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mini-blog: In pursuit of Rayas . . .

 

Although I appreciate good wine, I’m quite useless at selecting ‘a good bottle’.  As such, when ordering wine at a restaurant, I try to play it safe and select something that I know — i.e.  from a region or from an estate that I’m familiar with.  While this formula is mostly successful, it is not foolproof and as such, I can’t help but be disappointed when wine from ‘a good region’ is lackluster, dull, or just unpleasant.  In particular, Bruce and I have had more bad bottles than good ones from the famed region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape than we care to admit!  So, to remedy this problem, we decided to include visits to a few of the top CN-du-P estates during one driving holiday around France.  The goal was to visit the wineries and do a tasting so that we can separate the good from the bad.

Based on recommendations from a friend, we selected the ‘top 5’ CN-du-P wine estates to try:  Rayas, Beaucastle, Vieux Telegraphe, La Nerthe, and Fortia.  We had no problems visiting the top 4 estates and they all made us feel welcomed.  But the top estate (Rayas) was a bit of a mystery as it was not on any tasting map.  Intrigued, we went to a local wine shop to inquire more information about Rayas.  The owner of  the wine shop gave a friendly chuckle when we stated that we wanted to visit the estate.  ‘Not possible!’ he said as the old man who runs it is largely regarded as ‘slightly mad’.  The owner chuckled again when we asked if we could buy a bottle of Rayas from him.  Apparently, it is far easier to buy a bottle of Rayas in London or in Tokyo than it is to buy it in France as almost all is exported abroad.  We are now really intrigued!

Determined to find the Rayas winery, we asked the locals for directions.  It was clear from the beginning that this would not be easy.  We had to find another wine estate, then turn into a dirt road which then turned into a mud road which then turned into a country track.  We drove and bounced along the back alleys of several estates until we reached the end of the road the locals told us to take.  At first, we thought that we were lost as the only estate that we could see was signposted as Chauteau something-something and there were no signs for Chateau Rayas!  We almost turned our car around and head back to the village when Bruce spotted a _tiny_ sign hidden in the bushes that had an arrow and the wonderful words “Chateau Rayas”.

Buoyed with relief (and joy), we turned into another dirt road and drove.  But, after a few minutes, we became concerned as there were no telltale signs of a chateau tower or manicured garden (like Chateau Beacastle and Chauteau La Nerthe).  All we saw were rows and rows of grape vines in the fields.  Finally, we past an old shabby  building on our left (and I’d remarked to Bruce that we must be close by because this must be where the Rayas migrant field workers lived) and continued to drive on until we came across a chain that ran across the dirt path.  Dead end.  And, no chateau.

As we made such an effort to find this place, we decided to go back to the only building we saw and ask for help/direction.

I would be kind to describe this place as shabby.  It was more akin to a moonshine shack somewhere in the backwaters of the Mississippi.  Needless to say, it looked very unwelcoming.  Bruce wanted to hop back into the car and head back to the village.  But, I’m pig-headed stubborn.  So, when we arrived at the ‘front door’, we noticed that the door bell was pulled out.  Furthermore, the windows were blacken out and plastics bags and rubbish were jammed into every nook along the window for privacy.  Despite the inhospitable look of the place, we knocked on the door.  Silence.  We knocked again.  Silence.  In the end, we got the message and got into the car and drove back to the village.  But, as we pulled out, Bruce noticed shadows moving in the shed adjacent to the house.  There are obviously people about but they just didn’t want to be disturbed.

At the end of our driving holiday in France, I recounted this story to my sister (she is also a foodie).  Intrigued by our story, she did some investigation.  A few days later, she emailed me an article that she found on the internet about Chateau Rayas.  Apparently, the “moonshine shack” where I thought the migrant farm  workers might be living was actually Chateau Rayas ! ! !  OMG! The writer of this article did exactly the same thing we did and had the same issues we had.  Except, on the day the writer knocked on the door, Mr. Rayas Senior was in the mood for visitors and answered the door.

Lucky bugger . . . .

Months later and at Christmas, my sister presented us her surprise gift:  two bottles of Rayas!!!  And, with all honesty here, it was ASTOUNDING!  It was simply the best bottle of red I have ever had.  I could go into the details about the taste and notes, etc. but that would be pretentious.  The simple truth is that a Rayas makes all other red wine taste like water.  It is that good!

Our collection of (empty) Rayas bottles — from years of careful consumption!

FYI:  since our visit, the allegedly  ‘slightly mad’ owner has died and his son has taken over the running of the estate.  The wine we tasted was from a vintage when the elder Mr. Rayas was in charge.

 


Timeline and details of places travelled (thus far) . . .

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2015:

  • Jan/Feb: USA – Boston and Maine
  • March: Spain – Barcelona, Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba

2014:  

  • Feb: London
  • June/July: London, Yorkshire and Scotland

2013:

  • April: Tokyo and Kyoto
  • June: Indonesia
  • October: Mongolia
  • December: London, Yorkshire and Scotland

2012:

  • April:  Istanbul
  • August: Guizhou Province, China
  • Dec: New York City and Washington, DC

2011:

  • January: Burma
  • April: Sri Lanka
  • August: Sri Lanka

2010:

  • August: Kashgar, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
  • December:  Australia

2009:

  • March: Beijing, China
  • May: South Vietnam
  • November:  Northern India

2008:

  • April: Thailand
  • October: Bhutan

2007:

  • November: Cambodia

 

Prior travels include:  Europe and North America.  Bruce has been to Africa, but sadly not Tram.   Neither has not been to South America (yet!).

Bucket List includes: Skeleton Coast, Namibia; Patagonia; horse riding thru the Andes and Tajikistan; the ice hotel to see the Northern Lights; New Orleans for Mardi Gras; and Kashmir.


Equipment Details

Bruce photographs with a Nikon D700.

Tram photographs with:

  • Primary: Nikon D700 (converted as an infra-red camera) & a most beloved iPhone (especially with Hipstamatic)!
  • Secondary:  Nikon D300s
  • Tertiary: Nikon D70s (converted as an infra-red camera)

To be completely truthful, we are agnostic about cameras.  The reason why we use Nikon is because my uncle also uses Nikon.  I highly respect him — so, if it is good enough for him, then it is good enough for us!  Hence, we bought the D70s and it’s been Nikon ever since . . .  .  (Tram)


Travelling without a passport . . . to the Operas, Theatres, Galleries & Museums!

 

Sadly during one of our relocations, a chunk of the collection was lost !!!  So, to preserve what remained, I’m posting what is left of my collection online. . . . and then continued to do so!

 

2017:

Last Day — very crowded — but well worth the visit!

Another Royal Court triumph. Happy that it got some West End exposure — well deserved!

 

A real privilege to see F Murray Abraham on stage!

 

Interesting approach to wardrobe and set changes …. and brave to present a heavy topic across three parallel timelines!

 

… there isn’t enough gin in the world to make this terrible production enjoyable!

 

… the most enjoyable Shakespeare I’ve seen on stage thus far!

 

acting fine but staging & interpretation were literal and unimaginative. Disappointing.

 

Excellent technical staging to be marvelled.

On the day decision to see play … good call!

… not much of musical person myself, but, I truly did enjoy this. Technical staging is to be congratulated.

2016:

Enjoyed this so much but I bough txs to see this again at NT in Feb2018!

very clever and accomplished technical staging!

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Have to confess … (surprisingly) I did  NOT  enjoy this ….

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well designed stage set enabled a large platform to have an intimate feel for this cohesive and well performed drama

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Donmar did it again — one of the best drama of the year! Simply superb!

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Winter may be coming … but not Rob Madden! Understudy took over but sadly there was no chemistry between the two leads. Disappointing.

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such a shame that Vanessa Redgrave had such a trivial role …

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(Sadly, could not attend this production and therefore had to give my tickets away to a friend.  Thankfully, she’s a big Jon Snow fan!!!)

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Ralph Fiennes … again!

2015:

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Somehow I managed to snag the hottest tickets in town!!!

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2014:

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London stage in a Hong Kong cinema! Thank you NTLive!!!

 

Corlianus

via NTLive

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2013:

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tickets

2012

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2011

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com Hong Kong.  (An excellent production!)

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2010

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com (London)

HKArt2010 (Hong Kong)

2009

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Derek Jacobi  (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com  sadly, this was a horrible and disappointing production (Hong Kong)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com (Hong Kong)

2008

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Ralph Fiennes and Clare Higgins

2007

TheSeagull with Kristin Scott Thomas, Mackenzie Crook, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Carey Mulligan (London)

IQ2 Afgan debate2

IQ2 democracy debate2

2006

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Frank Langella and Michael Sheen (London)

VoyageAroundMyFather pamphlet with Derek Jacobi and Natasha Little (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Ian McKellan (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Jeremy Irons (London)

 

2005

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Eve Best, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian Glen (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.comwith Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin (NYC)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Helen McCrory, Sienna Miller, Dominic West (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Jeff Goldblum and Zeljko Ivanek (NYC)

JCesearLondonp2 Julius Caesar – with Ralph Fiennes (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Jim Broadbent and Rachael Stirling (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Ben Daniels and Michelle Fairley (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com Saw this with Donald and Christine (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Clare Higgins (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Michael Gambon, David Bradley, Matthew MacFadyen and Michelle Dockery (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.comfrom the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Natasha Richardson and John C. Reilly (NYC)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Jonny Lee Miller, Aidan Gillen and David Threlfall (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Denzel Washington (NYC)

PillaroftheCommunity p2 with Damian Lewis (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Harriet Walter, Janet McTeer and James Fleet (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Saffron Burrow and Christopher Eccleston (London)

Hecuba 2 with Vanessa Redgrave (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Ewan McGregor.  Saw this with friends Al and Kate (London)

DeathofaSalesman with Brian Dennehy and Clare Higgins (London)

AsYouDesireMe with Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins (London)

TheHouseofBernarda Alba with Penelope Wilton (London)

DonCarlos … and, one of my favourite production (definitely an all time Top 5) with Derek Jacobi (London).

