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Posts Tagged ‘Beer’

You are in the lobby of Vienna airport. Do you head for Departures or queue for a taxi into the city? It’s the sort of hypothetical question that iconic resident Alexander Schrödinger might have moved onto if he had ever progressed beyond the classic (but frankly less weighty) feline survival paradox. It’s also the question I poked a stick at in my last blog before getting distracted for weeks by modern life.

I’m reasonably well travelled, within Europe at least, and each destination leaves an impression. It seems that there is a general trend for places to gravitate towards bland uniformity, but in the face of globalisation the question I find myself asking is “could I live here?” – language aside. I haven’t visited many places with a strong tick in the “Yes” box but here is a snapshot view of the city and it’s people, broken down into the most important considerations.

Eating

As somebody sitting in the “live to eat” camp this is an important factor. Let’s get something straight – the Viennese appreciate good quality wholesome food. They want to eat fresh produce and you simply don’t see anybody stuffing their face with crisps in the street.

Fresh please!

Fresh please!

They aren’t going to put up with much of the chain-driven dross inflicted upon the British public. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bakeries where even the most indulgent of snacks is produced to be consumed that day, then binned if not sold by closing time. They don’t pump preservatives into the breads and pastries in order to extend shelf life.

Choices choices...

Choices choices…

Furthermore they use a wide range of interesting flours and grains to make for a better tasting and healthier experience. I’m now a big fan of Stroek which, despite being a local chain is still superior to most independent bakeries in the UK.

A Master Stroek

A Master Stroek

The shame is that most tourists will never get to try any of the everyday bakeries here because they are drawn inexorably to the undeniably beautiful displays in the over-priced big-name outlets (Demel, Sacher, etc).

Food as art

Food as art

But man cannot live on bakery goods alone. At least not for long. Well, it wouldn’t be pretty. Man should get himself down to a nice restaurant for something like this…

Worth the calories!

Worth the calories!

OK, this savoury dumpling is arguably life shortening but oh so wonderful. It’s an Austrian speciality and the outdoor courtyard ambience of Restaurant Mill added another dimension to its consumption. My starter of Wild Garlic Soup was the stuff of dreams. Great smile-inducing food in a beautiful setting. Though for belly-laugh levels of culinary entertainment may I recommend Villa Aurora. Visual pranks abound from the moment the entry sign claims to herald a Coffee House – Restaurant – Beer Garden – Ice Rink. The night garden is curiously decked out with sofas and a vertical lamp…

Dining room under the stars

Dining room under the stars

… while you have the option to dine in a two man greenhouse (so small that the waiter has to pass your food in through the window) or a fishing boat, stranded improbably on a hill in a land-locked country.

A long wait until high tide...

A long wait until high tide…

The food is no joke however and traditional dishes like kaiserschmarrn are a real treat to share in the candle light.

There is always room for pudding

There is always room for pudding

Drinking

Austrians love beer. There are many breweries here in the capital and in just a few days I visited several of them without really trying, including Fisher Brau, 7-Stern, Kolar and Steigel. Think of superior Bavarian beer and you are in the right ballpark.

Fischer Brau

Fischer Brau

I could go on and on about the beer but that would be a British thing to do. More notable is the Viennese coffee house culture and their reputation for serving a good coffee is not without merit. It’s not just the coffee itself but the whole experience. The following picture sums up what to expect – tray service with a side-biscuit and always a glass of water to cleanse the palette.

A fine tradition

A fine tradition

The global coffee chains would have you think that coffee is served in a paper bucket but the Viennese believe that quality surpasses quantity. I’m with them. Furthermore there remains a proliferation of successful independent coffee houses while the large chains are barely in evidence outside the touristy first district.

Civilisation

In general terms I must applaud the locals for their good taste when it comes to what they eat and drink. Clearly they have their heads screwed on. Perhaps one reason for this affinity is the seemingly ageing population. My perception might be skewed but there seems to be a larger than average elderly population. This might explain the rather traditional and conservative outlook that permeates every day life here.

Take dress sense – the people you see on the street are classy and never trashy. This may not be a fashion mecca but you don’t generally see too much skin (certainly no tattoos) or crippling high heels. Vienna remains a place where a hat remains a stylish way to keep your head warm rather than a “fashion” statement for the look-at-me generation.

A man around town

A man around town

It has to be said that the senior citizens here do have something of a reputation for misery and intolerance. They aren’t likely to smile in public and won’t think twice about admonishing a stranger if they decide some social more has been transgressed. I’m hesitant to be critical at this point as it’s my aim to behave likewise at this age.

Bah humbug!

Bah humbug!

