Street Art of Shoreditch, London

I have always thought that one of the classic signs of the gentrification of a previously run-down urban area is the commercialisation of graffiti. When there is as much quality street art as there is tagging, and when local businesses hire street artists to do their branding, then I’m fairly sure I am in a trendy area with edge (and good cafes). Which usually makes for a fun and interesting urban streetscape. Shoreditch is a great example, I love walking the streets here, checking out the creativity of the street art as well as the hipster score of the bars and cafes.

Street art and Trains, Shoreditch, London
Street art and Trains, Shoreditch, London

great place to park a train?

Scary! Shoreditch, London
Scary! Shoreditch, London

The local businesses definitely embrace and commercialise the grit and grunge successfully.

To transition from grunge to upmarket, I wander down the street to the beautiful architecture of Spitalfields market. Originally the site of the leading fresh fruit and vegetable market in London, it keep expanding for 309 years until finally being forced out into a new location in 1991 (New Spitalfields Market, 23 Sherrin Road, Leyton, London, E10 5SQ).

Meanwhile Old SpitalFields Market (Brushfield Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6AA, Liverpool St tube) has developed into a 7-day a week upmarket arts and crafts market, particularly good for jewellery and hipster clothing, in the heart of the banking district of London.
The appropriate finish for this transition to trendy mass market Shoreditch is surely to pull up a seat at Jamie Oliver’s Canteen in Spitalfields- I recommend a home made pie washed down with artisanal cider.



Hoxton Hotel – an east end hipster haunt in London

When I booked the Hoxton Hotel for my short stopover in London, I didn’t realise it was such a hipster joint. But even better than that, it’s great value, fun, and in a great location near to Old Street tube.

Apparently I turned up during London Fashion Week (not something I have marked in my diary). “How on earth did you get a room here during LFW?” ask my local London (hipster) friends. Truth is, I have no idea, I just booked it on their website a few weeks earlier. Maybe someone had just cancelled, maybe I was just lucky? When I booked it seemed like a great price for a decent hotel in a fun part of London. Only later did I realise what a cool pricing policy they have.

There’s the periodic £1 room sales. And there’s the pricing policy that starts around £59 six months in advance and rises to about £199 one day in advance. This is a really good place to plan ahead for.

The staff are friendly and professional, theres no attitude oozing around here. I arrive looking like a frumpy backpacker (probably because I am), and they treat me as warmly as the guests that look like they might be LFW stars.

The decor and rooms are funky but also very well equipped and practical. I love the iconic rock/paper/scissors pillows, and the white-on-white wall art.The bed is very comfortable and the bathroom downright luxurious. A great touch is the Hoxton Guide, a credit card sized fold out map with staff recommendations on local bars, restaurants, shopping, art, music and “looking good”.

And they have the best room service breakfast I’ve come across, in terms of having items and quality I actually want to eat for breakfast. Instead of filling out a form and hanging it on the doorknob, I mark my choices on a recyclable brown paper bag, and voila, next morning there is my yogurt, banana and juice ready and waiting by my door – and it’s free.

And for the sociable, there’s the Hoxton Grill and Bar on the ground floor, a very popular place indeed to hang out on a weekend. And yet still a great place to have a delightful porridge breakfast in peace the next morning. I’ll be back.


Columbia Road Markets – more than just a flowery story

I need to start with a confession – I lived in London for 10 years and I never visited Columbia Rd Markets. So on this short stopover, I finally find out what I’ve been missing. And I am impressed.

I find the Columbia Road markets, perhaps not so surprisingly, on a blocked off part of Columbia Rd on a sunny autumn Sunday morning in the East End of London (every Sunday from 8am to 3pmish is the official line). For a few blocks it is a crowded lane of wall to wall flower stalls, ringing with the calls of the charismatic stall holders – plenty of cockney, and maybe a little bit of mockney, but who cares, it’s all atmosphere! And on this unusually sunny day, the flowers seemed to glow with a brightness and depth of colour that seemed more tropical than english, a beautiful way to calm a hangover. But it is popular, and therefore quite crowded, so it’s best to just go with the flow of the crowd.

