Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

On today’s online version of Corriere della Sera an interesting video by Beijing based restauranteurs that explains a little about how to make it in Beijing with an Italian restaurant.

Difficulties catering to sophisticated Beijingren and sourcing genuine Italian products (such as mozzarella di bufala, salami, burrata etc).

PS. Sorry it’s all in Italian!!


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A dear friend of ours is going to Hanoi this Autumn and we were keen to list our ‘must eats’ and ‘must drinks’, afterall anything you need to see is on countless guidebooks right?

So here is a rundown of the places we recommend for supper and drinks in Hanoi.

1.Quan An Ngon

In a word: Heaven. Set in a stunning ex colonial villa this restaurant is regular haunt for overseas Vietnamese and tourists from Asia.

The inner rooms of the villa have been gutted to house ample dining rooms, while in the courtyard street food from all over Vietnam is prepared right under your eyes. For a more convivial experience try to grab a seat on one of the long tables in the yard and chat to your neighbours (also a good way of choosing what to order).

Service is slow, but most things are in Vietnam, so keep making orders to keep up pace.

Menus are only in Vietnamese so have a walk around the (crowded) perimeter of the courtyard to check out the various dishes on offer and their names. You can even see them being prepared right under your nose!

2. Au Lac

This one is simply romantic. Named after a legendary Vietnamese kingdom just north of Hanoi this restaurant is in the old school colonial style with vintage fans and the works.

Ask to be seated on the terrace and look out on the street below. Enjoy the peace (quite rare in Hanoi believe me!)

Service is attentive, not intrusive and a delight. Try the tamarind sauce at all costs- it’s gorgeous!

3. The Press Club

And we’re back on to the drinking (look it’s hot, you need to keep hydrated!)

The Press Club is an institution and a tradition and as a tradition I’d say it’s one worth honouring.

A stone’s throw away from Hanoi opera house (next to which in the Opera garden is a nice bar too), this is where the journalists used to hang out during the war. It has history and it shows as it feels like walking into the set of the movie Indochine.

4. Le Corner Café

This is a real little gem. Set up by a group of young entrepreneurial architects this little bar is beautiful and serves great drinks.

Set in a traditionally tall house you need to make your way up some very steep and windy steps to get to the first room. But unless you are on the water wagon you might want to stick to the downstairs bar so you don’t have to face the steps after a few too many of their delicious and ludicrously cheap cocktails.

How to get there:

1. Quan an ngon

Website: http://ngonhanoi.com.vn/

Address: 18 Phan Boi Chau, Quan Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

2. Au Lac

Address: 13 Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi

3. The Press Club

Website: http://www.hanoi-pressclub.com/

Address: 59A Ly Than To, Hanoi

4. Le Corner Cafe Hanoi

Address: 1A Trang Tien , Hanoi

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Deep in the rolling hills of Oltrepo Pavese every year an extraordinary tournament takes place. Sponsored by Cantina Travaglino, Calvignano cheese rollers from all over Italy meet here to er…roll a cheese up a hill.

Cantina Travaglino

You start from the bottom and throw your cheese rolling it off a belt-type thing to give it extra spin. The cheese has to roll in between certain marks and go higher than everyone else’s cheese, marks are set and you keep moving further up the hill.

The ‘Cantina’ is pretty old and their wine rather good so the event attracts as many people to watch the cheese rollers as it does general wine lovers on a day out.

Young they are not: like cheese, for cheese rolling you apparently need to age a bit before you get really good..

The precious cheese…

Some of these rounds of cheese are cherished for a year before they are taken out to compete. Sadly they all meet the same end and are eaten after the match.

Getting ready to roll…

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Un pomeriggio a Milano, or two actually as one of our house hunting afternoons was aborted due to bad weather and missed appointments- grrr

So anyways this is a little overview of the area currently selected as ideal place of abode for our sparkling Milanese future: Porta Genova/Navigli.

I’d heard about this mythical caffè Cucchi ( http://www.pasticceriacucchi.it) and the famous ‘Zuccotto‘ that they make there so insisted on paying it a visit.  I can’t comment on the Zuccotto yet but will give them their due on their assortment of pastries both savoury and sweet and the delicious croissants well hidden under a rather unimpressive café exterior.Personally I think it needs a restorative refurb but I’ll probably be lynched for suggesting that…

A little stroll in this area takes you from picture-post card Milan classics to quirky new businesses. Below are the well known ‘San Lorenzo columns’. These are actually a roman ruin built around what presumably used to be a roman bath. Now the basilica takes that place and the tram runs just below them. The Milanese love to meet here and linger a while to chat or have a beer on a summer evening.

By following the road pictured below (Via Porta Ticinese) you get eventually to the main canal (Naviglio Grande) and Darsena. This area is packed with restaurants, bars and all the nightlife you could possibly want. There are also plenty of vintage clothing and accessories shops as well as a couple of huge second-hand book shops which sell foreign language books and vintage furniture shops.

Plenty of foot-bridges cross the canal, but expect don’t expect car bridges.

Along the main canal (which gets pretty smelly in the summer by the way) are so many restaurants it seems impossible they all manage to stay in business, but actually the area is usually packed with tourists and locals almost all the time.

A leafy trattoria on the water’s edge:

Traditional Milanese trattoria offering risotto alla milanese (‘yellow’ saffron risotto’ )with marrow bone

Wine bars and pizzerias are also tucked in between the roads that lead off the canal.

