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.

 

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: then and now

Bali: then and now

NEWS . . .NEWS . . .NEWS . . .Hotel Indigo Bali Seminyak Beach becomes the first 5-star rated Hotel Indigo in the world. The five star rating is from LSU Pariwisata Bali Mandiri, a tourism association in Bali responsible for all Indonesian property ratings, which is part of the National Accreditation Committee in Indonesia.

Following is a post from last year, and after the accolade for Hotel Indigo – thought it time to rerun . . .

Our car swept into the hotel’s large arrival pavilion, and we walked into a vast, endless gallery of light and space, a breezeway of extraordinary proportions dotted with chairs of differing design and wonderful hanging objects of light shade designs.

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This was the recently opened Hotel Indigo, Seminyak Bali. A five-star beauty. In the heat of the day we were offered a cooling drink, wet towels and sincere smiles of welcome.

Our room’s hero was the enormous bed, the bathroom had a shower with a nod to old Bali with a large, gold pitcher mimicking the ‘mandi’ style of the simple Bali way to bathe.

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It was then it hit me, how things have changed, Well, of course I have changed in 30 years and so has Bali! I arrived here with a presentable piece of luggage and not a world-weary backpack. I was wearing linen pants and not a long cheesecloth skirt. And I was immediately unashamedly in love with this hotel.

Bali for a beginner

An earlier visit for me was a spontaneous decision to go to Bali when I found I had a secret stash of $500 in an old bank account. I had been back in Sydney for 10 months after living in Europe for three years. I was restless and needed to get away again. Bali it was. That $500 was a bloody fortune then.

I stayed at el cheapo places along the way when on the island; motels. guesthouses and losmens (a bit like homestay but in a family compound). The places cost no more than $2 a night. Came with a room, simple furnishings if any, a bed, overhead fan and a mandi. A mandi is a divine way to clean yourself. Usually round about a square metre concrete tub filled with clean water. You stand outside the tub, soap up then dip a pale or pitcher in the tub, scoop up the water and pour it over your head and body.

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Cheeky monkey, and a minute later he grabbed hold of the top of my dress and dragged it down about my waist.

Travelling solo I met up with other girls and we ate together, went to the beach and one of them (from Canada) and I ended up in a tiny truck, sharing the back with large bundles of bamboo, a pig and an old lady with large holes in her pierced ears that held her rolled up money (notes). She kept on plucking at the blonde hair on my thighs and chuckling for the long journey

We arrived in Singaraja, an old Dutch port in the north of Bali to see a river crowded with rubbish and filth. This was my first encounter with a polluted river. Not much has changed in Indonesia.

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River pollution in the 1980s . . .and it gets worse, right into the 21st century.

The beaches along the coast up north have black sand and the sea is warm. There were few tourists in town back in the day and most restaurants were tiny shopfronts selling basic but good nasi goreng and sates. But there was always a good breakfast even at the cheapies, fresh fruit, strong Bali coffee and flakey pastries.

Back down south to what was to become known as Bali’s cultural heart, Ubud. It was a sleepy village then, where bullock drawn carts crackled though the dirt roads, someone would be churning ice in a roadside cart making ‘icejuices’ (ice, condensed mild and fresh fruit) and where women still comfortably walked around with bare breasts as they went about their daily chores and placed pretty Hindu votives on the side of the road and at entrances to homes and shops.

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Hardly another tourist in sight.

After two weeks in Bali I had $150 left over and ended up giving it to a guy with a motor bike whom I had hired to drive me to all the sites in and around Ubud. His response surprised me, he said that the money would keep his two daughters in school for a year. Sometimes you don’t know when you do a good deed.

Years on and $500 wouldn’t go so far. But Bali is still quite inexpensive.

And no longer do I sleep under rickety fans, eat for 50c at the beaches or get a baby oil massage on the sand and fry like a hot chip!

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Ready to roast. What were we thinking?

At Hotel Indigo I swam in beautiful pools, sat in the shade under tropical foliage around one of the pools and the sun didn’t stand a chance with my 30 plus sunscreen.

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Instead of drinking ‘java’ on the roadsides I sipped on Earl Grey tea in the beautiful Pottery Cafe at Hotel Indigo. Here all types of coffee is roasted and served. Choose from the wide variety of beans grown throughout Indonesia. But for me, it has to be tea in the afternoon because you have to eat scones, jam and cream with your soothing cuppa. The main restaurant is large and inviting with a visible kitchen and after experiencing dinner and breakfast (lunch was lazy hot chips by the pool), I could see how the hotel has lifted Bali’s culinary offerings. Beware the breakfast menu! After fruit, toast, eggs, and a few other delights, you think you’ve finished, then a sneaky fella turns up at your table with fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolat au pain – what can you do? And with the coffee roasting next door, a large cup is mandatory!