Also lining the street, behind the stalls, are rows of wonderful old terrace houses with brightly colourful shops lining the street level, just like another row of flowers. There is plenty enough to keep me browsing the art, craft, fashion, jewellery and homewares for hours, and most are boutique and unique, not high street chain stores. My favourite part is Ezra St, branching off from Colombia Rd, with more pubs and cafes to enjoy. And clearly many people come here for a sunday brunch, a catch up with friends, a coffee in the sun; it all helps create a very friendly relaxed vibe. I settle into a communal table outside Lili Vanilli bakery, a cafe with lovely coffee and food, and a charmingly disorganised and chaotic atmosphere – is this the Fawlty’s of Columbia Road markets? I think I’ll get another coffee and have a think about that.

The Unbearable Lightness of Bondi Beach

I know, I know, it’s a very lame pun. But a daily view of Bondi Beach is a marvellous thing to live with. It’s the same view coated in an endless variety of light and colour. So I thought it was time to share a few with you.

For the last two months I’ve been focused on the Rugby World Cup – the rugby and the beer and the flights every weekend and the parties in NZ and all the work in between. So to get myself blogging again, I am literally posting about view out my front door.

From stormy skies to brilliant greens and blues

From grey and silver to pink and orange, the prettiest of palettes

and the moon at all hours of the day and night.

My RWC2011

I love rugby. Maybe not a surprising statement from a Kiwi, it is often said that rugby is New Zealand’s religion. As any expat will tell you, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and since I’ve been an expat for twenty something years now, my passion for rugby in general and the All Blacks in particular burns very brightly.

And I say to you, even if you’re not a rugby fan, if you like a festival, if you like an ongoing party, you might want to go to future RWC’s. Because until you get to the pointy end, the Semis and Finals, the party atmosphere completely overrides the rugby.

RWC 2011 - flag
RWC 2011 – flag

So when there’s a RWC in New Zealand, I have to go. Impossible to stay away. I bought my tickets 18 months ago in the first ballot. I booked my airfares 9 months ago – flying in and out for 3 day weekends every weekend, since I couldn’t get the time off work. My sister, who also lives overseas, chucked her job in and went back to NZ for three months – I am so jealous of that. So on the eve of our big semi-final, here’s my highlights (and lowlights) on the RWC so far.

Week 1 RWC 2011

  • We head to the big open air fanzone set up on the Auckland waterfront to have some lunch and soak up the buzz. Seems like dozens of nationalities in team colours all with big grins on their faces. Get to see the massive waka’s rehearsing on the harbour – cool
  • Go meet a friend for an afternoon coffee in the lobby of the Heritage Hotel – where it just so happens the All Blacks are staying. Us, stalkers?- no… Got my photo taken with Dan Carter, I am totally star struck. Then turned around  and saw Ritchie McCaw on the sofa behind me, lost my mind, left the hotel babbling like a teenager – OMG! Have to say, those All Blacks are very accessible.
  • My tip for future RWC’s – try and have your friends live within 15 minutes walk of the stadium, and go stay with them – every weekend. Even better if there is one french wine bar and numerous pubs along that 15 minute walk. Especially important in Auckland, where public transport is an embarrassing joke.
  • To the great surprise of everyone, Aucklanders actually took notice of all the exhortations for them to “leave their cars at home” and “take the train”, and they did – and the train system promptly melted down, leaving thousands stranded on trains and missing the opening ceremony and the opening game.
  • All Blacks  play Tonga in the opening game. I was really looking forward to the atmosphere, as the arrival of the Tongan team earlier in the week and the turn out and fervour of the Tongans in NZ to greet them, had already kick-started the Cup atmosphere. I am disappointed – there are only a handful of Tongans in the crowd, I have a horrible feeling they got priced out of the game – and that’s a real shame and to the detriment of the tournament. Someone should’ve done a deal for them. All Blacks win.

Week 2, RWC 2011

  • Missed this one as I was in Amsterdam for a very quick work trip – normally that would be a good thing but during a RWC? I’m missing all the fun.
  • Ireland beats Australia and suddenly every single Kiwi rediscovers their Irish roots and cheers them on. All Blacks win.

