Wednesday 31 December 2014

Goodbye 2014

Another year nearly gone, they certainly whizz by faster as you get older. This year has been a quiet one for me really. I purposely did not do much travelling as I knew I'd need money for the next U2 tour. I did miss going away, I still get itchy feet once I've been home around three months and so have had cabin fever a few times this year! But the two short breaks I did have were lovely, I ticked something off my bucket list when I visited Stockholm in the summer. It was a place I've wanted to visit since my mid-teens and it didn't disappoint, such a beautiful city. The other short trip was to Bordeaux to celebrate my friend Debbi's official 50th birthday and we had a wonderful time and got to learn lots about wine making (and drinking) too!

The First Photo I Saw of Seamus
The highlight of my year was getting my new dog Seamus. I'd decided I wanted another dachshund and twice nearly got a rescue dog and, through no fault of mine, both times it didn't happen. The day after the second rescue fell through I saw lovely dachshund puppies advertised and I reserved one. I picked him up two weeks later and he has been a joy, very laid back and confident and rarely barks, unusual for a dachshund, but good as my other dachshund Pepsi can bark for two! Seamus makes me smile every day and is a sweet, loving boy and I now have a lovely canine gang.

Another highlight was my longest and closest friend got the all clear from breast cancer which was such a wonderful day and a huge relief. Health is everything really. You can have all the money in the world but if you haven't got your health that doesn't matter. I am lucky in that I am healthy, got minor problems like anyone my age would have, but nothing serious and I thanks heaven for that.

Biggest excitement was the new U2 album, Songs of Innocence and the tour announcement. It was a long time coming but worth the wait, U2 did what I've always wanted them to do - go back to their own Irish roots to look at how that formed them as people and as a band. I've always hoped for an album like this because I feel that the very fact they are Irish (or to be more accurate in the case of Edge and Adam) grew up in Ireland, is what makes them a special band. The result is a deeply personal, and at times moving, album that often lays Bono's soul bare as much of the lyrical content relates to his experiences. I always admire people who can do that, it's not an easy thing to open up innermost feelings like that to the
wide world. Lyrically too it is fantastic, some of the best for a long time. I was so glad that this album captured my heart again as the last few albums have been good but nothing special and I was drifting off a little, thinking they were past putting out an album would be able to excite and capture my heart again. But I was proved wrong, U2 can still surprise and delight me and I feel this album is very much for longtime fans like me, we understand where they are coming from with it. Now I can't wait to hear the new songs performed live because they always grow and develop in that setting. People have moaned about it being put in their Itunes purchases, but they didn't have to download it did they? Also, I have just got a new android phone and in the music app were quite a few songs that I had not put there that I could download if I wanted and had to delete, so it is a common thing.

Next year will be a busier one for me travel-wise, already got trips to London and Glasgow organised to see U2 and will be going to Dublin for shows there when they are announced. I will also be having a short break in Scotland with my cousin in the spring so lots to look forward to and I'll be writing about much of it here.

Thank you for reading my blog, and I wish you a happy and healthy 2015!

Saturday 20 December 2014

Christmas Rose

This is truly a Christmas rose, still in bloom in my garden on the 20th December, never known that before. Our winter so far has been very mild, only a couple of days ago it was 12c here which is very rare for northern England at this time of year. Our winters are definitely getting milder over the last few years. To be honest I don't really mind it when it is cold and icy because you often get blue skies and sunshine then whereas this milder weather usually means cloudy grey days which I hate. Anyway, it's early in the winter yet and all could change. And the good news is, after tomorrow's winter solstice, the days will be start getting longer again!

Sunday 14 December 2014

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

The Weeping Widow

I think most people have heard of the fabulous exhibition at the Tower of London called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (the title is taken from words found on the will of a soldier who died in Flanders).  It consisted of 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British and Colonial casualty of World War One. Such a simple concept that has captured the imagination of people world-wide. It has also re-connected us with that terrible war and the people, many our ancestors, who died in it. To see the carpet of poppies streaming out of window forming a sea of red around the moat of the Tower really brought home just how many people died, each poppy was a life lost. Unfortunately I could not go to see the installation in person before it closed on Remembrance Day, November 11th. But I was pleased to hear there will be national tour of the Weeping Widow and Wave parts of the installation from 2015 to 2018 after which the installations will be permanently exhibited at the Imperial War Museums in London and Manchester. Though these will not have the impact that original installation had, it will still be worth seeing and I will definitely go to see this when it come near where I live.

My Poppy

John Fell

However, I was one of the lucky people who was able to buy one of the poppies from the Tower, and it arrived not long after the installation closed. It is very beautiful and bigger than I expected and it now has pride of place in my living room. The poppies represent lives lost in World War One and I have dedicated my poppy to my great uncle John Fell who died in from wounds recieved at Ypres in 1915.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Exhibition - The Art of Remembering, Rheged Centre, Cumbria

My friend Marian and I went to visit The Art of Remembering exhibition at the Rheged Centre recently. Funded by the Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery fund it is described on Rheged's website in the following words:

The Art of Remembering is a new contemporary art exhibition supported by Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and developed by Rheged. It asks what emotional connection remains to the First World War, and looks at how we have memorialised the conflict over the past 100 years. The exhibition features new work by artists selected from a national call out and it includes four new artworks commissioned by Rheged especially for the occasion. The Art of Remembering asks questions about how we remember events collectively, and re-evaluate our moral and patriotic attitudes over time.

