Last weekend, I was in Oslo. Originally, the plan was to meet my friend and co-author of the Hope Meadows series, Victoria Holmes. Sadly, Vicky became unwell soon before the trip and was unable to come. Charlie very kindly joined me instead for the weekend. Vicky did ask me, however, to record the things I saw and the food we would have eaten. So here is one of my favourite meals of the weekend.
Our waiter for the night was the delightful Sebastian. He was very friendly and spoke excellent English.
I chose the vegetarian option.
The starter came in three parts.
Kaho grab – rice chip
Light rice crisp with flavoursome herb topping
Miang kam – “betel leaf” with pomelo
The stuffed leaf was served on a delicious bed of toasted coconut. I had to stop myself from eating the lot, knowing there was so much more to come
Karipap – Southern Thai samosa with sweet potato and curry
I think this was my favourite part of the whole meal! Crunchy pastry with a delicious filling
Then there were four further savoury courses
Kao tod – Rice ball with cucumber and sour mango
Sebastian recommended the rice ball should be crushed, then eaten with the crunchy salad
Gaeng klo wan – Green curry soup with bitter eggplant, fresh bamboo and basil
This was hearty and delicious, with a slightly hot and sour taste
Taohoo – Crispy soft tofu with pepper chilli and coriander
The tofu was perfectly cooked with a wonderful crisp coating. Perfectly contrasted with the colourful salad
Gaeng deng pak op – Baked roots, kale and curry
This was marvellous: sweet chargrilled root vegetables, some soft, some firm, with a delightful curry sauce. Extremely satisfying
Then there were three parts to dessert.
Kanun lae saowaros – Jack fruit and passion fruit
Like miniature tasty smoothies
Som chon – Kaffirlime and pandanus granite
Flavoured ice. Sweet and refreshing
We were offered coffee. My cappucino was as beautifully presented as the rest of the meal
Kanom dok djok – “Rosettebakkels”
This was the most amazing presentation of the evening. The rosette biscuits came under a glass container which had been filled with steam to carry the aroma of the dish to us. It was lifted at the table. There were edible flowers and small chunks of chilli jelly in the glass cover.
The biscuits inside were equally beautiful
And now, all I need to know is, when can we go back! A fantastic evening.
Charlie and I have been fortunate to travel to Italy a number of times. On this occasion, we visited Genoa in the Liguria region.
We stayed on the converted fourth floor of an Italian Palazzo. We approached by taxi, which was a hair-raising experience through the tiny streets.
The ancient city of Genoa still hosts a thriving port and the narrow streets of the old town are filled with life. Gilded churches abound. Prostitutes sit in doorways in the half-light. Threading our way through the maze of cobbled streets, we emerged from dim ravines into sunlit piazze.
We began to ascend, through wider streets, rising steeply up towards the mountains that embrace the city. Up and up, unable to see past the lofty buildings that scaled the hillside.
Then we emerged to wonderful views of the city and the sea beyond.
A night’s sleep and then we set off to explore some more.
At street level, the city is intense, occasionally to the point of seeming almost oppressive. Not so bad in the April sunshine, I found myself wondering how it would feel in the depths of January.
But as ever, in Italy, food was not far from our thoughts.
On the last day, we took the funicular railway up into the hills and walked back down.
And then we were back down into those narrow streets again.
Again, this is a very belated entry. I wish I had posted sooner. These posts are the nearest thing I have to a diary and already, less than a year later, there are many details I cannot remember. Some of the more memorable things, I didn’t photograph. The rustic food we ate at Bar Casi was not aesthetically pleasing in a way that made me want to take pictures, but the friendliness of the owner, despite a significant language barrier made a lasting impression, as did the flavoursome bean stew.
The Sagrada Familia was, quite simply, the most stunning building I have ever been inside, mainly due to the warmth of the light that poured in through the stained glass, but also in the organic impression of the internal design. I have some pictures of that, but they don’t do it justice.
I’ll start though with the lovely gifts that greeted us on entering the hotel when we arrived.
Although I describe the Sagrada Familia above as one of the most stunning buildings I’ve been inside, I have to confess that externally, I found the shapes of the towers disconcerting. I suppose it is difficult to adjust to unfamiliar shapes in architecture, though it did grow on me.
At the time of posting, the Sagrada Familia is still only 70% complete. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi and has been built using donations. Because of its popularity, work is accelerating and it is hoped the building will be complete by 2026. I would love to revisit.
We went up the Passion Tower. Going up in the lift was easy, going down more disconcerting. Despite being relatively fit, my knees were shaking by the time we reached the ground. As well as views over the city, there were glimpses of parts of the construction that you would never see from ground level.
Later, we went out for dinner at Accés Restaurant. The staff could not have been more friendly.
The following day, we went on a bus tour. We saw some other buildings designed by Gaudi.
On Sunday, we went to visit Botero’s bronze cat.
We sat down and ordered some food.
I was pleased as I watched, to see that Botero’s cat was one of the most interactive pieces of street art I’ve come across. Everybody seemed to want to touch him. Many went further and climbed onto his back, or boosted their children up onto his tail.
