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Leaving on a Jet Plane – How to Survive Departure Lounges

Leaving on a Jet Plane – How to Survive Departure Lounges

It’s 6am. I surrounded by people barely awake but trying to remain so. The lucky ones have seats that they have slumped into, the exhaustion and bone deep weariness evident. Others are staggering around like zombies, not cool looking well-coordinated zombies reminiscent of Michael Jacksons Thriller video, but a poorly directed low budget B movie type where they move with an unconvincing lurch and shuffle. Conversations are brief and measured, the risk of a misunderstood intonation which could lead to anger evident.

There is a rumour that there is free clean drinking water but we’ve all heard this before and know better than to get excited or dare to believe, let alone take that fruitless quest to where the friend of a friend of a friend said it was. So it’s either pay for water or go without. Some have taken to drinking alcohol and are trying to force an air of carefree abandon, as if it’s all good and that drinking at that time of the morning is fine given the circumstances. The food on offer is limited and lifeless pap that the venders know they can overcharge for given we have no choice, it’s them or nothing.

Empty vacant eyes glance furtively around, willing time to pass so they can leave this hell hole. The harsh artificial lighting and the feeling of being trapped does nothing to improve the mood. Parents, normally so loving and nurturing of their offspring, grow snappy at their energy which they seek to temper so they can rest at this ungodly hour, the cries of “Darling, No” growing louder and more impatient.

I’m sure you’ve guessed where I am, the description of this desolate lifeless pit of despair probably gave it away quite quickly, and perhaps not the exact location since it’s repeated in countless places the world over.

Of course it’s the departures lounge at any major airport where, due to the desire to travel, you’ve agreed to be there at a ridiculous time of day. And having got to the airport, walked for miles, sorted out check in, gone through the drudge of security where you have watched people surprised at having to hand over their phone, belt and carry on, thus delaying the process (like the clues as to what was going to happen weren’t there for ages as you waited in the queue) you are in a holding pattern, waiting to leave.

Flying is never an easy experience and whilst they say the travelling is all part of the adventure inevitably it’s all “hurry up and wait”, there’s the overpriced food and drink, the lack of comfortable seating, and the constant checking of the time before you again need to hurry up, this time to the gate, and wait, whilst the plane isn’t really boarding despite what it says in flashing red letters on the departure board.

airport waiting area

So here are our tips for trying to make it as stress free as possible regardless of what time you are actually departing.

  • Check and double check. The day before departure you will want to check into the flight, use that as an opportunity to double check the departure time and make sure you know which terminal it is leaving from. It’s also an opportunity to make sure you have passports, airline tickets, visas, insurance policies etc. and make up a little pack ready to take. Then a quick check when you leave the house to ensure you have the pack and you are good to go, the same applies when leaving your holiday accommodation for your return journey.
  • Screenshot or (and) print out your the boarding pass. You may have the airlines app on your phone but what happens if it fails when you are trying to check in? A simple screenshot of the boarding pass is a good back up. And whilst I know we all rely on technology, it can fail so I always print out my boarding pass as well. Last thing you want is to be refused boarding as your phone has died at the vital moment.  Some airlines charge for checking in and printing the boarding pass at the airport.
  • Know your airports. You may think you know the one you fly out off since you travel all the time but airports change constantly. So a quick google can show you any changes and refresh your memory. And checking out the destination airport means you know where the way out is, ATMs, transport etc. Same with any en-route airports or layovers, a little knowledge beforehand can make the whole journey go smoother. If you know the gate layout at an airport and you are going to be waiting, find a gate that’s not in use, near it will be free seats so you can relax and typically power sockets (used by the cleaners) so you can recharge your devices.
  • Decide on packing. Whilst it’s possible to do a holiday of a week or more using just carry on there are times when you need to check luggage. If you can do it with carry-on make sure you are familiar with the airlines policy – especially the size and quantity of bags, these vary greatly. If you are checking in luggage make sure you book that in advance. It’s typically a lot more expensive to check in a bag if you have to pay at the airport. And if you are checking in a bag check the weight, a small set of scales will save you the high cost of excess weight. Plus if you do have spare capacity consider packing anything you might have taken into the cabin, a lighter load to carry will make the journey easier.
  • Ziploc bags for the win. Always carry a few, they have so many uses – not just for the liquid and cosmetics check on the flight but for snacks, putting your phone in to keep it dry you get the idea. It’s worth noting some airports have started charging for bags at security now so this can save you some money (a staggering £1 at Bristol airport for three small bags!).
  • Check in next to first/business class. If you have to check in with an agent then finding the queue next to the first/business class check in can speed up the processing, the agents don’t have many people to check in so will check in economy passengers when they are not busy.
  • Bear left. A personal observation based on the fact people will favour their dominant hand, since most people are right handed they will go right. So if you are going through security or passport control go left when people go right.
  • Travel with a multi plug and charger. We all use our phones for more than just phoning these days – videos, music, and writing – so the battery can get depleted, even when in flight mode. On some aircraft they have USB sockets so you can charge your device, at airports there are dedicated charging tables. If they are full look around at the pillars and walls, there will be sockets used by the cleaners where you can plug in your multi plug and charger.  At the same time as charging your phone, plug in your kindle and battery pack so when you finally make it onto your flight you have plenty of power.
  • Decide on your travel outfit. Having a favourite set of clothes that you know are comfortable for air travel makes the whole experience better. You want something that you find comfortable to wear, loose natural breathable fabrics are best. If you have clothes with a slogan make sure it’s not offensive or rude, airlines are cracking down on this so passengers don’t get offended. Don’t forget comfortable shoes and socks. I have a pair of merino wool socks that are a joy. Layers is better than something bulky, cabin temperature on a flight can be hit or miss.  On a recent flight where it was cold there weren’t enough blankets to go around so being self sufficient was a definite bonus. And consider keeping your travel outfit for the journey home. After time away when you’ve run out of clean clothes it’s tempting to do the sniff test and pick the least pongy item but remember that the smell that isn’t offensive to you may be to others. Your travel outfit having only been worn that once will not only give you a comfortable journey home but your fellow passengers will appreciate the lack of odour.
  • Stow before going through security. As you wait in line start to empty your pockets so when you get to the head of the line you can simply pop your bag and coat through the scanner along with the specific items that need to be isolated and through you go. On the other side take your bag and coat and move away from the security area, you can then sort yourself out without people getting in your way or you feeling rushed to move along.
  • Keep things to hand. Not just the travel documents but make up a grab bag of what you will need when you get to your seat. How many times have you stood in the aisle on a plane waiting while person after person faffs with their bag trying to get out all the items they will need? If you can pull out the grab bag then you are sat down quickly.  If you keep your items in that bag you ensure you don’t leave anything on board, and when it’s time to leave you simply pop that one bag back into your carry on and you are ready to go. I find a small roll top waterproof bag works well, once rolled you have a handle. Not only can use it as your flight carry on but it’s a waterproof bag for your holiday.
  • Have a plastic water bottle in your luggage. Most camping shops will sell roll up (or flat) water bottles. Despite my joking earlier there will be places that will fill up your water bottle. Worse case the coffee shop or where you eat will do it since you’ve paid to eat/drink.
  • Bureau de change at the airport.  These tend to offer you the worst option for exchanging money. Either order the currency before you go so you can shop around or consider a card that is made for withdrawing money abroad.
  • Don’t rush to board. If you have made it to the boarding gate and the flight is loading don’t rush to board. The flight is not leaving without you now. Wait until towards the end of loading, that way you are straight on, sat down and off you go. The risk of this is if you have carry-on luggage, you may have to surrender it to the hold. Alternatively, if the locker above your seat if full walk back towards the front of the plane to find a space, that way you can grab your bag on the way off, you don’t have to wait till everyone leaves so you can work your way backwards to where your bag is.

