A few weeks ago I went back to Oz and hired a bike in Adelaide to ride across to Phillip Island for the MotoGP. Unfortunately, unless I wanted a cruiser, Adelaide literally had a choice of one half-decent bike so I loaded up the Kriegas and headed off on the Yamaha FZ600 with Mark on his Aprilia.

We took the quick route across; heading straight down the Western Highway stopping off in Ararat for the night. It had been a while since I’d been that way. Man they build some long straight roads in Australia! I had also come down with some kind of man-flu so was feeling pretty rough and not in the best condition for a long distance ride. A lamington at Kaniva helped.

Next day, instead of going through Melbourne we dropped down to Geelong and caught the ferry over to the Mornington Peninsula. While waiting for the ferry we chatted to a guy who had ridden his Blackbird from Western Australia!

It was still another good couple of hours to the Island so it was getting late in the day when we arrived. The sky was also looking very threatening and we struggled with some epic winds but no rain so far!

This was the first time I’d been to Phillip Island and I have to say what a fantastic track! Such a beautiful location by the sea and it looks like it would be awesome to ride. It’s definitely one of the great circuits of the world. We had seats at Lukey Heights and so could see most of the track and also had a lovely backdrop of Bass Straight.

Unfortunately the weather was a bit rubbish. Bloody cold with the occasional shower most days but race day was alright. Stoner absolutely dominated the race and there was an Aussie on the podium for all three races so the home crowd was happy.

On the way back we took the Great Ocean Road. All I can say is wow! This really was epic! I wished I had my Daytona. Without doubt it’s one of the great biking roads of the world. It starts off snaking around the mountains by the sea. Really twisty with dramatic views and you can’t think it can get any better. But then at Apollo Bay it heads off into the Great Otway National Park with fast sweeping bends shooting through the forest. My God it was amazing. GoPro footage to come!

We stayed the night at Port Campbell which is near the 12 Apostles.

The next day it was back onto boring South Australian roads and the long straight slog back home. We made sure to stop at the Big Lobster though.

More pictures from the race here.

As you may know, I’m a bit of a Formula One fan and one of the benefits of being a McLaren team member (apart from the free earplugs) is you get the chance to go on things like pit visits at Grands Prix.

Last week was the final pre-season test for the 2010 Formula One season at the Circuit de Catalunya just outside Barcelona and McLaren had given me a couple of tickets which included a pit visit. So Andrew and I and Cathy and Ethan headed to Barcelona for a couple of days.

Despite a two hour delay at Heathrow and a Spanishly challenged sat-nav we made it to the circuit minutes before our scheduled pit tour. It was great! We stood in the McLaren garage while a stream of F1 cars entered and exited the pits and when Jenson Button rolled into the garage we got a really close look at the awesome new McLaren.

After the tour we spent a couple of hours walking around the circuit taking pictures. You can see the results in the gallery.

The next day was spent in Barcelona, mostly visting crazy Gaudi stuff like La Pedrera, Parc Güell and La Sagrada Familia. There are pictures of them, too.

Central Park, Christmas Day 2009This year we spent Christmas in New York and, yeah, it was just like Shane and Kirsty sang:  there were cars big as bars and the day we left the wind really did go right through you (a maximum of 0° and gusts up to 64 km/h), but apart from one day of constant rain the weather was actually pretty good.

Christmas Day was spent ice skating in Central Park before going to Radio City Music Hall to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes(!) This was first class Christmas cheese and also completely awesome.

The show is a spectacular 90 minute review with dancing santas, finely choreographed toy soldiers, a nativity scene with live camels and donkeys, a 3D sleigh ride and of course the fantastically long-legged Rockettes. Formed at the Roxy Theatre originally as the Roxyettes, when they moved to Radio City in 1932 they were renamed the Rockettes and have been singing, tapping and high-kicking at Radio City for over seven decades.

I think this quote from an audience member on the website sums it up best:

The show my wife and I sat through was the best show we had ever seen and provided the ultimate Christmas memory, I was loving the show and turned to my wife during the show to ask if she was enjoying it, as I turned, I did not need to ask the question, as the tears of joy welled up in her eyes told me more than words could.

I’m only partly taking the piss; it really was a great thing to do in New York on Christmas day. After the show we had Christmas dinner at a diner near Times Square.

On Boxing Day we kept the Christmas traditions going with George Ballanchine’s The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. It was Ballanchine’s production in 1954 (the first show by the NYCB) that started the tradition in Europe and America of performing The Nutcracker at Christmas time.

The show was fantastic; the dancing was stunningly good and and the set was incredible. At one point a 40 foot Christmas tree rises up out of the stage and at another 50 pounds of paper confetti fall from the rafters onto the ballerinas to create a magical snowstorm.

