Monday, 30 December 2013

And did manage to keep another one

The trip to Paris was about a month ago but with two house moves and Christmas there hasn't been much time to write part II.....

So while on a break elsewhere I'll take some time to remember and recount. And the score stands, Paris visits12+ : Louvre visits 0.

We had an unknown arrondissement to explore and ducked down off the streets to some lovely places.

This path along the former Petite Ceintuire suburban railway. On its eastern stretches it's still wild but in the 16th there's a section officially accessible between Porte d'Auteil and Gare de la Muette.

Wandering around delivers other surprises, this Castel Beranger an early example of social housing.


And if it looks familiar that's not surprising, it was designed by one M. Guimard of Metropolitan fame, it was his first solo commission.

We couldn't visit Paris without our now customary cemetery visit, at Cimetiere de Passy we paid our respects to Manet

And despite getting our Municipals closed Monday, Nationals closed Tuesday a bit mixed up we did manage quite a few not-the-Louvre museum visits, including Maison de Balzac (best if you speak or at least read French), Musee Cernuschi and the Petit Palais.

Through the square window at Musee Cernuschi.


Petit Palais


And there's still more to see at these and others to call us back another day.


Monday, 9 December 2013

And now takes a break from sorting them

Last time I posted I was planning a trip to Paris. It seems so long ago. We had a fabulous time, continued to avoid the Louvre, ate at some wonderful restaurants and enjoyed beautiful music at Notre Dame (though it has to be said it was just a tad chilly, I was glad of two coats). But since our return it seems to have been non stop packing; not the travel kind, house packing. Packing and sorting and disposing and then depositing the contents of a house around an already full flat. Oh dear those Parisian champagne bubbles have burst.

So now with as much stowed away as possible and before Master Starke moves out, there's a little time to share those bubbles.

Paris wasn't the first stop on the journey. It had started in Brussels. A very quick whirl through, time to catch up with old friends, eat some mussels and stock up on chocolate. We didn't really do it justice only managing to scratch the surface and it seemed well worth a second look.

Our bed at The Royal Windsor was very comfortable and if the turn down treat wasn't as big as the one here it was still pretty tasty.


The hotel was just off the Grand Place and close to the Galleries St Hubert, a great place for chocolate and accessory shopping, though the former could challenge your waistline and the latter your wallet.

With Mr Starke busy elsewhere I visited the Beaux Arts Museum. I loved the old Flemish Masters and the new exhibitions.
And I was fascinated by theses faces from the past, dug out of the rubble beneath the Cathedral

Business over, we boarded the Thalys for Paris. There can't be a better way to travel between these two cities. One hour and twenty minutes from one capital to another, with a check in time of two minutes. And so much comfier than the plane too.

Paris. Many visits but this was the first solely for leisure, and also the first at a five star hotel. It was a very tranquil way to arrive. Taxi swooshing from the Gare du Nord through (for Paris) fairly traffic free streets, out past some Paris icons to the 16th and a relaxed check in and Earl Grey tea while our bags found their way to our room.

The hotel Raphael ( or Chevalier, if you're a fan of Wes Anderson)

Not the room from the film but the view wasn't too bad


And I can't kid myself I'm Natalie Portman.

And yes I know it's kitschy and cliched but the view of the golden twinkling tower from the rooftop terrace just can't be beaten. No photos, that one is for your imagination. The terrace was officially closed for the winter but we were encouraged to wrap up warm and go up for a look. We arrived at the stroke of the hour. Sometimes things just fall into place. Five minutes of sparkle.


This doesn't capture it at all


A bientot


Sunday, 17 November 2013

And is hoping for some soon

And no that doesn't mean I've been wallowing in filth since the last post, just a way of heralding a forthcoming trip. In fact I enjoyed some non domestic clean sheets last weekend. A trip south, with first a repeat stopover at The George and Dragon, Clifton with another good dinner and a very comfy bed. Then on to Wales and a scrumptious seafood platter at the Angel, Abergavenny (@LovetheAngel) and the always warm hospitality chez GlamourPuss and the Prof. But now I'm looking forward to a trip away. To Brussels (a first) and then on to Paris. Not for the first time but the first time solely for leisure. So I'm looking forward with anticipation and a little trepidation. I've splashed out, on accommodation and restaurant bookings. How will they be? Will I maintain my Louvre duck?

