Friday 30 March 2012

Borough Market

Yesterday my friend Fan and I (plus her lovely baby girl) paid a visit to Borough Market. Tucked under the railway arches at London Bridge, the market has grown from a small farmer's market to a sprawling foodie's paradise.

I used to work nearby, and Fan lived nearby, so this was a nostalgic treat for both of us.

First stop: Monmouth Coffee, where baby made friends and helped secure seats.

Then we went around the corner to Neal's Yard Dairy for a nose-clearing inhale of strong cheeses. We resisted the urge to buy all around us, coming away with just a loaf of bread.

We took a tour of the market, me making sure to stick my head into the glorious Brindisa shop because I love their displays so.

And then - well then we decided it would be pure foolishness not to have lunch at Tapas Brindisa since we were nearby. So we did.

Friday 23 March 2012

It's A Sign!

Actually several.  I became quite obsessive about taking photographs of signs in Hong Kong.  What do they say?  No idea - but they're purty!  Fingers crossed that they represent good omens and a sunny weekend.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

St Patrick's Day Parade

Or as it now seems to be officially called, the St Patrick's Day Festival Parade.

This year I was seized with an urge to attend the parade on St Patrick's Day.  I hadn't been for 20 odd years and the last time I went it consisted of some bands, some majorettes shipped from overseas and some random Americans.  (Being American was so glamorous in our eyes that it seemed obvious that any American tourist should be eligible to march in the parade.)  I also remember it being very cold and not being able to see much over people's heads.

So what's changed?  Well, the parade now consists of lots of street-theatre style floats paying tribute to Celtic mythology (and also, confusingly, this year there was a Science theme so you got Vikings explaining where electricity comes from...), plus bands, majorettes, dancers and my Cousin John playing a drum in a boiler suit.  (I said to my friend, 'hey, that guy looks like my Cousin John', then got home and spoke to John's sister and discovered that it was, in fact, he.  Ireland is ridiculously small.)

You'll note that I still had to peer over people's heads.

I was glad I went, though obviously what I should have brought was my own ladder (excellent example of Dublin ingenuity):

However, when I went home and watched Flight of the Doves I realised that in my heart of hearts, the parade I was hoping for looks something like this:

Friday 16 March 2012

Good Hope

Since we were staying in Kowloon (the tip of the Chinese peninsula that practically touches Hong Kong island) we decided to explore the streets of Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok.  Just a few minutes up Nathan Road takes you from Gucci and Cartier to the narrow, smelly and chaotic streets where you can buy paper votives for the dead, designer handbags of dubious origin and souvenirs at a fraction of the price you'd pay in Hong Kong airport.

We pushed our way up to the Ladies' Market, then, exhausted, decided we needed to eat.  I persuaded my sister that we should go to Good Hope noodle, for no other reason than it was in the guidebook.  (I have great faith in guidebooks.)  I think we both had some doubts when we saw the interior (slightly grubby, the decor was the shabby end of shabby chic) but decided that since it was jammed full of locals it must be ok.  

Warned by our previous experience, we did rinse the chopsticks in boiling water but the noodles, when they arrived, were really good.  And we've lived to tell the tale so it seems that the tip was worth following, after all.

 (Ró looking slightly nervous...)

Thursday 15 March 2012

Two Meals in Hong Kong

Meal number 1: dim sum at Maxim's Palace

Hint: the dim sum restaurant is on the 2nd level of Hong Kong city hall.  Don't be put off when you arrive and either no one seems to be about or else there's a concert on (it's also the city recital centre).  Go upstairs and you will discover a crowd of people clutching tickets and waiting for their numbers to be called.

We were lucky number 100 and though we had to wait about 30 minutes, it was worth it for the best dim sum either of us had had.  Waitresses push steaming carts around, like Victorian barrow ladies, yelling their wares.  The pork buns were particularly stellar, like Chinese pasties.  We also liked the silver-plated chopsticks.

Meal number 2: fish supper in Aberdeen

Hint: be brave when friends take you out to their favourite local fish restaurant.

The restaurant we went to was the kind that we, as tourists, would never have found on our own, being in a back street of Aberdeen, a former fishing village now swallowed by the city.  We were taken outside to meet our supper and though a little nervous, decided we couldn't be less than intrepid and gamely agreed to everything that was suggested.

We shouldn't have worried: we had delicious poached grouper with ginger and sesame oil; salt and pepper squid; razor-shell clams with black bean sauce (tricky to eat with chopsticks, let me tell you); regular shaped clams; and chicken.

