Mingalabar, “a warm welcome to Myanmar”

map asia myanmar inley lake An absolutely wonderful country, we had a fantastic time discovering a diverse and rich culture. Myanmar is attractive in many aspects and tourism is starting to develop. I felt like before posting photos and also to avoid novel-long posts, I should maybe start with a little introduction.

One thing is sure, you will be welcome, the government has actually sprinkled large signs displaying a “warmly welcome and take care of tourists” message all across the country. But Myanmar is not Thailand, if it’s amazing resort, beaches and nightlife that you are after, the quality for money may be better in the neighbouring country. For us at least, it was a cultural, quite active trip where we mostly rose up early and went to bed a couple of hours after sunset. Depending on your city / country balance it may change but even on the beach side, night life is down to a chilled cocktail and a good book.

Some of our friends organised their trip with a specialised travel agency that booked plane tickets, hotel and visas for them, it’s an option that I decided to skip. One because most of local travel agencies belong to the government, as well as airlines though, but also because planning is half the fun and I thoroughly enjoyed reading books, blogs, articles, asking expats and friends about their experiences.

Here are the bits and pieces of fact-finding and recommendations I collected, hope it can be useful.

Take-care-tourists
Warmly welcome and Take care of Tourists

How to travel responsibly?

“We want people to come to Burma, not to help the junta, but to help the people by understanding the situation: political, economic, moral – everything.”  U Win Tin , NLD leader, 2010

In a country that was opened to tourism only a couple of years ago, and where democracy is still a challenge, it’s a tough question to tourists. It’s almost impossible to know if and how to choose and agency, which hotel to book, and if to buy jade earrings or not. I am no expert and I probably did some things wrong, but that doesn’t mean there is no point trying. On top of that, it is difficult to turn a blind eye to sustainability issues: how to accommodate thousands of foreigners flocking a country that has (extremely) limited rubbish collection system, dubious water sewage etc…how to find a hotel that doesn’t recycle the chlore’d water from their swimming pool directly into the Inle lake?

When to go?

It is generally held that in Burma we do not have four seasons, we have only three, the hot season, the rainy season and the cold season. Spring is largely unknown although in the cooler border regions there is a stretch of pleasant, spring-like weather that we refer to as summer. (Letters from Burma – Aung San Suu Kyi)

A friend of us could only take time off work in August and still says that it was well worth the trip, adding a few light weight waterproof layers and heavier footwear. From what the locals told us, it seems that the rain season isn’t as heavy as in, say India for example, and especially in the north. Yet some attractions such as ballooning may not be available.
Proper summer starts in January until March and the touristy season starts before that. November was a great choice, not overly hot yet, the nature was really lush while we enjoyed a clear blue sky everywhere we went.

Administrative & other concerns

Visa: the embassy now offers an online service for $50 where one has to send their passport and gets their visas back by the post. I didn’t like the idea of mailing my passport and made a quick trip to the embassy, chit chatted with other travellers in the waiting room for 25min where we exchanged useful travelling info and only paid £14. It’s takes about a week to get the visa and they will keep your passport for that time. In theory you will need to have your flight booked already when requesting for a visa, but mine weren’t and I just left it blank…worked either way.

Money: I have seen a couple of ATMs, one of which at the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon actually, but by far the easiest is to bring brand new $100 notes with you and change them at the Yangon airport (we tried a few others downtown but this is where we got the best rate). Most change agents will only take crisp new notes and you will get a better change rate with $100 notes.
How much do you need? We have been counting at large to make sure we wouldn’t end up blocked, roughly airport transfers are the equivalent of $5 to 10, even treating ourselves we ate really well for less (sometimes way less) than $50 a day for 2 including a couple of local beers. I had pre-booked some of the hotels before leaving, you can get a good idea of how much you should budget for hotel spending using the Lonely Planet as a guide, and same for the main activities (hot air balloon needs to be pre-booked and paid online, things like trekking can go up to $50 a day for 2, renting bikes is normally only a couple of $. And we spent really little more than that, a few souvenirs, bike rentals (no more than a couple of $ if not free in some hotels), horse carts ride in Bagan ($7) or the odd boat rental in Inle ($15-20), and a few taxis especially in cities like Yangon or Mandalay.

Packing essentials

* I opted for a 55L front opening zipper bagpack with a 10L extension that proved a great companion. I followed other bloggers recommendations and loaded it with around 12kg, and left space for souvenirs and other little Christmas presents.
Also having a rucksack fitting in the overhead locker was hugely helpful for the local flights. Never mind the liquid limitations, there just isn’t any.
We have been recommended the packing cubes method as well for the ones who take a longer break especially, and I still am in love with the vacuum bag method.

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The reason why we kept our luggage in the cabin…
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flights or buses?

* A large scarf, mine is a very large silk scarf. Silk is magic, keeps warm in the cold but is breathing in the heat. Take it long enough that is can turn to a skirt / cover your legs.
* A pair of flip flops is absolutely necessary to visit temples (and there are many, many of them), some light shoes (trainers, sandals) and a pair of heavier duty trainers or walking shoes especially if you want to trek but I will come back to this later (see Kalaw to Inle).
* A couple of jumpers, the forecast may tell you it’s 33 degrees in Yangon, but the planes and buses are freezing, and nights get chilli.
* And one for girls, try and keep the hemline relatively low, light trousers may be more useful than shorts, comfortable and modest wear will be the choice. Most locals wear a longy, a sort of ankle long skirt that is held by a knot at the wait, in colourful fabrics for women and brick or bottle green checks patterns for men. We found it easier to adopt for women clearly :-)
* A little torch lamp. I was a bit sceptical about that one but listen to friends recommendations and appreciated it. Most roads don’t have any lighting and for those who want to go trekking it will prove even more important.
* And the usual basic essentials: mosquito repellent and calming spray, sun cream, wet wipes, dry wash, a basic emergency kit (plasters, disinfectant, etc)…

Before leaving …to read and watch

Myanmar is a country with a complex history, and I feel like going without any research would be a real waste.

Once there I also felt my knowledge about Buddhism was not good enough to appreciate and fully grasp the importance of some temple and traditions and bought the “Buddhism, A very short introduction” by Damien Keown. And by the way, if anyone has better recommendations, please share!

The glass palace – Amitav Ghosh
Starting in the 19th century in Mandalay, with the intertwined stories of the royal family send to exile in India and the one of Rajkumar, an Indian boy emigrated to Burma, it is a great way to understand history with an entertaining story.

Under the dragon – Rory Maclean
A BBC British journalist who travelled to Burma, in the early 90’s.
He goes around the country to seek a bamboo basket seen in a photo taken by a fellow traveler in the late 19th century and stored in the British museum archives. Many encounters with peculiar characters will result in an interesting collection of stories, each describing aspect of the country.

Letters from Burma and Freedom from fear – Aung San Suu Kyi

the-lady-luc-besson

The lady – Luc Besson
Filmed before Aung San Suu Kyi was released from imprisonment, the story is based on family, friends, colleagues, and international associations’ testimonials.