Answers here soon.........



Tuesday, 1 October 2013

And found some on the island of deer

Another trip. Another island. Another branch of the MacStarkes. Jura. Geographically not very far off the coast of Argyll. Easily visible and recognisable. In reality far, far away. Islands have been a feature of my travels this summer, but Jura, unlike Ile de Re or Skye is resolutely an island. Not only is there no bridge, you need two boat trips to get there. Before them a long drive across Scotland, with a very welcome stop at the friendly, dog friendly West Loch Hotel and then next morning a too hasty drive (Mr Starke had misread check in time)

Something for everyone at the West Loch

Bacon rolls and coffee afloat helped make up for the missed breakfast.

If Jura is the island of deer then Islay must be the island of whisky. There aren't more distilleries than people on Islay but there must be one for very few head of population. I didn't sample any but I bought a few drams in the form of soap and other lovely things from Spirited Soaps in Bowmore. I managed to smuggle them out unnoticed so Mr Starke got some surprises on his birthday.

Pity there's no scratch 'n' sniff


Retail therapy over we drove across the island and had time for crab sandwiches before our second (and much smaller) ferry to Jura.

The friendly Jura hotel was our base, we had a view out over Small Isles Bay and on the other side another distillery.



I had a little worry that this would be the only examples of Jura's famous 5,000+ deer I would see. There had been none on our drive up to Craighouse. And there should have been over 20 per person!



I needn't have worried. Once over their camera shyness (or perhaps because it was stalking season.....) there were plenty. We saw these young hinds on the road at Keils.


And then these guys were totally unperturbed by our presence further north at Tarbert.



We walked right across the island to give Dogstarke a swim in the Atlantic! This is less impressive than it sounds, Jura is only about a kilometre wide at Tarbert, and those of you familiar with Gaelic will know that Tarbet or Tarberts are found all around Scotland at the narrowest crossing points. Boats were dragged from coast to coast there.


Dogstarke enjoying her customary dip

We couldn't have visited without trying just a small amount of Jura's most well known exports, venison and malt whisky. And we did so very well with the venison pie and whisky on offer at the hotel. We couldn't hope to emulate our bar room pal though. He was on a malt pilgrimage and managed to sample each of the bar's not insubstantial roster of Jura malts, and stay standing; a tribute to his constitution and not any hint of short measures!

It wasn't all bars and whisky, we spent a lot of time out of doors, enjoying some great late summer sunshine. All that fresh air works up an appetite which we satisfied with lunch at the Antlers. Where we enjoyed this view.



All in all a great short break with more left to enjoy. So hopefully we'll be back again before too long.


Sunday, 18 August 2013

And found some over the sea in Skye

I've been to Skye a few times but this was only the second time that I did actually go "over the sea". The first time in the 1980s was pre-bridge so there was no choice but subsequent journeys had gone by the land route. Return journeys had been made by boat, the short crossing from Glenelg ( and the longer one from Armadale, but getting there usually meant a rush to arrive before dinner, after a start at least an hour later than planned, so the road was the faster option. This time we were unusually punctual and the sign promising roadworks ahead was all we needed to opt for the Road to the Isles, and yes it really is called that, for Mallaig and the ferry. There was still no time to stop and I did manage to miss the Glenfinnan monument and viaduct while texting but it was a gorgeous journey. And then we sat on the deck of the MV Coruisk with tea and tablet and sailed over the sea to Skye.

We were having a clan MacStarke gathering in the northwest of the island at Glendale. With an outpost here at Colbost for me and Mr Starke.

This little cottage, just for two, was very well equipped and dog-friendly. And no, I didn't have to rush outside during a five second sunshine opportunity, we had hot and sunny weather, specially up at the Lump watching the Highland Games

Perhaps these chaps would have welcomed some rain?

And piping's hot work too..
Looking down to the Cuillin
I didn't manage a swim this time just a paddle but Dogstarke had some nice early morning dips.


tho' one morning she was a bit upset to find these ladies had got to the beach first.


