Counting down the days to India… 5 more!

Despite being disappointed with the opportunity of heading to India at the start of this year, I knew that another opportunity would come around, even if I had to create it myself. Fortunately my work has been very accommodating and I will be leaving London for a few months and work out of one (or maybe even two) of our offices in India. The main office is based in Bangalore, one of the hubs often described as India’s silicon valley.

I’m very much looking forward to the very different culture, working in a new environment that will help me appreciate all the things here in London and help me appreciate a whole new life as well. I’m hoping to fit a little bit of travel in although I’m not sure how that’s going to fit in with the nature of the work I’ll be doing, requiring a pretty regular running schedule during the week.

I’ve got all the necessary items now – my passport’s got the visa, I have a plane ticket, my immunisations pretty much taken care of, and all the details of arrival all planned out. It’s going to be hectic as soon as I arrive, at the very early hours of 4:30am Sunday morning but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. See you all in a while!

Firehouse Rotisserie

Duck QuesadillasAfter looking for somewhere nice to eat in Bath and discounting all the Michelin starred restaurants because they were not really accessible without a car, we ended up booking dinner at the Firehouse Rotisserie, a Californian themed restaurant serving modern American cuisine. Forget burgers and think more of wood fired pizzas and, as the name suggests, rotisserie cooked meats. We started with the Goats Cheese Fondue and the Duck Quesadillas, both of which I think we could have both skipped. The Goats Cheese Fondue looked like it was simply bubbling Goats Cheese served with some corn chips and the Duck Quesadillas were disappointingly dry and not very spicy at all. The only good thing about the quesadillas is that it had been served with two small salads.

BBQ ChickenThe mains looked much more promising, with both of getting the two different rotisserie cooked chickens – a dry rubbed BBQ one, and a lemon and herb infused one. Each serve had two pieces of chicken, a breast and a leg, both of which remained surprisingly moist despite looking rather dry. The herb encrusted one had plenty of flavour, though was much more subtle than the salty and spiced BBQ one. I’d say that the herb chicken dish definitely had far too much going on their plate, including bacon, cooked lemons and a dijon tarragon aioli that would not have been missed had it not been there. The BBQ chicken was a bit more balanced with a delicious jalapeno coleslaw complementing the sweet and spicy chicken.

Brownie with Coconut Ice CreamWe finished with dessert, firstly a mango and white chocolate brulee and a chocolate brownie served with a refreshing coconut ice-cream. The brulee mixture really didn’t work very well with the subtle creamy texture of the white chocolate brulee ruined by a watery and over-poweringly sweet mango base. Though still very nice and an exceptionally large portion, I don’t think I’d order it again. The brownie on the other hand went down very well and the coconut ice cream surprisingly went well with it, though it is a dish that’s pretty hard to get wrong.

Details: Firehouse Rotisserie (Bath)
Found on: 2 John Street, Bath, BA1 2JL
Contactable on: 01225 482070
Highlights: Different California cuisine with interesting rotisserie offerings. Good selection of extras and reasonable main dish prices.
Room for improvement: Very ordinary starters, service nothing special and could simplify a number of their dishes as it looks like they’re trying just too hard.
The Kua Rating: 7 out of 10

A Weekend in Bath

Bath AbbeyLike anybody who’d seen the long weekend coming up, it seemed like a good time to get out of London. I haven’t made much of an effort to see the rest of England (it’s something I’m working on), so this long weekend I ended up in the famous city of Bath. It’s a fantastically old city with plenty of historical buildings that date way back to the Roman era. There are plenty of tours and guides around town, and of course plenty of tourists to go with them. In fact, in summer and on beautiful days you’ll find the little streets, and the tourist attractions such as the Roman Baths almost claustrophobically busy. Luckily we missed most of the busy periods and still got to see all the things that we wanted to see.

StonehengeWe left Paddington at a ridiculous hour of 6:30am Saturday morning in order to arrive in time for a Madmax tour that took us to nearby Stonehenge, Avery, Lacock and Castle Coombe. I’d been warned by friends that Stonehenge is nothing to make a special trip out for, and they were very much correct. The stones aren’t as high as you’d imagine, blown out of proportion by photos and films, and the circle is also not as big as you’d imagine, with the stones in Avery much larger in diameter. It’s still worth seeing though and still looks magnificent after all the tourists that come by and see it. You walk anti-clockwise around the stones based on the tour guide, although one guy who was randomly going up to people said that it’s better to go clockwise to “tap into its energies”. We gave it a try, but didn’t find it really did anything but give us a good way to escape his crazy rantings. Visiting Avery if you’re in the area is recommended with a greater circle of stones, and a much larger henge that effectively encompassed the entire town.

Roman BathsMust do activities if you come to Bath include seeing the inside of the Roman Baths who now have Bill Bryson offering additional commentary on their audio tour. It’s also worth going up to the French markets for a look around, and then up to Victoria Park that has some stunning gardens and the very expensive houses along the Crescent Road. There’s an excellent walking tour that local guides conduct for free (meeting Sunday morning at 10:30am outside the Pump Rooms at the Roman Baths) taking you along to many of the historical sites. We even had a small celebrity spot on our walking tour, seeing Nicholas Cage coming out of his newly purchased home (apparently for £4m!) just near Victoria Park.

