Thought I Left, Didn’t You? Nah You Should Know Better!

28 Mar

I can’t help but feel this is a case where, despite my usual disregard for my readership, I have to apologise. Therefore, I’m sorry.

You see, I’m reliably informed by the calendar on the right hand side that the last time I posted was somewhere between “ages ago” and “who the hell cares anymore?” I had honestly intended to post at least two to three times per lunar cycle, however as I will explain, things got in the way.

As I like to offer readers an alternative to reading on and a chance to “cut their losses” so to speak, here:

 

Before we move on I feel I should mention a few things. Firstly, the writing today may not be up to the same standards you’ve come to sporadically expect here. That is because I’m living in fear that the spider which crawled across my arm as I slept and was subsequently flicked in to the darkness is still lurking in said darkness, waiting for the chance to exact revenge and finish the job. Should he not show himself for a final battle shortly I believe the only option is to burn down the house.

Secondly, I am no longer living in the UK.

Sorry I meant to type "shocked" in to the image search.

Sorry I meant to type “shocked” in to the image search.

In the last few weeks I have indeed made the move back to Australia. It was decided some time before then, and I did want to keep my loyal readership informed. However between continuing full time work, packing and organising, and mastering Eagle-eye Cherry on the Ukulele, there wasn’t a lot of spare time.

From now on I will be continuing to write on here, but I’m starting to realise that to set expectations for my writing inevitably leads to disappointment for all involved. Therefore I will try to post as often as I feel I have something meaningful to write about without resorting to feeble attempts to make a story out of nothing.

Hopefully I won’t be struggling too much for content for a while, as there are still things I did overseas that I haven’t had a chance couldn’t be bothered to write about yet. In the meantime if you have an idea for a story, or a hoarder I can confront about their effect on the neighbourhood, please get in contact.

 

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J

 

Don’t You (Forget About Breakfast)

3 Feb

As I said a while ago before I got sidetracked by those pesky French Alps, this post will be mostly to do with my breakfast. In the spirit of honesty, here is a website representation of how relevant this post will probably be for you, the reader.

But I guess if you happen to live in London, or will be visiting any time soon, this may be of some use to you if you enjoy a breakfast that is SO GOOD it makes you think “well, it’s all down hill for the rest of the day.” And I do. I’m not going to tell you the name of the place straight away, rather, what does this make you think of?

No, the place is not called ‘Simple Minds’ or even ‘Ill-fitting suit’ (though if you want to call your restaurant ‘Ill-fitting suit’ you’re welcome to it). It’s called ‘The Breakfast Club’, and when you get to the front of the queue to get in, it makes you go like this:bfcfs

That’s right, you have to queue to get breakfast! You’re probably thinking “screw that, I’m going to maccas for a double sausage mcmuffin, you stupid hipster”. And no one would blame you. But if you can force your modern, “on-demand” mind to spend a short while braving a cold London morning, I guarantee you’ll change your tune faster than a teenager with an iPod (this is a serious gripe of mine, let the song finish for god’s sake! Can I get a HELL YEAH?)

Once you actually make it inside the building and do your Judd Nelson fist pump, the decor is striking. It’s hard to explain but I guess its a classier version of the “found this crap out the back and made it into a light fitting” style I mentioned to describe ruin bars in Budapest. It’s not unpleasant though, and frankly I don’t go out to breakfast for the decor. While I’m at it, I feel I should can mention that I’m not more likely to choose a place to eat because they serve their food on chopping boards, skateboards, wobble boards, or anything else that is a kitschy substitute for a plate. Plates work. Here’s some photographic evidence:

I can't even pass this off as an 'arty' photo.

I can’t even pass this off as an ‘arty’ photo.