And finally –  A tip from a friend – give yourself a free upgrade. If you are the last onto the flight and there are seats in business sit down and hope the cabin crew don’t realise. If they do, nothing lost, shrug and smile. If they don’t you can have a more comfortable flight. I, of course, would never do this.

And then repeat the above for the flight home to make the whole process as painless as possible.

Enjoy.


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Local Delicacies Aren’t Always Weird

Local Delicacies Aren’t Always Weird

Not all local delicacies are weird…..

Stop and think for a moment – yes I know, you’re browsing, sharing cat memes, wondering how to say meme, and thinking was not something you were planning on doing. I apologise for springing this on you but bear with me on this. Let me ask you this as a way of getting the gray matter ticking.  When you think of travel and local delicacies in foreign (or not so foreign) parts what images do you conjure up straight away?

Cockroaches, deep-fried sheep testicles, octopus tentacles, pig’s intestines, maybe something even more bizarre?

Understandable, and I’m with you here. I know these are all delicacies from various (and in some cases many) places. I should know I’ve tried them all at one time or another!!

Some I may be persuaded to ingest again, others will not be happening unless I have an Epipen to hand (who knew you could be allergic to octopus). But it’s all part of the beautiful tapestry of travel, taking that leap into the unknown and trying what is considered a local treat, something you are encouraged to eat with broad smiles and encouraging gestures, the smiles getting broader as you, someone with different ways and tastes, embraces a small but important part of their culture.

But let me rewind here. So, you now have this image of these strange, bizarre or weird foods as local delicacies in your mind right? Well what if I were to tell you there is an island off Scotland that has a regional food that has been grown there for 3500 years, is still grown there in fact, and exported all round the world? And it’s not slimy, greasy or potentially gag inducing? And is used to make some of the most delicious foods.

So what is this local delicacy?

BERE

Bere is an ancient grain.  Similar to modern wheat in appearance, it’s related to barley and grown in just 10 hectares of land on the Orkney Islands plus a few locations in the Outer Hebrides. And whilst this all sounds mundane it’s really quite fascinating and has been vital to the local inhabitants.

And what makes it vital? Its known as ‘90-day barley’ because of its short growing season. Sown in spring and harvested in early autumn, the hostile winters that Orkney is well known for means any food that can be grown in such a short season is not just important but amazing.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough research has found that this strain of barley is able to fix nitrogen levels in sandy soils (like those on Orkney), eliminating the need for fertilisers.

Exactly when it was brought to this far-flung corner of Britain is a bit of a mystery – remnants of bowls used for crushing barley have been found at the stone built Neolithic village of Skara Brae, which was occupied from roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC. The village, and Orkney, is well worth a visit but more of that in another blog.

Processing the barley has, of course, developed over time. The original advance in technology was the design of the quern stone, a development that has occurred independently in many parts of the world, that moved processing on from simply smashing the barley to grinding it between two shaped stones, the lower (stationary one) being the quern and the upper the hand stone resulting in a more consistent product and much less wastage.