Downed by Al Johnson
It was a small exhibition using many mediums, ceramics, needlework, film, artwork and more. The first thing that caught my eye when I went in was a scarlet coloured crashed plane, this sculpture is called Downed by Al Johnson. Only when I got close to the sculpture I saw that the scarlet was made up of squares of knitting. It was quite a contrast, the blood red killing machine covered in soft fabric. The artist says that the piece 'references the cultural shifts in the perception of women, moving from the domestic sphere to munitions factory'. And is this area, skirting the English/Scottish border, there was indeed a massive munitions factory 12 miles long, with mainly female workers doing the dangerous work.

Sweethearts by Morwenna Catt
Another piece that caught my attention was some large fabric hearts called Sweethearts by Morwenna Catt. They hung on parachute-like cords from the ceiling and brought to mind the much smaller sweetheart cushions that recuperating soldiers used to make. They were made from vintage fabrics and pieces of soldiers' uniforms, some were embroidered with patterns and words. Black threads trailed to the floor from them like bleeding hearts, or threads of stories from 100 years ago....

I found it quite moving as I walked through the sweethearts and read what was embroidered on them. One had a Union Jack background with a photo-like image of three soldiers aiming rifles, 'Shot at Dawn' was embroidered on it in red.

The artist was inspired by her own family stories of relatives that fought in that terrible war. And now, all these years later, that is something that many of us can relate to, most of us had a relative that fought and sometimes died then, and so that conflict is still able to resonate in many people all these years later.

Another piece that caught my imagination was Tails You Lose by Dawn Cole. It was monochrome, in the form of a wreath, like those laid on Remembrance Day, but made up of hundreds of heated-treated foil and paper shillings instead of poppies, with wispy black threads hanging from it.

This work again was inspired by a relative of the artist, her great aunt, Clarice Spratling, whose diary had been found in an attic. Clarice was a nurse who joined the war effort and wrote about it in her diary. She had to pay one shilling to go, this reminded the artist of the King's Shilling when soldiers used to be paid a shilling to join up, though this had stopped by World War One. But during her research in Wimereux where Clarice was posted she found a headstone that had a rubbing of a 1915 shilling on top of it. I thought it was beautiful in it's
Tails You Lose by Dawn Cole
simplicity in silver and black and the interesting and moving story behind it. It reminded me that it was not just men and soldiers that went to war.

I enjoyed the whole exhibition, but have just picked my favourite pieces of work to fully review. It is interesting to note that most of the exhibitors were female.

I found The Art of Remembering very moving and it made me think and maybe understand just a little of what my grandfather and his brothers (one who did not survive) must have gone through. I think one of the things this exhibition was aiming to do was just that, make us think and remember. This was such a terrible war that it still affects us one hundred years later and changed the world forever.

If you want to see this free exhibition (you also get an excellent free catalogue) you haven't long to get there though, it closes on November 23rd.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Cafe Review - Peter Sidwell@Rheged Cafe

My friend Marian was staying with me for a while and we decided to visit Rheged. We were hungry
so decided to try chef Peter Sidwell's cafe there. It was quite small, but inviting. The menu was good with some more unusual items such a frittata, Persian lamb and cullen skink salmon on it and was reasonably priced.

For a while we just sat at our table waiting to be served, however you have to go to the counter to order, it would have been helpful to have a sign or state that on the menu to avoid confusion. As we were going out for a meal that night we didn't want something too big so both plumped for the Red Pepper and Feta Frittata topped with a Tomato and Herb Salad.When it arrived it was huge, light and fluffy and totally delicious, definitely the best frittata I've ever had. It was so big we both could not finish it all. I looked around at the other dishes arriving at tables and the food was of generous proportions and looked very good.

To sum up this was a cafe with some unusual dishes most of which had local ingredients. No dish on the lunch menu was more than £9.95 (our frittata was only £6.95). The quality of our food was excellent and it was perfectly cooked, we hadn't really expected such quality here. If you are visiting Rheged, it's well worth a visit.

Friday 14 November 2014

Restaurant Review - L'Alysson, Rue St Remi, Bordeaux, France

Goats Cheese Entree
We had nowhere planned to eat on our second night in Bordeaux, but close to our apartment we saw a place down a nearby street that looked busy (always a good sign) so we had a look. L'Alysson Brasserie  was reasonably priced and it looked a nice place so we decided to try it. Again we decided to sit outside, a waitress came up to us and said, "You can sit 'ere, 'ere, or 'ere" pointing to various tables. However after sitting for a few minutes we realised it was a bit colder than the previous night so we decided to go inside. The waitress came along and went through the same routine, "You can sit 'ere, 'ere, or 'ere." We chose a table, I noticed the floor inside was covered in beautiful tiles.

We ended up ordering the same things. We had goats cheese on ciabatta as our entree. It was a large portion, a stack of two pieces of ciabatta with two large portions of goats cheese and a slice of ham, salad with half a boiled egg all sprinkled with roasted almonds. It was very good - and filling!

Ribeye Steak Main
For the main course we had a ribeye steak with frites, onions and salad. The steak was huge and the pile of fries would have kept me going for a few days I'm sure! The steak was very tender and cooked perfectly. I've got a good appetite but I couldn't finish the meal, nor could Debbi. We washed it down with a bottle of wine called Nodez which was better than the one we had the previous night. The desserts looked fantastic but unfortunately we had not the slightest bit of room for one!