Un indovino mi disse – Tiziano Terzani (translated to English to A Fortune Teller Told Me)
The true story of a (superstitioous) Italian journalist who was told by a fortune teller that a great mortal danger would come “from the sky” in 1993. He took it seriously and subsequently carried on his travelling accross South East Asia solely using ground transportation that year…

Burmese Days – George Orwell

Chroniques Birmanes (translated to Burmese Chronicles) -Guy Delisle
comic book, in French, writen by Canadian Guy Delisle, father of a young boy and whose wife is an MSF doctor (Medecins Sans Frontiere) and therefore has a light and fun insight on a few countries like Myanmar. A refreshing, yet well informed view.

They call it Myanmar…lifting the curtain – Robert H. Lieberman

“I tried to make a movie that was not political,” said Mr. Lieberman, “but of course, that was impossible in the end.” Shot clandestinely over a 2-year period, this documentary provides a rare look at the second-most isolated country on the planet. It lifts the curtain to expose the everyday life in a country that has been held in the iron grip of a brutal military regime for 48 years.

or also try The Guardian selection

Sample Itineraries

** 7 days example (done by an agency): a super-packed itinerary, quite high-end

Day #1: arrive in Yangon. Kandawgyi Palace Hotel for check-in and overnight.

Day #2: transfer to Bagan and see the main temples. Overnight at Tharabar Gate Hotel.

Day #3: drive to Nyaung Oo.

Day #4: Morning flight to Mandalay, the city of the last Myanmar Kings. Upon arrival drive to Amarapura the “City of Immortals” and visit the 150 year old Mahagandayon monastery, and famous Buddhist learning centre.

Day #5: Morning flight to Heho in Shan State to see the Inle Lake. Overnight at Myanmar Treasure Inle Resort.

Day #6 and #7: transfer to Thandwe to spend the weekend on Ngapali beach. Overnight at the Sandoway

**11 days itinerary (also done by an agency) in the rainy season, August

Day #1 and #2: Arrival Yangon. Overnight at the Kandawgyi palace hotel

Day #3 and #4: transfer to Bagan  and sightseeing. Overnight at the Thiripyit Saya Sanctuary resort

Day #5: Bagan – visit Mount Popa

Day #6: transfer to Heho by flight and visit Pindaya cave

Day #7: Nyaung shwe and boat excursion in Inle Lake. Overnight at the May Guest House

Day #8: Inle lake – Inn Thein market boat excursion

Day #9: Heho  to Mandalay by flight and visit Sagaing – Ava- Amarapura. Overnight at the Mandalay Hill resort

Day #10: Mandalay – Mingun by boat and Mandalay city tour.

Day #11: Mandalay – Visit Pyin Oo Lwin

** Other interesting:

- trekking around the Inle Lake, starting from Kalaw
– take a cruise from Mandalay to Bagan along the Ayeyarwady river
– with more time, go and explore the Myeik Islands

tea picking myanmar burma
Trekking from Kalaw to the Inle Lake… click on the image to access the article

The flying princess…because we’re worth it

Ok I’m about to write what is possibly the girliest, most shallow article ever written in those columns…doesn’t matter I take responsibility for it. This summer has been quite packed in long and short flights and I have tried to come to some sort of systematisation of my skin and healthcare while travelling. I am very much the “last call” traveller so if there isn’t an easy routine, it means it will probably fall through the cracks. All the necessary items must also fit into the usual plastic bag and be easy to find / replace.

Step 0 – prep and pack

Opting for a neutral shade mani (unless you have a shellac) is probably a good idea to avoid some unsightly chipping. I have to confess that waiting rooms and airport lounges normally make my own prime time for a home made mani but I don’t think I can recommend doing that, the dry-time is usually at risk…

packing the following items (I leave them constantly unpacked, ready to grab):

- disinfectant wipes or gel (I prefer the wipes because it normally “cheats” the liquid policy)
– make up removal wipes
– blusher / bronza with a little hand mirror preferably
– a pair of sunglasses
– a shawl or scarf, neutral colour
– a mini hair brush, or a foldable one with a mirror (plenty of options at boots)

in the security plastic bag:

- extra hydrating moisturiser (some even use overnight masks)
– your usual moisturiser, mini format, I use the Clinique dramatically different but loads of other brand also have good travel size formats (Clarins is my second favourite)
– mini water mist / home made rose water spray
– mini deodorant or individual wipes
eye puff cream (again I use the all about eyes one from Clinique)
lip balm (neutrogena. occitane, chapstick…whatever your usual best-friend is)
– BB or CC cream (Nivea and Clinique have great ones)
mini mascara and mini lipgloss
hand cream or a “do it all” cream like the Nivea essential
– hydrating eye drops

1. Get some water before you board

This is the one thing that you can not bring from home as it won’t go through security; and I find that even amazing airlines just do not give access to enough water, on long flights I can drink up to 2L. So it doesn’t matter that water seems to be as good as gold in airports, I always get one or two big bottles. No moisturiser will ever be as good as water. Get plenty of it.

2. Cleanse & Moisturise

Either before boarding if you have time to spare, or once in the plane, I remove all make up with a wipe (they don’t count as liquids in most airports), dry and moisturise. If I am travelling with my boss / prince charming / a client (tick the ones you care wearing make up for) just wear a moisturiser and / or a BB cream.

3. Refresh through out the flight

To refresh while traveling, use a mister of mineral water and add a dab of moisturiser. In my future life I also want to have a little spray bottle refilled with rose water. It’s still on my to-do list but it’d be a great thing to have.

- apply lip balm

- apply hand-cream after washing your hands and keep them off your face and hair as much as you can during the flight

- Avoid:

wearing mascara, it smudges with the eye mask, but take a mini one with you, to refresh when you land

long lasting lipstick, it dries up in a not-so-sexy manner

4. Before arrival, wake up call ritual

Take eye drops uni-doses so that it doesn’t take up too much space and in in desperate cases, ask the waitress for an ice-cube that you will wrap up in a washcloth.

If you are off to a meeting or any social event before you get access to any proper bathroom then you may also need to use deodorant wipes. I wash my face, apply a bit of anti-puff magic cream (mine is All About Eyes from Clinique), a light moisturiser and / or CC cream (should be both as the skin is really quite dehydrated after a longfflight)

A bit of blush or bronza, and that is as good as it gets.

 5. Cover up

I find that a big scarf serves as a pillow, warmer and also somehow makes the whole disheveled hair look more chic. Sometimes you just have to go with it!And of course, a pair of oversized sunglasses so that others will think you’re Miranda Kerr, not just a fatigued fellow traveler.

Where should I go for a short winter-sun break?

You can hear the rain pounding on the window and if you’re anything like me, your next thought is: when do I get to see the sun again? I could tell you to jet-off to Hawaii for the weekend, it would spare me a post but eyyy… maybe next year.

So were to go for a winter-sun quick fix? Continue reading Where should I go for a short winter-sun break?

Stuff you should never take on a trip

Adult travelers and holiday-goers (i.e. not backpackers), and I’m sure just most female young or old travelers in the world just find it difficult to cut-down on packing.