It may be difficult to make out, but this is a spectacular creation called the ‘Huevos Al Benny’, a very Spanish twist on regular eggs Benedict. Accompanying the usual poached eggs, English muffins and Hollandaise sauce are generous amounts of chorizo, peppers and guacamole. I’ve since been back to The Breakfast Club and had a more traditional cooked breakfast (plus a side of pancakes), but I can not go past Huevos for muchos el flavour.

If these sorts of things don’t take your fancy, the menu is extensive. Both times I’ve been I have found at least five things on the menu I’m torn between, and I haven’t been disappointed with my choices. Importantly, the coffee is good quality and well made, and the smoothies/juices provide a welcome hangover aid.

Even though it runs the risk of increasing the queue, and hence my waiting time, I should probably tell you where they are located. I must say that having visited two of their five locations (Spitalfields and Soho), they don’t feel like a chain. They still maintain personality and excellent quality in what they serve, and you can find them here.

Until next time, have a great morning.

 

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J

The Elephant In The Blog: Le Ski France part 3

27 Jan

einr

 

I feel we should start by getting things out in the open as I know there’s something you’re all thinking. Yes, this was the scene at the most recent BBS emergency board meeting. We were addressing the issue of why it has been somewhere between 19 and 21 days since the last post here.

The reasons are not relevant, nor interesting. But to whet your imagination I’m going to let you choose the one you think is most likely.

None of this really excuses my absence though. Especially considering I’ve since found out that a male flying ant has been born, mated (while in flight), and died in roughly the same amount of time since my last post. Don’t I feel like the underachiever.

Anyway, you’ll probably learn a little more about my absence in the coming weeks. In the meantime however, I am committed to providing you with light-hearted mind fodder on a slightly more regular basis.

This will start with a quick wrap of the ski France tour that happened too long ago but which I’m sure you need closure on. I’ve already mentioned the food was very impressive, and the hostel style accommodation was quite comfortable. On top of that, you got to get up everyday and head out to this:2012-12-26 11.47.22

And this:2012-12-24 16.19.12

The organisation of equipment and lessons was all handled by UCPA (the place we were staying, if you’ve forgotten). I think they may have done it a few times before, because the smoothness of the whole operation was very impressive. All equipment was fitted and issued upon check-in, and lessons were arranged according to skill and experience. 2012-12-24 10.26.39

I was in the intermediate group, taken by Mark (above right, wondering if “intermediate” means something different in Australian). Ordinarily I would’ve been pretty confident (almost cocky) because of my considerable three weeks previous experience on the slopes. However that confidence was taken out, along with my legs and a lift operator, in New Zealand last year as I tried to get on a chair lift. The fact I had been assuring my friends there was nothing to worry about only adds to their fond memories.

In any case, my friend and I braved the intermediate lessons. These promptly turned in to a snowball fight interspersed with some snowboarding, which surprisingly caused very little frustration from Mark (to his credit). When we did get to the snowboarding, we were able to improve our skills quite a bit. By all accounts, those who took the beginner lessons had a lot of fun too.  I must also credit Mark with his exceptional ability to conduct lessons in two languages.

Sadly, what seemed like a few days was actually a week, and it was time to leave. Our white Christmas had come, gone, and been enjoyed by all (not least because of my turkey hat, see earlier post). Snow sports certainly seem to be one of those things you either really enjoy or really don’t, but luckily if you’re a good sport you can still have fun if its not for you. Mad props certainly need to go to UCPA for their tidy operation, and some less mad props should go to Travel Talk for booking it (otherwise we never would have found it).

If you don’t mind, the sun is out now for the first time in about a month. So I’m going to leave it there. If you don’t hear from me in the next three weeks, I’ve been arrested by the ghost of a volcano for being a spy.

 

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J

 

My Real Merry Cheesemas: Read Earlier Posts If You Don’t Get It!

7 Jan

Like the “excess baggage” from this years festive indulgence, I’m still here. And I’m not going anywhere. At least not until I dust off my grossly inappropriate workout wear and lay off le pain o chocolat.

The only way this could be more inappropriate is if they were wearing bum bags.