The food was good, nothing fancy, but good plain cooking and there's nothing wrong with that. Service was friendly and the ambiance was relaxed and comfortable. It was also reasonably priced - around half the cost of Le Bordeaux where we had dined the previous night. We both enjoyed our evening there very much.

Address:  64 Rue St Remi33000 BordeauxFrance
Website:  L'Alysson Brasserie (this website appears to be under construction)

L'Alysson Brasserie (photo from website)

Friday 7 November 2014

Restaurant Review - Le Bordeaux, Place de la Comedie, Bordeaux, France

This restaurant is situated in The Grand Hotel de Bordeaux in the centre of the city and has seating inside and outside, as it was a balmy late September evening Debbi and I decided to sit outside.

Le Grand Hotel de Bordeaux
We were given a menu in both French and English and while we perused it a huge basket of bread was placed on the table. We both ended up having the same for each course, (not something we normally do) starting with a volute of creamy cep with flowing egg (think that meant having a runny yolk!) with Bordelaise sauce and ginger croutons. It was rich and delicious.

For the main we had Rolled and stuffed Faverolle chicken with garlic porcini and chanterelle mushrooms, countryside bacon and fresh hazelnuts. Again it was very good, though I could have done with some potatoes with it. We were getting a bit mushroomed out, but it was lovely!

Dessert was a pistachio mousse, reconstituted pistachios, confit raspberries, fresh raspberries, a pistachio crumb and a sugar flower. It was a work of art on a plate and it seemed a shame to destroy the it. It was a fabulous dessert, a perfect combination of tangy raspberries and sweet mousse.

We had chosen one of the cheaper wines to accompany the meal, it was ok but not really to our taste.
Our Dessert
I know it's sacrilege, but, shhh, we are not the biggest fans of French red wine.

The service was friendly and efficient and courses came with just the right timing. The bread was refilled regularly, wish they would do that here!

The ambiance was perfect, the beautiful Opera was all lit up opposite, a busker was singing in English nearby and it was a perfect place to people-watch. It was so relaxing just to soak in the French atmosphere of the place that we both love so much. Seats were comfortable and the tables were well spaced to give privacy.

Le Bordeaux is an expensive restaurant, normally well beyond our means, but we decided to treat ourselves that night and didn't regret doing so.

Address:  Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa
                2-5 Place de la Comédie
                33000 Bordeaux – France

Website: Le Bordeaux

Monday 27 October 2014

Bordeaux 3 - Chateau Feely, Haut Garrigue, Winemaker for a Day

We were up at 6am and on our way to the tram before 7am. Today we were going to Feely Wine, Haut Garrigue at  Saussignac to learn all about wine making and then make our own blend and bottle, cork and label it

We wrestled with the tram ticket machine eventually working it out and got our tickets and go it on the C tram to the Saint Jean railway station. Once there again it was a battle with a ticket machine - this time the machine defeated us so we found the ticket office and got our tickets there, good job we gave ourselves plenty of time!

Saussignac Chateau through the Vineyards
The train set off on time at 8am and as we glided east through the Bordeaux suburbs we munched on our delicious breakfast croissants. Soon we were passing acres of vineyards and famous station names such as St Emilion. After just over an hour we arrived at Gardonne, where we were getting off and being met by Caro Feely who was running our tour.

She was a warm, effervescent, chatty woman who was very organised. She and her husband Sean are from South Africa via Dublin, they are both have Irish Ancestry. They gave up high powered jobs about ten years ago to follow their dream of having their own vineyard in France. There were many trials and tribulations, well documented in Caro's book Grape Expectations about their early days in France. I had read the book and found knowing something about the background to this vineyard really added to the experience.

Haut Garrigue
Merlot Grapes on the Vine

The organic and bio-dynamic vineyard was only a few kilometers from Gardonne and Saussignac and its lovely chateau was just a short distance across the vineyard. Haut Garrigue was a delightful white farmhouse with bright blue shutters, surrounded by vineyards and had a fantastic view down across the valley, the Dordogne River shimmered in the distance. There also was a beautiful newly built gite that you can stay in, a tasting room and the working areas of a winery.

Caro Uncorking Wine in the Tasting Room

There were twelve people from various countries, the UK, US, Japan and France. Caro started by telling a bit about organic and bio-dynamic wine making as we wandered through the vineyards. Some of the stories she told us about pesticides etc used in some vineyards was plain scary. We sampled various types of grapes straight off the vines (totally safe as there were no pesticide used) and it was fascinating just how different tastes they had. It was very pleasant wandering around the vineyard, Caro took us at a leisurely pace so we did not feel at all rushed. The initially rather overcast weather broke out into a beautiful warm and sunny day, perfect! Walking around the vineyards took me back many, many years to when I was 21 and went grape picking in a place not that far from here, Bize-Minervois. It was a small, traditional village, no one spoke English and in the weeks I was there my French improved vastly. The actual work in the vineyards was relentless, hot and back breaking. We worked non-stop from 7-11, had a break during the hottest time of day and then another four hours work from 2-6. We could not stop for a minute, otherwise "Vite, vite" was shouted by the overseers. Pay was good, and we also had a litre of wine a day as part of our payment! I think it is the hardest I've ever worked, but it was an amazing experience. And here I was again decades later wandering round a vineyard, but in much easier circumstances!

