The Tour De France: It’s All About Time by Louis Borgenicht

The 2008 Tour de France lasted twenty-one days; the bikers rode cumulatively for eighty-seven hours, fifty two minutes and fifty two seconds (at least that was the winning time of Carlos Sastre as he crossed the line on the Champs Elysee on July 27th). Other less fortunate riders like Wim Vansevenat, the lanterne rouge, completed the Tour four hours behind the leader.
All told I dedicated close to eighty-seven hours, fifty two minutes and fifty-two seconds of my life to watching its progress. It is an annual ritual for me, one that my wife can’t understand but does not object to. “My husband has become a couch potato,” I hear her tell friends on the phone. Then nothing more. She is in it for the sprints. Dutifully I pause the hard drive and call her for the penultimate moments of the stage. Meanwhile I have sat in front of the television for three to four hours just to get to that point.
 Versus (Channel 34) carried die Tour from its inception on July 5th to its completion twenty-one days later. The time honored British commentators Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett were in fine fettle as usual and part of the annual attraction.
 The concern I have is that there is no other televised event I watch with such blind dedication. In fact there is no television series running for thirteen weeks I am committed to. Actually my main source of news is The Daily Show with John Stewart, but cumulatively and allowing for the reruns shown when he is on vacation, my commitment to the Tour exceeds my dalliance with Stewart.
 Aside from my curiosity about the race, its dynamics, the riders and its unpredictable evolution over twenty-one days an indisputable reward of my insistent television watching is that it permits me to vicariously meander over two thousand two hundred miles of France I have yet to see. My imagination wanders. I am sitting in a cafe sipping a cafe-au-lait in Chevreuse or lying on the perfectly cropped grass of le chateaus des dues de Bretagne hypnotized by the cumulus clouds hanging immobile in the summer air or I am awakening in my friend Jack’s house in Gallargues (see My friend Jack in Bonjour Paris) to see the Tour ride by twenty feet from bis front door.
Several years ago I drove to a tiny town in Provence to see the race pass through. The drive took an hour and one half; we waited another hour, carousing with the locals; and saw Lance Armstrong ride through in a sconce. The peloton was moving at twenty-six miles per hour. You do the math. But evanescent as the moment was.. . I saw it and that was what a mattered.
 Despite my deep curiosity about the Tour, I will watch any cycling Versus deigns to show me (e.g. The Giro d’ltalia, The Tour de Suisse, Vuelta de Espana etc.) but nothing compares with the drama and history of the Tour de France. Spaced out in the Spring, Summer and Fall these other races tide me over until I plop myself down on the couch for three weeks in July with fresh nectarine in one hand and the TV remote in the other. I never have to watch commercials. Over the three weeks of the Tour I figure I added at least nine hours to my life. So literally and figuratively the Tour, for me, is about time. 
Vive le Tour de France

Living in Australia

Australia is slightly smaller than the lower 48 continental states. It is the only nation in the world that is also an entire continent. The country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Indian Ocean to the west.

The majority of Australia, including the entire central region, is semi-arid or desert and known as the ‘Outback.’ Over 40% of the landmass is sand dunes. The country’s population is concentrated on the eastern and southeastern coasts, where the climate is subtropical and temperate, respectively. The southwest corner is also temperate, while the northern region is tropical. The world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, is located off Australia’s northeast coast.

Australia is divided into six states and two territories: New South Whales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia; Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory.

Australia’s population is just over 20 million people, and the population growth rate is currently less than 1%. It has the lowest population density in the world – only two people per square kilometre. The majority of Australians are Caucasian (92%) while only about 1% of the population is Aboriginal or native peoples.

In Australia, people tend to say things in a humorous way and enjoy teasing, or ‘rubbishing,’ people, especially Americans. Australians expect punctuality for any appointments or engagements; if you are going to be late, be sure to call immediately. Even though Australia is similar to the United States, do not expect it to be exactly the same. Look for the small differences in Australian culture and learn from them rather than get frustrated over them and how it is not the same as home.

Food is much more expensive in Australia than it is here in the United States. For example, in Australia a half gallon of milk costs $3. Beef is the most common meat eaten in Australia, while chicken is relatively pricey. In the International House especially, the dining facilities serve some sort of lamb multiple times a week. Seafood is also common and very delicious in Australia. Australia’s restaurants reflect its multicultural society. Restaurants can be found for all tastes, although they are generally not cheap. Tipping policies are different from the United States’; you only tip in recognition of exceptional service.

A wide variety of religious beliefs are practiced in Australia, with no particular religion dominating all others. Catholicism is the most prevalent religion, with just over one-fourth of the population sharing Catholic beliefs. About one-fifth of the population consider themselves Anglican while the same amount practices other Christian religions. Small Buddhist and Muslim populations live in Australia, at about 2% and 1.5% of the population, respectively. Finally, over 10% of the population is unspecified regarding their religion and about 15% do not practice any religion.

A Weekend in Nerja

For most of its life it was a sleepy fishing village but now it’s a growing cosmopolitan seaside destination. But is it still worth a visit?

My grandfather bought his holiday home in Nerja about 25 years ago, when I was a mere slip of a 7 year old. Things were very different then. “I remember when Burriana beach was a mud heap,” he told me recently as we wiled away the afternoon on his sunny rooftop terrace.“ There were tiny, raffiaroofed shacks with caterpillars hanging from the rafters. Underneath where the Hotel Monica is now was a haven for wild cats and goats. And there was a colony of gypsies living there making pegs and basket work and selling them along the beach. It took about three hours to drive from Málaga to Nerja in those days, along the old coastal road which was broken away in parts. It was quite scary.

