The straight-talking timekeepers of the zodiac

In case you missed it, today is the Chinese New Year and we are now embarking on the Year of the Rooster.

imag6585-640x467

I bought this hand-painted tile in Portugal in 2002

According to the December issue of Director magazine (which I was flicking through yesterday), Roosters are uncomplicated and straightforward. The website travelchinaguide.com also claims that Roosters are “almost the epitome of fidelity and punctuality. For ancestors who had no alarm clocks, the crowing was significant, as it could awaken people to get up and start to work”.

I am an absolute stickler for time-keeping, loyalty and keeping my word (and expecting you to keep yours too!) so it is probably no surprise to you when I say that I am a Rooster.

Anyway, in conducting a bit of research for this post, I learnt that the Chinese Zodiac also assigns one of five elements – fire, earth, water, gold and wood – to each lunar year and that 2017 is a Fire Rooster year.

However being born in 1969 makes me an Earth Rooster. Continue reading

When a foodie goes to Melbourne: By night

I spent two and a half weeks in Melbourne (the one in Australia not Florida – just to be clear) over the Christmas-New Year period visiting family and catching up with a few friends. It was hot – much hotter than I’m used to even in the warmer parts of Europe – but that did not stop me from doing loads and eating even more.

Last time I tap-tap-tapped away about the high points of our daytime eating adventures and promised to follow up with the same for our culinary exploits after dark. So here it is, post number two.

Fat Bob’s Bar & Grill – Moorabbin

For at least three years, my loved ones have been Facebook posting about Fat Bob’s and when I arrived for a visit two years ago, I was sadly informed that Fat Bob’s was closed until the day after I was due to fly back to the UK. This time Lil Chicky was on the case – Fat Bob’s would be closed from Christmas Eve so nine hours after I got off the plane on December 23rd, we were scoffing amazing burgers, more-ish fries and some super scrumptious fried apple dumplings.

fat-bobs

Tucked away in an industrial estate in Moorabbin, once you walk through the gate there are vintage signs everywhere you look.

fat-bobs-food

There’s a good range of craft brews and ciders to pair with your burger. My White Rabbit Dark Ale was smooth and easy (too easy?) to drink and my Victa burger – a crumbed chicken fillet with Asian slaw, Japanese mayo and BBQ sauce – was completely scoff-worthy

It’s a fabulously unpretentious place and was definitely worth the wait. The food was served in plastic baskets with the burgers wrapped in foil (helps to stop the drips as you hoe in) and cutlery was kind of optional frowned upon. If you love a dirty burger and a retro approach to decorating, get yourself to Fat Bob’s…and leave your tiara at home.

Mexico City – Bentleigh

The original Mexico City restaurant opened in 2011 around the corner from where I used to live in Elsternwick but I’ve been away since 2004 so when Lil Chicky told me that there was a new one in Bentleigh, it seemed the perfect place to stop for a pre-cinema dinner. It’s quite a small place and as we were only two people and didn’t have a booking, we had a choice of sitting at the bar or at the window. We chose the latter and ordered a couple of Moscow Mules to sip with our complimentary corn chips and salsa before our meals arrived. I loved my vegetarian burrito and Lil Chicky enjoyed her Mexican trio. But be warned – the portions are huge so if you want to have more than one course, I’d suggest sharing.

Favorite Noodle & Dumpling Restaurant – Moorabbin

This is a family-run business right across the highway from Moorabbin train station. It’s a large restaurant with an extensive menu of dumplings and Chinese stir fries. Mum, Licensed-To-Grill and Lil Chicky all raved about the dumplings so that was what I chose. They were soft and melt-in-the-mouth delicious – definitely the best I’ve had. I’d been eating elsewhere in the day so couldn’t fit anything else in but again I was gobsmacked by how big everyone else’s portions were.

It got really busy while we were there and the service, while still friendly, did suffer a bit as a result. There was also a little lost in translation moment when pea-hater Lil Chicky asked whether there were peas in the fried rice. (We were absolutely assured there were no peas, just beans, only for Lil Chicky to be faced with picking out all the peas when it did arrive.)  But it’s cheap and cheerful and if I lived there, I’d probably be doing a dumpling run at least once a week.

Bad Frankie – Fitzroy

I was reading one of the daily newspapers at Lil Chicky’s in turns marvelling at how clueless I am about Australian celebrities nowadays and checking out all of the things-to-do recommendations. It was the word ‘jaffles’ that caught my eye – these were the mainstay of many a Sunday night dinner growing up and were crammed full of things like baked beans, ham, tuna, tomato and savoury mince but always with loads of gooey melted cheese. I managed to convince some friends to have a jaffle-themed catch-up…and what a catch-up it was!

bad-frankie

Top row: Look out for the sign when you turn off Smith Street into Greeve Street; Quirky decor  Bottom row: Retro cocktail glassware; the traditional ham and cheese jaffle with a side of tomato chutney; the infamous lamington jaffle – there are no words – you’ve got to experience it for yourself!

