Well, it is snowing out again! I’d like to be anywhere but southern Alberta. Where would I like to be right now….. hmm. I think I’d like to be in Sardinia, Italy!
Posts Tagged ‘WOW Tours’
By D’Arcy Kavanagh
If you’re looking for a wee escape from life’s non-stop challenges, try the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It’ll take some effort to get there, but it’ll be worth while.
The reasons for making the trip are varied and numerous. First, the 5 ½ ferry ride from Oban on the mainland to Lochboisdale in South Uist passes by some spectacular islands (Mull, Eigg and Rhum among them), leaving you with a distinct feeling that you’re leaving civilization behind. Next, the two Uists – south and north plus neighbouring islands – are not just gloriously remote but remarkably beautiful in a wild, moor-like way. Then there are the people who seem to possess a droll sense of humour about almost everything, especially the “mainland” which is held in some contempt. You’ll also get introduced to island politics with locals praising their region while disparaging – with wit – other islands in the area.
My wife and I do our traveling by bike. Touring the Outer Hebrides by bike isn’t for everyone, given the frequent gloom and rain. However, there’s not a dull kilometre anywhere. Moreover, if enjoying some wild and vacant area that looks like it hasn’t changed in a couple of million years works for you, then these islands should prove fascinating.
Finally, there is the history of the islands. It’s long and rich. Arguably, the most unique story involves a WWII cargo ship that went aground off South Uist. Its main cargo? Hundreds and hundreds of bottles of single malt whiskey. In those days, the region was extremely religious – it still is but to a lesser extent – and drinking alcohol wasn’t approved of. Still, a bunch of islanders from South Uist and neighbouring Eriskay grabbed as much whiskey as they could and hid it from the authorities. In some cases, they buried it but only after drinking enough beforehand that they couldn’t recall where they had put their treasure. Some of them were apprehended by the police with four being charged and convicted of crimes relating to the incident. Mackenzie Compton recounted the story in a book which was turned into a movie. Today, in both South Uist and Eriskay, that episode in Hebridean history remains fresh.
So, for an unusual escape, try the Uists and Eriskay. Have a wee whiskey in a sleepy pub. Sit and watch a storm drop down over a nearby hill. Engage a local about which part of the Outer Hebrides is the most interesting. Smell the sea and earth. And keep reminding yourself that, one day, you’ll have to go home.
by D’Arcy Kavanagh
The 20 kilometres of the French Riviera from bustling Nice to hyper-expensive Monaco are jammed with people, buildings and vehicles.
But what a place to cycle!
Yes, you read that correctly. This busy, overpriced chunk of coast offers some wonderful riding, for the average cyclist to the racer interested in testing legs and lungs.
The reasons are varied. First, you have the weather which is usually warm and sunny from late April to mid October. Then you have the neighbouring sea which is stunningly azure in colour. Now, add in some small towns that are great for visiting. For example, Eze, stuffed on a hilltop and minutes from Monaco, is renowned for its perfume, but provides some wonderful views of the rugged terrain.
Finally, there are the different routes. For example, you can take the low road from Nice through Villefranche sur Mer onto Beaulieu and then follow it all the way to Monaco; the route has a couple of hills but nothing that causes any pain. The Middle Corniche is much more demanding, but provides stunning vistas. Then you have the High Corniche where some of the world’s greatest cyclists train; the climbs are tough but the views are simply world class.
With some planning, you can ride 60 or 70 km in a day without covering the same terrain. You’ll do some hills, including the occasional steep one, but you’ll won’t mind when you have so much beauty around you.
And if you’re wondering how cycling mixes with all that traffic, don’t fret. The French love cycling and you can ride on a series of bikepaths beside most main arteries. Surprisingly, if you don’t mind some climbing, you can take detours and soon find yourself in a quiet, secluded area that seems a world removed from downtown Nice or the harbour of Monaco.
Then at the end of a good day’s riding in this part of France, you can relax at a nice, inexpensive café – by Riviera standards – and tell yourself, as you bathe in the warmth and enjoy the glorious coastal scenes before you, that life can be just fine.
