Monday, December 17, 2007
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
What is of course annoying is that I am no longer permitted to take wine through security and then onto aircraft as hand luggage. I either have to put it into my checked luggage or simply buy it in airport shops after security. To put it in checked luggage I would have to pack it very carefully, and it is not worth the effort. And checked luggage is a hassle at the best of times. When traveling in Europe I generally don't bother with it at all. So if I take wine I just grab a couple of bottles in the airside duty free shop.
In Portugal, this is a great shame, because Portuguese wine has not been homogenised the way wine has in some other countries. The country is full of weird and wonderful wines that come from little villages that do things their own way. (Sometimes the resulting wines can be awful, but often they be good in very unique ways). You can buy the wine in the villages themselves, and you can buy it in little shops in the towns and cities. But not at the airport. Airport shops do blander wines.
Which is not to say that I am not enjoying what I am drinking now. I am, of course.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
I am in Porto, in Portugal. Yes, I come here a fair bit, which is simply because I like the place. It is particularly nice at this time of year. Yesterday there was fog at Stansted airport in London, which delayed my flight a few minutes. After that, we flew over cloud cover all the way south along the Atlantic coast of France, and across the Bay of Biscay. When we got to Galicia, though, we left the cloud behind, and it was beautiful weather. It has been lovely, sunny, blue sky weather in Porto all weekend. I think I might go to the beach.
However, first, an interesting story of globalisation.
When I first went to Hong Kong in 1987, and when I became fond of Dim Sum in Cantonese restaurants in general, I discovered that Dim Sum menus contain custard tarts just like that illustrated above. I found this a little odd: that kind of pastry is not a Chinese or Asian thing, and nor is custard. And although Hong Kong is English, they are not an English thing either. In my experience the Hong Kong chinese absolutely love their custard tarts, however. (There is particularly wonderful bakery in Kowloon City near the old Kai Tak airport that does superb tarts and is a Hong Kong institution, but they are made well throughout the city).
It wasn't of course until I got to Portugal and other Portuguese colonies like Mozambique that I figured out where this culinary delight came from. They are a Portuguese treat, and they are one of many fine things that you can buy in the Portuguese cake shops that exist throughout Portugal and the Portuguese speaking world. They got the Hong Kong from Portugual via Macau. Cool.
It is a shame, though, that the Portuguese did not send their coffee to the world in the same way. Portuguese coffee is superb. Chinese coffee, not so much. One can get Portuguese coffee in Mozambique, but it is not widespread. You can go to a lovely Portuguese style bakery in Mozambique and it will not have an expresso machine, whereas in Portugal such a thing is unthinkable. The reason for this is just that Mozambique is a poor country, of course. Espresso machines are expensive. As Mozambique gets richer, I am sure that things will improve in this regard. And at least they have the right coffee tradition to start with.
Update: It seems my theory is dubious. The egg tart that is so popular in Hong Kong appears to have evolved from English custard tarts directly, without necessarily receiving input from Portugal and Macau. On the other hand, Portuguese style tarts certainly are available in Macau and other parts of the far east.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
I am sitting at an outdoor table on a hotel balcony in Triesenberg in Liechtenstein, looking down on the Rhine river (not much of a river this far into the Alps, but it has still carved quite a decent valley) and drinking excellent Austrian beer. The haze in the photograph is actual haze. It is not caused by the camera. If there is no haze in the photograph, then that presumably means it is caused by the beer. Tomorrow morning at 9am I shall be back at my desk in an office at Canary Wharf in London. It does amaze me that I can spend weekends like this. Weekends away like this can also be astonishingly inexpensive, too, although Switzerland is a little more expensive than Spain or Portugal. I love being at work on a Monday, and in the middle of the afternoon unexpectedly putting a statement like "I was sitting beside the Rhine yesterday, and a strang thing happened....".
When I am in places away from home, from time to time I see temptation and want to succumb. I see a sign showing bus fares to Calcutta or ferries to St Petersberg and think "I could just buy a ticket and see where I go". Of course, I never actually do this. Today, the temptation was simply seeing a sign on a motorway, telling me that "München, D" was a mere 250km away. I have never been to Munich. I could have given Alan a call, and could have been buying him a beer a couple of hours later.
Of course, the minor problem with that plan is that I have to be at Zurich airport by 9.10pm at the very latest. While I probably could have bought Alan a drink in Munich and made it back to Zurich by 9.10pm, it would not have left much time for anything else other than driving. As it is, I think I will briefly visit Feldkirch in Austria (this is a rare chance to visit four countries in one day, and then drive to St Gallen to have dinner and visit the famous cathedral and then drive back to Zurich.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
I am fairly sure that at least some e-mail was lost. If you sent me any e-mail over the last couple of days and want to be absolutely sure I received it, please resend.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Create your own visited countries map.
