When I became an Elf…..

I first visited Germany at age eleven. Like many eleven year olds I wasn’t really captivated by continental European culture, gastronomic delicacies or really much at all that was on the ‘must do’ list for a visitor……..

My idea back then of how to spend summer holidays was about being out on my bike or playing with friends……

Furthermore I actually celebrated my birthday on that trip and was more than somewhat non-plussed to be told by numerous elderly couples (on reflection now, they were probably aged about 40) staying in our hotel when finding out my newly acquired age, “Ah you are now elf”. My knowledge of German, even basics such as numbers after 10 was very limited!

Wind the clock on a few decades and I have come to love the place. Indeed I actually work for a German employer now, but based out of home in the UK; I also have one branch of my extended family located there so my involvement and appreciation of the countries and the people is very regular and advanced.

What is best is the simplicity of many things and the approach to leisure.

By simplicity I mean the problem solving applied to every day challenges…..Oktoberfest is an amazing tradition.

As there are only for 4 weeks in October for this event , it needed to be longer …so now it actually starts mid September so it can last long enough!

And not to be outdone…the winter Christmas Markets with amazing things to eat and drink are just the same. Advent starts at the first Sunday in December …but in reality you will find people thronging to these events with these starting in mid November!!

And it’s not just food and drink.. there are very few pieces of German engineering thst have failed to impress me over the years ranging from Bosch power tools, to AEG domestic appliances and of course cars I have had both Audi and BMW and really nothing can surpass these.

Anything Germany cannot do….well really the only thing might be to produce a decent cup of tea!

…..but given time, even that may happen.

Lost in London

London, like many cities mostly presents its underground railway maps in a topological format.

And when I say underground I mean the metro, but it is rarely called that in the uk. The normal colloquilism for London underground being ‘the tube’ . Topological maps show the stations and lines in an ordered and geometric way, which gives great clarity but totally distorts distance and indeed direction.

Native Londoners when outside their immediate geographic comfort zones of suburban home or city street will have a hazy and simplified comprehension of the geography of their city fuelled by these maps.

Tourists are even worse off with few if any reference points to assist in computing real distance and direction rather than just ‘living the tube map’.

I read recently that despite Covent Garden and Leicester Square stations being only 400 metres or so apart,

and a mere 40 second tube journey, some 800 people per week buy tickets for this journey between the two of them…blissfully unaware that a 4 minute stroll along the street will take them from one station to another in much more comfort and lots to see along the way…..

These are London’s two tube stations that are closest to each other but these are not unique with others equally near their neighbours.

Meantime back at the world of what to call the underground……

The metropolitan tube line in London was the world’s first such railway and the name, ‘ metro’ has been used worlwide for city underground trains. Except in London where the name tube has just stuck and is what everybody refers to it by.

In Paris, the abbreviation as well as the full name Metropolitan is in widespread use .

but in numerous other cities in Europe and beyond, the underground trains are called metros. Ok in New York it’s the subway,

and funnily enough in Glasgow, that same name too,

although colloquilly referred to there by some as the ‘Clockwork Orange ‘.

Why, well the trains are bright orange and it’s just one continuous circle. A unique experience with it’s own smell that cannot be quite defined! The continuous circle is now used in its logo branding for the stations too.

If you ever get the chance to visit Glasgow, give it a whirl.15 stations and a lot of people watching!

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Romantic Paris?

There used to be a TV advert on CNN International many years ago advertising Long Distance phone calling .

It showed a picture of a young American businessman with a beautiful nightime Parisian scene in the background calling his wife with the caption…here I am in the world’s most romantic city ………… and I am stuck here with a cost accountant from Cleveland , as the camera pans round to a suited and accountant type figure sharing his dinner table complete with spreadsheet and calculator.

And of course no disrespect to accountants or people from Cleveland, Ohio but I know how he feels.

I have had the good fortune to visit Paris many times for work and pleasure but each visit I always see just as a taster and I want more.

