USA: Honolulu is the buzz!

USA: Honolulu is the buzz!

No time to visit all the islands of Hawai’i? Check out the buzzy city, Waikiki and surrounds of Oahu’s Honolulu for the ‘Hawai’i five oh’ fab experiences.

More than a stopover on your way to the mainland USA, this city has wonderful welcoming ambience; a little bit of retro surf culture, luxury accommodation with views, nature to surprise and excite, history to dig into and a way of life that Australian travellers embrace. And did I mention shopping . . .

  • Stay at Moana Surfrider Hotel. This glorious pile (pictured below) was the first luxury hotel built in Hawaii. Honoured with the title ‘First Lady of Waikiki’ this place has been hosting happy customers since 1901. Try for a room that looks along the coast with Waikiki Beach to look down on and lift your eyes to the magnificent sight of Diamond Head, towering over the sweeping coastline below.
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Tips: Eat dinner in the Beachhouse here for local seafood and gourmet island dishes.

And enjoy a selfguided historical tour of the Moana Surfrider, steeped in charm and elegance with vintage memorabilia on show.

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  • Take a tour to get the lay of the land. There are a few tour operators touting for business close to the beach. I opted for the Oahu Nature Tours. They offer several tours: Diamond Head Crater Adventure; Ultimate Circle Island Adventure & Waimea Waterfall; Natural Highlights of Oahu Adventure and North Shore and Circle Island Tour (which was my choice.) Highlight was the amazing Byodo Temple in the Valley of the temples (below).

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Tips: Take your own water bottle and fill before you leave to save buying water along the way and maybe save a little space on the planet from anther bit of plastic. Lunch is included so bring your appetite for a plate of fried shrimp.

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Beware the Jurassic creatures of Oahu.

  • Eat your way around town. OK, there are burgers and there are burgers – it is America! But because of the city’s cultural cuisine history, there’s so much more. From classy joints to hole-in-the-wall places and food trucks to fast food chains – go for it.

My picks: Orchids of Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach – go for the crudo appetiser; Morimoto Waikiki by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s excellent take on local food, poke and the rest is culinary (and tasty) food theatre; Ono Seafood for the basic business of food! This is the best poke I tasted and (Po-Kay) is synonymous with the invasion of the hipsters. Have spicy mayonnaise on everything – it will rock your world. Rock-A-Hula dinner and a show. Retro entertainment and a lot of fun, Tribute performances to Elvis and Michael Jackson and; Hawaiian Journey’ through time from the 1920. Food, music and a magic show – don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!

There’s so much more – but a little cutie for me is diagonally across the road from the Moana Surfrider, King’s Village, rather underwhelming as it sits quietly below the highrise all around. On the corner of the village is Rock Island Cafe, full of rock’n’roll memorabilia. Fab burger and fries plus a decent coffee. Kinda daggy but kinda comfy too.

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Tips: eat, buy and also bring some back – the famous Honolulu Cookie. Darling little premium shortbreads are baked in the shape of a pineapple of all flavours from chocolate to guava, passionfruit to pineapple, macadamia to coconut and coffee. They are seriously yummy and taste of aloha!

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  • Shop yourself stupid. Ask any Aussie woman as to why she travels with her family for a Honolulu holiday (or just with girlfriends) and she’ll rattle off the itinerary. Good accommodation; good value food options; great weather and beaches; fun activities for the kids; happy hour happenings for cocktails (sunset mai tais) with the grown-ups and . . . shopping. Shopping here is a dedicated holiday experience. And the prices are sensational at the big malls such as Ala Moana Centre (even has its own trolley that runs from one end of the city the centre); Waikiki Premium Outlets; Ross Dress for Less; Waikiki Outlet Shop; Barrio Vintage in Chinatown for vintage Hawaiian shirts (don’t leave town without one).

There are high end international and American designer labels on show as well as the dollar desirable shops where every member of the family from baby to nanna will find something at a good price to bring home.

