back towards Westerham. We had our tea on Hosey Common, in the sun, but both agreed that the green, which was really a car park for the woods, would have been far better with a wooden bus stop like the one at Tatsfield. Still, the weather was good so it didn't really matter.

Going that extra mile or so out of Westerham to Hosey Common was good; much more of a work-out than just going to Westerham and sitting behind the statue of Churchill. But no bench, no bus stop, no cover from the weather would mark it down as a final destination.

Andy said we'd travelled an additional 4.5 miles, making the total journey around 15 miles one way and then 10 back: a total of around 25 miles instead of the usual 22.

It was a good day and a good weekend for cycling and now we're looking forward to next weekend.

• Bradley Wiggins won Gold in the time trials today (1st August 2012). He is now the most decorated British Olympian, with four Golds, one less than Sir Steve Redgrave, but overall the Wigster has more medals. There was also gold for British rowers too.