Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ski week in Wengen, Switzerland

At the top of the Shilthorn
Last week I was lucky enough to go skiing in Wengen, Switzerland, with my dad for the week. We had absolutely stunning weather all week with barely a cloud during the time that we were there. It made for some absolutely stunning scenery and with the lack of crowds on the slopes we could enjoy everything to the full. There were a few downsides, namely that I got a slightly sun burnt nose and combined with the end of the season it meant that in the afternoons the lower slopes could get pretty slushy. Although by staying high and picking the north facing slopes we managed to ski until 4pm most days.

My favourite run was bombing off the top of the Shilthorn on a virtually empty piste. The steep start makes you feel like an accomplished skier (which I'm not) before you drop into the bowl for some sweeping carving turns. Can I got back up the cable car another four times to do it again please?
Lunch in Grindelwald
I'm used to a ski resort being just ski lifts and slopes, so one of the things which really struck me was how much extra Wengen had a on offer. For the skiers there were several speed traps, timed slalom courses and fixed cameras around the resort that you could take advantage of. At the end of each day you could also get a print out of the activity logged against your ski pass for that day (number of lifts taken, a graph of the altitude you skied at, how long you'd been skiing etc..). It all added to the fun.

For the non-skier there were plenty of toboggan runs across the resort plus a zip wire in Grindelwald and over in Murren they were making much more of the James Bond connection that than I've seen on previous visits. All the attractions seem to be working as there were quite a few non-skiing tourists in the resort.
Timothy Dalton at the Shiltorn 
We stayed at the Hotel Belvedere in Wengen, a fairly solid 3* hotel. It isn't going to win any awards but was a solid choice. It is short walk from the lifts so being able to leave our skis and boots at the hire shop (Skiset) every night was a bonus.
About to hit the slopes underneath the Eigernordland chair

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Hiroshima Peace Museum and Okayama

Our visit to Okayama was my favourite day of our trip to Japan, but it started on a rather sombre note. I woke early and walked the less than five minutes from our apartment to the Hiroshima Peace Museum to get there for opening time.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the museum, but in the end it was one of those situations where there were so many crowds that you could barely see the displays cases. I filed round at the same speed as everyone else and in the end left feeling very little. I've no doubt it would have been a very sombre and moving affair if you were able to experience the museum at a quieter time.
On leaving Hiroshima we decided to break up our trip to Kyoto with a stop in Okayama having read that the gardens there were one of the top three gardens in all of Japan. We jumped out of the bullet train, left our bags at a bike hire shops close to the station (as all of the lockers inside the station were full) and caught a tram across to the gardens.

We had glorious sunshine and the gardens were simply stunning. I'm not sure my description would add much so I'll let you enjoy the photos and point you in the direction of the official website if you'd like to know more.

After our hour in the gardens we headed back to the station, collected our bags, picked up a quick bento box from a supermarket in the station and then it was onwards to Kyoto where one of my favourite days was topped off with one of my favourite meals of the holiday too.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Trees
When we were planning our trip to California, I was determined to fit in a visit to a National Park when I was there. When I was reading reviews, Joshua Tree very rarely came up, or at least if it did it was pretty far down the list. However, all of the blockbuster parks were further from our base of LA than we wanted to drive we decided to take a chance on Joshua Tree. I'm really pleased we did as our day inside the park was easily my favourite day of the holiday.
Hidden Valley trail
We started our day in the park office close to our Air BnB apartment to pay our park fee and get some advice on what to do during the day and then we were off into the park!