The only way this could be more inappropriate is if they were wearing bum bags.

This simile is starting to run a bit thin, so I’m going to get on with the next part of my ski France series. This actually has something to do with my “excess baggage” as most of it came from the mountains of food that was included in the price of the tour! Though I haven’t really helped my case since then either, as yesterday we went on a two-hour round trip purely for one of these:

If you're not sure what this is, it is the world's BEST sausage roll and you should go back and read my earlier work.

If you’re not sure what this is, it is the world’s BEST sausage roll and you should go back and read my earlier work.

Anyway, it was my full intention to get one or two photos of the food on offer at UCPA meal times. However every time the meal room doors were thrown open, such was the stampede for the grub that I had to sacrifice journalistic integrity to ensure I had a good crack at the buffet. Not that there was ever a shortage of food, but a primitive pack mentality seemed to take over every time.

As I said last time, our Travel Talk tour included three meals every day, leaving all your spending money for drinks and novelty fridge magnets. But since I didn’t get any photos you’ll have to make do with my descriptions.

All food was served buffet style, but I was generally impressed with the quality from cooks who had to provide for a few hundred people. There was always a soup with accompanying croutons for those who wanted to waste room on “non-delicious fillers”, but I generally chose to go straight for the mains. They included hearty options such as meatballs, various types of fish, continental sausages, cold meat platters, roast lamb, roast duck, beef casserole, and probably others that I couldn’t fit in.

There was also a salad bar on hand for people pretending to be healthy while smothering their lettuce leaf with Caesar sauce and cheese. One night also included fondue-style cheese, which I was VERY excited about. Then we realised it was only meant as a sauce to be put on top of your broccoli (or some such nonsense). This was nothing a few soup bowls couldn’t fix though, and I spent a very enjoyable and delicious dinner time dipping bread (and whatever else I could find) in to liquid cheese.

The bread is also worth mentioning. Some places you go to eat, the bread is just a disappointing ornament better suited to propping up your wobbly side table than eating. In France though, they take bread seriously, and we should all take a lesson from them. Every meal was accompanied by fresh white or sour dough baguettes, which you cut yourself as chunky as you want. As far as I’m concerned every restaurant, cafe, service station and bus stop should now have a “bread station” with fresh baguettes.

Finally on to dessert. I’m not a dessert person to be honest. If I had to have a two-course meal, it would be entree and main. Or bread with liquid cheese and entree. The dessert offerings were also quite impressive though. Always available was a variety of cheeses, fruit and tubs of yogurt, plus a freezer with packaged or scoop ice-creams to help yourself to. There were also various other desserts available throughout the week, including cheesecakes, sponge cakes, bread pudding, chocolate mousse and brownies. These were a little more hit and miss for me, but maybe that’s because of my “foodism” in favour of savoury things.

So that’s quick wrap of the food on our Travel Talk ski France. There was honestly no need to buy any extra food for the entire week (we didn’t strictly “need” to buy extra chocolate eclairs, but such is the “who cares, we’re on holiday” mentality). Stay tuned for a wrap of all things cold, white and embarrassing next time.

I also feel I should apologise for the abundance of words with few visuals to break up the text. Here is a late attempt to make up for it.

His giant dune buggy is just out of shot

His giant dune buggy is just out of shot.

 

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J

 

Getting French As: Le Ski France part 1

1 Jan

I know the concept of opposite seasons is a difficult one to grasp, but the number of people that just can’t fathom the fact that we from down under are used to hot Christmases is a little worrying. Then again, I find it hard to fathom that people think they can actually catch the cheese.

Anyway, the relevance of what I’m trying to say comes with the fact that a “white”, or even cold Christmas is something of a novelty to people of Australia and many other countries. It doesn’t matter how high you turn the air conditioner while watching Miracle on 34th Street, you just can’t get the real experience.

