How I spent a year with Airbnb


Several years ago I was invited to a client ‘do’ at a winery two hours from home. To be honest I was 50-50 about driving all the way up there to spend a sober afternoon with a bunch of people I didn’t know, but I’m glad I did. My unexpected key take-away? Clarity.

I parked and walked towards the entrance, and a couple of ‘meet and greet’ types looked me up and down, smiled and tentatively enquired, “Derek?”.

“That’s right” I replied, shook several pairs of strange hands, and so the day unfolded; light snacks, a few (small) sips of wine, industry discussion and a couple of speeches.

But to be honest I couldn’t wait to take my epiphany home with me. Here I was among clients and industry peers – people I had completed dozens of projects for over the last 5 years – and I’d never physically met any of them. A mental check of my client list told me there were others in the same boat. It wasn’t like it was personal, we weren’t deliberately avoiding each other, it was because it was just ‘business’. We were all professionals, we knew how to plan a job, allocate and complete tasks, and we didn’t need to be in the same room to do it – ever apparently. Without noticing it I had become part of the ‘remote’ workforce, otherwise known as the ‘pyjama army’.

The possibilities were endless.

Gap year – yes, it’s a thing

A few people I met along the journey have marvelled at the concept of a Gap Year, openly suggesting that I was either rich, stupid, or brave, but actually I’m none of these. The idea came to me not long after the client-do-epiphany, when I read (well, skimmed) a life-changing book by a guy named Anthony Ferris called “The Four Hour Work Week”. I had already concluded that it was a monumental pile of wank, and the only people who would ever try to buy into such a concept were delusional morons looking to get rich without having to actually work, or trust fund drop-outs with zero responsibilities (beyond perhaps an email address), and no worthwhile relationships outside their Instagram account.

The same goes for many self-help books really. Some might offer inspiration, but to the average person with every crevice of their life packed full like expanding foam filler in a piece of piping, they’re pretty much useless. From watching TV I, like most of us, had accepted the notion that money, a big house and a flashy car were the only tangible outcomes of a ‘successful’ life, but I’ve learned over time that each of us are capable of revisiting this version of ‘success’ and measuring it (if we really need to) against more personal goals.

And so with that in mind, I gave my life over to Airbnb for one whole calendar year. The plan was to hit almost 30 countries across 3 continents – yes it was going to be expensive – and give new meaning to the word ‘remote’, earning while I was roaming.
12 months and dozens of apartments, villas and country farmhouses later, with my perspective and bank balance well and truly running off in opposite directions, I reflected on the cities I’d seen, hosts I’d met, and stairs I’d climbed. From those experiences I created my own Airbnb awards, the “Airbees”. Grab some popcorn
and enjoy!

Best view

Given this is often the most important factor in the decision making process, so it turned out to be the hardest category to pick a winner. The glowing red hills of Sedona, Arizona or the fabulous Bosporus Strait that separates European Turkey from Asian Turkey? Ultimately it was the naturally pure, perfect view of the fjord from the balcony of our apartment in Flam, Norway that swayed me.

Most helpful host

‘Jane’ our host in the Rhone region of Southern France, gave us a little handcrafted guide to the region’s towns, castles, markets and restaurants. Along with a bottle of red and some Trappist ales – which she and her partner Bernd helped us drink – and backed up with daily sticky-notes, this information proved the perfect way for us to plan and enjoy our week.

Best kitchen

Having a kitchen is a great chance to save some money on the road. Eating out every day does become a drag believe it or not, and considering a bowl of soup can set you back $35 in an average Norwegian eatery, cooking ‘in’ provides some relief for both stomach and wallet. Stefan, our host in Bergen, was a chef, and owner of a popular local restaurant. His kitchen didn’t disappoint, from the stainless steel bench tops to the Global knives.

I could live here forever

Spring in Paris is a wonderful thing. Our corner apartment in the Marais was a charming third floor ‘walk up’, two blocks from the Seine, and Notre Dame. Sun streamed in the classic Hausmann windows in every room, and our view down each busy street was of neighbourhood shops; boulangerie, boucherie and chocolatier. I left a small part of my heart in that place.

