When I was younger, I read the book , "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle. Visions of Provence from the novel and postcards of lavender enticed me to visit the region. We only managed a day trip, but it seems like it is worth staying a while and using it as a base to further explore the region. Here are some snapshots from last September.
I must have been so excited to be in one of my favourite cities in the world that I promptly dropped my phone in the toilet. (True Story.) Here are some of the things I did in this marvellous city back in August.
London was so bright and sunny I could hardly believe it was London at all.
I went for a run in Notting Hill, one of my favourite neighbourhoods to explore, culminating with brunch at Ottolenghi's.
I never fail to make a pilgrimage to the British Museum for all the history and beautiful art
On one particularly sunny I should've worn shorts day I took the train to Greenwich, and stood on the Prime Meridian. Beautiful views and weather and a nice walk up the hill.
Above & Below: Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, where we caught a production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Had Ghanaian food in Brixton, in a pop up that had been set up to promote food and art. Awesome place, great food.
Up and down a winding road in the mountains an hour from San Sebastian (or thirty minutes from Bilbao) likes Asador Extebarri, currently the sixth best restaurant in the world. Asador means to smoke, or to grill and their speciality lies in grilled seafood and meat brought in and cooked to perfection. We made the trek one fine autumn day, to quite possibly the prettiest middle of nowhere I've been to so far.
Some small dishes on the left: The Chorizo Cracker was chewy from the fat, with a light touch of pepper and paprika coming through. One of the best chorizos I've ever had. The Salt Anchovy was smoky, rich with a touch of oil. I inhaled the oniony taste. The bread was crip but soft enough to be savoured. The next two were made from goat's milk, from the goats on site. It went very well with the bread, but not to diss their goats but it was not a unique flavour. The Tomato & white belly tuna was smokey and rich and the Chlamys varia or scallops were so rich and tasty that they deserved their own solo shot, below.
The seafood at Asador was exceptional. The Prawn of Palamos, while ostensibly a simple dish was grilled to perfection. I left none of its guts behind. It was possibly one of the best dishes of the day, and I marvelled at how something so simple could be so amazing.
Dessert included a bonus dish, not unlike Hawaiian shave ice, followed by reduced milk with beetroot, a fig to balance the richness of the dairy in the previous dish and Mignardise & cocoa, rich and bitter to balance the sweetness.
Asador Extebarri was truly an enchanting experience. Well worth the trek to one of the prettiest villages in the middle of nowhere. They release their bookings three months in advance, and I spent a few nights hunched over the keyboard trying to beat the clock and working out how to best get the reservation. The restaurant can also arrange for a taxi for you to return to your accommodation. The service was impeccable and the ambience was rustic and down to earth despite the restaurant's prominence. Locals and international travellers alike filled the room, and there is also an ala carte menu for those that don't feel like eating as much as we did.
Asador Extebarri is located at San Juan Plaza, 1, 48291 Atxondo, Bizkaia, Spain
I love Melbourne. I visit at least once a year to catch up with friends and to experience the beautiful sights, sounds and food that the city has to offer. I like to time my visits with special events. This time around I came to watch the football (soccer) - Brazil vs. Argentina. I also managed to schedule work around this time, so it worked out quite well.
Thursday night I hit the whisky with a dear cousin who had just moved to the city. Whisky & Alement, conveniently not too far from my office, has a wide selection of whiskeys, some of which I have not seen anywhere else. The menu is extensive and includes drams that have been bottled specifically for them, with no labels, only descriptions. While some of the copy gets carried away with combinations (with hints of calamari, anyone?) you can generally pick anything off the list and get a pretty good tasting whisky, or ask the helpful bartenders for their recommendations.
Rice Paper Scissors is an Asian fusion restaurant that lets you get carried away with a set menu of 5-6 dishes for about $50-60. And yes, we did get carried away. Somehow we managed to finish most of it, plus two orders of roti! Great value for money, and while not entirely traditional recipes it is a good way to sample Asian flavours, especially South East Asian ones.
The next day I met up with a friend for lunch. Wonder Bao is a hole in the wall somewhere in the CBD behind some construction on the street. Despite its unobtrusive location it is very popular and we ended up getting take away and sitting in a park. I ordered a hotdog bun, an eggplant bun and a pork belly bun. Altogether filling, fluffy and flavourful. Nice and cheap, too.
This is the Brazil vs Argentina match that I went to Friday evening. While it was fun, it was largely fun because of the people I was with, and the atmosphere in the crowd. The game itself was rather boring - by the second half it was all about the paper airplanes - with too many players afraid to get injured so they weren't making too much effort. They also fell down a lot and didn't want to get up. Having seen both these teams before in actual competition (separately), I know they are capable of so much more, they just didn't quite deliver more than just a fraction of it.
The Grain Store serves a seasonal menu using fresh produce. It is a very popular cafe, so be prepared to wait! I used the opportunity to catch up with an old flatmate and her partner while we waited for about 30 minutes for our turn. The food was well worth the wait - filling and comforting on a cold, winter's day.
I was lucky enough to be in Melbourne in time to catch Van Gogh and the Seasons at the National Gallery of Victoria . The exhibit was lovely and featured some of his most famous paintings, organised by season. I have been to several exhibits at the NGV before and I felt that this could have been better organised. We bought our tickets in advance, but there didn't seem to be a cap per time slot, so the viewing area was rather crowded. I still enjoyed the beautiful paintings, though.