Leif Pettersen at The Lonely Planet has just published this article and it did crack me up; at a time where I’m scratching my head and wondering how to pack for Myanmar (the very exciting countdown until November has started!!), I thought it was a good idea to bring up the topic. Continue reading Stuff you should never take on a trip

Sun, love and other delights, in Taormina, Sicily

Sicily is one of those places that just tick all the “romantic weekend” boxes in my book: the perfect weather, the abundant food, the powerful wines, the awe-inspiring views, the crystal clear water…

I’m just back from an otherworldly weekend to celebrate friends’ wedding, and as the excellent Italian blog Memorie di una Vagina puts it: “last weekend I went to a wedding in Sicily where I understood that Sicily is just like an excellent lover: as soon as you leave it, you want to go back and make love”

“Lo scorso weekend sono stata a un matrimonio in Sicilia e ho capito che la Sicilia è come un amante eccellente: appena se n’è andato hai voglia di rivederlo e di rifarci all’amore.” (translation is mine)

She’s absolutely right. When are we back again?

Sea side photos are mostly taken from the Capotaormina Atahotel where we had a fantastic relaxing time. Views are mixed, as a sea person, I just really enjoyed the view and multiple beach accesses, the sunset in the overflow swimming pool…that being said, some prefer being up the hills in the village to grasp more of the local atmosphere. (The Metropole was highly recommended by friends)

Views from the Greek theatre are spectacular, it can be either visited in the daylight, or rather, to see it alive, check performances organised in the evening during the summer season. From up there one has a wonderful view on the bay, the town and the volcano; a friend even managed to attend a performance where the opera music was “accessorizing” a stunning sunset and a lava eruption in the background…

With a car, it’s also possible to drive up to Castelmola and watch the bay from even higher up. The little village is smaller and less touristy but nevertheless fantastically picturesque.

Next time? (yes because there will be) other friends decided to cut the beach time short and go hiking up the Etna volcano, which sounds quite tough but worth it; although it would depend on the level of activity of the volcano as well I guess.

Now let’s get back to diet after the rather insane amount of food we just feast on if you please…

[Souvenirs and tokens of Travels from…] Helsinki…in a global world

I love travelling of course, collecting experiences, memories, but also organising those memories in the form of this blog, photos, and other small tokens of travels.

Bringing back home small objects (and lots of food) is a way for me to extend the travel experience: last week we had fresh mozzarella for dinner, and it felt like we still had one little toe over there in Amalfi. And the rose water I use to soothe my eyes every morning is truly a piece of Morocco in a bottle.

I often forget though, that we live in a global world where (pretty much) anything can be bought in London. So last night when coming back home from Helsinki, Finland, after a fabulous sunny weekend, and proudly parading a lovely Marimekko wodden bangle, I felt pretty dumb to realise a Marimekko shop opened at the box park…literally a minute away from home!

ahhh cherished souvenirs, and shallow aspirations to have a unique collections of accessories…boooh silly me!!!

marimekko bangle helsinki phaidon city guide
Instagram photo taken from the Kiasma museum where the “Together” exhibition is currently taking place, organised jointly by Kiasma and Marimekko. Coffee in the sun, checking the Wallpaper and enjoying my colour-block bangle, one to add to the collection…

 

[Souvenirs and tokens of Travels from…] Guadeloupe

There’s always the stuff that you expect to bring back, that you almost go on a hunt for. And then there’s the small thing, the unexpected sweet, funny object, item of clothing that caught your attention…

From Guadeloupe of course we came back with some amazing degustation rum, traditionally made, 11yr of age…delicious
but it’s when buying it at the distillerie that I asked the lady what she was munching on, and she offered one of those amazing candied coconut…fragrance of coconut, dark cane sugar, local vanilla…mmm so naughty but so good.

rum reimonenq and candied coconut

candy coco coffee
coffee and digestive time pleasures…

In random order, I came back with, well, mostly food and drinks: Rhum, cane sugar that smells delicious, jams and preserves, graines a roussir to make chicken Colombo, very strong sunscreen and kite-surfing sunglasses….I would have looooooved to bring that baby frrrrrrrog in my suitcase but my other half stopped me, the horrible monster. Oh well, next time? ;-)

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Colombo spices, banana and passion preserve, 11 yr aged rum and the very strong cane sugar…watching the kite surfing videos and contemplating the pouring rain out of the window…
tandakayou grenouille
can I take you home pleaaaaase?

About accents…

Accent
Line breaks: ac¦cent
NOUN
Pronunciation: /ˈaks(ə)nt , -sɛnt/
A distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class:
a strong American accent
she never mastered the French accent

 

Accents are an utterly strange phenomenon. One is labelled by his accent as much as by his skin colour, and sometimes even more so than by his passport origins.
It could be a deal breaker on a date, it could get you hired or not, it could be the kick-starter of a conversation (or not), it could double your taxi bill or grant you a helpful nudge…. Continue reading About accents…

Fêtes de Genève, fireworks and Gruyere cheese, Switzerland

Les Fêtes de Genève

For almost a month during the summer, the placid Geneva turns into a mix of public amusement fair and chic beach bars, becoming the scene to one of the world’s grandest fireworks display. This year’s cost chf 700,000 and was no exception (that’s £460k).. No wonder why Les Fetes de Geneve attracts up to 2m visitors each year.

A friend of ours threw a roof party on Saturday where the average guest could speak 4 languages and was holding 2 passports…I wondered if it was an extraordinary sample or …?

From the  Council of Europe website I learned that “Geneva is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland (after Zurich) and is the largest in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Whilst the municipality itself (Ville de Genève) has a population of 191,415, the canton of Geneva (République et Canton de Genève, which includes the city) has 463,919 residents. (…)

The majority ethnic group, Swiss, makes up 60.83% of the canton’s inhabitants and 39.2% of Geneva’s population are non-nationals (and  up to 48% in 2013 according to the Office Cantonal de la Statistique). The most significant ethnic groups are: Portuguese-7.40%;
French-5.5%; Italians-4.85% and Spanish-2.95%. Of non-EU/EFTA migrants, the largest groups are, in this order, from the USA, Russia, Brazil, Kosovo,Turkey, former Yugoslavia, India and Morocco. 44.6% of the canton’s working age population are non-nationals and 54% hold at least one foreign passport. At the end of 2010, the unemployment rate was 6% in Geneva, or twice the Swiss level”

As a reference, London’s non-UK born population was around 37%  in 2011 according to the Oxford Observatory at the last census, and a large share of those actually hold a UK passport…

The pristine canton of Gruyere

And Switzerland would not be a human size chocolate-box without villages like this one: the medieval town of Gruyere, home if the infamous cheese, where we hopped by to reload the batteries.

Mousse au Chocolat with an Amaretto twist

The traditional French dessert with a crunchy and nutty Italian twist.

To celebrate my new (amazing) hand mixer I cooked some pretty tasty mousses last week. The word “mousse” is a French word that literally means “froth” or “foam.” This applies to the dessert’s light, airy texture.

mixer

Fun fact: if mousses became an easier option sincethe 1930’s when hand mixers made their way into more and more of our grandmas’ kitchens so they could fluff their egg whites easily; the dessert was made famous by chef Michel Fitoussi, based in NY, who in 1977 had a huge success with his innovative White Chocolate mousse.

And what about the Amaretto liquor? I find the Almond flavoured liquor even more delicious now tha I know it’s a love potion!!!

Legends of the Lazzaroni family of Saronno, says that the liquor was created by a widow who posed for Renaissance painter Bernardino Luini in 1525. The widow fell in love with the painter and made her Amaretto potion for him. Her original recipe has purportedly been handed down from generation to generation without change and is currently marketed as Disaronno Originale Liqueur.

