Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back in London

It's been a while since I've written a post so I apologise. I should also apologise that I'm doing this while tipsy. Having spent less than two weeks in my London house with the housemates in the last two months, we decided to pick up some wine and cheese tonight and celebrate being back in London.

So after leaving Edinburgh (tear) in mid August, I returned to London for a day before flying to Melbourne for two weeks to vote and to turn 25. It was probably the only two weeks of the year where Melbourne was colder than Edinburgh. Lucky me. Despite the chill, there was something familiar and comforting about a Melbourne winter - noticeably different from the much harsher UK chill. Melbourne was just as I remembered it, minus, Lounge Downstairs on Swanston St. No more 2 for 1 cocktails and yummy pizzas.

A few weeks ago, I began compiling a list of food from Melbourne that I missed most. I decided to tackle that list during my Melbourne stay. Papa Gino's, Vue de Monde, Amigos, Flower Drum, Max Brenner, Hairy Canary, Hellenic Republic, Little Cupcakes - I am still recovering from the marathon food fest.

Now back in London, it's back to business with the start of my job hunt this week. I'm excited and looking forward to re-entering the workforce, having spent the last four months travelling. Wish me luck.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Be Spontaneous at Edinburgh Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has kicked off for another year and with more than 2400 shows on offer throughout the month of August, including comedy, theatre, dance, musicals, exhibitions and events, one can easily feel both blessed and overwhelmed by the largest arts festival in the world.

As always, the Fringe attracts some of the biggest names in the field while offering opportunities for newer performers to showcase their art form or simply workshop their ideas. The diversity of the program is reflected in the diversity of the audiences that flock to Edinburgh this time every year.

To truly get the Fringe experience, the most important thing to remember as a visitor is to take risks. Try out shows whose names are less familiar. Or better yet, venture into a genre you wouldn’t normally see. With affordable tickets and a plethora of shows to choose from, you could very well discover something new in the arts or about yourself.

While Edinburgh’s offerings allow visitors to line up one show after another, don’t forget to take the time to simply wander the streets, soaking up the atmosphere of the festival. Street performers, human statues and even the people handing out flyers in their droves (many get quite creative in their bid to win attention) all add to the colour, vibrancy and noise of the city and the experience.

It’s hard to ignore that the city of Edinburgh itself is on show, audaciously refusing to get lost amidst the frenzy of the festival. How can it, with such a dramatic landscape and, not to mention, imposing castle dominating the city? If ever you need a break from the bustle or from the rain, simply duck into the National Galleries of Scotland and perhaps spend an hour with the Impressionists. A number of guided walks of the city – from costumed to historic – also feature in this year’s Fringe program and are well worth checking out. Many are free to join.

One of my favourite shows at this year’s Fringe is Spontaneous Broadway. An Australian improvisation group, the seasoned cast and orchestra (ok, piano and percussion, but they’re very good) perform musical numbers on the spot based on song titles suggested by the audience. What takes place over the next hour are unpredictable plots, clever songs, and hilarious antics that will have you begging for more. On opening night, we heard about a check-out chick’s lost panties and entered the world of weight loss camp “Chubbyland”. I simply had to return to see the show again later in the week and was, subsequently, convinced that this quick-thinking team of artists really do improvise EVERYTHING on the spot, as the audience that night was transported to a circus love triangle, a musical about optometry and a rather awkward moment in the bedroom. The cast of Spontaneous Broadway are versatile, talented and a lot of fun, and indeed set the bar for the calibre of talent at this year’s Fringe Festival.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from 6 to 30 August 2010.

Spontaneous Broadway is showing until 29 August, 5pm at The Famous Spiegeltent (not Mondays).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Creativity in the Kitchen

Within a week of arriving in London, I had sent a desperate and embarrassing email to my mum asking for some easy recipes. A prompt reply email equipped me with the basics to get me through the next few months. The recipes were simple to follow and had to be very specific. For some, you couldn’t even call recipes, mere cooking instructions, eg. how to boil an egg. Pancakes, chicken stir fry, pasta, carbonara sauce, potato salad, mashed potatoes, bread and butter pudding, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs. (I already knew how to fry eggs. Go me.) I’ve generally been living off a rotation of these foods when I haven’t been on the road. That and take-out.

