Sunday, November 26, 2006

10 ways to piss off your cousin

1. Decide at the last minute that you want to visit Hong Kong, but you are too cheap to pay for your accomodation.
2. Decide that you want to stay with your relatives.
3. This results in cousin being kicked out of his own room, and being relegated to the storage room to sleep in instead.
4. Be unable to speak coherently in Cantonese, at least not enough to hold a decent conversation with cousin. So not only have you kicked him out of his room, you don't even speak to him.
5. Monopolise the family dog.
6. Make an incredible amount of noise on your first night, so that he can't get to sleep before heading to work the next day.
7. Have his parents send him out to buy computer related things for you.
8. Complain that his computer is riddled with viruses, and that the Internet connection is too slow, despite being on broadbad.
9. Despite the computer being riddled with viruses already, somehow break it even more. The damn thing has a Trojan horse and has corrupted IE so that the net won't load because it gets blocked by antivirus software.
10. Break the back up computer.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Speaking Spanish badly helped my Chinese

I wouldn't have thought so, but travelling around Europe, and only knowing a few choices words of the country that I was (and usually getting confused with the one that I had just been in), has helped myChinese.

The following conversation took place yesterday. I was looking for some huge mosaic statues nearby.

Me: Uncle - what are those things called in a bathroom that are on the floor?
Uncle: Tiles.
Me: Ah okay. Tiles. Do you know a place where they got the -uhm- those things on the ground, and then they hit it so it broke into little bits, but has lots of colours?

Update 25/12/06: Went through the convo with my mum, in Chinese. Perhaps I wasn't as successful in communicating as I thought I was; she had *no* idea what I was talking about!

Paris - my food side

Paris, eh? I went a little overboard in 'a few of my favourite things'.

I tried my first raw mussel. My first raw scallop.

Surprisingly, the mussel tasted like a raw oyster.

Midway during my visit to the Lourve, I needed to take a break from so much religious art & culture, that we went to Angelina's, a patissierie on Rue de Rivoli. Angelinas is famed for their hot chocolates and for their 'Mont Blanc' cake, a 7cm high creation of meringue, whipped cream and 'chestnut cream. The recipe, the menuboasts, has remained a secret for over 100 years.

I broke my gelato rule of ordering one thing creamy & one thing not. We ordered two hot chocolates - one white, one milk; one Mont Blanc - because I can never resist when something is a house specialty, and a strawberry tart which looked yummy when we were standing in the queueby the door.

The hot chocolates came in two milk jugs, with a side of whiped cream. White chocolate whipped cream for the hot milk chocolate; and milk chocolate whipped cream for the hot white chocolate. The hot chocolates were incredibly rich - they tasted like they were made of half chocolate, half cream; a bit more diluted than how I would make a chocolate ganache. All I could taste in the white hot chocolate was sugar; and all I could taste in the milk hot chocolate was the cream.
This leaves the Lindt and Max Bremnar hot chocolates dead in terms of over-the-top richness.

Funnily enough, the strawberry tarte and the Mont Blanc reminded me a lot of cakes you can get in Chinese bakeries in Sydney. I'm sure I've tasted chestnut cream elsewhere. The strawberry tart had the clear glaze, and the shortcrust-y type pastry plus the custard. Very muchlike the 'fruit flan' type tarts you can buy too.

The only thing that got finished was the strawberry tart. Only a few spoonfuls of the Mont Blanc had been touched - just to try the different elements. I don't think that it was really my kind of thing.

I cannot believe that I got defeated by some hot chocolate.

So a few days later, whilst wandering around the St Paul/Marais area, when I eyespyed a 'Cocoa et Chocolate' shop, I decided to check if I really had had too much hot chocolate. I got a cup of spicy hot chocolate (with chilli, pepper, cardamon & something mysterious). Igot about 2/3 through when I had had *gasp* too-much-hot-chocolate.

I don't think that I had 'too much' bread. I didn't really reach the 'Oh my, I'm going to throw up' stage at any point. Bread is the carbohydrate staple of France, much like cous cous in Morocco, or potatoes in Ireland. I think though I tried to combine being healthy & the quest for the perfect baguette in one, and it didn't really work. Brown bread or multigrain flavour doesn't have a high turnover, so I was never going to get the just-baked crispy outside & the soft
inside. Unless I got up terribly early, and even then, my chances were slim.

I folded on my second last night as I revisited a bakery in St Paul. "Un baguette, s'il vous plait". 80 euro cents. I got it. It was warm to the touch. Somehow on my metro ride between St Paul and Montemarte,half the baguette went missing. It was delicious.

I haven't eaten mussels for about 5 years. Even since I went to the Belgium Beer Cafe in Cremorne with someone, and we ordered two pots of mussels. After that, I felt as though I would throw up if I even hadjust a taste of one. I think that I had reached mussel overload.

I thought that after this period of time, the gag reflex should have worn off by now. The steak of the guy next to me looked pretty woeful. So I got a pot of mussels, and managed to eat 3/4 of the plate. I stopped just short of repeating the effect from last time though. I think I'm not quite game enough to order another pot for awhile.