Tips: If you fly to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines they know the lure of shopping and offer passengers the thrill of being able to carry 64kg per person. So two bags at 32kg is supremely manageable? Oh, yes.

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Good souvenirs include the cookies, pineapple condiments, Hawaiian shirts and surf gear, vintage surf posters and ukuleles.

  • It’s hard trying to cover off on five highlights of Honolulu, so number five is a cheat sheet. Don’t miss out on: The Polynesian Cultural Centre; Waimea Valley for archaeological sites, gardens and waterfall; the trail to Diamond Head State Monument and the Dole Plantation. And further to the food suggestions – around town and on the outskirts fond a Food Truck – they are institutions here – in the Land of Aloha.

Writer Bev Malzard, flew to Honolulu courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines (and took an extra suitcase for shopping). She stayed at the elegant Moana Surfrider Hotel and managed to devour an entire box of the famous pineapple shortbread cookies. She swears there’s an addictive illegal additive in the mixture – cos nobody would willingly eat a box of biscuits . . . .would they?IMG_1369

 

 

 

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Greece: Back to Basics

Greece: Back to Basics

SLOW TRAVEL #2

The first Greek island I visited more than 35 years ago was Poros. I had spent some time in Athens and jumped on a ferry that was a kind of hop on hop off boat for the times. We passed Aegina and then Poros came into view. It had only taken about an hour to reach it from Piraeus and it nudged close to the mainland.

A busy little sun-soaked port with cafes and their lined up seats facing outwards crowded the immediate arrival location. The buildings and the ‘ring-road’ spread out left and right and petered off to quieter sides of the island. Beautiful, young people of the hippie persuasion strolled the waterfront and in the cafes, the waiters bustled while serving cold beers and ‘coka’.

Disembarking, us newbies were welcomed by a gaggle of locals with an offer of ‘zimmer’ which is German for room. I was often mistaken for a German in those days.

Travelled light in the 80s, two woven bags and a tiny purse – things have changed; door leading to my ‘zimmer’.

We chose to go with a little bloke with a great smile that lacked teeth but had a certain rackish charm.

The ‘zimmer’ was a tiny annex up a few stairs. The whitewashed room fitted a double bed up against a wall with just enough room to slide two backpacks under the bed. Outside were two chairs and a tiny table, and beside it a toilet with a cold shower in the same room. And at the equivalent drachma (pre euros) of $2 a day, perfect. I loved that little room and we stayed on Poros for two weeks during September. Blazingly beautiful days, riding bikes around the island to secluded beaches, drinking far too much beer and wine, partying into the early mornings and adopting the sensible habit of a daily siesta. We would come across basic little stalls boldly calling themselves ‘tavernas’ where, for a few drachma we ate grilled sardines, salad plumped with fat slices of fetta dripping in oil from Kalamata and thick chunks of crusty bread straight out of the village oven.

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My ‘donkey speak’ was not so good. But this one understood Greek ‘yassou’.

This was my first taste of slow travel – even though I didn’t know that then. Before Poros it was the Acropolis, the Parthenon, city ruins, museums and concerts – moving to the fast pace of Athens. After it was buses down the Mani peninsula to Kalamata and Githio, exploring Sparta, in and out of tiny Peloponnese villages – always moving to the monumentum and frantic music of the young, curious traveller.

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Mama ran the bar!

What I learned on Poros was to enjoy the daily rhythm of sitting on the zimmer steps for an hour or so in the morning, eating yoghurt and honey and sipping grainy, strong Greek coffee and waiting to see the donkey begin its morning walk up the hills to deliver bread to the houses stepped up high and glinting their existence to us mere mortals below.

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Hand washing always up to speed while travelling. 

Slow and steady as that donkey, I did a lot of sitting and taking life in. Just being there was enough to satisfy my soul.