In the central First District the rules are different, as the people on the streets are more likely to be tourists. You wouldn’t judge London based on Buckingham Palace or Ireland based on Dublin.

A big welcome

A big welcome

But there’s a welcome regardless and people have got time to help if asked.

Its a fair cop

Its a fair cop

When my German failed me from time to time (ie: the times I tried to speak German) the locals were generally friendly and keen to respond in English.

There was something else too – something from a memory. People here seem to have time to stop and talk. The modern phenomena of scowling faces marching head down and focussed towards who knows what, oblivious to their environs, has yet to make it here. Could this be related to the prevalence of local businesses that line the city streets? Imagine working where you live, shopping where you live, knowing your neighbours? That no longer happens in suburban Britain but here outside the heart of Vienna it feels like this is still a way of life. For now at least.

Take this simple sighting of a coffee grinder in the foyer of a local supermarket…

Easing the daily grind

Easing the daily grind

This is remarkable for at least two reasons. (1) The supermarket freely offers a facility for customers to grind their own coffee beans after purchasing them. (2) It’s not locked down. A business promoting the principles of civility and trust. When did you last see that in your home town?

The community spirit doesn’t stop there. The local transport system is superb – integrated, reliable, efficient and cheap.

As easy as A to B

As easy as A to B

How did we ever fall so far behind in the UK? Privatisation? The consequences of such a good public transport system include fewer cars on the street, less pollution and more time spent alongside your fellow man as opposed to solo journeys in sealed metal boxes.

Viennese society is geared up for sociable co-existence and the locals respond to this environment accordingly.

One for all

One for all

One of the aspects I particularly like about city life here is that you can go for a beer of a coffee on your own without any stigma, and that applies for women as well as men. Indeed many regular coffee house customers will go for a quiet drink on their own but within a shared environment where they can watch proceedings from their table. People understand this unwritten social contract, none more so than the waiters who know all the rules.

All for one

All for one

The airport dilemma

Departure gate or taxi rank? That was the question posed and I think don’t think there’s a simple answer. On one hand I love the civility of this place, the standards it aspires to and the values shared by its people. A few days here only goes to expose so many failings back home. On the other hand I’m used to a slightly more outward looking environment. For a capital city there’s not the cultural diversity I’m used to nor the internet connectivity one takes for granted at home. It’s almost like some grand old village on a massive scale with this rich history that still sets the tone for modern living. I wonder how long it will be before the bubble bursts.

An eternal fountain?

An eternal fountain?

So for now it’s Goodbye Vienna but I want to return before too long. If I get nostalgic I’ll just watch a DVD of The Third Man with cake in one hand and beer in the other.

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Every town has at least one market and London, being a rather sizeable town, has, erm, well how many exactly? Being the lazy researcher that I am I asked Wikipedia how many markets there are in London and it’s around 60. Except it’s not – there are many more. But you get the drift.

The names of some slip off the tongue and I have previously written about the Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane markets, plus the foodie Borough market but famous doesn’t always mean good. This week for example, I visited Portabello Market which despite calling itself one of the top London tourist destinations was almost completely full of overpriced tat and patronised exclusively by hundreds of Italian tourists. Somebody is doing a good job of marketing the place in Rome.

Via Potabello

Via Potabello

So I don’t want to inflict Portabello Market on you when there’s a new and exciting market developing around Maltby Street on the South bank beneath the railway arches that extend westward into London Bridge station. I picked up on this place thanks to a London Evening Standard article a few months ago and it sounded worth a visit.

When you think of business operating beneath railway arches you expect them to be dodgy, dirty places trading cars or knock-off goods but that’s not the case here. For starters the arches have been spotlessly cleaned and there’s a new wave of clientele here – young foodie businesses selling things that are organic or home made.

Going underground

Going underground

There’s artisanship here and most of the customers have walked or cycled from home to pick up something special for the weekend.

Lets have a butchers

Lets have a butchers

Say cheese

Say cheese

Perhaps 20 percent of the arches are occupied but there are signs of ongoing renovation in some and I can’t help thinking take-up here is going to rocket. That’s one of the nice thing about London – it’s so big that if a small number of people start something then like-minded folk will swell the ranks and before you know it there’s a whole community.

Fruit and veg

Fruit and veg

I love the fact that there’s a very genuine, homely feel about the stall-holders an their produce.

Squashtastic!

Squashtastic!

This is an antidote to the cynical merchandising of the Portabello Road Market.