Recipe for 6 cups

Heads up!! it needs to be in the fridge for a good 3h before serving, but avoid making it the day before as it may lose its oomph!

Ingredients:Affiche_chocolat_Menier

- 250gr dark chocolate – I normally buy some French Meunier one, by habit and because it does not need any added sugar and has great quality cocoa
– (optional 20gr of caster sugar)
– 6 eggs, at room temperature
– a pinch of salt / a pinch of cream of tartar
– a spoonful of Amaretto liquor (or two)
– 6 to 12 Amaretti biscuits
– 10cl full fat cream

 

Directions:

- separate the egg whites from the egg yolks in 2 different bowls. You can either save 3 yolks or the full 6 ones, depends on how rich you like your mousse.

- melt your chocolate in a bain-marie; do not add water to the chocolate directly, if you need a spoonful of liquid to stir it, add orange juice or some milk.

- beat the egg yolks, optional sugar (depends on how bitter your chocolate is and how much you like the taste of chocolate, I personally don’t add anything), add a spoonful or 2 of Amaretto liquor and mix in well. Add to the melted chocolate, keeping the mixture quite liquid.

Amaretti biscuits and Amaretto liquor

- whisk your eggs whites in a small deep bowl, with an electric mixer and a pinch of either salt or cream of tartar (some also use a dash of lemon juice) until obtaining a very firm mousse.

- whip the 10cl cream into a light fluffy mixture.

- fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture with a very soft hand, little by little. Finally add the cream.

- crunch some Amaretti biscuits at the bottom of your individual ramekins or martini glasses, then gently add the chocolate mousse and let sit in the fridge for a good 2 to 3 hours.

- decorate with chocolate shavings, Amaretti biscuits, crushed almonds, whipped cream, strawberries…enjoy

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Puzzling Tokyo in the Sakura season

Even just a few days in Tokyo were enough to be dazzled

the 3 reasons why Tokyo is an easy city break destination and a quick wedding etiquette guide!

  • For the outstanding service: ease of transport, wifi freely accessible, clean and easily accessible convenience….The city seems designed for working busy people, it’s expensive but convenient.
  •  it’s exotic, or at least different for Westerners. As high-tech’ and developed as Japan can be, it’s still surprising and gives you that exciting feeling of adventure – even if it just means asking your way and manage to take the tube in that big underground jungle of theirs.
Tokyo loo flush
When going to the loo is an adventure!!!

 

  • it’s varied, and visually beautiful. Each neighbourhood is different, from the neon lit busiest in the world cross road of Shibuya, to the refreshing quiet of temples and the maze of narrow streets in the old neighbourhoods of Yanaka. There’s culture, fun and crazy things for all.

When to go?

April is probably the single best period to head of to Japan, we caught the beginning of the Sakura, and more than just a beautiful tourist attraction it really marks the change of season; it’s a time of renewal and Tokyoites visibly appreciate it. I loved how Ueno park was so busy with workers organising picnics after work.

Catching the coming of age ceremony in the winter (2nd Monday of January), and maybe coupling it with a trip to the mountain would probably be my next choice.

Avoid going in June / July as you would hit the rainy season.

And as Tokyo is not exactly cheap nor next door, a simple city short break doesn’t really make sense. I really wish I’d had more time to go to the Mt Fuji, to Kyoto, to the mountains…

The reason why I skipped quite a bit of the main tourist attractions is that we were mainly there to attend our friends’ wedding. Other friends who could stay longer and had time to tick more of the “to-do” boxes and voted the the sumo fighting as their main highlight…I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Japanese weddings

If you thought getting married, anywhere in the world, was a complicated matter – let alone finding the right partner in the first place – then try Japan. The hair-splitting etiquette steps this game by a few extra notches! The beautiful and emotional ceremony that ensues makes it all worth it though.

a few fun facts that seriously surprised us Europeans…

- I’m a guest, what present do I bring? fresh money, i.e. brand-new, crisp, unused bank notes in a nice envelope that you will hand out to the hostess when signing the register.

japanese wedding

- When is the wedding happening? on a lucky day of course. How is the lucky day determined I still haven’t fully grasped it but it seems to be a full time job description…

- I’m a non-Japanese guest, what do I wear?  locals and relatives will wear the traditional kimono but really most just wear classy European-style outfits.

- Am I going to share a table with the old aunties? unlikely, as the seating plan is a rather serious affair:

The bride and groom’s respective bosses should be seated at a prime table opposite the couple and be in charge of the opening speech…not the best man or the parents!? Or at least not in the first place: following the opening speech, everyone gets the opportunity to say a kind word.

The seating plan then continues in layers, the friends first and finally the family, placed in a sort of umbrella literally and figuratively stepping back and overlooking their (grown-up) little ones starting their new life from the distance…which is surprising at first, however, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a healthy approach to family relationship.

Sake casks - “Kagami-biraki” or Breaking-open the sake cask. In an utterly ethnocentric way, I compared this to the European cake-cutting tradition (yes, shame on me). The couple breaks open the lid of the Sake barrel and cheers with their guests, a way to bring good fortune and fertility we were told. And we got the most thoughtful tie-me-down present: our own name-engraved sake cups, in Japanese characters of course. Isn’t that the coolest Hikidemono ?

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To Read and Watch before you go

*1Q84 by  Haruki Murakami is the book I got recommended most and it was certainly a fair piece of advise! I had thus far postponed the reading of the best-seller by laziness and other petty excuses but didn’t regret plunging into the 3 volume heavy story.Japanese writer Murakami attends ceremony in Jerusalem

Not only Murakami hooks you in like no other Japanese author, but also it’s fantastic to travel in the city via the 2 main characters. A fan even created the corresponding map!! Thanks

*Lost in Translation

bill murray lost in translation 1536x960 wallpaper_www.wallpaperno.com_55

*Tokyobling’s Blog 
a well made journalistic blog I still keep reading since I came back, always full of very interesting, detailed and almost daily cultural snippets

Running to discover, travelling to run…

Running is allegedly an affordable sport to practise. Not much gear needed, no special equipment or conditions are required, making it a sport that can virtually be enjoyed anywhere and by anyone for very cheap – or almost.

Well that’s the theory. But judging by the growing number of running specialised shops in London, or the inflated price of international races, there is little doubt it is a money-making industry; and so it has been for a number of years now.

But an interesting sub-trend is the synergy between travel and running industries. Albatros Adventures for example is offering “running” and “marathons” theme in their package holidays (I’m still dying to participate in the Great Wall of China one).

Today, the Flying Blue newsletter caught my attention: the major airways miles programme offered me to subscribe to their “Flying Blue Running now” newsletter!! They actually came up with running-oriented travelling tips and review destinations from a running-ease angle! Ok the real reason I got hooked in is that they offer good deal packages on some marathons and even let you sign up using miles….ok it’s a commercial operation, but it’s still pretty cool.

So that’s another website on my list of favourite, adding to the cool “where people run” page that I became fond of already :-)

 

below, their packing tips, reblogged from this article

Check the weather

The weather is the most important thing to consider. Check the weather forecast of your destination so you can decide what running outfit you’ll need to keep yourself comfortable on your run. A capri-pants, half-zip top and light jacket works well in a wide variety of conditions.