Bad Frankie specialises in Australian spirits and the drinks list is pages and pages long (who knew we Aussies were so prolific outside wine and a bit of boutique beer) so we went with cocktails served in the types of glassware you might find at the back of your Mum’s kitchen cupboard. We chose a range of savoury jaffles to begin with – which were yum – then tackled the lamington jaffle. Chocolate sponge filled with jam and rolled in coconut was served warm from the jaffle maker with cream on the side – it was scrumptious and VERY rich, making us all glad we had decided to share. The others also tried the ANZAC Bikkie jaffle (brioche toasted with rolled oats and golden syrup) which they reported tasted faithfully of its namesake.

To my mind Bad Frankie was an absolute find. The decor is quirky and cosy and everything is very laid-back. We’d been in the City in the afternoon and the promise of jaffles and boozing did take us out of our way but it was a chilled and convivial evening with an easy tram ride at either end. Just go!

Okami – Hampton Street

Okami is a chain of five Japanese restaurants across Melbourne and on my last night, we decided to tackle the All-You-Can-Eat offer at the Hampton Street branch. You get a two-hour sitting, a menu and then you just keep ordering dishes until you can’t eat any more. We shared many great dishes but stand outs for me were the Chicken Karaage and the Teriyaki Chicken Skewer. We also tried the Octopus Ball – which turned out to be balls of octopus meat versus something akin to a Bush Tucker Trial – better served with soy sauce than the mayonnaise they came with I thought.

okami-1-441x640

Domo arigato for a job well done! 

We managed to find a small space at the end for some cold vanilla ice-cream (it was 38C that day – that’s really hot!) and pretty much rolled out the door. And all of this for less than $30 (approx. £18) each.

And that peeps ends the culinary tour. The next day I boarded a plane for the long trek home with an underweight suitcase (believe me, it took careful packing to manage this with the amount of shopping I did). However I cannot say the same for yours truly and I must admit to my comfy travelling trousers feeling slightly snugger than when I arrived two and half weeks earlier. But what are holidays for, I ask you?

I hope this has whet the appetite of those of you  living in or travelling to Melbourne…if you are a glutton for punishment and want more or missed the partner post on daytime eating in my hometown, you’ll find it here so in the words of my childhood dinners…

Two four six eight

Dig in. Don’t wait!

 

Belem, two hills and a valley

The story so far: Lil Chicky and I managed a six day rendezvous in Lisbon at the beginning of October. We ate, walked, had a day out of town and took squillions of photos – here’s another installment of our adventures.

Having already booked our day trip to Sintra and our Lisbon Eats Walking Tour, we knew we had four days left to explore Lisbon itself. We are both big fans of a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus (hereafter referred to as the HOHO bus) and decided that buying a 48 hour ticket was the perfect way to get our bearings – by the end of our first day, we had managed to combine all of the things we wanted to see into some semblance of a plan.

The valley

The central districts of Lisbon are built across two main hills and the valley that lies between them. If you stand with your back to the River Tagus at Praca do Comercio, the valley lies in front of you and follows a path through Baixa, Rossio, Restauradores and the Avenida da Liberdade.

the-valley

L to R: Looking towards the River Tagus through the arch leading onto Praca do Comercio; turn around and head straight to Rossio where in the top left corner, you’ll find the gorgeous Rossio train station; a brisk 20 minute walk up the Avenida da Liberdade from the station will take you to the Pombal roundabout and this view of Praca Dom Eduardo VII.

We spent a fair bit of time here: The HOHO bus routes all start from the Pombal roundabout and stop in Rossio which itself was less than a ten minute walk from our apartment. Several times we found ourselves wandering through the streets of Baixa on our way back to the apartment and after walking for several hours each day, we were pretty grateful for this flat, easy route home.

Rossio is also the location of two of our pasteis de nata haunts – Cafe Nicola and Pastelaria Suica – and the neighbouring Praca de Figueria held a third – Confeitaria Nacional. Combined with Praca de Martim Moniz, with its cluster of food huts and outdoor tables at one end and The Mundial with its fabulous rooftop bar at the other, we had plenty of places to eat, drink and watch the world go by.

The hill on the right

Coming back to the Praca do Comercio, if you look to your right the Castelo de Sao Jorge perches atop the hill…

view-of-martim-moniz-from-castel

This is the view of ‘the valley’ from Castelo de Sao Jorge on the hill to the right. The longer stretch of green running from left to right at the top of the picture is Restauradores and the square is Praca de Martim Moniz – we stayed in an Air BnB apartment in the building where the yellow bus is. It was a great location and fabulous view of the castle from the window every morning.

…with the Alfama district cluttered busily below.

alfama-montage-1

L to R: Alfama is full of meandering passages and lots of steps; the view from Castelo de Sao Jorge over Alfama – you can just see the 25th of April bridge over the river and the Christo Rei statue on the other side. 

We spent a good couple of hours up at the castle early on the Tuesday morning. The views are absolutely spectacular and you get to see Lisbon from all sorts of angles especially if you climb up and walk around the ramparts.

castelo-de-sao-jorge-panorama-4-640x255

Another stunning view from the Castelo de Sao Jorge

castelo-de-sao-jorge-montage-1

Clockwise L to R: View of Castelo de Sao Jorge from our apartment; entering the fort; the ramparts; the nearby archaeological site; the main entrance to the castle is a short walk up hill from Largos das Portas do Sol.