Give us our daily bread

Give us our daily bread

Perhaps most exciting for me is the discovery of The Kernel brewery under one of the arches on Druid Street. I had never heard of this outfit despite my well documented interest in real ale & pubs. I learn that The Kernel has but a week ago been named “Brewer Of The Year” by the British Guild of Beer Writers and take it from me – they deserve it. Admittedly they tend towards the stronger darker brews that I favour but just their range of ales is mouthwatering…

The Kernels recipe

The Kernels recipe

I’m not a heavy drinker and certainly not one for a jar at lunchtime but… oh go-on then. I chose their weakest – the Pale Ale on tap at 5.3% and it was just divine!

Oh go on then

Oh go on then

We’re going to hear a lot more about The Kernel, I’m sure. Let’s hope the Derby beer festival organisers are reading this blog. There’s good looking coffee down the road, but wouldn’t an Imperial Brown Stout (9.8% !) be more fun?

...or you could have had this

...or you could have had this

And that’s Maltby Street, but I’m already looking forward to my next visit. Afterwards I strolled west to Borough Market which – despite its huge popularity – has retained a level of integrity. The South Bank just gets better.

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My week so far. Returned from New York on Monday after an 18 hour journey with little sleep. Jet-lag on Tuesday but back to work; body zombified, mind aslumber. Knackering football on Wednesday – an act constituting my first exercise in two weeks but feels like two months. Thursday – a nice quiet night in – surely!

Then it dawns upon me that I have agreed to be guest of honour this evening at a very special event where I have a ribbon to cut and a speech to make. OK, that’s a little licentious. Technically I have been blagged an invite to this auspicious VIP preview by a (now also very special) friend with a slightly less illegitimate claim to be in attendance. It starts at 6pm. It’s 5pm now. Can I make it? While the rest of my body said no my mouth went and said Yes please and due to the lack of proportional representation asserted by my physiology the mouth got the nod. What an earth am I talking about?

The Greyhound is an iconic Derby pub, situated on the beautiful Friar Gate stretch of Ashbourne Road. Or at least it was until four years ago when it closed. But now it’s back…

The great and the good await the grand opening

The great and the good await the grand opening

Furthermore, it’s not just back – it’s new, improved, better than ever. You see The Greyhound has a fabulous pedigree. It was built in the 1600s and served ale to its first customers in 1734. The thick stone walls and ancient wooden beams have played witness to many fascinating events and people over the years. In recent decades the inn has arguably been one of the two best known pubs (The other being The Wardwick) situated on the famous “Derby Mile”. I know these things because I have drinking history in these parts and also because I’m holding the press release issued to all the listed guests on entry.

The Greyhound returns

The Greyhound returns

My last visit was probably 5 years ago and I remember what a charismatic albeit tired place it was. That the lighting was poor was a bonus because the sticky beer infused carpet, stereotypical lumpy off-white pub wallpaper and nicotine stained ceiling were not its best features. The beer garden was nothing more than an old brick wall enclosed patio with a few bench tables, accessed via a dark brick corridor. It’s closure, along with a number of other pubs on the mile, was symptomatic of the diminishing returns for publicans in the face of the economic downturn and cheap supermarket booze, plus I dare say the lure of new city centre pubs.

That’s all history. Today the pub is reborn and we have Trevor and Paul Harris of the Derby Brewing Company to thank for this divine intervention. This organisation and these people are brewing deitys in this city. I’m sure many people aside from myself would be happy to see Trevor enshrined as a latter day patron saint of beer.

A brief history… (click on the DBC link for full details)

  • Trevor rescued the vacant Brunswick Inn and transformed it into a legend. He brought a fabulous old inn back to life (it originally opened in 1842) and started to brew some of the best award winning beer you will find anywhere. His achievements were recognised in 2001 when the pub won the title of UK Beer Pub Of The Year.
  • Founded The Derby Brewing Company, produced yet more tremendous award winning ales and sold them via numerous local pubs and supermarket outlets.
    Old Intentional - Derby Brewing Company's successor to Old Accidental

    Old Intentional - Derby Brewing Company's successor to Old Accidental

  • Sold up and rescued another superlative old (1862) pub The Royal Standard in Derby which he converted into arguably Derbys hottest real ale venue (aka “The Brewey Tap”) – no mean feat in a city blessed with a many tremendous pubs, local real ale breweries and tipples. It won the Derby CAMRA pub of the year award in 2009.
  • Acquired The Greyhound transformed it into what we are seeing for the first time today. After one evening here I have a sneaky idea where the Derby CAMRA pub of the year award is going in 2010.

Can you see a trend here? Iconic old pubs in distress. Sympathetic re-imaginations. Amazing beer. Packed out.

