How to souvenir: or buy something for yourself

How to souvenir: or buy something for yourself

When I started travel writing, folks thought I was taking a holiday. I was often asked to bring back duty free perfume, smokes, booze etc. I did in the beginning and then I stopped buying for anyone else – just a simple “no”, said politely and that was that. (I had my own stuff to bring back.)

I can sit on my couch, in my bed, on the kitchen floor or even sit in the bath, and look around and see familiar items purchased over the past 30 years. I try and live ‘small; but I do like to have and use a few memories that have been collected along the way, and they all have stories to tell.

My first offering  is a pair of Chinese Warriors, small in stature but big of heart. I purchased these two fellas in February 1989, just a few months before the Tiananmen Square protest/revolt.

It was my first visit to China, it was minus 10 degrees and such an exciting place to be, Beijing before the world came to it. These two warriors were from an outdoor stall and were inexpensive and probably two of thousands made. They were covered lightly in brown dust that had blown in from the Gobi Desert, the same grime mixed with air pollution that I wore around my neck, scarves, hair and face.

I’ve had the guys on a windowsill protecting me since 1989 and I have never washed or even dusted them. They are as they were, covered in grit from many battles and their armour wears stains with pride. One of their hands broke off after a spill and that had been superglued on so they can continue their watch over me.

https://travelgaltravels.com/2017/08/10/china-first-encounter

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I have two souvenirs here (below) from Morocco. I haven’t mentioned the scarves, shoes, fabric or spices but I’m very fond of these pieces. First there’s the little glass containers set in a silver base with a jaunty tassel atop. I did buy larger one’s for the ‘present drawer’ but this pair sit modestly on a kitchen shelf and reminds me to add the pungent spice, cumin, to everything. A taste senstationa I discovered in Morocco. A pinch on yoghurt and honey is good and a hefty shake into anything hot and savoury will transport your tastebuds.

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This pair of tumblers were a score from the shop at Yves Saint Laurent Musee in Marrakech. They are a neat fit for my hands and hold enough of a beverage to quench a thirst. Other items in the boutique included clothes, leather handbags, art work, ceramics and sublime fashion accessories. I had previously sold my last kidney so it had to be a modest buy, and the handblown glasses fitted the bill. The museum has a revolving exhibition as there are more than 5000 pieces of wearable fashion to show . . .

 

Tea for two

This lovely rustically oriental cannister is an old tea caddy. I brought two of them back to Oz after my first visit to Macau (now Macao) around the mid 90s. It was before the super structures shot up over night, ie the Venetian et al. It was a quieter place and many of the antique shops were afterthoughts on the shopping route. This is where and when I first tasted Lord Stowe’s perfect pasteis de nata (Portuguese tarts) and invested in my first cashmere wrap. Both excellent decisions.

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These pieces were easy to pack into a suitcase but a companion snaffled up a bargain – a huge Chinese hat box which was the size of an eight year old child, and it wasn’t until she reached the airport coming home that she realised her spatial inadequacy. We got it home – but it wasn’t easy.

Next item is totally utilitarian. In the mid 80s I was holidaying in Malaysia and had a two-day stopover in Singapore. It was my first visit and I ended up in a dusty, higgledy piggledy part of town called Little India. Since visited it’s now a pretty schmick and touristy precinct and my first place to go when I arrive in Singers – I need a curry to start the stay.

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But my wandering took me to a shop that sold cooking implements and this chubby pot took my fancy. It has a copper base, it cost the equivalent of $2 then and it has been cooking rice (perfectly) for me for 30 years. It gets taken off a shelf at least once a week and does its work – we are a damn good team.

The beads below have never been worn, but they were hard won and hold a special place in my heart. In the mid-90s I went on a sensational trip to Kenya. It was first visit to Africa. We had stayed at a couple of lodges and we were scheduled to go to a family compound on the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The night before there was an outdoor fire, wine, music, wine, dying embers and wine. On the way back to my hut I slipped on polished concrete and the pain in my ankle was so severe I almost passed out.

Limping badly, the next day we visited the compound and I had to forego the jumping up and down ritual because of my pain.