Therefore, I’m super pleased to show off tonight’s dinner.

This is my basil pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes and bocconcini. Until recently, I’ve been quite content scooping pesto from the jar and stirring it through the pasta. But while browsing the aisles of Marks & Spencer, I came across a nifty little tub of sundried tomatoes and bocconcini. They seemed Italian, my pasta was Italian. It was meant to be. Beside it is a potato salad, which I’ve made a few times already. Today, I added a scoop of seeded mustard with garlic, something I picked up recently in the Cotswolds.

I doubt this will impress the likes of Matt Preston, but I'm definitely very proud of my efforts.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Night Market at Djemaa el-Fna

I just stumbled upon the above photo while tidying my photo albums. The while coats, bright lights and mountain of food took me right back to Marrakech's main square, Djemaa el-Fna, and the nightly food market that emerges in the crazy centre of the city.

About a hundred stalls line the square in white canvass marquees, each stocked with kebabs, fish, sausages, tasty vegetables and many things I couldn't even recognise but looked delicious anyway. Dishes are cooked for you fresh and this is evident by the clouds of smoke and incredible smells being produced left, right and centre. Diners sit on communal tables in long rows, very intimately as seating space at each stall is limited. A memorable dining experience is almost guaranteed.

Walking through this market was one of the most insane experiences I had while in Morocco and part of the reason why I barely remember even taking this picture. Touters vying for your attention and business are eager, persistent, unrelenting and even pushy, making Shanghai's Xiang Yang market look like a walk in the park. At one stage, I had a group of four or five men from different stalls form a circle around me all pressing laminated, grease-covered menus into my face and attempting to pull me to the direction of their stall. It took some very high-pitched squealing to be released from this, only to have it happen to me again ten metres down the square with about four or five different men. This is a typical experience for many tourists in Marrakech.

The rest of the market stays open until about 9.30pm, making it a perfect place to have a post-dinner stroll. The shop owners are generally less in your face as they're winding down, giving you the opportunity to browse the leather, shoes, scarves, ceramics and lanterns at your leisure. You may also like to pick up a couple of sugar-coated sweets there for dessert as I'd done.

Djemaa el-Fna is truly unlike any other place in the world.

Monday, August 2, 2010


A few weeks ago, I watched Hamish and Andy's Caravan of Courage Great Britain and Ireland on You Tube. The boys spent 12 days touring the UK and had some interesting experiences such as spending a night in a haunted castle, getting a wooden snake valued at Antiques Roadshow and searching for the Loch Ness monster. I'm not sure how they came about their adventures, but it certainly inspired me to get on the road and just see what happens. Plus, there were a number of things I wanted to do in England, some of which have been on my wishlist for many years. This included finding the filming location of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, seeing Haworth and the home of the Bronte sisters, spending a night in a Cotswold village, touring Christ Church College legally, as well as spending some time with friends in Bishop Auckland and Sheffield.

So, with the boys' sense of adventure as my inspiration, minus the caravan, bagpipes and pipe flute, I left London with no set plan or hostels booked and only a vague idea of a return date. Very uncharacteristic of me as I usually love to be organised. I did, though, tell my housemate that if she didn't hear from me for a string of days to come find my body, which she kindly agreed to do.

Many times, I have read on travel blogs the fun of travelling solo. You get to dictate where to go and at what pace, when to get up, where to eat, and most importantly, you tend to meet more people. I wondered whether people said that to make themselves feel better and was, in all honesty, a little anxious about doing it alone. I can now attest that backpacking alone is truly one of the most liberating and rewarding experiences I have had. Sure, on arriving at Haworth’s Bronte Parsonage, I would liked to have had someone to squeal with (or at), but I would not have made it there in the first place without the gentle nudge of my roommate Annalina whom I had only met a day earlier. She raved about the parsonage and gave me all her travel instructions, bus timetables and the promise that I would not be disappointed. Her instructions were spot on and I was not disappointed.