Tonights invited VIPs (plus me) are marvelling at the complete transformation The Greyhound has undergone within a barely plausible three (?!) months. Transformation is the right word – the venue is bright, accessible, attractive, seemingly more spacious and yet it retains it’s sense of history and charm. This isn’t an identikit chainy style redecoration. There is a stylish coherent brand, thanks in large part to the considerable design input of Derby designer Martin Hyde. Characters from his darkly humorous Dead good Kids theme pop up on signage, stationary and in decorative contexts: they subtly fuse themselves into those old walls and beams. It’s not the safe or conventional option but boy does it work!

Drinks Menu

Drinks Menu

Dead Good Kids - great fun!

Dead Good Kids - great fun!

First impressions on entry – a bright front lounge with clean lines served by a curved bar. Feet moving freely on an attractive old stone floor – no more unsticking of shoes from an ancestoral peat bog style beer soaked carpet. Onward to the seemingly extended rear lounge with a continuation of the curved bar.

View of rear bar

View of rear bar

Graham the Greyhound watches thirstily over the punters.

Graham the Greyhound looks on

Graham the Greyhound looks on

And if this wasn’t enough you realise that the unaccustomed visibility in this area is courtesy of natural light with a long glass door section opening up on hot days (like today) onto the sun-trap of a courtyard. Indoor and outdoor come together.

The courtyard (if that’s the correct term) looks so clean and inviting. The brick walls appear to have been blasted and remortared. The space seems to have been extended substantially with the removal of … I can’t remember what exactly, but there is a cleverly retained and opened up chimney structure that suggests a room has been demolished.

Beer Garden - a view that does it no justice

Beer Garden - a view that does it no justice

The subtext here is quality and style. This is the kind of space you want to meet friends in, to spend time, to talk, drink and chill.

A toast to Mine Host

A toast to Mine Host

Just add people. Build it and they will come. And when the doors open to the eager public at 8:30 they come in great numbers. And behold, it is rammed. I realise that my intentions to do photographic justice to the place have just gone down the pan because it is no longer possible to get a clear photo of anything!

Things are heating up

Things are heating up

The truth is that since the champagne reception and BBQ I have spent over 2 hours doing important networking and drinking so I could present this report with the integrity and authority it deserves. You will have to make do with the few lazy shots I took when it was still light and there was room to move. You will for instance have to envisage the triumphal roof terrace that takes this already formidable hostelry to (literally) another level. For some reason I managed to get a shot of the old roof slates but not the terrace itself.

A night on the tiles

A night on the tiles

And then it went dark and the imaginatively illuminated chimney stack took on a character of its own.

Chimney after sunset

Chimney after sunset

Everybody bar none is staggered with what has been achieved here. I’m not the least surprised because Trevor and Paul have long since proven their innate understanding of brewing, hostelry and the Derby drinking public. I hear a voice saying that the Greyhound was an obvious choice – the history, the location (students, office workers and the city centre nearby), but nobody else came forward to take on the challenge and it is hard to imagine anybody else pulling off the venture with such flair and attention to detail. It’s going to be a deserved roaring success. I will be back. Regularly.

It’s 10:30pm. I’m shattered. Again. Still. I have enjoyed a wonderful evening with some great people while quaffing the sublime Mine Host – a new light summery ale courtesy of Derby Brewing Company. I have work tomorrow. Thank you and Good night!

Friday. Tired. Strange that. Another lovely hot sunny day. No plans tonight – I can relax at last! Must just post this blog entry while it’s fresh and current and then I’ll chill.

Midnight – finished. Bugger.

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Breakfast tea at Amrita on a cloudy but dry morning. There’s a young bohemian mum sat opposite feeding her two little impossibly sweet pony-tailed girls sat in plastic seats atop the table. It’s that kind of place.

The subway to aptly named South Ferry at the southern tip of Manhattan takes 30 minutes including a change at Columbus Circle and usefully brings you out at the Staten Island ferry terminal.

Ferry terminal - but where to?

Ferry terminal - but where to?

This free service provides a vital link to locals seeing as there is no bridge linking the two islands. The service runs every 30 minutes and with the rush hour over most of the passengers are tourists who like me line the outer decks straining for photos of the Statue Of Liberty.

The green lady

The green lady

Tim's all at sea

Tim's all at sea

The island itself has little to detain me today. Apparently there are miles of walking paths you can take around the island but that’s not on my agenda and after a brief encounter with the local pizza (which is different here but oh so scoffable) I’m back on the return leg which is a tortuous affair thanks to the sodding clown who has a captive audience for his loud unfunny balloon routine. I really hate clowns. A catastrophic ferry mishap today is something to be hoped for and I imagine the saturation news coverage “Cursed Staten Island ferry in another accident. One clown fatality”. Or maybe there’s a sequel here to Snakes On A Plane called “Clowns On A Boat”. Yes, I think that’s a go’er.

