Sunday, 31 August 2014

To cycle or not to Brazil!

When telling friends and family about your holiday I often get asked 'Did you cycle?'

With that I assume either they think I had a Cycling Holiday or I just couldn't live without a bike and had to hire one to get my 'kick'. This time was no different.

About eighteen months ago we decided that we wanted to do a different kind of holiday and instead of going to South Africa where we go regularly, the choice became Brazil. Brazil because of the 2014 World Cup, the 2016 Olympics and a friend who lives there.

We never planned to cycle whilst on holiday in Brazil but we were on the lookout - as always- for any type of evidence that cycling was popular. And to be honest, I don't know! There are certainly lovely cycle paths along the beaches and you can even rent bikes, but the worst thing about Rio de Janeiro (where we spent most of the time) was the traffic. Absolutely horrendous. It is overwhelming and loud with a lot of older cars which I am sure will never pass an MOT and the drivers usually follow their own set of rules. I decided after a few days that it was organised chaos!

I couldn't for one moment imagine cycling in Rio apart from along the beach on the promenade.

There were some highlights though. We ventured to a distant beach one late afternoon which is close to a National Park. All long the road were markers on the road showing caution for cyclists. Also see the yellow traffic sign above reminding drivers to allow at least 1.5m passing distance between their car and the cyclist.

We did briefly see a group of cyclists one Sunday when we went out really early around 7.30am. They were just at the bottom of one of the longest hills in Rio about to start the climb.

One of the rental bike stations along the promenade

Bike lane along the Copacabana Promenade

A rental bike station at Copacabana Beach

More cycling fun along the promenade at Copacabana

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

7 Easy tips to save on your grocery bill

I usually get a extreme drawn-of-breath from some women when I mention my tips on how to cut your grocery spending in half. Let's face it - we all have to tighten our belts and pull up our socks as the world is in austerity right now and so are most people's budgets. Not even mentioning the big drive to not throw away food.

I am an extreme planner. I really mean extreme.

On the MBTI chart I am wayyy over towards preferring the 'Judging' dichotomy. Couple that with the 'Thinking' preference and you get an extreme event or holiday planner. I am not a type that would be able to easily set off on an unplanned holiday drifting from one place to the other and just enjoy the moment. I can if I have to but generally I would be so out of my comfort zone it would be dreadful rather than enjoyable.

A few years ago I stood at a local supermarket waiting for my queue to move forward towards the check-out when I leisurely glanced at my shopping piled into my trolley. I started counting and found about fifteen possible meals in there. You would probably think 'Ok - so what?'

Fact is that I do the shopping every week (supposedly to feed us for that particular coming week) so having fifteen meals in my trolley didn't quite make sense. And trust me; this happened every week.
This is where the 'throw-away' food culture comes from. It comes from NO meal planning.

I went home and my brain went into overdrive. I developed a system which is easy to follow and guaranteed to make you save money on food by following a few simple rules. Most people already do it either in this way or in a lesser way. If you are one of those, skip this post. If not - I hope you read on. You don't need to be super organised, just committed to start saving money.

1. Plan your meals in advance. I always start at the freezer/fridge to check what I still have available to eat. So if you still have chicken and mince in the freezer because you bought bulk the previous week, they can form part of your menu for this week.
Here is a sample menu:

Friday: Sausages and Mash with veg (usually peas or mixed veg)
Saturday: Pizza
Sunday: Roast Chicken with veg
Monday: Spaghetti Bolognaise
Tuesday: Pork chops with veg
Wednesday: Leftover chicken with pasta (lovely creamy chicken sauce with pasta)
Thursday: Fish and chips with peas

My shopping list will then have all the regulars on for the lunch boxes, the ingredients to make these meals and also the rest of the items e.g. cleaning materials, drinks etc. If you run out of ideas then there is also the option of consulting with your family to see which meals they like (and which not!). Compromise if they suggest something too expensive like steak.
I have also started to buy more frozen vegetables. I used to buy everything fresh but remember that comes at a premium so if you are going to use vegetables in e.g. a casserole, then frozen is just as good. Frozen veg has really moved on and there is not really a big difference in taste and quality.

2. Use a website to compare prices. I use to put all the things I need for the week in a shopping list. This website is really clever as it uses different providers to check prices e.g. Tesco, Waitrose, ASDA and Sainsburys. Once you get to the end, you can either send the list to your phone or print it (which I do). And here comes the clever part: it actually asks you if you want to split it between stores to get the most from the bargains available that week.
My Supermarket has a couple of tabs on the website which shows Offers and Savvy buys. Using those saves you a lot of time because all the offers from across those stores are at your fingertips.

3. Use the shopping list to drive down prices. My next step is to visit alternative low cost stores e.g. Aldi, Poundstretcher and Farmfoods. They sell a lot of groceries that you will find on your list for about half the price. Other stores which fall into that category are Lidl, Poundland and Iceland. I usually buy about 75% to 80% of my shopping now at these low cost stores without compromising on quality. The quality is excellent and the price of the shopping has dropped by about 50%!