I have never forgotten my early days on Poros and in Greece before I worked and lived there, and discovered other magical and mythical places of Ellas.

At Poros port and right, a later visit to Sparta – check out the crowds!

I returned to Poros in September this year to spend a couple of days on my own – bit of a nostalgia trip and a longing to be slow again in Greece. I knew I couldn’t recapture my youth or even replicate my time or experiences before, and I felt a little nervous and was prepared to be disappointed.

The fast ferry took only 40 minutes and I alighted at the same spot I did all that time ago. There wasn’t anybody touting to sell me a ‘zimmer’ but all ok as I had booked like the grownup I am these days.

I decided to sit and have a coffee and drink in my surrounds. I looked across the bay to the mainland to the town of Galatea, Once a few houses and great swathes of orange groves  creeping up the steep sides of the hills. Now – all built up with white, cream and blue houses and the groves had been diminished by development.

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In front of me I smiled while watching the local taxi drivers with their feather dusters brushing the dust from their vehicles. I took the slow road to my hotel.

Ensconced in a large room with air con (something I didn’t have in the hot ‘ol days) I proceeded to try to extract a pigeon that was stuck behind the glass doors of the fire-place. It didn’t seem too distressed and once I extracted him he hopped over to sit in my suitcase.

During the next two days I walked and talked, I talked and talked, dragging out my rusty Greek. I ate fish, salads and delicious Greek cakes. Dinner alone was not uncomfortable as the older I get the more I like my own company.

I searched for my old digs but couldn’t find the ‘zimmer’. I caught a taxi around the other side of the island to visit the monastery and then walk down to Monasteraki beach, where I had it to myself except for two cheeky dogs who set up shop under my day bed. I swam and then dozed and the day, and indeed my world had slowed down to a gentle pace. The music of the day was just a light strum on a bouzouki.

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As the hovercraft pulled way from Poros and I was leaving I felt sad, only because i wanted more time here. I was and am happy for the visit, and grateful that the more things (and me) change, the more we stay the same.

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Poros highlights:

  • Stroll through the traditional town’s labyrinth with pretty shops and neo classical architecture.
  • Explore the alleys and walk up to the clock tower for a wonderful view of the island and the mainland opposite.
  • If you have a car or can catch a cab, visit the Lemon Groves. It’s not actually on Poros but across on the land of Trizinia. If you are there and the mere hint of a breeze wafts past you, that’s probably a mythical zephyr reminding you that once the Gods looked over these orchards – and perhaps they still do.
  • The monastery in eastern Kalavria, Poros was founded in 1720 and its precious carved wooded screen was constructed in Cappadocia in the 17th century. After the visit, settle into the old-school cafe and sip on locally made lemonade in the shade of the plane trees. Fill your water bottle with cool water from the monastery’s spring.
  • Don’t miss out on a slice or two of the famous galaktoboureko (semolina custard wrapped in crispy pastry).IMG_3203

Writer Bev Malzard will visit Greece again and will slow down to almost ‘stop’. She’s working up to writing more memoirs than meanderings – but it could take a while – most people involved are still alive and might sue her . . .

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Budget flight: get your Scoot on!

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Taxi at the door and I’m about to depart from Greece. Arrive at Athens airport early, tick. Now where was my ticket? I’m on a budget airline to Sydney via Singapore so my check in will be a shabby, tucked away make-do. No. It’s in with the big kids. There’s one long terminal – just keep walking and nudging Swiss and Lufthansa is Scoot – check in 156-7. How grown up.

All my flights out of and into Australia from a long haul journey (usually European) have been with the bigger airlines, but with Scoot flying out of Athens to Sydney at a good price this was too hard a flight to miss. And for future reference as to flying to Singapore this is my research!

Tip: At Athens airport, Scoot usually scoots off from Gate A31. So get your skates on as it’s a bit of a trek there, even with moving walkways. But if you are always early like me (no judging please) there’s time to lollygag along the way.