Next to the skyscaper museum which it turns out is closed today. Will try and return another day. The number 20 bus to Tribeca isn’t a long journey but it is informative as the driver fills me in on all the construction work going on at the World Trade Centre site. I’m his only passenger so he generously assumes the role of tour guide.

World Trade Centre site

World Trade Centre site

I’m a little underwhelmed by Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal Street). There’s a lot of transitional building work going on and the streets are very quiet. The area is typified by huge great warehouse buildings converted into stores and apartments. I’m guessing it’s an area you have to catch at the right time. Only last week it would have been different with the Tribeca film festival in full flow but today it feels like the morning after the party.

Typical Tribeca street

Typical Tribeca street

TriBeCa life

TriBeCa life

A short bus hop north up Hudson Ave brings me to leafy Greenwich Village.

Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village

This is another affluent residential area with some great independent retailers and retro/vintage stores. I’m lured into a coffee shop for one of their famous honey cakes. Pizza, cake; here we go again. I wonder whether I can prebook a defibrillator for my arrival at Heathrow on Monday.

Mmmm - Honey Cake

Mmmm - Honey Cake

The clothes shops draw me in and in one of them a farcical set piece ensues with me, a Jamaican customer and two shop attendants whereby we tried on a rack full of soccer zip-tops that never quite fitted and turned out to be ladies sizes. It was absurd, very funny and left me with one of those “what just happened?” feelings as I left the shop empty handed.

As I close in on Washington Arch it becomes apparent that it is graduation day at adjacent New York University.

Graduate graduating

Graduate graduating

A block along and the street is thronging with purple clad grads making a big day of the big day.

Grad alley

Grad alley

There’s a party atmosphere and it should be a fun filled evening. That can only mean beer – something I have largely been deprived of this week – so I seat myself in a basement dive bar on Douglas Street for a pint of lovely Belgian style Blue Moon ale served with a slice of orange. In no time I’m in conversation with a young journalist who is living in Brooklyn but hails from Wisconsin. Dave is a seriously interesting and engaging guy and it’s great to chew the fat with him on anything and everything as the drinks continue to arrive over the rest of the evening. In a freak incident it turns out that we are sitting next to a guy Dave knows from Wisconsin and hasn’t seen since school. Imagine bumping into somebody you used to be mates with in a place 1000 miles from home and you get the sense of the improbability we are talking about.

It’s gone midnight when Dave has to leave (work tomorrow). I have lost count of the pints and seem to have missed out on an evening meal. There are some universal truths and the post-drinking kebab is one of them. It’s raining now as predicted and with the subway service wound down to the basics at this hour I’m not back to base until 1:30am and I can’t help feeling there’s a hangover in the offing. Regrets? There will be none.

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Easy like #AlmostSunday morning

It’s Sunday. No – it’s Saturday! This is one of the recognised downsides of my rebranding of Friday as “#AlmostSaturday”. Yesterday while out and about a grim realisation dawned upon me that my jeans may self destruct at any moment. Luckily I’m 50 yards from Next on Oxford Street so I’m able to rescue myself from one of those impromptu ripped clothing crisis that the Incredible Hulk would be all too familiar with.

Things of Leon

It’s Chinese new year and I want to do something appropriate. The Time Out website says that there are some oriental things going on at the London Docklands Museum and so a plan is formed. I’ve never been that far east of Tower Bridge so it’s an opportunity to experience something new. Apparently there is a branch of Leon there and having been to the marvellous branch at Spitalfields and experienced some lovely things it’s a prime candidate for lunch. Docklands turns out to be very impressive.

Docklands

Docklands

It’s toytown stuff with huge office blocks, the Docklands Light Railway and a shopping centre boasting some quality names. This must be the only retail centre in the UK with no pound shops or empty units. It turns out that there is also a great range of lunch choices and the lure of Japanese takeaway Wasabi is sufficiently strong to relegate Leon into second place on this occasion. Why don’t we get this quality and range of eateries in the Midlands? There’s not a McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut or KFC in sight here, just a great range of healthy fresh food outlets.