Pleasant surprise

Sometimes you pick a place more for location than anything else, as was the case on an almost unplanned stop in the port town of Split, Croatia. Our host Vana met us and walked us through a maze of streets to an apartment which she had completely undersold in her listing. Sure, the photos of the interior looked cute and clean enough, but what they didn’t reveal was the sunny balcony with a magnificent view of the town and port. Coupled with a cool neighbourhood bar/restaurant with an outdoor chef roasting all kinds of meats, and a back-side beach with a great cafe, Split became the Croatian highlight rather than the afterthought.

Bizarre experience

Vitto, our jovial host in Stockholm just couldn’t help himself. His sunny loft apartment had great views, but it all looked like he’d just stuffed some clothes in a suitcase and bolted to his ‘other’ apartment downstairs, leaving unwashed laundry and his kid’s mouldy science experiments on display. “Hallo?” he’d call as he entered by key – without knocking – each time he needed something different that he’d forgotten; a shirt, some shoes, his sunglasses. Er, privacy? He did leave beer in the fridge though, with instructions for us to help ourselves. Being Sweden it was light beer (anything stronger must come from an official liquor seller) but hey, beggars can’t be choosers – and Australians are all beggars in Scandinavia!

Well this is dodgy!

Kraków Poland, and a locked door stood between us and our apartment. While we waited for a code via SMS, we were greeted by a cheerful, but very drunk young man who came far too close for my liking, and leered at my wife and daughter whilst spraying out some gibberish in Polish. Think John Belushi in the Blues Brothers: “How much for the women?” I stood between them and pointed out to the fellow that it was 9 o’clock in the morning and he’d best be on his way. He looked only slightly disappointed, but thankfully trudged off.

Next time, spend the extra

A wise man once advised me that one of the keys to financial happiness was to avoid the cheapest and most expensive items, but instead to buy the best quality you could comfortably afford. Why, oh why did I stray from the path Uncle John? New York has thousands of apartments, and making a decision  can be complicated. Four minutes into our Manhattan month and I realised I’d made a big mistake. The apartment wasn’t too bad, despite the plastic wrap over the windows and bad wallpaper, but the ‘other’ apartment, albeit hideously expensive, was magnificent.

Life among the hyphen-set in LA LA land


Many of you will have been to the dusty, fast-paced, vehicle-choked megalopolis that is LA. Some of you will have hated it.

I have to say, since my first visit almost 30 years ago, I’ve avoided Los Angeles like the plague. And the swine flu, or to be honest, even the common cold. Nothing could make me stay there for more than an overnight connection, and even then I’d protest, drag my heels reluctantly from LAX arrival hall to a taxi, then just drown my sorrows by the pool or in the hotel bar before setting my alarm for the 6am trek back to the airport the next morning – even if my outbound flight was in the afternoon.

There’s the constant smog, or haze, or whatever that is. The traffic is just nuts – it takes an hour to drive to, well to pretty much anywhere. There’s the constant fear of getting lost and being car-jacked, or worse still being written into the narrative as an ‘innocent bystander’ of a real-life Tarantino flick (“That’s Zed!”). What’s more, there aren’t any obvious ‘must see’ sights, and that’s including Hollywood and Disneyland. Finally there’s the people, who are everything they appear to be on TV – fast talking, plastic, sickly sweet and improbably insincere. Nowhere does the old adage “Fake it ’til you make it!” do more milage than here.

So what if after all that you were wrong? No not about the stuff I just mentioned, that’s as permanent as the imprints of Mel Gibson’s tiny hands in the concrete blocks in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. No I mean, what if there was more to LA? Recently, I resolved myself to wipe the thin film of grime from my sunglasses and take another look.

Since those early days of wanderlust I’ve learned that one of the best ways to enjoy most cities is to befriend a local. It doesn’t matter if you don’t meet them in their hometown, you just have to share a conversation, a laugh, some vaguely palatable social and political views, and most importantly, contact details. Even if they’re jerks, at the very least you’ve got someone to pick you up from the airport, take you to a local bar and point you in the direction of the couch at 3am when your lips are numb and you’ve forgotten your name. Better still, you rarely have to reciprocate, even the most intrepid foreigners will soon work out that Australia’s friggin’ miles away, and they will never make it ‘Down Under’ to your place and frighten your mum.

It’s at this point it makes sense for me to introduce my friend Lee. That’s his actual name by the way – he said I could use it. Lee’s white, conservative, typical American middle class military upbringing, anti-immigration, anti-Obama and pro-Trump. Lee hates taxes, ‘big government’ – or any sized government for that matter – and social handouts. Getting the picture? Most of you will be horrified by that description, but don’t be so concerned – to Lee it’s a compliment, a badge of honour. I know being friends with Lee leaves one of the main boxes above unchecked, but hey, he’s still a likeable guy.