This is kind of misleading, of course. All I have to do is visit Tijuana for an afternoon, and a huge swathe of North America goes red. (Canada is like this too - I once spent a day in Vancouver). As for China, I have made a number of visits to the coast, but none to the interior. Painting Europe red requires a lot of work, however. Over the last couple of years the big change is that Scandinavia has been coloured in. I have still never been to the Balkans, though. I must sort this out. And I need to go to South America, and Russia, and India. Oh yes, and Israel. (Hi Robert). Israel won't do much for the map though.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Update:Damn, I forgot to rotate the picture. I shall do this when I next have access to a good internet connection with my laptop. For now I fear that the Mexican roaming charges are even more horrendous than the American ones.
Further Update:. Now fixed. Yay. I am now taking a rest stop in a McDonald's just off the I5. Heading back to LA.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
However, the City of Pasadena (ie the city government) is evil. This morning I parked a car there, and put money in the parking meter. The meter ran out at 11.02am. I arrived back at the car at 11.04am. Under my windscreen wiper was a parking ticket timed at 11.03am. The parking inspector was nowhere to be seen. (I am not exaggerating for effect - those were really the times). Either the parking inspectors in Pasadena are really efficient - perhaps someone at Caltech has invented teleportation and/or time travel - or they do the nasty trick of waiting beside a car with a meter about to run out and issue a ticket the moment it does. (This practice is illegal in England, where traffic wardens may not issue a ticket if there is time on the meter when they first reach the car).
If the mayor of Pasadena is reading this, I would just like him to know that after this I very deliberately drove to a different city before buying lunch, having decided I was not going to put any more money into the Pasadena economy. (This is a shame, as the city has some nice restaurants). This made me feel slightly better, although it is perhaps hard on the poor restauranteurs of Pasadena, who probably don't enjoy giving the city money any more than I do.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Saturday, June 23, 2007
In this instance I just ordered the cheapest class of car (as I usually do), and this is what I received. This sort of thing happens a lot when I rent cars in the US. From ordering the cheapest class of car, I once got a Pontiac Grand Prix (with a 3.5 litre engine) and on my most ludicrous occasion a full size Sports Utility Vehicle. (A Chevrolet TrailBlazer). I had never driven such a car before, and so my first experience of doing so was in Manhattan. At rush hour. I discovered this is one of the few ways of getting those yellow taxis to show you respect. Last time I was in California I got a Subaru Forester, which I thought was a lovely car, and was really nice for the relatively long drive from San Francisco to Crater Lake in Oregon and then down Highway 1 back to San Francisco that I took it on.
In Germany last month I did something I rarely do, and paid more money for a more expensive car. I thought that an "Audi A3 or similar" sounded like it would be fun on the German autobahns, and as it was only £20 more for the weekend, I paid the extra money. What I was actually given was a Skoda Octavia. Although it could be argued that an Octavia is very similar to an Audi A3 as both are based on the Volkswagon A4 platform and are at a certain gut level the same car, I wasn't really impressed. In the event that I had met a supermodel in the nightclubs of Hamburg who felt like coming for a drive to Rostock with me the next day, I don't think she would have been impressed either. Thus I am back to always ordering the cheapest car and perhaps being pleasantly surprised.
I am in the Bay Area now (although I think my luggage is in Los Angeles - it is not with me) and I am returning to the Los Angeles on Monday so I shall sample another rental car then.
Update: Actually come to think of it, the Pontiac might have had a 3.8 litre engine. It wasn't short on power, anyway. It almost made me feel at home. Australians do love cars with ludicrously overpowered engines. They are like the Germans that way. How they are not like the Germans is that speed limits on Australian motorways are no higher than 110km/h and are generally enforced, so what exactly you do with a car like this is something of a mystery.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
As I have mentioned in pieces, I did enjoy Granada at the weekend. Most of my experience of Spain is of further North. I have been to Barcelona several times, to the Basque country several times, and to Galicia once. (I also went to Madrid once in 1993). Andalucia is relatively new to me, although I did go to Almeria for a weekend in January this year.
Given the loveliness of the place and the fact that Granada is a tourist destination, for one thing I was struck by just how cheap it was. One of the big factors in this is the free food. In Granada you go into a bar and order a drink, and you get free tapas. Generally it isn't just a bowl of olives, either. You order one beer, pay €1.50 to €2 for it, and you get quite a nice little item of food with it. Have three or four beers and you will have also had a good lunch. It took me a while to figure this out. For the first bar I went into, I pointed at the tapas that one of the other customers was having and suggested I would like one of those, and I was immediately asked it I wanted a beer. I said yes, but what I did not understand at the time was that ordering the beer made the food free. A few minutes later I ordered another beer, and a (different) plate of food arrived. I pointed out to the barman that I hadn't ordered it, but he laughed and explained the situation to me.
Still, though, I didn't appreciate yet how ubiquitous this situation was. On Saturday evening, after walking around the Alhambra and other parts of the city, I was tired, and I sat in a restaurant and had a large meal. I then thought I would go bar hopping for a bit, but when I did so, I found I was being given lots and lots more food with my drinks, to the extent that the restaurant meal had almost been rendered unnecessary. In the evening, the bars were big on the toasted cheese and ham sandwiches.