Chicken Katsu

Chicken Katsu

China Crisis

The museum is free to enter and charts the history of the dockland area from Roman times through the middle ages and upto the present day. The content is well presented and sections on the slave trade, wartime and transformation into a financial district in the 1980s are most engaging. My favourite annecdote concerns the firemen that doused sugar warehouses set alight in the blitz – they would salvage items entombed in molten and resolidified sugar to take home and break up as a sweet toffee treat. They weren’t too bothered about any health risks of such actions since other events presented a much higher risk to their wellbeing. I emerge after a couple of hours wondering where the Chinese exhibition got to since I never saw it. Oh well…

Beer of the Tiger

What to do in London on a Saturday night? Whatever I want, of course! And what I want is a top ale in a local pub followed by interesting eats. Beer In The Evening website informs me that the Carpenters Arms is not only a stones throw from my hotel in Marble Arch but serves real ale house and is popular with the locals. And so it is. A pint of award winning Betty Stogs bitter sinks agreeably in a bar where most voices sport a London accent and there is a darts match going on in the back room. My window view of the side street I also interesting. There’s an Iraqi restaurant across the road hosting some family party. In the street a cycle rickshaw passes having come all the way from Covent Garden and later I double take as I thought I saw a sushi delivery van drive by. I’m moving in around here!

It’s only a short tube hop to Leicester Square but it might as well be a trip to the moon. The streets are packed with people of every description and purpose but all attracted like fireflies to the shiny lights. Chinatown is aglow with red lanterns and bunting even though official celebrations take place next weekend. I opt for a Cantonese restaurant that looks a little shabby around the edges but is popular with young Chinese people so can’t be too bad. It’s a soap opera. I’m led to a table where I order Udon noodles and Tiger beer.

A senior gentleman who has been directing the waiters comes over with a dish of food and asks in broken English whether I mind him serving it at my table. I’m not quite sure what he’s asking me but reply that this will be fine. He then sits down opposite and embarks on what I now understand to be his dinner break. He eats with a spoon which surprises me. Then after 3 minutes he shouts an order at a waiter who produces a fork and gives it to me. I thought I had been using chopsticks happily and successfully up until now but perhaps I’m being told otherwise. It’s not the first odd behaviour – I was presented with the bill immediately after ordering before actually receiving anything. To cap it off my dinner date grabs a rice bowl, pours some of his green tea into it and dunks pieces of pork from his meal into it. I’m not falling for this because I know if I do this next time I’m in Hong Kong in the pretence of pretending to know what I’m doing everyone will stop and laugh. They do things differently here.

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Status descending…

As I smugly sink into a sofa in the luxuriant 1st class passenger lounge and connect my netbook to the WiFi the smart and professional receptionist asks to see my tickets, to prove that I am “the right sort of person”. After all we wouldn’t want those “other” types getting in here would we? It turns out that I am one of the other types because my advance 1st class tickets don’t qualify for the lounge unless I pay an extra £5. My train is in 10 minutes so I turn my back at the pug faced battle axe and strop outside to mix with MY people. It was crap in there anyway – full of yattery business types dictating to their PAs. And the sofa was no great shakes.

Platform announcements may be more audible than of yesteryear but they make no more sense. The news that the 9:01 to London St Pancras is imminent and that first class travellers should make their way to the rear of the train is less than helpful since they don’t mention which direction the train is approaching from. I happen to know that it arrives from the left – the opposite end of the platform to the 1st class business lounge – and that it always will do, raising questions about the recently redesigned platform layout.

Once aboard I’m please to see that suited corporates are sparse (presumably they took earlier trains to the capital) and that there are “proper” people aboard which makes for better people watching, and less obnoxious conversations to earwig.

A date with Jimmy Hill (ugh!)

My lack of itinerary for the weekend is a front. I have ideas. After booking the hotel I decided that I was going to see some football. There are a dozen or so London clubs so there should be plenty of games to chose from over the weekend. Except this is FA cup weekend and all the local teams have been knocked out except Chelsea whose tickets are not on general sale, leaving just Fulham who play Notts County on Sunday.

Yes I can book a ticket online but I am checked into my classy Oxford Street cupboard by 11am so decide to tube it over to Putney Bridge & collect one in person. Craven Cottage is a proper old fashioned cantilever stadium that sits between Victorian Terraces and the Thames. I approach it along the Thames footpath when it starts to rain and I’m glad that I packed an umbrella but less chuffed that it is currently sitting in my hotel room. Fulham looks interesting but I’m getting wet so ticket in hand it’s a quick hop back on the tube to Covent Garden and…

A moving experience

…the London Transport Museum. It sits bang next to Covent Garden and I have walked past it on numerous occasions without venturing in, so today is the day. It’s unsurprisingly full of London transport paraphernalia.

Bus & Tram

Bus & Tram

I’m not too bothered about the “kit” so much – although there are some interesting old horse drawn trams, underground carriages and buses of a certain vintage – but the social history is compelling. Particularly striking is the realisation that so called modern themes relating to the drag of the suburban commute through to the environmental impact of the transport infrastructure were very hot topics as early as the 19th century. Three hours well spent.

