Rio de Janeiro for Velo-city 2018. Day 1 – a taste of things to come.


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After a long-haul flight and with sure knowledge of a very busy week ahead it is a pleasure to have a day of orientation and relaxation in a new city, a new country, in fact a new continent. So that … Continue reading

This is why Venice stays in my recommendations for your “bucket list”


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Venice. The city on the lagoon. “La Serenissima”, the serene one. One of the world’s most iconic tourist sights. Or a city swamped in tourists creating an ecological nightmare? Let me put my personal cards on the table. I have … Continue reading

Cake named after a bike ride – would be rude not to try one!


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Watching the numerous baking programmes that have become so popular on the TV my ears pricked up at the mention of a cake named for one of the world’s great bike rides – the Paris-Brest-Paris. Created in 1910 to celebrate … Continue reading

An ancient city with a modern heart. A brief visit to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city.


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Last week work took me to Plovdiv, second city of Bulgaria. I was there for a factory tour and visit to the offices of Max Europe, one of Europe’s biggest bike manufacturers. When the visit was over we had time … Continue reading

Eating and cycling combined in Taiwan – put it on your culinary bucket list


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It is going to be very hard in the next few blog posts to not just turn this into”101 reasons why you should visit Taiwan in 2016.” We have our major international cycling conference there in March 2016 so there … Continue reading

Brilliant day’s cycling in Taiwan – brief report

Taiwan Bike tour

There will be time for better edited, clearer photos.

There will be more time for ride and route information.

And there will be special thanks to my friends at the Formosa Lohas Cycling Association who delivered me a great day cycling today. Over 140 km south from Taipei to the smallish town of Dongshi near the bigger city of Taichung.

But as I sit in my hotel room tonight I can reflect on great company:

FLCA ride taiwan

Super riding and some great views;

reservoir view Taiwan cycle tour

Use of a very tasty titanium road bike that I really would like to own;

Phil's bike

Riding through the strawberry harvest (in March);

Strawberry harvest taiwan

But above all else…….. the food.

I must have sampled thirty dishes today, most of which I have never tried before. At some point I will try an inventory but I will just capture a touch of the variety with the Hakka style hot pot, the excellent steamed meatball in a dumpling and the incredibly weird drinkable jelly tea.

Traditional Hakka style hot pot Taiwan

Steamed dumpling meatball Taiwan


Wierd jelly drink Taiwan

No danger of losing any weight on this tour.

And tomorrow I am told we hit the mountains for real. As if my legs don’t ache enough.


Christmas, cooking and cycling – combined. “It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Photo Kevin Mayne

My colleagues came up absolutely trumps for the ECF Christmas party this year.

We set off in convoy under the Christmas lights of Brussels for a group bike ride to a mystery destination, known only to a select few.

After about twenty minutes we ended up at the brilliant Mmmmh! in Chaussée de Charleroi where we were ushered in to a large professional kitchen and handed aprons.

Photo ECF

Oh yes, it is an episode of Masterchef and in our teams we have an hour to invent and cook three dishes.

What a laugh. Even the self-confessed non-cooks chopped and stirred with vigour, perhaps encouraged by the free flowing wine.

Photo Kevin Mayne

And due respect, we found out that we have some superb cooks on the team, there wasn’t a failed dish on the table.

Given that a group of cyclists can often resemble a plague of locusts, devouring its own body-weight in food in a day this could be the perfect cycling outing.

In the British version of the TV show Masterchef there are two lead presenters who regularly shout lines at each other like “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!” I can only say “Christmas, cooking and cycling – combined. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Photo Kevin Mayne

Lunch with attitude. Is this the ugliest meal in Madrid?

Arrived in Madrid today to speak at the Unibike cycling trade show at the weekend.

The presentation of lunch was initially very off-putting – but in the end very tasty.

Who had the idea that fish simulating crocodile eating itself made the food more interesting? A high risk strategy indeed.

Photo Kevin Mayne


Photo Kevin Mayne

Nice setting though.

Plaza del Ildefonso Madrid



Brussels for Christmas

Brussels Atomium from below Brussels Chocolate

Remarkably I have hardly published any conventional travel content about Brussels on the blog despite my two years of working in the city.

