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.

 

The State I’m in!

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Or how I love old cinemas, eccentric architecture and overwrought decor.

Shame on you 1960s through to 1980s in Sydney. Just tore down old buildings willynilly to ‘modernise’ the city. And as the bricks tumbled, down came more than 20 old-style, elegant cinemas in Sydney including the Roma, Lido, Lyceum, Regent, Palace and sadly on and on the list goes.

The remaining cinemas are the State Theatre and the Capital Theatre.

And the State Theatre is here because its history spanned so many economic changes in the city that plans made to demolish, reinvigorate, turn into an office block and more, never got past the drawing board – and lucky it had history on its side.

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It opened to grand fanfare in the social heyday of Sydney in 1929. It was the “Palace of Dreams’. Amazing architecture for the time and innovative structure behind the gothic, Italianate French and Jacobean crazy decor and foyer, theatre seating and private rooms design, made this extraordinary addition to the prominence of development in Sydney.

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I recently took a two-hour tour of my fave theatre and discovered so much about it. I went as a child to the State when it was a movie theatre. And as television stole the movie-going public away from the theatres it became a live venue – as it had originally started out – with vaudeville acts and showy musicals.

I’ve seen artists from Bette Midler, through to Bob Dylan perform here and am off to see Catherine Tate soon.

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There are many facts that are fascinating about the theatre which include:

  • Standing in the 2000 seat auditorium beautifully framed by 13 hand-cut crystal chandeliers
  • Observing the eclectic elements of the Theatre’s Gothic, Italian and Art deco design
  • Discovering the State’s famous Character Lounges including the exotic Butterfly Room (the ladies loo), the Pioneer Room, College Room and more
  • Be mesmerised by the world’s second largest hand-cut crystal chandelier, the
    Koh-i-Nor. This is the second largest hand-cut chandelier in the world – the first is the divine chandelier that hangs in the Hapsburg Palace in Vienna, Austria.

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  • Admire prize-winning artworks by famous Australian artists including William Dobell, Mary Edwards, Charles Wheeler and Raymond Lindsay. Stories of people trying to steal these paintings are shocking. In fact the theatre has so many stories of vandalism and what has been stolen over the decades makes you realise that Sydney is a den of thieves.
  • Delve into the depths of the Theatre to discover engineering marvels and mechanical masterpieces.

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The ladies toilets (powder rooms) were designed to be hidden away discreetly because way back in the 1920s it was unseemly that a ‘lady’ would go to the toilet. Women would not eat or drink during the show until they arrived at home – and they ‘went’ before going out for the night.

Also there were private smoking rooms throughout the theatre (smoking wasn’t permitted in the foyer or inside the theatre) and these were for men only – ladies didn’t smoke!

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The beautiful brass filigree doors to the seating were going to be melted down in the 1950s and the metal would have been worth around $130 but now and still standing (or opening and shutting) and are worth $17000.

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When the American servicemen were in Sydney on R&R during WWII, smoking was allowed in all public areas. And 40 years later when the entire interior of the foyer and staircase areas was cleaned there was so much nicotine clinging to the walls that the decoration had disappeared.

The Theatre is still available for special films and recently held the premier of Ladies in Black. The annual Sydney Film Festival is held here and always begins with a silent film.

The State’s famous Wurlitzer organ that entertained the masses for many years is almost finished being restored. It will be back in action with its glorious makeover in 2019 when the State Theatre celebrates its 90th birthday. (The organ has to be played once a week to keep it in good working order.)

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If you enjoy ‘old Sydney’ and the charm of the eccentric, try for a tour, it’s interesting, nostalgic as you learn the character and traits of this magnificent and special building of majestic elegance.

Architectural purists may scoff, but remember this is a Palace of Dreams, am amusement park.

Visit: http://www.statetheatre.com.au to book tickets for a tour $25 – mad if you don’t.

Writer Bev Malzard was pashed in this cinema when she was 17. And on another note, she grew up in the Sydney suburb of Earlwood that supported two cinemas – the Chelsea (now a bottle shop) and the Mayfair (now three small shops). She likes to visit the last of the grand old girls in Sydney – The Randwick Ritz and the  Cremorne Orpheum.

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Snce its opening in 1929, The State Theatre Sydney has captivated the hearts and minds of patrons with its majestic elegance. Join in a guided tour of this magnificent and unique building and discover why it’s known as the Palace of Dreams.
During a fascinating 2 hour tour, you will:

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

 

 

 

 

Hanoi – Shining Ritual

Hanoi – Shining Ritual

I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. Recently while staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.

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The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.

Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.

The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.

The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.

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There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.

Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.

This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.

Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.

Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.

The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.

The Shining Ritual

And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.

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The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.

Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.

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The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.

Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!

He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.

 

Instagram’s most popular KIWI destination

This was first published in 2016 – do you think the locations for Best Instagram taking are still as popular – or have new places stepped up to be ‘social’ stars?

Waiheke Island is Instagram’s most popular Kiwi destination 

Instagram has named New Zealand’s top ten visitor attractions for 2015, based on the number of images geo-tagged to specific locations. Kiwis and international visitors shared the most pictures fromWaiheke Island. Worldwide, some 80 million images are posted to Instagram every day, making the platform a huge canvas for New Zealand.
Tourism New Zealand General Manager, Australia Tony Saunders said New Zealand scenery is unparalleled so travellers love to capture the spectacular surroundings and share it with their friends and family on social media.
“Thousands of Australians head over to Waiheke Island each year to view beautiful vineyards, olive groves and beaches so we weren’t surprised to see it named the most Instagrammed spot in New Zealand.

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“We get a huge amount of people sharing their photos of Waiheke Island and the rest of the country via @purenewzealand and the hashtag #NZMustDo.  We love that travellers want to share their journey and the stunning landscapes.”

Instagram’s top ten are:

  1. Waiheke Island
  1. Mount Maunganui (@infarawayland)

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  1. Hobbiton Movie Set

 

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  1. Sky Tower
  2.      Lake Tekapo (@danielmurray.nz)
  3.     Piha Beach
  4.  Wanaka Lake Front
  5.  Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa 
  6. Skyline Queenstown

Writer, Bev Malzard visited Hobbiton in August 2017 – and soooooo loved the whole concept of this magical place and she actually did see and meet a couple of Hobbits there – true – cross my heart.