Once you’ve made your friend, step two is to get them to introduce you to their friends. Suddenly the conversations are (slightly) broader, the settings varied, and the back-stories fascinating, even more so in LA, where an estimated 22% of people in the greater area’s 18 million inhabitants are employed in some capacity in an artistic/creative role or entertainment support industry.

And that’s how we end up at a Super Bowl party on US sport’s biggest day of the year. The watery beer is flowing, the pork ribs are sizzling and collagen lips are smacking.

“Hey come and meet Phil” says Lee. “He’s an agent-limo driver”.

“Hi” I say. “Nice shirt.”

“Hey have you met Nikki? She’s an actress-masseuse”

“How’s it goin?'”

“…And this is James” Lee continues, “he’s an actor and… hey what is it you’re doin’ now?”

“I drive an ice-cream truck” replies James, his million dollar smile fading to about a hundred bucks worth.

And the introductions continue. Actor-cook. Screenwriter-golf caddie. Make up artist-astrologist.

20 minutes in and I can’t take it any more. “Hey Lee,” I say taking him aside, “what’s with all these people? Why don’t they just pick a career that they like or they’re good at?”

Lee laughs. “Man, it’s LA, we’re all living only half the dream. Entertainment is the industry we’re in here. Take that away and all of a sudden we’re just a sad bunch of cooks, cleaners and taxi-drivers.” His gaze surveys the room “I may as well go back to Phoenix, Phil can go home to Pittsburgh, and James will just drift back to… Hey James! Where you from anyway?” he yells.

“The Valley!” comes the reply.

“Oh.” says Lee. “Well just forget James, but you know what I mean.”

I do know what he means, and then it hit’s me like the riff in that Courtney Love song Celebrity Skin: “Hooker-waitress, model-actress…” I’m living temporarily in the world of the hyphen people, where one’s very existence is hyphenated, and the road to success is long, hard, and more often than not, just a mirage. But who am I to judge? I’m a writer-web developer for goodness sake, and my time (and income) is heavily skewed to the latter, less impressive of those two titles.

I drift back to the conversation. One of Lee’s friends Rick is telling me about a movie he was in. “It’s only available on YouTube at the moment” he says earnestly, “We’re pushing hard for it to come out on DVD. A problem with the music rights”

Lee’s back. “Hey, you havin’ fun? They’re a great bunch of people huh ‘mate’?”

“Yeah” I say ignoring his hopeless attempt at an Aussie accent, “This is more than fun – it’s educational!.”

All of a sudden a light bulb goes off inside Lee’s skull and he’s serious. “Hey, you know what? You could make it here! You’re a writer, you’ve got other skills, you’re a good talker. LA might fit you – you could really ‘do’ LA!”

Maybe he’s right…

Before I start to see stars, the rest of Celebrity Skin wafts into my mind “You better watch out, Oh, what you wish for, It better be worth it”

Yeah I think I’ll leave that dream for the next director-stuntman that comes along, but in the meantime, perhaps I’ve found the real LA, an LA I could even grow to like.

Why Hawai’i is the new black


Desperately seeking a holiday dream

MeI love to travel and although I don’t usually go five-star, I enjoy it when I can. I love the adventure of the journey as much as the destination, and appreciate the great outdoors, arts, culture and a three foot margarita by a sparkling pool in equal measures. Impress me!

YouYou’re a glitzy, hot, palm-tree lined beach paradise, with malls filled with designer jewellers, and towering apartments and hotels as far as the eye can see. Your locals are friendly and chilled, and the fashion, food and mood swings from sheer class to dag-a-rama with a puff of the Pacific breeze. You’re a pearl earring one minute, and a shark tooth necklace the next.

Let’s hook up soon!

Waikiki from Diamond head Summit

Waikiki from Diamond head Summit

Expecting your dream to be the Gold Coast? Imagine your surprise when your plane touches down on Oahu. Strolling along the arrival gate, you hear the first strains of a gentle guitar floating on the breeze, accompanied by a barely discernible waft of Ilima flower. You’re greeted by a trio of young men in colourful shirts singing traditional island tunes, and instead of a stern looks and tough questions, customs give you a Lei and a smile.