Economy class here I come. The configuration of the seats is three, three and three on this aircraft – which means there’s no panic at the thought of being squeezed into the middle of a long row. Seat is comfy and at my great height of 167cm there is plenty of leg room.  So I settle in for the 14-hour journey through time and space.

Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner is the name of this big baby and the sifnificant route is Singapore-Sydney.

Travelling by myself, I enjoy the solitude and time for reading, snoozing and some entertainment. Scoot’s child-free cabin sends happy shivers up my spine. Yay! Don’t get me wrong . . . but this cabin has 33 seats that, except for my seated neighbour who has a little snore going on, it’s nice and quiet.

Left: Business Class comfort. Right: Economy Class comfort.

The flight leaves seven times a week so you don’t need to squeeze your dates to fit a flight. I planned my flight out of Athens so I could have a four-day stay in Singapore on the way back to Sydney – crazy not to miss this opportunity. (And we left Singers on time for the seven hours, 40 minutes flight.)

My entertainment is usually reading but for the long-haul I need a distraction so I downloaded the Scoot app for a couple of recently released movies. I also read the inflight mag which is really good.

I had pre-ordered food for the Athens-Singapore leg – it was OK too. Some sort of vegetable dish with pasta and the second meal was a chicken wrap with a chocolate sweet and some fruit. You get what you pay for – and I took a couple of my own snacks onboard – yet again to alleviate long-haul boredom. (Tip: layer up as you may feel chilly and need a blanket – but in keeping with the budget ethos, the blankets are $S15 to hire.)

On the airlines main leg from Singapore to Sydney was in the comfy and more spacious business class. I didn’t bother with food as I had a large meal at the airport before flying. But the chicken rice that my neighbour was scoffing down gave me inflight food envy.

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The service throughout was quiet and friendly, not too much interaction but overall well-mannered and helpful. My night flight that was – ‘quiet’ in the silence zone afforded me a restful sleep and plenty of room to stretch my legs.

Overall I am a happy customer indeed. And for the price, the flight, the service – I’ll take another booking Singapore for next year. What I save on the luxury of a big carrier, I can expand the trip for a few more days in Greece!

Visit: http://www.flyscoot.com

Writer Bev Malzard was hosted for this flight and was pleasantly surprised with both legs of the journey, and would recommend anyone doing this (actually I insist) to break your journey in Singapore for a couple of days. Food, fun, shopping – what’s not to like? An elegant afternoon tea at the Fullerton Hotel is recommended and a lunch at Singapore’s highest restaurant – Skai at Swissotel The Stamford – is an experience of divine food with a damn fine view. I did both of these food extravaganzas and am still smiling.

Food with a view at Skai restaurant Swissotel The Stamford; writer feeding her face; Fullerton Hotel high tea offerings.

 

USA: What’s bolder than Boulder

USA: What’s bolder than Boulder

I had five hours to spend in Boulder, a city in the grand state of Colorado in the USA. What to do? I couldn’t give you a full-on review of a city I had not explored, nor had been there before. What I did know: it’s a city of just 103,000 residents (almost a third of whom are students at the University of Colorado at Boulder), it has a reputation for packing  punch.

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At 5,430 feet (1657 metres) and generally sunny, it’s a spectacularly beautiful destination that’s been smart (and pioneering) about growth and preserving open space, so it’s a magnet for athletes, bohemians, hipsters, scientists and outdoor enthusiasts of every ilk.

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With a progressive dining and brewing scene, it’s a breeze to eat healthily and drink locally. Even outdoor music is better in the Front Range: you won’t regret splurging for a concert ticket at Red Rocks, just to the south.

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I won’t go into the hiking, biking, climbing and all outdoorsy activities that are everyday jaunts for the Boulderites (Bouldonians?) as I don’t do outdoors very well. (See link at end of story for more local info.) As I was coming into town I had a total moment of excitement and knew what this Boulder post was to be about – TEA.