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I was suffering a hangover and a sprained ankle and was grumpy. On leaving the boundary of the reserve there was a woman selling these beaded necklaces – she was asking an exorbitant price and I gave the ‘are you serious’ look and she had it in for me. After much screeching, not me, my head hurt too much, we almost had a tug of war – I now wanted it badly and she knew it. I capitulated, surrendered and handed over the money – a lot of it. She was about to hand me the beaded piece and changed her mind and whipped this one off her neck and handed it over with a big grin. I have no idea what the gesture meant but I’ll take it as one of good will.

A peony, not a pony

I love this vase. It has such elegance and lovely peonies painted around it. I was travelling in and around Bejing with a corporate group of event planners and we were given gifts along the way. This was one  them and I have been putting flowers in it for the past 20 years. Our host was the indomitable Helen Wong of Helen Wong Tours (the first person to get journos into China for the Australian Society of Travel Writers conference in 2001 to Shanghai).

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What I remember of that time was the gracious and exciting hospitality put on for the planners. We visited the Forbidden City and as we walked to where we could see the expanse of the great courtyard it was lined with about three hundred actors wearing ancient imperial guard costumes. Just one of the wondeful events put on for us.

One day we all went to a section of the Great Wall. And I gave the wall walk a miss – well, I had walked it before . . . and the low, black clouds looked ominous. So Ms Wong and I sat in a tiny tea shop and sipped and chatted. As the storm broke, the view to the wall was a spectacle to behold – hundreds of people were running along the wall draped in blue plastic raincoats – my imagination took over and what I saw was hundreds of condoms tearing along the wall path. I mentioned this to Ms Wong and she gulped and spat her tea out – first and last time I ever saw her lose her cool.

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Last BUT certainly not the least of all of my treasures is this plump little ceramic elephant vase. At an agm for the Australian Society of Travel Writers, held in Thailand in 1999, I was on a trip after the city meeting and we stayed south in Hua Hin at the Railway Hotel (it may have changed names now). In the gardens were/ maybe still are, gigantic topiary elephants that were startling. As elephants were the theme du jour I purchased this cutie at the hotel shop. Every time I pop a flower in it I recall three exquisite days spent in that, then underdeveloped town and wandering the uncrowded streets at night and eating monster barbecued prawns outdoors.

So how do I categorise these precious if rather ordinary pieces? Souvenirs? Or jewellery snapped up enroute or that rather heavy doona cover I carried back from the Paris summer sales . . .

Who cares . .  I only know that every picture here, tells a story.

 

 

 

 

Road trip: Go West

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Forbes Town Hall.

I wrote this post as the smoke pall was settling over Sydney and we were preparing to head outta town to support people in the rural areas. And then the hammer of Covid-19 slammed us, and we went into quarantine. Locked in and not going anywhere. As restrictions are cautiously being lifted we are dipping our toes outside the front door and longing for some wide open spaces. So here’s the previous post – and I’m making plans.

Following are a few towns, not necessarily bushfire affected but the drought and the idea of bushfires has kept visitors away from many places outside the cities and urban areas. Let me request that you head out with a full heart and an empty Esky. Buy local, eat local and shop local while visiting the towns. Let’s share some love.

Head out of Sydney to explore the central west. There are thriving towns, sleepy hollows and a wealth of innovation with a big, warm welcome when you drive into the towns. Stop by and spend a few $$$ as the towns are stretched because of the fierce drought that is affecting everyone out there. (Covid-19 put the nail in the proverbial as the visitors just couldn’t come.)

Farmers markets, gift shops, cafes all can benefit by a few dollars spent here. (Keep your showers short and your support long.)

Five Highlights of the NSW Central West:

Cowra

Stroll around the stunning, elegant Japanese Garden.

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Cowra Japanese Gardens.

This ultimate, tranquil experience is one to enjoy with a slow stroll, a picnic or view from the Japanese Tea House. Ken Nakajima designed the Cowra Japanese Garden based on the first landscape garden built by the Shogun Tokugawa during the Edo period of Japan, the 16th century.

There is the wartime legacy of Cowra with the solemn reminders of the Cowra Breakout, the POW Camp and the War Cemeteries. An uplifting sight in Cowra is the World Peace Bell set in Cowra’s Civic Square where you can listen to an audio presentation and even ring the bell.

Visit: www.visitcowra.com.auu

Cowra

 

  1. Parkes

Whole hunka love . . .