Mill stone in Orkney

It wasn’t until the Norsemen arrived from the East however that the process became less intensive.  The Viking invaders brought the knowledge of powered wheels and geared drives which simplified and improved the processing of the bere.  The system is similar the world over – a big wheel turned, using a motive force such as wind, water or man power, connected to a series of gears which turn the stones, removing the tough outer husks in the first stone and then producing beremeal or oatmeal. A process largely unchanged since that time, the only variance being the motive force employed.

Fast forward to today. Barony Mill at Birsay, tucked in the far west of the ‘Mainland’ (the name given to the main island in the Orkney archipelago), is the last place on the islands to mill the grain. Between October and April a tonne of bere husks pass through the mill every two days, it’s dried on the kiln floor before being milled into beremeal, the outer, nutritionally empty husks used to fuel the kiln fire.

This water powered, totally self-sufficient and sustainable Victorian-era mill is still producing flour, from locally grown bere, exactly as it would have been in the 1800’s, using a technique that would have been recognisable to those Viking invaders.

And in the summer months it opens its doors to those who want to explore away from the well beaten tourist trail. Orkney, would you believe, can be incredibly busy. The mass cruise ship tourism unloads boatloads (pardon the pun) of tourists onto the island to the well visited Highland Park Distillery and Scapa Distillery in Kirkwall. In striking contrast Barony Mill is relaxed.

On arrival you’re invited on a tour, free, and to sample biscuits made from the locally grown bere, also free. A striking contrast to the commercialised busyness so common of places dependent on tourism.

Jack, who showed us around the mill, was enthusiastic and eloquent and, his passion for the history of bere, made him a delight to listen to.  His pride in his Orcadian roots shone through, as did his respect and admiration for his grandmother, the only female miller at Barony Mill. This unique ‘tourist attraction’ (it seems wrong to refer to it as such since that’s not their main purpose, they even seem embarrassed about being considered such) even has small bags of flour, stored in a huge coffin like box that are for sale.

Barony Mill on Orkney

So you’ve read all that and thought ‘meh, what of it, this all seems fairly normal, everywhere has mills and flour’. But it is what you can do with bere that makes it unique.

Come with me to the Far East – we’re at the ubiquitous market stall, locusts are on the menu, but consider this. There are only so many ways to fry a locust. So once you’ve tried it, you’ve basically tried it for anywhere that serves it. As the original traveller once said “a testicle is a testicle whatever you do to it”. I’d love to know how that came up in conversation!!

Beremeal, however, has been the heart of food and drink in the Orkney Islands over the centuries.  Generation after generation have been raised on bere bannocks (flat bread baked on a hot griddle and often served as a starter instead of a bread roll, a real marmite type food which I personally love), everyone on the Islands have tasted a Stockan’s Oatcake or visited the Argo’s Bakery, the two main commercial clients of this mill.  If the bere is scorched in the kiln before milling, the flavour changes. And when mixed with kirned milk or buttermilk you get a dish known as bursteen, another local staple and treat.

Added to the list of uses is the making of ale.  At one time tea was too expensive for the ordinary folk of the islands and, as is the case around the globe when you can’t drink the local water, you have two options – boil the water or make alcohol.  With the Viking influence and long dark nights in winter, alcohol became the purification method of choice.

Bere is still used to make the local beer. Swannay Brewery uses bere grown in the fields around the brewery to make a unique drink that effuses the history of the islands.  And believe me, when you have spent a day out in this rugged landscape with the Atlantic Ocean and a winter gale buffeting you, it warms you from the inside out.

So the variety of ways to sample this amazing wheat are myriad. And nothing takes you back to your visit to Orkney like making bere bannock at home, from flour picked out of that coffin box.

So when you are travelling, don’t just look at the obvious headline local delicacies or traditions.  Look deeper, look beyond the final product and explore the basis of the dishes you are tasting.


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Embracing Travel – What Uncle Tony Has Taught Us

Embracing Travel – What Uncle Tony Has Taught Us

We live in an age of celebrities. They surround us and assault us from TV, magazines, websites, social media; no corner is left “unturned” (if I may) in order for them to get their message to us. We love some, we hate some, we tolerate some, but at the end of the day there they are and we reject them or take them into our hearts.

As you can see from these posts I am a lover of food and that, of course brings me into contact with chefs on television and in my reading. Rick Stein, I’ve loved his journeys and recipes. Jamie Oliver, what a self-centred •••• with no talent, a fake cockney accent and an arrogance that saw him belittling the poor doing their best to feed their children.

So I don’t sit on the fence. I hope you see that. I do, of course, love Delia. Who doesn’t? But for me Keith Floyd is the man, he got me into food. This is the wrong place to talk about him, but he was a gastronaut, a traveller with food who enjoyed every aspect of it. And I loved his passion for food. I’ve still not read his last autobiography such is the emotional connection.

And of course there is Nigel Slater, I do love his writing and his eloquence, his quotes make me smile regardless of my mood, one of my favourites being “There is too much talk of cooking being an art or a science – we are only making ourselves something to eat.”

And that brings me to Anthony Bourdain. Someone I was unaware of until an American friend of mine mentioned him and said “if you like food you need to check out Uncle Tony”. So I did. And I learnt why my friend called him Uncle Tony.

As I said, celebrities are everywhere. And we have our own reference to them. But to refer to one as a member of the family, a respected elder, well that’s different. And after a short period he did become Uncle Tony. Many words have been written about his style, his panache, his love for life and exploring new foods and cultures. And his insistence that you need to go and see places rather than just visit them and glance at them is something special we can all achieve.

So whilst I was finishing off my musings about hashtag travel and “octothorpe I decided to look up his pope mobile quote, about not being hermetically sealed away when travelling. That was Friday 8th June 2018, in London.