With this in mind, and the fact that Mr G. Warming has made a white Christmas a novelty for Londoners these days, we set about getting guaranteed snow for this year’s festive season. Naturally, the answer was  a ski resort in the French Alps. It began as any holiday should with an early morning cab ride to the airport, which would’ve been less stressful had the cabs actually shown up and not forced us to make frantic phone calls to ensure we made it on time. My stress was somewhat alleviated by the comic relief of a friend, who was heard to remark “have we got Kevin?”

Just in case you didn't get it.

Just in case you didn’t get it.

Our early morning Monarch Airlines flight went relatively smoothly considering the time of year, the half empty flight even allowing us to stretch out and catch up on some shut-eye. After a short wait at Grenoble, soon we were on a coach piloted by Pierre Shumacher, who did not drive as though the lives of forty other people were of much concern. The scenery did get steadily more amazing, although the motion of the bus meant that the photos I took are not even up to my low, low standards.

Sooner than we probably should have, we arrived at Les Deux Alpes (The Two Alps) and found that speaking French is actually quite easy. You see, despite the french being so protective of their tongue, you really only need to put “le” in front of everything. For example: “le airport”, “le coffee”, “le holy shit this bus is going to fall down the mountain”. Sadly none of the people we were traveling with found this as amusing as my friend and I, and it was put to bed fairly early on.

Our ski France holiday was booked through Travel Talk, and for the 439 pounds that we paid, I was skeptical of what to expect. The price included six nights hostel accommodation, all ski hire, lift passes, three meals a day AND four three-hour lessons on the slopes. Le bargain! Sorry I’ll stop now.

Despite the fact that we had booked through Travel Talk, there was little to suggest they were involved in anything but the booking process. This wasn’t a bad thing, as the process at UCPA was exceptionally smooth without any extra help. UCPA is not a hotel or travel company, rather its a sports association that exists to provide great ski experiences while keeping the cost as low as possible.

This is done in a number of ways, including guests taking on small responsibilities like wiping down their dining table and basic cleaning of their room before they check out. So this isn’t a ski holiday for people like this, but it’s pretty cheap considering the price of skiing in many other places.

Upon check-in we were issued with our room numbers and lift passes, then invited to get fitted out for our equipment straight away. To be honest when I woke that morning at 3:15am I wasn’t thinking by mid-afternoon I’d be cutting some “gnarly” lines through the powder of the French Alps. To be honest again, that’s not what happened. To describe my efforts on a snowboard as “gnarly” would violate my commitment to truth and quality, but we did hit the slopes and the view ain’t too bad up there.

2012-12-24 11.14.23

After naturally having our confidence obliterated by people half our size and age (and somehow, probably with more money), we retired to UCPA where we found many of our trip mates had started testing out the local beverage dispensaries. It was also time for dinner, but I’ll devote a more appropriate chunk of the next post to the food.

That’ll have to do for now. I must also say happy new year to everyone who inexplicably keeps me from having an excuse to stop this blog by actually reading it. I’m very grateful to all of you. And to show this in true BBS style, here is an “arty” camera phone picture of some sky explosions which occurred last night when we trekked in to central London to experience the annual festival of public urination. The explosions were pretty cool too.

2013-01-01 00.01.51

 

Thanks for reading, safe travels in 2013. J

Snoop’s Merry Cheesemas: Budapest Part 2

10 Dec

Sorry, this post was mostly finished about three days ago, but since then I’ve been preoccupied with finding myself a new winter hat. Something stylish like this.winter hat

But given that since arriving here I’ve spent a total of six (that’s 6) British pounds on three hats and have a grand total of zero hats to show for it, I’ve decided to go with something a little more conspicuous.turkeyhat

If you’re trying to guess, the bottom one is me. Now back to Budapest…

Right! Now, where was I? Oh yes, we had just seen none other than a man playing wine glasses as though they were a real instrument. So frankly, it’s all down hill from here.