My preferred tea late at night cosied up in my bed in Sydney is a brew called Sleepytime Tea by Celestial Seasonings (this is not a sponsored post). We drove past a sign saying Celestial Seasoning – yippee.

Oh joy, the building/factory was open for tours – yes! And it was free. This is the home of my tea!

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Celestial Seasonings is in the northeast of Boulder and looks like any other productive, immaculately clean factory – BUT – it smells so good. Just like a freshly opened box of Sleepytime Tea.

Our devoted tour group donned fetching blue hairnets and began the walk. We watched our fave teas being mixed, packed and boxed. (Apparently, and I concur, it takes three seconds for a machine to wrap a box and 10 minutes to get it off.) And when we walked into the Peppermint room, our eyes began to sting and our lungs began to sing with the sharp, pungent aroma of the precious peppermint oils exuding from the herbs. This room is mostly locked down as the oil could permeate the flavours of the other herbal and fruit teas produced here.

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The company tries to be as sustainable as it can be and the tea bags no longer have strings and the actual bags that contain the tea are biodegradable and one of our guides said she packs her used bags around her garden plants to hold water and dissolve ethically.

A few tasting sips and a major purchase of boxes and away we went most happily. On the driveway out of the complex I saw my first Groundhogs . . . too cute.

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There was a foodies market on in town so we meandered among the food and produce stalls. And in keeping with the tea theme we visited two tea shops (what is it Boulder, craft beer in competition with the humble cuppa?).

We saw the large tea/cafe emporium, Boulder Dushanbe Tea house that is most exotic but packed to the teapot brim on market day.

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So into the main mall here for an elegant tea experience at Ku Cha House of Tea. We settled on an ethereal white tea that was delicate and totally tea-zen.

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So, this busy bee little city with its outdoorsy attitude and athletic ambience can turn on the tea charm, and sit quietly and contemplate the Colorado big sky and the art of sipping a cheery brew.

Writer Bev Malzard has just finished her tea that she purchased in June. Damn! Best head back to Boulder, sooner than later.

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Visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/lifestyle/vacation-ideas/things-to-do-in-boulder/

Visit: www.celestialseasonings.com/visit-us/

Visit: www.boulderteahouse.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PARIS: Baguettes – or the legend of the loaf

PARIS: Baguettes – or the legend of the loaf

It was just a couple of weeks ago, I was driving from Charles de Gaulle airport into Paris and spied, shuffling along the street of one of the outlying suburbs a walking cliché, an old. hunched man, wearing a beret and carrying a baguette at 65cm in length.

The ubiquitous baguette – bread of a thousand legends, countless laws and constrained to the perfect, ordained length – this is the stuff and staff of life to the French nation – the symbol of France perhaps.

Fact: an excellent baguette needs to look, sound, smell and feel the part; with a golden-tinged crust and an ivory coloured centre, and the shell of the loaf must ‘crack’ with just a little pressure and a soft, hollow sound must occur when the bottom is tapped. It should have a warm, cereal and caramel aroma with hints of longing – longing for butter.

We were staying down the hill from the Arc de Triumph in a narrow (of course) street and on the corner was a popular boulangerie – a seductive aroma of butter emanated out the doors.

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French bread law

This perfect baton of bread needs protection and the French government did just that in 1993 with the ‘Decret Pain’. This law states that traditional baguettes have to be made on the premises they’re sold and can only be made with four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can’t be frozen at any stage or contain additives or preservatives, which also means they go stale within 24 hours.
So, beware, there is plenty of mediocre bread sold in France and separating the wheat from the chaff requires a good nose …

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

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Finding a good bakery

  • To be called a ‘boulangerie’, a French bakery has to make its bread on the premises. If this word doesn’t feature in the name of the bakery or isn’t plastered on the window it could be a plain old dépôt de pain selling factory-made bread.
  • Boulangeries are supposed to display a small yellow and blue sign letting you know that your baker is authentic, reading: “Votre boulanger. Un artisan authentique”.
  • These appreciated few often have a tell-tale queue snaking outside.