Googling him didn’t bring up all the quotes I was hoping for but news of his death. And that shook me. I read the articles, followed the news, gleamed what I could. So we all know what happened, and I have nothing to saying about that.

He will be a great loss to the food, travelling and exploring community. I will miss seeing the ping on YouTube when there is a new Uncle Tony travel programme. For me personally he encapsulated that “get involved” type of travel we like to enjoy, where you are part of the journey, not just an observer.

 

But how to encourage people to embrace his ethos, his love of travel? Well I leave that to Harnidh Kaur (twitter: @PedestrianPoet) who has kindly given us permission to share her tweets with you:

1) Today, when you eat, at home or otherwise, don’t scarf down your food. Pause. Look at the alchemy you’ve been gifted. Look, carefully, at the magic a few leaves, roots, and flesh can make. Allow yourself a moment of wonder.

2) The next time you take a cab or any hired transport- Pause. Say hello to the person driving you. Ask them to tell you how their day went. Find a story in them and ask to be told of it. Relish the short ride to another world you’ve been afforded.

3) When someone asks for your opinion and your usual, generic platitudes trip out of your mouth- Pause. Take a minute. Ask yourself what you really feel. Train yourself to bare your truths instead of coating them with pretty words that go down easy.

4) Go out alone. Take yourself out on a date to a beautiful part of your city. Pause. Watch the way the clouds move and part to let the sun touch you. Share a meal with yourself and consider it one cherished. Read a book and find ease in your own company.

5) Laugh with a stranger. Find someone whose eyes crinkle when they laugh and the air around them is streaked with joy. Pause. Give thanks to the miracle of happiness, of excitement that doesn’t ask for a difficult due. Join in. Celebrate the simple pleasure of a smile.

6) When you buy yourself a beer, pause. Look around. Find someone to share it with, and be there, in that moment, as a friend and lover. There is a generosity to sharing time and space. Practice it, incessantly. Practice it kindly. Share yourself sometimes.

7) Listen. Pause. Listen again. There is a universe in each story you’re gifted, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in a language you struggle with. Unravel it slowly, make sure each strand is untangled and appreciated. There is a story looking for you. Listen. Let it find you.

8) Love. With fierce, unabated joy. Pause when you do- marvel at the magic of love. Marvel at the fact that you can. Say hallelujah for the tenacity of love in a world that tries too hard to commodity it and sell it off in little bottles. Reclaim.

9) Cook. For yourself and for the ones you love. Touch the raw ingredients with your hands and pause. Offer your respects to the brutal, beautiful joy that the act of eating creates. Feed someone, give them a belly full of warmth and nurturing. It’s a way of saying ‘I love you.’

10) Pause. Pause always. Give yourself time to stand still and observe the world. Give yourself time to find words to describe it. Give yourself the space to learn and to make mistakes and to learn again. Give yourself the courage to be honest and kind and wonderful.

 

The temptation here is to try and do an “If” moment as Rudyard Kipling would and sign this off with something akin to the famous last line which you could achieve if you follow the above steps -“Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and which is more you’ll be a Man, my son!

But, of course, it’s not that simple, it’s never that simple.

Those 10 steps are great, and they’ll let you experience more of a place than you ever imagined you would. And past that? The but? The great answer? Well, that’s down to you. Uncle Tony will be looking down and watching to make sure you make the best of your travels!


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Anthony Bourdain travel thoughts

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The Ox – A Bristol Cellar Transformed

The Ox – A Bristol Cellar Transformed

So much has been written about The Ox, talked about, debated, discussed, disputed, argued, tutted and generally said it’s hard to know how to feel before you go there. People had encouraged us to go (its sublime), people had discouraged us on going (it’s dark, expensive and not all that), it’s hard to know what to do.

So we looked at the menu.

Which changes.

So do you go or don’t you since you don’t know what to expect?

So we went.

The Ox is located under a Weatherspoon’s.  For those not familiar with the Weatherspoon’s chain it’s been described as the predictable place you never claim to go to, but always end up there for the food and drink. Yeah, makes no sense to me but I like it for its value and predictability. And they do famously have a designer carpet for all their pubs but enough about that.

Heading down some steep, what looked like marbled steps, you find yourself in an old world gentleman’s club, all wood panels, dark, mysterious with lamps of blown glass bunches of grapes. Even the gentleman barman sports sideburns and a friendly welcoming smile, as if you have entered an underground drinking den Dickens or even Sherlock/Arthur Conan Doyle could (or should I say would) have found familiar.

The LED screen of the computerised booking system is a little jarring as the staff check your reservation but soon forgotten as you are led into this darkened emporium of heavy drapes and solid mahogany furniture.

Sat down we were presented with a simple one page menu and then it becomes clear. The menu is seasonal and dependant on deliveries. Of course. You think of a steakhouse and think steaks are perennial and I had thought I could have the ceviche. In February, on a Monday, what was I thinking?  Well obviously I was getting it confused with the freezer/microwave factory that some steak houses are. But not here. The ceviche, and other seasonal items, had been replaced on the menu by other mouth-watering delights.

The Ox is known for many things – its steaks, of course, and sharing steaks, triple cooked chips, the charcuterie board, the ice cream, to name but a few – so it was hard to decide. Luckily the staff are excellent at helping and after discussing the options we went for the set meal for two.  This contained, okay, predictably, that famous charcuterie board, a 30oz bone in steak, triple cooked chips and ice cream to finish. In short all the things we’d been told to try. But I couldn’t resist the bone marrow since it is, shall we say, a talking and talked about menu item. Given the strength of feeling on the subject let’s leave it at that since many a word has been exchanged on the subject over time.