So why is Hawaii ‘hot’ all of a sudden? The truth is, it’s always been the fun, laid back, and culturally interesting destination that travellers are discovering today, the difference is that visitors are now island-hopping in greater numbers, not content to just shop, laze by the pool or wander along Waikiki beach, which although enjoyable, houses a strip of brands and franchises offered by dozens of destinations across Australia, Asia and the Pacific. Meanwhile, the collective islands of Hawaii offer a diverse range of activities and landscapes, and are easily accessible via the local airline.

The Duke, Waikiki, Oahu

The Duke, Waikiki, Oahu

Here’s a quick run-down of the main sights and things to do on the four most visited islands.

Oahu

The first port of call for most visitors, and also the most populous island, boasting busy Honolulu and nearby Waikiki Beach. Highlights include the steep steps leading up the Diamond Head summit trail, Pearl Harbour Memorial, the fabulous beaches of the North Shore, or if you’d prefer to tread the same sand as Elvis and hand-feed tropical fish while strumming a ukulele, head to Hanuama Bay. If you need more than resorts, pools and beaches, there are solutions at both ends of the spectrum; shopping malls and outlet centres at one end, and hikes to waterfalls, tropical forests and the Dole Pineapple Plantation at the other. You’ll never picture pineapples hanging from a tree again.

Snack time at Haleiwa Bowls, North Shore, Oahu

Snack time at Haleiwa Bowls, North Shore, Oahu

Maui

Famous for its surf, Maui is perhaps the next best known island. Don’t think it’s all about thongs and straw hats though, this small island is both exclusive and expensive. In the words of George Clooney in the movie The Descendants; “In Hawaii, some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen”, and this island personifies that vibe. If you can drag yourself away from the pool or beach, the dormant volcano of Haleakala is popular at sunrise, you can fossick around the historic town of Lahaina, or take in the ‘Road to Hana’ – one of the most scenic drives in the world. Iao Needle – a lush green shard-like mountain on the island’s west – is also picturesque and popular.

Akaka Falls, The Big Island

Akaka Falls, The Big Island

Kaua’i

“The Garden Island” is exactly that, a place rich in flora, canyons and valleys. Hike the spectacular Nā Pali Coast trail, peek over the edge of the majestic Waimea Canyon, or if you’re game, take one of the cliff trails to the crashing water and cool swimming holes of Waipoo Falls. If you’re feeling less adventurous, visit a coffee plantation, wander the beach at Hanalei Bay, or drink and mingle with the friendly locals at the famous Tahiti Nui bar. Kaua’i is the tropical island dreams are made of – and films! Yes, this is the location of Jurassic Park, and with that in mind as you drive one of the coastal routes alongside jutting hills, you might half expect to see a flock of pterodactyls overhead at any moment.

View from the Na Pali coast trail, Kaua'i

View from the Na Pali coast trail, Kaua’i

The Big Island (Hawai’i)

A wonderfully diverse island where the terrain ranges from surprisingly semi-arid desert in the south, to the lush tropics in the north – with plenty of plains of ‘frozen’ lava rock flowing in between! Throw in the twin peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa at over 13,000 feet each, and you have yet another island paradise with plenty to see and do. The Big Island, as it’s known, is just that, and although it might still look like a speck on the map, its area is greater than Oahu, Kaua’i, Maui and all the other islands combined. This presents the visitor with a challenge that is best met by… hiring a Jeep! Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is a rare opportunity to see a live volcano. You may not see flowing lava, but it’s still a moving experience as you take in the scene of sulphur dioxide gas rising above the crater, knowing that such an immense amount of power and energy is so close. The east coast of the island boasts some of the archipelago’s best beaches, and the north boasts the beautiful Kohalo and Hamakua coast drives – be sure to take the dip down to Laupahoehoe Point if you’re able.

Sunset over Hapuna Beach, The Big Island

Sunset over Hapuna Beach, The Big Island

The verdict… is it love at first sight?

So the news is, there’s more to Hawai’i than Waikiki, and with the help of cheaper airfares, Australians are intrigued and now exploring. The old travel advice of “pack… then take half as much luggage and twice as much money” holds true here as much as anywhere in the world – the US dollar is pretty much one-for-one on price-tag, and even value on most purchases, but the lower exchange rate hits home on the big ticket items – hotels with an ocean view, car hire, and restaurants, so take this into account.

Go, enjoy, and Mahalo for reading.

