Italy – Orvieto’s glorious cathedral

Italy – Orvieto’s glorious cathedral

 I was remembering coming up a narrow street in  the small, mediaeval hilltop town of Orvieto in Umbria: I lifted my eyes and saw the most confoundingly beautiful structure – a striped cathedal, with intricate, delicate relief carvings on the capitals with sumptuous cornerstones. It may not be the biggest and the best in the world – but this striped beauty captured my imagination.

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The 14th century cathedral was built between 1290 and 1500 and today, she shines as brightly as ever. Built under papacy direction, the building is famous for its mosaic inlay facade.
She’s such a beauty and I envy the faithful who go to the services during Christmas.

Lovely Orvieto,  Umbria – research the town for more information on Mr Google.
Visit: Insight Vacations

Writer Bev Malzard took a pasta making class in this town, purchased two books and was rather reluctant to leave.

India’s pride and joy

India’s pride and joy

How many times have you seen an image of one of the world’s great monuments and memorised it for years hoping to see it in all its glory one day? Stonehenge in England, the Parthenon looking down from the Acropolis in Athens, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo to name just three. And once you have actually gazed upon them, there’s a little flutter in your heart – is it the familiarity, the symmetry or just the connection to beauty that moves us so?

Perhaps it’s a combination of thoughts coming together – the awe of seeing what man has achieved – whether it was created for love, politics, power, utilitarian needs or religion – once seen, never forgotten.

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To come face to face with the shining glory of India’s Taj Mahal is a profound moment. A few years back I was on an escorted journey (previously known as a coach tour) in India. This way if travelling at an age where I didn’t have the patience to swat hoards of people away nor have the stamina to trundle around India solo.Taking a holiday this way, for me, took the pain out of the scrabble to find seats, get around, cool off, find a toilet, join long queues and negotiating the social mores of the locals.  (and what a good choice I made).

On the third day of the tour we had risen early in anticipation of a surprising day (to tell the truth, every day travelling in India is more than surprising) that would see us take a train journey from Delhi to Agra. A journey that passes through towns and villages, through unbearable piles of trackside rubbish, shining pristine temple surrounds, deformed beggars beginning their daily routine along the roads, beautifully groomed women covered in brilliant coloured saris, squatting in wheat fields thrashing the grain stalks by hand. During a two hour train trip witness mediaeval India and the new, built up, car crazy, middle class India – every step of the way is a surprise.

Our seating on the train was a breeze, the trip comfortable and at the other end we were picked up by (God bless air-conditioning) our slick coach (which had been driven down the night before with our luggage). A leisurely breakfast at a Radisson hotel and then off to see the Taj Mahal.

The surrounding splendid buildings gave us a glimpse of the dome and there was a hushed air from our small group as we walked towards the entrance.

Words can’t describe the feeling as this flawless architectural creation appeared. We all walked to the area in front of the long, narrow pool that reflects the building and gazed at the Taj Mahal, we took photos, learned the history, the pain, the drama, the sadness and the mighty effort to bring it all together – stone by precious stone. Marble that will last long after the story of why it came about will disappear.

We all went our separate ways and walked towards the exquisite bejewelled masterpiece. Walking through the rooms of the Taj I reached the centre piece under the dome and noticed signs around the curved walls that reminded people to be quiet. Ha!

People of all shapes and sizes milled around the floor space, laughing and talking with the exuberance of holiday-makers and many of the young girls were more interested in having a photo taken with me than the architectural splendour surrounding them.

After an hour or so we found each other – and we shared tree shaded benches, distanced from the immediate beauty and sat in quiet contemplation of the ethereal luminescence – made all the more beautiful with its blues sky aura in the bright, clear sunny day.

Leaving the Taj Mahal behind was a slow walk away from the divine. As we drove off on the coach I glimpsed through a rickety street filled with cows, people, rickshaws, boxes – endless boxes of what?, piles of rubbish, food stalls frying up lunch and the noise of all humanity resounding – and peeping over the hubbub of this piece of India was the white, shining dome of the Taj Mahal – ever serene, ever watchful and ever part of the day-to-day India.

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Travel tips:

  • Ditch the usual bacon and eggs for breakfast and indulge daily in a damn fine dhosa.

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  • Carry water with you when our walking, it gets hot!
  • Keep and open mind – and heart.

Writer Bev Malzard purchased seven pairs of leather sandals while on this trip.

Visit: www.insightvacations.com.au

Manchester rules OK?

Manchester rules OK?

After yesterday’s horrific news of the bombing in Manchester and the destruction it wrought to the families of the dead and injured and to the morale of the city’s citizens, I thought it time to revisit ‘up north’. I send my condolences to all concerned.

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I visited last year after a 20 year absence – much had changed – and the good bits had stayed the same.