The drinks menu is to be admired.  The selection is superb for any taste and pocket and it was lovely to see local favourites like the Lyme Bay Brut Reserve on there, lest to say you won’t be disappointed in the list. And then looking around the place whilst we waited for our meal you do feel a sense of occasion. This isn’t a quick grab and eat steak place, the lighting, from those grape chandeliers, is low, the tables are heavy and steadfast, and the place has an almost permanent aurora of extravagance and indulgence.

People complain about the size, the closeness of the tables and the acoustics but that all adds to that ambience. On an adjoining table a group of six were all sat enthralled by an elder. It was hard to discern where he was from, and we didn’t want to listen in, but when he raised his voice to ask for more beer, explaining that he was “the designated drinker” it sounded so polite and posh until he forgot himself in admonishing one of his guests where it became the thick Black Country accent of my youth.

The starters came on chopping boards, and my heart sank. As a fan of “we want plates” I suddenly though I was in one of ‘those places’. But no, plates came. The charcuterie board was all the art of charcuterie and more – aside from the meats there was pate, kimchee, sharp mustard and flavoursome chutney, served with fresh bread and butter.

And the bone marrow.

I realise this is not to everyone’s taste but it was succulent, full of flavour and cooked to perfection with the sweetness of the shallots still evident. Despite the abundance of the charcuterie board I’m glad we ordered it.

With plenty of time given us to have our starters, and told we could have a break before the main, we decided to march on. The steak was cooked to perfection, sliced so we could have our share, the triple cooked chips just divine and the leek and cabbage cooked gently in butter but with a hint of more, rosemary perhaps. All in all, such a simple repast but so tasty.

Again, we are reminded, we could have steak, chips and veg anywhere but this was certainly not your run of the mill meal. The attention to detail from the way the meal was cooked to the quality, made what appears to be just a simple meal into one that you cannot help but enjoy.

Steak at the Ox in Bristol

And then to desert. Ice cream. Not something I am particularly keen on but, of course, I should have been prepared. The ubiquitous chopping board of course. And six glasses. With ice cream in them. But all unique – White Russian, rum and raison, pear, mango – to name but four, we’ll let you discover the others! And more sorbet if I am to be honest than would traditionally be called an ice cream, a gelato if you will. All wonderful and so exactly as described.

So that was it, dinner over. And how wonderful was that. Often with modern dining you know the place is reliant on two covers per seat per night (if not more) so you are pressured to move. Or restaurants want to appeal to as many people as possible so they have these long elaborate menus with everything under the sun that leaves you wondering, but dare not asking, how they do that. But The Ox is neither of these things. They are true to the dining experience – good food and drink taken in a relaxed manner.

 

More information about the Ox in Bristol can be found here.

 


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The ox in bristol

 

This is not an ad or paid review.  We visited out of choice and paid for our delicious meal in full
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Start Point Lighthouse – How to Spend a Night in a Lighthouse

Start Point Lighthouse – How to Spend a Night in a Lighthouse

Britain is an island. I think we can all agree on that. We don’t need to of course but it’ll certainly decrease the number of arguments we have. And this means that for many years people have been sailing the sea. And, due to weather or other concerns they have been getting wrecked. And whilst I’d like this to mean drunk I don’t, wrecked as in hitting rocks and in many cases drowning.

In Roman times, fires were lit on hilltops to aid mariners, either to guide them into a safe haven or warn them of rocks. When the Romans left England this practice fell by the wayside. Any fires seen by mariners were either set by companies to guide you to safety, for which you had to pay, or to entice you in to be wrecked so you could be robbed. And with no good charts and fires lit by whoever, there was no way to tell one from the other.

At the turn of the 18th century transatlantic trade was booming. But seafaring was still a dangerous profession.  And with the money invested in it mishaps like hitting rocks was seen as a costly mistake. So lighthouse building began, the 18th century was a golden age for innovation in construction but other engineering endeavours that saw lighthouses and lighthouse technology advance by leaps and bounds. I’m sure we are all familiar with names such as Thomas Smith, ostensibly the father of lighthouse construction, followed by Robert Stevenson whose sons David, Alan, and Thomas followed him into the business of lighthouses and then two of David’s children, David Alan and Charles Alexander also became distinguished lighthouse engineers in their own right.

Fast forward past these developments, the lighthouse keepers, the custodians, the maintenance and resupply and these days most lighthouses are automated. And this means there are lighthouses cottages available to rent for the night, weekend or day. As you can imagine these places command a spectacular view because, of course, you would build a lighthouse with the best view of the sea possible so mariners could see it.

And we were lucky enough to stay in one of the cottages at Start Point, a point on the south side of Start Bay near Dartmouth running almost a mile into the sea so offering superb views. It was designed by James Walker in 1836 and, given the influences of the gothic movement of the time, it’s certainly an imposing structure with its battlemented parapet.

lighthouse from below

We arrived on a Friday night in December and had the pleasure of negotiating the narrow road down to the lighthouse and letting ourselves in by torch light. Once in though we found what can only be described as a beautiful cottage and the ample welcome basket was, well, very welcoming containing farm eggs, local milk and coffee and numerous other delights.

There is no local shop or takeaway as you can imagine so we had a menu plan in mind and, even then, over shopped.