Thanks to Em for allowing us to reprint this letter she sent to the Lethbridge Herald
Re: City decides on third bridge location
As someone who participated in the River Crossing Advisory Committee I was pleased to see that common sense has prevailed to some degree in the matter of the third river crossing (The Lethbridge Herald, City decides on third bridge location, December 1, 2009). The Lethbridge Herald also reported that the need for a third crossing could be delayed or avoided “if there was a significant change in the way residents choose to travel within the city.” I suspect the original wording in the recommendations from the Committee represents not so much an exhortation to residents to hop on their bicycles as it is an appeal to the City to change the way it develops: halting urban sprawl so that exclusive reliance on the automobile is not required, and preferring medium density housing and mixed use developments so that people live closer to amenities and services. Without these critical components, a change in transportation patterns is highly unrealistic and a costly third crossing is inevitable. The change that is required to avoid a third river crossing, or to avoid traffic snarls, for that matter, cannot be pinned solely on the residents of Lethbridge. This city has been developed around the automobile and that is what fundamentally needs to change.
Absolutely great video of how Europe is trying to get more “girls” to ride bikes.
Why can’t Canada see this!
I just so wish that I was in Paris right now and if I win from the lottery ticket I’m going to buy, then D’Arcy and I will be in Paris for Christmas! Ha.
This is a picture of D’Arcy with his rented Velo. Sure would like to be back there… summer or winter.
By D’Arcy Kavanagh
The train stopped at the small, immaculate station in Oberstaufen and we piled out, hauling our bikes with us. We jumped aboard and rode a half-kilometre into the charming old part of this resort town that attracts hikers in summer and skiers in winter. The town’s charms – flowers everywhere, Alpine-style buildings – made it a dramatic change from Munich where we’d started our day.
We sat outdoors in the centrum – the town centre – for lunch and watched shoppers, walkers and cyclists drift by. The mood seemed unabashedly relaxed and we welcomed it. Munich is a great city, but sometimes it’s good to have a slower pace of life.
Then we got instructions from a local to our RCI. The route was straightforward: Head to the northwest part of town, go down a kilometer-long hill into a farming area and it’s there on the rightt, so large that it can’t be missed even with the imposing hills around it and the mountains in the distance demanding attention.
The RCI was sprawling with several Alpine-style buildings nestled against a forest. Our one-bedroom accommodation was perfect for me, my wife Lynda and my daughter Keely. Lynda and I took the bedroom which had a patio that popped out into the forest where untold numbers of birds chirped away. Keely used the pull-out bed in the couch for sleeping. Our digs were cosy and delightful.
And so the days drifted by quietly but happily as we cycled the valley north of our RCI, rode east on a road that twisted and turned through a score of villages, and, several times, took a train to Lindau, a stunning town on the shores of busy but beautiful Lake Constance. Whenever we went to Lindau, we found time to explore its winding streets, to investigate its fine shops and to indulge in a meal at a café overlooking the harbour and with the Alpsglistening on the far shores. Then we’d head out from Lindau, joining thousands of other cyclists as we rode large stretches of the shoreline, even going into Switzerland.
One day, we put aside our bikes and took an eight-hour bus tour from the RCI. Our driver/host handled his machine with great skill on the narrow roads through the hilly south of Germany as he told us about the history of one splendid valley after another. The most memorable stop was at Neuschwanstein Castle, the 19thcentury Bavarian structure built by King Ludwik II and which is the model for the Disney castle. We joined hundreds of other bug-eyed tourists as we explored this well-kept but bizarre edifice envisioned by an individual who was known, not surprisingly, as “Mad Ludwig.”
When the week was over, we were ready to go. Yet, at the same time, we were a little sad to leave. Oberstaufen is a delightful community in a beautiful setting with an RCI that’s a model of efficiency and comfort, and a neighbouring region that offers a variety of delights, from castles to a glorious European lake that demands days of exploring. With some luck, we’ll return.
Highlights: The community, close to the trains, the scenery (this photo is of the RCI resort)
Didn’t like: The hills, but they weren’t that bad (Lynda just doesn’t like to sweat!)
Organized Tours: Yes and they were fabulous and worth more than the low price
Would we go to this resort again: Yes, and surprisingly it always seems available. There is lots to see and do and even more if you had a car.
By D’Arcy Kavanagh
When my wife Lynda and I arrived in Perpignan by train from Paris, it seemed we had entered another country. Yes, we heard French but there was also a dialect that was more than challenging to outsiders. Then there was the presence of Catalan flags that reflected the area’s diverse past. And there were palm trees lining boulevard after boulevard. And then there were the red and white stone buildings. Plus a heavy heat that brought a flush from the slightest of activities.
