Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- On the Way Back
Slapton and Blackpool Sands
Maltster's Arms and Sharpham Vineyard
Boat Trip on the Dart and Totnes
David and Lucy's Wedding
Monday Evening Walk plus Fish and Chips
Okonomiyaki, Soho Fire and A Late Night Out
Lunch with Tim
Beers in Belgravia
Back at Work
Boat Trip and the Negresco
Cannes and Ventimiglia
More Nice and Eze
Monday in Nice
London to Nice
- On the Way Back
- [Saturday 25th July 2009]
A couple of pictures in Exeter, where we stopped off on the way back to London.
- Slapton and Blackpool Sands
- [Friday 24th July 2009]
An afternoon visiting a couple of the beaches near to Dartmouth.
- [Thursday 23rd July 2009]
A fantastic day out on Dartmoor, including walks around four tors (Combestone, King's, Hound and Hay) and three pubs - The Warren House Inn, The Rugglestone Inn and the Rock Inn.
Followed by a boat trip over the water from Dartmouth to Kingswear in the evening.
- Maltster's Arms and Sharpham Vineyard
- [Wednesday 22nd July 2009]
Lunch at the Maltster's Arms (formerly owned by Keith Floyd) and then an afternoon's wine and cheese tasting at the Sharpham vineyard.
- [Tuesday 21st July 2009]
Afternoon in Plymouth for a visit to the gin distillery, followed by an exploration of Dartmouth's pubs in the evening.
- Boat Trip on the Dart and Totnes
- [Monday 20th July 2009]
Took the boat up the Dart to Totnes, and spent a couple of hours wandering around there.
- Around Dartmouth
- [Sunday 19th July 2009]
Spent the day in and around Dartmouth, including a walk along to the castle.
- David and Lucy's Wedding
- [Saturday 18th July 2009]
Kicking off our week's holiday with David and Lucy's wedding in Padstow.
- [Friday 17th July]
Work all done and dusted before our holiday next week. To celebrate we went for dinner at Oliveto - it was fantastic as ever - started with tagliatelli with courgettes and black truffle, then had the good old pizza ai funghi.
- Leaving Drinks
- [Thursday 16th July]
Had leaving drinks for my ex-manager after work today, as he was going to be returning to the US. To mark the event I'd had some special T-shirts made, which seemed to go down quite well.
- [Wednesday 15th July]
Not much to report. Made spaghetti bolognese for dinner, with some left over sauce from a previous meal, and the ends of two packets of spaghetti.
- [Tuesday 14th July]
Went for drinks with a couple of the usual suspects from work, although am writing this almost two weeks hence and only dimly remember where we went now. I think it was The Stage Door followed by The Cask and Glass.
- Monday Evening Walk plus Fish and Chips
- [Monday 13th July]
Was a nice evening so I decided we should go out for a walk after work. Had an aimless but very pleasant meander around Westminster, and finished up at the Laughing Halibut where we had fish and chips for dinner (well, not fish in my case).
We actually ate in for a change - they have a few tables at the back of the shop. What with this and the Regency Café I find recently I'm really getting into eating at more traditional English "cafs" as opposed to the usual more cosmopolitan restaurants.
- Dim Sum
- [Sunday 12th July 2009]
A few pictures from a sort of Sunday brunch of dim sum at the ever excellent Royal China on Baker Street.
- Regency Cafe
- [Saturday 11th July]
Had another fantastic breakfast at the Regency Cafe in the morning. Chie's friend Miyako-san had stayed over at our flat the previous evening, so she joined us this time as well.
Chie spent the afternoon out shopping but I elected to stay in instead and have a very lazy time of it. Watched lots of BBC iPlayer, including pretty much a whole series of the Mitchell and Webb look.
In the evening I made a good old red wine stew, and then Chie and I watched a Japanese film called The Hidden Blade.
- Okonomiyaki, Soho Fire and A Late Night Out
- [Friday 10th July]
Chie went to see Hamlet again this evening, but this time went with a friend, leaving me free for the evening. We met up for a quick dinner (Okonomiyaki at Abeno Too) and then the girls headed off to the theatre, whilst I decided to head into Soho for a drink or two.
