The biggest nightmare for most children is being dragged to the local General Practitioner and pinned against the door as they shrieking their defiance at the seasonal vaccination. For me, it was bi-annual pilgrimage to Queensland Book Depot (QBD) where my Mother would take great joy in purchasing holiday text books to ensure her children would be fully prepared when they returned to school. Thanks to this sadistic study regime I’ve spend the majority of my life chained to my desk with only the occasional opportunity to head back to China. But in the last six months I’ve seen more of the world than I could have ever hoped for. I’ve been to Taiwan, hopped around East Coast of America and thanks to Spensley I’ve just returned from Rome, Paris and London.
|Zuppa Di Verdure, Rome|
My favourite location on this journey was Rome, a chaotic unplanned city that had been left to grow organically for thousands of years. The houses lapped the roads and with no footpaths, pedestrians, parked and moving vehicles were left to jostle for priority. There were no designated shopping precincts so it took me three days to locate white-out and when I did, the store was around the corner from our apartment. But the one thing I couldn’t get over with Rome was just how far the Euro stretched. €5 brought you a transfer by coach from the airport to the main station, €3.50 brought you a cappuccino and a flaky custard filled pastry and for €24 you could eat like a king! It brought an entree, two mains, dessert and wine! Pizza, pasta, risotto, but even this smorgasbord of carbohydrates would not stop my tastebuds from craving the flavours of home so one night Spensley and I cooked a simple steak dinner. The steak was incredibly pale and tender, the spinach fresh but God those Italian tomatoes were just packed with flavour. They punched you in the face without the aid of balsamic and a dab of brown sugar. At another point on the trip we would have killed for soup and after wandering the block managed to find a cafe that served a simple Zuppa Di Verdure or if you opted for pasta, it was touted as Minestrone Di Verdure. But before you screw up your face it was nothing like the Minestrone you would find in Australia as the vegetables were perfectly cooked and the delicate broth lightly flavoured with tomato. Superb!
After four days of glorious Rome we boarded the night train to Paris. Spensley and I were travelling first class (think Orient Express, James Bond) as the only other option offered by the Thello was sharing with three other strange men or women. So you can imagine our shock when we opened the door to our cabin to find one manky couch and just enough room in the aisle to leave your suitcase upright. Everything was built vertically so when we next inspected the bunk (which was only suitable for one) we were shocked to find what could only be described as insane asylum straps. Spensley quickly decided this was important as if the train suddenly stopped (which it did over the course of the journey) your body might roll, but your neck would not and would be clipped by the ladder conveniently positioned at neck level. After braving the stuffy confides we emerged victorious in Paris. Our hotel had the good fortune to be position around the corner from the most amazing bakery with a constant stream of locals enjoying crusty baguettes generously appointed with brie, yogurt thick with raspberries, champignon filled quiches and most decadent pastries. We also had the most gorgeous millefeuille at Lenotre on route home from the Louvre. While we had some concerns about the quality of food served being on a tourist strip it was beautifully made and the waiter elegantly divided it with such flourish that we felt almost criminal devouring it. However we can’t say all things in Paris are equal so if see the chain Paul, I would advocate staying well away.
|Salmon, Rocket and Roast Beetroot Salad, London|
After a brief two day jaunt in Paris we took off on a British Airways flight to London. It only dawned on me when an air hostess was offering me a packet of crisps that we were indeed travelling to yet another country. Because after I quickly responded that I would love a biscuit and the brain too stock and realised that crisps were chips and GOD I FREAKING LOVE CHIPS! We were delighted not only did the Grosvenor have restaurant standard room service but there was a Chinese Restaurant in the foyer. I’m sure the staff thought I was mad as I made such a fuss when I received my bowl of plain white rice as while we were in Rome we barely saw anything on offer other than Italian and while there was ample Japanese in Paris it wasn’t the plain jasmine rice of home. We also ecstatic to see an egg with a runny yolk at Le Pain Quotidien a bakery and communal table chain hailing from Belgium. The store had an amazing range of fresh options and perhaps Le Pain Quotidien’s origins helped it supply good coffee as the English serve awful coffee.
The only other place we found a solid cup was the Workhouse Coffee Company in Reading which was owned by an Australian. Apart from their coffees, the Workhouse Coffee Company also serve amazing baked delights and we sampled freshly baked Pear Tart, Lemon Meringue and the pictured Raspberry Cheesecake with actual raspberries, not just puree as found back in Australia. It was an amazing experience and I could tell you so much about the culture, the people, the theatre but it just won’t fit in one article. For all the reading you might do and all the television you might watch, it just doesn't come close to the experience.