4. Use cash to buy groceries. I used to buy my groceries with a credit card to get more 'points' which then converted into vouchers (yes you know which store is that!). It is just not worth it. The fact that you spend on a card doesn't really give you that 'saving' feeling because it is very psychological to see real money being paid over in exchange for the items you've put in your trolley. I now get an allowance which is meant to last for two weeks. This enables me to spend maybe that little bit extra in the first (or second) week on a savvy buy or offer which will stretch e.g. some bulk mince or chicken.
It really makes an impact if you use a little purse with your food cash in to go to the stores.  Trust me on this one!

5. Have some fun! Make it a challenge to see if you can make your money stretch further. If you decide on a food allowance and there is some leftover money after the two weeks are up, use that money for something nice e.g. a contribution to a night out or another treat. You don't have to but it is an incentive. Alternatively you can start building up a fund which you can spend at a bigger store like COSTCO or Macro where the buys are really in bulk!

6. Save your receipts and your shopping lists. I have stapled all my receipts of the week together with my printed shopping list. It reminds me of how much I spent that week as well as what I bought. It is a good record of your success!

7. When buying in bulk - talk to your friends and neighbours. If there is a good buy somewhere e.g. two bags of apples or bread for the price of one, talk to your friends to see if you can split the costs and the produce. That way it is cheaper for both of you and you won't sit with apples (or bread) that will go off if you don't eat it fast enough.

I hope this works for you as it works for me.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

TfL and valuable advice on cycling safety

Cycling in London isn't made for the faint hearted and you need to be vigilant at all times. I follow some golden rules when I am out and about on my Brompton in London.

Transport for London (TfL) recently published a very good video aiming to make the Capital's road safer for both cyclists and drivers. I am happy to share this as it is relevant to everyday cycling wherever you are.

Silly season for pedestrians?

The amount of times that I had to either ring my bike bell frantically or slam on the brakes to avoid pedestrian collisions are endless. I have definitely stopped counting.

The counting rocketed sky high when I started cycling in London but do also tick over when cycling closer to home. Mostly pedestrians do the safe thing and look left and right and then cross the road but I have find that a large percentage just cross without looking. Whatever happened to rules taught at a young age which say look left, then right and then left again before crossing? It is almost like those are made for the young generation and now that you are older - you are invincible. Searching for this via a search engine resulted in over 8,080,000 hits.

I recently admired a brand new electric car. As thoughts go, mine wandered from me being on my bike swerving to avoid a near collision with a non-looking pedestrian to wondering what will happen to these non-looking pedestrians when the electric car becomes more familiar on our busy roads, especially the city roads where it makes a lot of sense to drive (one of those)? I know there were talk about making the electric car more 'sounding like a car' because at the moment it is very quiet!

So if a pedestrian just walks off the pavement to cross the road, he or she might want to have a bicycle approaching them rather than an electric car as I think your chances of getting less hurt are better with a bike than with a noiseless electric car!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

It's been a little while...

since I blogged. Sorry to all that either follow or stumble upon this blog.

Things seem to be happening at a lightening speed these days and time is done even before it started.

The last three days in the UK has been like summer in South Africa. Hot and fabulous, always with a knowledge that tonight will be sultry and offer a guaranteed late afternoon sit in the garden, with or without  a glass of wine.

I did a fabulous 60 miles on my bike on Sunday. It was time for the annual Liverpool to Chester ride which causes great excitement amongst cyclists as they can legally cycle through the Birkenhead (or Queensway) Mersey tunnel. This year the organisers put on a total of seven routes. There were the Wirral Circular 25mile, Liverpool-Chester-Liverpool (50 miles), the Liverpool - Chester (25 miles), the Chester to Liverpool (25 miles), Chester challenge (50 miles), Liverpool Challenge (100 miles) and the Tunnel Family challenge (6 miles).
At the start of the Chester Liverpool Cycle - Countess of Chester Hospital

I live in Chester so I found it difficult to warrant a trip to Liverpool just to start there and then to cycle all the way back to Liverpool when getting to Chester whereas I could've started from Chester to Liverpool and cycle back. I did ask the organisers and they said they were 'thinking about doing a Chester-Liverpool-Chester route'. So decision made; I will do the official Chester to Liverpool and the cycle back anyway.

My bike's gears were slipping for a while - since I've changed a back tyre - so I was rather pleased when I saw The Bike Factory had a maintenance hut at Wirral Rugby Club (our refreshments stop). Dave quickly tuned the gears and they are better than they were. Thanks Dave!

Cycling through the tunnel was surreal. It is quite dark in there, not really helped by my continuous wear of my sunglasses, and cold. The down part into the tunnel was fast and furious and the uphill part was not too bad. I managed to complete the official section in 2hr10 (25 miles).

Returning was different as we opted to go by Ferry back to Birkenhead. I had vivid memories of our Basel to Rotterdam cycling trip as Ferry crossings were so regular on the Rhine.

On the Ferry
View towards Woodside Pier - Birkenhead

Lots of people enjoying the sunshine
Sonia and I were cycling together so midway through the return we decided to stop following the official route and head for The Harp Inn at Neston instead. The place was heaving with walkers, cyclists and other patrons. After a pint it was time to dash off towards home back over the new Burton Marshes Route to watch Andy Murray win Wimbledon.