The hotel is opposite the beach at Seminyak, separated only by the road. So, with local design ambience and colour, the hotel has a typically local feel, but  . . . everything is better on this side of the road.

Time flies, and my early hippie days were fun and frivolous, but older and not wiser now, the comfort of a beautiful hotel, the kindness of Balinese staff and the indulgence of a five-star experience beats the past. And if I feel nostalgic for the old days, I’ll just fill my elegant pitcher in my shower and pour water over my head.

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Writer, Bev Malzard was a guest at Hotel Indigo Seminyak www.hotelindigo.com/Bali

And despite age and moving on from the past, she can still rock a cheesecloth skirt, but refuses to have an afro perm – one of her appearance fails in the early 1980s.

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.

Vienna’s best breads

Vienna’s best breads

A slice of life

I love bread. Sourdough, rye, Turkish, flatbread, brioche, French sticks, naan, roti, wholemeal, soft white rolls, Italian focaccia and am not ashamed to admit to a couple of slices of white Tip Top bread with butter and vegemite.

And part of travel is eating lots of bread . . . (sorry to the gluten intolerants). Naan to mop up curry sauce and dhal for breakfast in India and beautiful European breads with cheese washed down with coffee.

Years ago when I first travelled to Austria I was naive and hadn’t been exposed to sliced heavy bread in the morning. My first taste (not toast) was accompanied by a cream cheese and a fat slice of ham. And that’s when romancing the loaf began. No matter where I am, I’ll try the bread on offer.

Europe sets the standard for good, wholesome, hearty breads. And Vienna is upping the ‘brot’ ante for the comeback of artisan bread. For too long Vienna has loafed around with heavy, commercially manufactured bread and now it looks for a slice of the crusty good life.

The renaissance of small bakeries in Vienna is full on – here are a couple of snaps taken around the back streets where the aroma of freshly baked bread drew me into the bakery for a bun or two.

I was taken around the city bakeries by ‘Brot Andi’, Andreas Djordjevic, an institution in Vienna. Andreas is in charge of the bread cart in the two Michelin-starred Steirereck, the best restaurant in Vienna. The restaurant is divine with the most beautiful ceiling, amazing food styling – and flavour of course – and then there’s the brot . . . .

I rather fancied the name of Arthur Grimm’s bakery – no relation of you-know-who.
This was a scattering of breadcrumbs to entice you to walk the streets of Vienna in the early morning, and  . . . just follow your nose.

Writer, Bev Malzard once joined with a work colleague to experiment with ‘the sandwich as a meal’ concept. Over a week of 21 meals they managed to put every meal on a sandwich. Eggs on toasts for brekkie, a salad and ham sando for lunch, steak and chips between two slices of bread for dinner. Great strides in gastronomic adventure were made when there was a pie and sauce sandwich, a fish and chips sandwich, a pea soup sandwich (this had to be made and eaten rather quickly), a baked dinner sandwich, with gravy and beef and black beans and fried rice sandwich and the surprise meal . . . an apple pie sandwich. That was an  excellent week. 
The divine image at the top of the page was taken by the gifted Monika Grabkowska.

How to explore Catalina

How to explore Catalina

Oh Catalina! A respite from the glitz and noise of the mainland, this little island is a joyful discovery.

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“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is a waitin’ for me, Santa Catalina, the island of romance” . . . and so starts the old song that turned a holiday island, off the coast of Long Beach in California, into a vacation-spot superstar. The song was recorded in 1958 by the Four Preps. Two of the college friends’ group were surfing off the coast in Southern California and they saw Santa Catalina island in the distance and wondered how far from the mainland it was . . hence the origin of a pop song of its time that shot up the charts, and made the holiday island a new sensation – again!

The island is one of many in the Channel Islands group. And from the get-go, the island was a popular playground for early inhabitants in 5000BC, Spanish mariners, hunters, smugglers and the military.

It became a tourist destination around 1887 with the focal point of the island a little settlement called Avalon – which has since been designated a city.

The Wrigley family purchased the island sight unseen in 1919 for $3 million. Mr Wrigley made his fortune in chewing gum!

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Take the Catalina Express for a gentle hour’s sail from Long Beach.

The island was developed within a small space as much of the terrain is rocky and wild. And the only beach is at Avalon.

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The beautiful chandelier above the ballroom floor in the Casino.

The massive construction of the island’s most recognisable landmark, the startling art deco structure, is the Casino. The building houses a beautiful theatre (movies are still shown here); a massive ballroom and a museum.