GodofHell Donmar Warehouse production (London)

AFewGoodMen with Rob Lowe and John Barrowman (London)

IQ2 ebate 911 (debate – London)

TwoThousandYears (London)

RAThree Emperors (London)

MISSING: My Name is Rachel Corrie, The Royal Court Theatre (London)

MISSING: Harvest, The Royal Court Theatre (London)

 

2004

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Imogen Stubbs (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn (NYC)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Nathan Lane and Lee Evans (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Jeremy Irons, Hugh Dancy (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com saw this with friends Justin and Gabriella, London

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Richard Griffiths, Frances De La Tour, James Corden and Dominic Cooper (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Jonathan Pryce and Eddie Redmayne (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Saffron Burrows and Nigel Lindsay (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Diana Rigg and Victoria Hamilton (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Holly Hunter (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Jennifer Ehle and Kevin Spacey (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.comwith Aaron Eckhart and Julia Stiles (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Michael Gambon, Lee Evans (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Roger Allam and Conleth Hill (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Judi Dench (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com Saw this with Paul, Penny, Harriet, Steve, Jill, etc. as a family XMAS outing.

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com (London)

Missing: The Sweetest Swing in Baseball (with Gillian Anderson), The Royal Court, London

MissingThe Permanent Way (by David Hare), National Theatre, London

MissingStuff Happens (by David Hare), National Theatre, London

 

2003

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Ian McKellen and Frances De La Tour (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Ralph Fiennes (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com A truly remarkable production!  With Adrian Lester. (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Joseph Fiennes, John Barrowman and Olivia Williams (L0ndon)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Jim Broadbent and David Tennant (London).  This was so mesmerisingly brilliant that when The Pillowman moved to Broadway in 2005, I had to see this play again!

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Prunella Scales, Rupert Graves and Samantha Bond (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Simon Callow and Ann Mitchell (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Kristin Scott Thomas and Eric Sykes (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Derek Jacobi (London).  Saw this with John and Rachel.

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Tom Hardy, Jonny Lee Miller and Jane Asher (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with John Hannah and Sinead Cusack (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Patrick Stewart (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Kenneth Branagh (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Natasha Richardson (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Anthony Sher (London)

AReckoning with Jonathan Pryce (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Zoe Wanamaker, Alex Jennings, Margaret Tyzack (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory, Indira Varma (London)

Hitchcock Blonde  The Royal Court, London

MissingMy Brilliant Divorce (with Dawn French), Apollo Theathre, London

Missing:  Journey’s End, Comedy Theatre, London. (According to Bruce, I sat next to the actor who played Dr. Who in the 70s!)

Missing: The Price (by Arthur Miller), Apollo Theatre, London

MissingAuntie and Me, Wyndhams Theatre, London

 

2002

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Gillian Anderson and Roger Allam (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Woody Harrelson and Kyle MacLachlan (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Sean Bean and Samantha Bond (London)

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith (London)

1997:

from the private collection of www.le-mckernan.com

 

Prior:

Sunset Blvd (with Glenn Close), Broadway

Les Miserables, Broadway

Phantom of the Opera, Broadway and London

Miss Saigon (with Jonathan Pryce), Broadway


Travel Musings . . .

Ramen noodles in Tokyo

Ramen noodles in Tokyo

For when we are old, grey and forgetful . . .

 

“Don’t worry — if we crash, then we will crash slowly”  – Siem Reap taxi driver when he sees us concerned that the back seats are missing seat belts (Cambodia, 2007)

“Good brakes, good horns, lots of patience … and lots of good luck!” .  .  .  our driver’s motto (India, 2009)

Bryan Adams, mushroom soup, killing spiders by throwing shoes at the wall, news of the US Congress not passing TARP and the resulting financial meltdown, little kids in the internet cafe writing to their Western ‘pen pals’ on Facebook  (Bhutan, 2008)

Having dinner in Istanbul and then suddenly realising that our flight to Hong Kong was that evening (in 3 hours time!) rather than the next evening!  (Istanbul, 2012)

Seriously 1970s peroxided-blondes as air stewardess in the Air Uzbekistan business class lounge (Tashkent airport, 2010)

Black pepper crabs and crab curry on the beach at Same, Same But Different Restaurant (Thailand, 2008)

Bovine disrespect — Bruce getting pushed around while photographing streetlife and the pushers were the cows roaming the streets!

Clockwork cicadas by our beach resort — they were so loud that at first we thought they were alarms from nearby villas.  (Thailand, 2008)

Non-stop nightly canine operas and sleeping dogs in the middle of the street in the middle of the day (Bhutan, 2008)

Saigon taxi driver trying (but failed) to scam us — airport toll was only 10,000 dongs but he tried to pass it off as 100,000!  When I questioned the amount, he gave me a receipt but the receipt had the wrong date on it.  Furthermore, driver refused to pull up to the hotel drive (thus the hotel staff could not intervene and assist in settling the dispute).

The Amanusa beach all to ourselves with bar service and WiFi (Indonesia, 2013)

Crooked museum staff tried to get Westerners to pay (in cash) a dollar each for picture-taking-fee in the museum courtyard (Cambodia, 2007)

Monklets with toy machine guns at the festivals (Bhutan, 2008)

The BEST massage ever at the Oberoi Hotel (Agra, Indi, 2009)

The AMAN cocktail – 42 Below Manuka Honey Vodka, guava & peach juice and fresh mint – the best cocktail ever!  (Beijing, 2009)

A Chin shaman from a nearby village insistent on selling a necklace that has been in his family for 10 generations in order to buy rice for the village after their entire rice harvest was destroyed by a plague of rats. (Burma, 2011)

Tracking our route with a GPS device and old Soviet maps. (Mongolia, 2013)

Eating our way thru Washington, DC with MyHanh and Chris (Dec 2012) and New York City with Roz and Steve (Dec 2012)

 

 

 

 


Top Portraits by Bruce (as selected by Tram) . . .

The below are Tram’s selection of Bruce’s best portrait photographs.

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August 2011 – Sri Lanka

My absolute favourite portrait taken by Bruce is from the Esala Perahera festival in Sri Lanka.  The evening street festival was exceedingly difficult to photograph — it was dark and crowded and we were immobile.  Furthermore, the light condition changed rapidly as the festival was lit by fire (with the torch bearers moving along with the parade route).  And from the mass of movement, heat, smoke and human bodies, Bruce managed to capture a lone dancer partially lit by a nearby flame.  The result suggested a moment of calm, tranquility and intimacy; the reality was it was a noisy, energetic and dynamic in a sea of music and dances.

Bruce’s other top portraits are:

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L to R: Burma, India and Uzbekistan

B portrait set 2

L to R: Guizhou China, Burma, Burma, Guizhou China.

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Burma

 

 

 


Tram’s TOP 20 images . . . .

This post actually started out as a simple (and private) exercise to pick out my absolute favourites and then to try to understand what it is exactly that I liked about them.  The ultimate goal is to understand what makes a great photo and more importantly, what can I learn from my past images.  I fully admit that many of the images I’ve selected have myriad technical flaws — but, this is a personal compilation and is therefore completely subjective.  As this project has grown, I’ve added technical details (where needed) as well as the backstory to enliven the images.  In addition to this, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite images that Bruce has taken …  whether he’ll do his own TOP 20 list is depends on how much time he has …

(For my favourite RugbySevens images, please review this link.)

Tram’s pick of her TOP 20 images:

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Favourite Image – Oct 2009 – India

Nowadays I almost always photograph with either my converted infrared cameras or with my iPhones (predominately using the Hipstamatic app). My unconverted (or, normal) camera is usually left inside my camera bag and I tend to use this as a backup camera (if I remember to pack it).  As such, it is therefore   deeply   ironic that my all-time favourite image was taken with a “normal” SLR camera.

This is a special image that still resonates because it was this image that gave me the confidence to photograph more.  I owe a debt of gratitude: to my uncle Chris for inspiring me to pick up this hobby; to Bruce because we are sooooooo competitive and thus I’m always trying to take better photographs than him; to photographer Nevada Wier for convincing me that I should be shooting in RAW format instead of JPEGS (thankfully this was captured in RAW!!!!); and, to this mystery lady who really got me thinking that I could take decent images!

 

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April 2012 – Hong Kong – infrared

(2) I went to Cheung Chau island to photograph the annual Bun Festival.  Unbeknownst to me, the municipality sponsored an opera to coincide with the festival.  As I had hours to kill before the start of the festival, I used all of my American charm to curry favour backstage access.  The performers and stage hands were wonderful!  Although I was most definitely in the way (the backstage area was TINY!), they indulged me with their generosity and I was there for about an hour.

This image is particularly special as I was using my new D700 camera for the first time since it’s conversion to infra-red.  Because the camera’s sensor still thinks it is capturing normal light (and infra is a different wave length), autofocus did NOT work.  As such, I had to use LiveView to manually focus and LV is infinitely slower and very cumbersome.  Furthermore, the lightening backstage was poor and came from harsh fluorescent bulbs.  Needless to say, I was cursing at myself for ‘vandalising’ my new D700.  But something just clicked and inexplicably I managed to get this amazing image.  I simply love the way infrared captured this performer’s hands and how the light gives the makeup a mask-like appearance!