A hawaiian monk seal rests on Poipu beach, Kaua'i

A hawaiian monk seal rests on Poipu beach, Kaua’i

In the shadow of the Alps


Rhône-Alpes is a region
 not only overlooked by the French Alps, it’s also often overlooked by tourists and travellers.

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I have a reoccurring dream. No, I’m not naked at work, falling, being chased by wild dogs, or shooting ridiculously slow bullets. (Actually that last one I seem to have often, but that’s beside the point.)

In this dream I’m wandering through a medieval village, it’s crumbling walls surrounded by fields of scarlet poppies. A river runs through its centre and old men sit in silence, hand rolled fags hanging from the corner of their mouths, eyes squinting from the smoke, their fishing lines dangling in hope. There’s a market on and the church bells chime, hastening the step of the locals seeking the freshest bread, cheese and berries. Suddenly a glamorous southern belle starts talking to me in rapid French, and her dog lunges at me and licks me in the face. Amid the slobbering I realise I’m at home and it’s actually my labrador trying to rouse me because she wants a walk, and I snap out of my fantasy, but that’s OK, I’ll return again soon enough.

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There’s just something about central and southern France, and for those prepared to look beyond the allure of Bourgogne, the Loire Valley or Dordogne regions, Rhône-Alpes serves up everything you would expect, and all that you could wish for.

And so here we are again.

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We base ourselves in the southern most department of Drôme, near the town of Dieulefit, about half way between Lyon and Marseilles. This part of Rhône-Alpes is quite rural, yet close enough to the charm of Saint-Rémy and Aix-en-Provence, and the glitz of the Cote D’Azur so as to not feel isolated. The towns are small, the mountains close and cathedrals plentiful. There are more castles and châteaux per square kilometre than just about anywhere on earth, each providing a close view of the next, and a distant view of more beyond.

After a hair-raising trip along a one way hilly rural road that I, to this day, blame on our baffled GPS, we find our accommodation in Truinas – a stone farmhouse now converted into three cottages draped in roses and vines, overlooked by a stunning springwater pool. Meals and drinks on the deck watching both sunrise and sunset over Le Drome valley won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

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The roads and rivers continually wind, not satisfied with the tedium of straight lines, and our days are spent exploring, absorbing history, meeting and becoming acquainted with locals and travellers alike. The pursuit of produce is perpetual, and our evenings pass as such times with great friends and good wine should – filled with music, conversation and laughter.

Between expeditions to Nyons, Valreas and Salle-sous-Bois, we explore hilltop castles, forests of green and sample local specialities. The area is littered with comparatively affordable farmhouses and cottages in various states of need, and our eyes scour the windows of every real estate agent, while our minds needlessly whir with the logistics of currency conversion, plastering and plumbing.

Our host Jane’s knowledge of the region is superb and we cant seem to put a foot wrong following her wonderful scribblings, left in a variety of locations, like clues in some sort of gastronomic treasure hunt.

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Our visit culminates in an unforgettable afternoon at a recommended restaurant (by both our host and the Michelin guide) in Vesc – Chez mon Jules – which serves up Rhône-Alpes on a plate: quirky, fresh, classy and decadent.

Run by a delightful couple who chose this rustic lifestyle over their previous Parisian existence, Chez mon Jules is exactly what we’re looking for to round off our week. Jules sources the best produce from local growers and works his magic in the small kitchen, whilst Alexandra serves and makes conversation (and jewellery!).

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Lunch resembles a small specials list, with a mere two choices per dish. We start with a devine cold zucchini soup with a creamy foam (my first time!), and baguettes as fresh and light as the mountain air. Superb slow roasted pork belly on mash with seasonal vegetables follows, accompanied by some well chosen local wine. Chocolate soufflé with a dark ale rounds the meal off perfectly, yet we linger on the deck for hours, absorbing our surrounds, each of us procrastinating our inevitable departure.

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Soon enough it’s time for an afternoon coffee and apertif, Alexandra spins her favourite Amy Winehouse record, and we are once again seduced by the coziness of this establishment and our hosts undeniable charm.

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Finally we return to base, there’s neither time nor room for another meal, so we satisfy ourselves with a final glass of wine on the balcony while the sun sets in slow motion on the mountain scene before us.

On our final morning Jane’s farewell resembles her greeting – like we’re old friends – and we reluctantly leave to meet our next adventure.