Our first stop was the Barker Dam trail. As with all the walk during the day it was an easy 30 min - 1 hr loop from the car park which head out to a small, and now empty, dam that was built by cattle ranches in first half of the last century. On the way to the dam we saw some ancient rock paintings which, if I remember correctly, a TV crew had painted over to make them stand our more for their filming!
Inside the Hidden Valley
It was then a short drive to the Hidden Valley a one mile loop through large boulders in, surprisingly enough, a hidden valley. There were a number of rock climbers inside the valley who were looking for challenges to climb.
Hidden Valley rock formations
After we'd come out of the valley we sat at some of the nearby picnic benches to eat our lunch and soak in the amazing view below of hundreds of Joshua Trees as far as the eye could see.
Joshua Trees as far as the eye can see
After lunch we drove up to the Keys View lookout, which had hazy views down to the Mexican border which you can apparently see when the smog isn't too bad.
Skull Rock
We then drove onto Skull Rock which really does look like a skull, as you can see for yourself from the photo above.

We then drove across to the Cholla cactus garden. I was pretty nervous walking along the paths and in between the cacti as there were signs telling you that the needles were really difficult to remove if you managed to prick yourself. Not somewhere that you'd want to lose your footing....
Cholla Cactus Garden Trail
The cholla cactus garden also marked the point where the national park transitioned from the Mojave dessert where we had spent most of the day to the Sonoran dessert below us. There were huge and vastly different vistas.
Our trusty hire car
Our final stop of the day, as the shadows were lengthening, was the White Tank camping ground for a short walk round one of the trails and a visit to the rock arch below.
The arch at White Tank

And with that our Californian holiday came to and end. It has only taken me fifteen months to get the final blog of our holiday posted!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

I should be Souvlaki at The Old Nun's Head

Haloumi Souvlaki 
It has been three years (really?) since we last visited The Old Nun's Head to check out Burger Bear who are still taking over the kitchen a couple of nights a week to serve their awesome burgers. This time we were back to try I should be Souvlaki who take over the kitchen on Wednesdays.

We both ordered the haloumi souvlaki (£8). The soft Greek pita really made the wrap for me (so often they can be drying), with plenty of haloumi, fresh tomato, a few chips and enough of the yoghurt dressing to keep things moist without being horribly messy the pita was really enjoyable.
Feta fries

I'd hoped to also try the beefy fries but as they'd sold out we settled for the feta fries instead. Fairly priced at £4 the fries were sprinkled with oregano, feta, red onion and drizzled with more of the yoghurt sauce. I would have liked a bit more of the yoghurt sauce and bit less red onion.

It was a very enjoyable and reasonably priced date night. I'd happily return for another haloumi souvlaki or to try one of their meaty options.

Old Nun's Head
15 Nunhead Green
SE15 3QQ

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Noak revisted, Brockley

The Quite Healthy
In my first blog post about Noak I wrote that it "makes me want to love it and pull my hair out in almost equal measure." The food we've tried has always been pretty  good, it was just the service that was letting the place down.

We visited again a couple weeks ago and we were greeted when we arrived, shown to a table, given menus, our order was taken and then the food arrived after a perfectly acceptable wait. They had a generous number of staff working and an order of service seems to have been established, making a big difference to our enjoyment of the café. I know it sounds basic, but previously it wasn't always the case.

I had the 'Quite Healthy'. A bowl of halloumi, avocado, home made beans, roasted tomatoes, sourdough, courgette ribbons and an egg cooked to your liking (£10.50). All of the components were well done and the two thick slices of sourdough were a welcome filling addition.

Noak felt like it was on the way to being the café we all hoped it would be when they first opened, so it was a shame that is wasn't full on a Saturday lunchtime. If, like us, others have previously been put off, hopefully they too will give Noak another try.

209–211 Mantle Road


Friday, 20 January 2017

Miyajima Island, Japan

Itsukushima shrine with the Great Torii in the background
After hearing some good reviews of Miyajima Island from friends it was one of the few things that we'd included in our very minimal itinerary before we left home and I was very pleased that we visited. The only downside was visiting on a national holiday so we had lots of company on the island!