One person. 4 kinds of cheese. That's not too much for one week is it?

I went for the stock standard President brand camerbert from the supermarket (shhh!). If the guy next to you rolls up, checks them for ripeness and then walks off with 8 rounds of the stuff, there has to be a reason behind it, right? I also bought some chevre at the same supermarket to regain some of my street cred for wimping out on buyinga washed rind.

I chickened out several times at a fromagerie. The first time, I was hungry and tired from too much walking. If I had started sampling cheeses then, before you knew it, I would have eaten my weight in cheese and still not know what I had wanted to buy. The second time I just sort of squawked and ran away. Finally I couraged up and pointed out some likely contenders that I liked the look of, and they wereyummy!

A sheep's milk brie type thingy which was oozy round the outside near the rind, and almost curd like in the centre. A goat's milk other thingy which was very goaty & sort of stuck on the back of the tongue.Yum!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Paris - visiting the usual suspects

Luckily, whilst I had thought that we would be spending every day inParis in a mad rush, we haven't, so we have had time to savoureverything that we have done here.

Visited the Eiffel Tower just before sunset on Tuesday. The queue forthe lift was enormous, about a 90min wait, whilst the queue for taking the stairs up was nonexistant. So we took the stairs up to the firstplatform, did a quick walk through, and then went up hem two at a timeto reach the second level in time for sunset. I don't think I managedto grab any piccies of the tower itself before the tower was lit an eerie orange colour. The sunset was beautiful, although as the sunwent, a haze descended, and it was harder to see all the buildings indetail. If you want to make it to the top level (although the view from the second level is better), it is actually cheaper to take the stairs to the second level, and then get an additional lift pass from there upwards.

Received my first taste of waiter rudeness at a seafood restaurant inMontemarte. We saw another table ask about the composition of a dish, in English, and he didn't bother answering, just pulled out the English menu (they had only one), and chucked it at them. I'm sure that that there was heaps of stuff that was available that wasn'twritten down. The French table next to us each got a serve of fish, I think with just butter and lemon juice. The woman on the other sideordered a dozen oysters - and I swear they weren't on the menu either!

Wednesday was reserved for shopping. First up I visited a mainly freshfood market under a railway underpass at Barbes Rochechourt. At one end, we stopped to take a picture of the length of the markets, all the way up to the metro station. Some stallholders thought it would behighly amusing then to come up and demand that we take a picture ofthem, and then as we started walking back down along the market, started chanting out 'tourist! tourist!' along the way. Like that is in anyway going to endear you to people. I bought some pears, some ashis and some mandarins. Perhaps the reason for the currenttiredness was the lack of fruit.

Walked the Champs Elysees from the Concorde end up to the Arc deTriomphe. The original plan, when we flew in on the Sunday, was to head straight there & get a good view of the city, since entry is freeon the Sunday of the month. Of course, it had been really cold (and foggy) when we landed, so we had decided then not to go. The Avenue is really wide, and it would be really impressive, if it wasn't filledwith 8 smelly lanes of traffic. I think we chose the wrong side to walk up, we saw the cheap ready-to-wear shops, not the pricey hautecoutour names. Took piccies of the Arc. Saw that there was a modern day version, all reflective glass further down Avenue Charles DeGaulle. I think it was at La Defense, the CBD district of Paris.

Caught the metro down to the Petit Palais & visited the cafe. Entry to the Palais is free, but for headcount reasons, we still had to collect a ticket.

Then it was time for more shopping! We headed to the St Paul/Marais district for some homewares shopping. Despite not actually living in this country, or even on the same continent, we go homewares shopping. Found some reproductions of the old style biscuit tins, so we bought a few.

Visited the Lourve! We knew that we couldn't appreciate all of theLourve in one hit, so we tried to plan. A few days before going, we got the completely *useless* map, which didn't tell you much. In the end, having paid for our entry, we went to the souvenir bookshop,hunted through until we found a guidebook with 'The Lourve tour for those in a hurry', and copied their suggested route down. Afterstarting on the 2nd floor, we ended up backtracking and getting the audio guide.

Midway during our visit, decided that we needed a refreshing break. So we headed out to Angelina's, a patissierie shop on Rue de Rivoli. Just outside, I switched from thongs to ballet flats, just to look presentable enough to enter. You could tell where the locals were -all in the smoking section. The non-smoking section had all the tourists.

The order was for two hot chocolates (one white, one milk), a montblanc (they are famed for the last two), and a strawberry tart.

Having read the easyjet magazine on the flight over, we headed to DesCrepes et des Calles in the 13th arrondisement. After leaving themetro, we found a nicer set of markets than the ones in BarbesRochouart. There were less people, it was less pushy, it was a whole lot calmer. It was very nice!

The crepes were really nice too - we got dessert ones for starters, because dessert is the most important meal of the day. Lemon and honey, and banana and butter. Yummo! I was then game enough to try a gallete, a buckwheat crepe with filling. I triedegg & cheese. It filled in the bits between the crepe & didn't taste like Soba at all.

