It's Better to Travel than Arrive?

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive"

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881.

"Robert Louis Stevenson speaks utter tosh and has

obviously never flown long haul economy class"

Kristy, first ever blog post, 2011.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hotel Splendid, Montreux, Switzerland

Last Saturday night, on our way through to Megeve, we decided we'd break the trip to spend a night in Montreux, a place neither of us had been.  Montreux is the home of the amazing Jazz Festival which will be held from 29th June - 14 July this year.

We used the fabulous Trip Advisor to find ourselves a hotel and, after a bit of research, decided on Hotel Splendid which reviewed well as a middle of the road (read "not too extortionately priced" - it is in Switzerland after all!) and comfortable.

It's one street back from the waterfront, but there is a large park in front of it, so you have uninterrupted views of the water and the Alps beyond - the view is quite breathtaking.  There is no parking at the hotel, but there is parking directly out the front, and 200m further on there is an underground carpark for several hundred cars where we slotted our car in.

Check in is on the first floor and there is a lift or stairs for access.  The gentleman working Reception was friendly and spoke English.  After registration we were given the key for room 51 and headed up in the lift to the 3rd floor.

This is where we discovered the faded glory of the Hotel Splendid.  It was obviously a very luxurious hotel back in the day and now it's looking a bit aged, and worn around the edges.  The hallways are very grand, but there is random old furniture along them - we had a baby cot outside our door and there was a gorgeous, but very battered and bald sofa next to our door.  The doors from the lift area into the hallways are huge,  madly ornate and very gorgeous.

We used our large old fashioned key (on a big key fob, no electronic entry here) to open the door to our room and it was just what we needed.  Large, king sized bed, glassed in balcony with two chairs and a small table looking out onto the lake (the windows opened which made it feel very open and airy).  The beds are new, and have controllers which make the head and feet ends go up and down, and they have single duvets (one for each person) which is normal in Europe.

The bathroom had been done up and it seems that they'd had a discussion that must have gone something like this:-

"Do you think we should put shower heads at head height, or put them at knee height and make the shower head change colour all the time, so it's like a disco shower for dwarves?  I'm not really sure, but let's go with knee height and those pretty lights!"

You might have guessed from the above, that it's not really fabulous for washing your hair unless you want to sit down in the tub ...

We had made a dinner reservation for dinner at La Rouvenaz which is just down the street, and it was great but you have to be aware that in Switzerland nothing is cheap.

Breakfast was included in the room rate at Hotel Splendid and we enjoyed a continental buffet on Sunday morning, with good coffee and friendly staff.

Whilst we were only in Montreux for a short time, it's breathtakingly beautiful and we'll certainly be back.

Hotel Splendid Montreux
52 Grand Rue
Montreux  1820
Phone:- +41 21 966 79 79

Oh, and the password for the WIFI in the bar downstairs from the hotel is DETROIT1990.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From The Archives ...

Sorry it's been a bit quiet on the blog of late, but sometimes life is quiet and there's not much to write about.  I was reading through some old newsletters from when we were living in Bangkok and remember this day so clearly that I thought you might like to experience it with me.  The "we" I'm referring to is my brother Thomas, our cousin Martin (aka Moose) both of whom were visiting from Adelaide, and myself.

Bangkok 25th October 2006

Just back from our amazing bike tour of Bangkok. 
Check out their website at www.realasia. net and go to
ABC Amazing Bangkok Cyclist Tour on the left hand
side. We had a fantastic time and I'd certainly
recommend it to anyone who came to stay - I'd love to
do it again!

We left from their offices just off soi 26 at around
10.30am after meeting our guides, getting a little
instruction, finding our bikes and meeting Charlie and
Ellie (about 60 years old) from Amsterdam who were the
other two people on our tour.

The bikes were old style Raleigh with no gears, very
comfy seats, baskets and carriers - great bikes! 

We peddled at a constant, but very comfortable, speed
through the tiny back sois of Bangkok. Past peoples
open homes, waving at their children, saying hundreds
of "Sawadee ka's" to everyone who waved and smiled. We
had a guide at the front and back of our snake of
bikes, so no-one got lost.

We had a good ride through Klong Toei market and Goy,
one of the guides, stopped and bought us snacks -
sliced dragonfruit and roti sai mai (hot thin crepes
filled with sugary floss - wonderful) which we stopped
and ate with bottles of water to keep us hydrated. It
was about 35 degrees and very hot.