It was somewhat timely, as this was the evening of the Soho Fire. Although I couldn't actually see any fire from where I was, just a lot of closed roads and police.
There were a few pubs which I hadn't yet been to in Soho and had heard good things about (see here for the list). So my initial plan for the evening was just to poke my nose into each of these.
However, it turned into more of a proper night out thanks to my friend Gav also being at a loose end this evening: we met in the second pub, and the evening progressed from there.
The French House was a definite highlight of tonight's pubs - that said I'm not really sure if it counts as a pub - but anyway, it had quite a unique atmosphere and it rather appealed to me.
We also fit in a trip to Bincho which is is rather great too - I've been looking for some time for a Japanese bar in London which you can go to for Japanese beers and sake without having to order food. Whilst Bincho is predominately a yakitori place, they have a bar area out the back where they're more than happy for people to just drink. Which is great.
It turned into a rather late night - Gav proposed going to a club - something I haven't done in some time now - and I thought I might as well give it a go. Thankfully no dancing was required, we just stood at the bar, chewing the cud into the wee small hours, which was actually rather good.
- Lunch with Tim
- [Thursday 9th July]
Tim came to my office for lunch today, which was nice.
In the evening went for a quick drink with a guy from work, and after that went home for dinner - Chie made a Japanese curry.
- [Wednesday 8th July]
Made canneloni for dinner this evening.
- Beers in Belgravia
- [Tuesday 7th July]
Went out for a few beers in Belgravia with some people from work, followed by pizza at Oliveto.
- Back at Work
- [Monday 6th July]
Sorry am not in much of a mood for writing so this week's blog entries are all going to be very short!
Today: back at work after our week away in France. Erm, not much else to report!
- [Sunday 5th July]
Had quite deliberately planned a day of rest between our holiday and going back to work. Chie went off to a barbeque at her friend's house in the afternoon, but I decided to stay in, keen to take it easy, and get all my holiday pictures uploaded etc. Not much else to report really!
- Heading Back
- [Saturday 4th July]
We'd just gone for the basic room rate at the Negresco, without breakfast, and as breakfast was a somewhat unwieldy 30 Euros a person (a bit much as I'd probably just end up with a croissant and some fruit juice) we decided to skip it.
Our train was not until 1:40 in the afternoon, so we decided to leave our bags at the hotel, and head out for a spot of shopping and some lunch. This worked out quite well actually - we visited the supermarket, the boulangerie, and a wine shop to buy an assortment of things to eat on the train, and things to take back to the UK. We then squeezed in a quick lunch at a little cafe, again another omelette and chips, accompanied with a large (almost a pint - gasp!) glass of cold, crisp beer.
We took a taxi from the hotel to the station, and conveniently as the train starts from Nice we were able to board a good 20 minutes or so before it actually left. Again we were in first class, which made for a very comfortable journey, albeit slightly spoiled by two young children who were making varying levels of noise during various points of the trip. Luckily though they slept for quite a large chunk of the journey, and for those bits it was quite blissful, sitting in the big comfortable chair, watching the French countryside hurtle past.
We arrived in Paris just before 7:30 and decided to just head straight for the Gare du Nord, as we only have about an hour-and-a-half before our Eurostar left, and you're apparently supposed to check in at least 30 minutes beforehand. So there then followed the now somewhat familiar boring wait in the Eurostar departure lounge at Gare du Nord, before boarding our final train of the day.
As a rather unfortunate end to the journey, when we got back to St. Pancras Chie couldn't find her Oyster card. She went to one of the vending machines to buy a new one, and it just swallowed five quid without giving anything back. As you can imagine this did not exactly fill her with glee at being back in the UK. There was a phone number on the machine which I called, surprisingly somebody actually answered and took down our details, and apparently they will send a refund within 14 days - so fingers crossed that they do actually keep good on that promise, or our days living in London may be strictly numbered!
- Boat Trip and the Negresco
- [Friday 3rd July]
The last full day of our holiday. Chie, being much more organised than me, had proposed most of our daytime activities up until now, so today asked if there was anything I wanted to do. I just had a hankering to go on a boat trip, which fortunately seemed to appeal to Chie as well. So after pouring over a few leaflets, we decided the best thing to do would be to get the train to Juans-les-Pins, where there was a company which did regular boat trips a short distance along the coast from there, and had the added novelty of being one of those glass bottom boats that lets you see under the water.