We spent the rest of that day wandering back down through Alfama, stopping to admire the wares at the Feira da Ladra (The Thieves Market) and to visit the Panteo Nacional at the Church of Santa Engracia.

fearie-de-ladre-montage

The Feira da Ladra: My vintage handbag (bottom right) was a bargain and I managed to squeeze it into my carry-on to get it home. Happy days!

panteo-nacional-montage

Clockwise from top left: The dome of the church of Santa Engracia against a bright blue sky; interior view at ground level; another fantastic spot to capture the view; eagle eye view of the interior; a moment to rest in the shade.

The hill on the left

Looking left from the Praca do Comercio you can see Bairro Alto rising up from Chiado with the viewing deck of the Elevador de Santa Justa just visible between the roof tops.

santa-justa-baixa-montage

Santa Justa views: From Baixa at the bottom (left) and of the spot we stood from the viewing deck at the top (right).

Rather than join the queue to go up in the lift from Baixa, we took an alternative – and more circuitous – route to get to the top. We caught the #28 tram from Martim Moniz early Wednesday morning, weaving through the hilly streets around the castle and down through Alfama (much easier on the legs than all of the walking we did the day before). We got off at the Biaxa-Chiado Metro station for breakfast at the nearby Cafe A Brasileira in Rue Garrett before the short walk up the hill to visit the 14th century ruins of Igreja do Carmo.

igreja-do-carmo-montage

Top left: The magnificent entrance to the remains of the old carmelite church that remain standing from the earthquake in 1755. Right: View of the site from the viewing deck of the Santa Justa elevator.

After a couple of hours here we walked straight across to the viewing deck entrance at the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa and took in the stunning views from the other side of the valley.

santa-justa-montage

Left: Spiral stairs lead up to the viewing platform. Right: Yet another spectacular view across Lisbon to the Castelo de Sao Jorge on the opposite hill.

Then it was a wander through the streets of Bairro Alto before catching the Elevador da Gloria (a funicular running between Restauradores and Bairro Alto) back down to the valley again.

barrio-alto-montage

Scenes from our wanders through Bairro Alto and the funicular that transported us down the hill again.

We had been told that the time to really see Bairro Alto come to life is at night but it was pleasant to walk through the streets in the sunshine and take our time. We ended up at an outdoor cafe on Miradour de San Pedro de Alcantara eating, drinking and listening to a bit of Marvin Gaye under the trees.

Belem

And finally we went a little further afield and took the HOHO bus out to Belem. There’s plenty to see and do including…

…the Monument to the Discoveries – covered with scaffolding…

monument-to-the-discoveries-2-640x480

…and the Torre de Belem, where the queue was so long, we didn’t go in.

torre-belem-2-640x360

Thankfully we had better luck at the Jeronimos Monastery

jeronimos-monastery-panorama-1-640x332

jeronimos-monastery-panorama-2

…where we spent a glorious couple of hours wandering through the cloisters, the refectory and the church where the tomb of Vasco da Gama lies. We took loads of photos here but it’s really difficult to do it justice. Suffice to say it is absolutely worth the visit but leave yourself plenty of time to see everything, perhaps taking a meander through the market as well as popping across the road to Pasteis de Belem for a custard tart.

So as you can imagine we had a pretty full four days and there were still plenty of things we did not see. But I hope in this and the last two posts, I’ve shared enough to whet your appetite for this wonderful city and all it has to offer.


Other posts in this series:

Lisbon: A big day out

The story so far: Lil Chicky and I managed a six day rendezvous in Lisbon at the beginning of October. We ate, walked, did a little shopping and took squillions of photos – here’s another installment of our adventures.

After a couple of days squeezing a whole lot of value out of our 48 hour HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) bus ticket, we decided to venture farther afield and let someone else take the reins. Cue Andre from Portuguese for a Day tours who collected us from our apartment on a bright blue-sky Monday morning and drove us to the mountain village of Sintra.

For those of you who don’t know, Sintra is a UNESCO Cultural Landscape site set amidst the cool woodlands on Serra de Sintra about a 30-40 minute drive from Lisbon. It’s the site of many royal summer palaces featuring a range of architectures and this makes Sintra a really delightful and interesting day out of Lisbon’s hurly burly.

This was Lil Chicky’s first trip so she wanted to see and learn ‘lots’ whilst I went to Sintra as part of a tour back in 2002 – our then group spent time at the National Palace of Queluz but got very little time in Sintra itself so I was keen to see something different and take a little time to relax. With Andre’s help, we got all of that and more.

After a pleasant drive, full of getting-to-know-you chat as well as discussion about the area and the day ahead, we found ourselves on a shaded winding road, climbing up the mountain through Sintra itself and onto the Parque da Pena.

The park is absolutely huge and you could spend at least a day exploring all of its nooks and crannies but our focus was the spectacular Pena Palace. This summer palace was built for Dom Ferdinand II, consort of the young Queen Maria II (and cousin to Prince Albert who married England’s Queen Victoria) and is situated over the remains of a Hieronymite monastery found on the site in the 15th century.