Ate: Chez Mon Jules, Vesc. Details and bookings >>
Stayed
: Salivet & La Sousto, Truinas, Drôme (Rhône Valley – Alps, France) Book >>

East London: Regent’s Canal

 

Many of London’s millions of annual visitors are returnees who can’t resist this great human magnet. For an original experience to compliment the usual stops at Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and Madam Tussauds, the seven kilometre eastern section of Regent’s Canal is a chance to view London with a fresh set of eyes.

Built in the early 1800s to link the northern waterways of London with the river Thames, vessels traversed London’s intricate system of canals carrying supplies such as timber, stone and coal for much of the next 150 years. By the 1960s however, increases in rail and road transport saw the canal’s importance as a carrier of freight evaporate. Neglected and ignored by all but the most rusted-on locals, the canals have been reinvigorated over recent years, attracting new residents, businesses and tourists, each looking to tap into the buzz of a growing hub of activity.

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Unlike the more fashionable western part of the canal running through Kings Cross, Camden, and Regent’s Park, the appeal of the eastern passage lies not in the gleaming new apartment and office blocks that shadow it, but in the authenticity of its street art, grungy cafés and scores of colourful houseboats. Where pollution, rubbish and weeds once ruled, this part of the canal has become an important everyday space for exercise, relaxation, self-expression and commuting.

Today there are three ways to experience Regent’s Canal; on foot, by bike, in a water craft – or by a combination of the three. If you’re staying in central London, bikes can be hired at many locations across the city. If you don’t fancy the hair-raising ride through inner-London to reach the canal, multiple buses will take you to Angel Islington, close to several docking stations for the convenient hire and return of your bike.

The return trip is easily achieved in a day, and whether your vice is coffee, cake, shopping or beer, the canal’s activities cater to all.

FOOD

There are many cafés along and near the canal’s banks; some serve coffee, tea and cake only, while others boast a full kitchen run by industry notables. Respected food writer Lori DeMori is the co-author of several Italian cookbooks, and opened Towpath (36 De Beauvoir Crescent, N15, near Whitmore Rd. bridge) four years ago to capture some of the commuter traffic. The café has since become a destination in itself. “We lived opposite and saw the number of people starting to use the canal” she said. “We thought, hey there’s an empty space there right on the water that we could convert.” Although seasonal (DeMori splits winter between Asia and Italy) fans now flock daily for the reliable coffee, decedent cheese toasties and evening activities, including spit-roasts, hearty rustic quiches, and pasta specials; often accompanied by musicians and mulled wine.

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With a reputation as one of the leaders of the East End food movement, the exterior of Bistrotheque (23-27 Wadeson St, E2) could pass for a rubber factory or shoe warehouse, but concealed within is a culinary treasure from top to bottom. Downstairs is the moody private bar where they will host your function and happily serve you fabulously expensive cocktails or the best in craft beer. Upstairs you’ll find an appealing, open white space, interesting menu choices, and quality service with that touch of playfulness that only the best restaurants seem to pull-off. Enjoy brunch/lunch or dinner while a hung-over pianist shakes out the cobwebs with some slow Henry Mancini show tunes, before snapping to attention and belting out Amy Winehouses’ Rehab with a sudden burst of energy. The braised pork cheeks and duck fat chips will be remembered long after you’ve summoned the will to work them off.

There are many pubs along the route, but like elsewhere in the Empire, the number of places you can still order a good old toad-in-the-hole or smoked haddock is diminishing rapidly. The secret to British pub food lies in the history and atmosphere of the establishment itself – when else would visitors attempt to eat anything as disgusting sounding as black pudding, tripe or kidney pie if not without a pint of ale in an English pub?

‘Gastro pub’ The Narrowboat (119 St Peters Street, N1) has an extensive British inspired menu and serves brunch from 11am, then lunch and dinner daily. Sunday lunch is popular and booking is advisable. Plenty of worthy cask ales (unfiltered and unpasteurised) are available to try while looking out over the canal’s activities below.

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The Rosemary Branch (Rosemary Gardens, Southgate Rd, N1) is a great stop for a Czech beer, simple meal or if you’re passing by late afternoon or evening, an upstairs show in the theatre. The live music and off-beat productions are as popular with locals as the famous Sunday roasts. During Saturday’s Broadway Market, The Dove (24-28 Broadway Market, E8) is teeming with life but it’s still worth a stop for a Belgian ale or hearty stew. On a cold day you’ll find lots of little spaces to relax inside, even better if you can get a table outside in the sun from which to observe the passing human traffic. The Palm Tree (127 Grove Rd, E3) is conveniently situated on the banks of the canal at Mile End. Enjoy a game of darts and one of the regularly rotated ‘guest’ beers.