It’s been up, down, all around, picked itself up, dusted itself off , and started a new revolution. ‘Up North’, in England, Manchester city is an extraordinary metropolis that has its technological roots in the industrial revolution, political notoriety, social innovation, pop music and change. But no matter what is thrown at it, Manchester embraces and realises the vision of the future.

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Since my last visit the landscape has altered dramatically and sad, rundown areas are now blossoming while playing host to the hip and happening locals and visitors alike.

The Northern Quarter, for a long time mostly decrepit, is now the new big thing. The Mancunian spirit is truly alive here. In the north-east of the city centre this for-a-long-time neglected precinct now oozes bohemian, creative, innovative and independent chutzpah.

Spruced up buildings, narrow lanes lit up and relic warehouses are sandwiched between the old red brick Victorian stalwarts. Independent fashion boutiques have sprung up; eclectic shops and foodie havens give the area a village vibe.

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There’s the architectural star from the cotton days, the Craft and Design Centre (once a fish market and now an artisanal hub); the formidable neo-Romanesque Smithfield Market with its splendid arches and a smattering of weavers’ cottages that are part of the new-old mix.

After along slump in fortunes, the Northern Quarter began to bounce back in the 90s with the opening of small bars and music venues. There are still the old-school pubs as well as a host of cocktail bars and eating places muscling in on the territory. The area boasts (officially) the highest concentration of independent cafes and coffee joints in the city.

The transformation is almost complete and this vibrant part of the city centre is humming along – until the next change comes!

One of the most ambitious additions to Manchester is Salford Quays, a radical transformation of the old docklands – which is now a centre of theatres, residential  blocks, snazzy offices and cool restaurants. But It’s the glorious, much admired and celebrated Imperial War Museum (below) that takes the cake.

The tremendous architectural feat embodies strength and boldness. The entrance to the museum, with its several floors and vast spaces, is a small door through a bland opening that replicates the entrance size of a bunker. Nice touch.

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Inside are interactive displays and a moving diorama that shows old footage of the WWII era and the effects of the heavy bombardment of the city. Locals talk of their experiences and pulling together through those dark days.

In the same precinct is The Lowry, a spectacular waterside building housing galleries, theatres, restaurants, cafes and bars – and the main gallery that houses the marvellous, human works of the city’s favourite son. L.S. Lowry painted hundreds of scenes of everyday life for working class – at work and at play in the region.

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This is just a little taste of what’s on offer and what’s new in Manchester, so when you’re ‘oop north’ spend a few days here to immerse yourself in the past, present and future of this great English city.

Head to:

  • The Great John Street Hotel (used to be a school – now far cooler than any school)
  • Eat at Evelyn’s Cafe in the Northern Quarter for dinner
  • Have lunch at the elegant Damson (on the Quays)
  • Visit the Whitworth Art Gallery
  • Before the theatre go to Albert’s Chop Shop (below) for some damn fine fish’n’chips

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  • Book for a show at the Royal Exchange Theatre, St Anne’s Square
  • The John Rylands Library, a marvellous Victorian Gothic library to see a stunning collection of early books
  • Old Trafford (Manchester United) Holy Ground, what more to say?

Visit: http://www.thelowry.com ; http://www.greatjohnstreet.co.uk ; http://www.visitbritain.com

Writer, Bev Malzard visited Manchester last year with the assistance of VisitBritain, ate far too much good food, met cool, friendly people and left a little bit of her heart behind there.

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Copyright, all rights reserved.

Eating humble pie

Eating humble pie

When life gives you lemons – go make a pie.

For me, travel is 50 per cent about the food. Taste local, mingle in restaurants, explore the great outdoors with a picnic and trawl food markets for perfect produce. But do you ever hanker to have a home-cooked meal? A meal you have cooked yourself?

I often long for a kitchen equipped with everything a chef could use. And I’ve stayed in serviced apartments with the goods but I haven’t had the ingredients nor the time.

Recently, I had a few days away working and was lucky enough to be in the same town as two besties, So my last night away was spent with them. Time to cook.

We bought a variety of organic veggies and fruit from a country farmers market and I was ready to roll.

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They left me to my own devices. First course, thick, hearty nanna-style soup. Easy – chop up veggies, find one large pot, throw barley into stock, boil buggery out of it, chuck in veggies, salt, cup of Worcestershire sauce, bring to boil, lid on and simmer.

Next – bring out the big guns – lemon meringue pie.

Before I continue, I had not visited my dear friends’ house before but they had extolled the virtue of their well-appointed kitchen. They were fairly new to the house and getting to know the bits in the kitchen that worked and those that didn’t. I now refer to them as my dear deluded friends.

The pie dish was double the size of what would accommodate the biscuit base – but after stretching and poking to achieve wafer thin base, Done!

