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Travel 2018 – Hull, Rotterdam, Etoges, Bordeaux, Pau, Pugnac, Pau, Bilbao, Portsmouth
Saturday, 5th May to Wednesday, 24th May 2018 - Hull, Rotterdam, Etoges, Bordeaux, Pau, Pugnac, Pau, Bilbao, Portsmouth…

Travel 2018 – Hull, Rotterdam, Etoges, Bordeaux, Pau, Pugnac, Pau, Bilbao, Portsmouth

Saturday, 5th May to Wednesday, 24th May 2018 - Hull, Rotterdam, Etoges, Bordeaux, Pau, Pugnac, Pau, Bilbao, Portsmouth…

11th February to 18th March 2018 – 185 Watling Street, Ten Hands Café, The Ganges, Towcester

We’ve been doing a fair amount of local eating again with the start of 2018 and have revisited some old favourites as well as test running some new entrants to the local restaurant scene. With the town growing rapidly at present (there are new housing developments popping up on all sides and the place is set to double in size once these houses are complete) there’s scope in our quiet little town for good food offerings. We had visited 185 a handful of times in the run up to this year, but we’ve been in three times now. Here’s how that went.

Sunday, 11th February/Friday, 2nd March/Friday, 9th March 2018 – 185 Watling Street, Towcester

It used to be a solicitors’ office, it’s been a coaching inn, it’s been a family home. Right now, 185 Watling Street is a very pleasant gastro-pub and bar on the high street of our historic town centre. We held Lynne’s 60th birthday lunch there, for 22 guests, and the staff coped remarkably well after some initial confusion over the pre-orders when it turned out that the wine list on the web site is not the same as the one they are actually using. It all went very smoothly and I think although the food was probably not at its best given the fact that the kitchen was trying very hard to serve all of us at the same time, no one seemed disappointed, with the exception of the one person who ordered a pannacotta as dessert and basically got a milky puddle!

We went back three week’s later during the snows of the original Beast from the East and were among a tiny handful of diners that night, most people staying home. We have the advantage of being wit hin walking distance so it’s easy for us. Initially we settled in to test the latest iteration of the cocktail list, which has a somewhat chequered history and goes through phases when it contains little of interest if you don’t like gin! We were on to a winner this time given that there were some interestingly wintery drinks, including the rather delicious Winter Pimms, served warm and just the thing to thaw out two frozen walkers.

After that, and warmed through, we fell back on the old favourites of a Polish mule for Lynne and a Bramble for me.

We opted to go for the small plates to start with, assuming that they’d be… well… small. Not a bit of it. The beetroot hummus was beautifully creamy with just enough bite to it. It went well with the potato falafel as well, with the two combining nicely if you dipped the falafel in. There were lots of lovely crisp, fresh vegetables to dip into the hummus too.

We also had some chorizo and salami, which came with onion chutney and cornichons, and separately a portion of whitebait with some lovely homemade tartare sauce. Whitebait seems to be staging something of a comeback of late, which is no bad thing I would say. These could have been crunchier perhaps, but that didn’t stop us polishing them right off.

And then we ran into trouble. We’d ordered a second round of “small” plates for our second course and we were already struggling! A basket of breads was on the table becaus e we’d figured we’d be needing it to dunk into the baked Camembert we’d ordered. Except the Camembert came with bread that was not mentioned on the menu! We also ordered sausages which arrived in a thick tomato sauce. It was enormous but very comforting on a freezing cold night.

The suggestion that we might consider a dessert caused hysterical laughter on our part, followed by a strategic retreat back to the comfort of our living room, after we’d knocked the snow of our boots anyway. A week later and we were back, this time with the frien d we’d been intending to meet up with the previous Friday. We knew what we were in for this time, so again a round of cocktails got the evening going, and then we hit the small plates again.

We went for the whitebait again, and the Camembert with bread, and this time a portion of their meatballs, in a thick tomato sauce.

Between three of us it was a more realistic proposition. especially as we had opted for the “proper” mains this time. I would have preferred the meatballs to be more solid, and perhaps better seasoned, but the bread and the Camembert was again very good, the cheese soft and squidgy, and the whitebait were actually far crispier this time round. It’s a gastro-pub, not a fine dining restaurant so we really can’t be quite so picky.

And anyway, the salmon with clam broth studded with boiled potatoes that soaked up the liquid was much better than many a pub could manage. The salmon for me could have been cooked a minute or so less, but again I’m being picky given the prices. We enjoyed it, and while we might not remember it in months or years to come, it hit the spot on the night.

Saturday, 3rd March 2018 – Ten Hands Café Bar, Towcester

The following morning we took ourselves to our local independent café, the Ten Hands Café Bar, which replaced the Dolphin café when the lease costs proved too high on renewal. The whole place had a massive makeover, which it was in need of, and is now bordering on the hipster, at least for these parts. The coffees are very good, though small for their price, and the food is excellent, though it takes forever to arrive, by which time your coffee is long gone, and you’ll be needing another one if you want it with your breakfast. Actually I opted for one of their fruit teas instead, in this instance an apple tea spiced with star anise among other things. It was very warming and very nice indeed, as was the coffee.