This beach was just in front of The Three Chimneys, which was just a short hop away from Mr Starke and me at Silverdale. Even in heels. And I didn't actually hop.

But I did enjoy some scrumptious food. We feasted on some of the best that Scotland has to offer; great raw ingredients made even more special by the great cooking. It was a feast for the eyes too, garnished with edible flowers and foraged plants. Tiny nasturtiums are peppery; who knew?

Like all the best gatherings there was lots of chat, retelling old stories and making new ones. Remembering the people who couldn't be there, thinking about ones yet to come.



Finishing up in the House Over By, yes those are madeleines. But we started with cheese scones.


Saturday, 3 August 2013

But really hates celery

No this has nothing to do with travelling or restaurants. I just really dislike celery. There are hardly any other foods I've encountered that I don't like, water chestnuts, peanuts; not keen on either of these, possibly allergic. But celery. Yeuch. An esteemed former colleague once described it as " the devil's food" and you know what? I think she was right. It looks good, it sounds crunchy but it tastes, *extremelydownturnedgrimacingmouth face* Bleugh. It tempted me from the Heinz salad cream adverts, where a generous dollop was poured along its curve. I hadn't tried it then but it summed up healthy, outdoors summer fun. This was '70's South Wales, we didn't have mayonnaise there, or barbecues. Hands up, I would still eat salad cream, I love its vinegaryness and still think an egg "mayo" sarnie is better for it. But celery? Nooooooo.

I think I can blame "A" level biology practical, we had to dissect it and suspend it in sugar solutions. It squirmed around convex, concave, all shrivelled up. Yup. I think that was what caused it. I've never been that keen on rat either.

For years I perfected hiding the little curly critters under other bits of rejected food. But that was hard, there wasn't often any other rejected food on my plate. I'd have to sacrifice the least delicious item to celery cover. Sometimes I'd get a double whammy, celery and peanuts in the same dish, not ordered deliberately of course but sneaked in as a garnish or poorly explained side salad. To hide all that lot I'd have to sacrifice a bit of the meat or fish. Yikes!

It's only in its raw state that I really can't eat it, I quite like it braised and I have been known to add it to stocks and sauces. Just as long as it reduces down from those infernal little crescents. Mr Starke hates it too, something we have in common, like alphabetising our books; and then fretting about the sub divisions of the alphabetising, but that's another post...

These days, steeled by trying to provide a good example to the young Masterstarke "go on try just a little bit..", I can force it down. You are much less likely to find it lurking in the rejected food on my plate. (You are very unlikely to find any rejected food on my plate). But don't hold your breath waiting for me to take a stick and use it to scoop up that dip. Even if it is salad cream.

Friday, 2 August 2013

and is pretty keen on wild swimming

Despite my name none of my ancestors were seafarers. They all lived inland, working the land and later the mines, weaving silk and baking bread. But the sea has always had a massive grip on me, I loved childhood trips to the seaside, playing "I can see the sea!" games from the back of the car. Never mind the weather once we got there I'd been in my bathers and down to the sea. I think I learned to swim in the sea but I can't remember actually learning, I could just swim. Mind you I was a particularly buoyant child. There I'd be bobbing about in the waves while Mama, Papa and GlamourPuss shivered up on the sand. The latter most likely fully dressed and possibly in scarf and gloves too. Don't get me wrong, we had nice summers but my dips started with our first outing of the year at Easter, no matter how early it fell. In the summer Papa Starke would join me, and in the heat wave years, GlamourPuss could be persuaded but woe betide getting her hair wet. Our one full family trip abroad was revelatory. The sea was warm with no waves! It was the Adriatic where even Mama Starke was persuaded to get her bikini wet. It was nice but...

It didn't have the breakers I'd played in at Rest Bay in Porthcawl or my favourite Rhossili on the Gower. I loved the out of control feeling I got from the waves deeper out. I was much more adventurous in the sea than on land. Swimming was the one sport at school where my build and ability met. Friends of the GlamourPuss had a caravan at the seaside and a boat and water skis. Can you imagine my ten year old indignity and jealousy at being left out of her holidays with them, why didn't they invite me too?? It was almost as bad as not going to see The Osmonds, when I was the massively bigger fan and so much more likely to marry Donny.