Rode through some tiny villages over water on very
narrow paths and you could see village life going on
all around you, everything was so close and I swear at
one point I rode through someone's front room, but
they just smiled and waved.

We rode on for about 45 minutes and ended up in a
monastry by the Chao Prya river. Had a quick break
and went and had our fortunes told at a little altar
by shaking a container of sticks until one fell out
and then reading the corresponding fortune. 

Cycled on a little further until we reached the klong
boat stop and parked our bikes on a reasonably large
floating platform to wait for our boat to take us
across the river. Charlie must have decided to park
his bike in a completely different place to the rest
of ours and about two minutes later he yelped as a
boat went past, rocked the platform, and his bike
(complete with his backpack, digital camera and
wallet) went over the side and disappeared into the
deep filthy water. 

The guides were wailing and we were all open mouthed
with shock. Charlie started to take his shoes off and
dive in after it, but we stopped him (heaven only
knows what diseases you'd catch!). The guides were
running around like startled cats, the locals on the
pontoon were wetting themselves with laughter, Charlie
and Ellie were puce with horror, and Thomas, Martin
and I watched with amazement.

A bunch of locals came over to offer their advice. 
Someone got a mop to see if that would reach (no way -
it's really deep) and I'm not sure what good
mopping it would have done anyway! After about 15
minutes of scurrying around, a fast klong boat arrived
with two young Thai guys in it. There was a brief
discussion in Thai with the guides and the next minute
the youngest guy puts on one of those old diving
helmets that you see in the movies (but this one
looked like it had been made from an old oil can with
a bit cut out for your eyes), attached a breathing
tube, turned on a compressor, and leapt over the side!

We all gathered around, but no-one could see anything
through the water that looks like milky coffee. Less
than a minute passed and he re-appears with the
backpack and hands the other guy a rope that he's tied
around the bike. The bike is then hauled back to the
surface and the guys get a huge round of applause from
us and the locals who've gathered. 

Charlie and Ellie couldn't believe it. I think they
were still in shock from it all going over the edge,
and the next thing it's all back in front of them,
dripping but intact. We pulled our little group
together, took a bunch of photos and got into our boat
to cross the river, a little later than planned.

Had a great ride around a very green island where
there was so much vegetation on either side that you
could almost hear it growing. You got the feeling
that if you came back tomorrow, maybe the paths
wouldn't even be there.

A lot of the paths we took were about one metre wide
and were suspended above water, with no rails on
either side. I got a little bit wobbly from time to
time, but the terror of falling off into the polluted
water kept me rigid with fear and upright throughout.

Had a great lunch cooked for us at someones house (a
choice of pad thai or fried rice) and then rode back
to our boat, back across the river, and back through
the streets of Bangkok to their office.

Never thought I'd say that I enjoyed riding 18-20km in
35 degree heat, but it was the best tour I've ever
done and I'd do it again with no worries at all. 

Great bikes, great guides, lots of local food tasting,
lots to see and the mind numbing thrill of riding a
bike along Sukhumvit Road at rush hour all add up to
make it unbeatable.

They're still running the tours and you can get more information here

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Ladykillers - London

When we were in London, the boys surprised me with tickets to The Ladykillers at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.

I'd not seen the movie before, but the boys had, and I'm so glad that we went along to the theatre show - it was seriously good.  Incredibly funny, tightly performed and well acted.  This new adaptation was written by Graham Linehan (Father Ted) and directed by Sean Foley (The Play What I Wrote).

The actor I most recognised was James Fleet who was Tom in "Four Weddings and A Funeral" and Hugo in "The Vicar of Dibley".  He was amazing, as were Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It) as Professor Marcus, Ben Miller (The Armstrong & Miller Show), Stephen Wight, Clive Rowe and Marcia Warren as the sweetly innocent Mrs Wilberforce.

Mrs Wilberforce is an eccentric old widow who lives alone with her sickly parrot in a gradually subsiding house in Kings Cross, built over the entrance to a railway tunnel.  With nothing to occupy her time and an active imagination, she is a frequent visitor to the local police station, where she reports fanciful suspicions regarding various people she has come into contact with.  Because of the wild-goose chases she has led them on in the past, her friendly local police officer humours her, but gives her stories absolutely no credence.