Seriously finger-lickin' good.

Over the course of the evening, we were given a very helpful hint by our hosts: it's not considered impolite in Hong Kong (in fact it's positively encouraged) to ask the waiter for boiling water in which to rinse your chopsticks, spoons etc.  However, this is a hint probably more appropriate to establishments without silver-plated chopsticks.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

OK in HK

(my titles are getting worse and worse - sorry!)

I took Ro to Uniqlo in Hong Kong so she too could experience the delights of its great jeans, colourful tops and bargainous prices.

No sooner were we in the door than we were pulled, magnet-like, towards the unmistakable Orla Kiely prints. I didn't even know OK was doing a range for Uniqlo (launches in Europe on 19 March) but she is and you can snap up many of her signature motifs in t-shirt, vest and even slipper form.

After a great deal of squeeing (and my discovery of the ultimate travel trousers, of which more later) we braved the back streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, but that's tomorrow's story.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

The Peak

Despite a night spent on a plane, Ró (Lady Traveller's Big Sister) and I were determined to see some of the sights of Hong Kong.  Since every guide book and traveller to HK recommends taking the tram up to the Peak, we decided we ought to do that too ....  LTBS sagely suggested we do it first, before the crowds arrived, and she was right too because when we got down again the queue stretched around the block.

The tram/funicular goes up at a 45 degree angle and there was a lot of shrieking from the mostly Chinese tourists on board.  There are some good views back down to the harbour, though it's a little hard to see with everyone waving cameras.

We walked around a little at the top and admired the views (though obscured by fog) - and the lions.

Here's an illegal shot of a local-colour-peddling rickshaw driver for which I did not pay ...

Later, we went back with a Hong Kong friend for a drink - still foggy, but the light show was amazing.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Fun With Signs

We saw this sign last night and were very amused. (Hint: try reading aloud.)

Friday 9 March 2012

Airport Reviews: Melbourne International

Or my new home away from home.  I do seem to be clocking up a lot of hours in this place.  Good news for you because I have hints hints hints!

(View from Cafe Vue) 

There is one terminal for all international departures from Melbourne.  Once you get past the troika of check in, security, immigration it’s actually pretty nice – you just have to get past them first.

The business end
There are plenty of shops and restaurants beyond security and I would advise getting airside with despatch as a) there’s not much to do landside (spell check wants to correct that to ‘landslide’) and b) as well as security you have to clear immigration/customs and the queues can be slow moving.  You have to fill out a departure card before you get to the head of the queue – you might want to do this at the desks provided.  Juggling your handbag, carry on, passport, boarding card and trying to fill out the form is an Olympic-level sport.  

The fun (?) part
The good news is that once you’re through, the terminal is pretty nice.  Mimco is good for girly presents (costume jewellery, handbags, hair accessories), Witchery for clothes basics (again for girls).  There are several shops peddling Akubra hats, Uggs, souvenir t-shirts, plush kangaroos, didgeridoos, merino wool jumpers etc.  Dreamtime Journey has some interesting indigenous-designed souvenirs.  There is also a shop called Australian Produce Store which, as well as selling confectionery, stocks the all-healing magical Paw Paw ointment.

For food, if you have time, I recommend Café Vue, an offshoot of Vue de Monde, one of Melbourne’s fanciest restaurants.  This is a café/bistro version, but you can get a decent meal and a glass of wine.  It is a bit pricey, but then by the time you’re leaving Melbourne you will have had to come to terms with your Melbourne sticker shock. Café Vue also do lunch boxes to take away – an excellent option if your airline charges for food (even if it doesn’t).  A memorable picnic on Air New Zealand to Auckland contained cold chicken, potato salad and a lemon tart whose memory makes my mouth water.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Overseen: Clifton Hill

Given a choice, which is better for showing clothes?

Mannequins with less personality ... (although I do like this idea)

And mannequins with more personality ...

Friday 2 March 2012

And What I Want to Know Is...

I've been taking photos on my way to and from the project office in the mornings and evenings.  It's nice to have something in my day that's not purely work focused.  (Shout out to MA: 'work' focused.)  True to the spirit of this blog, I keep an eye out for the curious and amusing details along the way.  Like these faded signs, side by side on Gertrude St:

And what I want to know is - & cattle ... what?  Getting vaccinations?  Getting teeth extracted?  Having prescriptions filled?  Honestly, it keeps me awake at night.