We caught the train from Hiroshima to Miyajima ready to take the ferry (included in our train pass) across to the island. We decided to try and pick up some lunch before catching the ferry, fearing that all of the restaurants on the island would be rammed. Everywhere between the station and the ferry terminal only sold the local speciality, oysters, and was completely packed so we ended up with two bento boxes from the 7-Eleven. Not a glamorous option, but definitely not as bad as you'd expect either.
Five tiered pagodo on Miyajima

After catching the ferry over to the Miyajima island, we ate our bento boxes next to the front and then set off to explore the island. It was pretty crowded as we walked towards the Great Tori so we decided to keep going past the most popular monuments and to climb to the top of the mountain on the island.

At the base of the climb was the lovely Daisho-in temple that we stopped into for a look around. For a small donation you could ring one of the ceremonial bells which I took great pleasure in bonging as loudly as I could and listening to it echoing round the valley.
Daishō-in Buddhist temple 
On leaving the temple we started the climb proper and it was tough going! The first half of the climb contained a lot of steps while it flattened out slightly in the second half of the climb. We saw quite a few people walking down, but only a couple of others climbing. It wasn't hard to see why the cable car was such a popular option on a hot day.

When we arrived at what we thought was the top of the mountain we sat down on some benches outside of another temple to enjoy a drink of water and a few snacks. After ten minutes it dawned on us that we weren't getting the spectacular views we were expecting at the top and we might not quite be there. A mad dash ensued to get to the very top before the viewing platform closed in ten minutes time.
View from the summit of Miyajima
We arrived at the observation deck on the stroke of the official closing time. Thankfully the caretaker let us in, he was feeling charitable as it was a national holiday and kept the viewing platform open for an extra fifteen minutes for the late comers like us.

We decided to take a different route down from the top and it started to get gloomy between the trees as the sun was setting. We were rushing a bit to get to the bottom before it got too dark for us to see our footing.
Itsukushima shrine 
We got back to the Itsukushima Shrine and the Tori Gate just in time to watch the sunset (along with thousands of other hoping to get the perfect pic). Despite showing some early promise we unfortunately didn't get the amazing sunset we were hoping for.
Becks at sunset

We caught the train back to Hiroshima and decided to visit a small group of restaurants that we'd spotted on previously. After deciding that we didn't want to queue at a couple of interesting places we ended up in Bakudanya and I'm pleased we did as I really enjoyed the food!
Dinner at Bakudanya in Hiroshima station 
The serve Tsukemen, where the noodles are served separately from from a spicy broth. I was a very contended diner as I dunked and slurped with a side of crunchy karage chicken on the side.

After dinner we headed back to our apartment on the sightseeing bus which Becks had expertly discovered we could use free with our train passes.
Curry noodles

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Archies Bar, Deptford Market Yard

The newly opened Deptford Market Yard
Last weekend Becks and I popped down to the newly opened Deptford Market Yard for a spot of lunch. The approach to the station has been completely transformed by the new, wide public square and the railway arches which have been converted into small business units. Even on a slightly dreary and damp day the area was looking good.

There are a few options for lunch and we selected Archie's for some grilled cheese sandwiches.
Queso Fundido and chorizo
We completely over ordered and I spent the rest of the day in a pleasant cheese coma.

Of the savoury dishes we chose my favourite was the posh cheese and onion toastie that is made with Keen's cheddar, ogleshield and onion. You could definitely taste the quality of the cheese which has been grilled until it came oozing out of our sandwich.
Goats cheese toastie
The highlight though, without doubt, was the ricotta cheesecake. It was unlike any other cheesecake that I've had before being much softer and creamier. Unlike most ricotta cheesecakes I'm guessing that it hadn't been baked. It came in a delightfully generous slice too, but something tasting this good can't be good for you....
Posh cheddar and onion
The staff were super friendly and they have fitted out the small railway arch well. The short menu is full on cheese so make sure you, and all of your party, are in the mood for cheese before you go as there aren't any options besides cheese, cheese and more glorious cheese.
Ricotta cheesecake
Archie's Bar London
Deptford Market Yard