 

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(3) A lucky shot!  What more can I saw other than I was at the right place and at the right time.  (And thank goodness the light in the arena was good — otherwise, the infrared camera would have it’s focus in a real twist!)  This image encapsulates serendipity!  And sometimes, that is what a photographer needs in his/her camera bag.

 

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January 2011 – Burma

(4) I love, love, love this monklet!  I was on a photography tour with Nevada Wier and we gatecrashed into a study hall at a monastery in Yangoon.  The senior monk permitted us to photograph the monklets practicing their chants.  They were all wonderfully photogenic (and patient with us!).  But this monklet was a standout for me.  I love the fact that he has an ink tattoo on his legs and that the red robe did not rob him of his boyish antics.  This was an unstaged photo opportunity which meant that I had to work in a ‘real’ environment.  The room was actually too dark for my normal day lens and I didn’t want to use flash as it would completely ruin the atmosphere (as well as piss off the other photographers).  Thankfully, prior to this trip, Bruce convinced me to buy a 50mm lens which made a world of difference!  I was able to crack open the aperture and take advantage of the late afternoon light coming in from a tiny window.   (Thank you Brucey!!!)

 

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April 2012 – Istanbul – infrared

(5) When I photographed the Haghia Sophia from afar, I didn’t realised how well the infrared camera would bring out the landscape in the background or how well it would render the Bosphorus. As such, the infrared light gave it a distinctive and other-worldly effect (almost something from ‘Game of Thrones’).  In effect, it gave an much beloved (and much photographed) iconic building a unique twist.

 

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May 2013

(6) Backstage at the opera at the Cheung Chau Bun Festival (again).  After the success of the previous year, I returned in 2013 as I wanted to photograph the performers again — but this time with my iPhone (Hipstamatic – lens: Tinto 1884; fils: C-Type Plate; no flash).  I’d focused on the face and the Hipstamatic application did the rest.  I just loved the way Hipstamatic blurred everything other than the focal point. As a result, this gave the performer an immediate virtual spotlight!

 

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March 2012 – Hong Kong – infrared

(7) This was an once-in-a-lifetime image for me …. and I almost missed the opportunity.  I was due to meet up with Bruce and a friend at a bar for evening cocktails and I almost didn’t take my camera along.  Although a D70s isn’t huge, it is rather clunky to carry for an evening event.  But something told me to take the camera with me.  So, in addition to having a healthy dosage of serendipity in my camera bag, I also have to thank the photography gods for giving me good intuition!

 

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Mongolia

(8) I just love the way infra-red captured the texture of the fur coat as well as the horse mane.  This gives the image a depth and a uniqueness.  But this image has a special story attached to it.  As a digital photographer, it is easy to become numb during the image-processing phase (especially when there are hundreds of images to scope).  As such, it is very easy to overlook an image.  This particular image was one that was bypassed.  Many months after the initial processing, I’d reviewed some other images and noticed this one.  As I developed the image, it occurred to me how special and beautiful it us.  As such, this image serves as a cautionary tale.

 

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(9) “Will he? Won’t he?” . . .   I love the way this image tells a story at a precise moment in time.   Of the thousand of images I’d taken that day, this is still my clear favourite because in one image, I see:  hope, fear, aggression, and possible salvation.

 

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April 2011 – Sri Lanka – infrared

(10) This image is a standout for me for two reasons.  First, I love the texture of the elephants’ skins and the way the light bounces off the wet patches on the skin.  Second, I love the composition — especially in the way the two adult elephants are in profile, adjacent to each other and perfectly aligned to form a visual trickery.  Specifically, the two elephants appear to merge together and as a result, a frontal view of a “face” appears.

 

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July 2012 – Guizhou, China – infrared

(11) I just love the way my infrared camera captures light — especially when the subject is backlit. In addition, I love the various textures captured in this image.  As a result, this becomes a richly layered image for me.

 

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August 2011 – Sri Lanka – infrared

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(12) This image (uncertain if it is better in portrait or landscape mode) is a ‘love-it-or-hate-it image’ because there are many technical flaws.  Personally, I love it.  Perhaps it is because I know that this was a technically challenging event to photograph and as such, to get an image like this one is personally rewarding.

The Esala Perahera festival in Sri Lanka was an evening festival.  Moreover, it was a crowded event and as spectators, Bruce and I were confined to our seats (five rows back from the street and with people all around us).  As such, we had to photograph where we were planted — we could not move, shoot high or shoot low. An extra challenge I had was that I was photographing with my D70s and it was recently converted to infrared.  In insufficient light, an infrared camera would clonk out as it could not focus properly.  In addition, my D70s was a starter camera and as such I could not crank up the ISO without getting a lot of background noises. Thankfully, we were there for three days and had three opportunities to photograph the festival.

I love the way the infrared camera captured the heat haze.  In addition, I love the way the mahout is enveloped in heat, fire and light.  The setting is almost demonic and hellish.  It is surreal.  It is eye-catching.  Love it or hate it, it’s the kind of image that if you saw it in a magazine, you would stop to ponder it for a few seconds — this is a hallmark of the kind of photograph that I want to take!

 

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August 2011 – Sri Lanka – infrared

(13) I know it’s cheating to count a set of three images as one image, but these three images form the basis of my ‘Sri Lankan Victorian Ghosts’ portfolio and now serve as the foundation for my experimental infrared images.  They are on my list of top images because they are hugely important and very influential in my development as a photographer.  The absolute truth is that these were mistakes — and I actually came _very_ close to deleting them.  But, once again I owe a debt of gratitude to Nevada Wier who gave me very sage advice: don’t delete an image straight from your camera; always view the image on a proper screen first before deciding that the image is truly unsalvageable.  (Thank you x100 Nevada!)  The morning after the Esala Perahera festival, I’d reviewed my images and I was quite struck by the elderly lady sitting on the street (middle photo in the set).  There was an etherial and ghostly beauty and I was captivated.

As previously mentioned, the above images were ‘mistakes’ in that the effects were unintentional.  Due to the poor lighting of the street festival, I had to crank up the ISO, reduce the shutter speed and play around with the aperture.  In addition, I could not use a tripod and therefore my images were subjected to camera shake.  Nonetheless, I love the outcome.  Nowadays, after I have taken my ‘insurance shot’ (another great tip from Nevada), I now try to play around and replicate what I’d accidentally did in Sri Lanka . . .

 

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Oct 2009 – India (image sharpened in PS)

(14) While I love this image because it is beautiful (the image speaks for itself), this image is on the list because it played a huge role my development.  First, it gave me confidence that I could translate what I see into something photogenic.  Second, it seriously broke my heart.

When this photograph was taken, I was very much a novice with my camera’s functions.  As a result, I relied heavily on it’s preset modes (i.e. auto, landscape, portraits, night images, etc.).  At the time, I told myself that (unlike geeky Bruce) I really didn’t need to master shutter speed, depth of field, etc. because I had a smart camera (Nikon D70s) and thus as long as I had the correct setting, I would be all right.  WRONG!   I think I was photographing this in either landscape or portrait mode.  Regardless, the shutter speed was 1/60 second and as such, the woman’s face was too soft.  (Image has since been sharpened in Photoshop.)  I’d cursed myself repeatedly for being so foolish and as a direct result of this image, I forced myself to learn how to use my camera and more about photography.

 

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Aug 2012 – Guizhou – infrared

(15) In this image, the model was getting quite bored.  For the past 10 minutes, she was “working the cameras” for the roomful of photographers.  At first, she was thrilled to be the center of attention.  But, as the click-click-click became monotonous, she started to become disinterested and lost her focus.  And from this came an unguarded moment which resulted in this beautiful portrait.

 

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October 2013 – iPhone

(16) I am particularly fond of this image because it is unstaged and spontaneous.  Bruce and I were hosted by Manaa and his family for seven nights in western Mongolia.  Our host was a champion Eagle Hunter and therefore was very comfortable (and proud) to be photographed.  After a meal, he gazed out of the window.  I had my iPhone next to me and I immediately took a few snaps using Hipstamatic (lens: Tinto 1884; fils: C-Type Plate; no flash) to capture the moment. Of the many, many, many images that I’ve taken on Manaa over the week, this is my clear favourite because it showed him in his true light — dignified and serene!

 

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(17) ‘Go Girl!  Go!’  My heart still skips a beat when I see this image as it is very simple and yet very empowering!

 

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Feb 2013 – Hong Kong – iPhone

(18) I love my iPhone because it is perfect for a quick snap.  In particular, I love the way Hipstamatic (Tinto 1884 lens and D-Type film) gave this image a vintage feel.  As such, Hipstamatic transformed a interesting picture (with the odd juxtaposition of old and new) into something more cohesive.  In other words, the vintage effect reinforces the narrative and thus reinforces the odd juxtaposition.

 

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August 2012 – Guizhou, China – infrared

(19)  This image would never quality as ‘postcard pretty’ — and this is why I love this photograph.  It is unconventional and it is a realistic capture of everyday life in the markets somewhere (anywhere) in China.  I particularly like the flow in the image — ie the eyes are taken from right to left — and that the image is richly layered.

 

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October 2013 – Mongolia – infrared

(20) I love the intimacy and sense of serenity captured in this moment with the Eagle Hunter.  The extra zing in this image comes when one contrasts the hunter’s softness with the sharpness, strength and power coming from the eagle.