The food, when it arrived, was also very good. Lynne opted for a sausage sandwich. What arrived was the size of a doorstep, strangely architectural, with possibly too much bread for any one person to handle.

I went for the shakshuka, thus establishing beyond doubt that Towcester high street has joined the 21st Century and gone full on Hoxton! The menu claimed it was three eggs, and I did only find three yolks, but it was still massive. It was also very tasty, with quite a chilli kick to it, so much so that I soon found myself wishing I’d not worn a sweater! It came with toasted sourdough bread, and some grilled halloumi, which went very well with the spicy pepper and tomato stew elements of the dish. Excellent stuff, though another time I think we may end up sharing one of these dishes between us.

Sunday, 18th March 2018 – The Ganges, Towcester

And so, on another day, a walk round to one of the three local Indian restaurants, and in our view the best of the three, The Ganges, based in a former pub on an estate, so not an obvious place though immensely popular it seems. Certainly it always seems to be busy. They make claim to provide authentic Indian food; I can’t say whether they do or don’t as I’m not expert in such matters. They do churn out the “standard issue” UK Indian dishes, but there’s also a large section of the menu that does genuinely contain a number of dishes I’ve not encountered elsewhere in the UK. We started, however, with the inevitable poppadoms, just one each because really it’s not necessary to fill yourself up with them when there are other dishes to come.

After that, things stayed “traditional” for us as we split a pair of Lamb samosas, and shared some tender, tasty tandoori lamb chops. They were good in just the way you would expect, so far, so standard.

For our mains we’d chosen from the more interesting end of the menu. That meant a portion of Sylheti duck, which is slices of duck breast from the tandoor, served in a lively, spicy tomato/pepper sauce, the spicing typical of the Sylhet Division apparently. As this is partly in Bangladesh, it does I suppose fit the definition of “tradi tional” Indian cooking as we know it in the UK, as many of those involved are actually from Bangladesh and not India..

A naan bread with it was far more standard. The butter king prawns were not. They didn’t make the prettiest of dishes, but it was rich and creamy and very satisfying, even if it did look a bit like a car crash!

Also not especially pretty was the aubergine bhaji, but very tasty and full of flavour, the aubergine cooked until soft and full of oils and ghee. You could almost feel it hardening your arteries on the way down!

THE GANGES, AUBERGINE BHAJI 007

And that was more than enough. As usual we ended up bringing the leftovers home and having them for lunch the day after. Desserts may be good, they may not; we’ve never been able to manage one.

There are a couple of new places opening in the next few weeks so we’ll no doubt be investigating them as soon as we can.

185 WATLING STREET, WINE 010185 WATLING STREET, AFTERMATH 008LYNNE'S 60TH BIRTHDAY LUNCH, 185 WATLING STREET 010THE GANGES, LAMB SAMOSA, LAMB CHOPS 005185 WATLING STREET, WINTER PIMMS 001185 WATLING STREET, BRAMBLE 004185 WATLING STREET, BRAMBLE 005THE GANGES, BUTTER KING PRAWNS 008185 WATLING STREET, MARCH, WHITEBAIT, MEATBALLS, CAMEMBERT AND BREAD 001185 WATLING STREET, MARCH, SALMON WITH CLAMS AND POTATOES 003LYNNE'S 60TH BIRTHDAY LUNCH, 185 WATLING STREET (14)THE GANGES, AUBERGINE BHAJI 007185 WATLING STREET, SAUSAGES, BREAD, BAKED CAMEMBERT 009LYNNE'S 60TH BIRTHDAY LUNCH, 185 WATLING STREET 008185 WATLING STREET, MARCH, FILLET STEAK 004TEN HANDS CAFE, LATTE 002LYNNE'S 60TH BIRTHDAY LUNCH, 185 WATLING STREET 007185 WATLING STREET, BEETROOT HUMMUS, POTATO FALAFEL 006THE GANGES, POPPODOMS 001TEN HANDS CAFE, LATTE 001185 WATLING STREET, MARCH, SALMON WITH CLAMS AND P

OTATOES 002TEN HANDS CAFE, SAUSAGE SANDWICH 003LYNNE'S 60TH BIRTHDAY LUNCH, 185 WATLING STREET 002LYNNE'S 60TH BIRTHDAY LUNCH, 185 WATLING STREET 009LYNNE'S 60TH BIRTHDAY LUNCH, 185 WATLING STREET 006THE GANGES, PROSECCO 002TEN HANDS CAFE, SHAKSHUKA 004THE GANGES, LAMB SAMOSAS 004185 WATLING STREET, WINE 011LYNNE'S 60TH BIRTHDAY LUNCH, 185 WATLING STREET 001185 WATLING STREET, SALAMI AND CHORIZO, WHITEBAIT 007THE GANGES, PESHWARI NAAN, SYLHETI DUCK 006185 WATLING STREET, WINTER PIMMS 002TEN HANDS CAFE, SOURDOUGH, HALLOUMI, SHAKSHUKA 005THE GANGES, TANDOORI LAMB CHOPS 003 Food 2018 – 185 Watling Street, Ten Hands Café, The Ganges, Towcester 11th February to 18th March 2018 - 185 Watling Street, Ten Hands Café, The Ganges, Towcester…