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The Casino. 

The ballroom still has the ghosts of thousands of young dancers who would come across the sea (a three-hour trip then) to dance the night away during the 30s and 40s.

The museum has wonderful images of the crowd that crushed the dance floor. There was never alcohol served in the building, and the casino has never had any form of gambling on the premises.

Ornate walls inside the casino and (right) the amazing construction of the circular building.

Lovely hotels and quaint guesthouses provide plenty of rooms for holidaymakers and a day trip isn’t a bad idea either. Funky restaurants, live music venues, ice cream parlours par excellence, and fun souvenir shopping have the red carpet out for visitors.

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This is a retro destination that exudes the vibrant ambience of a laid back part of California like no other.

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  • GETTING AROUND

Catch the Catalina Express from San Pedro, Long Island (a one- hour boat ride and up to 30 departures daily).

Around Avalon, it’s for walking or you can hire a golf buggy to get around. Not many cars here.

  • WHEN TO VISIT

Anytime! But in autumn the prices are down, the crowds less frantic and the island slows to a gentle pace. Enjoy the Halloween Parade at the end of October.

CATALINA ACTIVITIES

All out adventure or slow and steady? The island offers Zip Line Tours starting at 182m above Descanso Beach; off-road exploring in a jeep to visit the local bisons (true), foxes, eagles and deer. Parasail over the Pacific Ocean or hike the rugged hills.

Or . . . visit the fabulous Catalina Museum with special exhibitions and the history of the island from the beginning displayed.

At Descanso Beach, snorkel and swim the crystal clear waters – and head to the Beach Club for a Catalina Burger.

At night head to the Casino for a first run movie. Get there and hour early on the weekend nights to hear a stirring performance on the original pipe organ.

Writer Bev Malzard, did not zip line, but she did have a nap on the beach, eat ice-cream and spent an afternoon in the museum/art gallery. The history in black and white photographs is rich and new world ‘American dream’. That Wrigley fella was on to something when he got the world chewing gum! (Juicy Fruit is the chew du jour for Ms Malzard.) Look below, this little Aussie was on offer on Catalina Island. 

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Art Deco capital of New Zealand (and possibly the planet)

Art Deco capital of New Zealand (and possibly the planet)

Not often you get to thank a natural disaster and community tragedy for a splendid architectural creation. In February 1931 a bastard of an earthquake rocked Napier, a town on Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the north island of New Zealand. The ‘quake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and rocked the Hawke’s Bay area for more than three long minutes. There were 260 lives lost and the vast majority of Napier’s town centre structures were destroyed, either by the earthquake of the following fires.

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It wasn’t long after the earthquake that the Kiwis rallied and do what they do best – got on with it! Rebuilding began and much of it was completed in two years. Architects were on the spectrum of quirky and ambitious and the new buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times – stripped classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco.

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Local architect Louis Hay, an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, had his moment to shine! Maori motifs emerged to give the city an identifiable New Zealand character – just check out the ASB bank on the corner of Hastings and Emerson Streets that features Maori koru and zigzags.

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I recently visited Napier for the first time and driving into the city centre on a bright sunny day I was thrilled to be immersed in this stylish time capsule. And driving further afield around Hawke’s Bay (just out-of-town to find the cultish ice cream parlour Rush Munro’s, which has been here since 1926. And yes, I had a double scoop for research purposes, hokey pokey and vanilla, and yes, it was divine), you drive along a tree-lined boulevard waterfront. Marine Parade is where you drive slowly and capture the extent of the bay.

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Napier’s city centre displays a seamless line of 1930s architecture is quite extraordinary. Enjoy the streetscape via a self-guided walk – ask for a map at the information centre or at the Art Deco Trust. Guided walks around the city are also available every day rain or shine (except Christmas Day!).

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Every February, Napier celebrates its heritage with the Art Deco weekend – a stylish celebration of all things 1930’s, including vintage cars, fashion and music. So get your flapper on, tilt your boater at a rackish angle and do the Charleston, drink pink cocktails and throw caution to the wind.

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Napier’s other special attractions include the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and the many vineyards that make good use of the region’s alluvial soils. Pinot Gris and Syrah are the region’s signature drops. On Saturday mornings, the Napier farmers’ market is a chance to shop for artisan foods and fresh produce.

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Writer, Bev Malzard ate ice cream, had dinner at the Thirsty Whale Restaurant and Bar and stayed just outside of town at the Albatross Motel, Westshore Napier. She will learn to dance and hold a long cigarette holder before her next visit.

Visit: http://www.artdeconapier.com ; http://www.napiernz.com and get your art deco vibe happening n 2018!

 

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

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