 

.   .   .   and other favourite images that didn’t quite make it onto the Top 20 list, but are still special (to me) nonetheless  . . .

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(21) Although there are many technically stronger images of this horse wrestling match in the Kyrgyzstan album and although this image is compositionally weak, I prefer this image above the others because for some inexplicable reasons, I connect with this image more.  Perhaps it is the expression on the face … Or, it is because there is a fluidity in his movement (ie the rider leans back and away from the ‘horse head punch’) that appeals. Regardless, this image challenges me because I can’t quite explain why I like it so much.

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Bruce has often said that he’d envied my American “unembarrassability” as this enabled me to ask complete strangers for their permission to photograph them and/or, to get really up-close to the subject (rather than rely on zoom lenses).  As such, he said that this characteristic makes me a stronger portrait photographer.  While I appreciate his compliments, his portraits aren’t too bad either   :>)  …   In fact, some of his are actually amazing  – to see Bruce’s best portraits, please click here.

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Oct 2013 – Mongolia – infrared

This image didn’t make onto the Top20 list because it was instinctively captured as a Mongolian horseman flew past me.  The backstory behind this image was that I have just taken my “insurance shots” of the Mongolian riders playing their horse games.  As such, I decided to be artsy-fartsy instead and experimented with shutter speeds.  In addition, I tried to do a few panning shots as the horsemen raced by.  During a lull, I was speaking to Bruce and in the distance I saw a horseman racing towards my direction.  Without thought, I immediately grabbed my camera and started to take shots.  Sadly, the shutter speed was 1/30 second so of the four images I managed to snap, all but one were streaks of blurred blah. But in a sea of blah, this stunning image emerged.

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April 2013 – Tokyo

This isn’t a complex image; in fact, it is nothing more than a bowl with what was left from THE BEST RAMEN NOODLES I’ve ever had (street vendor on the main street adjacent to the Tokyo Fish Market).  Nonetheless, I love the simplicity, symmetry, colours and patterns in this image (iPhone-Hipstamatic: Tinto 1994 lens and Blanko film).

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June 2013 – Indonesia

 ((  kindly note that this list is currently “work in progress”  ))

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2012 – Hong Kong – infrared

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Augt 2012 – Guizhou – infrared

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April 2012 – Istanbul – infrared

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Oct 2009 – India

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Jan 2012 – Hong Kong – infrared

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June 2013 – Indonesia

 

 


Buzkashi – Mongolian Horse Games

 

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People of Mongolia

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Champion eagle hunter at rest at home …

 

 


Eagle Festival

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Eagle attempting to perch on his trainer’s arm before he is ready . . .

 

 

 


More images from Mongolia . . .

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Bruce’s TOP 20 images . . .

Bruce’s TOP 20 images as selected by Tram (because Bruce is just tooooooo busy) . . . .

Please note that this based on personal taste and is therefore completely subjective.

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(1) Mongolia, Oct 2013

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(2) Sri Lanka, August 2011

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(3 & 4) Bhutan, Oct 2008

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(5 & 6) Kyrgyzstan

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(7) Sri Lanka, August 2011

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(8) Burma, January 2011

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(9) Mongolia, Oct 2013

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(10) Burma, January 2011; (11) India, Oct 2009; (12) Uzbekistan, August 2010

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(13 ) Burma, January 2011

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(14) Burma, January 2011

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(15) India, Oct 2009

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(16) India, Oct 2009

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(17) Burma, January 2011

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(18) Guizhou, China – August 2012

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(19 ) Burma, January 2011

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(20 ) Indonesia, July 2013

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Bruce and I have different taste.  So, if Bruce was to compile his own TOP 20 images, I know that he would have these on the top of his list . . . .

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Sri Lanka, August 2011

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Sri Lanka, August 2011

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Sri Lanka, August 2011

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Burma, January 2011

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India, Oct 2009

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Guizhou, China – August 2012

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Burma, January 2011

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Burma, January 2011


Travel Blog – Indonesia

Indonesia

My sister’s work colleague (Toro) has a saying about Japanese temples:  if there are no school kids around, then it’s not a real temple.  Well, what is true in Japan is also true in Indonesia.

Kids:  We are working on a school project and have a few questions for you.  May we have  few minutes of your time?  

Bruce:  Of course.

Kids: Where are you from? …  How long are you staying in Indonesia?  Do you like Indonesia? Do you like the food?  What do you think of the people?  How is our English?  And, can we take a picture with you? 

If you’re Asian like I am, then the above only happened several times.  However, if you are tall, blonde and have blue eyes (like Bruce) then imagine the above multipled by 50.  Welcome to the world of ‘tourist hunters’.  Thankfully, instead of pickpockets and thieves, the hunters were the flocks of school kids on assignment to practice their English with foreigners.  And, _everyone_ wanted to practice their English with Bruce!  And given that we were such an ‘odd couple’, we really stood out amongst the crowd and immediately drew the attention of the school kids like bears to honey.

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It was interesting to watch the school kids operate around the temple grounds.  They mostly traveled in packs and the most audacious in the group would shout out ‘hello’.  If you hello back, then you’re automatically hooked.  And, usually only one or two in the group would do the talking (which defeated the purpose of getting all the kids to practice their English).  So, my strategy was to ask each kid for their name and age and once the rapport was established, the conversation became more dynamic.  As enjoyable as it was to interact with the school kids, we started to attract a crowd.  So, it soon became a never-ending queue of school kids wanting to practice English with us.   Hence, we spent more time being interviewed then actually visiting the temples!  In the end, we spotted another group of Westerns and started to tail them.  This served to load-balance the interview queue and ultimately, we managed to engineer a few brief moments to ourselves while on the temple grounds.

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Prambanan temple complex

And temples we did visit!   Temples to culture.  Temples to religion.  And temples to the beaches.  We’d organised our holiday into three phases: first, five days in Ubud to absorb the Balinese culture; then, four days in central Java to visit Borobudur — the largest Buddhist temple in the world; and finally, two days in Bali to soak up the beach.  Because each phase was so different from each other, we felt that we had three distinctive vacations back-to-back.  It was such a wonderful way to explore and enjoy Indonesia!

Ubud:

According to the locals, Ubud during peak season is insane with the tiny town inundated with tourists.  Fortunately, we arrived just a few weeks shy from the start of the peak season so we had the best temperature but without the traffic madness.  And, it meant that we had no difficulties getting dinner reservations at the recommended restaurants.  There were two Balinese dishes that we were absolutely determined to try — bebek betutu (slow roasted, leaf-wrapped duck) at The Dirty Duck and babi guling (suckling pig on a spit) at Ibu Oka.  The former required 24-hours advance notice because the duck is slow-cooked.  The latter does not, but, it required getting to the restaurant early because the babi guling often sell out quickly.

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As tourists, we were spoiled for choice in terms of evening performance — every night around the Ubud palace, there were traditional Balinese dances at various venues.  The performances in front of the ‘lotus pond temple’ was one of the better ones.  At night, the area was lit up with candles and the temple served as the backdrop. In the vicinity were restaurants with views of the stage and thus it was possible (usually with advance reservation) to have dinner whilst watching the performances. (No surprises — the food was distinctively mediocre as the restaurants relied solely on passing tourist trade.)

Ubud, Indonesia

But the most memorable performance we found was actually well off the tourist path.  We came upon Kecak – the Monkey Chant Dance — quite by chance as it was not on the hotel’s radar of cultural things to do/see.  Instead, we found this performance as a result of checking the local papers. (Travel tip:  always read the local papers and ask the locals.  Don’t depend solely on the hotel staff.)  We had no idea what to expect as we went to the performance on a hunch. And, it was well worth the effort — it was stunning, captivating and engaging.

Ubud, Indonesia

Kecak is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana and is told as a dance. It is not accompanied by any musical instruments. Instead, a chorus of approximately seventy men imitate the sounds of musical instruments, tell the story, and provide sound effects.

Another fond memory from Ubud was the fantastic Bird and Reptile Park.  We typically don’t visit zoos when we travel, but, we had a spare afternoon. Perhaps we enjoyed it because we had low(ish) expectations.  Regardless, the park was well designed (with a walk-thru aviary) and it had wide variety of healthy birds (plus one Komodo dragon).  One in particular caught me attention and it was very patient with me as I’d clicked-clicked-clicked away with my Nikon.

Indonesia

Although Ubud is famous for it’s art galleries, we avoided hitting the galleries and shops as we were more interested in going off-the-beaten track.  As such, we hired a car and driver and drove around the vicinity checking out the local temples.  En route to a temple, we saw a group of women harvesting rice and we immediately pulled over.  They were so amused and perplexed that we wanted to photograph them working.  In fact, the ladies giggled solidly throughout the entire impromptu photo session.

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Borobudur: 

On paper, getting to Borobudur from Bali is a simple one-hour flight away.  In reality, it took almost a full day in transit (mostly due to the crazy road traffic).  Thankfully, we allowed ourselves extra time and thus didn’t stress out when we crawled along the main road connecting Yogyakarta to Borobudur.  It was particularly entertaining to see the local Javanese turn a two-lane street into a four-lane road.  At one point, an ambulance with sirens on came blazing by and made space thru the traffic jam.  And although we were not surprised to see a few cars ‘cheat’ and follow the ambulance, we were not expecting to see an entire (new) lane follow the ambulance.  In the end, the new ‘ambulance chase’ lane stretched for about 1/2 mile long until the traffic on the opposite lane finally forced the ambulance chasers back onto their own lane.  Our driver was completely non-plussed as this was everyday normal for him!