There’s 15 minute steep-ish uphill walk to get to the palace but it’s absolutely worth it – we walked all over it and also around it, getting some fantastic views from the ramparts.

pena-panoramas

These panoramas were taken on my phone on the way up. Inspiring, yes but I found myself wondering throughout the visit – and since – how on earth could I represent the wonderful-ness of this place.

pena-palace-montage-2

L to R: View of the entrance archway from the ramparts; beautiful blue and white tiles cover this part of the building; I captured this quiet moment on the way into the palace itself.

pena-palace-montage-1

There’s an absolute cornucopia of amazing colour and texture around every corner.

view-from-pena-palace-arches640x467

There were stunning views from everywhere but I especially loved this view of the coast through the Moorish arches.

Wandering around outside the palace is included in the park entrance fee but we also paid a few extra euros to go inside.

pena-interiors-montage

The palace interior was a bit crowded and warranted a bit more time than we had but was full of delicate detail, reflecting Ferdinand’s interest in the arts. But all of these trinkets take an awful lot of dusting…

We met Andre back at the entrance after 90 minutes and as we drove back towards Sintra, we had a chat about what to do next. But it was as we drove past Quinta da Regaleira and heard Andre’s stories about the eccentric millionaire with masonic connections who had it built in the early 1900’s that we were sold. So it was back out of the car and with map in hand, we spent an hour exploring the symbols of religion and the occult scattered amidst the web of shaded paths.

quinta-tunnels

Andre had told us about the network of secret tunnels and the Initiatic Well so we headed towards the Portal of the Guardians (top left) and entered the tunnel (top right). After a short walk we emerged at the Initiatic Well (bottom left) then climbed down the narrow spiral stairs to capture the view from the bottom (bottom right).

quinta-montage

A further wander around the gardens yielded a view of the country house, or quinta (top left), many towers and turrets nestled amidst the trees (top middle and right), the lake of the waterfall (bottom right) and a grand mosaic fountain near Leda’s Grotto (bottom left).

quinta-church

Before we headed back to meet Andre, we visited the tiny chapel nestled under the trees not far from the quinta itself.

We were feeling pretty hungry after this visit so Andre took us to a great place in Sintra called Adega das Caves where we sat outside and enjoyed a beer and some local fare – my cod fritters were delicious!

sintra-main-st

L to R: The blue tiles of the post office building – you can see the Adega das Caves entrance under the balcony; an interesting merchandising display overlooking our lunch position; driving past the Sintra National Palace.

Before leaving for the drive back to Lisbon, we stopped at Piriquita to stock up on Sintra’s claim to pastry fame (and Andre’s favourite Portuguese pastry) – the pillow-y travesseiro – so we had a little something sweet for the three of us on the way back. (I did not get any photos but there are great descriptions/photos provided in a blog post by Leigh and Lucy from their visit back in 2013.)

We started the meandering drive back to Lisbon along the coast, stopping first at Cabo da Roca.

cabo-da-roca-montage

Cabo da Roca is the western-most point of mainland Europe and lines up very nicely with New York on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. We stretched our legs, took some photos…and had a giggle at some of the tour groups milling around.

tour-bus-at-cabo-da-roca

Probably entirely innocent but it did look a bit like a bus for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Bunnies

And then it was back into the car for the drive past the beaches of Guincho and Estoril, and a 20 minutes leg stretch in Cascais before heading to one of Andre’s old haunts to enjoy a quiet moment watching the waves and savouring our travesseiros.

(As we drove in, we surprised an older couple necking in their car much to their embarrassment. Andre had told us he used to come here and drink with his mates so this was a great opportunity to tease him about what else he might have gotten up to.)

And with that the day was done and less than an hour later, we were deposited back at our apartment tired, windswept and absolutely thrilled with our Big Day Out.

me-kaz-andre-at-copa-da-roca

Andre from Portuguese for a Day Tours with his two happy customers at Cabo da Roca

Andre (and partner Filipa) are two enterprising locals running small group tours that showcase the country they love. Andre’s passion and knowledge was evident from the start and we had plenty of opportunities to shape the day as we wanted as well as relying on Andre’s recommendations about what we might enjoy. For me, it was a lovely way to revisit this area and enjoy a little local cameradie. I know Lil Chicky would join me in strongly recommending that you give them a try vs some of the larger operators offering similar tours in the area.

But don’t just take our word for it – you can also see what others thought here and if you fancy finding out more, here’s a link to the Portuguese for a Day Tours website.

And don’t forget to stay tuned for more from Chicky Tours Unlimited’s adventures in Lisbon – there’s more coming soon…once I sort more of my photos.

When a foodie goes to Lisbon

When you live so far away from loved ones, the opportunities to come together are precious and rare so when my sister told me she had to be in Europe for work/a conference for a couple of weeks, we decided to rendezvous in Lisbon for six days of sibling fun. This kind of jet-setting would have completely impressed me before I embarked on expat life – we found ourselves explaining our across-the-globe holiday planning a lot during the trip (our accents prompt a fair bit of inquiry) – and I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually ME in the story versus someone else.

Anyway Lisbon was fabulous. We had wonderful weather in the mid to high 20’s (Celsius), and we were never short of something to do, see, wander around or eat and drink. It’s a tough task to pick one post’s worth of highlights for you to peruse. So there’ll be a few posts in the series as I try and draw out the best of what was an amazing week.