Having read Jasper Fforde's novel The Eyre Affair, I was worried that the parsonage museum would be geared more towards tourists than literary enthusiasts. It was pleasing to find the house well cared for and displaying a solid collection of actual objects belonging to the Bronte family. While we weren't allowed to take pictures inside, I took this sneaky snap of the dining room as this is where the girls did a lot of their writing.

The information plaque reads, 'In the evenings, after the rest of the household had retired for the nght, the sisters would read and discuss their writing whilst walking around the table.'

As described in an earlier post, I made the pilgrimage to Lyme Hall, the National Trust property used in the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Here are some pictures from the visit.

I'm glad that this trip has taken me off the beaten track a bit. Visiting my ex-teacher in Bishop Auckland has allowed me to see parts of England I probably wouldn't have otherwise ventured. Durham, Seaton, Marsden Grotto, Eggleston Hall, Souter lighthouse and an enjoyable walk through farmlands and woodlands from the village of Hett which put my lazy body to the test. And the food! I ate so well those four days. It was nice being reminded that meals don't all come out of jars and packets! I've been inspired to be more daring with my cooking on my return to London. Thanks to my friends in Bishop Auckland for such a wonderful stay.

Sheffield was a different pace all together. I arrived during Grad week where the streets, by day, are lined with grads in gowns with their well-dressed parents, and by night turn feral and manky. I had fun though, being reminded of my uni days and indeed drinking days, of which I have had few since leaving Melbourne. My friend, who I met in Magaluf (something good did come out of that trip), still had a dissertation to write but nonetheless took time out to show me the best of Sheffield.

Another benefit of travelling alone? Market stall owners want to chat you up then give you free food. Sheffield happened to have a market set up the entire weekend I was there and this kind French man told me I was pretty and kept giving me sausages to try, despite my insistence that as a backpacker there is no way I can bring back sausages as souvenirs. The nuts and dried fruit man also gave me baklava for no charge after I told him how I haven't had it since leaving home. I had the money in my hands already too!

Somewhere in between I also visited York (awesome hostel), Scarborough (best cod and chips I've ever tasted), Whitby (home of Dracula), Liverpool (don't miss the International Slavery Museum) and the Cotswolds (cute, picturesque, bring a good book cos there's nothing to do after 5pm).

My last stop was Oxford. This was the only town that I had already previously visited before. But that was four years ago and I stayed only three hours from memory. I wanted to return to Oxford to see Christ Church College properly, the setting for the Harry Potter movies. Again, I have been in Christ Church before. But let me explain what happened last time we were there. My friend and I arrived at the gates just before 6pm, well after the college was closed to visitors. We needed to be back in London that night but desperately wanted to go inside so after being turned away by security, my friend instinctively pointed at a sidegate where a group of people were walking in and said we were with them. Well, that changed everything and we were allowed in. Following the crowd, we were led into the chapel for the 6pm Evensong service. By this stage it was too late to get ourselves out of the situation and we sat for an hour singing, or rather mumbling, things we had no clue about. At the end of the service, we snuck away from the crowds and ended up at the entrance to the dining hall, where we enthusiastically took Harry Potter inspired photos before being spotted by security. It was when the short, plump and angry looking woman radioed for back-up that we decided to remove ourselves.

Anyway, visit number two was less rushed but certainly less exciting. I realised that our previous visit pretty much took us to all the places that were included in the tour anyway, but with plenty more tourists and cameras. Katie from Wagga who I met in the hostel and who spent the day in Oxford with took this picture of me outside the dining hall. I have another picture almost identical from four years back where I looked much guiltier. I think it's on my computer in Melbourne, otherwise I would have posted the two side by side.

So after 17 days on the road, I returned to London with a bag of left over travel snacks, a much bigger bag of dirty laundry and more postcards than I would know what to do with. And being summer in England, not a hint of a tan.