Although Borobudur is mana for temple fans and could rival the likes of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Borobudur has less development.  As far as we could see, the amenities in the area was very limited and thus we had to rely on our hotel for all meals and for travel logistics.  Luckily, our hotel looked after us exceptionally well and we managed to explore Borobudur several times — at sunrise, at midday, and at dusk.  In addition, we hired a car and driver to take us to the Prambanan temple complex and to the smaller (and less crowded) temples in the vicinity.

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Borobudur

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Bali: 

Even though neither Bruce nor I are sun worshippers and beach goers, we organized a two night stay in Bali to ease ourselves to the end of our holiday in Indonesia.  Not content to just sit on the beach (although we definitely had to do it once and it was great — the hotel had a private beach and the beach huts had WiFi !!!!), we organized outings as well as a souffle cooking course with the Executive Chef.  It was a fabulous way to unwind and to prepare ourselves to say goodbye to Indonesia!

Bali, Indonesia

 


Displays

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This is a collection of stunning window displays and artwork from ‘the motherships’ (i.e. my favourite stores).


Published Works

eBook:

Reuters.com

 

Guardian.co.uk 

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Telegraph.co.uk

 


Top RugbySevens Images . . .

A selection of my favourite images are below.  (To see the larger collection, please click on this link.)

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Travel Video – Page 4

Gentle reminder: neither Bruce nor I are professional videographers and therefore we can honestly attest that our travel videos are most definitely “on the rubbish side“. Nonetheless, we’ve decided to post these online if only to enrich the backstories to our travel.

  • Destinations A – I : page 1 
  • Destinations I – L : page 2
  • Destination M (Mongolia) : page 3 

 

(Recommended) Spain‘s Santa Semana festival:

 

 

 

 

(Recommended) Sri Lanka‘s Esala Perahera festival:

 

 

 

 

 

Tajikistan:  the ancient sites of Penjikent

 

Uzbekistan:  Samarkand at sunrise … and without the hordes of tourists!

 

Uzbekistan:  Samarkand

 

 


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Protected: Beard Diary . . .

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Travel Video – Page 2

Gentle reminder: neither Bruce nor I are professional videographers and therefore we can honestly attest that our travel videos are most definitely “on the rubbish side“. Nonetheless, we’ve decided to post these online if only to enrich the backstories to our travel.

  • Destinations A – I: page 1 
  • Destinations I – L: page 2
  • Destination M (Mongolia): page 3

 

(Recommended) IndonesiaKecak – the Monkey Chant Dance

 

Indonesia: Borobudur — Indonesia’s majestic equivalent to Angkor Wat (Cambodia)

 

Indonesia: Some of temples at Prambnan were damaged by an earthquake. As such, it was mandatory that all visitors wear safety helmets.

 

Istanbul: Early morning calls to prayer at the Blue Mosque.

 

(Recommended) Japan: Sumo Wrestling in the middle of a busy crosswalk in Tokyo!

 

Kashgar: Night Markets

 

Kyrgyzstan: Roadtrip – bouncing along  in a zill (an ex-Soviet truck)

 

 


mini-blog: Eating Our Way Around the Best of London and Paris . . .

This is work in progress & still in DRAFT mode . . . .  please be patient.  (August 2017) 

Please note that there are no advertisements, no sponsored links, and not even a Facebook LIKE button on this site.  In short, this website is neither governed nor influenced by commercial interests.  Without exceptions, all travels and related expenses are paid for by ourselves (or by our dinner companions).  Moreover, we do NOT receive any perks, advantages, endorsements, and/or discounts from the travel blogs.  As such, all opinions/ viewpoints/ recommendations/ critiques featured on this site are wholly our own and are not influenced by commercial interests.

Editor’s Note:  This site is created for our families and friends and is a way for us to share our travel experiences with them; this site is not intended to be a ‘foodie site’ (therefore there won’t be any culinary rhapsody or technical gawking).  We had such an amazing tasting adventure during our travels around London and Paris that I thought this experience merits a mini-blog in its own right.  This mini has 2 sections:  the first is a photo essay purely on The Fat Duck whereas the second part explores the many delightful bites from both sides of the English Channel.

The Fat Duck: 

A meal at The Fat Duck is a journey in and of itself.  The journey is based on a childhood memory of going on a holiday to the seaside and to the woods.  The meal represents a single day in this nostalgic adventure.  To assist us through this journey, the Fat Duck provides a map which is also our menu as we meander our way thru the 17 courses over 4.5 hours.  Our compass on this journey is our senses:  sight, smell, sound, touch and taste.  

Journey Stage 1: getting ready

Course 1: A Change of Air  

A choice of alcoholic refreshers to fortify the parents before disembarking on a summer holiday to the shores!

 

Course 2:  beetroot macaroon with a sweetish savoury horseradish creamy filling

Course 3:   Just the Tonic!

Smoked cumin Royal Jerusalem artichoke ice cream in a bed of herbs reminiscent of a G&T

 

Journey Stage 2: Breakfast 

Course 4:

Course 5: 

Journey Stage 3: At the Seaside  

Course 6:

Course 7:

Course 8:  

Journey Stage 4: Walking Thru the Woods   

Course 9:  Damping Through the Boroughgroves … 

 

Course 10:

Journey Stage 5: Time for Dinner    

Course 9: 

Course 10:

Course 11:

Course 12:

Journey Stage 6: Off to Bed     

Course 13: 

 

Journey Stage 6: Dreamland     

Course 14: 

 

Verdict:

Whist some of the whizz-bang wonderfulness of the meal is a little gimmicky, all special effects employed tie back to the original goal of getting us to experience the meal thru our senses of sight, smell, sound, touch and taste.  And, as I have now completed this journey, I would also add ‘imagination‘ to the list.

Although the meal spans multiple courses, at the end of journey, I was happily replete.  It appears that The Fat Duck engineered the meal so that it feeds the senses first and foremost so that the stomach is not overloaded and laden.  The end result is: Perfection.  Succinctly, I’ve eaten very well but did not feel overburdened.

Some writers have opined on the morality of the costs of a Fat Duck meal.  I acknowledge this position, but, I would argue that a meal at The Fat Duck is not just ‘a meal’.  It is an interactive theatre (between the diner and the chef as well as between the diner and his/her companions) that spans 4-5 hours.  The front-of-house service operates as flawlessly as a professional ballet production.  The technical expertise front & back of the house is as demanding as any West End musical production.  Therefore, in appreciation of the hugely technical and professional skills set required to produce each sitting, I think the costs associated with this is fair value.  Especially as this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Overall Assessment from this trip:

Covering meals from Le Gavroche (Mayfair), Heston’s Dinner (Mandarin Oriental Hotel London), Camelia Restaurant (Paris), City Social (Tower42), and others: 

This is super difficult as some of these dishes are simply unique and incomparable.  Moreover, the selection is highly personal as the experience is subjective to mood, time, and context.  As such, reviewing a ‘fine dining experience’ is as similar as reviewing a theatre experience — and with all the pitfalls and caveats!  For example, the 2003 Theatre Royal production of Ibsen’s Brand consistently ranks in Bruce’s Top 3.  Although I’ve seen the production along with Bruce in exactly the same environment, this production would barely break my Top 50!  The other thing to note is the volume of exceptionally delicious dishes means that the bell curve skews the ranking.  Some dishes that would normally rank highly on a normal day are not in the top tier in this assessment.  (Sorry ‘Old Spots Ribs’ at the Hawksmoor Borough — you were absolutely delicious but you just can’t compete against Thierry Marx’s exceptional dishes at the Camelia Restaurant!)

Top Tier: Almost Spiritual 

Camelia Restaurant (Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Paris).  A very memorable plate from this trip! This is surprising wonderful because it so simple and clean.  The combination of sweet tomatoes and strawberries with soft cheese and a light vanilla-esque dressing is unimaginably delicious!

CALAMARI RISONI – with squid ink, tagliatelle of cuttlefish, crunchy vegetables

Another triumph from Camelia Restaurant!  This was simply stunning.  The saltiness of the Parmesan cheese shaving complimented the earthiness of the risotto and the smooth texture of the cuttlefish tagliatelle.

Dinner at Mandarin Oriental Hotel: everyone at the table had a taste of the Meat Fruit and all were in agreement that it was a show-stopper!  The chicken liver was incredibly smooth and the sweetness and tang from the ‘mandarin’ shell just added another depth and oomph which complimented the richness of the uber-buttered toast.  The main plate was a spiced squab and it was cooked to just pink perfection.  The dessert was a boooooozy ‘Tipsy Tart’ and it hit just the right note in terms of punch and in terms of lightness. Wonderful meal.

 

City Social: Pea Tartlet – both light (pastry) and hearty (smoked haddock) tartlet to start off a wonderful meal.

City Social also scored another ACE with it’s amazing Rum Babba…..

 

2nd Tier:  Memorably Delicious in Every Way 

Another Camelia triumph …  This suckling pig delight is just on the cusp of breaking thru to the 1st Tier ranking.  But on balance, it is slightly better than the near flawless duck from Le Gavroche but just a shade shy of exquisiteness to tip this dish into the top rank!

 

Duck at Le Gavroche (London)

 

Succulent ‘Old Spot ribs’ — a lovely starter at the Hawksmoor Borough (London)

 

3rd Tier:  Delicious but not Earth-Shatteringly So . . . . 

Potato Lompe and Monkfish Liver – by Alex Nietosvuori at Carousel-London

 

Ooozying with butter … scummy oyster crock monsieur from Bentley’s in Piccadilly (London)

 

Crab rolled in cucumber, shiso and wasabi — it came with a fresh granita to accentuate the flavour and to freshen the dish.