The visit of family for Christmas is an excuse for an old fashioned tourist trip to the capital of Europe, with the twist that I have two teenage nephews to entertain so we have to pick out some sights that provide lots of wow. A small nondescript statue of a boy peeing in a fountain really doesn’t cut it I am afraid, the Manneken Pis must be the most underwhelming icon of a city I have ever come across.


The Atomium however, now that’s more like it. Out to Hysel, emerge from the metro to the symbol of modern life from the 1950s and work our way up into the structure. The high speed lift takes us nearly 100 metres up the central shaft to some great views from the top level, then there is chance to wander round most of the modules and levels where there are exhibitions and displays about innovation.

Atomium view Brussels View of Brussels from the Atomium

It is cleverly done because the lower levels have no windows, just an occasional porthole so you lose all sense of which level and which direction you are moving. Plus they have added some fun by playing with the linking escalators, for example one has been darkened and has coloured lighting and spaceship-like sound effects which appeals to big kids as much as younger ones. My first time inside, but a big tick box for the Atomium.

Brussels Atomium escalator

Mini-EuropeOutside the Hysel entertainment area is a bit sleepy for winter but as my visitors come from outside Europe we have to wander into Mini-Europe and have a bit of fun with the impressions of 28 countries of the EU. It is all a bit twee but they put in some good enough impressions of the countries and lots of mucking about such as steering your boat round the harbours, making Mount Vesuvius erupt, ringing the city bells and chasing thieves round Paris so it sort of worked. Some very odd exhibits which made me chuckle – somehow the entire display for Luxembourg consisted of a motorway bypass, which seems a bit unfair. Some sort of Belgian joke?

Time for a Belgian delicacy before we go back to the city. Waffles with the lot? Of course!

Gaufre Waffles of Belgium

Then it’s back into the city centre of Brussels and the order of the day is very much Grand Place by day and by night, the Royal Galleries and window shopping seemingly endless quantities of chocolate. Now that’s a Brussels we can enjoy.

Grand Place Brussels day Grand Place BrusselsChristmas Grand PlaceRoyal Galleries BrusselsChristmas display Galleries Royale Brussels Brussels beersMacaroon display shop window Brussels

Sometimes you get served a plate of food that just makes you go “Wow”

“Pinces de crabe” A plate of crab claws.

I have a fondness for crab. It was something we had occasionally as a treat when we were kids. There was a sort of ritual to the family pulling it apart and attacking the legs with nutcrackers to get the favourite meat. And the the Belgians and Luxembourgers love it too, good seafood is a popular part of the diet, almost every town and market has a fishmonger.

So when we were treating ourselves to a meal at a nice fish restaurant in Luxembourg a couple of weeks ago i was tempted by the idea of a plate of crab claws with salad as a nice summer dish. I was expecting a couple of the big ones claws and the a battle with the small claws, maybe with a little greenery and some mayonnaise on the side?

Then the plate turned up.

Brasserie Guillaume Luxembourg

Thank you Brasserie Guillaume, which I can report also has a very good fish counter and excellent carpaccio. Not the cheapest place in town but an excellent treat.



An Englishman reflects on National day in Belgium

Belgian National Day

Belgian national day umbrellas

Our first Fête nationale belge, the Belgian National Day. To be precise our first National Weekend, because this year the 21st July fell on a Sunday enabling a whole weekend of festivities across the country, not least in the centre of Bourgeois, a small town centre/suburb of Rixensart near to where we live.

Bourgois Belgian Fete nationaleSpecial occasion this year because this year the festivities saw the abdication of King Albert and the swearing in of the new King of the Belgians, King Philippe, all carefully choreographed around the national day.

There are several elements that made this interesting from the perspective of a new resident or visitor.

We have been talking about the great sense of community spirit that seems to exist all over Belgium. Not just for National Day either, not a weekend goes by without a succession of fêtes, brocantes (street markets), kermesse, music, food or sports activities.Bonbon brochettes Belgian national day

As I cycled around the countryside on Sunday morning with the local club we saw flags hanging form windows and we even got diverted away from one village to allow the marching band to march down the high street.

The event we went to at Bourgeois was on quite a scale for a small Belgian Fete Nationale Bourgoistown centre. The bands booked were extremely good, most of them normally playing much bigger gigs than the 2000 or so people in the square. Lots of food tents, several bars, thoroughly enjoyable. A stunning weekend too, wobbling back home on our bikes after midnight under a full moon was glorious.