The Menu
After the walk we went into the tasting room, neatly set out for us with glistening glasses and buckets to spit the wine we were tasting in (I've forgotten the proper name.) However Debbi and I did not use the buckets we were going to enjoy every drop of the wine! We tried a few white and red wines made at Haut Garrigue, I really liked the white ones which surprised me as I'm not that into white wine. Caro told us more about their vineyard and wine making, she was very good at this and made it fascinating to listen to and her enthusiasm was infectious.

By 12 noon we were feeling the effects of the wine a bit, after all we'd been up since 6am and only had a croissant since, so we were ready for lunch. Rather than write what we had down I've added the photo of the menu above. These items, beautifully presented, were served with unlimited delicious bread and salad and more wine. The pairing of food and wine was fascinating, anyone who knows me
knows I don't like blue cheeses. Roquefort was served along with the Feely Saussignac dessert white (the latter is something I had not had before) and I loved the combination, the cheese tasted so different, the saltiness came through more strongly and the "mouldy" taste (which is what I don't like about those cheeses) was very much in the background. I loved the cheese and the dessert wine when served together. This was my second wine revelation of this holiday! Caro left us to take our time over lunch, we took our time and chatted to the other people there, who were friendly, some having travel lifestyles which I could only dream of.

At around 2pm, some of the people left and those of us who were on the Winemaker for the Day tour stayed on to make our own blend of wine. Caro, well organised as ever, gave us aprons that we could keep along with three bottles of wine to blend according to our own taste. We had fun tasting and mixing the wine, Debbi bottled, I did the labels and we both had a go with the manual corking machine to cork our individual bottles. Finally we chose copper foil caps and that was it, we'd created
Our Wines!
our own bottles of wine, Chateau Susanna and Chateau Voisey (the latter sounding very good as it's a French name!)

Around 4pm we got ready to leave, we'd had a a wonderful day. We'd learned so much, had fun and blended our own wine. It was also a very relaxing day, nothing was rushed which was lovely, we were really able to take in the whole ambiance of the place. It had been hard for Sean and Caro in the early days, but having visited Haut Garrigue I can see why they fought to succeed, it is truly an enchanted place. A stay at the gite much be fabulous! Their wines and tours have won awards and they are well deserved. You can see the full list of their tours French Wine Adventures.

Sean drove us to the airport and we had a 20 minute wait for the train back to Bordeaux. It was incredibly quiet at the station, there is a peace about this area. The train back was busy, Some people were speaking English opposite us and I heard the man mention my home city, it's a small world!

We got home about 6pm. We didn't go out, instead we had some nibbles and the wine we had blended (we could not take the wine home as we had cabin luggage only) and of course, celebrate Debbi's official 50th birthday. We had a lovely relaxing evening and we both agreed our own wine was absolutely delicious! It was a good way to end our short, but busy trip to Bordeaux.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Bordeaux 2 - Exploring the City - A Water Mirror, Great Bell and Roman Amphitheatre, Plus Some Wine Magic!

We had a lie in today, I was looking forward to a freshly baked baguette for breakfast from the baker just a couple of doors up from us, but it was Sunday and it was closed! Today was our traditional lazy day, when we just drift from place to place sampling the wine and food. We walked the short distance to the Place de la Comedie and found a table at a cafe (sorry didn't note it's name) on Cours du Chapeau Rouge. We had brunch of the hugest and truly delicious croque monsieur whilst watching life go by.

Aperol Prosecco
Afterwards we walked the short distance to the Tourist Office to buy tickets for the city sightseeing tour. We did that and had a bit of time to spare before the tour left so we walked back to the Place de la Comedie and found a seat under the impressive colonnade of the Grand Theatre cafe. We had an Aperol Prosecco which is a lovely refreshing mix of Aperol orange liquor, Prosecco and soda water, new to us both and much enjoyed!

We went to catch the bus tour and the bus drove through the Esplanade des Quinconces, the largest public square in Europe, dominated by a column with a golden statue of Liberty breaking her chains. Below this was a bronze fountain with horses rearing out of the water. During the war these were hidden by the Resistance in order to protect them.

The bus continued on towards the banks of the mighty Garonne River. At  Bordeaux the river is very wide and brown in colour, the river has a tidal surge and the brownness is silt brought in on these tides. We passed the Place de la Bourse built in the 18th century as the medieval city broke through the old city walls and expanded. The fountain of the Three Graces was erected in 1869 and one of the figures is said to have been modelled on Queen Victoria though I'm sure she wouldn't have approved of their nakedness!

We passed the Mirror d'Eau, the water mirror, a large area of granite and with water fountains that create alternately mirror-like and then mist-like illusions.

Next we see an impressive part of medieval Bordeaux the Porte Cailhau built in 1494 and remains almost unaltered since then. We continued on and then crossed the Garonne via the Pont de Pierre.

Grosse Cloche
Place de la Bourse

This was the first bridge to be built over the river, the very wideness of which made it difficult to span the river. But Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned the building after having to ferry soldiers across the river in boats on a march down to Spain. The bridge was opened in 1822 a year after Napoleon's death. It has 17 spans which is rumoured to be one span for each letter in Napoleon's name.

On the way back over the bridge we had a wonderful view of the the buildings on Bordeaux's river front. We passed through the Porte de Bourgogne and soon passed the Grosse Cloche, the Big Bell. the bell housed in a beautiful double turreted gateway. There is an inscription in the bell that reads: "I ring the hours and my voice is a call to arms, (…) I sing for happy events and weep for the dead".

