August 20, 2007

Global Cities

We saw a fab exhibition at the Tate Modern on Sunday “Global Cities“. The introduction states that more than 50% of us now live in cities and, according to the UN, this number is set to rise to 75% by 2050. A century ago only 10% of the planet’s population lived in cities.

The exhibition attempts to encourage us to take account of the scale and pace of this change and consider its consequences on the way we live and the decisions we take. It examines the social and spatial conditions in ten large, dynamic cities spread across the globe: Cairo, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo. Cities are changing. There are now over 20 mega-city regions with more than ten million people. There are also nearly 450 city regions with over one million residents. Together they house more than one billion people in a relatively small surface of the earth. This footprint, as you can imagine, will have a direct impact on climate change and the ecological balance of the planet.

The figures are amazing. The exhibition was amazing. If you can, get down to see it – it finishes August 27th, Tate Modern London. I have a couple of copies of the exhibition in booklet form if anyone’s interested I can send one to you…

filles at 4:34 pm

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June 20, 2006

La Soupe Populaire

On our street we have a little restaurant called ‘La Soupe Populaire‘. For €3.80 I can have a hot lunch (1 of usually 5 choices) and a carafe d’eau which is a bargain compared with the €5.60 just around the corner for a salad sandwich.

It’s cheap, it’s good, it’s hot and I don’t have to cook it myself.

filles at 11:51 am

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March 16, 2006

Biblocafe: Glasgow

We stumbled upon a new cafe on Woodlands Rd last weekend (262 Woodlands Rd). In fact it’s more than just a cafe, it’s a 2nd hand bookshop & cafe, serving great coffee with a huge range of well kept, good priced books, lots of light and wonderfully comfortable seating upstairs. The owner is not only funny with a huge range of entertaining stories, but she knows when you want to chat and when you want to catch up on your reading – she keeps all the daily rags along with her collection of well priced books.

I just thought I should plug it here since I’ve spent the last few days there, re-establishing my caffeine addiction. Support local.

filles at 3:35 pm

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February 24, 2006

Koshkemeer: Glasgow

It was Dave’s birthday yesterday so we went out to try the only Kurdish Restaurant in Glasgow, Koshkemeer. It was on the south shore (we’ve been spending a lot of time over there lately) and we pass it most weekends when we go to the Farmers Market in Queens Park. We’ve been meaning to get there for awhile, and we’ve had it in our plans for weeks – one of Michelle’s requests. It was good. And being BYO, it was even better. Very meaty. Very tasty. The staff were very kind, they kept bringing out special dishes for us to try over and above what we had ordered… considering the portions were huge anyway, we all rolled out of the restaurant after closing, very satisfied indeed.

Tonight we’re off to see Marie Chouinard, then bright and early tomorrow morning we’re off to visit Barry & Michelle in Leeds. It will probably be the last time we see them before we move to Paris, and probably the last time we see them before their baby is born in June… so we’re going to put on a brave face, get up at the crack of dawn and pick up Andy in Moffat at 7.45am – aiming to make Leeds around 11ish tomorrow morning. Since we are so broke this month, counting our pennies, it won’t be a huge night out on the town, but more of a mature session at home. I’ve offered to cook and Barry’s offered to go to the chippy for dinner – I guess it will depend on how much Guinness is consumed during the afternoon which way we’ll go. Michelle’s preparing herself for a long weekend and since Rugby is on tomorrow night, England vs Scotland – it should be a hoot!

Other than that we’ve had no requests for the apartment in Montreal just yet, a couple of people considering it and a real estate agent we’ve found who has offered to let it for us for a commission. Chances are we’ll have to go to Montreal sometime in April for our immigration papers for France so we’ll finalise then I guess. Paris flat hunting is underway. We’re expected in Paris on the 6th & 7th of April to view a selection of apartments that have been found using our preferences… (how do you explain you would like a courtyard or garden, but would also prefer being on the top floor?) hopefully we’ll find something big enough to fit us all in.