I moved to Scotland and for a while didn't really realise that..I lived..beside the sea. And then I did. But back then the local beach wasn't so appealing for a dip and I rarely had the chance to travel out to the gorgeous beaches of East Lothian. When I did, even on the hottest day, the chill of the North Sea came as a bit of a surprise. I stayed and got older and much, much wimpier. Years passed and I barely dipped a toe in.

The urge never went away though. I still felt the same excitement at any glimpse of the "proper" sea. I made my first trips to the Med. It was sparkly and blue but like the Adriatic a bit tame.

Another first, this time inter continental travel. If I'd known that our flight to Curaçao included a touch down at St Maarten (in a 747, look for the videos) I might have had qualms. It was great though and gave me my first view of the Caribbean. Now that was proper sea, but warm with fishes. Every morning we got up early and had a good long swim before breakfast. One day with Mr Starke busy conferencing I decided to swim out past the very small headland into the next bay. For the first time in years I felt the power of the sea. And realised how small I was and probably invisible to boats and jet skis. I'd lost my childhood bravado and turned back, but I returned later with Mr Starke and we did it together. Arriving on the neighbouring beach felt like a proper expedition.


Last summer, Australia. I squeezed myself into a wetsuit and tried snorkelling for the first time. Not holding my breath was a challenge at first but once I got then hang of it, wonderful.

Yes that is a shark but a tiny harmless one


Autumn 2012 we welcomed our new arrival, Dogstarke and she has proved herself to be a salty seadog and loves swimming too, but she likes to have company, so I've done a fair bit of paddling. I expected to do some proper swims on our holiday to Ile de Re this summer but all the best beaches had signs a bit like this

And it would have been mean to go in on my own, so we stuck with (tri)cycling

I felt cheated though. I really wanted to swim in the sea again. And then we had a heat wave. Cue more paddling at our city beach. It was a bit murky to risk full immersion I thought. Masterstarke did and came out strangely tanned -was it a critical mass of FakeBake precipitating out? A better bet on a gorgeous sunny day was Kingsbarns in Fife. There the water was clear and very, very cold. Full immersion but only a few splashes and I was out. This seemed ridiculous, I've got more blubber now than in my chubbiest youth, why couldn't I stay in longer? WasI just becoming a terrible wimp? Does 400 miles make that much difference to the temperature?

Last weekend I got my answer. It's not so much the latitude as the longitude that counts. We were enjoying ourselves at Portavadie on Loch Fyne. I had a paddle with Dogstarke and wanted more. It was gorgeous, a little pebbly on approach yes but really, "lovely once you're in", I even liked the feeling of the seaweed between my toes. My only disappointment? I failed to persuade Mr Starke to join me. I couldn't really complain, he was skimming stones for Dogstarke.

Loch Fyne at Portavadie


So it seems that the west coast, washed by the Gulf Stream is warmer. Perfect for swimming? And the midgies can't get you offshore.

I'm off to Skye soon, hopefully I'll be able to test my theory there.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

And the occasional ice cream

If you saw me you would guess that I'm no stranger to a square meal. I love food and all its accompaniments. I spend a lot of time thinking about it; my most reliable memories of any occasion are what I ate and what I wore. It's a family thing. I call Papa Starke and he tells me what he's cooked this week, Me and Mr Starke still go back to the restaurant where we had our first date (though at the time we didn't know that's what it was). After a picky start in life, Master Starke was described as having "a canny appetite" admiringly by the waitress in the GNER restaurant car. The Glamour Puss is an aberration but Prof. does his best to corrupt her.