We stayed a couple of days, using our bikes to explore the narrow, fascinating back streets of this ancient city that’s famed for its rugby fanaticism, for being a favourite destination of surrealist artist Salvador Dali and for being a frequent part of the Tour de France bicycle race that captivates not only the French but hundreds of millions around the world. Of yes, we also sampled some of the diverse fare offered by the city’s many wonderful cafes.
Then we rode southeast about 15 kilometres to Canet en Rousillon where our RCI was. The sprawling resort was indeed impressive with its colour-coded buildings, its pool, its restaurant, its snack bar and its small grocery store. Maybe best of all, it offered easy access to the old town, to the new one that stretches along the sandy coastline and to a walking-distance shopping mall.
Over the next week, we learned how much this remarkable part of France has to offer. One day, we rode through one southwest coastal town after another – often on bike paths – as we headed toward Spain, barely 50 km away. We took rest stops by the sandy beach, had lunch in a café overlooking the amazingly blue Mediterranean, and snapped endless photos of the coastline and the Pyrenees mountain range that lingered just to the north.
Another day, we put aside our bikes and took a tour from the resort to Carcassonne which has a spectacular old walled town that was used for the filming of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. When we crossed the drawbridge, it was like walking back several centuries. It didn’t take much imagination to sense what it must have been like to have lived in this fortress community. A wonderland for kids and adults.
The days went by in a blur. We used the amenities of our first-class resort, poked about the old town, shopped in the new town’s myriad of fashionable shops, spent time on the beach, investigated marina after marina, munched on fresh croissants in quaint little parks and chatted with locals whose politeness served as an example of how to treat visitors.
Then it was time to push on. As we packed our bikes aboard the train for the next leg of our journey to Nice on the east coast, I remember thinking we had done so much, but were leaving with so much left to experience. We could have spent more time exploring Perpignan. We could have taken another resort-organized trip to Barcelona. We could have checked out more ancient buildings. We could have done a little more inland riding to some of the small communities that have their own special stories, and we could have visited more with the folks lucky enough to live in this area. But that’s the mark of a good place to visit – you want to return.
Highlights:Excellent access to endless sandy beaches, resort-organized trips to Carcassonne/Barcelona, intriguing coastal communities.
Didn’t like: No complaints
Organized Tours: Carcassonne, Barcelona.
Would we return to the resort: Absolutely.
By Lynda Kavanagh, aka The “WOW” Gal
Cannes is a wild and crazy place and especially if you are there during the Cannes Film Festival. We had been to Cannes several times and really didn’t want to stay in the heart of the city so we were quite excited to see an RCI that was in a neighbouring community Mandelieu. It is only 8km outside of Cannes but the communities blend together so you really don’t know where you leave Cannes and when you enter Mandelieu.
This was a great RCI, very professionally run, clean and secure. The people at the front desk spoke enough English so that I could communicate with them. It is about a 15 story apartment with either a mountain view or an ocean view. The ocean view was of the Marina so mostly all you saw were parked boats, we were luck to get the mountain view and it was spectacular.
To get there from the Nice airport, you simply ride the beach road to Cannes, keep going until you hit the Cannes golf course. (Not the start of the golf course, it will be at the west end of the golf course). There is a turn to the right just before a small bridge over a canal inlet. You are then only about 2 km from the resort.
This resort had an Olympic size swimming pool. The next apartment complex had a small store that offered bakery, coffee and newspapers. We made our coffee in the apartment but D’Arcy went daily for fresh baking and our newspapers. (He reads the French Papers and I read the Herald Tribune).
Across the street there is a large shopping mall with a huge Casino (supermarket). I mean huge. This is the largest we have ever seen. There is also a Casino restaurant that is a great place for good, inexpensive food, in a buffet type format. (We ran into this concept when we were in Paris and found that sometimes it was easier and less expensive to eat in this type of restaurant than to cook in the apartment. That said the apartment had a microwave and stovetop.
This photo is of the hillside.
Mandelieu is very deceiving. We originally thought it was small until we went for a bike ride and, to our surprise, the community is very large. It is great to explore, but the traffic is heavy and you are primarily on the roads if you move away from the beach road. I found that the shopping was not that great, primarily the beach shops and a few other retail stores.