 

 

 

 

 


mini-blog: What to do in London?

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This is, in theory, an easy trip to plan as I know London very well given that I have lived here on & off for over 11+ years.   The challenge before me today is that my sister and her husband are over to visit and they too been here many times before.   As such, ‘typical tourists things’ are off the agenda . . .  so, what to do? How to do a staycation with city experts? 

Scope: 18 days in London (and possibly elsewhere …. maybe a last minute trip to Paris or Barcelona!).

Budget: no hard limits.  Obviously, we don’t want to over spend but at the same time, it is important to have fun.

Goals:  food, culture and experiences.

Blog Framework:  a running diary interspersed with opinions & thoughts; the verdict (recommendations and opinions) is at the end.  As not everyone is a foodie, I’ve kept the foodie-stuff light in this blog and have a separate mini-blog just covering the wonderful food we’ve had the privilege to enjoy on this trip.

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August 2017

Day 1 – Tuesday: 

Heathrow at 6:30 AM.  Kisses, kisses, hugs, hugs — my sister has arrived!  Years and years ago, I was a Heathrow Express zealot.  But since then, I’ve discovered & embraced the Piccadilly Line to/from Heathrow.  It’s a longer trip than Heathrow Express (roughly 1 hour from the terminals to Zone 1 in central London) and it only costs approximately GBP3 (if you use an Oyster or contactless card) whereas a single trip on the Heathrow Express is approximately GBP22.  For me, the ‘time saved’ using the Heathrow Express is negligible as it terminates at Paddington Station which is not convenient if your final destination is in South London or East London.

To help Sis get over the jet lag, I’ve planned for a ‘clock reset’ which entails copious amount of oil, pummelling, and ‘me time’ …  So we are off to the Aman Spa at the Connaught Hotel.  Yes, it is $$$ but it perfectly sets the tone for this trip as we would start off completely refreshed and relaxed.  (Confession:  I am a spa tart!)  To get ‘value of money’, we were there an hour before the appointment to use the pool and steam room to zone out.

Prior to this trip, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how best to fill out the itinerary so that it is different from a typical tourist schedule.  We’ve done high tea at the Ritz and Dorchester years and years ago and I was not keen to repeat the experience.  I came across a bakery that did a tea service during a 90 minutes tour of London in an old Route Master bus.  What a fabulous idea!!!  Sadly though, the reviews in Trip Advisor were just terrible.  Er … no go then.  Terrible shame as this would have been an excellent way to gently kick off the trip as well as reinforce our love affair with London with it’s spectacular city sites.

What I really, really love about London is that it encapsulates the best of many cultures and incorporates these into its own beating heart.  London’s dynamism is particularly strong in the theatre sphere.  The National Theatre at the South Bank is a spectacularly ugly building — but, it has produced some of the best plays I have ever seen (The Pillowman comes to mind!). The Donmar Theatre in Covent Garden is much smaller and has less technical capacity to do the whiz-bang staging that the NT can do — but, it makes up the difference in pure spirit.  The Royal Court Theatre at Sloane Square, like the Donmar, is a breathe of fresh air and it is known for featuring new writers and upcoming talent.  The Almeida in Islington takes more risks and therefore some productions are difficult to follow (e.g. Five Gold Rings) but this is the place where I had the privilege to see an unknown Tom Hardy (in Festen) and an equally unknown Eddie Redmayne who played the son to Jonathan Pryce in The Goat or Who is Sylvia?  And then of course, there are The Old Vic, The Globe and the West End theatres.

Alas, no drama tonight.  As this is the first Tuesday of the month, we are off to the Sir John Soane’s Museum for a candlelight visit.  Knowing that we would have to queue early if we wanted to be in the first batch invited into the museum when the evening doors open ay 6PM, we fortified ourselves with a late light lunch of classic and delicious Bombay snacks at Dishoom near Carnaby Street.  It did not disappoint and once fully satiated, we walked to Holborn.  As it was a lovely summer evening, sitting along the wall next to the Museum and watching the world gently passing by was a simple joy.  After an hour in the queue, we gained entrance to the Museum and it was a delight to explore the place as the collection was eccentric and buildings themselves were intriguing.

No dinner tonight — full day and rather tired.

Day 2 – Wednesday: 

Rain! Rain! and then some more (hello English summer!). But we are determined to not allow the rain to stop us.  But first, coffee oh coffee please.  The best take-away coffee, in my opinion, is from Marian who runs the Change Please stand in front of Guy’s Hospital across the Shard at London Bridge.  With the liquid panacea in hand, we headed over to Borough Market which hasn’t lost its charm since the first time I’d visited many years ago.  I’ve since developed a roster of favourite places in Borough Market to visit which includes:

  • best (venison) burger:  Furness Fish & Game stall — look for the stalls with the mega paella pans.
  • best overall meal: Gourmet Goat — I love the slow cooked veal with salad and the summer lamb dish.
  • best vegetarian meal:  Wok It (not quite in Borough Market but rather in adjacent Stoney Street).  I recommend either the cauliflower rice or the courgetti noodle dishes.  All around superb and good value for money.
  • best seafood:  Wrights Brothers (also on Stoney Street) — the fish pie is pretty darn good.
  • best ice cream (actually, I prefer the milk shake):  Bath Soft Cheese

After gorging ourselves full of deliciousness, we started moving towards Shaftesbury Avenue as we have tickets for a matinee show.  The heavy rain put a stop to my original plan of walking from Borough Market towards the Thames and along the south bank over to the Tate Modern and over the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s and grab a bus to Soho.  We therefore headed back to London Bridge to catch the Jubilee Line –> Green Park –> Piccadilly Line –> Leicester Square.  The Underground (thankfully) was running on time and without issues so we’d arrived earlier than expected.  Killing time, we’d walked around the area.  As we walked by St. Martin-in-the-Field, I made a mental note to myself that we should try to catch an evening concert.  As we walked thru Trafalgar Square, we caught a glimpse of the ‘Thumbs Up’ artwork on the 4th plinth and I must confess that the current artwork has left me cold and indifferent.  Art should inspire/stir/provoke and this did absolutely nothing.  Given that the 4th plinth is typically left empty but occasionally it is used to showcase work from guest artists, I was disappointed that the selection committee didn’t pick a stronger piece.

We completed the walk around the National Gallery and managed to avoid the buskers and looped back thru China Town back towards the theatre in time for the matinee.  After the show, we proceeded to do some light shopping in the Soho & then Covent Garden neighbourhoods.  Building up an appetite, we pondered our next meal.  My sister wanted something quintessentially British:  chicken tikka masala.  Close to us was the The Chutney Mary (St. James) but we didn’t want modern or posh Indian.  Instead, we headed over to Bayswater to the traditional stalwart Khan’s on Westbourne Grove for dinner.  This was our ‘local’ when we lived in the area many years ago and I’m happy to report that it is largely unchanged.  The same great menu persisted!

Day 3 – Thursday: 

We started the day off with a walk along the South Bank — from the Southwark end and towards the London Eye. I love this route and it one of the best ways to see London.  We briefly stopped by the OxO Tower to browse for interesting things as there is a cluster of independent artists, jewellers, clock makers, etc. on the first 2 floors above ground level.

shop in Oxo Tower

During the weekends, there are stalls upon stalls of street food vendors set up behind the South Bank Centre.  Sadly though, there were none today.  Therefore, I suggested to Sis that we try one of my old favourite places for a spot of lunch.  We’d crossed the Golden Jubilee Bridge by the Royal Festival Hall (tip: great spot for photographing the Thames, Big Ben, Westminster Palace, etc.) and walked upwards Northumberland Avenue to the Strand where we caught a bus to Aldwych.  On Catherine Street is a tiny gem for affordable sushi and Japanese food.  Eat Tokyo has several branches throughout London and this one in Covent Garden is my personal favourite.  (Their bento box selection is a best kept secret in London — fabulous value for money!)

Whilst munching down on green tea mochi, Sis advised that she pines for French pastries.  We therefore made it our mission to find the best pastries in London (in lieu of English High Tea).  I immediately thought of Maison Blanc — but sadly this closed down in late 2015.  I therefore Google-searched for recommendations and I found an article from the Financial Times about the Best Patisseries in London.  The majority on the list are in South Kensington which made sense as there is a large population of French expats in that neighbourhood.  But one was near Kings Cross Station.  We decided to walk off our delicious Japanese lunch with a long walk north.  By the time we reached the Aux Pains de Papy on Gray’s Inn Road, it was already late in the day and they were mostly sold out (a very good sign indeed) — I must come back again but earlier next time.  We therefore hopped on a number 30 bus towards Marylebone High Street.

Once there, we continued with some light shopping/browsing and walked along the High Street until we hit Selfridges on Oxford Street.  Before we knew it, it was time to head over to Carousel-London on Blandford Street for a pre-arranged dinner.  Carousel is not on the typical tourist map — and in fact, I’m not sure it’s on many local Londoner’s radar as tonight’s ‘event’ was not sold out.  Carousel invites known and up-and-coming chefs from around the world to do a stint at their restaurant.  In short, it is a great way for Londoners to sample tastes and styles from around the world.  In the spotlight tonight was Swedish chef Alex Nietosvuori and the food & experience matched our high expectations.   