I took up a stalking position one early evening round about 5.30pm and took a few sneaky snaps of folk going into our local boulangerie and I guessed who would be buying an evening baguette (mornings are full on too).

All 20 shoppers I checked out except for two who picked up a pastry, carried their baguette out of the shop. Normally one loaf but a couple of people greedied up and had a handle on two or more.

The baguette is always in a white paper bag that reaches just over half-way up the loaf. I noticed that everyone carrying the fresh baguette would unconsciously snap the end off the loaf and eat it. A quaint tasting habit that I totally get!

  • The word baguette is feminine so make sure you ask for une baguette (une to rhyme with June), or just get two, deux baguettes, a number that helpfully stays the same for masculine and feminine words.
  • It’s usual to ask for a well or under-cooked baguette: bien cuite for well-cooked and crusty and pas trop cuite for under-cooked and soft.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for half a baguette, une demi-baguette, as most bakeries sell them, and for exactly half the price.
  • Baguettes cost between 1 euro and 1.30 euros. Try to pay with close to the exact amount as French bakeries rarely have change for large notes and may not serve you if you don’t have close change.
  • A traditional baguette is called a baguette tradition, baguette à l’ancienne or baguette de campagne.
  • Look out for interesting varieties such as baguette aux céréales, baguette aux graines de sésame or baguette aux olives.

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Serving etiquette

  • Look like a local and eat the end of the baguette on the way home from the bakery, it’s called le quignon, the heel.
  • Don’t use a bread board. just use the cutting in the air technique or tear off pieces by hand.
  • Traditional Catholics use the bread knife to lightly mark a crucifix on the back of a baguette before cutting it.
  • Serve pieces of bread alongside a main course and then again for the cheese course (served before dessert).
  • Pieces of bread are never served on side plates, instead they’re put directly on the placemat or tablecloth to the upper right-hand side of the dinner plate.\

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Eating etiquette

  • Soften your baguette by dipping it in your morning coffee.
  • Although most French people eat baguette without butter, those from Normandy and Brittany insist on a thick layer of unsalted or salted butter.
  • Day-old bread can be salvaged by using it to make pain perdu, translated as lost bread or French toast.

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There are many stories of the origins of the baguette and all of them probably have a grain of truth in them, but I like this one:

A patriotic tale tells of the possible origin of the baguette (not its shape though) by linking it to the French Revolution. Lack of bead was the principal complaint from the people of Paris and it played a big part in the overthrow of the monarchy. Being the staple of the French diet, the poor watched the nobility eat heaps of fine, white loaves while they faced shortage and even starvation – making do with bread that was almost inedible.

So, after the Revolution, making sure everybody had quality bread was high on the priority list. In 1793 the Convention (the post-Revolution government) made a law stating:

“Richness and poverty must both disappear from the government of equality. It will no longer make a bread of wheat for the rich and a bread of bran for the poor. All bakeries will be held, under the penalty of imprisonment, to make only one type of bread: The Bread of Equality”.

Another story claims that Napoleon Bonaparte passed a law decreeing that bread for his soldiers should be made in long slender loaves of exact measurement to fit in a special pocket on their uniforms. Since those measurements were close to the size of the modern baguette, some folk think this might be when the bread first took on its current form. Maybe it’s Napoleon we have to thank.

These are only a couple of stories of the famous bread’s origins and Mr Google throws up many more. Whatever the reason that this weird shaped bread appeared, by the mid-1800s in Paris, they were everywhere. Merci beaucoup.

Writer, Bev Malzard managed to eat half a fresh baguette every morning. Only half because she had to then eat croissants and pain de chocolat  and an oeuf or deux. . .

Much if this info on the history came from a fab website https://bonjourparis.com which features all manner of wonderful information on Paris, food, wine and everything else – tres bon.