In terms of food there are plenty of options to choose from, though it’s better if you call ahead and book especially for weekends. The nearby cities of Somerset and Bristol are home to many of Michelin starred restaurants though you will need a car to get to any of them. Bath also has plenty of options for cream tea and for something a little bit more traditional, the famous Sally Lunn’s is well worth the wait just to taste a very strange light and airy bun.

Bath is a great city break destination and although there are plenty of tourists around, it’s historical significance and architectural might easily make up for all the bustle.

Oxegen 2007

What: Oxegen, rock music festival
When: July 7 – July 8, 2007
Where: Punchestown Racecourse, Ireland

Highlights
Muse rocking OxegenI enjoyed Saturday’s line-up the most with an amazing set by Muse finishing at 2am and a stunning light show. A very modest Snow Patrol also performed a very enjoyable set just before them. Pigeon Detective’s lead singer made quite a show when asked to have mud thrown at him and a never-ending supply streamed towards him throughout their entire set.

Other bands we managed to see on Saturday included The Rumblestripes, The View, The Maccabees, The Goo Goo Dolls, The Gossip, The Fratellis, Kings of Leon, and Maximo Park.

I found Sunday’s headliners, The Killers, slightly disappointing with a relatively quiet performance and regretfully missed an amazing light show by Daft Punk on the other stage. Highlights of Sunday must go to the Klaxons who performed a much heavier than expected set and the energetic bouncing Scotsman, Calvin Harris. Thankfully we got around to seeing all the people we wanted to see, even if it was in very small doses including Razorlight, Babyshambles, Arcade Fire, The Kooks, Bloc Party, CSS, James Morrison, The Thrills, Jason Mraz, Unklejam and Bright Eyes.

I particularly appreciated the food options available that went much further than your typical burger and chips with stalls serving food such as hog roast rolls, falafels, fresh salads, crepes, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, paella and Italian food though most meals cost between €7-€10

Lowlights
Shoe PileI went completely unprepared bringing only a pair of old trainers only to swap them very quickly for some new wellies. It didn’t seem like I was the only one at least. Thankfully my raincoat kept the rest of me relatively dry for the most part. By Sunday almost everywhere you stepped was at least ankle-deep pools of mud or muddy water. Getting back to Dublin on Sunday night post-festival almost ended up in disaster when the organised Dublin bus system completely broke down and people started stampeding their way onto any available bus. I’m amazed no one got crushed.

Overall it was still quite a great experience, as tiring and exhausting and as dirty as it got. Plenty worth it for the number of bands we got to see and the fun and friendly atmosphere. See the rest of the photos that turned out here.

Tripping Around Italy

Besides the rather intense week of the conference in Como, I still managed to visit a number of towns nearby including Milan, Lecco and Bergamo.

Milan
Graffiti in MilanMilan, the fashion capital of Italy is a surprising little city. The public transport is fantastic with the options of buses, trams, trains and the underground easily getting you around. Equipped with a decent map and a decent understanding of how piazzas and streets connect, the city is also very pedestrian friendly. One thing I learned very quickly is that pedestrians don’t have the right of way and even the footpath does not keep you safe from the bikes and mopeds that drive right up and around you.

European Athletics ChampionshipWe visited the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where many of the high brand fashion stores are and situated next to the Piazza del Duomo, a huge cathedral towering over everything. We had planned to go see the Last Supper painting and ended up disappointed since we hadn’t booked in advance and apparently is constantly sold out – so plan ahead! We also walked around the huge park in the centre of the city (Parco Sempione) and I even managed to see the European Athletics Championship in the Milan Stadium located to the side of the park on my last Saturday in town.

GalleriaNavigli is the area around the river in the southern bit of Milan. It’s definitely less formal, more alternative and very student focused compared to other parts of Milan. It has plenty of bars and cafes that are extremely busy at least on a Saturday night. Market stalls also line the river side and is quite a great place to walk around. This area was particularly great in the summer time since all the tables are out and everyone is enjoying the late evenings.

I can’t say that I had very memorable food even though all the food was quite nice. We ate at a few places that the Lonely Planet recommended for traditional but I really can’t say you’d be too wrong going to other places. If you’re near the Cadorna Train Station, definitely drop into Chocolat Milano at Via Boccaccio 9 for at least a gelati if not a cake or a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

Lecco LakeLecco
We ended up in Lecco purely by mistake after trying to catch the train to Bergamo. Though we ended up detoured for a couple of hours, I think it was definitely worth the trip as the train weaves its way over and past a number of rivers and descends upon the town and its lakeside. I can’t say there seemed to be much to do in Lecco other than walk around and relax, and a visit to the lake is definitely in order since its so peaceful.

