Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mmmm noodles!

I love Chinese food. I didn't always eat it, as it wasn't exactly popular where I grew up. I was introduced to it by Del, my Singaporean pen-friend. She came to visit me in Athens some 15 years ago, and was amazed that I'd never tried it despite the fact that there was a Vietnamese restaurant just a couple of blocks from my flat. We arranged to eat there one evening and I still remember what we had: shark fin soup, nem (Vietnamese spring rolls), sweet & sour chicken and szechuan beef. That meal obviously made an impression on me, as I usually can't remember what I ate yesterday, let alone half a lifetime ago.

I was hooked that evening, and went back to that restaurant time and time again with my friends, trying different dishes each time. It wasn't always a success - we once famously attempted to eat some bamboo skewers (the waiter almost collapsed in laughter and I'm pretty sure he cried too). In our defence, the skewers were small and thin, and we'd heard you could eat bamboo, only we didn't know the difference between bamboo shoots and bamboo sticks. We got the hang of it eventually.

These days I have Chinese food at least once a week, and often cook it at home. I love noodles. To me, they're the ultimate comfort food (well, except for chocolate I suppose). It was exactly what we needed today, as it's been cloudy and wet and not like summer at all. To cheer ourselves up we had lunch at our favourite noodle house, one of these places with the long tables and benches that became popular by "asian inspired" noodle restaurant chain Wagamama. "Our" noodle house is part of a much smaller and modest chain called Tai Won Mein, but it serves the best Chinese noodle dishes at very reasonable prices. The portions are huge too, which is brilliant if you've skipped breakfast, as we had. I had a mixed noodle soup (yum!), hubby had beef in black bean sauce, and we shared fried squid and spring rolls. As you can see, we polished it all off - and now feel a little less depressed about summer not making an appearance today.

Camping is a 3-star hotel

Many thanks to Gigi for donating this photo.

I guess it's fair to say that I'm not overly keen on camping. I can't see the attraction of sleeping on the floor, surrounded by creepy crawlies, separated from the great outdoors by nothing more substantial than a piece of cloth and having to share a bathroom with a load of strangers to boot. Not when I could have a proper bed, a concrete roof over my head and an en-suite bathroom.

I've been camping once - in Cornwall, during a rare, hot summer a few years back. It was OK. We had a double sleeping bag, bedsheets that fitted into it like a pocket (so the creepy crawlies couldn't crawl in) and proper pillows. The bar was lively, the atmosphere was good, the toilets clean. I spent most of my time in the car. My parents subjected my brother and me to a lot of car travel when we were kids. As a result, I'm quite happy in a car. Much happier than I am in a tent.

Since that trip to Cornwall I've not been anywhere near a campsite. However, I've stayed in several 3-star hotels, B&B's, rooms-to-rent and a cabana on a beach near Athens (now that was what I call camping: a little square room on the beach with a thick mattress on decking instead of a proper bed, air con, CD player, mini fridge, plasma TV with DVD player, en suite bathroom with jacuzzi shower, and a private porch with loungers - all within a short walk from bars, restaurants, cafes and ice-cream parlours).

So it was with great interest that I read about a campsite (in Cornwall, as it happens) where the tents are fully furnished. Hurray! Civilisation at last! They've got with real beds, tea lanterns, bedside tables, solar-powered lamps, chest of drawers, batik throws and wall hangings. You also have your own kitchen tent, which I'm not too excited about (your own kitchen implies you have to do your own cooking, and surely this defies the purpose of going on holiday?) but I suppose it's handy for making tea and coffee standing up as opposed to sitting cross-legged on the grass next to the creepy crawlies.

Even so, personally, if I went camping again (which is a big if anyway) I'd rather go in a caravan. I think I'd be quite happy in one like this:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chick lit extraordinaire

I've just finished reading Lucy in the Sky and had to tell you about it. It's Paige Toon's debut novel and it's a beautifully written, funny and heart-warming love story; easily the best chick lit I've read in a long, long time (with the possible exception of Marian Keyes's Anybody Out There, which was also brilliant, but way more depressing). Lucy in the Sky is a feel-good book, the kind you should take on hols with you, although I have to warn you, it's unputdownable. Don't let the somewhat naff synopsis put you off. After all, it's not the story per se that matters, but how you tell it - Paige Toon tells it very well indeed.