Packing list

Use this handy list to make sure you’ve got everything in your travel bag for your exciting run to explore new areas:

  •  top / t-shirt
  •  shorts / tight
  •  light running jacket
  •  sports bra
  •  socks
  •  shoes
  •  watch plus charger
  •  sports armband for your smartphone
  •  gloves, hat and thermo underwear (when travelling to a cold climate)
  •  sunscreen, cap and sunglasses (when travelling to a warm climate)

For a long-term trip

Are you planning a big journey? To travel light limit yourself to two running outfits. Wash the sweaty outfit in the sink as soon as you’re done and hang it over the shower rod or balcony and they’ll be clean and dry to use the next day. Pack two short-sleeve shirts, one shorts or tight, socks and one pair of running shoes. A thin and lightweight windbreaker can double as a rain slicker on your trip and a protective layer for running.

What items are your running must-haves on your travels?

 

(happily) get a few more wrinkles in Ibiza

It may sound paradoxical, but a short stay in Ibiza is the surest way to get a few more wrinkles and feel 10 years younger.
For sure, it’s a guilty pleasure, a battery reset, it’s the “so bad it’s good” extravaganza. It’s the time to forget the diet, the good resolutions, and just enjoy.

F_Me_im_Famousopenig

There’s surely a million different ways to enjoy Ibiza, but one thing is certain, it needs to be a bit loco.

One way to enjoy it? I plan a short stay, 3/4days, and allocate it 1 week budget. Gather a big group of friends, rent a villa, pack your flashiest craziest outfits, and try roasting on the beach in the early afternoon, stay there until you get hungry or can’t take any more mojitos, go for dinner, try clubbing again until you drop, and repeat. A glance at the party planning before leaving should help, especially if you’re a large group.

Flights need to be booked well in advance, as they quickly sky-rocket, especially around bank holidays. You will also need to rent a car, try and get a convertible, and apply more sun-cream than I did. I quite like the end of May / beginning of June as it’s tine for the crazy opening parties, this year Ushuaia was pretty awesome I have to say. The  infamous(insane) hotel just off Platja D’em Bossa hosts traditionally some of the most amazing open-air pool parties.

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It’s Spain, so arriving and leaving late isn’t a problem, you’ll still have time for dinner and clubbing even if you land past midnight. Rent a car, especially if your villa is outside the centre. And unless you’re over 12 Brits stags, avoid Platja San Antoni.

Some friends tell me they go for “relaxing” holidays, just to chill on the beach and enjoy the beautiful island. I wouldn’t advise that. It’s true the island is beautiful, but missing the party aspect of it would be too much of a shame. For a cheaper price, I would favour the Canarias, Spanish but on the Atlantic side; or the Italian Isola D’Elba for great Mediterranean food, or even Sicily…
Last weekend I’ve even seen pregnant women…got me wonder: why on earth would you do that? must be so tempting. I mean the greatest thing about Ibiza is to slurp mojito in a tiny bikini, and shake your booty on the the absolute best sound…but then who knows, maybe if I was in that case and all my friends were going, I would follow nevertheless? maybe, who knows after all.

Blue Marlin Sundays

British have traditionally represented a large share of the flow into Ibiza, with a slight drop in numbers in 2009. I know the tourism official in Spain would like Brits to come and visit Ibiza for its “churches and birdwatching”….unlikely. Not that I’m giving my stamp of approval to the type of excesses often coming together with rowdy clubbers (the drop in inflow of tourism from the UK in 2009 is also correlated to a drop in sexual crimes for example…no comment) but I still think that Spanish clubbing and in particular Ibiza partying experience is really quite fab and unique….

That being said, next time I promise I’ll go upper north roast on the beach, they do look quite fab.

Postcard English countryside, Bath, Oxford and the Costwolds villages

Less than 2h away from London, this itinerary is the promise of a romantic countryside weekend, in SO British fashion; Prince Charles’ secluded lifestyle, glorious British architecture and scenic bike rides, on your doorstep. “Visit England ” is an advertisement you’re likely to have encountered if you commute in London; a serious push has recently been given to tourism in England and I can only emphasise their message after a picturesque weekend on the road navigating between Alice in Wonderland’s manor house, tea with Mr Darcy and magic tricks in New College cloister – I’ll break the suspense, I have not succeeded in changing my friends into a ferret – yet.

The May Day bank holiday weekend provided us with the perfect occasion, 3 / 4 days is ideal for a relaxing weekend away from the city. Be ready to step into a tale, you may find yourself taking notes or sketching houses!
It’s not one to plan on a shoestring though, England remains expensive and the cosy feeling of those places calls for boutique hotels and nice B&B. I would recommend renting a convertible car, packing fluffy jumpers and fine lingerie and heading out for a romantic escape.

Bath

If Bath has that strangely familiar feeling to it, it must be due to the amount of costume movies filmed there!  Actually it’s quite fun to follow the tourism office’s movie map around town. 

Bath Film-The Duchess-RoyalCrescent
Keira Knightley is Georgianna Cavendish, in the Duchess

 

The city was built by the Romans around three natural hot mineral springs, that were the basis for the infamous therms. Bath’s status as a World Heritage Site was bestowed in recognition of its magnificent Georgian architecture.

The spa is a new built but the rooftop swimming pool nicely overlooks the old town and its green surrounding. The water springs out at 44 degrees and is then cooled down to 33, for comfort. We happily bubbled in for a good part of the  afternoon until twilight. They accept no booking on Saturdays and I was told the queue can get a bit long (although we only waited for 15min), also last thing, take your flip flops. 

bath spa rooftop
The Spa rooftop pool, naturally warm

I was longing for the high Tea in Jane Austen’s tea room but how disappointed  was I when I got declined access for I had not booked…grrr. Next time.

We followed the Lonely Planet recommendation and went for dinner to The Circus and were not disappointed – book in advance, it’s busy.

Cotswolds Villages

Whether you want to walk, cycle or ride across this string of charming villages, it’s an ideal countryside postcard-perfect day amongst lambs, strolling from one charming pub to the next inviting inn.downtown abbey bampton village

Downton Abbey fans can hop by Bampton, I hear the Manor is even available for visit on certain days of the year but that should be planned well in advance.

Or followers of the Royals can move towards Tetbury, pay respect to Charles & Camilla‘s cottage in Highgrove.

My favourite village of all was probably Upper and Lower Slaughter with its mellow-stone manor houses from another time, undulating woods, formal gardens and parkland overlooking lake and sheep-grazed fields by a peaceful and unspoilt village, away from main roads…fab. 

Sone gem hotels can be found along the way such as the Lord of the Manor with its Michelin-star restaurant…to celebrate an occasion or just stop for a beer.

 

for bicycle-riders, the Guardian published this useful little map, inspired by the escape route book: ” My favourite bike ride – the Cotswolds

Blenheim Palace

By now you must be sick of me saying “it’s such a fantastic place”, reminding me of films, books and oozing of royalty and history figures but really..but look at that. Churchill wasn’t born there for no reason.

sunny-blenheim-palace-1024x682

Our visit was short and the enchanting gardens are huge! The good news is that day passes are convertible into annual passes for free so I’ll probably be back on sunny weekends this summer.