Earlier this week, work took me on a very quick Paris trip and this time like the CNN man I was accompanied by a colleague.

The difference was this colleague had lived and worked there and in fact after our work day was over, he was on a mission to revisit a shop he had frequented when a resident. To quote another famous advert (HSBC) you really can’t beat local knowledge. The mission for cheesecake took us to the most amazing shop in the 4th Arrondissement. These kind of places are gems and long may they last and survive against globalisation.

A further meander around this area was rewarding with typical Parisienne variety of sights – quirky graffiti,

some unusual street furniture

and even “pride friendly ” pedestrian crossings.

So today was Paris..but actually most cities have the streets just beyond “the top ten must see locations” and these are the places that in my view are the ones to find on visits 2, 3, 4 to a city that you think you now know!

It’s over to you…..

Bath time ….lights, camera, action!

I unexpectedly made a visit to the city of Bath last weekend. As is often the case, it’s the short unplanned visits to places that are sometimes the best ones. I only had a short time for a walk before our restaurant reservation for dinner, but the dappled evening sun reminded me how much I like this place and made me question why we don’t visit there more. As is always the case the answer is simple …we are spoilt in the UK with so many places like this just a few hours away, we become totally nonchalant about them.

If you have never been (…and if you live in the UK) that’s perhaps no surprise as people often see it as another York, Harrogate or Cheltenham ..but where it trumps these is that you are literally tripping over wonderful buildings, Roman Baths, history and Jane Austen literary heritage at a far greater density per square mile than the previously mentioned towns. If you are from outside the UK and made a touring visit of major UK places …it was probably on your itinerary as it is just a short drive from Stonehenge, Avebury and many other gems.

There is much to see in Bath but you can cover a lot in one of the free walking tours or (not so free!) city bus tours.

Even the ‘ordinary’ buildings that populate both the city centre and suburban streets are a real joy to the eye.

Bath Abbey is one of the sights thst draws the crowds, but if you can …just meander in the small streets and alleys ..they will not fail to please.

Any downsides?…not really…easy to get to with plenty of car parks, and worth noting is the out of town park and ride…as the city layout can be confusing even with the assistance of Sat Nav/GPS.

It is not surprisingly, a film makers paradise and we wandered into one of the city squares somewhat surprised to see it looking so ‘historic’ until we realised we were ‘on set’ , unfortunately not looking anything like the Jane Austen characters around us….oops!!!!!…. nice job for the editor to remove the imposters­čśü

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How to be a breakfast chef – use your mobile

I am sure I am not alone in my frustration with seeing couples or sometimes entire families at tables in restaurants all deeply engrossed in their phones. To me it seems a real waste of time to share and engage with others.

Now don’t get me wrong…I am a big user of my phone with a blog to write (!), friends to be kept in contact with, places to find and a desire to know what is going on in the world. But I do choose my moments – train journeys, waiting in airports, coffee stops (if I am alone) all provide good opportunities to do the electronic conversations!

So true to my word, last week I was in a hotel walking down to breakfast and decided to use that moment to quickly respond to a What’s App message. Well as most women know, men and multi-tasking aren’t always found in the same place ….and that sure applies to me. Walking purposely into the hotel’s restaurant, a place I am familiar with having stayed several times before, I was a bit too purposeful and instead of making a sharp left as I entered as I should have, I just kept walking. Now this is quite a sizeable and modern restaurant with an open kitchen but behind counters which the customers can see, but are separated from the various chefs and kitchen staff as they prep the food and prepare customers special order breakfast items .

I suddenly found myself amongst chefs supervising pans of frying eggs, juicers squeezing fruit and everything else needed for the delivery of this hotels impressive buffet.

Bemused faces everywhere…bearing in mind my attire – suit, laptop bag and phone in my hand they may have thought this was a dawn raid from the International Scrambled Eggs Standards body or some other such authority!