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Parkes has a host of festivals throughout the year and the big one is a celebration of Elvis Presley’s birthday in the second week of January. Thousands of visitors flock to Parkes to hear impersonators sing the King’s hits, dress up vintage-style and to dance in their blue suede shoes. If you aren’t driving, there’s the Elvis Express train that transports passengers to Parkes from Sydney and return. (There are many great packages to the festival to be had.)

Stay at Hotel Gracelands (where it all began) for great accommodation and a fab restaurant (with much better food than Elvis ever ate).

Visit: www.visitparkes.com.au

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  1. The Dish

Look to the stars – and further

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On the outskirts of Parkes is THE Dish, yes, that one. On the flat drive out to the CSIRO complex you drive on a road shaded by tall eucalypts. Paddocks spread before you, a few sheep are feeding and the scene is quiet and rather sparse. Then the Dish appears – so incongruous and so wonderfully familiar (for me, all because of the movie). Enjoy a cup of java at the Dish Café and watch and wait while it does a little turn. This sophisticated piece of scientific equipment stands in the middle of a sheep paddock just 20km from Parkes off the Newell Highway. There are many hands-on exhibits and a 3D theatre screening programs on space and astronomy (great stuff for kids and adults too).’

Visit: www.csiro.au/parkes

 

  1. Orange

With the drought you could say ‘Orange is the new Brown’.

Orange is a wonderful, classy country town that is not famous for oranges – in fact there are no oranges grown in Orange. There is a fine legacy of agricultural business though and cherries are the orchards of choice and of course classic cool climate wines are produced in the surrounding vineyards. This country town has been gaining a strong foodie following for a few years now and the quality of produce, menu innovation and top shelf restaurants has given Orange a formidable reputation. The town is at an altitude of 862m so it’s a little cooler in summer that the sea level towns and there’s often a snow fall in winter. Mount Canobolas at 1395m is the local mountain, for a drive and a grand view of the city and surrounding countryside. (The information centre here is informative and there’s often an exhibition that’s worth stopping an extra day for.)

Visit: www.visitnsw.com/destinatons/country-nsw/orange-area/orange

 

  1. Bathurst

History, heritage and damn fine scones

It’s about 200km west-northwest of Sydney and is the oldest inland settlement in Australia. The city has the classic wide streets and a plethora of heritage buildings from colonial to Federation to mid century modern. There’s a lot going on here and there’s a youthful feel as it’s a university town.

The food scene is innovative and I can totally recommend the jam and scone scene . . .

The Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG) is a standout among the nation’s regional art galleries. It’s smallish and has some spectacular exhibitions on display regularly.

Visit: https://www.bathurstart.com.au/

 

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This is five highlights only, among many, so next time you want to take a driving holiday in New South Wales, head west: stop off at Blackheath on your way before you cross the Blue Mountains, have a coffee and lemonade scones at Altitude; try the Servicemen’s Club at Cowra for a good club dinner; visit the Dubbo Western Plains Zoo and spend the day there, and walk around the old Dubbo Gaol for some jailhouse blues; sink your teeth into the best egg and bacon roll in Cumnock; check out pretty Molong and its blank silos waiting to be painted; the tiny town of Milthorpe between Orange and Blayney where there’s a one hat restaurant called Tonic that is the talk of the town; seek out the Bakery in Forbes for more light-as-a-feather scones; drive out of Condobolin (Condo) to view the ‘Utes in the Paddock’ outdoor exhibition of painted utes in various states – quite something to see, as is much of the Carbonne villages, roadside stalls, spectacular natural wonders, annual country events and generous and warm hospitality oozing authenticity and rustic charm.

Visit:  www.visitcentralnsw.com.au

0A bit shabby but still standing – the wall too!

How to tea-tease and please

How to tea-tease and please

I reckon I’ve had more than a 1000 afternoon teas. Call them Cream Teas, Afternoon Tea, Devonshire Tea, Afternoonsies, or a mid-arvo cuppa and cake – I’ve had them.

This wasn’t a genteel affectation I grew up with. As a kid it was a biscuit and a glass of cordial and as a teenager, “there’s a biscuit in the tin and I’ll have a cuppa too love”.

My emerging addiction to the afternoon ritual began in the 1970s when I ended up in a little kiosk in the Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains after a rigorous three-day bush walk.