Five stars all round, and it's only £3.89 on Amazon ;-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

More Dickens parade photos

I've been meaning to sort through my pictures from the Dickens festival ever since I posted the first lot almost a week ago, but it's easier said than done. I suppose I shouldn't have taken 600-odd photos in the first place (OMG I'm insane)!!

I had a go this evening, so here are more photos from the parade itself. How many Dickens characters can you spot?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Dickens extravaganza

Last Saturday I took a trip to Rochester, a town situated approx. 50 km (30 miles) southeast of London, where the Dickens Festival takes place at the beginning of June each year. Rochester has a strong connection with Charles Dickens, who lived in the area as a child, and again for 13 years prior to his death in 1870. Many of his novels include references to Rochester and the surrounding area. 'Restoration House' was the inspiration for Satis House in Great Expectations, where Miss Havisham lived.

Rochester is a beautiful town, situated next to the river Medway. It’s full of old, lopsided, half-timbered buildings, most of which date back to the 18th century, while others are some 600 years old. The long high street with its medieval city walls is lined with little boutiques, caf├ęs and interesting souvenir shops, and is a pleasure to walk along. The main attractions are the Cathedral and Castle, one of the finest examples of Norman castle architecture to be found in England. It’s an interesting place to visit anyway, and more so during the festival.

I heard about the festival quite by chance, and if I’m honest, I only went because I had nothing better to do and it was a sunny day - a shame to spend it indoors, as we’ve not had that much sun so far this summer. I expected a fun event, but what I found was way better. Words can’t describe the colourful parade, music, dance, drama, and street theatre. There were stalls, a fun fair and various events within the Castle grounds. The atmosphere had a buzz similar to that of a German Christmas market, but in a summer setting. The most amazing thing was the large number of people in Victorian costume mixing with modern-day visitors. It was almost surreal to see a Victorian lady talking on a mobile phone or Oliver Twist having afternoon tea at the next table.

I’m reliably informed that there is nowhere else in the world you can see a festival of all Dickens characters, which include Scrooge, Oliver Twist, Magwitch, Pip, Miss Havisham, Bill Sykes with his faithful dog Bullseye, and many more. It really was extraordinary, and I’m surprised the festival isn’t even more popular than it is. Actually I shouldn’t be saying that, because part of the pleasure was in that there weren’t too many people around. It was crowded, and you had to queue for food and ice-cream, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Busy, but not jam-packed. Loud, but not defeaning. In other words, just perfect!

Mr. Pickwick arrives by train to Rochester and heads the Saturday afternoon parade along the high street towards the Castle. These photos were taken outside the railway station just before the start of the parade. I hope that I've managed to capture the lively atmosphere.

Monday, June 04, 2007

This is fun

Click here to see a clock with a difference.

It's super cool!

They're having a laugh

OK guys and gals, here's the £400,000 question:

What is this?

Is it...

Errr, toss?
An utter joke?
Ugly, irrelevant and expensive?
A pile of poo?
Something a 2-year-old could come up with?
A cross between underpass graffiti and a Sex Pistols album?
Modern art?
Something that crawled out of the primeval swamp?
Truly awful?
The most expensive load of rubbish you've seen for some time?
The equivalent of yer Dad dancing at a party, down wiv the kidz?
A block of squares pushed together?
Or someone's idea of a laugh?

Well, let me tell you it's none of the above. It's an "emblem" that "will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world", no less.

According to the BBC, Prime Minister Tony Blair (yes, he's still around - just) said: "We want London 2012 not just to be about elite sporting success. When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life." Judging by the 2900-odd comments on BBC's website, it's fair to say that public opinion is somewhat at odds with the PM's overly optimistic view. There's already a petition to change the logo available on line, although I'm pretty sure that's not the change Tony was referring to.

In case you're wondering, the haphazard squares actually represent the date 2012. Oh yes they do.

Take a couple of steps back. Squint. You see it now, right?

I'm not sure what the choice of colour means exactly. The mind boggles, it really does.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Whatever next?!

Whilst looking online for a present for hubby's goddaughter, who's turning eight this month, we came across this Deluxe Miracle Jesus Action Figure, which "turns water into wine and feeds 5000 with five loaves and two fish" (included). What's even more worrying, the action figure has glow-in-the-dark hands.

I wonder if today's kids will grow up thinking Jesus was fluorescent?