Fitness 2018 - Blenheim 7k, Blenheim Palace

Fitness 2018 – Blenheim 7k, Blenheim Palace

Sunday, 29th April 2018 – Blenheim 7k, Blenheim Palace

Having not run any sort of race since the Silverstone 10K two years ago, the Blenheim 7K seemed like a conveniently sensible distance in a conveniently close location, it being only 40 minutes or so away by road. So I figured what the hell, I’d go for it. It was relatively inexpensive too so that helped the decision along. Certainly my…

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Sunday, 19th/Monday, 20th May, 2007 – Bucharest, Days 4 and 5

Sunday in Bucharest was just as nuts as Saturday had been with people running into barriers/tyre walls/each other and anything else they could find to hit. It all got messy and again we seemed to walk miles and miles, mostly up that damn hill to the press office. In the evening we again went out to the Old Town in search of dinner, this time determined to find some Romanian food. This time we ended up at the eccentric, but splendid, Moara Mariei (and the web site has to be read to be believed). We had a massive, and massively tasty, meal, and fin ally rolled out into the night around 4 hours after we went in, stuffed with all sorts of food, and deafened by the folk musicians, but very happy.

The proprietress is quite a character, telling us we couldn’t have certain menu items together because “Is not good!” (mostly the Serbian rice – she insisted that Romanian peasant potatoes were better, and to be fair they were very good, but we did wonder if it was just that there was no rice available – or there was a glut of potatoes). She also insisted that we should all have the Romanian dessert, but refused to tell us what it was, only insisting “is surprise!” It turned out to be pieces of Austrian-style cheesecake (made with quark and thus slightly textured rather than smooth), pieces of creme caramel, and slices of banana and orange, all of which could be dumped in a well of flaming alcohol (and then eaten but mostly incinerated because by then none of us were very good a t keeping the things on our forks). I’d go back to any of the restaurants we visited quite happily.

I’d also go back to Bucharest quite happily, though I gather some people didn’t feel quite so benevolent towards the place, and never want to go there again. I can see that it might be a little unnerving, but I liked it.

Monday we had very little time, but we did at least have time to have breakfast in the hotel for the first time all weekend. Then packing, a short walk to the Palace and back taking photos of the amazing fountains all the way along the Boulevard Unirii, as well as of some of the fabulous but run-down architecture in the neighbourhood we were staying in.

After that it was one more manic cab ride (back to the airport) and home by 8pm, just in time to unpack, repack and set the alarm for 5am and another trip to the Netherlands.

Travel 2007 – Bucharest, Day 4 Sunday, 19th/Monday, 20th May, 2007 - Bucharest, Days 4 and 5 Sunday in Bucharest was just as nuts as Saturday had been with people running into barriers/tyre walls/each other and anything else they could find to hit.

Saturday, 19th May, 2007 – Bucharest, Day 3

Well, it’s fair to say that Saturday in Bucharest started waaaay too early, with an 8.15 qualifying session. Really not what we wanted, but what can you do? That meant leaving the apartment at 7.30, in order to get to the press office and get organised in good time. The hill wasn’t getting any less steep, and the weather wasn’t getting any better. Still, if we’d had the 30 C or so that had been threatened, the climb would have been more than I could have managed, I suspect. And it wasn’t as if there was an alternative, either. At least at Pau if you were sufficiently desperate, you could try and grab a cab from the railway station back to the hotel at the end of the day, thus avoiding the godawful climb back out of the paddock. In this case, at least it was downhill all the way back to the hotel…

Meanwhile, qualifying was reasonably well-behaved for a series that’s rapidl y becoming a case of Red Flags’r’Us this year. A trip down to the paddock followed, with another run-in with a security guard who wanted to send us back the way we came, and was most crestfallen when a scan of our passes flashed up the word “Go” on his screen and he had no option but to let us go through. All that, just to get to the F3 paddock… It was beginning to get a bit wearing on the nerves, frankly, though I eventually did find a way of dealing with that sort of nonsense. I worked out that the locals’ reluctance to speak to women, and their lack of English, meant that if you didn’t catch their eye, they wouldn’t challenge you because they would have had to speak. Problem solved, and after that I went where I wanted to go.

I wasn’t the only one having trouble getting around though. Marc soon discovered that the circuit’s red zones (where photographers are not allowed because it’s too dangerous) had multipli ed overnight, and suddenly, despite no one on the organisational side knowing about it, the outside of Turn 1 was now also a red zone. Unless, that is, you were a Romanian photographer. Presumably they are impervious to danger or something – or they’d slipped the local security a few leis. He gave up and retreated to the pitlane, not being able to pull the same stunt I could.