Underground as a suburban salespitch

Underground as a suburban salespitch

Old habits

I’m a sucker for Mussels and Belgian beer so hunger pangs in the Covent Garden vicinity can only result in a trip to Belgo, next door to the Donmar Warehouse. My advice if you haven’t been there is to go even if you hate mussels. Situated in a large celler with oodles of copper, stainless steel, naked flames, beer to die for and the sort of comforting food to counteract the anticipated hangover this venue has an undeniably fine ambience. Efficient and engaging staff steer you to a trestle table next to fellow diners where there are plenty of people to observe and snippets to overhear. The waiters dress as monks but that’s their only bad habit. Doh!

I enjoy an entrée of 5% Cristal lager – one of the weakest beers on offer, followed by a yummy 7% Affligem Brune with a darker palour. There are many stronger beers served by the bottle – Chimay, Roquefort, Leffe, Steenbrugge, not to mention the 12% Bush Scaldis, but it’s 6:45pm and the line must be drawn somewhere.

Belgian Beer waiting for me

Belgian Beer waiting for me

Food for thought

Since I’m sat here in a Belgian restaurant I order some mussels in a Thai broth. In fairness they are very nice but nothing I couldn’t do myself. That said, it’s the whole package of food, beer, venue and clientele that makes this a worthy visit.

Belgo Thai Mussels

Belgo Thai Mussels

Time for a brief mozy around the Seven Dials area which always draws me in with its designer stores, independents and quirky coffee & nibble outlets followed by a pleasant stroll through the increasingly populous streets to Leicester Square and onto Chinatown. Sunday is Chinese New Year and this year it’s the turn of the Tiger. See my previous blog entry for your prospects this year if you must.

The lanterns are out and there is a tangible buzz. It’s a shame that the major celebrations here are taking place on the following weekend because they would be a wonderful sight to behold with fireworks and street processions led by human dragons. I console myself by joining a queue of people at a street stall in the belief that they must know something good lies at the other end. The zen navigation technique pays off handsomely with a thing probably best described as a pork dumpling in chilli sauce. A terrific treat for the taste buds. Perhaps I will return here on Sunday. Surely something festive will be going on, unless the Valentines crowd render the evening a write-off.

Things can only go downhill from here so I head back to the hotel cupboard. It may be early but there’s a few miles in my legs today.

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A good nights sleep cons me into thinking I can do another “proper” walk today. If I wasn’t already persuaded a first rate F.E.B. fuels me with the energy and guilt to get me out of the door and up a hill. Today’s yomp is based on another map lent to me by my mother – one she did with “the ladies” a while back which looks around 10 miles to the unbothered eye.

The late summer weather is fabulous again and it’s a joy to stride out of the lodgings into fresh morning air. I asked at the Tourist Information office about crossing the lake by boat but they were sufficiently vague about the details to convince me to complete the circumnavigation of Derwent Water terra firma and I set off in an anti-clockwise direction.

Look to the hills

Look to the hills

The rather daunting looking peaks on the far shore towers over the flat basin to the north and as I near the start of the days slopes it seems there will be a fair sprinkling of booted and stick wielding folk joining me, until I realise that most of them are taking the shoreline route, perhaps once they realised how arduous the climb was going to be.

Path to Catbells

Path to Catbells

The 1480ft ascent to Catbells is steep in places and like many good hill climbs you approach “the peak” only to for another higher one to emerge in the distance. Soon I’m able to see the entire length of Derwent Water to the east and south, including the boat that I could have caught if Tourist Info had been more explicit.

Tim atop Catbells

Tim atop Catbells

This is ridge walking so there is also a commanding view over the fertile Newlands Valley to the west and Bassenthwaite Lake to the north of Keswick.

Newlands Valley

Newlands Valley

View down Newlands Valley

View down Newlands Valley

Most of my fellow walkers descend after Catbells but the map tells me to continue south along the ever ascending ridge to the wonderfully named High Spy and at 2028ft it provides the perfect views for a lunch break. Altitude is relative – Catbells below to my rear looks the poor relation and in other some parts of the world anything in the Lakes would be deemed a mere pimple on the landscape, but the walk started near sea level and it is this resulting contrast in landscape that Mr Wainright and I find so appealing.

High Spy something beginning with T

High Spy something beginning with T

A pair of Ravens cavort together below, hovering and soaring in the thermals and I engrave several megabytes of camera memory with 1s and 0s that will later be erased once I realise they do not reconstitute themselves into meaningful wildlife images.