As a child I was (too) well fed, Mama Starke cooked every day; we all had our tea together when Papa S. got home and then on Tuesdays he cooked when Mama went out. I particularly loved the sweet stuff and though I wasn't allowed "trashy" i.e. cheap chewy or hard sweeties I managed to keep the dentist busy with my diet of "pop", biscuits and home baking. This was South Wales in the seventies so our raw materials were limited, strawberries and cream were usually tinned and as we didn't get a fridge freezer until I was seven ( the box made a brilliant slide down our steep back garden) and a shop with a frozen food department 'til I was ten, ice cream was most often a take away treat not a dish eaten at home. My favourites then were "Funny Feet" and when I was flush with pocket money a "Heart". Both of these are long gone and were possibly at opposite ends of the ice cream on a stick spectrum. The first a highly synthetic confection, in the shape of a comedy foot complete with smiling face and in a chocolatey flavour, the latter more sophisticated, a dark chocolate heart around vanilla ice cream with a red ripples at the centre. There was another with red jelly inside but I can't remember its name.

As an adult I'm not a massive fan of ice cream, it's never my first choice for pud, all too often it leaves a nasty after taste but I still love the idea of ice cream. I'm a huge sucker for the image of the Passeggiata; strolling around late at night with an ice cream. Summer hols this year were on the Ile de Re, based in St Martin where there just happens to be a famous ice cream shop (or artisan glacier if you're being posh) La Martiniere.


Caramel fleur du sel/ nougatine and crunchy bits of caramel - yum!

Even on the colder days there was a queue. I liked wondering at the flavours, although Poppy? The only poppy product I could think of was far less innocuous than ice cream. And then Schtroumpf, that means Smurf doesn't it? and it was blue, poor little things.

I've just checked the website, it doesn't list poppy (Coquelicot) maybe that was just my feverish imagination; also the Smurfs are in a sorbet not an ice cream.


Back home we've been enjoying gorgeous weather, last weekend we were "doon the watter" in Rothesay. There the local ice cream also has a famous name, Zavaroni but comes in one flavour, vanilla but a variety of presentations. For the record Mr Starke favours the "99", me the double nougat wafer, did I mention I like my food???

I don't have any pictures of those, sunshine and holding Dogstarke's lead made photography tricky but here's Rothesay and old and new ways of getting there.

Calmac ferry and the Waverley at Rothesay pier

Looking quite Mediterranean

Last night back home we went out for a drink and stayed for dinner, at a restaurant not some unsuspecting friend's house. And how did we finish our meal? With the ideal dish for the undecided, Affogato, as our waiter observed, coffee and dessert together. Vanilla ice cream and espresso, perfect. Sweet and bitter, just what I liked about those "Hearts" back in Wales.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

And sometimes retraces her steps

But not very often, I'm scared of spoiling happy memories. So it was unusual for me to make a return visit to two restaurants on one holiday. Good or bad? We'll see

Walking around a slightly damp St Martin on our first night I'd been tempted by Le Tout du Cru tucked away down an alley marked Cinema. It was bustling and seemed friendly but it was more than bustling, it was full and we were too hungry to wait and didn't fancy a "carry oot" so went elsewhere, but I'd really liked the look of it so we went back the next night. On a Sunday with most weekenders gone we didn't have a problem getting a table, not even with Dogstarke. Mr Starke had oysters, I had another speciality Fagots, a cross between a terrine and faggots but served cold. Despite the name there were some hot fish dishes and fish soup. The food was all great, the retro decor worked and there was a family from central casting at the next table. I was hooked and wanted some oysters for myself so we booked ahead for our last night...


And so to a pretty lunch spot, again away from the popular harbour area, sort of stumbled upon and then recognised as somewhere that had been recommended. It was guarded by this one

But he deigned to let Dogstarke stay. We had salads and wine and coffee and I was tempted but didn't succumb to the puddings.

There was a brocante next door, and plenty inside


And so to returning, we did first to Un Air du Famille. Which was still friendly and welcoming, still full of lovely bric a brac

and still serving the same menu, which wasn't quite as appealing in the evening, though this time I did enjoy a pudding. We had a good time, it was good value but not quite as lovely as it had seemed first time around.

Our last night and back to Le Tout du Cru. Again very welcoming. Again no change to the menu; the same "specials". Oh dear. But I shouldn't have worried too much. The oysters were superb, so was the mackerel and there was the added fun of watching a very large sports car trying to turn around in a very small road. We had a lovely night.

So should you go back? Perhaps...but it will never be the same. Though different can be better.