Day 4 – Friday: 

If you ask Sis anything about the English Monarchy (esp.  the Tudors) and she will likely know the answer.  Surprisingly, neither she nor I have been to the Hampton Court Palace before.  Therefore, today is set aside to visit the palace which is on the outskirts of London.  Journey there was surprisingly simple with a direct train line from Waterloo Station (tip:  don’t buy a return ticket from the station as this is significantly more expensive that using a touch-n-go Oyster card).  After many hours romping around the splendid gardens and halls & halls of ornately decorated rooms, we headed back to central London to connect with Bruce (who has just flown into London from afar) for dinner.

If Martians scanned the Earth for “Foodie Central”, then I have no doubts that in the cross-hairs is London and in particular, Southwark.  In addition to Borough Market, there is the increasingly popular weekend markets at Maltby Street and Druid Street.  And recently, a new foodie hotspot has emerged in the Flat Iron Square (near Union Street) which features two new food stalls that I have become very, very fond of:  Manti by Mike & Ollie (fabulous handmade Turkish dumplings — I prefer the lamb dumplings whereas the fish ones are Bruce’s favourite) and Tatami Ramen (London’s best gyozas – truly!).

Day 5 – Saturday: 

Brother-in-law arrives!  Meet & greet at Heathrow airport in the AM.  He’s absolutely jet lagged and as such, it was a non-descriptive light lunch and then we sent him off for an afternoon nap.  B-in-L wants to meet up with cousins whilst in London so for the next two days, I have nothing major planned.  But at the very last minute, we all decided to meet up for dinner and the group consensus was for curry.  Hmmmm …  dinner for 8 people for around 7PM (peak time) — this will be a challenge to organise.  No surprises, Dishoom was completely booked up and for such a large party queuing for a table was not a good idea as we probably wouldn’t be seated until 10PM or thereabouts.  A few other places that I fancied were also fully booked and in almost despair, I had a mini-epiphany:  target reputable restaurants in the City.  During the weekend, the City is a desert and as such it would be much easier to snag a table.  Using a combination of Google Map and Open Table, I’d booked us into Cinnamon Kitchen near Liverpool Station.  Good food — and more importantly, good company as B-in-Law has lovely cousins!!!

Day 6 – Sunday:

B-in-L’s cousins invited us to join them for a stroll along the Columbia Road Flower Market on Sunday AM but we could not join them as B-in-L didn’t sleep well for most of the night and therefore slept in until 12 noon.  To help him acclimate to the time zone, we thought that a long and leisurely walk along the south Thames would help as this would expose him to fresh air and bright sunlight.  Lunch was courtesy of the wonderful street food vendors behind the South Bank Centre but B-in-L was tired again so we headed back to HQ.  Later that evening, we joined up with the cousins for a BBQ in London Fields.   Lovely meal and lovely evening.

a cricket match in London Fields

Day 7 – Monday: 

The agenda for the day was left wide open because there was a chance that we would hook up with B-in-L’s cousins before they fly out from City Airport in the Docklands.  However, this didn’t materialise so we headed off to our perennial favorite Natural History Museum in Chelsea.

As the schools were out, the museum was particularly busy but we were able to enjoy a few hours meandering around the various exhibits.  By the time we finished exploring the museum, it was 4PM and we were seriously peckish.  Navigating the back roads of Chelsea, we walked towards the Kings Road to grab wonderful shawarma at Al-Dar.  Afterwords and despite having seriously garlicky breath, we decided that the evening was still young and as such, we headed to one of our favourite cocktail bars at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair.  To date, this is the closest bar in London that we can call ‘ours‘  — it’s is certainly not our local and we don’t frequent it often, but, it is ‘ours‘ in that when we want a special ‘ahhhh’ moment, this is where we would go.  In NYC, it is the St. Regis King Cole Bar and in Hong Kong, it is Alfie’s.   As one would expect, cocktails at the Connaught were expensive but they were really worth it as the bar is a lovely place to sit back and enjoy the atmosphere (especially when it is not busy — best to avoid this place on a Thursday & Friday evening when hedge fund managers descend to this place and then it becomes a boisterous spot).

Day 8 – Tuesday: 

B-in-L and hubby have a special planned ‘boys outing’ today.  They rented a car and headed off early.  In response, Sis and I did our own out-of-town jaunt.  Hello Chiltern Railways and hello Bicester Village for some light shopping.

Coincidentally, the boys returned from their outing at roughly the same time as our return journey from Bicester. We therefore agreed to meet in central London for dinner.  As it was still relatively early, I suggested that we try either Bao (lovely Taiwanese buns) or Hopper (Sri Lankan food) for dinner.  Both these restaurants do not take reservations and as such, there is almost always a giant queue if you are not one of the lucky ones to snare a first-sitting.  Group consensus was for Bao so we walked towards Lexington near Carnaby.  We were first in the queue (hoooooray!) which meant that there was unctuous & immediate eating.

Day 9 – Wednesday: 

Given that Sis, B-in-L and Bruce have arrived into London on different days and to allow for jet lag, meeting up with cousins, etc. etc.  everything before this point is just a warm-up precursor.   Today is the first major culinary event. The kickoff event was lunch at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  Dinner re-imagines old and archaic English recipes and re-interprets them for the modern palate.  Everything that we had was delicious but the standout dishes, in my opinion, are: for the starters, The Meat Fruit (velvety smooth chicken liver re-imagined as a mandarin fruit); for main, the spiced pigeon; and for dessert, the boozy Tipsy Tart.

Too fat and too full, we did very little for the remainder of the afternoon other than headed back to HQ to rest.  Later that evening when we realised that we were able to stir, we waddled over to the local neighbourhood favourite Shortwave Cinema in Bermondsey to catch the 9PM showing of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

Day 10 – Thursday: 

The big event on today’ agenda is actually dinner at Le Gavroche in Mayfair.   So morning was kept light and the boys did their own thing.  Sis and I headed over to Fortnum & Mason as she needs to stock up her favourite Strawberry & Champagne jam.  Afterwords, as we gentle strolled along Piccadilly, the siren call from the wonderful Hatchards bookshop lured us in to browse.  40 minutes later and laden with three shopping bags full of books by her favourite author which she cannot get in the US, we called it quits and headed back to HQ.

Later that afternoon, we pondered our agenda for the next 8 days.  I’ve keep the itinerary rather light to give us maximum flexibility.  The only fixed items were dinner reservations.  I advocated a staycation and recommended that we visit Oxford, Cambridge, Whitstable, etc.  The others out-voted me! On the radar for consideration for our city break was Barcelona, Madrid, Marrakesh, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, or Paris.  B-in-L loves the challenge for plotting out best air fares and routes and spent the next few hours coming up with recommendations.  Long story short, we ultimately decided on Paris and Eurostar.  With a few clicks of our computer buttons, we booked our tickets for travel the next day.

Once that was completed, we concentrated on getting ready for the main event: dinner.

B-in-Law loves classic French food and is a big fan of Michel Roux Jr.  I’ve eaten at Le Gavroche once before (to celebrate Brucey’s birthday) and it was a wonderful experience.  To this day, I still remember my main course from the first visit (a most succulent baby lamb from the Pyrenees) so I was all gun-ho for another visit.  Getting reservations for Le Gavroche was not easy.  With some advance planning and a bit of luck, I’d snagged a table for 4 at 6:30.  Several hours later, we left the restaurant very happy and satisfied — exceptional and non-fussy food.

Days 11 – 14: Paris  

Early start required.  Thankfully, we allowed ourselves plenty of time to get to St. Pancras as there were long queues at the Eurostar to pass thru the security checks, UK Border Passport Checks, and the French Border Passport checks. Although the txs stated that passengers should pass the check-in gate 30 minutes before departure, during high travel seasons, I think an hour would be more appropriate.

Our itinerary in Paris was rather touristy: The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacred Coeur, etc. etc.  I have no interesting insights to blog so I have kept this section to a minimum.

Day 15: Tuesday (back in London) 

During one dinner conversation, B-in-L mentioned how much he loved the egg custard tarts  from Macau.  Bruce therefore suggested a visit to the Lisboa Patisserie in Notting Hill as a morning outing.  This place is exceptionally popular with very long queues during the weekend.  However, on a Tuesday morning, the queue was not so severe.  Sis and B-in-L had the sweet custard tarts whilst Bruce had his favourite savoury ham tarts followed by very good coffee.  Once satiated, a long walk from Notting Hill (stopping at the awesome foodie Books for Cooks bookshop) thru Hyde Park to Green Park and then to HQ meant that it was time for feet up!

Later that night, we agreed to meet up with B-in-L’s cousins for drinks and dinner at City Social at Tower 42.  The views are amazing.  I must confess that once I saw the jaw-droppingly awesome panoramic views, my heart fell because I’d immediately associated restaurants with great views with bad service and pedestrian food.  This is based on my experience from The Shard — and in particular, from the awful Hutong restaurant.  In my opinion, The Shard seems to operate on the principle that ‘if you build it, then they will come’ and as such caters to the nameless hordes of tourists who care not about the food or service but only for the views (and if I am honest, I think the view from Tower 42 is far more interesting).  Tip: for those who want to enjoy a breathtaking view of London but without the hassle of meals & drinks, then I recommend visiting the Sky Garden at Fenchurch Street.  Entry to Sky Garden is free but it is necessary to prebook tickets (timed slot to control crowd density).  With a little effort in advance, this is far, far better option than the Shard (as the Shard charges GBP18 for advance ticket and GBP23 on-the-day ticket to their viewing platform).