We phoned up and booked ourselves on the 2pm trip, and arrived in Juans-les-Pins with time to spare for lunch, so went to an interesting little cafe of the "restauration rapide" variety. It was actually quite great - they did simple lunches like salads, omelettes, toasted sandwiches etc, and as it turns out an omelette with chips was pretty much exactly what I fancied. The staff were very bubbly in here - and despite (or perhaps because of) the extremely down to earth nature of the place this was for me probably one of the best lunches we had of the whole holiday.
From there we headed to the sea, and got on our boat. It was quite a fun trip - a mixture of oggling the yachts and villas of the super rich, interspersed with going below deck to see the local marine life. The sea wasn't particularly clear today, so we couldn't really see a huge amount of sea life, but definitely a few schools of little fish, etc. Overall this was definitely a good idea.
After that we headed back to Nice to check in to our hotel for our last night - the famous Negresco. It's like an art museum inside, so on a recommendation from Mum we set aside some time to go and visit every single floor, and wander up and down the corridors, looking at the numerous works of art on the walls. My favourite corridor was on the 5th (I think) floor, which was lined with 1920s/30s style cartoon-esque pictures of the fronts of some of Europe's most famous hotels (including of course the Negresco itself). They also had a whole corridor of Dali's work as well, which was quite impressive.
For dinner we decided to go to Nice's one and only vegetarian restaurant - La Zucca Magica (Italian for "The Magic Pumpkin"). It's quite an unusual experience - the decor is quite eccentric, the walls filled with pictures of pumpkins - and there's no menu. You just show up, and they serve you five courses. We started with a chilled bean soup, this was followed by a kind of risotto dish, then an aubergine and smoked cheese bake, then some canneloni, followed finally by dessert which I think was a sort of tart with nectarines. I think we both probably ended up eating a bit too much, and so we decided to walk back to the hotel to try and burn some of it off. It was also quite a nice opportunity to see the seafront by night one last time.
- Rothschild Villa
- [Thursday 2nd July]
Another trip by bus out of Nice today, this time to visit the Ephrussi de Rothschild villa and gardens. The villa is situated on the narrowest stretch of the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a peninsula which juts out into the Mediterranean, about a 30 minute bus ride from the centre of Nice. It was commissioned by Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, who was clearly quite well off, and in addition to being a very interesting and unusual building in itself, in a spot with some really impressive views, it has some rather nice gardens and quite a large collection of various works of art inside. So this made for a very pleasant afternoon outing.
We headed back to Nice after that, and went to the Matisse museum. Not really my sort of thing to be honest - I really just don't "get" Matisse's work - but still I had a sense of satisfaction nonetheless at having done something a bit cultural.
We decided to eat at our apartment again this evening, and so went by way of the supermarket on the way back. Another slightly odd meal - again it's hard to cook when you know you're only going to buy food for a couple of nights, and I really wanted to have something other than pasta, having had quite a lot of that in various restaurants during the week. Anyway, whilst the actual content of the meal was hardly haute cuisine, we ate out on the balcony, with a couple of glasses of chilled cider, and it ended up being quite pleasant.
- Cannes and Ventimiglia
- [Wednesday 1st July]
In a similar vein to yesterday's one-day-bus-pass themed outings, today we got a "Carte Isabella" giving us unlimited rail travel on the line that follows the Cote d'Azur from the Italian border up to just past Cannes.
So we spent the afternoon in Cannes, had lunch at a cafe there, and then went for a swim in the sea - the beaches in Cannes are sandy as opposed to the pebbled beaches in Nice, and generally seem much nicer. We didn't stay all that long, but it was still very nice - I think this was the first time Chie had swam in the Mediterranean - and only the second time for me.
After our swim we continued our wander around Cannes, wandering around the outside of the big exhibition centre where the film festival is held, and looking at all the hand prints of the stars in the pavement.