My first post in an armchair tours series is not usually about food but quite frankly, I keep thinking about it and it’s like I can’t write about anything else until I scratch my foodie itch. So loosen your belts peeps, here goes…

Having never been to Lisbon before, one of of Lil Chicky’s most important introductions was to Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts. This is a complete departure from what Australians think of as a custard tart. A pastel de nata is a small bite (well about three bites really) of flaky pastry filled with a rich buttery eggy custard. Our first one of the trip was at Confeitaria Nacional on the corner of Praça da Figueira.

pasteis-de-nata-1

It went down a treat – so much so that we made it our mission to try a custard tart from a different place each day and nominate ‘the best’ at the end.

Lisbon is a hilly place and this, combined with an average of six to seven kilometers of walking each day, meant we found plenty of reasons to stop and refuel wherever we were.

assorted-vittels

L to R: Delicious gelati (she had raspberry, I had passionfruit) at Gelateria Portuguesa just around the corner from the entrance to the Castel de Sao Jorge; caffeine kept us going and the Portuguese make pretty good coffee; our first Caipirinha was sipped from the rooftop bar at The Mundial on Martim Moniz with excellent views across to the castle.

Most evenings, we either wandered down to the food huts on Martim Moniz or grabbed some snack-type vittels and wine from the supermarket at the bottom of our building. We did try the Time Out Market on Sunday night with mixed results – Chicky’s meal was delicious but I was served cold, stringy and partially-cooked fries with my fish which the vendor refused to swap (that’s how we do it, I was told). Luckily the wine was good and Chicky found some freshly-made churros to ease my disappointment.

A few nights later we thought we should try some traditional cuisine. On the recommendation of a local, we snaffled an outdoor table at Cervejaria A Lota in Restauradores and to the cacophony of a strident spruiking battle between a couple of the restaurants in the street, we enjoyed a(nother) Portuguese red wine, grilled sardines and a mixed bill of mains.

a-lota

Far right: My delicious fish and rice ‘stew’ (monkfish, shrimps, clams served with rice in a tomato and herb broth) is in the foreground. Chicky got adventurous and went for the wild boar (in the background) which she said was okay – game-y and quite salty.

Our final day was one abridged by departures (Chicky to her conference hotel and me back to London) so we booked a foodie walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We spent several hours with Celia (our guide) and a Brazilian couple (just off the plane from Sao Paulo) learning about and tasting Portuguese food. It started with a wander around the Time Out Market (it’s also called the Mercado da Ribeiro) with Celia explaining the elements of traditional Portuguese cooking and introducing us to a few familiar and unfamiliar ingredients…

mercado-di-ribeiro

…before settling us at a table for our first eating and drinking of the tour – some ‘toasties’ filled with local ingredients, a platter of fresh figs and amazing sheep’s milk cheese and a glass of Vinho Verde.

Next we moved to a little store next to the market selling Ginja, a Portuguese digestif made from sour cherries. Celia explained that one way of serving it was to sip it from a dark chocolate cup followed by eating said chocolate cup. Oh well, when in Rome Lisbon and all that…

ginja

Next it was a short walk to visit to a traditional grocery store where we were introduced to a number of ingredients essential to Portuguese cuisine. We also tried muxuma, a dried and cured tuna that tasted a lot like bacon to me. Quite delicious!

grocery-shopping

Clockwise from top left: Tinned fish is everywhere and there are so many brands; dried and salted cod or bacalhau which is soaked for at least a day before using it in any of a variety of dishes; pulses and grains are a big part of the Portuguese diet; carob pods.

Our next stop was the Cantina das Freiras which is linked to a charity dedicated to helping women in trouble. We entered a nondescript building in Chiado, took the elevator up and walked through the dining hall to be greeted by an amazing view of the Christo Rei across the River Tagus. We had a brief stop here to enjoy a cold glass of gazpacho and a home-made cod fritter in the sunshine.

charity-begins-with-a-view

Our next stop was for lunch at Restaurante Vicente at the bottom end of Rua das Flores. We had an array of Portuguese dishes to try along with a(nother) bottle of red wine. I loved the delicate flavours in the octopus salad and I think everyone nominated the tempura green beans as a favourite.

We were pretty full by this time but Celia promised us that the walk up the hill to our final stop – for pasteis de nata – would be worth it. So off we waddled.

We made an unscheduled stop on the way at By The Wine – about halfway up Rua das Flores – for a cheeky glass of Portuguese muscat. Celia explained that this was not normally on the tour but as Chicky and I had originally booked for the tour on the Sunday evening prior and the guide had cancelled due to illness, this was by way of an apology from Culinary Backstreets. Apologise away I say!

muscat-by-the-bar-lisbon

Top: The arched ceiling is lined with over 3,000 bottles Bottom: Gloriously golden muscat – when in Rome Lisbon…oh wait, I already said that…

Then we arrived. A tiny door led us off the bustling Largo de Camões into a narrow shop with a very special window into heaven…

manteigaria

Manteigaria fabrica de pasteis de nata make only Portuguese custard tarts and we stood at the window watching the staff cut the dough, form the bases, make and pour the custard and pop those little cups of delicious-ness in the oven….whilst sipping espresso and munching on the best pasteis de nata of our trip – by far! Celia said something about them using butter whilst most use margarine…but I barely heard and have already recommended this place to a number of people since I’ve been back in London including a colleague who is married to a Portuguese fella. She gave me a few recommendations before the trip and it gave me great joy to return the favour – she’s keen to check out this paragon to pasteis for herself when she’s there for Christmas with the family.