Walked up the hill to the Sacre Coeur, an enjoyed the view of Paris.This hill behind Montemarte (or perhaps it is what defines Montemarte)is the highest point within Paris. Unfortunately, couldn't see theeiffel tower from the hill,as it was just around the corner to theright.

Saturday - I went shopping again! I visited the horror that is the LesHalles area (bleurgh); found a fantastic second hand shop on RueEtienne Marcel. They had an enormous range of boots, but everytime I found one that I liked (cherry or mahogony red), it had been separatedfrom its brother.

Sunday - last full day in Paris. I went to the Flea Market at Porte deClingancourt. It was crap! Once you left the train station, and youwalked along the side where the markets where, you had a whole lot oftouts offering you handfuls of fake belts, bags, wallets. And what is more, they didn't get the message when you ignored one of them, orsidestepped them, they just kept coming up at you. Ugh. And then themarkets themselves were crap! The antique section I had a quick browse through, but I obviously couldn't buy anything or ship it back home.

So instead, I went to the Musee d'Orsay, which had been installed in an old train station. After queuing up for 40minutes on the reduced-rate Sunday, I finally got inside. I spent a lot of time inthere, a lot more than in the Lourve, it must've been because it wasmy last museum hurrah before leaving Europe.

The highlight for me in the Musee d'Orsay was definitely the Art Nouveau section. There was a lot of stuff by Hector Guinard here, the guy who designed the curly iconic patris metro signs and railings. I spent ages in here taking piccies of Guinard's stuff, as well as the other French Nouveau artists and architects of the time.

Finally, way after sunset, I wandered around the outside of George Pompidou Centre, but was a bit museumed out from the Musee d'Orsay to go in.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Museum-ed out in Madrid.

It has been raining for the past 4 days, ever since we visited Toledo. Despite me buying a whole shoe store worth of shoes, I don´t actually have any sensible shoes for wet weather, or snow (not that it has been snowing). So I have been walking around Madrid with my jeans rolled
up, and thongs on. When it is raining and the temp is 11 degrees, that is mighty, #mighty# cold!!!

The Madrid visit has been very ´cultural´, compared to everything else that we have done in Spain!

Thursday we were in Madrid, and it was bucketing down with rain. So we went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum. Apparently it is the largest collection of European Art in private hands. Thats where I first went walking in the rain with thongs on, and it was f-f-freezing! We spent
about 3 hours there. It got really tiring as well, I like art, but sometimes you need a break in the middle! Unfortunately you had to complete the visit in one go, or else buy another ticket if you wanted to re-enter the museum. At 6euros a go, it would be expensive as well.

Friday, was scheduled to visit the Palacio Real, this huge 2800 monstrosity that a king wanted to build to beat all the other palaces in Europe. We had until 130pm to visit, and apparently I am a slow poke, because my sister kept cracking the whip and saying that I would have to move faster to remain on schedule.

Some of the rooms were pretty cool - like the porcelain room, where the entire room was made of porcelain - the walls, ceiling, everything. And they had designed it such that the seams or joins were hidden behind leaves or features in the porcelain. It was a really ugly room, but just amazing in the detail. A lot of the rooms were incredibly ugly or over the top, but I suppose that when they were built, it was what was in fashion at the time. Similar to how shiny stainless steel appliances and glass backed kitchens are all the rage now.

Anyway, I felt as though it was a lightening fast visit, and I didn´t get to really look at the rooms (or appreciate their ugliness). It was almost as though it was a chore that I had to complete. I´d walk in, take a picture of the sign explaining about the room (not even read it), then take a picture of the room, maybe an element that the sign had just highlighted, and then walk back out again.

After lunch (reheated pasta leftover from last night), went down the road to visit the Museum de Sofia Reina, which has the largest collection of modern art in Spain. That was quite a large museum as well, but I enjoyed it a whole lot more than I enjoyed the Thyssen musem on Thursday. I think I like #some# modern art, with a bit of a tendency towards sculpture
(Classical sculpture I can take it or leave it).

I saw Picasso´s ¨´Guernica¨ artwork though, a huge 3.5 by 7m wide thing that he got commissioned to paint for some expo or exhibition in Paris in 1936, about the time that the Spanish Civil war broke out. That was #the# artwork that a lot of people had come to see, and there was a crowd about 5 deep around it. I have yet to see the Mona Lisa, but I think it will be worse!

What was even more interesting though, was a set of photos that someone had taken as he actually painted, and you could see the development of the painting, and how he had changed objects and people in it around, and how it suddenly meant a whole something else.

Finally on Sunday, I took advantage of the free day to visit the Prado Museum. This time we prioritised & noted down the artists that we wanted to see, and only went in to see those rooms. They had a fantastic temporary exhibition that ended that day, that used IR and reflectometry to work out how the artists had constructed the painted, underneath all those layers of paint. So some had used charcoal, and some had used a metal tipped object to score the wood underneath,
before painting 'within the lines'. Others must have drawn a sketch up beforehand, and then enlarged it using a grid system. You could also see the way they had originally planned the painting, and maybe even changed the direction that the subject was looking in, or hadn't
painted the dog in, in the end. Fascinating!

I am in Paris now, but will need a few days of non-museums to recover, before heading to the Lourve.