After our long day of walking, eating goulash soup and surreptitiously trying to get photos of a man playing glasses, we returned to Wombats Hostel for a well-earned power nap. I always find when returning to your place of rest after a day out, you run the very real risk of rationalising your way in to staying there rather than going out again.

For example, you might think: “Yeah I really should go back out to visit the third best bar in the world, but this place does have a history of communism. If I go out I could easily find myself on the wrong side of an abruptly constructed wall, or I could not be allowed to leave and be forced to eek out a living playing the wine glasses for patrons’ spare change.”

Then of course, you remember that you’re being a completely lazy and irrational knob end (my new favourite British term) and you should stop your pathetic jibber-jabbing and go do something meaningful with your short time in this beautiful place.

So we set about finding what Lonely Planet (amateurs) refers to as the world’s third best bar. At least, that’s what our free walking tour guide said. I’ve since found little evidence to back this claim up, but nevertheless, Szimpla Kert in Budapest’s District Seven is something to behold.

The decor is almost indescribable, as it has that oh-so-familiar feel of “we just found this crap out the back when we bought this place, and turned it all in to furniture or hung it on the wall”. But I also got the feeling this was one of the first places to do this. There are small separate bars for street food and hookah pipes as well as the main drinks bar, and though the drinks were on the pricey side for Budapest, it was still cheaper than drinking in most other European capitals. Definitely worth a visit.

After a drink or two we set off to find what we were mainly there for, Christmas markets. For me, Christmas markets meant one thing, food. Now, Christmas markets mean two things, food and booze. The food was extensive, and we did our best to try paprika sausages, chocolate-dipped fruit, and many other things that you can only eat when you say “yeah go on, I’m on holiday”. But the most fascinating was the “chimney cake”, as seen being prepared here:2012-11-24 18.57.16

These are basically big spirals of dough that are expertly cooked over hot coals, then coated in your choice of cinnamon, chocolate, sugar or a few other choices. There was a story that went with it, but you know I’m not in to that.

We also tried all manner of mulled wines and a hot cherry beer which was quite interesting. But the ultimate winter warmer was the “grog”. You’d think we would have been a little suspicious at the name, but we thought little of it. As it turns out, “grog” has a rather similar meaning in Hungarian. A cup of grog contained a hastily measured amount of rum, an unknown amount of orange schnapps, and I’m not real sure what else. It is also served hot, which means it is a mistake to breathe in as you take a sip. I’m not sure if alcohol taken in through steam vapour is more effective, but its not all that pleasant. Once we worked it out though, there’s no more effective or tasty way to stay warm.

The following day we were to depart, but not before experiencing Budapest’s mineral spring baths. Apparently Budapest is famous for them. Never having heard of them myself, I think Budapest tourism could perhaps do a better job, because they are well worth a visit! Here is a pic of the outdoor area taken so as not to draw attention to the fact I was taking clandestine photos at a public bath house:

It's worth noting that it was about four degrees.

It’s worth noting that it was about four degrees.

There are dozens of baths in the complex, both indoor and outdoor and at various temperatures. Price of entry is very reasonable and the experience is well worth the freezing sprint between the door and the outdoor pools.

After enjoying various temperature water, it was time to stroll back to get our ride to the airport. However on the way it was difficult not to notice just how many people are getting involved in Christmas this year.

I think the translation says "Merry Chrizzle, Snoop's upside ya tree".

I think the translation says “Merry Chrizzle, Snoop’s upside ya tree”.

As you know, for me getting involved in local food culture doesn’t just mean finding authentic paprika sausage and goulash soup. I also couldn’t resist the most pathetic pun in corporate food history.bk pun

It doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t even have the same sound. It was tasty though.

With all that it was time to head back to the airport, another flat rate taxi ride away. Our flight back was to be with easyJet, and never having had a problem with them, I was expecting a better experience with Ryanair. However, thanks to one particular overzealous airport worker, we were still on the runway 45 minutes after departure time. I won’t dwell though, because it was a wonderful weekend in a beautiful city.