Anyway, the race you’ll know about if you care, though I did think the whole Safety Car start business got a bit silly. The decision was taken quite late, and Glyn was left with no choice but to make his way down the grid, telling each driver that they would be doing two laps behind the Safety Car and then the race would start as they crossed the start/finish line. He then also found a member of each team in the pitlane and told them what was going on. Afterwards, there were complaints that the mid-field guys didn’t know what was going to happen. OK, lads, a small hint. When a bloke in an official shirt makes his way down the grid about five minutes before the race is due to start, and he stops to tell you something (having done the same to every driver in front of you) then it might be an idea to pay attention to what he tells you. OK, so you may not be familiar with the procedure, but most of the teams had no such excuse. We ran the same protocol at Thruxton last season, so really, again, pay attention please and pass on the information passed to you by the man in the SRO shirt!

It was an interesting race that saw both Mansells crash out to my satisfaction. Rumour had it that the old man then stormed up to Sebastian Hohenthal in the Fortec awning and tore into him verbally for being run into by Greg! Considering that the cars between them all missed the stricken Swede, and considering he was the one being hit, not the one doing the hitting, this seemed a bit much, frankly. On top of that, Leo was apparently concussed after Frankie Cheng savaged him unexpe ctedly, so exit the Mansells, stage left, lamentably not pursued by a bear (Romania has a large population of brown bears apparently). It was all too dangerous according to Nigel… It’s really not good when your father starts fighting your battles for you, and to flounce off claiming it was too dangerous seemed a bit extreme.

That over, we got the report out very, very quickly, and in between were taken on a guided tour of the Palace. This was organised by the charming Romanian press officer, a very helpful, obliging, friendly sort of guy, who was very good at his job it seemed to me. He was cajoled into organising it by Agnes Carlier, who used to be the Marlboro PR woman, and also worked at Sauber once upon a time. Anyway, the tour itself was mind-bending in terms of the statistics wheeled out, and very interesting too. What was fascinating was the way the tour guide very carefully avoided talking much about the Ceausescus, which is a clever trick when they built th e place. We were told that they’d made the architect redesign the main staircases more than once because she wanted to be able to glide down “her” staircase like a princess. Oh, and the two staircases? So they could set off at the top and meet together at the bottom…

I quote from the rather sanitised guidebook: “What is unquestionably Romania’s most famous building, Palatul Parlamentului (known universally as Casa Poporului) was built during the darkest days of the Nicolae Ceausescu regime. Standing 84m above ground level on 12 floors, the building has long been s hrouded in mystery, rumour and hyperbole. Originally designed to house almost all the organs of the communist state, it today plays host to the Romanian parliament, senate and a modern, well equipped conference centre, as well as Romania’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC). The vast majority of the building, however, remains unused. The public tour of the building is thoroughly recommended. You’ll see plenty of grand staircases, marble-plated halls and conference rooms, while – depending on the mood of the guide – you may also have the chance to go on to the balcony, which offers the defining view of Bucharest. The larg est room, the Sala Unirii (Unification Hall), is laid with a 14 ton carpet woven on the premises with machines designed specifically for the purpose. Some 3,500 tons of crystal were used for the building’s chandeliers. The heftiest is that in the small parliament hall, which weighs three tons and makes use of over 7,000 bulbs.”

In the evening we again headed out to the old town, this time stumbling across the St. George, a splendid Hungarian restaurant, but with a seriously oddly translated menu (we never did figure out what “s cruff and bacon” could possibly be, for a start). For our sins we ended up sitting right next to the “gypsy” band, who were alarmingly sprightly given their considerable age. The double bass player in particular was more than a little scary. He kept twirling the instrument so violently we were repeatedly surprised when he didn’t accidentally lose his grip. If he had, a cabinet full of Tokaj Aszu would have made a very expensive and sticky disaster area!

We ate well, and drank even better, and again had change from £20 a head. I had the Gulags soup, which wasn’t a very thin gruel with a soli tary bean in it as you might expect with a name like that, but rather was an excellent goulash soup, and then a main course called “Only for extraordinary people” and described as “chicken breast stuffed with goose liver and chestnuts piuree on grill”. It was very good, solid cooking, not gourmet level, but respectable and very enjoyable. I finished off with “for wine lovers – vanilla ice-cream with orange rolls dipped in wine and cream”. The orange rolls were just slices of orange, so it wasn’t as exotic as it sounded (rather like the wine with “erotic aromas” encountered on the wine list of our local Thai restaurant not long ago).

And so, again very full of food, we lurched back to out beds, to get ready for another day of racing and eating!

Friday, 18th May, 2007 – Bucharest, Day 2

Sometime during Thursday night, the weather changed dramatically, the weather going from baking hot and sunny to damp, humid and stormy overnight. It wasn’t entirely surprising because I’d stood on the balcony after we got back from dinner and nearly been blown off my feet by a wind that got up unexpectedly. Everything was sodden, which made the main boulevard slippery underfoot, and didn’t help in our attempts to hunt down the Accreditation office (in a tent somewhere). It certainly wasn’t where the map we’d been sent suggested (which interestingly had an address nowhere near the graphical representation of the tent). As it turned out, after a phone call to Jacquie in the press office, the tent was actually just by the main paddock entrance, which was actually a third location altogether.