Oxford

I don’t think I need to introduce Oxford. It actually seem I was the only Londoner left to visit the student-packed city. With over 22 thousands students from over a hundred different countries, split over 38 colleges….a quarter of its population are students!

We stayed at the Four Pillars and although I have nothing bad to say about it at all, but there’s such a large choice of nice and quirky accommodations in Oxford … way too enticing:

the refurbished cells of the Malmaison prison, ok the gardens are beautiful but  personally I didn’t quite get the attraction though.

during the holidays, one can rent a dorm room and pretend they’re Harry Potter for the night (careful some can actually get expensive!)

but probably the gem boutique hotel is the Old parsonage, I realised how cute it was when dining at the Gee’s, their bar & restaurant

alice-in-wonderland-on-a-stained-glass-window-in-christ-church-colleges-great-hall

 

Ok I won’t go on and on about fantastic secluded college courtyards, but if it was to do again, I’d go for the Mad Hatter high tea in Christ Church College, sitting in the Great Hall next to the dedicated stained glass window must be just unbelievable…and yum. (only available on certain Tuesdays….)

Films & books 

The Duchess – or Keira Knighley in the role of the 18th Century socialite, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, partly filmed in Bath and the surroundings. Sadly still modern.

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austin’s first book.  I got my hand on a nice and free audiobook version but really I was after a version read by local actors, that would screams Oxfordshire, let me know!!  (like this version of Alice in Wonderland for example)

 

I used a the new version of google map to plan my trip that I then amended once back; click on the  thumbnail below to use it.

map

 

and now tell me, is it just me who feels like the Countess of Dowager is going to come out of one of those little churches anytime?

Easter Colomba, baking adventures, part 2

ok by now your friends have started worrying for you: last night you went out for drinks, and after 2hours 45min precisely you asked for the  bill, promptly paid and mumbled something about urgently going home to take care of Pasquale. “Hun, you have a new boyfriend, how do I NOT know that?”…”nanah, he’s not my bf, Pasquale’s more like family”…”I see, so your relatives are visiting for Easter? but you told me you were going away…?” …. drop it…they’ll never understand you are bringing up an Italian leaven “a WHAT??”….right let’s go back to the kitchen…

[continued from Day 1]

Day 2 – What do we need for today?

make sure you have everything at hand before we start the day and avoid a million trip down to Tesco:

- about 500gr of Manitoba flour
– 180gr soft butter (not melted or hot)
– about 250gr suger
– 6 eggs
– clean dish towels
– a vanilla pod and / or vanilla fragrance
– 15gr honey
– couple of pinches of salt
– 200 to 300gr candied orange peels
– orange zest
– 30 gr hazelnuts (can be replaced by more almonds)
– 75gr almonds
– unpeeled almonds for decoration
– sugar nibs
– icing sugar
– 2 clean linen cloths
– your dove shaped paper tin, 750gr or 1kg

First dough…in the thick of it!!

some people are morning people, especially bakers. So if you can wake up presto and start the process with a bang, it’d be ideal honestly. If like me you start the morning at noon with a headache, you’ll have to adjust later (read the little compromises below)

levain natural yeast
After a super boot-camp, Pasquale is strong as ever

 

First dough – what we need

- 135 gr sourdough
– 150 gr warm water
– 105 gr sugar
– 390 gr manitoba, strong Canadian flour
– 3 yolks (make sure you keep at least 2 of the egg whites in your fridge for later)
– 155 gr very soft butter

Get started

Melt the 105gr sugar in 150gr water and bathe 135gr of Pasquale into the solution. Dream of a lifetime, tepid water and sugar ….yummmmm

colomba baking first step

Throw the 3 egg yolks into the mix, one at a time and stir well; then add the flour a tablespoon at a time. And knead, knead a lot …. your shoulders are screaming, your elbows are aching but it doesn’t matter:
you’re a hard core baker and stubbornly refusing to use a kitchen aid, officially to combine baking and upper body work out, but secretly because it’s a socially acceptable way to stick your hands in food for a good 20min at a time, so go on.

colomba baking first step butter

Finally rub the butter in little by little, when the previous bit is well amalgamated.

colomba baking whisking

Leave to rise 8 to 12 hours covered with a plastic bag on top in a warm place (on heating tubes, in warmed oven), the dough should triple.

colomba baking dough raising

colomba baking dough raised
9 hours later…..

 

Round 2 – we’re not done until we get there

After about 8-12h, Pasquale should be a strong teenager, well grown up now.

Second dough – what we need

- initial mix (close to 1kg)
– 30 gr warm water
– 30 gr sugar
– 3 yolks
– 85gr Manitoba, strong Canadian flour
– 15 gr honey
– 30 gr very soft butter
– 4gr salt
– vanilla flavour and / or a vanilla pod

Get started

Take our well swollen dough and add 30gr of water diluted with 30gr of sugar; slowly and one by one, add the 3 egg yolks, 85gr of Manitoba flour, 15 gr of honey and knead. Knead again. Knead more. Yes, until your shoulders are screaming, yes, again.

Rest for 20min (finally!!!) and let the mix autolyse in its pot.

Knead again and when the dough is a tough ball with well developed gluten, add the butter. It should be very soft but not melted or hot. Incorporate it in little by little, and finally add 4 gr. of salt and the vanilla fragrance or the seeds of a vanilla pod.

colomba baking sourdough candied orange

Then when is all mixed add candied oranges in 10 to 20gr of water (they just need to be moist to be sticky enough), little handfuls after another like on the photo. KNEAD more until you get a smooth mix  (do I still need to say it?).

colomba sourdough orange peel
make sure the candied peel are evenly incorporated

Let it rest in warm place covered for an hour.  Use that time to massage your shoulders and cheer up….impatient, hungry and slightly frustrated, at this stage I normally start taking short-cuts, DO NOT. It’s a patience game, it’s the slow food by excellence.

So let’s get back to our dough and split tit in 2 pieces, one will be the body, and one for the wings (use your imagination!!). Arrange it in the tin and leave to rise just quite to the edges. 

colomba paper tin

Little compromises: if like me you end up starting round 2 after the evening film at round midnight, you’ll have to find a little compromise with Pasquale and maybe leave him alone overnight, in a cooler place (up to 6/7hours).

If however you’ve started early in the morning, then you’ll want to accelerate round 2, by now you should know how Pasquale has been behaving and how fast he’s been growing. Leave the tin in a warm place, or a slightly heated oven (30 degrees) for a couple of hours until it reaches circa 1cm to the edge.

Round 3 – The pretty step

We’re almost there, this is the easiest step, don’t give up and watch out  the cooking.

Sugar coating – what we need

- 1/2 egg whites + salt or cream of tartar if needed to beat them
- 120 gr sugar
- 30 gr. hazelnuts 
- 55 gr. blanched almonds
- 20gr. unpeeled almods
- 2 spoonfuls of bitter almond taste or amaretto
- some sugar nibs and for sprinkling

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees and during that time, beat your egg white to a smooth cream, ad the sugar in, still beating. Then I use my hand soup blender to roughly crunch the almonds / hazelnuts and gently incorporate them in the cream.