And with that (and before I exploded), the tour ended so we got some final recommendations from Celia (anyone been to Taberna do Mercado in London?), hugged good-bye and poured ourselves into a cab for the dash back to the hotel/airport.

So in summary, Lisbon is a foodie paradise. No matter whether you stick to a budget, embark on a culinary discovery tour or lash out at the top end (the latter I didn’t not experience directly but I overheard some people enthusing about this on the flight back), you could do a lot worse (and I have) travelling throughout Europe. And don’t worry about all of those pastries for breakfast/lunch/with coffee, you’ll definitely burn some calories walking around…and up…and down.

I’ve included some links below to help you with your foodie planning (don’t say I didn’t warn you) and I’ll be back with more of our Lisbon adventures soon.

——————————————————–

Our rooftop Caipirinha was at The Mundial, Praca de Martim Moniz

Our pasteis de nata trail: (from least to most favourite):

You’ll find information on our Lisbon Eats walking tour at https://culinarybackstreets.com/

Caffeine connections

September turned out to be a packed month and given we are mid-October already, you may all rest-assured that I have plenty to post about over the coming weeks. It’s been a run of reminiscing as I have bounced around between regular catch ups and lots of old friends that I have not seen for absolutely ages.

The month started with a work alumni event. I posted earlier in the year about the changes at work and this has meant that many people who worked in the same office as I do have left. In an effort to maintain connections, one of the leavers set up an Alumni Group on LinkedIn and so on the first of the month, on a rather warm and pleasant evening, sixteen of us gathered on board the Tattershall Castle for a tipple or two. Some of us are still working out our notice, some were on the verge of beginning new jobs while others were revelling in the time and space they’d had to do nothing but enjoy their Summer. It was great to see everyone and at the same time, observe life moving on…and at quite a rapid clip!

The following week I caught up with an old boss of mine from almost eight years ago. We could not believe it had been so long and we spent a couple of hours reminiscing about our ‘battles’ in the travel industry and what we’d each achieved ‘back then’ as well as the people we’d worked alongside and continue to stay in touch with. This was also a fantastic reminder of the kind of work I did at this company, the kind that I love to do, and it was such a timely and valuable prompt for me to stay ‘true to my course‘ in navigating the uncertain times ahead.

The next week, I managed to get a gig for breakfast at the fabulous Shoreditch House. This particular friend of mine started out as an agency contact which then segued into a few social, theatre-type outings every few months and we’ve since decided that this hanging out together from time to time is a pretty good idea. She’s great company – one of those well-connected yet down-to-earth types with loads of stories and chat – and works right on Shoreditch High Street. So on a clear Thursday morning, I skedaddled in from the hustle and bustle of the main street and up to the 6th floor to enjoy some poached eggs and avocado on toast with a view over East London on one side and people having a leisurely morning dip in the House’s rooftop pool on the other. (I mean seriously, don’t these people have jobs to go to?)

Towards the end of the month, an Australian friend I hadn’t seen for over six years was in London so I booked us into Ceviche, one of my favourite restaurants. It’s in Soho and while it is on the hubbub of Frith Street, it is so unassuming it’s easy to miss as you weave along the narrow footpath. We spent four and a half hours nattering over cocktails and delicious Peruvian tapas plates before launching into a decadent chocolate dessert…each. (No way were we sharing that!)  It was great to see her well and happy with her life back in Oz.

And then I ended the month by flying to Lisbon (the one in Portugal) to spend a week with Lil Chicky – the ultimate catch up! We were there for six days so I have plenty of fodder for a few posts which will seriously whet your appetite and make your feet itch!

In between all of this, there was a little reflection on trust, a return to yoga and the I-almost-missed-the-whole-of-2016 discovery of the wonderful Prudential Series at The China Exchange. I also consumed an inordinate amount of coffee across my regular catch ups and many other connections keen to chat about my what’s next.

coffee-l

And what’s next on Gidday from the UK I hear you ask?

Well peeps, keep your eyes peeled for a few glimpses of what Chicky Tours Unlimited got up to in Lisbon. It’s coming soon…

But wait, there’s more

On my last visit Down Under,  Dad & B introduced Lil Chicky and I to Geocaching. It’s a bit like orienteering which I used to participate in pretty begrudgingly on school camps and throughout my Brownie years. You use a GPS-enabled smartphone instead of a compass and a physical map (you know, of the paper variety) to find something i.e. a cache. It’s like a technological treasure hunt.

It’s quite enjoyable and great for getting you active and out in the fresh air. And it’s hugely addictive: The urge to be the first in your group to find ‘it’ means that as you get closer, the casual chatting dwindles and scanning every square centimeter of your environment in the hopes of cracking the clue takes precedence. Some caches are extremely well-camouflaged and it can take a combination of an eagle eye and a willingness to get your hands dirty and rummage around in the undergrowth to uncover one.