The gate guards certainly didn’t seem to know where the office was, which meant we’d w andered quite a long way by the time we actually got our passes. Still, it could have been worse. The trek to the press office itself turned out to be somewhat epic. Over the footbridge across the track, up the grassy slope to the Presidential Palace, also known locally as the Madman’s Palace, and across the driveway, through the heaviest metal doors, and then the massive wooden doors, and then through an airport-like security scan, before we entered the massive foyer of the palace, and had to cross that to fetch up in the room that was to serve as the press office for the duration of the weekend. It was startlingly impressive, with acres of marble, silk curtains, wood inlaid floors and carpets so big they had to be woven in situ.

The press lunch room looked like this:


We settled in to what was a very empty press office, set up our stuff, then wandered out to go trackside during untimed practice. We started at the first corner for a while, taking lots of photos, and then headed down to the last corner, which was next to the F3 paddock. Originally you had a choice of getting in there while the track was not in use, which obviously limited your access, or walking the long way round, which we really didn’t much fancy. We figured we’d be covering enough ground without adding any more to it. Mood in the paddock varied, with Anthony “Boyo” Hieatt at Raikkonen Robertson Racing being Mr. Grumpy all weekend (admittedly when Atte Mustonen’s car was brough back on a flatbed truck that had no lifting gear, thus necessitating everyone having to lift it rather than roll it off the truck so it ripped its floor off on the ground, you could see his point), while life at Carlin was as noisy and cheerful as ever.

It didn’t hel p life at Raikkonen Robertson Racing that for some reason Carlin seem to better at getting to grips with new tracks than they are and proved to be once again here.

We spent the second free practice session at the first Chicane which was great – although I always worry a bit when I can see the whites of their eyes like this!

Also, I kept getting pelted with bits of broken Tarmac an d dead tyre, and it was starting to smart a bit by the end. We flogged back across another footbridge, and then had to loop back down the hill and up again after the police wouldn’t let us walk straight across the front of the Presidential Palace (Marc and Paul were allowed to go that way; we weren’t, but then they’re male and we’re not, which was a theme that would be repeated more than once over the rest of the weekend – to my terrific annoyance). Once back there we had lunch, provided for us for once, then settled in to watch qualifying and report on it. It all got a bit messy, the most notable piece of mayhem being provided when Walter Grubmuller managed to make a complete idiot of himself.

To my way of thinking it really does take a special kind of stupid to wipe yourself and your car out completely on your out lap, especially when you go off so hard at the first corner that you break the gearbox in half and destroy the chassis. He later claime d he had no brakes, which makes the fact that the thing went into the wall rear end first very difficult to explain away, but there you go. I’ve never been impressed by him, and he’s not improving in my estimation with each meeting that goes by. He was taken to hospital, then released and promptly flew home in the private plane that had brought him there, announcing that he’d sit this one out. Apparently the following morning he decided he was feeling much better, so could he come back please? And by the way, was his car ready? Given that he’d gone home, no it wasn’t. Words fail me, frankly.

Anyway, we eventually legged it back to the hotel, had time for a rapid shower, and headed out across the Piata Unirii again in search of dinner. While we were walking that way, the heavens opened, so we ended up diving into the first place on our list, the Amsterdam, which is ironically a Dutch bar (there’s a surprise, eh?), serving excellent cocktails, D utch style snacks – things like bitterballen and Oud Amsterdam cheese – as well as steak and chips. The service was very good too. I had a super goulasch soup to start (I needed to get warm), we drank some very good red wine, and some of us had cocktails as dessert. The rain had finally stopped by the time we headed back to the ranch to try and snatch some sleep. Practice was scheduled for 8.15 the following morning, so it was a stupidly early start again.

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Thursday, 17th May, 2007 – Bucharest, Day 1

Well, Bucharest… The sound of traffic chaos (engine’s revving, horns blaring, traffic cops blowing whistles) and of dogs, feral or otherwise, barking their heads off. The scent of honeysuckle mingling with poor drains and cigarette smoke. The sight of beggars with faces so wrinkled they could be a map of the street system, the decaying grandeur of the houses in Sector 4, all crumbling porticoes and potholes in the streets, and the absurd opulence of the Presidential Palace, with 200 crystal chandeliers, silk and gold curtains, and marble columns as far as the eye can see. It’s a place of contrast so extreme as to make it feel as if you’re not in an EU country at all.