On we went and passed the Cathédrale Saint-André, consecrated in 1096. Then we passed the Porte Dijeaux, one of the gates to the old city, and on to the Place Gambetta. The next place of interest was Palais Gallien the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. It was surprising to find this in the centre of Bordeaux! It is thought to have been built in the second century AD when the city was occupied by the Romans and called Burdigala. there was a lovely little garden in front of it where people were relaxing. After that we continued past the Jardin Public that looked like a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. 
Palais Gallien

We were dropped off and then told to go across the road to Bordeaux Magnum, a wine shop, for a tasting. We had the chance to taste one wine free and I didn't like it, it was full of tannins and smokey, just what I don't like in French wine. The man must have seen my face as I tasted as he asked if I would like the tannins taken out of the wine and of course I said yes, having no idea how that would be achieved. He got out a small item that was a wine aerator, which apparently mixes oxygen with air at precisely the right rate. Well if I had not seen him pour my wine through the aerator and hand it back to me I would have thought he'd given me a different wine! Debbi said my face was a picture. It was so much smoother and more to my taste, you learn something every day!
Me outside Maison Magnum!

We both really enjoyed the tour, Bordeaux has some amazing architecture and fully deserves its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

We headed back to the apartment and freshened up. We set out for our evening meal quite early as we had a very early start the next day. We went to a restaurant called L'Allyson very close by as it had a good menu at reasonable prices. And it turned out to be a fabulous meal and our rib-eye steaks were the hugest I've ever seen, tender too. I will do a full, separate review of the restaurant on this blog soon.

Once home we relaxed over a glass of wine on our balcony overlooking Rue Sainte-Catherine and chatted as we watched the people passing by below. I could get used to this life!

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Bordeaux 1 - French Ambiance

Our apartment on the first floor
We stepped out of the plane into a blissfully warm afternoon and rich blue skies, we had arrived in Bordeaux, a place that neither my friend Debbi nor I had visited before, so it was to be a trip of discoveries. We were there to celebrate Debbi's 50th birthday (well, the real one is in December but this was her "official" birthday, if the Queen can do it so can Debbi!) and she really liked the idea of a wine-based trip and what better place to do that than Bordeaux.

I phoned Christophe who managed the apartment we were renting and he soon arrived - a huge guy from Mauritius with a very gentle handshake and small car that I am amazed he could fit into! He drove us into the city and we had to walk to our apartment in the  Rue Sainte-Catherine as it is a pedestrianised street  At 1.2 kilometres long this street is said to the the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.

We arrived at the apartment and went along a long corridor and up a flight of old stone steps to our apartment. It was small, but very nicely decorated, clean and had all we needed. There were two French windows that led onto a small balcony that overlooked the street, a great place for people watching on the busy street below.

Cheers Debbi!
After a while we went out to do a bit of shopping, then had a shower before going out to look for somewhere to eat. We strolled up to the Place de la Comédie, a beautiful square of neo-classical buildings dominated by the Grand Theatre and the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux.  We looked at the menu for the hotel restaurant Le Bordeaux, and, though it was quite expensive, decided to try it.

We sat outside part of the restaurant as it was a balmy evening and it is always lovely to eat al fresco. We ended up having the same food, which was delicious, a mushroom starter, a chicken and mushroom main (we got a bit mushroomed out!) and the dessert of pistachio mousse with raspberries looked too beautiful to eat! I'll do a separate review in full about the restaurant on the blog.

We took our time over a bottle of local wine (which we really didn't like that much, I know it's sacrilegious, but we are actually not that keen on some French wines) and just relaxed. A busker nearby was singing rather dismal songs in English and the Grand Theatre opposite was all lit up and looked beautiful, it was lovely just to chill and take in the French ambiance that we both love.

The Grand Theatre

Sunday 14 September 2014

Is the New U2 Album Out Yet?

Well, um, yes it is! Unexpectedly and released free on itunes on 9th September and available until 13th October. Called Songs of Innocence, and possibly part of a trilogy with the next album to come later this year (maybe, we know what U2 are like!)

It is a look back at the genesis of the band and the relationships,events and experiences that formed them - especially Bono, whose lyrics are achingly honest.

I'm still letting the music sink in and settle, but I can say, though it is not a classic, I do like what I've heard. A full review will follow in time.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Review - Afternoon Tea at The George Hotel, Penrith, Cumbria *****

My cousin and I bought a voucher from Travelzoo for £25 for two for a Champagne Afternoon Tea at The George Hotel in Penrith. I am a big fan of afternoon tea, I think it is one of the best British institutions!

The Dining Room
We arrived at 2pm and entered via the mahogany rotating door which had gleaming brass bars on it. Inside is one of those typical Victorian hotels, lots of wood paneling, plush furnishing, many original features. I love these old hotels, they are cosy and haven't changed massively over the years and there is a real sense of permanence.

As we came in through the door and were immediately greeted and shown to a beautiful dining room to our right. It had ornate original stucco work on the ceilings and original stained glass in some of the windows. Yet it was also tastefully modernised, lovely light fittings and the most comfortable chairs! It was spotlessly clean and quiet and relaxing.