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Extra info: Michael Kalanty is an award-winning author, baker, and sensory scientist. He holds the patent for The Aroma & Flavor Chart for Bread©. His first book, How To Bake Bread: The Five Families of Bread®won the Gourmand International Award at the Paris Cookbook Fair (2011) for “Best Bread Book in the World”. Contact him through www.MichaelKalanty.com

Epicurean Exchange offers their Paris Bread & Pastry Tour each May. Visit www.EpicureanExchange.com for more about their portfolio of culinary explorations.

Featured image at top of page: Photo by Ablimit Ablet on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Bali cooking class

Bali cooking class

I hadn’t planned to do anything strenuous on a recent holiday in Bali – just sleep, eat, swim. But life often has other plans. We had been in Ubud for a couple of days, happened upon a royal cremation that saw a few thousand people converge on the cultural and spiritual town of Ubud, about an hour’s drive from the capital Denpasar. Well, that was a colourful and jolly affair.

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The following day we did some slow sightseeing outside of town and then took a walk down a back road in Ubud. About to turn back because of the fierce heat and I spied the sign ‘Goya’ at the entrance of somewhere that looked rather fancy. Then a chap asked us if we’d like to take a look at the resort. Sure.

We walked through a spacious foyer breezeway and then stepped down and followed a path lined with tall bamboo crowding to create dappled shade.

Out of the shade and in front of us was an infinity pool (they are de rigueur in Bali), and to the left a canopy covered a lovely outdoor restaurant. Now, how does this happen? We talked to the staff for a few minutes and next thing, we had signed up for a cooking class to be held the following day.

I had partaken in a few cooking classes in the past, they were hands on but not comprehensive – maybe some chopping, plating up or dipping rice paper sheets into hot water. This was the real deal. Our chef was with us every step of the way. We were introduced to the variety of spices, and how to prepare the ingredients. We cut, diced, shaved and mortar and pestle wrestled a sambal into submission.

Despite the heat we toiled towards a fine lunch. The sambal spice was included in the Chicken Lawar, Pepes Ikan (barramundi) steamed inside banana leaf). Dessert was Sumping nangka (jack fruit).

Once we finished cooking the meal we were walked to a little cabana, were we given our certificates for being the best cooks ever to attend a cooking class here!

We ate really good food in Bali over an eight-day period BUT this was the best meal of all. True.

Included in the price of $AU45, is the class for a couple of hours, a reserved table to eat lunch and a video and pictures taken and emailed to us (these are the pics and the video) and for an extra $5 you can stay and swim in the infinity pool afterwards.

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For details: Goya, Bali cooking class  www.goyaboutiqueresort.com email: goya@goyaboutiqueresort.com

Writer Bev Malzard paid for this class herself and recommends the experience as fun and filling! Just a tip, wear makeup or tidy up for the video – she didn’t but thinks it could have been a winner as a Masterchef audition!

How to explore Umbria, Italy

How to explore Umbria, Italy

If it wasn’t for the Etruscans, there might not be olive oil or wine in this region of Italy. Let’s head to the hilltop fortress towns of Umbria and enjoy the legacy of the ancient invaders.

It had been a carb-overload lunch hosted by chef and pastamaking teacher Lorenzo Polegri, a showman and a man of smiles and passion as he demonstrated how to perfect the art of pasta making. None of us in our group were very talented but who cares? We enjoyed our repast in Ristorante Zeppelin in the quiet midday ambience of the mediaeval Umbrian town of Orvieto.

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This town, a natural fortress, is one of the many glorious fortified towns and cities of the Umbrian region, which includes the spiritually robust Assisi, the glorious mystery of Perugia and this elegant site of Orvieto, all founded by the very late, lamented Etruscans who disappeared into the emerging Roman empire in the third century BC.

After eating food fit for Etruscan epicureans, we scattered to waddle into the narrow curved streets of this city bathed in autumnal afternoon light.