Keen to make the best use of our Cartes Isabella, after leaving Cannes we decided to stay on the train all the way to the other end of the line - over the Italian border to a town called Ventimiglia. A lot of the food in Nice is Italian influenced - there seem to be pizzerias everywhere - but so far it had, in honesty, all been a bit of a disappointment. So I was keen to have some "real" Italian food, and this seemed like a good opportunity to do just that. Particularly as, post Schengen treaty, you no longer need to show your passport to cross most land borders in Europe.
We arrived in Ventimiglia just after 6, and as it was still a little too early for dinner we decided to take a bit of a wander around the town. It's a bit of a weird place - perhaps it's just the parts we saw, but it seemed really run down and depressed - a stark contrast to the bustling tourist filled streets of Nice, Cannes and so on. It really had something of a ghost town feel to it, and we did not feel encouraged to dwell anywhere for any length of time. I wouldn't exactly call it ugly though - one half of the town was perched on the side of a hill, full of windy little cobbled passageways, and from the right angle it was in a sense quite picturesque... but it had definitely seen better days, and there was a discernably weird atmosphere to the place.
So at around 7, which seemed like a reasonable time to eat, we found a pizzeria, and proceeded to try and use all of the four sentences of Italian I know. Somehow we managed to make ourselves understood. We started off with pasta - Chie had a spaghetti vongole (the one with clams) and I had a penne a l'arrabiatta. Not very adventurous choices I know, but both of these dishes were really perfectly cooked, very fresh and flavoursome. We then followed with a pizza ai funghi which we shared. It was, as expected, a world apart from the rather amateurish pizza offerings to be found in Nice. Very satisfying indeed.
We didn't linger in Ventimiglia after dinner - it was a great meal, but quite a scary place (!) - and so once we finished eating we headed straight back to the station, and got on a train back to Nice.
- More Nice and Eze
- [Tuesday 30th June]
Spent the day in and around Nice. We started off again by heading towards the old town once more, and stopped off for lunch at the Lebanese restaurant we'd noticed the other day. I had a very satisfying mixed mezze plate for something like 10 Euros. After that we went to take a look at the Cathedral Ste. Repare, but didn't actually work out how to get inside, and instead just sat in the square in front of it having an ice cream. We went for the rather unusual combination of violet and Chocolate pimento - the latter being quite spicy.
Chie had read that the old castle grounds give quite good views out over Nice, so next we headed over there, and keen to avoid a steep uphill climb in the rather oppressive heat we used the lift instead, which seemed quite reasonable at 1-and-a-bit Euros each. There were indeed some quite Nice views to be had from the top, as hopefully the pictures attest.
There seems to be quite a good bus system in the Nice area, and for a very reasonable 4 Euros you can buy a pass which will let you uses as many buses as you want for the day. This includes routes which go a fair way out of the city centre. So capitalising on this, we thought it would be a good opportunity to visit Eze, a little village perché some 20 minutes or so drive outside of Nice.
Eze was exactly my sort of thing - I love those kinds of villages on hilltops, full of higgledy piggledy ancient stone houses, where all the streets are little windy cobbled passageways, there are no cars, and with the exception of the occasional shop selling postcards you could easily believe you were still in the Middle Ages. A real visual treat. Whilst we were there we also visited Eze's exotic gardens, which weren't quite so much my cup of tea, but still some nice views to be had nonetheless.
Eze seems to also be famous for perfumeries - there are at least two of these here - and so we thought it might be interesting to go on one of the free factory tours. The stills they use look very similar to whisky stills, and I was surprised to learn it can take a ton of flowers to produce just a litre of perfume - it had never previously occurred to me what an environmentally unsound proposition perfume was!
We got the bus back to Nice after that, and in the evening went to a restaurant called La Merenda for dinner. Chie had seen it recommended in her Japanese guidebook, because of the fried courgette flowers - a favourite of mine. It was quite ridiculously cramped - they squeezed probably 20 people onto tiny little tables and stools into a space that was smaller than some restaurant's toilets. Still I suppose it was sort of jolly in it's own way. The courgette flowers were very well cooked - they had a great texture - but were a little lacking in flavour - I think I preferred the ones I'd had at a place near where I work in London. In fact that was a general theme for pretty much all of the food we had during this holiday - I'd had a better version of the same sort of thing back in London.