Our Afternoon Tea
We were served our glass of champagne and shortly after our afternoon tea arrived. There were lots of generously filled sandwiches (no crusts of course!) of smoked salmon and cream cheese, ham and egg mayonnaise. Fruit scones with butter, jam and double cream. There were also three cakes each, a custard slice, Victoria sandwich and a summer fruit cream torte, all lovely, plus a piece of millionaire's shortcake. And finally, a little glass of Eton mess which was light, tasty and absolutely yummy!

Service was excellent, staff made conversation with us and we were asked if we wanted our tea topped up and if everything was ok. They made us feel special and they were attentive without being annoying and I couldn't fault them.

So, in conclusion, I would highly recommend the afternoon tea at The George Hotel, everything was perfect, there was so much we could not eat it all and went home with delicious doggie bags.  With the Travelzoo offer the tea was very good value for money and we would definitely go again.

Address:  The George Hotel, Devonshire Street, Penrith CA11 7SU, Cumbria

There does not appear to be a website for this hotel.

Monday 1 September 2014

Restaurant Review - Martone, Waterloo Place, Edinburgh

My cousin and I had a day trip to Edinburgh last month, we were dropped off at lunchtime in Waterloo Place, we were hungry and immediately looked for somewhere to eat. We didn't have to look far, nearby we saw an Italian restaurant called Martone and as we both love Italian food we decided to give it a try.

From the Martone Website
There was a downstairs floor and an upstairs gallery level at the back. The place was not fancy, but clean and had a relaxed atmosphere, and it had the most amazing red glass lampshades, impossible to describe but you can see them on the photo to the left. On entering I noticed some delectable looking ice cream on the counter. It was obviously a real Italian restaurant so we were expecting great food!

We ordered a glass of prosecco each and I ordered a Margherita Pizza with Ham and Mushrooms and Janet ordered Pappadelle Nonna (which was a flat pasta with beef, shallots, roast peppers in a tomato and wine sauce). My pizza was huge and gorgeous, as well as the obvious ingredients, there was also a lovely herbal taste to it. Janet loved her dish and I tried a little of it and it was very good indeed.
My Pizza

After a bit of a break we just had to try that delicious looking ice cream. Apparently Martone's ice cream is home made at Ciao Roma, which I think is a sister restaurant. I'm a bit boring when it comes to ice cream, I don't like the fancy ones, my favourites are good old plain vanilla and chocolate, and that's what I chose. It was creamy and tasty, and the chocolate was one of nicest I've ever had.

The price was the meal was very reasonable, especially considering how central it was (just off Princes Street) and the service friendly and efficient. It's open from 8am to 11pm and has an extensive menu. Martone's is a great place for a real Italian meal and I'll certainly be back next time I'm in Edinburgh.

Address:  1 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh EH1 3BG
Website:  Martone

Saturday 30 August 2014

Restaurant Review - The Salutation Inn, Irthington, Cumbria *****

My friend and I went to the lovely, small village of Irthington as few miles outside of Carlisle for a meal at the Salutation Inn there. We parked in the car park at the back of the pub and went round the front to go inside.
From the Salutation Inn Facebook Page
We entered into the bar area, which is a bit basic to say the least and it was a little disconcerting to have some of the locals there turn round and stare at us as we walked in! To the right of the bar is a pleasant restaurant area and we were shown to our table by a very friendly young waitress.

For starters I chose Garlic Mushrooms with Mozzarella, my friend chose the Cod Goujons. We did not have to wait long for them to be ready and both were delicious, mine had many herbal flavours in it as well as the garlic. My friend had a very generous portion of goujons and they were done in a very light batter which she said was wonderful.

For our mains I had Sea Bass in a Lemon Butter Sauce with Vegetables and Potatoes and my friend had the Shoulder of Lamb with vegetables and Chips. I have to say my sea bass was absolutely gorgeous, two good sized fillets cooked in a sauce that was perfectly balanced with the right piquancy of lemon to butter, it was
My Sea Bass - sorry for the shadows!
very, very good.  My friend's portion of lamb was massive and fell off the bone, the gravy was rich and tasty. She could not finish it all and so my dogs ended up with a nice little treat when I got home!

Unfortunately we had no room for dessert (of which many sounded lovely) and just had a coffee to finish our meal. Surprisingly, they only had filter coffee and I could not have a cappuccino as I would have liked, that is the only thing that was not perfect in our evening at the Salutation.

In conclusion, the Salutation Inn serves excellent food, the service is very quick and friendly. We had two vodkas and lemonade, one large red wine, two starters, two main courses and two coffees and the bill came to £55.00 which I feel is very reasonable considering the quality of the food served. It's worth the trip out of Carlisle, I'd happily recommend it.

Address:  The Salutation Inn
                Irthington CA6 1NJ

Facebook:  The Salutation Inn (Unfortunately this page is way out of date and there appears to be no                                                          website)

Friday 22 August 2014

Julie Dumbarton, Artist

Recently grown to love the work of the artist Julie Dumbarton, normally my preference for art is for gentle, pastel watercolours, but I love Julie's bright, vibrant paintings which are the opposite of my normal taste.

Photo from Julie's Facebook Page
A few days ago I drove to Langholm, where Julie has her studio situated in Buccleugh Mill. I was going there to pick up a mini painting in person. Julie's art sells for thousands of pounds, but every now and then she does a series of minis which sell for £75.00. I think it is a brilliant idea, it means ordinary people like me can afford to buy a small piece of her original artwork.