She is approached by a comically sinister criminal, Professor Marcus, who wants to rent rooms in her house.  Unbeknownst to her, he has put together a gang for a sophisticated security van robbery at the railway station.  The Professor convinces Mrs Wilberforce that they are an amateur string quintet using the room for rehearsal space.  To maintain the deception, the gang members carry musical instruments and play a recording of Boccherini's Minuet during their planning sessions.

After the successful theft, the real conflict begins.  As the gang leaves her house, one "musician" accidentally drops his cello case, spilling bank notes at Mrs Wilberforce's feet.  She realises the truth and informs the Professor that she is going to report them to the police.

The gangsters, unaware of her reputation with the local constabulary, decide that they have no choice but to do away with her.  No-one wants to do it, so they draw straws.  The Major loses, but tries to make a run for it with the cash in hand.  In quick succession, the criminals double-cross and kill one another, the bodies ending up dumped into railway wagons passing behind the house, with Mrs Wilberforce being blissfully unaware.

When all gang members are dead, Mrs Wilberforce is left with the money.  She goes to the police to return it, but they do not believe her and jokingly tell her to keep it.  She is puzzled, but decides to follow their advice and use the vast windfall to pay for life-saving treatment for her poorly parrot in America.

You might wonder how this all takes place on one stage, but the stage itself is essentially a whole character of its own.  Part of the stage revolves, other parts go up and down, whilst the whole thing shakes violently when "trains" pass underneath the "house".  A car chase scene between the police and criminal gang is seriously amazing and all in miniature - you'll be laughing so much that the deception is perfect.

It's a great show and you won't stop laughing.  Get along if you get the chance.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Heston Blumenthal & Ashley Palmer-Watt

When we were in London before Christmas, we were lucky enough to be able to go to Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge.  As with most Heston restaurants, trying to get a booking is like trying to put rain back into a cloud - difficult.  There was a 2 minute window in late November to make December bookings and we were so lucky that Jim could get a reservation for the three of us before the entire month was booked out.  Yes, the entire month of December was booked out in 2 minutes.  Really.

The restaurant is accessed through the swish Mandarin Bar which is very dark, very loud, very expensive and the service is very slow - but it's amazing for people watching!  The restaurant itself is lovely; open and roomy and staffed with loads of incredibly helpful and knowledgeable staff.  We had a 7pm booking and I thought we might be chased out for a second sitting at 9pm or 10pm, but there was no sense of that at all.  The restaurant was full throughout the evening (no surprise there!), but the service was first class - as was the food.

I don't know how much you've heard about Dinner, but the menu item that gets all the publicity is the Meat Fruit.  Meat Fruit?  What?  Yes, really, Meat Fruit.  Dinner serves food inspired by the history of British gastonomy, and the meat fruit was invented back in 1500.  It's interesting to describe, but first, here's a photo:-

Me & The Meat Fruit.  The orange thing is the Meat Fruit.  The thing in black is me.

So, that lovely little mandarin type thing is the Meat Fruit, and I had it for my starter.  You eat it all except the green stem and leaves.  It's full of the most glorious, smooth, scrumptious, unctuous, rich chicken liver parfait you'll ever taste.  The orange "skin" which is shiny and slightly stippled, just like a real mandarin, is sort of jellyish in texture, like the aspic on the top of a slice of pate, and it tastes citrusy.  You get two slices of the most light toasted loaf imaginable, and honestly?  I could eat Meat Fruit and toast all flipping day.  It's just great.

As amazing as the Meat Fruit was, I did have other things as well.  My main course was Powdered Duck Breast which was a way of brining duck breast invented back in 1670.  It consisted of a lovely piece of duck breast with a nice crispy skin, similar to what you get with a confit, with some fennel and duck hearts.  Yes, duck hearts.  I decided that I'd eat one and it was fine, but I think it's more about the novelty than anything else.

Dessert was Brown Bread Ice Cream - fairly self explanatory - from an 1830's recipe.  It was served with salted butter caramel and malted yeast syrup and was absolutely glorious.

In short, it was an amazing meal (with top class company!).  I'd go back for the Meat Fruit alone.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
Reservations:- +44 (0) 20 7201 3833