With a spoon, gently spread the white stuff onto our beautifully risen Pasquale, starting with the edges and avoiding to put too much weight in the middle. 

colomba sourdough sugar coating colomba baking sugar coating colomba baking frosting

colomba sourdough final step decoration
let’s not putting too much in the middle, it would prevent Paquale from flying lightly

colomba sourdough pre-baking

Once ready, set your oven at 190 and put the Colomba in at half height. If your oven’s got more hot flashes than Samantha Jones, you may need to manually move it around once at mid-cooking.

I cooked mine close to 1 hour but tested it several times with a knife as the crust colour can be misleading and not reflect the state of the dough. 
easter sourdough colomba post-baking

In theory you’re supposed to wait for a day to eat it as it gets stronger in taste but here we’ve had trouble waiting….

Now just enjoy, be proud, and disregard weird looks and comments such as “daaaaarling, you spent 3 days baking a brioche? but I can cook one for you in only a couple of hours, you should have asked!?”

Right, let them eat baking soda, you and Pasquale know it’s not worth arguing….

sourdough colomba texture

 

What was all that about already?

If some say that a sweet bread has been eaten in Lombardia for Easter since the VIth century; reality is that the Colomba as we know it today was invented by Motta in the 1930’s to make use of the Panettone facilities outside of the Christmas period as the technique is similar. However, there’s still a number of legends around the origins of the cake and I always find those rather entertaining.

One of the legend I read about is the one of San Colombanus.

The Irish missionary arrived in Milan in 612, during the fasting period preceding Easter. He was warmly greeted by King Agilulf and Queen Theodelinda of the Lombards to the city and offered a heavy meal of meat and other too rich dishes, that he could only decline in that period of the year. Queen Theodolina, did not understand his refusal and asked him in audience, slightly outraged and dumbfounded to be turned down. San Colombanus to ease the upset Queen, offered to have the supper, but only after having blessed the food. This is when the miracle happened and a whole table worth of food turned into a simple white bread Colomba, or Dove, symbol of modesty and peace.

Happy Easter & Happy baking!!

colomba motta

Easter Colomba baking adventures: sending Pasquale the Italian leaven to a 3 days boot-camp [1st Steps]

Last year the Italian Cultural Institute of London organised a conference on Milanese Christmas traditions, and in particular, the delicious Panettone, this extremely rich and yummy brioch-ey cake. Rita Monastero did a passionate speech about the importance of a naturally leavened dough…picked my curiosity and subsequently got most of my December free time VERY busy!! Panettone isn’t quite a simple brioche: It’s a full-on 4 days adventure. And when I say 4 days I assume you already have an active natural leaven, and all the necessary ingredients available in your pantry…. I was indeed way too eager with my initial version and got a flat rich cake, not quite the fabulous fluffy and sweet thing I was expecting. But a few more tries and I was almost there, but after Christmas, my Italian testers all went on (much needed) detox, when I voiced the idea of baking one last one for Epiphany, my boyfriend just frowned and gave me the warning look. Ok my cases will go back to the cupboard. But I couldn’t let Easter go without a tasty and fluffy Colomba.

The Colomba is that – allegedly- dove-shaped little sister of the Panettone. Traditional Easter dessert if any, it’s overall slightly easier than the Chrsitmas version so I’d probably recommend starting there. If you want your Colomba ready for next weekend, I would recommend starting refreshing your leaven this weekend, maybe take the opportunity to bake some bread to use up the quantities. Give your baby a name, mine’s usually called Robert, and he’s Franco-British, but for the Colomba, you’ll need to create his much stronger Italian cousin, we called him Pasquale and sent him to this 2/3 days boot camp first. I’ve adapted the timings for working home-bakers as most of what I found on the internet or the guide I got  from Rita Monastero, are just not realistic. So I started creating Pasquale on a Thursday night and plan on baking the final product on the Saturday, if you’re doing it on the bank holiday weekend, even easier as it does take some time.

Fun facts: ALL Italian recipes call for the sacred “Manitoba flour from Molino”, and I jumped through a number of hoops to import / store 10kg of the d@mned thing in my kitchen…when I realised sheepishly that Manitoba was a Canadian province and all it actually was, is a strong  flour (i.e. very high protein rates, in and around 15gr protein per 100gr of flour) coming from Canada. In other word, what our supermarkets here call “strong Canadian flour” easily found at Tesco, Waitrose and the likes! yay, one problem sorted.

Before we start:

you will need a leaven starter, Manitoba or strong Canadian flour, 00 or all purpose flour. In term of equipment I would recommend a set of glass transparent dishes (to monitor the leaven) , a simple soft scrapper, a couple of of proofing linen cloths.

Step 1 : Thursday evening - toughen up IMG_7224 take 50gr of your usual leaven, steer it with 50gr tepid water and add 100gr of manitoba flour. Robert has left place to Pasquale, it’s starting to take an Italian accent, and it should feel much tougher, thicker, to the point where you can knead it a little bit. Do so for a minute or so.

Cover your pot with a linen, and go out for dinner, or indulge with a spritz and watch La Grande Belleza. You have 3/4 hours ahead of you (depends on the temperature, I personally leave it 3h in the very warm boiler room). In the end it should look smoother, and be 1.5x to twice bigger.

Step 2 : Thursday night- Pasquale rolls with the punches

take 100gr of your now tough Italian leaven and take it to the next stage: shred it in little pieces, add 50gr of lukewarm water and stir. Add 100gr of Manitoba flour and knead for one or 2 min. At this stage I also add a little drop of honey or liquid malt. If we’re sending Pasquale to a boot camp, he’s taking a sweet in his pocket!

now roll it very tight in a sturdy dry and clean cloth, slightly floured and tie it very tight for the night. I used a shoes lace but a present wrap that can be cut off may be a better option.  Place it in a small pan or pot for the night, in a warm place. Good night Pasquale! you’re back to the boiler room for 8 hours in your pyjamas. IMG_7226 Personally I didn’t understand the point of this step the first time, but then realised it was important as it strengthen the leaven and also is a good visual test. In the morning, Pasquale is well grown and trying to escape the bowl…

IMG_7228 Step 3 – a touch of softness in a tough world

After such a night, Pasquale is rather tired, let’s give him a bit of love. Discard any dried bit and use the middle soft part to carry on. IMG_7234To 50gr of the sourdough, again shredded in small pieces add in 50gr tepid water and soak it for a few seconds. Then knead it with 100gr of 00 flour (i.e. all purpose flour).

IMG_7236  Step 4 & 5 : flex your muscle!!

repeat step 3 twice, at at least 3h interval, either on Friday afternoon if you’re using Good Friday to nurse Pasquale, or on Friday evening for those who have a life!! Get a good night rest, there’s a day of kneading coming up!!

IMG_7237
step 3 / 4 / 5 : knead 50gr of leaven with 50gr of water and 100gr of 00 flour for a couple of minutes.
IMG_7242
after 3/4hours (or up to 8hours if needed), it should have doubled in size.