Opening the bedroom window on that Friday night, seeing the faint flashes of light from the lighthouse directly above us and hearing the waves crash and beat the cliffs below certainly rocked us off to a marvellous night’s sleep.

A relaxed start to Saturday saw us walking west on the South West Coast Path and exploring all the nocks and crannies on the way, a photographers paradise which meant herself was more than happy.

There is with no doubt that every few yards, as a new view came into sight, that we didn’t say wow.

And even the walk back, normally an anti-climax on any walk was spectacular.

So much so that the good lady convinced me to climb up to the trig point behind the lighthouse to take photos of the sunset and the lights. And whilst these were dramatic views climbing down a 60 degree, almost vertical cliff face with only a rusted guide chain in the twilight is not to be recommended to the faint of heart.

start point lighthouse

Luckily we returned to the cottage to take out of the oven a beautiful Beouf Bourguignon inspired by the wonderful Julia Child. I won’t bore you with the recipe since its readily availible on the net but let me just say, the time it takes to cook is time well spent and you can cook so much of it before hand. This is the recipe that led so many cooks to realise that the way to avoid soggy mushrooms and get them crispy was to simply not overcrowd the pan.

And what a wonderful meal that made.

But back to staying at Start Point……


So How Do You Stay in a Lighthouse…

She says…

After sitting in the car with him all the way down the M5, taking him round Sainsburys with his shopping list that was HUGE I was beginning to wonder where we were actually staying.  I had been to Start Point Lighthouse with my kids.  I had even tried to lose my dive buddy in the seas below the lighthouse and I was pretty certain it was not a major expedition.  However I wasn’t going to complain about the 6 bottles of prosecco and food for a month being loaded into the car.

I was however a little frustrated with the five year old grown man sitting next to me, getting more and more excited as I watched the perfect sunset melt into darkness as we had spent so much time shopping.

I then realised that it would be me driving down to the lighthouse.  Having walked the path I knew how narrow it was on foot in daylight.  Taking a car in the dark down the path was going to be a whole other experience.

road to the lighthouse

I’m pleased to say, with a little bit of rally style direction from himself I survived to the lighthouse.  So worth the raised blood pressure and white knuckle driving.

We had booked the lighthouse through Rural Retreats who manage a number of lighthouse cottages which are now holiday homes.  The booking process was simple and the key instructions were very clear and easy to complete even in a gale and driving rain.

Stepping in to the cottage was like entering a dream home.  My brain started on the “oh, look at that”, ‘wow, I wonder where that is from”, I even have photographs of standard lamps and rugs to try and find them for the living room.

view from lighthouse window

The kitchen was well stocked with everything you need.  Given that the chef I had brought with me travels with his own knives and potato masher it is saying something when he is happy with the set up.

The bedrooms were cosy and warm with stunning views (luckily for me the view in the morning was pretty gorgeous as well!!!).  The beds were comfortable, the pillows and duvets snuggly and the windows all opened so I could have the night time fresh air that I need.  You were even supplied with ear plugs to ensure a good nights sleep on foggy nights when the fog horn is sounding continually.

We had planned to go to Salcombe for the day but in the end after a leisurely breakfast watching the waves on the rocks below we decided that walking was the best option.  Straight from the door you can walk.  There is strange sense of contentment as you watch walkers slog down to the lighthouse to find a locked gate that you have the code for.  Instead of the slog back up the hill to the car park and a drive home we were curled up in front of the fire watching the sweeping flash of the light within minutes.

lighthouse gate

In summary, for those who can’t be bothered to read the rest, it is possible to stay in a lighthouse.  There are lots of options with Rural Retreats and the whole experience is fantastic.  Whatever the weather you will be exposed to the elements and waking up in the middle of the night to the crash of the waves makes the snoring of your holiday companions fade into the background.


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Start Point Lighthouse

We visited Start Point Lighthouse on our own.  We were not paid to visit and did not receive any 'perks'
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Are the Top Places to Eat (or Visit) Lists Worth Consideration

Are the Top Places to Eat (or Visit) Lists Worth Consideration

I’m writing this on behalf of himself for reasons that will soon become evident.

When you travel somewhere new you will, of course, google (or search engine of your choice) the location. Amongst the many search terms will be “48 hours in xxx”, “top 10 things to see in xx”, “undiscovered xxx”, these will give you recommendations of places to go, to see, to EXPERIENCE! Apologies for the use of capitals but it does appear one of the key goals of travelling is to get that experience about where you are. And one of those experiences is the food.

Which is what finds me writing this blog post sat at the hospital bed of himself. The stupid belligerent opinionated idiot. Whilst googling Marrakech to see if there was anything specific to see during this visit, the changes and current state of the city he came across many “top 5 places”, “top 10 places”, “the real food of Marrakech”. Being an old Marrakech hand the conflicting information was confusing to him. There was even one site that boasted the top 10 places to eat despite the couple in question only having been there 2 days!

So, sadly, the gauntlet was thrown. He was okay for the 17 breakfasts, the tea and sweet meats were fine at the many locations he decided to sample them and the 14 lunches, full lunches mind, he breezed through. It was only during the afternoon snacks that his diabetic condition started to come into play but he, despite protests, was determined to power through in order to make the definitive culinary list of Marrakech. The first 9 dinners were fine but, in hindsight, the warning signs were there. During the 11th dinner (Moroccan salad, 6 mixed kababs, lamb chops, aubergine and bread) that the warning signs manifested.

So, in order to try and find those best places to eat, rather than just google what others have written, plagiarise and reword in order to try and make it appear you really know somewhere he actually went for it.