Oh, and before I forget, I should tell you the exciting news I dangled at the end of the last post and have expertly placed at the end of this post to ensure readers stick around til now (assuming you haven’t got bored and left already). Anyway, in order to ensure a stereotypical European white Christmas, I will be heading somewhere where an absence of snow may entitle me to compensation. The French Alps.

In the meantime I may or may not bring you a post about my breakfast this weekend. Miss it at your peril.

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J

I Left Hungary For More: Budapest part 1

29 Nov

I know it’s been another long absence, nearly two weeks if I’m to believe the very sparse-looking calendar thing somewhere on the right side of this page. But I also know that you know to expect any kind of regularity is more futile than telling me how Back to the Future part III is fundamentally flawed. I won’t hear it.

Anyway, the main reason I’m back is because I actually have something to write about. That’s right, as promised over the past week and a bit I have returned from the West island of New Zealand (still funny), done a jet lagged 4 1/2 days of work, and spent the weekend in Budapest. By my standards I need around two months paid leave to recover now.

So I’m sure at least five of you seven loyal readers are thinking along the same lines: “you only went to Budapest for the many obvious Hungary puns.” Well you’re sort of right, but I had also heard it was an amazing place from everyone who’d been, therefore it was on my list of must-see places for this trip.

It began with what is widely accepted as the most shambolic airline in the world. Ryanair. I know you’re not paying for the service, but you do pay for pretty much everything else. That being said, it got us there on time and without too much fuss. We then set about getting to Wombats Hostel, and given how much trouble it can be to get from some airports in the world, the fixed-price taxi service was extremely welcome.

The following morning we were determined to make the most of our flying weekend visit, and so embarked upon a free walking tour. Rather than being ‘free’, these tours are actually based on tips (which they make very clear at the start) and are a very cheap way of seeing a city and getting heaps of information. After winding our way through various landmarks, we arrived at the Palace overlooking the river and were greeted with:

I know what you’re thinking. And despite the fact that it is neither on a shit angle, nor blurry, I did in fact take this photo. This is taken from the Buda side and overlooks the Pest side of Budapest. There’s a story about the names but you’ll have to visit if you want to hear it, since to explain it would take this dangerously in to the territory of an actual travel blog.

Along the way we also stopped by St. Stephens Basilica, a very impressive cathedral located on the Pest side. It looks like this:

You’ll be pleased to see a return to my “arty” photography style

I think you’ll agree on it’s impressive-ness. However I really only point this out to show you the ingenious way previous town planners have employed to make it seem even more impressive:

No doubt they erected the most boring building they could so as not to detract from the cathedral’s majesty. Or perhaps communist Lego blocks were not as colourful as ours. Either way I think it makes a nice juxtaposition.

After our walking tour we resolved to find some authentic Hungarian cuisine, which we were informed consisted of meat, lard, paprika, and occasionally potatoes. Seems limited but after two days I’m convinced they are the only 3-4 things you could ever need to cook. In any case we found we were looking for in the form of a nice hearty goulash soup.

Probably wouldn’t work as a Master Chef taste challenge

That was tasty, but what I really need to talk about is that we saw this:

If you’re not sure because you can’t see him that well, YES. That is a man playing the wine glasses! It’s one of those things I’ve seen on TV but never did I dream I would see one in real life. Clearly this is not just your average guy who happened to have some free time and a fully stocked armoire. Such is the organisation of his packing cases (not to mention his skillz) I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a roadie in a Jamie Turner T-shirt skulking out to replace cracked vessels.

That will have to do for now, as I’m trying to string this out ’til Christmas. Speaking of which, I have some exciting news (exciting for me anyway). Stay tuned for that, plus the epic conclusion to the Budapest adventure. Now THAT is dangling some impressive carrots!

 

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J