We arrived on Thursday after a long journey, what with the time difference (GMT+ 2), and the fact that it’s a good 3 hours flying time. It didn’t take us long to get through passport control and retrieve our baggag e, and we were rapidly out into the arrivals area. As promised the hotel had sent a pair of cars to collect the five of us, and we very quickly found out why the advice we’d been given was very firm about not getting a hire car. The traffic is insane. There may be three lanes painted on the road, but there were five or even six lines of cars occupying those lanes. Our driver chopped and changed lanes in the blink of an eye, and made us very glad we’d fastened our seat belts (the driver tried to tell us it wasn’t necessary – hah!). The traffic was unbelievably snarled up, not helped by the fact that some of the roads had been closed off to accommodated the race meeting. None of that phased our boy though. Nor did the roadworks. He just jinked onto the coned off bit and kept going till there was a digger in the way. Then he just barged back through the cones again… It was all rather disconcerting recently, as was the solid bang when he clipped a kerb, forc ing his way through a gap that didn’t entirely exist. I’ve had some scary taxi rides in my time, but this one went right to the top of the list. Worryingly, both cars left the airport together, but our driver made it to the hotel about 20-25 minutes ahead of his colleague! We eventually made it to our accommodation, the rather impressive looking Prince Residence, where we’d booked a collection of apartments. The neighbourhood has obviously been very impressive once in the past, but is now rather broken down and crumbling. It’s possibly on its way back up now, but maybe no t. I could see why some travellers reviewed the hotel by saying they felt the neighbourhood was too dangerous to go out in, but frankly they hadn’t looked properly in that case. Apart from the odd feral dog, it was perfectly safe to go out at night, so long as you watched where you put your feet (dogs) and didn’t fall down any of the numerous potholes and bits of broken kerb. Oh, and so long as you also didn’t get run over by speeding madmen in old cars… The Romanians park on the pavements (presumably to avoid the maniac drivers running into their cars), so mostly you have to walk in the road outside the city centre! We discovered that our apartment overlooked the Patriarch’s Palace, which the hotel rather grandiosely – in an attack of ludicrous hyperbole – claimed was Bucharest’s equivalent of the Vatican. Er… no, not really. Judge for yourselves.

Here are the gardens… And yes, that’s about all there is of the m!

And the building, or at least as much as we could see of it.

Anyway, we unpacked and the n decided to head out to eat. We took advice from the guidebook found on the very useful inyourpocket.com, a site that seems to cover a number of places in Eastern Europe. They were very scathing about a number of restaurants, so we located some in the old town that they actually recommended and so we set off armed with a list, a map and a determination to eat dinner! After taking our lives in our hands crossing the Piata Unirii – yes there are pedestrian crossings but a red light has no effect on most cab drivers, tram drivers, bus drivers or any other homicidal maniac in charge of a vehicle – We found the very wonderful l’Harmattan, a Moroccan/French restaurant, where aubergines, couscous royale, and some excellent red wine didn’t exactly break the bank at around £15 a head! It was very good and we eventually waddled back across the Piata – dodging the traffic which never seems to stop and being barked at by every dog we passed – and so back to the hotel and bed. We had an early start ahead of us on Friday.

A corner of the Piata Unirii in a relatively quiet moment – this in no way does justice to the mayhem…

Travel 2007 – Bucharest, Day 1 Thursday, 17th May, 2007 - Bucharest, Day 1 Well, Bucharest… The sound of traffic chaos (engine’s revving, horns blaring, traffic cops blowing whistles) and of dogs, feral or otherwise, barking their heads off.

Tuesday, 10th April/Monday, 16th 2007 – Utrecht, Zaltbommel

Last night I caught a train to Utrecht (which takes around half an hour from here) and went to meet up with Nath. We had plans for the evening, and very successful they were. Initially we intended to have dinner, and then on to the cinema. After some roaming along the canal side, we settled on Abrikoos, which makes claims to Mediterranean food and Tapas, both of which it offered in fine style. After a lentil soup starter, we shared calamari a la chef (grilled and tender), swordfish in a lemon sauce (one of the best pieces of swordfish I’ve encountered in a long while), wild mushrooms in a cream sauce (excellent), spinach with tomatoes (also very good), some grilled chorizo-style sausage (very good even if it was still with me this morning), and a grilled goat’s cheese doused liberally in nuts and honey (good enough that you’d kill for it, I suspect). A bottle of Turkish rose wine washed all of that down, and we finished with espresso coffee. All in all a very good start to the evening.

And hence to the cinema to see “The Lives of Others”. I loved it and plan on seeing it again at home when I can get Lynne along there. It’s very subdued but excellently played, with

first rate performances from the main characters and some wryly funny moments in among the general darkness. See it if you can.And so onto the last train back to Zaltbommel and bed around 1.30am. I’m tired today, so I’ll save my gym session till after work.

Wednesday I made it back to the hotel shortly before 6pm, hit the gym and did a 6k treadmill session. After that I didn’t want to go out with my colleagues (“I vanted to be alone!”) but I couldn’t face room service at the Golden Tulip, so I got showered, dressed and walked the 20 or so minutes into town and ate at the Eetgelenheid, which was excellent. I had mussels with Chinese cabbage to start with, and baked haddock with mashed potatoes, carrots and leeks, and a spicy basil sauce afterwards. I drank a half bottle of Chablis, and an espresso, and failed to avoid the speculoos biscuit and the home-made peanut chocolates. It was excellent, and I met and made friends with Roberto, the chef, and will definitely be going back in the next two weeks. Nath? Fancy getting the train over? They’re not open Tuesdays…

Afterwards I walked back, and unlike on the walk there, was not entertained by cute/fluffy wildlife… I’d never seen baby waterhens before. They’re small, black and flu ffy all over apart from their heads, which are orange/red… Odd looking things!