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No, we weren’t taken aback by the Spanish siesta, late nights, food or anything like that.  What gave us culture shock was the sheer amount of art we saw in only 3 days. I swear I’ve never seen so many paintings in such a short space of time in my life, and to be honest I don’t want to either. By the time we got to the Goyas in the Prado I was so dehydrate and tired I couldn’t muster up half the enthusiasm I’d shown for less iconic works at the start.

Not that I don’t recommend visiting the museums in Madrid but maybe try to take your time over them or you risk spoiling the effect.

So, have a bocadillo de jamon (ham sandwich for the likes of us) and a drink of water before you enter the Prado then take a long break at the cafe while you’re in there or you risk withering before you get to El Greco.

On the same road as the Prado (so of course we visited it on the same day…) is the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum which is home to modern art and a lot of Flemish paintings which I’m not really into as everyone looks pasty and ill in them.

Also a stone’s throw from the Prado is the Caixa forum by Herzog and de Meuron. To be honest I’ve forgotten what was in it as the actual building is so cool.

The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is a whole lot  more lively. Although it’s modern and contemporary again it’s much mor interactive with installations and a nice little garden. The glass lifts down the front of it are quite cool too and the innner court is interesting. I suppose we can congratulate mr Nouvel on it. Whatever you do don’t eat at the restaurant just opposite on the piazza as it’s dire and over priced.

The inner court of the Reina Sofia museum (or back court am not sure how to describe it)…

And finally if you still have any energy left try the tapas at La Chata and wonder round the city in the evening for a taste of true Spanish night life.

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The unusual thing about Beijing, at least to the untrained eye, is that just outside the city there’s nothing much at, all just low bush. It’s a bit like the city has sprung out of the desert, a desert caused by the  pretty extreme weather with its static, sand storms, freezing winters and piping hot summers.

When you get into the first of a series of four ring-roads, however, the scenario completely changes and you are surrounded by a tall, modern urban sprawl. We spent a lot of time travelling into the centre from our third ring. And yes, I can confirm the traffic at rush hour is pretty dull and it takes ages to get about so… GET THE TUBE!

We took the tube everyday and ok, we probably didn’t travel in rush hour (but how many tourists do?) but we found it fast, modern, clean and efficient. All the stories about huge crowds, being unable to get off at your stop due to sheer mass of people are nonsense! If you’ve been on the London Underground at rush hour then this is a breeze. It’s even air conditioned.

Third ring-road

The iconic CCTV tower

Another view from  the ring-road

View from behind the China World tower

China world tower

China world tower

China world tower

One evening we were taken for drinks to the Sunlitun area known for its bars and a huge modern shopping and entertainment complex.

We didn’t visit the more grungy drinking dens that  have made this area famous, but stayed in the smart, new patch. It was pretty much like any ‘trendy’ place anywhere in the world, but if you have an interest in buildings (or drinking!!) then it’s worth visiting.

And finally the most iconic modern landmark in Beijing- Tian an men square. We only ever saw it from the opposite side of a busy road (the side the forbidden city is on) and were not tempted to risk our lives crossing into this big, grey pretty empty space.

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I came across this passage while reading Italo Calvino’s  ‘Sotto il sole giaguaro’, a book devoted to exploring the senses through narrative.

I am reportign it because I was struck with how closely it describes our travel ethic. So thanks Calvino for taking on the onus of explainig our philosophy much better than we could ever have done ourselves ,-)

What do you think? Load of nonsense or do we have a point?

“Questa era appunto una conclusione a cui ero giunto e che Olivia aveva prontamente fatto sua (o forse l’idea era stata Olivia a suggerirmela e io non avevo fatto che riproporgliela con parole mie): il vero viaggio, in quan­to introiezione d’un «fuori» diverso dal nostro abituale, implica un cambiamento totale dell’alimentazione, un inghiottire il paese visitato, nella sua fauna e flora e nella sua cultura (non solo le diverse pratiche della cu­cina e del condimento ma l’uso dei diversi strumenti con cui si schiaccia la farina o si rimesta il paiolo), fa­cendolo passare per le labbra e l’esofago. Questo è il so­lo modo di viaggiare che abbia un senso oggigiorno, quando tutto ciò che è visibile lo puoi vedere anche alla televisione senza muoverti dalla tua poltrona. (E non si obietti che lo stesso risultato si ha a frequentare i risto­ranti esotici delle nostre metropoli: essi falsano talmen­te la realtà della cucina cui pretendono di richiamarsi che, dal punto di vista dell’esperienza conoscitiva che se ne può trarre, equivalgono non a un documentario ma a una ricostruzione ambientale filmata in uno stu­dio cinematografico).”

My translation:

“This was the conclusion that I’d come to and that Olivia had promptly embraced (or perhaps Olivia had suggested the initial idea and I’d done nothing more than rephrase it): the real journey, seen as introduction of an ‘outside’ that is different from our usual setting, implies a total dietary change, a swallowing of the country visited, in its fauna and flora and culture ( not just the different cooking and seasoning habits but the use of different utensils to grind flour or stir the pot), making the country transit through the lips and oesophagus. This is the only way of travelling that makes sense nowadays, when everything that is visible can also be seen  from the television without getting out of your armchair. (And if you don’t object the same result is achieved through frequenting ethnic restaurants in our cities: they so alter the cuisine that they claim to reproduce that, from the point of view of the cognitive experience that can be drawn from them, they are equivalent not to a documentary but to a scenery filmed in a cinema studio).”

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