We rounded off the evening with a drink or two in a bar in the old town.
- Monday in Nice
- [Monday 29th June]
Started the morning with a fantastic breakfast at our hotel in Monaco, sitting at a table overlooking the Mediterranean. After that we spent a bit more time lounging about in our room, enjoying the view, before somewhat reluctantly checking out and getting the train back to Nice.
For the next four nights we were going to be staying in a somewhat more modest "Apart Hotel" in Nice. The room was designed like a small studio apartment, with basic cooking facilities, as we'd thought it might be nice to have the option to take a break from eating out for one or two nights during our stay.
After dropping off our bags etc we headed over to Nice's old town for a bit of a wander around. I'd been really suffering in the heat the past couple of days and so we thought it was pretty much imperative that I bought a hat, or I'd almost certainly end up with sun stroke. We'd already looked in a couple of random-crap-for-tourists type shops which had had some pretty naff hats I'd turned my nose up at. So when we stumbled upon a proper hat shop I thought I absolutely had to just bite the bullet and buy a hat. I think I'm just not really a hat person, I probably tried on 10 or 15 different hats and none of them really seemed to suit me. I did eventually buy one - a sort of rafia Stetson Gillmore (see the pictures if that's hard to imagine). I still didn't think it really suited me, and was very self concious when wearing it, but needs must I suppose.
From there we wandered through the Cours Saleya (the location of Nice's famous flower market) which it seems on Mondays is more of an antiques market. From there we meandered through the windy alleyways of the old town, until we happened upon a little street cafe selling socca - the Nicoise speciality, a kind of pancake made with chickpea flour. So we had a couple of those with some beer as a very late lunch (i.e. about 5pm), which was quite nice.
We decided to have a go at cooking a meal at our apartment in the evening, so on the way back popped into a Spar to buy some things for dinner. It's much harder to buy food for a meal when you're starting with completely empty cupboards! Anyway we managed to scrape an odd sort of a meal together - a tomato salad to start with, followed by an artichoke with vinaigrette, and then some ratatouille with these strange little wheat grain things which Chie had picked up.
- [Sunday 28th June]
I'd very much wanted to stay a night in Monaco, and for various reasons we'd decided it would work out best to make that the second night of our holiday. So, after checking out of our hotel in Nice, we headed straight to the station, and after quite a long wait for a train, headed in the direction of Monte Carlo.
We arrived in Monaco just after 1 o' clock and after a bit of confusion about how to even get out of the station, we took a taxi from there to our hotel.
We'd chosen the hotel we were staying at - the Monte Carlo Bay - because a former colleague of Chie's former boss worked there. It was a sort of a resort hotel, owned by the same company that also owned the famous Hotel de Paris next to the casino. The room was great - we had a balcony overlooking the hotel's large outdoor pool, and from there out to sea. Quite spectacular.
Tempting as it was to just hang around the hotel for the rest of the day, we thought we should probably go out for a walk and maybe find somewhere to have a late lunch. We'd just missed the shuttle that would take us towards the centre (our hotel was at the Eastern edge of Monaco), and so we rather naively thought we should just walk instead. Having recently read that the whole of Monaco is just 0.75 square miles, I'd assumed it would be a very walkable sort of place. However in practice it is an intricate maze of windy streets on lots of different levels, the bulk of them are entirely residential, and they don't always link up very well. There seems to be no real obvious centre to the place, most of the shops etc we did find were closed with it being a Sunday. So with a combination of all that plus the heat, and the fact I still wasn't feeling 100%, it made for a somewhat less-than-pleasant afternoon stroll. There were a couple of highlights - the Japanese gardens were nice - and I suppose in hindsight some of the little passages and stairways were quite interesting - but at the time it all seemed a bit oppressive and I was glad when we finally made it back to the hotel.
Things definitely picked up from there. Towards the end of the afternoon we went for a very nice swim in the hotel's pool, and afterwards sat for a while on sun loungers, ordered a couple of reassuringly overpriced drinks, and had a generally very relaxing time of it.