Tired and footsore we ordered tea and scones. The heavenly warm scone-clouds wafted towards us and we had a bowl of strawberry jam and thick, just-whipped fresh cream. I was hooked – and happy.

I didn’t seek out the afternoon tea in my day-to-day working life. I saved the event for special guests at home (cake and homemade biscuits only as I am a terrible scone baker) and as part of my holiday plans.

I’ve indulged in the grand teas of the establishment hotels and traditional tea houses, casual café catch-ups around the world and surprise teas served in the bush and even in the jungle.

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Sacher torte – a sweet treat from Austria.

Years ago I was in Darwin visiting my dad. Now, Bill was a pretty cool dad and a rough diamond who did like a beer or several. My partner and I persuaded him to head down the track to Katherine in the ute for a road trip. It was a wonderful couple of days and on the way back home to Darwin I insisted we stop at Daley Waters for afternoon tea. My father was in a lather of panic. Cups of tea in pretty china and slices of packet rainbow cake was served on a rickety table on the lawn of a truck stop joint. As we sipped tea overlooking the highway my father said: “what if someone sees me”. Nah, it will be fine, who would think you were here.

And while he drew the cup to his lips and jokingly stuck his little finger out a truck drove past and tooted its horn and the voices called out “Onya Bill”.

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Aside from out-of-the-way afternoon locations I’ve managed to enjoy exquisite pastries served with fragrant teas in many places all over the world.

Austria is up there for beautiful cakes and I’ve been known to linger over a Vienna schnitzel lunch so that I can call strudel and cream afternoon tea instead of dessert.

Years ago in England around the Devon region I convinced a none-dairy eater to try clotted cream lathered on fat, hot scones with a scrape of raspberry jam. I promised them heaven – and I delivered. A committed clotted cream convert now.

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My homemade lemon yoghurt cake – yum.

I’ve enjoyed aromatic Chinese teas in China served with delicate egg tarts with buttery, crumbly pastry. It’s not exactly called afternoon tea there – just another small meal among many during the day.

I was at the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne once having afternoon tea and sipping on a Lady Grey when I overheard a conversation behind me and it was one of the Twining’s’ family. And he was drinking coffee – quel traitor!

Strudel in a welcoming window in Innsbruck, Austria.

I do love a hotel afternoon tea – there is so much design put into the presentation. Little finger sandwiches around the bottom level, baby quiche and crab tarts second level, scones next one and on the top petit pastries and creamy cakes – and hopefully refillable pots of tea.

I was recently in Beverly Hills, California and slipped into the new Laduree café on Beverly Drive. It’s so fresh and new and green and white! It hasn’t quite settled into itself yet but the coffee was ok and I had two macarons – research!

I’ve also devised a way of eating while on holidays that keeps the weight down. True! Stick to two and a half meals a day.

Late breakfast, mid afternoon tea (with cake and pastry) and a late-ish dinner – do not order dessert.

But of all the afternoon tea experiences – it’s when I manage to bake a decent cake, have friends around, bring out the best cups and saucers, use a pretty tablecloth and go old-school all the way – that this institution of culinary happiness is enjoyed the most.

Following, the recipe for Ginger Earthquake Cookies, adding a little spice to your afternoon tea:

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Ingredients

100g butter (chopped)

1/3 cup (80ml) golden syrup

1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour

3/4 cup (155g) brown sugar

1 egg, lightly whisked

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground mixed spice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/4 (45g) pure icing sugar

Method

  1. Combine the butter and golden syrup in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes or until butter melts and mixture is well combined. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Add the flour, brown sugar, egg, ginger, mixed spice, cloves and bicarbonate of soda and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 45 minutes or until cool and firm.
  3. Preheat oven to 180deg.C. Line 2 oven trays with baking powder. Sift the icing sugar onto a small plate. Roll tablespoon of mixture into balls and roll in icing sugar. Place on the lined trays, 6cm apart, allowing room for spreaading.
  4. Bake in preheated oven, swapping trays halfway through cooking, for 15 mins or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and set aside on trays to cool completely.

Writer Bev Malzard recommends these cookies for an afternoon break with a cup of Chinese White tea. She intends to continue searching for the definitive afternoon tea – and welcomes all suggestions.

Visit: http://www.thehotelwindsor.com.au

https://www.austria.info