The trek continues south beyond the furthest reaches of Derwent Water and I could carry on forever, obliviously glued as I am to Phish and then a Radio 4 podcast on my MP3 player. Miners Crag marks a steep and uncompromising descent that I share with an engaging American couple. They have “done” Edinburgh and York, have a week in the Lakes and will then head to London to spend some time with family. It’s nice to hear their perspectives on the area and they are clearly keen to experience all things local and stay well away from organised tours. There are things we take for granted that are totally alien to foreign visitors and it is oddly satisfying to have to explain the concept of a style. The climb down consists mostly of slate – this is the route miners once used to transport the fruits of their quarrying – and I almost slip to my death on this slippery staircase while chatting.

Slate staircase

Slate staircase

Miners Crag descent

Miners Crag descent

As expected the down was tougher than the up on the old knees but when it levels out I appear to still be functional. The craving for a cool pint of ale is starting to dominate my thoughts. When everything is just perfect your fortunes can only head in one direction and as the little village of Grange welcomes be back to the world of the flat a dark truth casts a shadow over my day. There is NO PUB here! Panic sets in when the lady at the tea rooms informs me the nearest hostelry is at Rossthwaite – 2 miles in the wrong direction! Woe, it would seem, is me.

Keswick is still 4 miles away according to a road sign – a little more than expected – and my legs and feet are beginning to protest about the unfamiliar demands I have made of them recently. Sod it – full pelt along the eastern shoreline – a pint of Jennings my illusory beacon hovering distant above the town to the north. The map assures me I can walk along the waters edge but the actual terrain begs to differ, forcing me to clamber over tree trunks and at one point a rocky outcrop where the water encroached. Going is slow on the loose stones with half of every step merely shifting tiny amounts of the British Isles towards the equator.

View across Derwent Water

View across Derwent Water

Another view of Derwent Water

Another view of Derwent Water

After what seems like an eternity the people I encounter walking in my direction are no longer hikers but strollers with young kids and – best yet – an old granny with an operational range of a few hundred yards signals the outskirts of town and the end to my now overwhelming thirst. I ought to point out that the views here are heavenly comprised of a trinity of water, sky and hill – an artists dream in the early evening light. I’m viewed out however and it’s walking juice I need.

When eventually I drag myself on all fours to the Oddfellows in the market square the Jennings Cockerhoop, while partially restorative, can only patch up my beer wounds. Boots off at an outside table I measure todays route properly for the first time. It turns out that the retired “ladies walk” I have just completed comes in at 15 miles – just about OK on the flat but throw in 2000+ ft climbs and it’s no wonder I’m feeling the strain. [Postscript: When I later challenged my mother about the walk she says the one she did was quite a bit shorter, so that’s another kick in the teeth for my navigational skills]

I really DO try to have a low key evening – honest! A quiet pub (BTW: I count 12 in Keswick, excluding hotels) introduces me to my first pint of Hawkshead this week (somehow missed this while in Hawkshead at the weekend) and after an excellent Thai (they had people in tonight) it’s one for the road at the packed Dog and Gun.

Down at the old Dog and Gun

Down at the old Dog and Gun

It is here that it all goes wrong. Stood at the bar watching various canine side-shows I get drawn into a conversation with some locals. There are local facts, gossip and all things in between. The guys at the next table are the mountain rescue team. The old guy that just left plays a sweet harmonica, though he packed it in ten years ago. I ask about the wonderfully northern looking pub I saw earlier, magically called Rumours and yes – it is for locals only!

Rumours locals pub!

Rumours locals pub!

Sandra who is getting impressively trashed on lager, cider, brandy, rum, vodka and – just to add some balance – coke, is off to “The Loft” night club and we all have to go. She will be working behind the bar here tomorrow morning and the guys on the current shift look forward to seeing what state she is in then, but wisely resist the invitation for a late night. They have seen it all before!

Jan who is looking out for Sandra interprets my “no” as a “yes” and the fact that I shortly find myself with them at Keswicks best (ie: only) night club suggests that my willpower really isn’t up to much. Despite being all but asleep I guess I had to take the opportunity to see what the tourists miss. Of course, everybody here knows or is related to everybody else here and while I chat to Jan scores of people come up to her to say hello or catch up on things. It’s all very heart warming, but doubtless tongues are wagging about the gringo and Jan will be answering endless questions from people in the street all week. She is an interesting and genuine soul who moved to the area a couple of years ago and has been accepted as a local by the born-and-breds that make up the majority of non-tourists in the town.

It has been great fun and I’m glad I met Jan, Sandra and others this evening who have kindly shared their time with a stranger this evening. I never saw Sandra before I left (presumably she was collapsed somewhere) and if I wasn’t leaving town in the morning I would pop my head into the pub when it opened to check her condition and make sure it wasn’t all some surreal dream.

The fresh lake air provides an adrenaline rush on the stroll back to my digs, as does the realisation that my early night has turned into 1:30 am. Oh well…

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