There were lots of places to have wine and/or a meal. Our first day we went down to the beach and had lunch and met some people who were from Australia, had an apartment in Mandelieu as well as one in London. They also had a sailboat that they could live on.
D’Arcy and I were jealous that they could afford that “vagabond” lifestyle. I’d love to be able to do that – 3 months at a time in different parts of the world.
You could easily spend a week here, going into Cannes or even back to Antibes (back east towards the airport), or you could go west and ride the mountains. There is a train station about 4km from the resort. One day it was rainy so we trained it to Grasse to purchase perfume.
Grasse is also deceiving in its size, go to the old town and be prepared to do lots of exploring.
Highlights: The mountain view of the resort, the beach, the golf course (it was always empty, we wish we’d have brought our clubs), lots of places to eat or just enjoy the wine.
Didn’t like: No complaints
Organized Tours: No
Would we return to the resort: For sure
By Lynda Kavanagh, aka The “WOW” Gal
Villefranche is part of the French Riviera and very close to the Italian border. To get there we flew into Nice, great airport for bikes. Sidebar: They now have a Left Luggage and will keep your bike bags (we have sacs not plastic bags) and if you are going to be there for a long period (we were there for three weeks) they dropped the price from 8Euros to 5Euros a day.
So we put our bikes together and headed east, past Nice on dedicated bike paths and the Prmenade de Anglais. (Absolutely spectacular view of the Cote d’Azur – this means Ocean of Blue – and I’ve never seen that colour of ocean before.
Villefranche is up a nasty hill on the east end of Nice, right by the ferry port. The traffic is heavy but, they know how to drive around you. Once you get to the top of the hill, then you go down into Villefrance. (Yes such is the life of a cyclist, you go up, then you go down, then you go up again).
Villefrance is a bit deceiving as it is built on three different levels, we had a bit of a hard time finding our RCI, Quai Amiral Ponchardier as it was on the lowest level of Villefrance (yes down more hills).
The management of this Maeva apartment were two big burly fellows but as nice as you could ever want, but the apartment was extremely small and had those strange beds (we’ve seen them before at European RCI’s, where you have a couch/bed and a drawer underneath that you pull out and there is another mattress there. My Mom says they are a form of “Trundle bed” and when she was a young gal they had them in Canada.
I could live with the smallness of the apartment and the weird bed because the view was spectacular. It was across from the main Villefranche beach and the inlet of water was only 10 feet from our window. Every day we had our coffee and croissants and watched as the big ocean liners dock to let people off to go to the beach. They were working on the beach during the time we were there so that was a bit noisy but once completed it will enhance the area.
We cycled into Monico and Nice, but the hills were a bit of a deterrent, especially after a bit of wine and a nice meal. So we stayed in our area to eat and drink and that was okay as there were lots of restaurants to pick from and some Petite’ Casinos (supermarkets). Whatever your budget was you would be able to find a meal. Of course, as Canadians we are used to eating early, but none of the restaurants would serve food before 8. So we had wine looking out our great window view until it was supper time.
Our original plan was to train it to Menton and Ventamillia as the train station was close buy, but there was a train strike. We were lucky to not have gone the day we planned as that’s the day the strike happened and it went on for four days. That definitely had an impact on the number of day trips we could take.
One day we were going to try to find the Perfume factory in Ese’, which is towards Monico. After about 10km straight up a mountain, I quit. D’Arcy cycled another 10km and still didn’t reach it so we decided to forget about this one and go to the factory in Grasse, which is above another mountain by Nice. We had cycled that before so I knew that I could do it – after all it was only 25km up!!!
Highlights: The view, the beach, the Rose’ wine, the ride to Monico
Didin’t like: The hills to get to and from there, the nightclub.
Organized Tours: No
Would we go to this resort again: No. Too small and it was right next to a night club that did not stop the music or the noise until 3pm. I could have handled the smallness if I could have gotten a good nights sleep. I think if the train strike would not have been on, we would have more options but because the hills were so strenuous, it was a deterrent to leave our little area.
Tour de France: Oh by the way, the 2009 Tour did this area, the Ese area, Nice, and Grasse- so that tells you how mountainous this part is. (But I felt special to ride the road that Lance rode)