The following Monday evening was again a case of thank God for the Eetgelegenheid and Roberto and Nancy! After a long, long day (as in travel from the UK, work, unpack, go for a vigorous run on the hotel treadmill, translate two Jenzer motorsport press releases into something closer to English) I decided I absolutely couldn’t face the hotel food, be it room service (7 out of 8 main dishes coming with chips) or the charmless restaurant, so I belted down to the town centre at 9pm, threw myself into the place and begged for a table.

A plate of salmon with fresh spring vegetables (courgettes, mangetout, carrots) in a chive sauce, and a portion of rhubarb in Grand Marnier with orange ice-cream later and I feel altogether more civilised….

Travel 2007 – Utrecht, Zaltbommel Tuesday, 10th April/Monday, 16th 2007 - Utrecht, Zaltbommel Last night I caught a train to Utrecht (which takes around half an hour from here) and went to meet up with Nath.

Wednesday, 21st March/Friday, 23rd March 2007 – Malta

We were in Malta for four days so I suppose I should talk about some of the trip right now…

We left home on Wednesday evening, heading for Gatwick (no sensibly timed flights went from anywhere nearer, and even that wasn’t particularly sensible, being a 7.25 departure). As Gatwick’s a two hour drive, and we couldn’t face the idea of a 3.30 start, we opted instead for staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Crawley, and having a five minute drive in the morning. Anyway, that meant we hauled out of bed at 4.30, dropped the car off at the airport and trudged through security (which was very tiresome in the usual way) and by 6.30 we were sitting at Chez Gerard with coffee and croissants, it being about the only civilised place apart from the Seafood Bar to eat at the airport (and we didn’t fancy sushi at that time of the morning)…

The f light arrived on time, and we were met at the airport by our driver and whisked to the Intercontinental feeling grimy and tired. As soon as we arrived things quickly got a whole lot better! The concierge met us at the door and whisked our bags away, directing them to our suite on the 12th floor and us to the Club Lounge on the 15th floor, where we treated ourselves to fresh fruit, some local sheep’s cheeses and a beer before heading down to our rooms to investigate. Very nice indeed…

I’ve been in hotel rooms that were smaller than the bathroom in this suite is all I can say (and the bathroom has a deep bath at one end and a large shower cubicle at the other. We have flat screen TVs in the lounge and the bedroom, a CD system, balconies all round, and a second bathroom off the lounge. There are the obligatory fluffy towelling bathrobes, and slippers, and lots of comfortable seating, including chairs on the balconies, and sun loungers. I could get used to this! A nd the service levels are excellent. We decided we wanted to eat out at one of the local restaurants on Saturday, so we asked the concierge to organise it for us, then wandered out for a stroll through the streets of St. Julian’s (and coincidentally hunted down Meg and Tony’s hotel, the Cavalieri, which is about 20 minutes away on foot at the same time). By the time we got back, he’d made the booking, organised the taxi we’ll need to get there, and came straight over to me as I stepped back into the hotel to tell me it was all organised. I’m impressed.

Meanwhile, my impressions of Malta as very favourable. It’s very densely built-up, or at least this bit is, and the buildings are seemingly overwhelmingly narrow across the frontage, and go a very long way back. They seem to be mostly two or three storeys high, with wonderful balconies, and doorways that make me want to just keep right on taking photographs. They’re mostly pale stone or br ick, and there’s that distinct feel you get when you’re somewhere where two cultures have collided, and then rubbed along for centuries. There’s a very Mediterranean European ambience, but with just a touch of Arabic/Moorish in many things, so much so that you can’t miss it even if you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is. It’s lovely and the people so far seem to be very friendly and helpful as well. We’ve managed a walk along St. Julian’s Bay as well, looking at the brightly painted fishing boats, many of which have eyes painted on their bows to ward off evil. Some of the eyes are very stylised, and many of them look almost Egyptian in execution. I must find out more about this practice, as I’m now intrigued.

Anyway, we finally arrived at the Cavalieri, and located Meg and Tony. We caught up with them, then came back to the Intercontinental, where I checked out the gym (and knocked off a 5k run), before we dres sed and went back to the Cavalieri.

Meg and Tony had booked a table at a nearby Chinese restaurant, the prosaically named New China House, for dinner, and we duly headed there. The chef, the not so prosaically named Hu Han Bang, from Hong Kong, did superb dim sum, so Lynne and I started with those, while the rest of the party opted for the more familiar (to them) mixed starters where everything is deep-fried (something I try to avoid these days for obvious reasons), and then moved on to steamed mussels with garlic, crispy fried pumpkin and satay beef. It was all very good, as was the rather fine Alsace Gewurtztraminer from Hugel Fils that we drank with it. And I ended up having a dessert (which I figured I’d earned with my run), partly because the idea of deep-fried ice cream intrigued me. It turned out to be a ball if vanilla ice cream, coated in a sweet batter with sesame seeds stuck all over it, fried very fast and very hot to make it crispy, and drenched in honey and s yrup. It was excellent, and the ice cream was still solid in the middle. I have a few ideas as to how they did it, but it’s still damn clever! Oh, and the weather? Cold! Not at all what you’d expect… Thursday was the coldest day of the Winter with temperatures down around 9C, and a howling wind off the sea. Friday wasn’t meant to be much better, sadly, and duly lived up to its billing.