There were trees lining the street and many parakeets flitting around.
We then wended our way back to the hotel. There were many beautiful buildings. Sadly, this is where my memory fails me as I don’t recall the names of the places we found.
Sunday’s meal was less of a success. Charlie and I have a history of awful anniversary meals, which is astonishing, considering how much we normally enjoy eating out. I won’t mention a name, but we visited one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Barcelona, supposedly a real food experience. It was an experience, but sadly, for us, the food just didn’t live up to the hype. Still, it wasn’t quite as bad as the salt-flavoured soup and white sliced bread we once had in Bodrum. And unlike that night, we didn’t have to go for a second meal on the way home as we were still so hungry.
My last view of Barcelona is of something that intrigued me in the taxi on the way in from the airport, and caught a passing photograph on the way back.
I understand that in amongst all the graves and mausoleums set into the hillside, there are many fine examples of funerary art.
There are so many reasons to revisit Barcelona and spend longer exploring. A weekend was no time at all to do it justice. One day, we will return.
On Friday 20th November, Charlie and I travelled to Milan. The excuse for going (if one can be said to need an excuse for a trip to Italy) was to see Simple Minds, but I confess I was looking forward to the food as well. In this I was not disappointed.
Here is Charlie, about to consume (second) breakfast in a wonderful pasticceria.
I think actually we were very restrained as you will see from this picture of a small selection of the cakes in the window. Apologies for the poor quality of the photo due to reflection from the glass.
As we were sitting, trams were rumbling past. The network seemed to be very extensive and there was an astonishing array of different types. With my father in mind, I thought I ought to photograph one or two, though I fear he might be disappointed in me for not being more selective in my choices.
We did pass the odd bit of culture in our extensive three day walking tour of the city. This is Castello Sforzesco:
And this is the Cathedral:
But then it was back to the food. To whet the apetite, an Aperol Spritz is invaluable. This rather fine restaurant was the Ristorante Valentino Legend:
The food was fantastic. Obviously photographs can never do justice to the full experience, but the meal really did taste as good as it looks.
All this food was consumed on Saturday before the main event, which was of course, the concert. Despite some reluctance on Charlie’s part, we managed to get a place very close to the stage. As anyone who reads this blog religiously will know, we have been to see the band a few times before, but they never disappoint and this was no exception. Jim Kerr seemed to be particularly enjoying himself. The only sad part was that he was conversing with the audience most of the time in Italian, so I had no idea what he was saying, but the audience roared their appreciation all around us.
I don’t have as many good photos as I have had for the previous two concerts. Not so long ago, Jim Kerr expressed his frustration that too much of the time he found himself staring into a row of phones so I was aware of that, as well as wanting to be in the moment when we had invested the effort to get so close to the stage. Charlie tells me that during Let There Be Love, Jim Kerr pointed to us and mouthed “You Two.” So now our twenty year love affair has been officially stamped with Kerr approval. Well, I’m looking forward to the next twenty years and I hope for many more weekends as wonderful as this one. Simple Minded ratification notwithstanding, I have published the few decent photos I have on a separate page for those who are sad interested.
The weekend did not end there. Sunday remained and we awoke to find the mist had lifted and the sky was blue. So did we spend this time enjoying the wonderful sights of Milan? No, we went out to eat, this time at Spoon. We arrived at about two and were presented with a Sunday Brunch menu. Initially, we were told the a la carte menu was not available, but after a quick word with the chef, our waitress returned with the real deal.
Our profound enthusiasm was not lost on the waiting staff. To our surprise, instead of offering us the dessert menu, they arrived with spoons and a moment later, announced that they were giving us a selection of desserts “on the house”.
By the time we were finished, the sun had gone down. We spent a while looking round the centre. As those of you who know me well will know, this is about as near as I ever get to high fashion.
Perhaps feeling that we had not spent enough time exploring Milan, Charlie felt that as a fitting end to our weekend we should pay a visit to the Navigli district, a beautiful area of the city built around canals. Following the GPS co-ordinates on Trip-Advisor, we took a tram and then a bus and alighted in an area that, to our surprise, appeared more Vauxhall than Venice. We walked a few minutes, passing shops with the lovely descriptive name “Sexy Shop”. This didn’t seem as tempting as the bohemian restaurants that Trip Advisor promised. Still, Charlie checked his map again and confirmed there was a canal nearby. So we walked some more (we averaged 20,000 steps per day… we needed to do something to work off all that deliciousness) and when we finally found it in the darkness…
…there was no water.
Retreating to a down-at-heel coffee shop, where a man was pounding a slot machine with the dedicated intensity of the addict, Charlie, following a long session peering into his phone announced that yes, the person who had added the Navigli District to Trip Advisor had put in the wrong co-ordinates. Undaunted by our trawl through the red light district, we made our way to Central station and hopped on the Metro. By the time we found our way to the real canal, Charlie was hungry again and as we had not, as yet, had a pizza, we finished our weekend in style in a tiny pizza restaurant: I Segreti di Pulcinella.
All good things must come to an end and it was sad to wake up on Monday morning knowing that the weekend was over. Still, the wonderful staff in the Lancaster Hotel wished us well. And maybe one day, we will return.