In the evening we were both very keen to visit the famous Monte Carlo Casino. We'd read that they take the dress code quite seriously, so I'd brought a suit and Chie had brought an evening dress with her. We took a taxi from the hotel to the casino (no more walking in Monaco for me!). Having effectively missed lunch altogether we thought it wise to eat before any gambling ensued so went to a modest little Italian restaurant called "Tip Top", recommended to us by the taxi driver, which was pleasant enough.
Our hotel was apparently owned by the same company that owned the casino (The Société des Bains de Mer - which is effectibvely owned by the state of Monaco) and several of the other big hotels in Monaco. When you stay at one of these hotels they give you a "Carte d'Or" which gives you free entry to the casino, including the slightly more exclusive "Salons Privés" which usually cost even more to get into, and are only used by really serious gamblers.
No photography is allowed in the casino - probably just as well really - so you'll just have to take my word for it that the interior is really rather splendid - all chandliers and ornate painted ceilings. It was a bit quieter than I expected - maybe because it was a Sunday night - but that worked perfectly for me, I think I might have been too embarassed to actually gamble anything if the place was thronging.
After a thorough stroll around the place (including taking in the Salons Privés, where I felt like a total imposter) we sat down close to one of the roulette tables in the Salons Européens for quite a while, to try and figure out the system, so as not to look like a complete idiot. Eventually I plucked up the courage to go and turn some cash into chips (I'd decided 50 Euros was an appropriate sum for a beginner like myself) and then went and took up a seat at the table we'd been watching. The minimum bet was 5 Euros, and my 50 Euros cash had been turned into 10 5 Euro chips. I went through five or six rounds, each time just putting down the minimum bet, and each time losing it. Eventually I was down to about 3 chips, thinking I was probably just going to lose the lot, when to my pleasant surprise a chip I had put on the corner of four numbers won me back 8 chips, meaning I was now 5 Euros in profit overall!
I decided to call it a night at that point, changed my 55 Euros of chips back into cash, and left the casino feeling really rather smug with my 5 Euro profit.
After leaving we went for a bit of a night time stroll in the area around the casino - it's in a sort of square on a hill with gardens in the middle, and there's a series of fountains going up the hill, which makes for some really nice night time views down to the casino.
Still keen to avoid walking through the perilously complex streets of Monaco, we decided to get the night bus back to the hotel. It seemingly went on a tour of the entire country before finally ending up somewhere near our hotel.
- London to Nice
- [Saturday 27th June]
The first day of our week's holiday on the Cote d'Azur. As anyone who knows me will attest, I really hate flying, so part of the reason for choosing Nice as a destination for our holiday was that we could get there entirely by train - the Eurostar from London to Paris, and then a TGV from there down to the Cote d'Azur.
So off we set this morning, headed to St. Pancras International, and started off our journey with a very civilised 2-and-a-bit hours on the Eurostar. We'd booked into "Leisure Select" which meant we had breakfast served on board, and there was even a glass of champagne, which was a nice touch.
We arrived in Paris at lunchtime, and had a good two or three hours before our next train left, giving us plenty of time for a leisurely lunch at Le Potager du Marais - the vegetarian restaurant I had discovered earlier this year.
After lunch we headed to the Gare de Lyon, and there climbed aboard the duplex (double decker) TGV that would take us from there all the way down to Nice. Having booked well in advance I'd been able to get us seats in first class for barely any more than the price of a standard ticket, which made for a very comfortable and pleasant journey. Albeit that I was still a little unwell, and seemed to have picked up some sort of stomach bug, which required me to become somewhat more familiar with the onbaord toilet than perhaps I would like.
It's a five-and-a-half hour train journey from Paris to Nice. For the first half of the journey the train seems to go at pretty much top speed all the way - from Paris all the way to Aix-en-Provence (almost the South Coast), which is the first stop. After Aix the train is notably slower, as it winds it's way along the Mediterranean coast, taking in Marseille, Toulon, Saint Raphael and Cannes on the way.
We arrived in Nice some time after 9 o' clock. We'd booked a hotel very close to the station for the first night, knowing that we'd be arriving fairly late. After checking in and dropping off our bags we immediately headed out for dinner and a late evening stroll around Nice.