While you’re  nursing Pasquale like a hen hatching her eggs, you can also make sure that you have all the required equipment for the next stage. I got most of what I was missing at Bakery Bits, in particular the cases, the pearl sugar and the candied orange, the delivery should take up to 3 days so plan it ahead.

for the next steps you will need:

- 475 gr. Manitoba flour (i.e. Canadian strong flour)
- 185 gr. soft butter
- 135 gr. cast sugar
- 200 gr. tepid water
- 6 egg yolk
- 15gr honey
- 4gr salt
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 orange peel
- 300gr of candied orange peel

columba pasquale paper tin 1kg
Bakery bits Colomba tins

 

End of the adventure now published there 

Speaking Japanese without hardly saying a word…

Just landed in Tokyo and as my friends predicted, people do not speak so much English, but seem to understand basic indications and overall are unbelievably helpful.

There is a tangible sense of modesty, and people who don’t master English well enough and feel confident with it just wouldn’t dare speaking. At the difference of Paris where this translate into “I don’t understand therefore I couldn’t care less”, people seem to give it a try here!!

I mean, last night after a long trip, a lost suitcase, and surviving the underground maze, I wandered around the Shibuya neighbourhood trying to find the apartment when I found a policeman who walked around with me for a full 15min until I was safe at home. I just couldn’t believe it….where else in the whole world?

I’ll keep you updated on how it goes, but just wanted to post this hilarious video by a Japanese / American comic artist who was educated in Japan and made a mock Japanese 101 video. Magic. (For those who want more, his blog: http://kentanakalovesyou.blogspot.jp/)

Photos will come later, I’m busy fua-kin for now :)

How to spot an Italian ski resort?

How to recognise an Italian ski resort and differentiate it from its neighbours from France or Switzerland at first glance?

First things first, look at women’s blow-dry. If ladies look like they’re coming straight out of the hairdresser no matter how much snow and wind there is through out the day: no doubt, you’re in Italy.

vacanze_di_natale_jerry_cal_carlo_vanzina_008_jpg_gnwevacanze_di_natale_jerry_cal_carlo_vanzina_007_jpg_jiwu

Last summer when coming back from 2 weeks in Tuscany I was stunned by how pretty, and above all stylish, Italian grand mothers were (see the article “fashion lessons learnt from Italian grannies“). Guess what? it applies on the slopes more than ever.

Second clue? are people throwing their skis and poles on the floor nonchalantly, creating an ocean of eclectic boards, Prada shoes, Gucci goggles, gloves and so forth outside of bars and restaurants? if yes, you’re in Italy. (note: if they’re meticulously organised, you’re in Switzerland)

Extra clue: if people around you can telephone while skiing AND gesticulating….where else? Italian skills will never cease to amaze travellers….

Continue reading How to spot an Italian ski resort?

A Weekend in London, UK [wintertime]

 

London's sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it
London’s sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it. Photo taken by the Metropolitan Police on a foggy day.

hurrah we passed Valentines’s time and its lot of heart-shape Krispy creme and 50-stomething bearded men holding balloons (dear please please no), but fact is, London is rather romantic, ALL YEAR ROUND!! a couple of ideas for a long weekend

this article is a follow up on the summer version of this post

# 1 : Brunch, Afternoon High-Tea and GastroPub dinner – indulge with comfort food

When the weather goes chilly a cosy warm up is de rigueur, my favourite afternoon tea award goes to the Sketch : a very stylish, Michelin-star place, with a large collection of flavoured teas and lovely finger food….what else do you need?

Alternative options: recover from any hangover after a long and boozy night out with The breakfast club brunch, that now counts 5 locations, the Smith of Smithfield (and their Spitalfield sister that will reopen in March) , or the Hawksmoor full English breakfast where you can easily feed a young elephant .

There’s quite a few fabulous chimney warmed cosy gastro-pubs in London where you can watch the snowfall (or the rain poor but it sounds less glam), Time Out is always there to help.

Afternoon tea at the Sketch

#2: Culture, Music and other things to do
For guaranteed brownie points with a girl, you could check out what’s on at the Royal Albert hall or the  the Royal Opera; with a little bit of organisation and advance-booking you could bag a  top quality performance at relatively affordable prices. Tip: for best value, pick any of the amphitheatre seats, they all have quality views.

Alternative options: Jazz night & dinner at Rooney Scotts in Soho, ballet at the English National Opera, modern dance at the Sadler’s Well in Angel

Ice-skating in a  magical location is slightly cliché but still, a rather cool date, you’ll fall, laugh, and warm up with a hot-chocolate after-wile. From November to January, pre-book at the styli Sommerset house (central) , the classic Tower of London (East) or the west-based Natural History Museum, and avoid the crowds of the Winter Wonderland fair. 

London is simply beautiful by itself and in the winter, when sunset comes early you could take advantage of a dry day if any, to go walking around. From Sloane square to South Bank for example, watching the sunset on Embankment bridge.

#3 : No romantic weekend without some cuddling

My favourite cinema in the whole world goes to the Aubin, THE Shoreditch based maxi-hipster cuddly place. Faaaaaaaa-bulous Sundays.

Alternative options:  The Electric cinema  – get the front row double beds. Or for a different kind of cinema experience, pretty unique to London, you could check what’s on at the Future Cinema, even though I think they’re recently become way too steep.

 #4: Do things together will bring you closer

Fine, Sauna and Spa are a little bit cheesy as a romantic time for two, but yet it’s a marvellous. Always check out what’s on offers before you book. I recently tried those 2 and it was fantastic. at the Chelsea Club, ask for a  Japanese bath.  The St Pancras hotel spa has luxurious”journeys to …”, I don’t know if I came out of there “firm, purified, enlivened, from the nape of the neck to the tips of my toes” but  definitely came out of there with  numb  legs.

Why not learn something new? like how to make a cocktail, a.k.a. a socially acceptable way to have cocktails on a Saturday mid-afternoon. I have no problem with that. The London Cocktail club have a good beginner overview course, but that lacks a little bit of hand-on practise. Someone’s whispering to my ear that Harvey Nicholls’ bar actually has great master-classes.

#5: the WOW factor

London Royal Observatory

how could would it be to go Start gazing at the Royal Observatory, on the  meridian zero? get on their mailing list or keep checking the website for new event

For other good views of the city you can try the National Portrait gallery Restaurant with a view after, you could plan it following an exhibition, after the Thursdays / Fridays late opening.

and the 2nd part of the evening? I would favour a speakeasy type of place over a club. You two can chat over a delicious Manhattan (sorry! meant London dry gin!). The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar has basically invented London cocktails, with their signature over-the-top impeccable service; however my favourite remains the Calloh Callay at the heart of Shoreditch for their unbeatable friendly atmosphere (booking essential Thursday-Saturday).

Fresh winter run along regents canal with a friend!!!

Where People run

tokyo running map

When visiting a city, I always try and include a long run in my planning. It’s a great way to have a good overview of an area, mingle with the locals, and capture the atmosphere: nothing like running in Manhattan along the Hudson river to capture the empowering NY vibe…

Planning a run in a new city may take a little bit of prep, and one doesn’t always have a local friend to guide them. Where do people run? how cool would it be to use the tracking apps at an aggregated level to actually visualise the answer to that question?

Those 2 blogs have done it for us, using data from Edmondo – I’m all excited and planning my next run in Tokyo now :) happy geeking and running!!

http://barsukov.net/endomondo.html

http://flowingdata.com/2014/02/05/where-people-run/

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