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Next couldn’t find a lemon juicer in the well-appointed kitchen drawer and the old poke a fork in the cut lemon and turn – lemon juice produced. Mmmmm where is the electric mixer. A rather primitive electric implement (power tool?) was found and in a less than well-appointed cupboard. So, plugged it in and began the crazy whirr. It mixed admirably but also decorated, splatter-style, the kitchen wall.

Onward and upward. Pie dish in the oven with no temperature gauge so guessed that one. Door doesn’t shut tight so a garden rake was found and the handle stuck under the door handle – closed tight. So now the oven was dark (no light), temperature could have been anything and the rake sticking out in the room was a pedestrian hazard.Guessed correctly at ten minutes and pie out of the oven. Rake put aside. Next challenge was the meringue. Found a larger bowl and my partner was called in to assist. This was the moment of fight or flight. I stayed. I put the bloody electric power tool in the rather frightened bowl, added the sugar and then my partner held a tea towel across half of the bowl and I shoved the mixer into the dark recess and pushed the button. Worked like a crazy thing and although a lot of the meringue ended up sticking to the tea towel (scraped it off to use) – we didn’t do too bad a job. Plonked it on top of the pie mix, slid it into the oven at whatever temperature, shut the door, secured it with a garden rake and after six hot minutes in the wall-oven inferno it came out like a bought one!

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So, if you are hankering for a home-cooked meal while on the road – check your kitchen thoroughly so you have all the right gear – or maybe not – how hard is it to make a pie?

All rights reserved: Bev Malzard

Bev Malzard and  friends ate the pie, loved the pie and had second helpings of the pie.

Photographs by Dorothy Woodgate.

NYC and Brooklyn’s little surprises

I love New York City. Many have said it before but I REALLY love NYC. I visited 18 months ago for first time in ten years and it’s same, same, and changed as well.

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The usual suspects on the tourist trail appear. I felt that all-familiar feeling when I strolled through Times Square: ticket touts, animal and movie character-clad folk wandering around hoping for a picture and a tip – and that’s what hit me straight away – TIPS. No matter where you go or what you buy there’s the hand-held out for a TIP.

This is foreign to Australians, we tip at the end of a meal if we think it is well-deserved but it isn’t mandatory and we don’t get screamed at if we forget to TIP. So after  few days here I start to get a bit twitchy over the TIP situation. But here’s my TIP regarding TIPS for anyone visiting from other countries: If you are going to be in NYC or indeed the USA for up to two weeks take $100 in $1 notes, have a few of them stuffed in your (pickpocket proof pocket) so you can dole them out as regularly needed. TIP rant over.

While in NYC we caught up with some fab theatre (Book of Mormon), checked out the major art galleries and visited a new (for me) museum – The Tenement Museum.

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I particularly loved his little museum as it tracks the good, bad and ugly story of America’s urban immigration. There are walking tours from here and the shop has really good quality goods to purchase. And it’s at the Lower East Side at 97 Orchard Street, not far from where we walked off the Williamsburg Bridge that we had crossed from Brooklyn – walk, walk, walk in this part of the world.

IMG_1648On the path of the Williamsburg Bridge.

We were staying in Williamsburg a stone’s throw from the bridge, fab restaurants, shops, parks and all things funky and friendly.

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Brooklyn wall art.

My first time tour with A Slice of Brooklyn tour sent me into a happy spin. The tour bus is so friendly that it feels like a few travel companions got together and hired the local expert. The comprehensive tour took us to Grimaldi’s for the wood-fired pizza/s – the last of this type of oven in Brooklyn. No slices sold here just the wheel of pleasure, super-yum too.

We also got out to the beach and Coney Island – strolled the Boardwalk and soaked up the precinct’s history and attitude.

On this USA break, our first week was spent in Manhattan and the second with a friend in Williamsburg. Our friend is an Aussie expat who knew the drill on every great food place within walking distance – and where to get GOOD COFFEE (essential for Aussies as we are consummate coffee snobs).

This posting has just been a little slice of NYC and Brooklyn – go taste for yourself.

Visit: http://www.asliceofbrooklyn.com

Copyright Bev Malzard

Make mine a Michelin

Make mine a Michelin

Travelling across the arid plains of the autonomous region handsomely called Extremadura, in Spain, there are sleepy, medieval towns that have not been pillaged by 21st century tourists. The classic three towns that not only have character, personality, history and more than enough charm to capture your imagination are: Trujillo, Cacares and Merida (settled in 258BC).

We meandered into Cacares at a Don Quixote on an old donkey pace. The old stones in the preserved building glowed like old gold in the midday sun and the welcome was warm.

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Caceres has been named Spain’s Gastronomic Capital and as a special treat we are to have lunch at a two-star Michelin restaurant, Atrio.