We landed in Gdansk on Saturday evening. The first slightly disconcerting moment came when we went to Avis car hire and found an empty desk. Fears of a long session of negotiation with another company, or finding ourselves stranded in northern Poland with no means of proceeding to our accommodation were soon dispersed when we lifted the red phone receiver and the attendant explained that she had just nipped home for dinner, but would be back in fifteen minutes.
Half-an-hour later, safely ensconced in a Ford Focus, we found ourselves rattling along a very rough road. When landing in a new country, there’s always a charged moment when you discover whether your 100 km journey will take one hour or ten. Happily within a few minutes, we found ourselves on a very efficient motorway. There were a few giggles elicited in the intervening period however, as the nicely spoken man in the GPS machine tried to get his tongue round ‘ Ulica Juliusza Slowackiego’ and ‘Ulica Jana Wojnarskiago’.
Slipping quietly through the outskirts of Tricity, I was interested to see the beautiful classical northern European architecture admixed with starkly contrasting utilitarian Eastern Bloc high-rises. I was also struck by the shops which included Tesco hypermarkets and a plethora of Lidls. It is easy to forget, when I so rarely leave Norway, just what a closed shop my adopted home country is to external supermarket chains. It was also disconcerting to see so many signs and not understand a word. With a smattering of French, German and Latin (as well as Norwegian) it is rare to find myself so much at a loss. Still, for me it only added to the frisson of discovery. I love new places.
And so, after a couple of hours, we arrived at our hotel. The Poraj Palac is a substantial country house hotel surrounded by gentle rolling countryside. The grounds and surrounding area team with wildlife. The evening air is filled with the singing of frogs from the nearby pond, the night brings the screeching of barn owls and in the morning, the cuckoos begin calling. The staff are friendly and the food is wonderful and fresh. English speaking travellers are few and far between. I feel very lucky to be here.
Artwork in the grounds.
And, just for Jan-Arne, some photographs of the very colourful food.
It has struck me often, even before I started to write this blog, that my life is filled with small irrelevant detail. In fact one of the reasons I selected WordPress was that I knew that you could create fixed pages, and hopefully, over time I will be able to build up a site that people can look round, rather than depending upon a blog that should probably be updated more frequently than things happen in my life. I look in awe at those people who have weekly columns in newspapers and manage to come up with something original, or even better, funny on a regular basis. Worse still, the news is filled with its usual stories of seasonal lack of cheer. I should be feeling guilty at setting forth all this trivia, however on the grounds that guilt is an over-rated personal attribute, I shall just go ahead anyway.
This morning, I crawled out of bed at about half-past nine. Charlie has returned to work, and the only things I have to do involve dirty clothes, and combining foodstuffs into tasty formats. The former is (of course) deeply boring. The latter, I found I had little enthusiasm for, on the grounds that after several days of over-indulgence, I can’t actually imagine what it feels like to be genuinely hungry. Still, I have promised Charlie that there will be trifle at New Year, and so it was necessary to make some kind of sponge. Given that we really don’t need any more cakes right now, I decided that perhaps small buns were the way to go. Having assessed my ingredients, and with the knowledge that blueberry muffins are without doubt the best of the muffin-based food range, I decided to add some blueberry jam. Given as well, that I had leftover green and red marzipan in the fridge (chocolate log, you understand) I thought I would add pieces of that into the mix as well. As I stirred the resulting hideous purple mess, I found myself happily contemplating the fact that perhaps, just perhaps, I was the first person ever to combine these particular flavours together. Given that there is chocolate icing left over from the chocolate log as well, I suspect that the finished product will be really quite delicious. Obviously purple sponge, red, jelly, orange fruit, yellow custard and white cream will look quite garish when mixed together, but the good news is, that if I add sufficient sherry nobody will give a toss anyway.
Rather more soberly, I have to announce that I have completed the redraft of “Tomorrow” and so find myself at the beginning of another quest for a literary agent. I would like to think I am inured this time, to the inevitable six weeks of emptiness (well in my inbox at least, it is unlikely I will be dieting during this period) followed by the brick wall of generic rejection letters, but I know it’s still going to feel like shit. And as usual, the beginning has been beset by cock-ups. I have perused books and many websites on the subject of “how to hook your agent” and yet none of them have ever given the advice “Don’t start out with your most preferred agent because you will almost certainly make an arse of sending out your first draft”. This time it was quite spectacular. I had decided to try out a somewhat cheeky vibe, and was speculatively writing a lot of trash in the happy knowledge I would be able to edit extensively thereafter, when I inadvertently pressed “send”. I still don’t quite know how it happened, but I sat there in horror with the realisation that I could not retract a single word. Instead, pulling myself together, I began again from the point where I had left off, attempting a light-hearted thrust or two, in the hope that the poor sod on the receiving end would be amused. It was only after I had sent out the second e-mail that I realised that the document I had uploaded, which I thought was a docx document, was actually odt… a format that agent doesn’t accept. I can’t face writing again. I can only hope that he is in generous mood when he comes across the wonderful item.