So everything is coming along nicely, and picking up speed everyday…

filles at 12:41 pm

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February 7, 2006

Isle of Mull: Salen Hotel

We had a great weekend away in Mull. The Salen Hotel was the perfect choice for a group. The rooms were lovely, the food was fine and the staff were extremely friendly. There was a pool table, a juke box and two bars – what more could one ask for? If that was not enough, they even organised a cab in the form of a mini-bus to take us all into Tobermory for dinner one night. We were dropped off at one pub for dinner, and picked up at another after (a few!) drinks. Perfect.

I understand the hillwalking went fine. There are a variety of graphs and charts available for those of you who want to reduce the lovely walk up a hill on a sunny day to a series of numbers and figures and percentages, but for the rest, suffice to say it didn’t rain, no-one got injured, the champagne at the top of the hill was quaffable and the whisky was a brilliant idea! Robert has officially completed all 284 Munros in Scotland, and Karen & Colin have now completed their first. We’re all extremely lucky to have had such dry weather on Mull in February, and even luckier that there was no snow or worse, ice, at the top of Ben More.

Even Maddie & I had an enjoyable day, albeit at the bottom of the hill. We were heading for a walk to the Carsaig Arches, but were delayed en-route to spend some time with a local farmer who was supplementing his animals food by stopping and giving food to all his sheep, cows and highland ponies. I’ve never seen sheep gunning it down the road at the sound of a car horn tooting. Most disconcerting! We did however, manage a little walking. We headed off to see Mackinnons Cave, although had we managed to make it past all the deep, thick mud on the farm before reaching the cliffs, we would have found out that the tide was too high for us to enter the cave anyway…. never mind, we used our wits to get around the mud, and we had a short walk along the cliff with wonderful views out to the Island of Staffa before heading back to Craignure to pick up Dave who was on the 12.45pm ferry. Being 3 Aussies alone on Mull in the afternoon, we ventured off to visit Macquarie’s Mausoleum where we were advised quite specifically that Macquarie had earnt the title ‘Father of Australia’ from his 12 years in Sydney as Governor. Imagine finding out that Mr Macquarie, after whom the bank, the university, the street and a variety of other spots & businesses were named, was actually born on Mull. Small world huh?

(pictures will follow, probably tomorrow…)

That done. We’re back in Glasgow and looking forward to 6 full weeks before heading away again, this time to Pakistan. There may be the odd few days now and again when Michelle will zip off to France for business, but all in all we’re grounded here in an attempt to save some cash to cover our trip to Pakistan. I’m quite happy about it, if only I could stop reading the travel sections of the Saturday & Sunday papers!

Netball this afternoon, oh joy! Pakistan embassy tomorrow…

filles at 4:31 pm

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January 18, 2006

Kenya: Galdessa

We had the most fantastic time in Kenya. The trip itself was only supposed to be about lying around in our cozzies and catching a little sun, but in the end it turned out to be so much more than that. We decided that since we were in Kenya we really should do a safari. We had already bought a package deal that included flight, hotel, all meals and drinks with Thomson (it was cheaper than just the airfare with any other carrier) so we started looking at one night safari options into Tsavo East. Then it become 2 night options in Tsavo East and Tsavo West, then it became a flying safari to the Masai Mara, then 2 nights in Amboseli – until weeks later after much encouragement and advice and literally thousands of emails, we decided upon 3 nights in Tsavo East at Galdessa an amazing eco-camp in the middle of the National Park.

The theory was, we paid peanuts to get to Mombasa and have an all-inclusive resort at our beck and call, so we could afford to pay a little more on safari. Since we never seem to ever get back to places for a 2nd visit (we always say we’ll go back – but as we get older it happens less and less) we wanted it to be a memorable safari, with no regrets. I found the most fantastic tour company D.M Tours who helped us through our choices (along with an amazing woman who runs Aardvark Safaris here in Edinburgh – who despite not getting the commission from us, was kind enough to be a sounding board for me on numerous occasions) and off we went.

The trip was a private safari with our own driver/guide who was to stay with us for 4 days and 3 nights, driving us wherever we wanted or agreed to go, in our own magnificent Landrover that seated 6. Pure luxury. Kenya (our driver) picked us up from our tacky 3 star resort (the Bamburi Beach Hotel) and led us off on one of the best holidays we’ve ever had.