When I arrived at the studio Julie was not there but her husband Craig welcomed me warmly. The building was large, bright and airy, full of canvases ranging from small to huge, all alive with colour. In the middle was a table piled with tubes of paint and scattered around the space were comfy looking sofas. There was a little shop area that sold calendars, cards and other things.

My Mini (sorry about the reflections)
After a chat with Craig I was free to wander around the studio and it was lovely to see the paintings in real life, Julie is such an talented artist, I love the colour and life within her work, it makes you feel good just looking at them. The building itself, though large, had a warmth and lived in feel about it. That warmth also comes through in Julie's website and Facebook page which are both informative and friendly in tone. And it comes across strongly just how much painting means to Julie, it is her life.

I'm very happy with my mini, I love the mix of colours and the Monet-esque subject matter. They have lovely prints of many of Julie's pictures so that will be my next purchase, and I already know which one I will have, (one depicting the northern lights) so time to start saving for that!

I will be going back to the studio in the future, they have an open day every Friday from 10:00 - 16:00 and hopefully I'll get to meet Julie herself. She also does painting weekends and that is something I am seriously considering attending as, though I can draw, I cannot paint for the life of me! Anyone reading this who is local, pop round to the studio, you are in for a treat!

Sunday 17 August 2014

Edinburgh Day Trip

My cousin Janet and I went on a day trip to Edinburgh last week, it had been a few years since I had been there so I was really looking forward going back to this gorgeous city. The coach dropped us off at Waterloo Place just off Princes Street, even though the weather forecast had been poor, when we stepped off the bus Edinburgh greeted us with lovely sunshine. It was noon and we were both hungry so we looked for somewhere to eat, we saw an Italian restaurant nearby called Martone and seeing prices were reasonable we went in. I chose a Margarita Pizza with ham and mushrooms and Janet had Pappardelle Nonna (pasta with beef in white wine/tomato sauce.) Both were absolutely delicious (I tried a bit of Janet's) and went down very well. For dessert we both had ice cream which was deliciously creamy, real Italian ice cream, yum! I will do a separate full review of the restaurant soon.

Korean Dancers
St Giles on the Right

Suitably reinvigorated, we walked over the North Bridge and onto the Royal Mile where the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was in full swing. I used to go up for the Festival when I was much younger, mainly to see plays and special exhibitions, but I've not been to it for a very long time. The lively, eclectic vibe took me back and I loved it and wondered why I hadn't been back for so many years. There were little stages with varied performances on them, my favourite was a small group of Korean dancers (sorry can't remember their name) who also sang and played a bodhran-type drum. There were First Nation performers, theatre schools, traditional music, people dressed in every costume you can imagine, cards advertising shows were thrust into your hand at almost every step only to end up in the skips that lined the Royal Mile. Most were not doable for us due to time constraints, though one, An improv comedy act called Men With Coconuts fitted our needs, venue close by, free and fitted in with our timescale, so we decided to go to see them later in the afternoon.

We decided to go into St Giles Cathedral, neither of us had been inside before. St Giles was founded in the 1120's and the saint was a French hermit who is the patron saint of the city as well as the church. It was a beautiful place inside with lots of places where you could sit and just relax and contemplate. It was peaceful and cool, the opposite of the Festival buzz outside. Someone was playing jazz on a piano in there. Unfortunately I hate jazz and it did little for me and I was glad when he stopped playing!

We went outside and pottered round a little (highly priced) market in the square outside of the cathedral. I noticed a champagne bar in the square and reminded myself that I must sample their fayre one day!

Advocates Close
We wandered back down the Royal Mile and could see the North Sea, sparkling blue in the sunshine, at the end of it. We turned down Cockburn Street (see the poster above which really amused me, we truly are sometimes divided by the same language.) heading towards Market Street. We passed lots of steep, stepped closes heading down from the rock the castle and the Royal Mile stand upon, very atmospheric, I just love Edinburgh's Old Town.

We ended up at ground level and found the Sportsters Bar and sat in one of the cubicles there. It initially wasn't very busy but it still took 15 minutes for them to produce two cups of coffee, not impressed! We'd been in the bar for a short while and the heavens opened outside, good timing. The bar got busier as time went by and eventually the City Nightclub at the back of the building was opened for the punters. We sat three rows back in the small theatre area, relatively safe for a comedy show lol.

We enjoyed the performance which consisted of a few sketches which all involved audience participation (at a comfortable level) to some degree. I especially liked the sketch where one of the performers had to guess suggestions from the audience for an actor, Angela Lansbury, a film, Sharknado, and a prop, a broomstick from clues given by the other members of the group, very funny and amazing that he eventually got all the answers. The performers, Men With Coconuts, are professionals who are funny, quick witted and smart and I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

We went outside and once more it was sunny and dry, we had timed it really well with the weather. We had just under an hour before we had to get the coach home so we took a shortcut through Waverley Station and went back to Mantone's for a drink and snack as it was close to where we were being picked up. We had delicious toasties and gorgeous strawberry daiquiris (strange combination but it worked!)

I would have liked longer in Edinburgh and vowed to go again soon and maybe stay a day or two so I can really explore and see all I would like to see. Edinburgh is a truly unique city where the old and new live side by side, vibrant and exciting there's no where else quite like it.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Restaurant Review - The Plough, Wreay, Cumbria, French Night *****

I've reviewed  The Plough Inn before a few months ago here. But my cousin and I went to one of its Around the World Promotions, where on a Wednesday evening they have a tapas style meal from different countries. Last week it was French night, well no way could I resist that!

