It wouldn’t seem right to end these travelogues without telling you what I had for dinner tonight.
It’s been pointed out to me that descriptions of food and pictures of food have been prominent features of my travel tales. “But that’s not true,” I've protested, “I write about drinks as well!”
I’m in Hong Kong, the last stop on my way home. I flew out from London at noon on Friday, and arriving at my hotel in Hong Kong at 2 am, according to my internal body clock. According to the wall clocks it was 9 am in the morning, and I still had two hours to wait until I could check into my room.
I spent the time falling asleep in the poolside cabana lounges and the very ornate red velvet divan in the lobby, until the desk clerk took pity on me, or more likely, decided I was making the place look untidy, allowed me to check into my harbour-side room.
The view is magnificent, right over Victoria Harbour, but I had no eyes for it today. I poured myself straight into bed and slept without moving a muscle for six glorious hours.
When I came too I was in more of a frame of mind to admire the view, as sun was setting and the lights were slowly coming on and illuminating the harbour. I took myself off for the best view, from the hotel’s swimming pool, and swam for awhile to clear my still sleep befuddled brain.
That was at the point I realised it had been almost 12 hours since I last ate, an unheard of occurrence in these travels.
On my Hong Kong stop in August I was staying in Causeway Bay and over three days came to know the area well, the local eateries are well worth a visit around there. So I jumped on the metro, and it deposited me two stops down smack bang in the centre of Causeway Bay.
I employed my usual navigational technique: wandering vaguely until I recognise something I took notice of before, usually a shoe store, boutique or café (welcome to Heatherland, the roads never take you exactly the same way twice, but there’s always something interesting or pretty to look at).
And my technique didn’t fail me this time either. I spotted the Glee Café, where I’d had dinner one night in August, hoping my meal would be accompanied by a group of show tune singing teenagers.
No songs, but the food is fantastic! It now being more than 12 hours since my last meal, I was willing to devour the menu, plastic coating and all, but fortunately the descriptions caught my attention. I quickly settled on just what I wanted, the crispy bean curd and roast-pork hot pot. I had to point at the menu, as I was worried my mouth wouldn’t stop watering long enough to speak.
And not long to wait either, barely had I started sipping an iced lemon tea than the hot pot arrived. Unfortunately I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture, frankly artistic pursuits are forgotten when your tummy is rumbling. But let me tell you it was everything I’d imagined, the bean curd crispy, the roast pork succulent, and all brought together in a broth lightly flavoured with fresh ginger. Ambrosia!
So tomorrow is the end of this wonderful journey, at least until I’ve got over the jet lag, After that there are still adventures to be had. I’m determined to find someway of visiting Europe every 12 or 18 months, three years is just too long to be away from my loved ones. Thank you all for making me so welcome, seeing you and making new friends along the way (hi Maya, Cathy, Dushyan, Rachel and Jacqui!) has been an absolute joy.
I thought you might be interested in some of my recommendations, (or just consider them my aides de memoir for my next trip and remind me of them when I’m booking hotels).
I’ve stayed now in the Jia Hotel in Causeway Bay and the Grand Harbour View Hotel in North Point (I’m at the latter now). They are both very good, the Grand Harbour is more expensive but worth it for a night to see the Harbour light up. The Jia is my favourite, a good value boutique hotel with very friendly staff and a great beauty spa, the Halite, around the corner (I’m off there tomorrow for a massage and pedicure, hopefully they won’t be as horrified by my feet as there were in August).
Santiago de Compostela
I think the best hotel I stayed at the entire trip was the Hotel Altair. Converted from an old house, it’s an 11-roomed boutique hotel. The ground floor rooms private courtyards, the beds and bathrooms are large and the staff cannot help you enough. Throw in the most exquisite jam at the breakfast table I’ve ever had (rose petal jam, Kathy Goth and I searched all over Santiago for a jam but had no luck, it’s unique to the hotel) and you have got one excellent stay.
Stay anywhere near the beach, La Playa Concha, and enjoy the 20-minute walk into the town centre. Don’t forget to go to any of the pincho bars, serving small, ready-made sandwiches. There was one that had the most incredible goats cheese topped with walnuts and balsamic vinegar.
Despite getting shunted to a less salubrious sister hotel than the one I booked, I loved staying on the Buda side of the Danube, so ignore the travel books and look for a hotel there rather than the busy Pest side. It’s an enjoyable stroll over the main bridge to the local markets, and by the time you get there you’ve earnt yourself a big, hot plate of goulash.
I highly recommend staying around the Opera district, there were quirky boutiques and jewellery stores, particularly Loyata, an atelier Nancy and I stumbled on the first night we were there. It looked close but the lights were on, so I pushed at the door and stuck my head in. This technique was later successfully employed on both a Chinese restaurant and a Serbian restaurant, just as there were both almost closing.
We stayed at the Carlton Opera Hotel, which has beautiful art deco fittings (including an old lift you’d expect to deliver a swaggering Hussar with a clanging sword belt at any moment), in an apartment that had a very strange layout. I stayed on an extra night and was upgraded from the awful single room I’d booked over the net to a much more luxurious double room, on the condition that I write a good review for the owner on the booking site I used. She kept asking me where my review was every time I saw her, I did give her a good review as she scared the hell out of me (she showed me she could bypass the anonymous feedback options to find out exactly how had left the review), but at least here I can privately mention that the towels are really scratchy!
The Novotel is an easy walking distance to the train station, you don’t need to get a cab, but far enough away so you’re not right on top of the trains. Jump on the train to Bath for the day and visit the Thermae pools, where you can see the Abbey spires and green hills from a warm roof top pool.
After a swim, head to the Sally Lunn café, Bath’s oldest restaurant. I always seem to end up in the Jane Austen room eating the Queen Victoria tea-the eponymous Sally Lunn Bunn topped with lemon curd and thick clotted cream.
In Bristol the markets in the middle of the town are fun and the Watershed filmhouse has a good café to sit and watch the lights of the river come on in the evening.
Hotel 53 had one of the best beds I’ve slept in, and the town centre has lots of good traditional pub style restaurants for dinner. Next time I’ll try not to have the crushing hangover from Cardiff that I did on this visit.
See earlier comment about the hangover. I do remember that we started at the Goat Major, named after, I’m not kidding you (you’ll understand that pun in a minute), the goat that holds the rank of Army Major in the British armed forces.
The hosts of the Warwick Lodge are delightful people, very friendly and welcoming. As they weren’t busy this time of the year, they upgraded me from the single to the double room at the top of the house.
Forget the hit and miss of London hotels, go for a self-catered apartment, it costs about the same and unlike most of the hotels you’ll have room to swing a cat. I stayed at the Grand Plaza Apartments in Bayswater, close to the Bayswater underground station that is only one stop to Paddington and the Heathrow Express. Easy to get around!
Olivier took me to Bob Bob Richard, a very glamorous cocktail bar near Carnaby Street. Their specialty is the apple and rhubarb gin martini.
From there we were off to a fashion show that a friend of Olivier’s was promoting.
It was held at St George’s Church Hanover, and I bored Olivier with descriptions of how it was once THE place that the toffs got married at (I know this from a lifetime of Georgette Heyer and Dorothy L Sayers novels). It was very, very beautiful but much smaller than I imagined, maybe to prevent the brides as they walked down the aisle, contemplating being hitched for life to a chinless wonder of the aristocracy, and turning and fleeing.
And that brings us once again to the here and now and the almost end of this journey. Don’t worry though, I still have one almost full day in Hong Kong, so I’m sure I’ll manage to fit in a few more meals to tell you about!