As with any addiction, there’s always ‘just one more’. Borne on by the thrill of finding the next one, it’s really easy to end up wandering much further afield than you intended. In continuing the family geocaching legacy back in London, after an afternoon spent geocaching around Dollis Park, we had a sweaty 40 minute fast walk trot back to the flat in time for Lil Chicky’s airport pickup – we made it with about ten minutes to spare.

On a different afternoon, after a lengthy search Lil Chicky and I finally found the much-sought-after cache in a North London park…by torchlight (another of the smartphone’s many advantages). I would just like to pause here and point out that it was January in London and the sun disappears early and fast at that time of year. It also meant we found ourselves locked in said park. The good news is that after a helpful tip from a couple of passers-by, we did manage to squeeze out around one of the more loosely-chained gates and caught the bus home…because we’d walked so much further than we’d planned.

I can only imagine that Pokemon Go is a bit like this…magnified. For those who don’t know, people use their smartphones to track virtual quarry – Pokemon – located at poke stops (which can be pretty much anywhere). Since its launch on iOS this week, the news has been full of the mayhem created by hundreds converging on particular poke stops to capture rare and valuable Pokemon species. (Check out this footage from The Telegraph in Washington, USA).

You may well laugh – I did – but it appears that we are a society of hunters and collectors, always searching for something and once acquired, moving quickly on to the next thing.

This is not new: Our most popular and enduring narratives are all based on the search for something, be they myths, legends, fairy tales or real-life chronicles. History and philosophy are full of stories about the quest for territory, for power, for peace, for love, for truth – and the satisfaction of acquiring ‘it’ in the end.

So the whole Pokemon Go thing has me wondering, in a chicken-and-egg kind of way, is humankind hard-wired for dissatisfaction or is it an innate competitiveness that drives us to search for more?  Which comes first? And is survival of the fittest – fittest being defined as those who best master the tenets deemed most valuable at any given period in time – a result of nature or nurture?

What do you think?

Will we ever have enough or will we always be caught up in the search for something more?

Let’s make it a good one

Here we are at New Year’s Eve again. The year’s gone by so quickly and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was trying to stay cool last New Year’s Eve Down Under. Time flies doesn’t it? And speaking of fun, I’ve managed quite a bit of it over the last 12 months.

After returning from my bi-annual pilgrimage to Melbourne (and a fab top-up visit from Lil Chicky) in January, travelling-for-work was much less frequent this year but I managed to find some cash and conquer some new frontiers. Ten days in Seattle with Seattle-A heralded my first trip to Canada, I spent four fabulous days in Stockholm at the start of August and then jetted off for a week of sun, sand and a whole swag of reading in Mauritius in November.

Speaking of reading, I smashed my book-a-week target by 25% (I read 65) and 8 of them got a Gidday 5-star rating (that’s 12.5%). I discovered Henning Mankell recently and will be reading more of his Kurt Wallander series next year. And while it doesn’t count in 2015’s quota, I am in the middle of my first Philip Kerr – March Violets with protagonist PI Bernard Gunther – and if things continue as they are, the new year looks set to start with another big fat 5 star rating. Awesome.

There have been many theatre outings over the year, Death of a Salesman being one that I studied at high school yet hadn’t seen and the most recent being Hangmen which featured a cracking ‘noir’ plot and really great characterisation. I’ve also been back to Sadlers Wells to be swept away by the Rambert Dance Company and transported to Spain at the opening of the London Flamenco Festival.

I’ve upped my Live Screening ante enjoying some new (well new to me) Shakespeare – Love’s Labors Lost, Othello and The Winters Tale – and several operas including my first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Mikado. Live Screening also delivered a theatre highlight – Man and Superman – and a new crush, Ralph Fiennes. When seeing his face alight with joy in taking the final bows, well I may have had a little weak-at-the-knees moment…okay maybe not so little.

I’m finishing the year with a two week staycation. Christmas was spent with friends in SE London and aside from an outing to Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral with another friend yesterday, I have just enjoyed being at home. I’ve still got five days off before I go back to work so plenty of time of time to complete my Christmas jigsaw puzzle, finish March Violets and catch up with friends for a little Star Wars, drinks and dinner.

It’s almost midnight here, Bryan Adams is rockin’ it out on the telly and before long, the crackle of fireworks will be heard overhead as those locally organised start the new year with a bang. All that remains is for me to wish you the very best for 2016…

FB_IMG_1451605786209

Let’s make it a good one.

Twinkle twinkle

It’s the first weekend in December and here at Gidday HQ, that means that it’s time to get festive and put up the Christmas tree.

I love doing this, especially as I only do this every second year when my Christmas is a London-based one. It reminds me of living at home in my late teens/early 20’s when, for a few short years, Lil Chicky and I would set aside an afternoon to decorate the Christmas tree at Mum’s together. The tree itself usually needed some MacGyver-like ingenuity to ensure it stood tall and straight for the festive period and bore up under the weight of copious amounts of tinsel and general Christmas bling.