The doctors say he will be fine but I’m not sure his bullheadedness will never be cured.

The lesson – of course you google the place you’re going to but do those top x lists really represent reality?

On this recent trip we ate at a marvellous new place, the food was sublime. And you will one day read that review and see the photos of us eating it. So we are happy to recommend that place, more so we are happy to recommend you go with your instinct, you never know what you’ll find, rather than blindly follow the prepared plans for the “must do” places.

Of course we know with limited time in a place you want to see everything but sometimes more is less. Take your time, ask locals where they recommend you eat, see, explore. You never know, you might discover something that means you make your own top 5 list!

Must go, he’s drooling again, probably planning his next 11 meals!!

<update> Yeah, he wasn’t really in a diabetic coma from multiple meals but you get the point right.  And before you kick off, he is diabetic and therefore this is based on semi-reality!!

 


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Making Travel Memories – Travel is More than a Hashtagged Moment

Making Travel Memories – Travel is More than a Hashtagged Moment

Warning – Grumpy old man mode is on…

Octothorpe

Interesting word isn’t it? Where it comes from is disputed but I like the explanation that in ancient days, when maps had “there be dragons” on them just to fill blank space, brave souls went out to fill those vast expanses of emptiness. And there they found villages under feudal control, where the lord of the manor granted the village 8 fields around the settlement so they could grow their own food. So common was this practice the mapmakers developed a shorthand for these places, small as they were, to allow them to be marked on the map. And the symbol they used at the time was:  #. You can see how that represents 8 fields with a village in the middle I’m sure.

Of course this symbol has appeared in multiple places and has so many stories about it that it could have originated in many places but I like that story.

Fast forward and we are oh so aware of octothorpe, or as it’s referred to these days, the hashtag. So many social media platforms use it and users of those platforms are liable to overuse it in order to get coverage as I’m sure we ’re all aware #StatingTheObvious (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist!).

And in order to spread their message, thoughts, inclination or brainwave (or just the “look at me” post) people get formulaic, litter the message with hashtags, add a great photo so you are drawn in and whammo, the message is read and, if they are lucky shared/commented on.

And in order for this to work people will go to great lengths to find the required image for Instagram, Facebook etc. This in turn leads to thousands of identical images as THAT is the image for the location.

A case in point – a pleasant sultry evening in Marrakech found us stood on a rooftop at Jemaa el-Fnaa (the main square) where we should have been relaxing, looking down at the lights of the market, watching the sun go down. Instead what we had on that rooftop was 40 people crowded around the edge of the balcony, all clamouring for that same view.

Sunset on a Marrakech balcony

A look at Instagram shows that over 300 photos of that view were taken that night, varying by a few feet and a few minutes. And most claiming (in that message they are so desperate for the world to read) to be the first, unique, special one capturing that moment.

Yet none of them really took the time to enjoy the view, the spectacle of the sunset, the beauty of the view. Too busy snapping photos and/or posing for the ideal Instagram picture, they missed the beauty of the moment.

The reason I still go up there time after time is the way the colours change as the sun goes down, the different hues and shadows, the market coming more to life, it’s amazing and I always see it differently every time.

Focussed so much on the close view and the sunset they missed the view of the Atlas Mountains changing colour as the sun dipped below the horizon. Not a picture that can be achieved easily unless you have the greatest of cameras. But, what a magnificent vista it presented. You would need to be made of the same rock as those mountains not to be moved by it.

Don’t get me wrong, my memory is rubbish, so I take photos, but sometimes photos exist already that you can share (within the laws of copyright of course). Some days are better than when you are there, clearer, sharper, just nicer. Just because you didn’t take it, well who cares, you need to concentrate on getting the memories first and then the images second.  Pound to a penny I bet there are better images out there than you will take.

So the point of this rant? Well, that really. It appears people are so obsessed with getting that image, that memory, that perfect message out there that they forget why they went to see ‘there’ in the first place. Sharing those memories with others should be the second concern.  You need to make memories in the first place. And if you don’t stop to look for yourself sometimes then what was the point, you might as well have stayed at home and looked at the photo from others and read their memories.

 


How to Make Travel Memories

She says…

After his usual rant it is only proper that I give you ideas for making memories.  I love to make memories and they aren’t always with my camera believe it or not.  Mindfulness, living in the moment and enjoying life NOW is so important.

So here goes, a few simple ideas for memories from your travels:

  1. Go with an open mind.  Don’t miss something that could be amazing just because the guidebooks say it is rubbish.  Use your common sense, read between the lines of the reviews and if it really is truly awful, find something similar instead.  Remember the books and reviews aren’t always true.  No-one is you and what you find interesting and exciting may not be in alignment with anyone else.  It works both ways; the reviews may be stunning and you find the whole experience under whelming as much as disappointing reviews of something you loved.
  2. Don’t go with a jam-packed itinerary.  Travel should be carefree not a time to race around.  As has been said in “How Food can Make Memories“, there is always next time.  If it isn’t achieved on this trip then return.  Things will still be there to be enjoyed next year or something even better may have been found.
  3. Find the smaller attractions or the ‘non-attractions’.  The bucket list mentality is good, but for real travel it is so much better to go off-piste.  Find your own attractions, make your own memories.  The best memories are those that just happen.  Have you gone all the way to Florida to have a picnic on a pristine beach with pelicans surrounding you? – maybe not, but I can guarantee it will be a lasting memory.  Far better than the memory of queueing for hours in the Florida sun as you wait for a 10minute thrill at the ‘must visit’ theme park.
  4. Sit, eat, drink and watch.  Time in street cafes eating local food is not time wasted.  The sights, smells and tastes of that moment will come back to you. (He woke up choking one night after sipping mint tea that was too warm in his sleep – how about that for a memory!!!) Memories are made by the cat that comes to beg at the table, the two year old having a hissy fit as he is marched across the square or the old gentleman who comes to sit at the adjacent table and starts a conversation with you.  I bet you don’t remember the MacDonalds burger that you ate on the hoof in Beijing…
  5. Journal and draw.  This is so personal and everyone has their own way of recording their memories.  Bullet journalling is one way, sketching as Candace Rose Rardon does is another (and oh how I wish I could produce journals like her’s!!).    Sitting and sketching or journalling as the world goes on around you is so special.
  6. Find something small.  You don’t need big souvenirs or tat.  Memories from holidays can be something tiny, it just needs to be a trigger.  A pebble from the beach, a piece of sea glass, a feather or a small trinket found on a little stall.  Keep them somewhere safe and remember the good times.  I have a kilner jar with my holiday memories safely stored.  Little pebbles, pieces of sea shells, a small snapshot, all tucked away.  A special friend buys something to hang on her christmas tree from each adventure so each December when the tree is decorated she remembers the good times and her adventures.
  7. Make it a ritual.  Our gin and pistachio moments in Marrakech signalled the end of the day and time to think about what had happened amongst the warm madness of the city.  Those moments will be gone forever if they aren’t recorded.  Even a simple note on your phone may be enough to trigger your memories in a few weeks, months or years.  Sitting down, talking about the day, enjoying the moment but also the calm that our riad balcony provided was the perfect time to reflect and chill.
  8. You come first.  So what if you don’t get your pictures onto social media, so what if you don’t share the moment with all 427 people who are your friends.  You are what matters.  Live in the moment, sharing comes later if at all.  Nothing is going to happen if you don’t share your adventure that day (unless you are being paid to do so!!) or even that week.  Living without social media is the way forward.  Give it a go, you may be surprised….

 


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How Food can Make Memories

How Food can Make Memories

Nigel Slater is well known in the culinary world as a chef, food writer, critic and author. So important is food to this connoisseur that his memoir is entitled Toast, each chapter telling us something about his life through a particular food.

It is amazing how the smell, taste and texture of food can unlock memories, toast being one of the simplest to trigger a reaction, hence, I assume, the name of his autobiography which starts “My mother is scraping a piece of burned toast out of the kitchen window, a crease of annoyance across her forehead”, an opening line that immediately draws you in.

Another quote of his that I particularly enjoy is “You can’t smell a hug. You can’t hear a cuddle. But if you could, I reckon it would smell and sound of warm bread-and-butter pudding”. And that pure essence of a taste or smell triggering a memory is an important one.

As you can see from these pages the good lady takes a pretty good snapshot or two, when you view those you are immediately taken back to that time and place, the memories tripping over each other. Food has the same effect on me.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered I am passionate about food. Of course, there are many ways to enjoy a place apart from just the views and taking photos – the steal (not actual theft but a bargain which I’ll discuss more of at another time), the tat, the unexpected – but for me finding that local food is a must.

Many will wax lyrical of going to eat where the locals eat, that’s fine if you can find that seminal place but all food is about interpretation so it’s important to find the best example of it, however complex or simple it is.

I remember getting told off in Milan when I joked “Pizza is just Pizza”. This off the cuff remark resulted in me being marched around the town to sample a margherita pizza at various establishments. The simplest pizza possible made with just tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and extra-virgin olive oil, it tasted ever so slightly, but significantly, different at all the places I went. The growing realisation that the throwaway remark was so naïve came as I was taken from place to place and resulted in me putting on many kilos in an afternoon.

So do ask the locals where they recommend, but don’t assume that’s the best since that’s open to interpretation and their personal taste buds.

A simpler memory jogger for me is mint tea, the proper stuff you understand, not some teabag fruit tea abomination. I gave up smoking many years ago and don’t find I have a craving anymore, that is until I am served proper mint tea. I’m immediately a young man, transported to Marrakech in the early 90’s, sat outside a café where, as I smoked and drank quickly in order to get back to the sight-seeing, the place having captivated me so much, an old man chided me for the speed of consumption. “Life is to be taken slowly,” he said nodding sagely “and some delights savoured”. So what if I didn’t see everything he told me, there would always be next time. And if there isn’t a next time? Well, in that case, it’s better to have a few good memories than lots of ticked off hurried ones. So I relaxed, I watched the world go by, observed people, took in the smells and the sounds. I don’t know how much tea I drank that afternoon but I certainly established a strong connection with the place, stronger than if I had done the hurried tick list tourist impersonation, that has seen me return many times.

The name of this blog gives some clue as to that desire to find that lovely local dish or a local variant that adds another flavour stream to a memory. And it can be found in unexpected places too.

Austria, for example, is not particularly known for its cuisine, a fact borne out by the number (or lack thereof) of Austrian restaurants outside of Austria. But they have a dish called Tafelspitz. This really is the simplest of simple dishes – boiled veal or beef in broth, served with a mix of minced apples and horseradish with boiled or fried potato on the side. And in that simplicity, you have a sublime meal. So you can be surprised in the most unexpected of places.

So next time you are on an adventure (and all the trips are aren’t they) take a moment to hunt out that local dish or treat, and when you find it sit, relax and savour it. It’ll be time well spent, trust me, and another memory to cherish.

 


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