The drive from the North Coast of Mombasa to the gate in Tsavo East took us about 4 hours which included stops to buy our entrance to the National Park and have a cup of tea and look in a local community shop (where of course we parted with some cash!). It’s only about 150km but the road is so bad that it takes forever. The pot holes on the road are so deep there is no question that you just have to avoid them, once in, you’d never get out. It’s a 2 lane highway, 1 in each direction, but nobody seems to care. You can see 3 semi-trailers lined up side by side trying to get along with a couple of jeeps off either side of the road in the dust trying to pass. It’s insane. Kenya, our driver, called it our free massage…. all part of the service.

Once in the park the mood immediately changed. The dirt was red, deep dark red and there were animals almost as soon as we crossed the elephant grid. The radio was turned on and became our signature music of the next 4 days. Continuous chatter in Swahili – simba, caribou, Aruba, etc etc – a few words that we heard over and over again. The radio is how the drivers and guides keep in touch. At just over 21,000 square km’s Tsavo National Park is one of the largest in the world and when anyone sees anything special (a lion hunting, cheetah etc) they jump on the radio and give co-ordinates, what ensues is a mad dash of minivans all rushing to show their guests the spectacle. We were lucky, not only were we not in a suped up minivan but our driver was so good at spotting that we were often the first to a scene so able to enjoy the spectacle before others got there. Don’t get me wrong, Tsavo is nothing like the Masai or Amboseli in terms of numbers of people. Because the park is so large you can go days without seeing another person, driving up and down the endless dirt tracks spotting birds and animals. It’s wonderful, definitely one of the many advantages of being in Tsavo compared to some of the smaller more popular parks.

By the time we arrived at Galdessa it was lunch time and we were tired and dusty. It was like arriving at an oasis. The most beautiful reception building which housed a bar and lounge area and the restaurant. Built entirely out of wood, stone and thatch it was open to the nature and housed just above the river Galana that runs through Tsavo all the way out to the sea in Malindi, and which was full of hippos and crocodiles lazing about, and the most extraordinarily birdlife. Directly across from us, we had views up to the Yatta Plateau which is world’s longest lava flow at 290km and formed by the lava from Ol Doinyo Sabuk Mountain. It was perfect.

We had a fabulous lunch (the chef was Kenyan, but trained under Italians) and then were escorted to our tent for an afternoon nap. Because the camp is the middle of the National Park and was unfenced we had to be escorted anytime we wanted to go outside our tent or the main building. The escort varied depending on what animals were around and night vs day. In the daytime if the coast looked clear it would be Daido, our lovely houseboy on his own, yet in the night to get to dinner we would be escorted by a Masai warrior brandishing a spear, a park ranger with a rifle and all that plus we would be driven in a jeep the 300 yards to the main building to be safe.

On arrival at our accommodation we were issued with a notice to read about the wildlife what to do and what not to do in case of wild animals nearby your tent… we laughed in nervous, excited way and left it at that. A couple of hours later after a short nap, I woke up to the most enormous bull elephant not 5 feet away just outside our tent. I woke Michelle and we sat there too terrified to move or make a sound while this elephant tore away all the greenery outside our tent. After he finished the bushes directly outside, he swung his trunk and looked like he was deciding which way to head, left or right. Left would have brought him face to face with us inside our tent (the tent was open and we were too terrified to get up and close it) thankfully he lobbed right and used the thatch roof above our tent to scratch his back before heading off to visit our neighbours! It was terrifying and amazing at the same time.