This event took place in Muscat, and as anyone who has visited will know, the Omani people and their guest workers are polite, friendly and welcoming people….so no screams of get out of my kitchen…just smiles, good morning greetings and best wishes for good breakfast.

And just for the record it was!!!

Unicorn in a big park……..my kind of art!

Sculpture was never top on my list of things to be excited about on childhood visits to museums and art galleries.

An 18th bronze reproduction of some meaningless person did nothing to excite me or generate a love of this art form.

Well fast forward 40 or more years and it’s a different story. In keeping with the tradition of ‘if you have something good on your doorstep don’t bother visiting it as it will still be there next week ‘, I had still not got around to visting the Yorkshire sculpture park despite it having been in existence for all the time I have lived in ‘God’s own county’.

A recent visit opened my eyes to this place and made me wonder, why never before?

It is 500 acres of magnificent parkland in pleasant rural West Yorkshire. Sheep are grazed on the land and they seem to successfuly co-exist with thousands of daily visitors and quite a few dogs (on leads).

The sculpture and array of other exhibits is amazing and often on a grand scale..at the moment there is a Damien Hurst exhibition on with some truly giant and slightly haunting exhibits.

Some of the images are a little haunting…this image below of the child with polio was a familiar sight in the UK in the 60′ and 70’s. A best intentioned way of trying to raise awareness and collect funds, but even so…maybe not the best approach.

You will find it hard to see everything in one visit. We combined walking in the parkland, enjoying refreshments on the outdoor terrace, and photographing this array of images ..although really you have to be there…!

It’s a definite one to return to repeatedly to see the changing exhibits and I look forward to experiencing it in different seasons. Might substitute the cold drinks with hot chocolate on our forthcoming planned winter visit!

Oh and by the way, it is completely free to visit, just a car park charge.

Just add salt…

The town of Saltaire just north of Bradford in Yorkshire was founded by philanthropist and mill owner Titus Salt.

Salt had mills in the city of Bradford but decided to build a large new textile mill, known as Salts Mill and create an entire model village on the banks of the River Aire, near Shipley.

This allowed him to provide much improved accommodation for his workers away from the slums of the city.

The name Saltaire derived from his name and the name of the local river, the River Aire.

Salt created a village of stone houses for his workers with running water, bath houses and even a hospital and an institute for recreation and education.

The village also had a school for the workers children, allotments for the families to grow fresh vegetables, almshouses and a park.

In December 2001, Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

So what now…rather than just be a preserved relic of past Victorian ideals, Salts has a vibrant new life.

The mill is home to art by way of permanent exhibitions of Yorkshire artist David Hockney’s work, a truly amazing book shop and some other specialised retailers.

This is no ordinary bookshop..on the ground floor of the mill it has a cathedral like feel, grandeur and ambience.

On the higher floor, a more esoteric style where presentation and space is the emphasis.

Every window provides a backdrop of Salts vision..rather than a shopping mall, retail park or mundane high street.

I can’t think of many bookshops adorned with fresh lillies!

Everywhere in the building there is evidence of both Hockney and the original purpose of the building and this just adds to the magic of the place.

Salts mill draws the crowds for its history, the books, the art and even the restaurant and tea shop.

I visit regularly – its a great place on a winter sunday, a rainy summers day or whenever the mood draws you.

If you are visiting West Yorkshire it’s a “must do” visit. A great example of getting preservation just right.

Salts is very alive with many one off events and opportunities to embrace books, music and art in a wonderful setting…oh and yes it’s completely free other than special events.

Sure you have to buy books if you want to take them home..but otherwise it’s there to enjoy!

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Time for an embrace…take #2

We had dogs visiting and I had time for an early morning walk prior to setting off on a work trip.

Our local reservoir is a mirror of the season and looking in the mirror what I saw was waves on the water whipped up by the stiff breeze, a hint of brown on some of the leaves and a little chill in the air.

Now it’s only August, but here in the UK as we encounter global warming we see a shift with warm weather spells from as early as April or May so in some way it’s no surprise in August to get a hint of the autumn that is waiting for us when we turn the calendar page at the end of the month.