So today I pulled the boxes down from the high cupboards. I tested all the lights and untangled the string of gold beads that I drape in lieu of tinsel. And I laid out all of the ornaments I have collected over the years – from my travels, gifts from friends and family and nods to my Dutch and Australian heritage – and with the jingling bells of Christmas movies on TV in the background, Gidday HQ  got  a dose of Christmas spirit. Here are just a few of my favourite festive things…

Aussie Xmas Wreath (360x640)

My wreath has had an Aussie update this year

Dusseldorf Santa(360x640)

I bought this fantastic festive tea-light holder in Dusseldorf in 1999

Ornament bowl(640x360)

The tree gets quite full so in recent years I’ve taken to displaying some ornaments separately – the gold and red baubles are personalised ones from Mum and the one in the middle is a nod to sisterhood from Lil Chicky

New York(360x640)

Here’s a bauble from a work trip to the Big Apple in 2005  (it had to be done)…

Krakow (360x640)

…and this hand-painted glass bell was purchased in Rynek Glowny (the main square) in Krakow in 2012

Angel (360x640)

For years my tree has featured this hand-made (not by me!) angel – this year she’s sitting on an apple to keep her upright.

IMAG3943 (359x640) (2)

I love this fabulous shoe, unearthed from a Christmas stocking during one of my bi-annual pilgrimages Down Under (my mother knows me well).

Ballerina (360x640)

Lil Chicky snuck this back from our Amsterdam trip in 2013 and hid it in my flat for me to find…

Japan (360x640)

…and she gave me this one courtesy of her trip to Japan in 2014.

I have A LOT of Dutch ornaments. I just can’t help bringing a little piece of my ancestry back from every visit I make.  You see, there’s a fabulous Christmas shop down by the Singel flower market in Amsterdam – I’m sure I’ve kept them in business – where I spend my last day on each visit working out how to get these fragile purchases a) into my already full luggage and b) back home in one piece.

I’ve managed to restrain myself – here are just two of them…

Windmill (360x640)

Clogs (360x640)

Anyway, the deed is done. The tree is up, the lights are twinkling and Alfie Bear has donned his Christmas hat, ready to join in the festive fun. And there are already a few presents under the tree with this year’s Christmas bonanza from Mum arriving a couple of weeks ago.

Alfie Bear+Xmas Tree (360x640)

Alfie Bear is a fixture at Gidday HQ, having come into my life as part of a redundancy gift in 2008 – he loves Christmas as much as I do.

So if I go missing in action at all, you’ll probably find me sitting on the comfy couch at Gidday HQ  admiring the view…

There are 19 sleeps to go until the big day peeps – are you feeling festive yet?

What Lies Before Me…

Here we are at another 1st and this time it’s the first of May…

Ooops! This is what happens when good intentions get waylaid and a person gets laid low by a hideous migraine.

But I’m back, albeit a little overdue, which means it’s time for another Calendar Challenge


There are the obvious ‘lush’ perspectives here (although in the last few days, I have never felt less like a drink in my life). There’s the social glue of getting together with friends and putting the world to rights. The importance of a cracking red with a new ‘local’ pizza at the end of countless moving-house-again days. The virtual Cheers! across the miles with Lil Chicky via WhatsApp or Facebook. In fact, the sheer necessity of such an indugence if one is to have a balanced outlook on life.

And this brings me to an important point, one which a friend and I were discussing a few weeks back over…you guessed it…a bottle of red. We have both come to realise that, at this point (we are in our mid-forties), we are at about the halfway point in our lifetimes. (All going according to the statistics of course – as an Aussie sheila, it’s expected I’ll be popping my clogs at 85.6.)

Anyway, it made for some interesting discussion about what we would do and in fact what the world would be like for the next 40 years or so. Will our jobs still exist and if they do, what are the chances of us wanting to do them? And for how long? Where will we live? What things will we do to inform, amuse, educate, indulge ourselves? How do we shape the years that stretch ahead of us before they shape us? How much planning do we do and how much should we leave to serendipity, chance or spontaneous gut feeling?

I have no answers, this being a new and slightly unsettling line of thought for me. My life right now feels really full and fabulous, like the work of the last 44 years has come to fruition and given me the life I always dreamed of. Even so, I found myself picking up Investors Chronicle magazine with my Saturday paper this morning and over the last week or so ‘google writing courses’ keeps popping up on my mental to-do list. And I swear there’s that brine-y cloying smell of the sea in my future somewhere.

It’s not that I’m racing off into the wild blue yonder – breaking the glass in an emergency so to speak – with any of this yet but this recent twist of the kaleidoscope has made me wonder what would make me happiest in my future and how I give myself the wherewithal to be there, wherever there turns out to be.

My move to the UK was driven by that deep-down feeling in my gut that this was what was right and next in my life. And it was sudden so it makes me wonder what the next catalyst for change in life as I know it will be. I sincerely hope it won’t be anything tragic. Perhaps it will just sneak up surreptitiously, moving me along a gentler path until suddenly I look around and say, ‘Aah yes, this is exactly where I am meant to be.’ 

Life has a funny way of showing us a path when we least expect it but to my way of thinking, I need to take a few more steps off the beaten track and forage about in the undergrowth a bit to understand what I might really like to have in my future.

Who knows what I might find. 

——————————-
Calendar Challenge 2014 – Back Catalogue
Keep Calm And Carry On
Sour Grapes
Water Water Everywhere

On The Shore