Saturday, 16 May 2015

Traveller's Tips

I wrote this stub almost a year ago - and then forgot about it.  Some of these tips related specifically to my SE Asian experience - others are more general and universal.  Feedback, ammendments and additions most welcome.

I was ‘on the road’ for more than my fair share in 2013/14. Here’s a few tricks I picked up on the way. 
  1. Always keep a card and/or US$100/ €100 in a safe, separate, place (e.g.  a different pocket on money belt when you are travelling) in case, through stupidity or malfeasance, you lose your pocket book/wallet, etc. Also a photocopy of your passport / ID card, credit and debit cards and health insurance and their emergency numbers can prove very useful.  When going out at night carry a photocopy of your passport and only as much money as you plan spending.  Try to carry a few low denomination hard currency bills (1 $ or 5 Euro). If you are going outside of Europe do let your bank know – otherwise you may not be able to draw out any cash from any machine!
  2. Get to know (and remember) the name of your hotel receptionist / porter. This pays big time and both ways!  It makes them feel like recognised people, rather than just cogs in the global tourist machine and it can pay dividends if you have a problems that need solving – they remember you as someone who is interested in them as a person.
  3. The ‘posher’ the hotel - the less interactivity
  4. Try to avoid eating in places on the main ‘walking street’ or on the 'Grand Place'.  They are for the ‘vous-m’avez vue?’ set.  Root around the back streets just around the corner. You will invariably find better food and better service - at a much lower price. 
  5. Don’t do drugs (except in very safe environments). It exposes to you to police and mafia scams
  6. If staying any length of time buy a local SIM card and put in an old phone.  It makes local calls that much easier.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Barefoot Walking Outdoors

I  just (yesterday) finished reading Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane.  In one section he writes about the joys and perils of bareoot walking.  I was reminded how long it was since I have walked barefoot outside so gave it a try again when I found myself in the woods near Tremelo last weekend.  It was refreshing.   And the book is highly recommended too.

Monday, 4 May 2015

In the gallery - again

Went to the Henri - Cartier Bresson expo at the Belgian Museum of Jewish History yesterday.  Great show - aside from being an excellent photographer he was witness to many of the key events of the 20th Century - from the Spanish Civil war, through the liberation of Dachau, the communist victory in China,  the independence of India, Paris '68, the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements in the USA and much more.  He got to photograph Picasso, de Gaulle, Marilyn Monroe, Eisenhower, Gandhi (the day before he was assassinated), the Mountbattens  and so many other iconic figures of the 20th Century. A rich life well lived, although I always thought (and still think)  his best work was of street life in his adopted home city of Paris (see below).  In all a highly recomended show.

Getting in was a bit creepy - the museum was the scene of a fatal shooting last year in which four people were killed.  Getting in there now is like flying - full scan as you enter (but, then, that's the same at my local library these days) and four highly-armed army guards outside (the library doesn't have those).

After the Bresson expo I watched a harrowing film about the deportation of Jews from Belgium between 1942 and 1944 - detailig every train that deported more than 25,000 Jews from Belgium to Auschtwitz. Very few survived.  The whole video was particularly harrowing to me as some of the street scenes of the places where the Jewish community lived and were rounded up in the middle of the night are places where I regularly  shop.  One elderly Jewish guy described all the shops and houses in one street where his friends were taken from, half way through the interview he turned away from the camera, broke down and cried.

Tomorrow is freedom day in Wageningen: the place where the German army surrendered in the Netherlands.  There's a parade, a fly past and a big party.  I shan't be going this year - but think I will set aside a few minutes silence in memory of the Holocaust and pray that such a thing will never occur again.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

In the gallery

An installation by Valerie Oka, seen at the closing day of a (generally disappointing) show at the Wiels gallery.

For those who don't read French the text reads 'do you think I'll be a better fuck because I'm black?'  

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Name that reptile

Out walking in the Ardennes last weekend - one of our number spotted this bright yellow and black creature basking on the tamac road.  Does anyone know what it is? And is it native or an escapee?   It looks like it belongs in a tropical rain forest

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

testing my tablet link

Testing  my tablet link. It actually works. I'm chuffed.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Guess which South Asian country will never see a Euro cent from this traveller?  Your beaches may be pristine, your cuisine to die for, your girls pretty, yet your respect for human rights is unworthy of any civilized country in the 21st Century.

Dylan's 1966 Albert Hall Concert

Spotify could be so much better. It could be much better.  It doesn't have this.. (the last five Dylan albums).. it doesn't have that (I've given up looking for albums I actually want to hear) .   BUT it sorted of redeemed itself by having a bootleg of Dylan's legendary 1966 Albert Hall concerts.  I've never heard these before. Wow. Listen if you can. No easy link to paste. Just go to Spotify and paste Dylan, live, 1966. There are some clips on you tube - but not the whole concert. This is the Dylan at his peak.

The best Spag Bol ever

There was some mince in the freezer, tomatoes in the fridge, spaghetti in a jar,  some bay leaves and garlic and some grated Emmental.  Guess you can imagine what I would be cooking? Yep, Spag.Bol!  For many people (well Brits at least) this is the usually the first dish they learn to master after flying the parental nest. They feel like real cooks (and if they are really good or lucky might get laid afterwards).   Tonight I found a new twist.  I made the sauce - as usual - but instead of cooking the spaghetti separately and putting the sauce on top, I poured half a litre of water into the pan and then dropped the spaghetti into the pan.  It soaked up the juices of the meat, tomatoes and garlic.  It was the best Spag Bol I have ever cooked: no, the best I have I ever tasted. Sadly I was eating alone (appropriately enough I was watching a Woody Allen movie). So there was no prospect of cookery skills leading to other delights.  But hey I have a new trick up my  sleeve.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The 'Matador's Cape': a venture into the Catalan Kitchen

Fresh back from my Pyrenean trip I am keen to try cooking some Catalan dishes in my kitchen. I found (and slightly adapted) this recipe for ‘Toreador’s Cape’ in Colman Andrew’s book ‘Catalan Cuisine’ (Collier, NY). It’s like a simple -  and very cheap - version of paella (I think the ingredients costs less than 7 Euro) and delicious to boot.

Ingredients (to serve 3-4).
125 g rice
Half a jar / large tin of chick peas
125 g dried salted fish (I had to cycle to an African shop to find this)
2-3 tomatoes
2-3 heads of garlic
I thread of saffron (you can improvise with turmeric if the cost feels prohibitive). 

Bake the peppers (quartered) and when done remove the skins. Bring the fish to the boil, simmer for 8-10 minutes, let cool and crumble into small pieces, taking out any bones.   Cook the tomatoes and garlic and saffron (tumeric) in oil until the tomatoes are reduced.  Add the rice and fish and stir so the rice gets coated with the tomato juices. Add 3 cups of water and the chickpeas and simmer until done.   Stir as needed. Top with the quartered red peppers (the ‘Toreador’s cape’) and let cool.  

Sadly I only thought to take the photo after taking my first serving. I mixed red and yellow peppers in my version (as I never live life by the book!)