My natural response to this is to bemoan the end of summer but on this walk accompanied by my daughter I was reminded to embrace the seasons for what they are….so true, and indeed we in the UK are fortunate to live in the land of distinct seasons…even though occasionally we experience all four in one day!

Enjoy each day for what it is.

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Lost taxi

Athens is a wonderful city.

Home to some wonderful architecture, ruins, sights, sounds and smells; generally very friendly and welcoming people (about 3 million of them) and 14,000 taxis. Yes, more than New York city which has only 13,000!

The taxis in Athens are yellow too and again like in New York it also can be an experience! On a recent work trip to Athens I decided to go to my hotel by taxi rather than train as it was already 11pm . Jumping in a taxi at the airport I got a welcoming smile but a puzzled look by the young driver as I gave him my hotel name and the street address.

Now this was a relatively well known hotel in a smart district but it was certainly a first for him. Anyway we set off but after 2 minutes he then asked me did I have GPS. I was a little surprised he had no phone of his own or was unwilling to use it. Anyway mine was put into service and balancing it on his knee, off we went. I actually had another phone with me as well (my work phone) and for good measure also put same request into that. After a while of frequent ‘recalculated journeys’ messages it became evident the ‘phone balanced on knee technique’ was not a big success in terms of navigation or road safety. So plan B was me in the back of the car telling him when to turn left, right and on one occasion STOP! This new plan worked and we shortly pulled up outside the hotel.

He then told me the fare which was duly paid by me and I asked for my receipt. Not possible he said pointing at the printer in the car (I assumed out of order)

Ok, I said how about just one of your advert cards that you can write the fare on? (This by the way is not always a good move..I did this in Italy a while back and it was presented to me on a card advertising a lap dancing establishment! Our company accountant has never quite looked at me in the same way since)

Anyway still no joy. So I made the point of no receipt, no fare can be paid as I won’t be able to reclaim. This focussed the mind and a brief phone call to his boss…it seems he did have a phone after all!

Finally Greek ingenuity then took over…he scrambled around the not so clean taxi floor until he found a receipt for that day for a similar amount (it was a few euros less) then gave me some money back to reconcile the exact amount and then handed a slightly worn and crumpled receipt over! …what could I say.

Only in Athens!

Say cheese…..

In a future age when we really get to know what makes us humans tick we will learn why we like to collect things and complete lists with an unexplainedly huge sense of achievement, totally disproportionate to the task.

It may be more of a British trait …indeed much as I often see suitably anoraked men and boys collecting train numbers on Peterborough station or at London Kings Cross (with it’s bizarrely numbered Platform 0)

I can’t say I have noticed the same outside Penn station in New York.

Maybe you can’t get the anoraks in the US…and we all know the rule …no anorak=no trainspotting.

In the UK we also have men religiously trying to visit every football (soccer) ground in the league. It’s no great hardship I am told doing the ones at the top, such as West Ham at the former Olympic stadium,

the Emirates home of Arsenal, or Manchester United”s Old Trafford but standing in the rain at Raith Rovers or Queen of the South on a wet Saturday in November requires a stamina last seen in Robert the Bruce. The frustration as well with the bottom league clubs is that you make a gargantuan effort to visit some of the more obscure lower league grounds to get the last ones on the list and you tick them off…. Only for them to be relegated out of the league and you then get another far flung obscure ground to visit as a new non league club is promoted and joins.

So I have a far better idea for how these collectors should spend their time……and this is one that never changes and is truly cast in stone.

The UK has a unique range of cheeses and these are very geographically defined. Cheddar coming from the town of cheddar, Stilton from the village of Stilton…and so on. No relegation risk here. There will always be Gloucester, Lancashire , Wensleydale and quite a few more ready for a visit, sampling and ticking off the list of ’20 famous British cheeses’.

And of course…No specialist clothing required!

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