Barbeque Belgian National DayOn the TV the swearing in ceremony for the King was an understated affair in the Parliament chamber, not the pomp and circumstance of British royalty or the American President’s inauguration. But from the TV it was clear that there were good crowds all day and the ending with the traditional fireworks over the palace was a good show. Colleagues who live in Brussels took their families along to watch the ceremonial parades and all had a good time by all accounts.

For us it is all part of picking up the flavour of our new home and enjoying our neighbours having a great time and showing their national pride without the undue jingoism or deference to monarchy that so annoys me back home.

Beer on National DayAs an Englishman I find myself reflecting our whole attitude to national days. There is little doubt there is a cultural cringe in England about our rather dodgy St George’s Day. Celebrations of a military figure who wasn’t remotely English that we share with dozens of other countries and cities. A symbol that has largely been adopted by right wing groups for insular nationalism. Then throw in a bit of further embarrassment about our colonial heritage and the need for nationhood is further weakened. And to be entirely practical having attended many St George’s Day parades as a Scout I can report that April 23rd is no day for a party, it has a habit of being freezing cold if not raining. So we just don’t do national day.

Bourgois Church National DayMy first experience of a summer national day that showed me an alternative view was when I was about 17 years old and I stayed in Switzerland. August 1st on a hillside above Zurich with the barbeques cooking the wurst, the brass band playing and fireworks going off everywhere was a real eye opener.

I was in Whistler last year for Canada Day on July 1st and that was a lot of fun. Preparations for the Dutch National Day and their coronation earlier this year when I was in Almere, I gather that was a hell of a party lasting several days. The Belgian cycling TV commentators made much of the fact that Saturday was Columbian National Day and they expected a big celebration for the Columbian stage winner because they appreciated national day, just like the French hope for a winner on Bastille Day.

Since we Brits showed last summer that we really do love a big street party with the Olympics and the Jubilee and with the boom in outdoor festivals it seems clear to me that everywhere else seems to have captured the essential trick of celebrating in the right way at the right time. No surprise that 4th of July and 14th July are world renowned national holidays if they allow the country to have a summer day off and a lot of fun.

I think the best plan is to enjoy everybody else’s national days as a celebration of culture and heritage, especially the ones that avoid militarism and bombast, take place outdoors, in the summer with plenty of food, drink and music.

I think La Fête nationale belge, Belgische nationale feestdag, Belgischer Nationalfeiertag achieved that with a aplomb. Merci, dank u wel, dankeschön – as the new King now has to say every time he speaks to avoid upsetting one linguistic group or other.

21st Century hunter-gatherer in the sunset

Weyregg am Attersee Austria

Weyregg am Atersee

In the time of our ancestors “go get me something to eat” was a significantly more challenging task than it is today. However in our family it has become a bit of an in joke for when I come back from walking the dog or cycling with something edible like mushrooms, satisfying my hunter-gatherer instincts Mrs Idonotdespair calls it.

However on holiday we had the most indulgent hunter-gatherer treat to start our week at Weyregg am Attersee when the hotel landlady told us on our first night that there was a party with food down by the lake.

A more chilled, self-indulgent evening would be harder to imagine.

Eight of the best local restaurants in the area have clubbed together to form a consortium called Kulinarium Attersee which promotes local food and cooking through a series of soirees and events during the year.Weyregg am Attersee

Kulinarium AtterseeEach provides staff for a bar promoting Austrian wine and beer together with a food stall cooking samples of their best produce and meals. In this case the Kulinarium was celebrating the start of summer at the tiny park beside the freshwater aquarium in Weyregg just a few metres from our hotel. We knew we were on to something made for us when we could hear the covers band playing from our window, the sort of guys who can clearly handle a good blues tune but whose repertoire stops in about 1975.

When we wandered over we were able to get gently sozzled on chilled Grüner Veltliner and Aperol spritzers while Aperol spritzesampling tapas sized portions of everything the area had to offer. So each time my wife said “go and get me something to eat” I was able to return with sampler portions of sushi, of smoked trout, lamb cutlets and red wine risotto or duck skewers all evening. By the end if you had asked me to hunt anything more demanding than a chocolate mousse the species would have become extinct.

Stunning, stunning sunset over the lake to wind down.

We were falling for Attersee already.

Lamb cutlet and red wine risotto

Attersee KulinariumDuck skewersWeyregg am Attersee, Austria