This complete, ancient city from the Middle Ages oozes solid confidence – and so it should as it has embraced, been attacked, colonised and endured with tenacity a blended mix of Roman, Islamic, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance civilisations throughout history. And here stand the buildings to prove it. About 30 towers still remain from the Muslim period in Caceres. And as we step over cobble stones and steps that have been polished by thousands of feet, we walk in to Atrio Restaurant Hotel in the Plaza de San Mateo.

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A tour of the hotel with its cutting edge flair; the building following a canonical design in harmony with its surroundings we visit rooms with a simple ambience of neutrals and natural light. The terrace offers views of distant mountains and the neighbourliness of historic Caceres.

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Before we were actually served our endless degustation we met with chef Tono (Juan Antonio Perez) a charming, modest man with an impish grin and a sparkling personality. He and his partner Jose Polo are behind this splendid, felicitous complex where we were about to encounter the essence of Cacares.
Our lunch followed a perfect pattern of delightful, imaginative dishes served with a light flourish. From a delicate bisque, to silvery slivers of tuna cappaccio and on and on and on until dessert, a dash of foam, fruit crème and a fine stick of chocolate.

What a privilege for my eyes and stomach to be so gastronomically rewarded – for what I know not, but I’ll happily accept the prize.
Writer Bev Malzard travelled to Spain, flying Emirates from Sydney to Dubai then in to Madrid. Visit: http://www.emirates.com

Visit: http://www.visitspain.com

Visit: http://www.turismoextremadura.com

Hola! (Extremadura means Hard and Strong.)

Flim Flam, thank you mam.

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It was a few years ago that I immersed myself in as much Scandi as I could during a 14-day trip that covered the city of Copenhagen, Stockholm, a little ‘unruly’ cruise along the Norwegian Coast from Trondheim to Bergen and a stint in Oslo.

I landed in the Viking lands at the end of the season and as a cold wind reminded me to rug up I was lucky to visit the Tivoli Gardens before they shut up shop for winter, ate at a few good restaurants along the way but also with slow trade I didn’t find much slow food in some towns. One night I wandered around a very pretty tourist town and the best joint was closed until ‘tomorrow night’ and I found myself sitting in a neon-lit dodgy cafe eating hot chips out of a styrofoam container while budding adolescent crims cruised around outside on their skateboards . . .another grand moment of luxury travel!

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I tried the ‘good’ restaurant the following night and if boiled meat, stodgy dumplings and carrots are your bag – you would have loved it. At this stage of the season I wasn’t going to find a Michelin-starred establishment that put the ‘F’ onto foraging.

I bussed it to Flam (pronounced Flom), an incredibly pretty town arrived at after driving in a winding way through blessed countryside, up hill and down dales. Flam is in a UNESCO World Heritage listed habitat. The community here incorporates a handful of riches: one of Norway’s top attractions, the Flam Railway; the Flam Railway Museum; the historic Fretheim Hotel; the boutique Heimly guest house; the Toget restaurant and Cafe; the Fjords Ferry Company and Aurland Shoe Factory (selling rather spiffy, bespoke penny loafers).

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And there are some rather spectacular bodies of water that took my breath away. Comiong from a flat earth kind of city, anywhere with towering mountains and steep cliffs takes my ‘squeals of delight’ to a loud and high pitched scream.

From Flam I took a ferry on the Geirangerfjord to the end of the line. The wonderful deep water Geirangerfjord is a fjord in the Sunnmore region of More og Romsdal county and is a15km-long banch off the Sunnylvsfjorden which is a branch off Storfjorden. The tiny village of Geiranger is at the end of the trip and it was from there I caught a bus back to the seaside city of Trondheim.

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Being the end of the season it was a relaxed cruise with just a few passengers and a crew ready to take a break. The waterfalls were still in full roaring flight (I would love to see the crazy spring gush of water here). The waterfalls all have names and stories and way, way up on top of the cliffs there was evidence of modest farms. These holding are now deserted and the Norse Gods would be the only ones to know how they were built and raised goats, farmyard animals, birds and children. The story goes, and it has to be true, that children were tethered safely so they didn’t fall down the sides of these mighty crystalline rock walls that nature has given the appearance of a location for a gruesome fairytale.

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It’s a chill wind that blows some good through your hair!

The ferries here are stealthy and run quietly across the glassy waters of the world’s grandest fjords – nature’s finest.

When Norway is on your travel ticket make sure you indulge yourself on the Flam Railway, stay in Flam and try to cruise all the extraordinary, stupendous fjords (and book for dinner early so you don’t have to eat hot chips in less that Scandifabulous locations)

The writer Bev Malzard flew from Sydney to Copenhagen with Thai International Airways.

Visit: http://www.visitflam.com

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