Bergamo Famous Polenta CakeBergamo
Even though Bergamo is almost an hour-long train ride out of Milan it’s definitely a city worth the journey. The city is spilt into effectively two parts with most of the commercial and residential bits in the lower city. From the train station you can either catch a bus or take a generous stroll along the city’s main road to the bottom of the first of two funiculars.

The first funicular takes you to the stunning upper city – a medieval looking city filled with pedestrian-only piazzas, cobble stone streets and plenty of cafes and restaurants to sit and people watch all day. Of course there is the obligatory large church and the number of gelati, deli and coffee bars dotted along all the paths. We were lucky enough to be able to indulge in the fantastically sunny weather and lounge around one of the outdoor cafes.

Como
Como at SunsetThe final city and the one I spent the most time in, Como is actually part of the greater lakes district of Italy. The lake stretches out in an extremely long fashion though it’s not that wide and you always get a view of the other shore from one side. Ferries or sailing boats take you around from city to city, although even the fast ferry takes a while to get from one town to the next.

Como LakeOne of the newer Star Wars films (when they return to Naboo) had been shot at Como, with the lake side scenery so beautiful that it only ended up slightly touched up instead of being fully digitised. Standing upon the shore and walking around, you can easily see why it was picked as a great spot. Bellagio – another lake side city is a must visit if you end up in Como and is great for wandering up and down the little side streets and hills. Some great places to eat in Como include Ristorante Pizzeria Pepe Nero for thin crispy based pizzas (Via Boldoni 26), Il Pomodorino (Via 5 Giornate 62/b) for more traditional Italian dishes and the restaurant in the Albergo Sociale Nero.

A Sunny Weekend in Alghero, Sardinia

Alghero BeachesThe last few weeks seemed to have run away with me. If not busy with work, it’s been preparation for the conference (XP2007), or actually spending time at the conference itself, though I’ve at least still had a chance to fit sessions in at the gym before work and have myself a little bit of a rest.

Caves of NeptueI also managed to escape for a weekend before this all started and ended up in Alghero, part of the Sardinian islands in Italy. My weekend started especially early with my flight out of Stansted at the almost unbearable time of 6:30am. Of course this actually meant about three hours sleep on Friday night before leaving to catch a bus from Liverpool street since no trains or underground run at that time.

Arriving at the airport was quite a sight, with pretty much all chairs covered with people sprawled uncomfortably, all waiting for their early morning flights. It looked like many people had camped as well, taking their sleeping bags to the airport for comfort. 5am rocks around and staff starts waking everyone to get the airport moving again – I certainly felt sorry for many people who looked like they needed the sleep more than I did.

Cruising towards Neptunes SavesThe flight was relatively painless, and getting to the city was very easy. You buy a bus ticket from a dilapidated looking machine for €0.90 and it’s easy to see the bus heading into town since everyone else seemed to be waiting for it. It drives right along the coastline, on its way to the middle of town giving you a magnificent idea of what the beaches and harbour offer.

There is not a terrible amount to do in Alghero though what they have was exactly what I needed. Upon arriving we walked briefly through the old town before catching a cruise out to the Caves of Nettuno or Neptune’s Caves. These deep marine caves found on Cape Caccia offer walkways through well-lit caverns where stunning stalactites and stalagmites reach out all around you in an eerily quiet setting. I highly recommend taking the cruise instead of the bus to the Cape because what can really beat sitting on a good sized boat, soaking up the sun and enjoying the azure blue ocean and sea spray in the air?

PacoAlghero offers many different experiences for food, though be aware that most places shut down between 3 and 6 for a rest before starting up again. It’s safe to say it’s hard to go wrong at many places, with fresh seafood available on almost every menu. We read about the restaurant Paco (7, Largo San Francesco) before arriving and enjoyed the food and service offerings. It seemed to be popular with locals and tourists alike, offering outdoor and indoor dining and many traditional dishes. Look out for these other local foods: Mirto – a very uniquely flavoured liqueur, Limoncello – lemon based liqueur though more Italian than exclusively Sardinian, Pecorino – a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk, Dolci sardi – collections of small sweet biscuits and pastries. A weekend is definitely not enough to try all the local cuisine and unfortunately we didn’t get around to trying things like Seadas (deep fried honey cheese pastries), suckling pig, and pork with mirto.

Other than walking around the old town, Alghero offers some very nice beaches, with sand almost as fine as the Gold Coast but with many more facilities and activities. Deckchairs line the coastline, and paddle boats can be hired or indulge yourself at any of the cafes and bars that line the beach.

My weekend in Alghero didn’t end up as expensive as I thought it would have, given that it’s apparently a popular destination for wealthy Italians, and a much needed relaxing one at that. Check out more photos here.

In Italy

Im’ trying to write this blog post from an Internet terminal in Como since I’ve arrived for a conference. Getting used to the keyboard is quite the challenge (it reminds me of the ones I used in Sweden or Norway) with plenty of additional characters. Alt Gr has never had so much use.

I’ll update everything when I get back (eventually).