We couldn’t believe our luck. The camp was beautiful and to top it all off, we had been lucky enough to get the honeymoon tent (although it seemed that it caused much embarrassment with the staff who assured us the bed was big enough that we could sleep on either side and never see each other during the night!). The honeymoon tent, no. 7, included a built up platform beside our tent with a glorious big fluffy and white day bed covered in pillows where we could sit in the shade outside in private and read or watch birds and monkeys in the trees. We made good use of our platform. Most afternoons, Daido arrived with beers at and then every half hour or so he’d come back to check on us, fill our glasses or bring us whatever else we fancied. As our personal assistant, he’d wake us in the mornings, turn down our beds at night, arrange our mosquito net at just the right time in the afternoon to make sure none of the nasties attacked, fill the bucket shower to whatever temperature pleased us, waited for us to finish supper, enthral us with his story’s of animals in the park and the camp and delight us with his thoughts on life and the universe. It was magical.

In fact for us, the whole trip was magical. Definitely Galdessa was the highlight. Most people come for only 1 night and then move on to another park and another camp the following day, sometimes people stayed 2 nights, but because we stayed 3 nights it was special. The staff all got to know us, all treated us royally and were all so special it really was a highlight. Even for Kenya our driver it was a good trip. Instead of having to drive madly to get to a different place every night he claimed it was a little holiday for him – nice easy days and the magnificent camp to come home to everyday.

We tended to go out every day early, around 6.30am for our first game drive, come home for lunch and a nap and then head out in the afternoon around 4pm for another game drive – it’s just way too hot in the middle of the day (Kenya is only about 3 degrees south of the equator), the animals all hide in the shade and the sun just bores down on you. One afternoon we went on a walk from Lugard Falls to Crocodile Point. Galdessa is one of the few camps that is allowed to take you walking in the Park with an escort of armed rangers leading and following up the rear. We saw lots of small animals, birds, crocodiles, and some young hippos messing about in the river – amazing since we were a group of about 15, predominately Italians who never thought to stop talking in case they scared the wildlife! It’s quite a miracle we saw anything! At the end of the walk we climbed up the top of Crocodile Point to find Kenya waiting for us with champagne on ice and a couple of glasses. It was brilliant. A personal touch courtesy of D.M. Tours. All the rest of the guests piled back into their vans or jeeps and watched longingly as we toasted our trip while watching the sunset in the west.

Another treat for us was courtesy of Kenya himself. He arranged with Galdessa to have packed lunches prepared for us and we went out early to spend the whole day so we didn’t have to use time returning to camp. The morning was so successful we saw thousands of animals, it was brilliant, and to top it off, we managed to watch some lions hunting for zebra. Luckily for the zebra, she got away, but the water buffalo an hour or so later was not so lucky. We missed the kill, but returned in time to settle down and eat our packed lunch beside the lions who were munching away at their recent kill. I think we were quite a spectacle ourselves to other trucks. We had gourmet lunches, the three of us, with some beer Michelle had thoughtfully smuggled in (in which Kenya had aided by supplying the cooler and some ice). It was fabulous. I’m sure they were all jealous.

We have loads of other stories to tell, you may hear bits and pieces over the next few weeks, but ultimately the safari was the highlight of our trip and Galdessa was just the nicest place we have ever had the pleasure of staying at. If you ever get the opportunity, take it. You won’t regret a single penny.

We returned to the coast, free back massage included and stopped at a Masai village on the way home which I’ll have to save for another installment, along with our trip to Wasini. Check out our pictures if you haven’t already done so….

filles at 11:59 am

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June 28, 2004

Meal and Education – at The Fat Duck

If you have been reading these pages for some time, or if you know me personally, you know that I LOVE food. I talk about it, I reminisce about it, I smell it in my sleep – and most of all I love to eat it. Nearly everything I do involves food. It is my lasting memory of every day, and the first thing I think of when I wake up of a morning. I devour magazine articles, recipe books and delicatessen counters. Once I’ve finished lunch, the first thing I think about is dinner, or lunch tomorrow, or the meal I’m going to prepare for so and so next week… This is not to say that I always eat well or wisely, I’m partial to a carb fix or a junk day just like most people, it’s just that I enjoy it so, so much.

On the evening of June 18th, a Friday at 7pm, I had the most incredible food experience to date. It was with Christine. We took the train from London to Maidenhead, which on a direct train takes about 30 minutes, and jumped in a cab for another 5-10 minutes, and arrived at The Fat Duck, in Bray, Berkshire.
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filles at 3:03 pm

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