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Curving past small shops, drifting along, I lifted my eyes and saw the most confoundingly beautiful structure – a green and white striped cathedral – a bold statement against the stark blue sky – with intricate, delicate relief carvings on the capitals with sumptuous cornerstones. The bold marble panels adorn the façade and are respected as one of the masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. It may not be the biggest and the best in the world – but this striped beauty captured my heart.

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Orvieto Cathedral is one of Italy’s most celebrated cathedrals. The 14th century edifice was built between 1290 and 1500 and she shines as brightly as ever. Built under papal direction, the building is famous for its mosaic inlay facade.

Duomo di Orvieto is widely considered the most glorious example of Italian Gothic. A miracle is said to have occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena, when a travelling priest who had doubts about the truth of transubstantiation found that his Host was bleeding so much that it stained the altar cloth. The cloth is now stored in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral.

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Next stop along the way on our escourted journey is the jewel of Umbria, Perugia. Perugia is the capital city of the region of Umbria and covers a high hilltop around the area. Another Etruscan beauty, Perugia is known for its universities (the first founded in 1308) and is celebrated for its culture and artistic pursuits.

The city has centuries of tumultuous religious and political (same thing then) history and all of it immersed in the stone here.

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The Rocca Paolina was the ‘underground’ city, built in 1373 at the then highest part of the town. The richest merchants of 16th century Perugia lived here but it was destroyed by local citizens in an uprising provoked by the Pope. The town disappeared but the streets have been uncovered and the mediaeval homes that were a platform for the new fortress are now on show.

The stone houses with Gothic doorways and tunnels look as if they are waiting for people to go about their daily business. The atmospheric route through the fortress by escalators take you through Rocca Paolina under the portico of Palazzo del Governo.

We headed out into the night and into the strange and curious labyrinthine streets underground. After ascending to ‘uptown Perugia’ to the historic centre, in a state of wonderment we found ourselves in the vigorous city of Perugia, with its night lights on and aromas enticing us into a 21st century pizza house.

Next stop across the Umbrian Valley is the mother ship of holy hilltop fortress cities: Assisi. Birthplace (in 1182) of Italy’s favourite saint, Francis, the city is always buzzing with pilgrims.

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Saint Francis and female favourite Saint Clare are the drawcards for the fans. The bodies of both saints were discovered in 1818 and luckily they hadn’t been tampered with by grave robbers. For centuries, holy relics had done great business across Europe.

So what is left (bones of Saint Francis) and preserved remains of Saint Clare is on show as the faithful and curious pass by in snaking queues through Basilica di Santa Chiara (where Clare is) and the Basilica di San Francesco.

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There are fine examples of Giotto’s frescoes and Cimabue’s painting to be viewed and other cultural attractions includes many little pottery statues of chubby monks and waving popes. And for fans of Norberto, the famous Umbrian painter, there’s a small gallery with an excellent variety of fine prints to aquire.

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It feels like we’ve ticked off the holy trinity of hill towns in Umbria and look forward to the next stop in Tuscany. More and more I appreciate the fact that we enjoy these splendid visits, and afterwards hop back on to a comfy coach which takes us to our next stop. So far we have been transported from Rome, taken to ‘secret places’, had intimate meals with welcoming local folk, and been invited into authentic experiences. Each night we have been put to bed, well fed and happy, in lovely hotels.

As we anticipate lunch and tastings of the local olive oil, and a meal of regional cooking in another handsome hill town – this time Spello, with its historic centre still enveloped by Roman walls. We stretch our legs in the coach, chat about the marvellous day we have had and agree that those Etruscans knew a thing or two about leaving an amazing legacy in Umbria.

Writer, Bev Malzard was hosted by Insight Vaations insightvacations.com.au and found the itinerary exciting and edifying. She recommends sampling gelato at every stop along the way. You will not be disappointed.