Dinner that night was at Town Mouse . Quiet and tiny (a lot of Melbourne is tiny) it was a great place to catch up with some girlfriends and enjoy some food and wine.
I had my last Breakfast in Melbourne at Humble Rays , a smallish cafe in Carlton. The chef specializes in mixing sweet and savoury, and this has led to some -very filling - creative dishes. I had the pancakes, in case you're wondering.
Thanks Melbourne, for another wonderful visit. See you again, soon I hope.
Once Upon a Time in the Winter, we took a train ride to Nagano to see the Snow Monkeys. Having grown up in a tropical country and now living in Australia, I haven't encountered a lot of snow in my life, and while I have seen it before, this was probably the first time when it was full on thick and flurry. Thankfully I had my trusty gum boots - I also bought spikes when we got there - and enough layers (Thanks Heatech) to get me through it.
The walk up the mountain took about thirty minutes and at times could be quite slippery. The vistas were striking and despite the cold, the views had my imagination working as to what kind of fairy tales happened in these woods.
At the end of the walk you will find the famous hot springs, where the Snow Monkeys like to spend their time warming up. Again, they are super chill and don't care about you, but you will find each spring surrounded by paparazzi in the form of tourists trying to take perfect monkey photos. Despite all of that, I found the experience very peaceful. The surroundings were stark but beautiful and somehow the monkeys' calmness and ability to ignore the outside world made it a zen experience.
We booked a tour through Viator, and after this went to a temple and had some sake tasting. Would recommend doing this with a tour as the mountain with the monkeys is not close to the centre of town and possibly not as accessible without a tour vehicle.
Photos from Kyoto: The view from Kyoto station, My bento box en route, our room at the Chita Guest Inn (a lovely place to stay), at one of the smaller shrines in Arashimaya, the Kyoto Tower at night, my macha fish treat, Arashimaya Bamboo Forest, where they filmed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Some of the treats from our 13 course kaiseki tempura dinner, Higashi-Hongan Ji Temple
New Year's in Japan is a special holiday with everyone travelling back home to be with their families. The typical holiday lasts from about New Year's Eve to the 3rd or later. (This year most people did not return to work until the 5th) Many shops are shut and trains are very busy, and I initially thought we would have trouble finding places to eat and things to do. Instead, we got very lucky and got to experience the traditional Japanese New Year.
Hatsumode is the year's first visit to a shrine, usually done over the New Year period. We got to experience Hatsumode at Fushima Inari shrine in Kyoto, one of the busiest and most popular shrines in the area. The shrine was originally erected when the area was more agriculturally based and is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. As foxes are considered to be his messengers, the shrine is decorated with many foxes and is famous for its many Torii gates (the orange pi shaped structures).
We must have gotten home at around 3 in the morning. It was a lovely way to spend New Year's Eve and thanks to the efficiency of the Japanese rail system (yes, they really are that good) we got home quickly, safe and sound. While I've usually spent my NYE at a countdown waiting for fireworks, this was a great way to experience Japanese culture and appreciate the differences. I felt very grateful for this experience and would recommend it to anyone spending time in Japan over this period.
I didn't like Paris when we first met. To be fair, it was the late nineties and we didn't get treated very well. My second time in Paris, I got lucky. A friend was staying for three months and I got the chance with a semi-local, dining and drinking and walking around the different neighbourhoods. This time around I went for a day, just because.
Paris, November 2015
When I decided to go to Copenhagen (for a day!) last November, I was determined to eat in one of the many acclaimed restaurants in the city. While Noma is the most famous, Copenhagen has more than that to offer, with 22 Michelin star restaurants. (Yeah, I didn't know that either.) I put my name on the waiting list for about three restaurants and I got the call from Geranium in the morning, asking if I would like to come for lunch at the last minute. I promptly agreed, slightly embarrassed to show up in a posh restaurant in sneakers. (I needn't have worried)
Geranium is an innovative, restaurant that has recently just been awarded its third Michelin star. Their Executive Chef/Owner has won many awards including the world-chef championship. The service is excellent and everyone was very friendly. I came and ate by myself - nothing stands between me and food when I am this determined - and I think they were extra nice to me because of that. Everyone is taken to the kitchen to meet the chefs, but I felt that I had a bit of extra time, and I got a "family photo" with all the chefs in the kitchen. Also, every time someone came out to bring a dish, they would stay a bit extra to chat with me. I really appreciated that, even if I did also enjoy having a meal by myself.
Here are some of the dishes that I had that wonderful, autumn day.
One of the most memorable experiences I've had in my life has been on safari in Botswana. We camped at the Okavango Delta, a lush, wetland teeming with wildlife. One night, our guide took some of us out on the mokoro (canoe) and told us, lie back and look up. The night was teeming with stars, I felt like I was swimming in them. It was the most beautiful sight. I felt extremely privileged to have been there - riding the mokoros through the delta while avoiding hippos, driving through a rhino park and seeing them before they become extinct, cruising down the river in search of elephants and getting on a small plane and seeing the Delta from above. Here are some of the photos from that lovely adventure.
The advantage of travelling in the late fall or in winter, I find, is that you get a quiet holiday all to yourself. No one is in your pictures, and while the weather isn't always that great, you get to see your destination for what it is, with a more local flavour, not spiced up with the pretty put out for the tourists.
I love walking around cities by myself, just observing and internalising what happens in the day to day, taking in the sights and smells, meeting locals where I can, grabbing a cup of coffee or a drink. It makes me appreciate being by myself more.