TOURS

A lazy afternoon houseboat cruise is an outstanding way to breathe in the ambience of the canal and its surroundings. Duck your head as you pass under low bridges, and avoid seduction by the boat’s cry of freedom. Many a casual daytrip has ended in an exchange of ownership papers. Royden Mayfield, an ‘Aussie-Kiwi’ on an extended visit to the UK to be close to family was one such case. “My wife and I hired a houseboat for a month, just to see what it was like” he recalled. “One day the thing wouldn’t start, and a helpful local boat owner came to the rescue. We admired his custom built craft, and by day’s end, we’d bought it!”

If that sounds like too great a commitment for you, the London Canal Museum (12-13 New Wharf Road, N1 www.canalmuseum.org.uk) operate short trips, while the Bow Boat Company (Bow Lock, Gillender St, E3 www.bowboatcompany.com) offers half day, full day or custom tours.

For a unique perspective, London Kayak Tours (www.londonkayaktours.co.uk) will team you up with a British Canoe Union instructor, and guide you through the canal’s maze with a paddle, and a glass of bubbles.

If you prefer to keep your feet firmly planted on land, London Walks (www.walks.com) offer ‘Islington to Mile End’ walking tours with a knowledgeable local who will highlight points of interest, such as the locks and moorings, and give insight into the waterway’s history.

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SUGGESTED ROUTE

From City road, Duncan Terrace Gardens is a logical starting point. Head eastward along the northern shore of the canal, noting the combination of towering council flats, warehouses and high-rise residences. Waterfowl of various size and colour will follow, and converge if you display any sign of offering a nibble.

This stretch of the canal features plenty of street art, and although his ongoing feud with the followers of the graffiti artist known as ‘King Robbo’ usually results in his pieces being swiftly defaced, Banksy’s art has been known to grace the canal’s walls and undersides of bridges.

Although easy to miss, within a minute or two you will come across The Pumphouse Café, tucked neatly in the cavernous old lock station building opposite City Rd Basin, serving a range of hot beverages and treats.

Check out the art in the Proud Archivist (2-10 Hertford Road, N1), a bright space just off the Kingsland Rd specialising in brunch, dinner, coffee and cocktails. Recent exhibitions included the fabulous Gathering Storm – The Album Art of Storm Thorgerson, featuring artwork that ensured the familiar cover images of Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel and Led Zeppelin LPs have been laser etched into our consciousness.

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Foodie heaven Broadway Market is on every Saturday from 9am until 5pm – although some cafes open earlier – and there are usually several coffee stands, as well as multiple options for bread, pastries and cheese. For those who fancy something more substantial, choose from a plate of spicy dahl, German sausage with sauerkraut, or piping hot roast hog roll.

Work off morning tea or lunch with a lap or two of the scenic Victoria Park, or if you’re still in need of sustenance, enjoy an organic juice, hot tea, or veggie fry up on sourdough from the Pavilion Café while you feed the ducks.

Whether its summer or winter, at this point in your journey you’re bound to be thirsty. If you somehow managed to resist the charm of The Crown (223 Grove Road, E3) as you passed, nip into The Palm Tree for a British bitter and classic London pub experience.

Continue along the path as it meanders south towards the Thames, discovering the Ecology Park in Mile End Park, followed by the Terraced Garden and fountain of nearby Millennium Park.

By now you’re either spent of energy or full of beer, so it’s time to return along the path, or jump on either the tube at Mile End, or one of many buses that will take you to central London along Mile End Road. If you have a London bike to return, there are two docking stations within a hundred metres.

GETTING THERE

Regent’s Canal east can be accessed from Angel Islington, – a short trip from central London via the Tube, buses 73 and 30 from Marble Arch, 38 from Piccadilly or 341 from the Strand.

STAYING THERE

The Hilton Islington is within close walking distance of Regent’s Canal. Rooms start at $250 a night. www.hilton.com

BIKE HIRE

There are hundreds of hire and deposit stations across inner London. You will need a credit or debit card to receive a bicycle release code. Up to four bikes can be hired at once. Access is £2 per hire, and trips under 30 minutes are free. A three hour hire will cost £15, and six hours will set you back £35.  See www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling for more information.