Fast forward 20 years or so and Málaga is a mere 40-minute drive away, while Nerja has gone from a back road fishing village to a retirement paradise for rain-weary Brits to what it is today: difficult to pin-point. But one thing is certain: Nerja is changing.

A newspaper article in the Costa del Sol News recently reported that Nerja had finally been recognised as an official tourist resort by the Junta de Andalucía.  Quite what the authorities thought the village had been all these years is anyone’s guess, but with the title comes better infrastructure and money to improve on its finer assets. You can knock the ravages of mass tourism all you want, but it accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s gross domestic income.

Nerja is growing up and settling into its new clothes as younger expats move in. It’s also embracing a gay scene as the Sitges of the south, and as Málaga rises gloriously to become Spain’s fourth largest city, the vibe in Nerja, dare I say it, is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. Not always entirely appropriate for a small town, but in this case it’s just what the doctor ordered. Sprawling urbanizations and an ever-swelling population mean that its charms as a fishing village are lost forever, but that doesn’t mean it has to sell out to the terrible tack and high rise hotels of the western Costa.

The “mud heap” of Burriana has been gradually transformed into a smart promenade lined with mainly English-style restaurants serving the odd microwaved paella and full English breakfasts. The last time I visited there was a notable trend towards upscale cocktail bars and Polynesian lounges like H2O and Copacabana. The mood was younger, relaxed and a little more refined. No doubt about it, Nerja was attracting a better class of traveller and a more visionary business owner.

This became increasingly evident as I strolled along the Calle Carabeo that runs along the cliff top to the east of the village, where several town houses have been spruced-up for rent as luxury villas, ready for the wealth of interior features that must surely follow. In the heart of the village,Hostal Miguel, once a lowly backpackers place, has been transformed by current owners Matthew Rideout and Natalie Gray into Nerja’s first bargain boutique.

But the first to spot the potential of a new, cool Nerja was probably Giles and Tara Tye who fled the familial restaurant (the California down the road) to pursue their own ideas. This led them to create Scarletta’s (named after their first born), a revolutionary restaurant when it opened in 2002 with all low-lighting and candles, cocktails in the lounge bar and romance on the terrace. The first time I visited, I felt I’d found Nirvana. It was the only place in town that came close to satisfying the cosmopolitan hunger us city dwellers sometimes crave. Giles also cooked a bloody good fillet steak, as his head chef still does. Tara meanwhile moved on to founding a drama school which now casts for many of the production companies looking to shoot their blockbusters in Spain.

Meanwhile back on Burriana, the Nerja de Nerja—a fun, Belgian-Spanish family run joint specialising in mussels—had taken the radical step of employing the fabulous Julio Vega (think of him as a Spanish Julian Clary) who delights the crowds with his own unique style of flamenco that culminates in a near full-on strip tease. It’s cheesy, it’s cheap and it’s the best night out in Nerja.  My Granny loves it.

Make no mistake if you’re looking to fulfil a real Spain fantasy this is not the place.Then again, this is the real Spain, warts and all.  Well served by public transport from Málaga there’s little to see or do here so you don’t feel guilty about not doing it. Probably the thing I love most about Nerja aside from the caves, which against all odds are among the most visited sights in Spain, there are no pesky must-see sights, though an evening stroll along the Balcón de Europa which juts out into the Mediterranean is essential. Likewise a classical concert at the caves can be a real treat.

What it does have is sun and fun, sand and sea, a charming old town and an extraordinary choice of beaches from El Salón with its lone fisherman’s cottages to the Cantariján nudist beach a 15 minute drive east from the town centre. It’s also a brilliant out-of-season destination when it’s cooler, quieter and a perfect base for exploring the Axarquia and the wonderfully secluded villages that date back to the Moorish occupation.

 Nerja may not be the next Saint Tropez but neither is it resting on its laurels wallowing in the Costa crash.

Eating Out
Scarletta’s (c/Cristo 38, 95 252 0011) for romantic surrounds, a well-heeled clientele and great cooking ranging from Thai curries, prime Irish steaks and gambas pil pil. The Nerja de Nerja (Playa Burriana, 95 252 0928) is one of the friendliest joints in town and serves superb mussels and excellent house wine, but it’s the entertainment that elevates it to loftier heights.Alternatively Casa Luque offers designer tapas just off the Balcon de Europa.

  Sleeping Over
Sea views: The Parador de Nerja (c/Almuñécar 8, 95 252 0059, www.parador.es ) has the appearance of a not-terribly-successful 1970s apartment block from the outside, but once within its clifftop clifftop perch with private access to Burriana beach, bright rooms and a swanky piano lounge it becomes a seaside paradise.

Old town: Hostal Miguel (c/Almirante Ferrândiz 31, tel: 95 252 1523. Mobile: 661 228 250 www.hostalmiguel.com ) is laid-back and lovely, each room simply decorated with natural fabrics and cool, Mediterranean colours. The best rooms have balconies and the roof-top terrace with sea and mountain views is a bonus for breakfast and sundowners.

When to go
Romería San Isidro for the procession of horses and Spanish costumes on May 15. Festival Cueva de Nerja in July for flamenco and classical concerts.October 8 to 12 for the Feria de Nerja, where a series of pavilions in the centre play host to day-long drinking, dancing and general mayhem.