Thankfully, City Social is at the polar opposite to Hutong.  Every dish at City Social was a triumph and flawless.  I will be visiting this establishment again.

view from City Social – Tower42

Day 16: Wednesday  

Once again, the boys made out-of-town plans and buzzed out early on Weds in a rented car.  Sis and I did our own thing in the morning and met up for a brief lunch.  She was craving Vietnamese food.  There are several very good options ranging from Phat Phuc Noodle Bar in Chelsea (on Sydney Street) to Pho (many branches throughout London).  But my clear favourite is City Caphe on Ironmonger Lane.  The problem with City Caphe is that it is extremely popular (often with a long but fast moving queue) and there are not many places to sit and eat.  I therefore suggested to Sis that we try City Caphe’s sister restaurant Moi An on Fetter Lane.  This one has a more extensive menu (has noodle soups that you rarely ever get to see in other Vietnamese restaurants in London) as well as more seats for eating in.   Needless to say, Sis and I gobbled our noodle soup until there was nothing left in our bowl — it was that good!

Later that evening when the boys returned from their outing, we decided that a light dinner was in order so we headed over to the Flat Iron Square by Union Street.  That evening, there was a live band playing and the music was piped into the eating area under the rail arches.  The acoustics of the arches made it impossible for us to converse and as  such, we decided to go to The Hawskmoor in Borough.  The original plan for a light meal was scuppered by steak, steak and more steak!   (Bruce declared that his sirloin cut was the most amazing sirloin he has had in a very long time!)

Day 17: Thursday 

I wanted Sis and B-in-Law’s last full day in London to be memorable so I’ve saved the ‘The Event’ to the very last.  Bruce and I have always been intrigued by the amazing stuff that Heston conjures up on TV but we never had an occasion that merits going to The Fat Duck.  Until now.

Getting a reservation was not as difficult as I thought it would be (maybe it is the summer and people are on vacation ….).  But the quirky thing was that the meal needed to be pre-paid and then there was a questionnaire on food memories and nostalgia triggers that we were asked to complete.

On this day, being late and missing this meal was not an option!  We therefore got to Paddington Station in good time to catch a direct train to Bray.  We arrived a little earlier than expected so spent this time photographing the beautiful town.  One lovely lady who lives near The Waterside Inn actually invited us to photograph the Thames from her garden.  We did and we profusely thanked her for the hospitality!  And then it was time to head back towards The Fat Duck and for the adventure to begin.

Lunch at The Fat Duck was such an incredible and unique journey (17 courses over 4.5 hours!) that it merits its own mini-blog!

Day 18: Friday

Goodbye sweet Sis and B-in-L!!!    Kisses, hugs, hugs …. time for Heathrow!

Although Sis and B-in-L were here for 2+ weeks, we didn’t have enough time to visit:

  • Brick Lane on Sunday (with markets and food stalls galore);
  • The Globe — ideally, I would love to take them to a midnight-matinee performance (where Shakespeare is infinitely better with a gin & tonic!)
  • Kew Garden — to check out the Hive
  • Richmond Park
  • walk around Hyde Park and check out the Serpentine Gallery
  • Horniman Museum — full of eccentric and cool stuff

Next time then . . . . . 

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Verdict: 

Please note that there are no advertisements, no sponsored links, and not even a Facebook LIKE button on this site.  In addition, we do NOT receive any perks, advantages, endorsements, and/or discounts from the travel blogs.  As such, all opinions/ viewpoints/ recommendations/ critiques featured on this site are wholly our own and are not influenced by commercial interests.

All travels and related expenses in this blog are paid for by ourselves (or, by our generous dinner companions).

Places Visited:

Sir John Soane’s Museum:  definitely worth a visit.  But, I’m not convinced that it is necessary ‘to do the candlelight thing.’  Why?  First, it was not as atmospheric as I thought it would be.  Perhaps if I’d visited during the winter and the evenings are dark, then viewing the museum lit with candles would be more magical.  Second, not all of the candles are real candles — some are battery operated.  And, finally, the sheer popularity of the candlelight evenings meant that the museum was crowded.  In short, I think that it may be better to visit this museum without the candles and without the crowd.

Hampton Court Palace: also definitely worth a visit if your are not already Palace-fatigued.  I have not been to Windsor Castle so I can’t compare the two.  However, I can compare HCP with Buckingham Palace.  From a previous visit, BuckHouse was a major disappointment — it reminded me of a seriously tatty 1970s over-gilded and gaudy old hotel (imagine the place with Mohammad al Fayed, or, Michael Jackson appointed as the interior designer).  HCP, on the other hand, is far more interesting and rich with historical artefacts.  It is massive so you should budget at least 1/2 day (minimum) to get the full value of visiting.  The gardens are splendid and well managed.  Travel to  HCP is relatively easy — there is a direct line from Waterloo Station (tip: use your Oyster card instead of buying return tickets).

Bicester Village is an outlet shopping centre located approx 40 minutes outside of London (near to Oxford).  As this is outside of Zone 6, Oyster cards are not accepted on the trains.  Round-trip tickets are approx. GBP 25 per adult.   There is very little to do a Bicester Village other than shopping.  Therefore, given the upfront cost to travel and the distance, I would recommend a visit only if you are genuinely intending to buy something.  Otherwise, it may be better to wait for the summer (or post XMAS) sales as the ‘discount’ at Bicester does not appear to be any better than the normal discount during the normal sales.  The only benefit to going to Bicester, I think, is that all of the shops are clustered together which makes hopping from one shop to the next much easier.

Hatchards Bookshop in Piccadilly is heaven for book lovers as it carries a good selection of most topics.  My sister’s jaws dropped when she saw rows and rows of books from her favourite author — and these are books that she didn’t know existed as they are not available in the US.

The Shortwave Cinema in Bermondsey isn’t as opulent as The Electric Cinema in Notting Hill or as funky as the one in Shoreditch or as artsy-posh as the Curzon at the Mondrian.  What I like about the Shortwave Cinema is that it has a intimate and comfy feel of a local mom&pop cinema.  Note: it operates on a no-assigned seats model so it is important to get there early if you are particular about having prime seats.  Also, the pizza is not really a pizza — think of flatbreads with hot toppings and cheese — but they are acceptable if you are hungry.   Beer, wine, and bar snacks are also available for sale.

Restaurants:

Dishoom: consistently good but insanely busy.  Best to go ‘out of hours’ to avoid the ridiculously long queue.  Highly recommend: keema pau, lamb samosa, ‘a bowl of green’, black dhal.

Khan’s of Bayswater: no ambience — but one does not go here for the atmosphere — just consistently good curry.  Highly recommend: fish tikka; chicken bourji; sag paneer; and mango lassi.

Cinnamon Kitchen:  good ‘posh’ Indian dishes.  Interesting and enjoyable cocktails.   Perfect place for a quiet meal during the weekend.

Carousel-London: given the fact that this restaurant has a rotating schedule and the style of food & the menu changes depending on who is the visiting chef, it would be inappropriate to give an opinion based on just one visit.  So I’ll keep my comments to at a high level.  To secure a reservation, you must prebook and prepay.  This therefore eliminates spontaneity.  Also, the prepayment covers just the food (as outlined in the menu) and drinks (or, any optional extra course) and the service charges are additional.   Despite this setup, I think Carousel is a wonderful way for Londoners to sample food and styles from around the world courtesy of the guest chefs.

Eat Tokyo: there are several branches in London and the Covent Garden branch (on Catherine Street) and the Notting Hill branch are my favourites.  The menu is seriously comprehensive.  Each time I’ve eaten there, I always tell myself that I will order something different (given the extensive nature of the menu) but I **always** end up ordering the same dish:  oyster bento.   Delicious every time.

Manti by Mike and Ollie at the Flat Iron Square near Borough Market:  Serves the most unique and yummy Turkish dumplings with herbs and a wonderful flat bread.  I also like the fact that this company works with a local charity to engage skilled Syrian refugees to assist with the creation of these yumminess.

Pique Nique in Bermondsey:  have eaten there twice — the first time, we tried the fixed 5 courses tasting menu and it was lovely.  Whilst there, we saw the chef dish up the most light and fluffy Vol au Vent and I made a mental note that I needed to come back and try these out.  Sadly on the 2nd visit, there was a different chef and the pastry was completely wrong.  The disappointing thing was that I could see the chef’s reaction to the pastry as it came out of the oven (its an open kitchen) and he too thought that the pastry was sub-par ….. it was flat and dense.  BUT HE SERVED IT NONETHELESS!  Needless to say, it was nearly inedible.   Quality control here needs to be rigorously enforced!

A most inedible vol au vent at Pique-Nique.

Le Gavroche, Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, and The Fat Duck . . . .   all these (and more) are in my inaugural food blog.

 

Others: 

The Aman Spa at the Connaught:  neither better nor worse than expected.  The steam room was powerful but lacked the WOW that the Mandarin Landmark Spa in Hong Kong has.  The pool was smaller than I thought it would be but on the plus side, it was 100% chlorine free (water treated with UV).  I was slightly annoyed that my 90 minutes message translated to only 70 mins of actual massage (the remaining 20 mins was ‘lost’ to paperwork and setting up the room!).  But, the massage was very, very good.  My therapist ‘Omm’ has incredible strong hands (and feet!) and as such, I received the right level of firm pressure which I really appreciate.  However, the massage lacked the overall holistic-ness that the Four Seasons Hong Kong spa perfected.  However, comparing Aman to Aman, this one ranks higher than that from the Amanjiwa (Java) and Amandari (Ubud).

The Shard:  I love the building (architecturally) as it is simply stunning.  However, I hate the crowds that The Shard attracts.  Not a place I would take family and friends to if I want to share an elegant evening with them.  As an alternative to The Shard, try Tower42 and the Sky Garden.