We were seated by a window and ordered our drinks and food.  The inn is a very comfortable place, a traditional pub that has been tastefully modernised in a small village just south of Carlisle. We did not have to wait long for the food which consisted of five small bowls with some garlic bread on a large plate. The bowls consisted of, beef bourguignon, chicken a la creme, bouillon de poisson, soup a la oignon and potatoes dauphinoise. The onion soup was delicious and came with garlic bread topped with cheese on top of it. Beef bourguignon is one of my favourite French dishes and this one did not disappoint, with a very flavoursome rich gravy. The bouillon de poisson came with pieces of cod, salmon and prawns in a spicy tomato sauce. It was a little too spicy for me, but that's me, I'm not into hot spices, my cousin loved it and fish isn't even her favourite food! The chicken a la creme was fantastic, my personal favourite, plenty of chicken and a creamy white wine sauce. The dauphinoise potatoes went with it all so well, the whole meal might have been too much meat without it, it was also very good. Finally, the garlic bread was wonderful, very garlicky as I love it.

I think it is a wonderful idea to have these tapas style meals from different countries each week. It gives people a chance to sample a few dishes from various cuisines for a reasonable price. One of the owners, Jane, is very visible and came to ask us how we enjoyed the meal when we had finished and she was also interested to hear some suggestions for other food nights from guests.

In summary, I cannot fault this meal, every dish was delicious, full of flavour and for £11.95 excellent value for money. There is a vegetarian option too. We'll definitely be back!

Address:  The Plough Inn, Wreay, Carlisle CA4 0RL
Facebook:  The Plough Inn  (There does not appear to be a website)

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Restaurant Review - Keez Bistro, Carlisle *****

Photo from Keez Bistro Website
My cousin and I visited Keez Bistro last week to try it's mid week special offer - two courses for £15.00. The restaurant is in central Carlisle and located in a basement with stone walls that a repainted white. The decor is contemporary with a touch of the old - there was a fabulous original black iron grate in the room we sat in, The restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere and informal atmosphere.

Initially we we sat in a small bar area where we had our drink and perused the menu. Our order was taken and not long afterwards we were taken to our table. Our starter arrived quickly, so even though there was not bread at the table I did not really miss it (I do love bread lol!) I had Peppered Goats Cheese with a Peach Salsa and my cousin had Beetroot Pie with Creme Fraiche and Herb Salad. Both were delicious but i did have to remove some of the pepper from the top of my goats cheese as there was rather a lot and it was too hot for me.

For the main I had Duck Breast with Stir-fried Red Pepper, Bean Sprouts and Noodles and my cousin had Slow Roast Belly of Pork with Lentils and Cabbage Salsa. When I ordered the waitress said the chef serves the duck pink but if I wanted it more well done that would be no problem. I appreciated being told that as I'm not so keen on pink duck. It came just as I wanted it and was very tender and a generous portion. The noodles were in a tangy fruity sauce that I loved! My cousin really enjoyed her Belly Pork though she found some of the crackling a bit of a challenge to bite through.

Neither of us had room for a dessert (and I would have so loved to have had their Strawberry Eton Mess!) and finished with coffee. Everything had been excellent and it was very good value for money, a starter. main, coffee and a glass of prosecco came to £22 each. The £15 midweek two course special is available Tuesday- Thursday. They also do a three course special every night for £22.00. They are closed Sunday and Monday. If you want top notch cuisine at a very reasonable price I'd highly recommend Keez Bistro.

Address:  Cecil Street, Carlisle CA1 1 NT

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Restaurant Review - Pompeii Steakhouse, Carlisle ***

Photo From the Pompeii Website
My friend and I went to the Pompeii steakhouse last week, both of us had been once before a few years ago. We had a friendly greeting from the waitress and shown to our table overlooking Carlisle Castle.

I ordered Creamy Garlic Mushrooms with brown bread to start and my friend had Pan-fried King Prawns with Garlic and Lemon and Salad. We did not wait too long but it would have nice to have some bread to munch on while we were waiting as I was really hungry. The starters were very good, though I did not get any butter for my brown toast and had some from my friend who got a large piece of butter to go with her small amount of bread. My mushrooms were delicious and it was a generous portion.

For our main we both went for the Dry Aged Rib-Eye Steak, my favourite cut of steak. It came with chips and a small container of vegetables. The steak comes sizzling on a red hot "volcanic stone platter." The steak was very tender and just melted in the mouth, very nice. My friend had the Blue Cheese Butter sauce which she loved and I had the Buerre de Paris (butter with herbs) sauce which was also lovely. But because the steak is served on the hot platter it continues to cook as you are eating it and, in my case ended up more well done than I like. I noticed that on an adjoining table they were given the raw steak and they just cooked pieces on the platter as they went along, we were not given this option.

We did not have a dessert, and, on my part, that was because this restaurant is expensive. We had the starters, two steaks and sauces and two glasses of prosecco and it came to £32 each. For me that is expensive, and though the food was good, I did not feel it was worth that amount of money. So, in conclusion, if you can afford it have the steaks at Pompeii, they are delicious, but if you are on a lesser budget I would go elsewhere.

Address:  Abbey Street, Carlisle CA3 8TX