Long term readers of this blog (assuming I have any) will remember that I have encountered this tradition before, but it is not really a northern Spain thing. In the Basque country the bar food (pintxos) is elaborate and delicious, but you do have to pay for it. Similarly, I have never received free tapas in Barcelona. I think I did encounter it in Almeria, but it did not seem as ubiquitous as in Granada. It does make for very cheap meals though - you can have three beers and a substantial amount of food for €5.
The other thing that was different in Granada from what I was used to was the set menus in restaurants. In Spain, you go in and order the menu del dia, and you get a three course meal for about €10. Normally, this includes drinks. Quite often you get three courses, bread, and a whole bottle of wine for that €10. Oddly, though, in Granada the menu generally doesn't include the wine. You have to order drinks separately. On Sunday I had a three course meal for €7, but I had to order my vino tinto separately. I think I was charged about €1.20 for a glass of wine. I ordered and consumed a second glass of wine half way through the meal, but I was only charged for one. So it didn't exactly break the bank.
However, when you order drinks in Granada, free food.
When you order food in other parts of Spain, free drinks.
Neither of these things are reversed.
It is all complicated. I am sure I would figure it out more quickly if I knew the language.
Update: When I listed the parts of Spain I had been to, I forgot the little trip to Valencia I made in January last year. Another nice city, culturally close to Barcelona. I don't recall getting any free toasted cheese and ham sandwiches there.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I seem to be managing to write or post something about every second day on this blog. This seems to indicate that I am serious about bringing this blog back, so I think I shall keep it up. If I am going to make it permanent I need either a redesign or I need to thoroughly hack the template. I think the blog looks a bit generic right now.
Moblogging is certainly fun, although it does lead to a lowering in the quality of pictures on the blog a little. It is not the same as taking 100 pictures, looking at them all carefully on a laptop screen, and then posting the best. If you blog from a mobile directly, you pretty much end up posting whatever you were lucky to get.
I think this is an example of a general conflict that occurs when you post photographs. One possibility is to post the best photograps in terms of the quality of the picture itself. The other is to post the most interesting photographs in terms of making some sort of point, or pointing out some irony between foreground and background, or something like that. Although I am a reasonably serious photographer and I care about taking the best possible photographs and succeeding in terms of the first category, the second almost always wins when I decide what to blog. (For instance, I thought that seeing the EU flag flying in the exact spot where once flew the banner of Ferdinand and Isabella was quite delicious, although nobody commented on it). I think this makes the blog slightly less striking on first glance, although hopefully it makes it more interesting if you settle down and read.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Thursday, June 07, 2007
The funny thing about the Samzdata post is that it was intended as a tiny "Ha, isn't that funny" comment about the fact that Britons dropped 855,000 mobile phones down the toilet in 2006 and I added a bit if filler. I have received no comments whatsoever on what I thought the article is about, and a lot on the filler. That's the way it goes, I guess.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
When the September 11 atrocity occurred in 2001, there were a number of new buildings under construction in the Canary Wharf office district in East London. They were all completed, but for about several years after that there were no new buildings under construction. It may have been that September 11 slowed demand for new office space, it may have been that potential tenants were nervous about tall buildings, or it may simply have been that there was a slowdown coming in the financial sector anyway. In any event, for several years there was a significant amount of vacant space, although not to anything remotely approaching a disastrous extent. The vacant space has filled, but gradually. However, over the last year the vacancy rate has become tiny and several large buildings are under construction. Whether this means that the market is about to burst and we are headed back to a situation with empty space I don't know, but for the moment things are quite fun to watch.
As it happens Canary Wharf group has planning potential for the buildings presently under construction and for three or four more to the west and north of the present buildings. After that - perhaps in arount 2012-2015 - further plans to expand the Canary Wharf office development are going to require more planning approval. Some of this is kind of there - Canary Wharf Group and British Waterways have agreed to embark on a mixed use development (some of which is to be offices) on Wood Wharf immediately to the east of Canary Wharf, and although Tower Hamlets council has supposedly approved this, the regulatory environment is unlikely to be quite as benign as what has existed so far. There are also plans to develop various things at the Royal Docks further east, but what can be built here is height restricted due to the nearby London City Airport. Things do become interesting in about 2015-2020 when there is a lack of space for more large office buildings. From a transport perspective, the Jubilee Line Extension may be the newest piece of the London Underground, but it is already very crowded at morning rush hour. Crossrail needs to be built if Canary Wharf is to keep growing at its present rate for that much longer.
The only direction from Canary Wharf I haven't discussed in this post so far, is south towards Greenwich. The area directly to the west of Canary Wharf is perhaps the most interesting. There are all kinds of residential towers, retail space, hotels, and the like going up to provide support services (and literally, lower rent space) that interacts with the rather clinical office developments. This is gradually pushing west. I would favour abandoning all planning controls for the entire Isle of Dogs and letting a great new Pudong arise in London. This might cause a certain amount of conflict when it came in touch with the housing estates to the far west of the Isle of Dogs - some of London's most impoverished - but its a matter of buying the residents and the council out. Most things like this can be resolved with enough money.
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