After Saturday’s downpour, Sunday was bright and clear so we took the opportunity to get outside as much as possible with a trip to the South Street Seaport, Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.

The night before we were due to leave we headed to Broadway to see the first revival of West Side Story in thirty years. By now I’m starting to run out of superlatives but this was a thrilling, jazzy, cool, moving and simply great show. The combination of Bernstein, Sondheim and Robbins adds up to something more than the already astronomical sum of their parts. We had seats in the fourth row and the breathtaking choreography just blew me away.

This revival is new in that all of the Puerto Rican characters are native Spanish speakers and some of the text has been changed from English to Spanish. I think it works well although the changes are less than what was originally planned.

I’m still thinking about it days afterwards and not even the girl spilling her ice over herself next to me or the loud woman who wouldn’t stop talking behind me could spoil it. Quite simply it’s worth a trip to New York just to see it.

On the morning we flew back, we took shelter from the sub-zero temperatures and arctic winds in the Frick Collection. This is a wonderful little gallery of the artwork collected by Henry Clay Frick, a 19th-century steel baron, housed in his mansion on the Upper East Side. Like the Wallace Collection in London every room is stuffed with astoundingly significant works of art. Wherever you turn there are paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Renoir, Turner, Bronzino, El Greco, Gainsborough Holbein, and the list goes on. It is far less crowded than the Met or MOMA (my God that place gets busy!) and the works are hung as if they were in Frick’s private house. Thoroughly recommended.

Unlike London, which turns into a bit of a ghost town at Christmas, New York really is the city that never sleeps and while the crowds of people taking pictures of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center (?) can be a bit trying New York is still a fantastically cultured, beautiful and exciting city to be in — especially at Christmas time.

Photos in the gallery.

Monaco, GP2 race, 2009Tomorrow the British Grand Prix kicks off at Silverstone but last month we went to the most glamorous Grand Prix of them all; Monaco.

We went with Jonathan and Louise who had managed to arrange for us to use a friend’s flat in Monaco-Ville for the week.

Also known as La Rocher or ‘The Rock’, the old fortified town sits high above the harbour of Monte Carlo and is where the Prince’s palace is located.

Although it is only a short climb up the hill, La Rocher couldn’t be more different from the glitzy Monte Carlo.  While Ferraris and Lamborghinis roll past the high-rise buildings and massive yachts down at the harbour, La Rocher is a quiet medieval town with narrow cobbled streets and pretty buildings.  The flat we were staying in was in a little square, not far from the Palais Princier with plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby.

We arrived on Thursday night and went to Ingrid’s flat for a few drinks.  This is where we got our first view of Monaco Harbour and it was amazing.  The yachts were all lit up and there was clearly a party going on down there.  We could see all the way across the harbour up to Monaco-Ville on the other side.

Later that night, as we walked home along the race track, we found the party.  It was being held on the Force India team owner’s yacht and it looked amazing.  It had lasers and everything!

I had grandstand tickets for qualifying but we were planning to watch the race on Sunday from Ingrid’s flat.  However, when we walked past the ticket office on Friday and saw there were race tickets still available, it didn’t take much discussion before we had tickets for Sunday, too.

These tickets, we discovered, also gave us access to the pit lane that day and as we walked past the garages, we could see the engineers working on cars in various stages of disassembly.  It was cool.

On Saturday I went to watch qualifying while everyone else went to Nice.  I had a great seat in grandstand K and could see all the way from the exit of the tunnel, through Tabac, past the harbour and swimming pool and down to Rascasse.  It was my first experience of how close to the cars you get in Monaco.

That night we went to a party high, high up in the hills surrounding Monaco.  It was in an old estate with an incredible view all the way down to the sea and the lights of Nice airport up the coast.

Lewis Hamilton, Monaco, 2009Sunday was race day. We all wore the McLaren team kit and even bought a Union Jack to wave at Lewis and Jenson as they screamed by.  It was hot in the sun but I didn’t care.  Our seats on Sunday were even better than I had for qualifying.  The track ran right around us and we could see the cars fly from the tunnel into Tabac corner just metres away before hearing them thunder down the straight behind us and up the hill toward Casino Square.

Lewis didn’t do too well but, of course, Jenson won so we had the chance to wave our flag.  I had such a great time.

On Monday we chilled out in Nice before hitting Monte Carlo casino late that night.  The casino is quite different from what we had experienced in Las Vegas; a bit more classy and a lot less busy.  We did well on the blackjack table though and everyone came out with more money than they went in with.

Monaco is a crazy place.  Supposedly it wasn’t as busy as it usually is during the Grand Prix but it still had an amazing atmosphere.

But Monaco is also a city of two halves.  Monte Carlo is all yachts, Ferraris and parties but up on La Rocher it’s another world altogether; one of cobbled streets and little squares to have coffee and crepes.

Check out the pictures in the gallery.