In conclusion, somewhere along the line we concluded a long time back that what every working woman really needs is an old-fashioned wife to keep everything running at home. Since our stay at the fabulous Intercontinental, we’ve changed our minds. What we need is a concierge… Now please!

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Saturday, 9th/Sunday, 24th  February 2007 – Daventry, Waddesdon, Wetherby

We went out for Lynne’s birthday by virtue of Andrea and Bob deciding that we needed to go out and have “a jolly time“, as Bob put it. A long, lazy lunch at Fawsley Hall was just the thing frankly. It’s a lovely place, and the food is first class. That’s the first time I’ve felt inspired to eat chicken in a long time (most chicken, at least in Britain, is vile, pallid flavourless stuff bred in battery cages to reach maximum weight as quickly as possible without passing through any flavour development on the way; I wouldn’t feed it to a dog, never mind a human). This was real chicken, corn-fed, free-range and tasted wonderful. The starter of brawn and black pudding was pretty remarkable too, the black pudding having a haggis-like texture and richness that contrasted with the slightly tangy taste of the brawn.

It was a lovely lunch, and we eventually waddled out of the restaurant at about 4.30, so full of food that none of us ate anything else all day (well, except Lynne, who ate two grapes to the amazement of Andrea and myself – we had no idea where she was putting them!)

On Sunday we had a house full of people, and I fed them a Turkish Winter vegetable hot pot and a Chicken Pilaff. We sat around and drank red wine and eventually tackled the resulting washing up mountain, but it was another good day with friends. Sometimes that’s just what you need.

Last week was awful. I was on a three day training course in Slough, which meant having to brave the M40 every day. In the end I decide my best bet was to use the gym in Stoke Poges every morning, which at least meant if I got up early I wasn’t wasting my efforts. The drive in took around 70 minutes, and the drive back on Wednesday was similar. Thursday and Friday were a whole other kettle of fish however. On Thursday the M40 was at a grinding halt from Junction 9 onwards, but luckily the wall-to-wall tail lights were a bit of a giveaway and I was able to scoot off and try and find my way through Bicester to the A43. It took me a lot longer to get home than I’d hoped it would, and Friday, surprise, surprise, was even worse. If anyone wants me to go on another course in Slough, they can damn well pay for me to stay somewhere is all I can say. And now I have to try and wrestle the company expenses system into coughing up something towards the fuel my three 140 mile round trips cost me… The one goo d thing about last week was having a “farewell lunch” with the rest of the Tech Pubs department at the very wonderful Five Arrows in Waddesdon, though it didn’t in any way make up for the fact that we no longer exist as a department, and I feel as if I’m out on a limb at the office now.

Over the weekend we finally did what we’ve wanted to do for some time and went off to Yorkshire to see Elaine and Dr. Bill (as he’s known to us anyway). We’ve known them for some time and have had them to stay but have never quite managed to get up to see them for reasons that now seem obscure. Any way, we drove up on Saturday morning and arrived in time to be fed to death by Elaine. Just a light lunch as we were going out for dinner in the evening, she said – if that’s a light lunch in their household I have no idea how come they are all so slim! I can only assume it’s because whenever you see Elaine she’s always busy and always seems to be heading somewhere at about 90 miles an hour (often clutching a black bin-liner, but let’s not go there). We vegetated gently for most of the afternoon as a result, before we trekked out to Wetherby and the very wonderful Fennel for dinner.

As the restaurant is very small (and probably because Lionel, the chef/proprietor knows Elaine and William of old) our party of 11 was banished upstairs to the café, to occupy a square of tables that entirely filled the room. A superb meal was fed to us, and much wine was drunk – and later quaffed I suspect. Lynne and I did our usual routine of ordering diff erent starters (scallops with parsnip and apple puree for me) so we could have half each, and did almost the same with the mains, the proviso there being Lynne didn’t want to share my lentil and Merguez ragout, just the wild boar that went with it! Oh, and we went for the assiette de desserts, which is basically one portion of each dessert and two spoons! That was good!

On Sunday Elaine tried to feed us a huge breakfast, which meant we all collapsed in a heap afterwards to watch the A1GP from Durban, and then, lo-and-behold she and William conjured up a massive roast lunch (nibbles and Champagne, soup, beef and Yorkshire pudding, apple pie and cream and chocolates and coffee). We staggered away from the table around 4 o’clock, drove home and collapsed in a heap. Needless to say we didn’t eat anything at all till Monday morning…

Food 2007 – Daventry, Waddesdon, Wetherby Saturday, 9th/Sunday, 24th  February 2007 - Daventry, Waddesdon, Wetherby We went out for Lynne’s birthday by virtue of Andrea and Bob deciding that we needed to go out and have…