I have a mild case of sunstroke at the moment due to the severe heat of Sunday and time spent on my bike. I will soon recover.

Work is difficult at the moment. There is upheaval through redundancies whilst you need to cling on to your own motivation to get your job done, not knowing whether you will survive this round of cuts. Working remotely aids my insecurity so life isn't a nice place to be in right now. There are 'what ifs' and 'why nots' floating through my mind clashing with moments of realism and absurdity. All I know for sure is work as I know it is about to change. Whether it is for the better of for worse I will have to wait and see.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Dieting, toning and fitness musings

It is a shame that I have taken so long to write my next blog post. Can't even blame anything in particular just maybe lack of inspiration. I often wonder if what I say would really interest other people but then maybe others will be in the same situation and could draw some benefit from what I post.

Well, like many out there, I have been critically looking at my appearance, or shall I say, lack of body tone! I am not getting any younger and they say the longer you put it off the harder it gets to get back into shape. I have an incentive to get more toned and lose some (hard to lose!) weight. We are off on holiday soon to a place where it is summer. Needless to say that a swimming suit will be used as pools will be frequented, so to avoid any serious embarrassments, I really need to lose some pounds and tone up.

I have increasingly been looking at diet supplements and reading (raving) reviews. It is a confusing market! There are so many providers and each provider, sells a truck load full of products which all seem to be doing the same. Reviews seem to be only from men (are there really no women like me that have tried these before??) and they all seem to be body builders. Surely these products are more than just for serious body builders? If it can help me shed 7 pounds then that will be good. Diet supplement products are really expensive so not only do you not know which to take, which to combine but you risk spending money on a product that will ultimately not be working for you. I wish they can make it simpler to understand. I need to know that they actually work. I don't want to spend all that money or something that will not deliver. Similarly I will happily spend the money if it DOES work - I have a deadline so all help is needed!

I have been in touch with a well known company to see if they can help me understand these products better, so we will see how quickly they respond. So watch this space!

On the exercise front I have been increasing my activity to the level that I am aching in places which I have forgotten about. The muscles for instance attaching your arm to your body? You know those short ones left of your left shoulder? And right of your right shoulder? I did some chest crunches in the gym earlier this week which reminded me that I have muscles there.

I have gym membership but I guess like everyone else who has a busy life, I struggle to find time to go. I run sometimes between my village and another, but as it is a public road it is often a frightening experience when cars pass close. Cycling has been reduced to time on my turbo trainer (yes, I actually do use mine!) which has been set up permanently in my back room. I found that as it is now permanently (well semi-permanently until better outdoor cycling weather arrives) set up, I have less excuses not to use it. To make it exciting I have signed up to a website called Turbo Training see  to use some of their plans and design my own. A cheap £12 to join for a year makes it very attractive. I also bought a Tacx video to which you can cycle the Cape Argus Tour. See

I set up the bike and position the laptop on top of the TV which will then play either the turbo training session or the Cape Argus Video. I noticed that there is a short video of this Tacx video on You Tube. Here is the link:

The Cape Argus is undoubtedly the most scenic of all Cycle Tours. An unforgettable experience and well worth doing.

I have 45 days left to lose my flab. Pulling out all stops will have to happen.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Solitude cycling

'UK hit by severe floods' greeted me this morning when I opened my newsreader app. It was with a sad feeling that I realised the lovely autumn cycling days were finally over. When we woke up yesterday morning, the first sight was houses with frosty white roofs. The road glittered in the early morning light and it didn't look particularly like a good cycling day. Winter days leaves me wary of skidding on the ice and the possibility of broken bones, so I usually play it safe and stay put unless the day brightens up. I don't mind the cold, but I do mind getting hurt.

We recently went for two weeks to South Africa. Needless to say that the weather was superb. We had on average 24C as the day temperature and the nights were lovely and warm. I didn't see many cyclists though.

The ones I did see created a stir. We found a group of cyclists on the N2 (national road from Cape Town going east) and it seemed that they were on a cycling tour. In South Africa, you are allowed to move into the emergency lane when you are the slower car to allow others to overtake safely, so I was very worried about this group who were cycling in the emergency lane on a national road.

The second interesting pair I saw was on our way back to Cape Town, when we stopped in Swellendam. A couple of touring cyclists was travelling through the town, packed to the hilt with kit and panniers. I've never seen touring cyclists in South Africa, not like the regulars you would find in Europe.

The third place where we saw quite a lot of cyclists was along the promenade in Strand. Strand is a very popular seaside town with high-rise condos and apartments. There were many cyclists. Some recreational and others on a fitness mission with road bikes.

Reflecting on my days when I was still living in SA, I cycled regularly as a child in the town where we lived; home to town and visiting friends. My cycling stopped abruptly when I went to university and only picked up again when we moved to the UK.

So winter is here. Last year Christmas I got a turbo trainer for Christmas which will now be used more frequently until we are back to brighter days.