Week 3, RWC 2011

  • Possibly the best atmosphere I’ve ever seen at a game. Both All Blacks and French supporters are dressed up, revved up, chanting and cheering non-stop, but it’s all good natured, no aggro at all. Even though the French lost, they carried on cheerfully partying all night – I have to love a team whose supporters want to buy us drinks all night after they lose – class act. All Blacks win.
  • If you have a bit of a beer belly and you are going to wear an unforgiving white clingy unitard and a red, blue and white rooster as a cock sock, do it with confidence, just like the French supporters
  • I am getting used to hearing the French Horn blown before every kickoff in the RWC. Its not very ‘rugby’ but it is a great addition to the atmosphere – its sounds like a bull fight is starting and 60,000 people yell Ole! every time.

Week 4, RWC 2011

  • My long weekend doesn’t start so well when, on my flight to Wellington, lady in seat in front of me passes out, needs oxygen, and then throws up everywhere. No thanks steward, I won’t be having dinner, I seem to have lost my appetite.
  • Not sure if I am really in Wellington – the sun is shining like a summer’s day and there is no howling wind from Antarctica. Have a coffee and realise that yes, this is Wellington, not many places on earth do coffee this good – in every single cafe!
  • Nonu nonchalantly walks past us in the street in the middle of the day (for those who don’t know, All Black with magic flying feet and dreads.) I very non-nonchalantly stop, stare, point and gape.
  • The official merchandise stores are all full of French buying up All Blacks gear – guess they like us?
  • We take the cable car up the hill, great view of this city of hills around a perfect little circle of a harbour. We walk back down through the botanical gardens and find the flower beds planted as the flags of the 20 participating countries.
  • All Blacks have no problem beating Canada, as expected by everyone. Canadian fans celebrate that the All Blacks only score 79 points against them – their goal was to hold us at less than 1 point per minute (80 points – well done Canada). All Blacks win.

Week 5 RWC 2011

  • Quarter finals time, now it’s all getting serious. I’m seeing two of the quarters live, two on the big screens in the pubs.
  • I watch Springboks v Wallabies at a pop-up garden bar in a (award winning) burger joint in Kingsland, just next to the stadium, with a couple of hundred people. I am definitely not a short person, but this is the tallest crowd I have ever seen – at least 198 of the other people are taller than me, by a lot! It must be a parallel universe.
  • Worst faux pas of the tournament. During the pre-match entertainment, before the start of the 4th and final quarter final, the All Blacks vs Argentina, the Kiwi TV presenter says to camera “isn’t is amazing that the 4 semi finalists in this tournament will be the same 4 countries in the semi finals in the first RWC in 1987, also held in NZ. Um, hello, a bit presumptuous anyone? Just a little bit rude to our Argentinian friends I think. All Blacks win.

So now our semi final is about to start – our “bogey” game – I think it’s going to be good – go All Blacks!

** update from the semi-finals  – AB’s win, a hard fought game against our favourite foes, Australia, shame it’s not Wales we are meeting in the final, they were robbed by the ref!


Make tracks to Tasmania’s Magnificent MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)

I had to rewrite this opening sentence three times, as I tried (and failed) to remove the excessive hyperbole that kept coming out of my head and off my keyboard. And then I thought “bugger it, I love MONA, there’s no point trying to pretend I am impartial here”. So instead I am writing an open letter to David Walsh.

Dear David.

Thank you for MONA. It may have only been open since the start of this year, but you sure have gotten our attention – and apparently visits from about 250,000 of us so far! Let’s face it, when was the last time someone in Australia, someone who has variously been labelled “art collector, gambler, entrepreneur, and Hobart’s infamous son”, do something this breathtaking? I love your MONA, it’s a testament to the power of one person’s passion and vision. This is clearly not an idea that came from a committee.

And it’s not just the art. It’s the beautiful site on the edge of the Derwent river. It’s arriving at the old white lighthouse merged into the wonderful huge sandstone and rusty iron architecture. It’s the wines of your vineyard Moorilla – I’m particularly partial to the Muse Pinot Noir by the way. It’s the crisply modern tasting room at the Cellar Door (if that’s the right term for a soaring two-storey glass pavilion with a fine dining restaurant attached.?) It’s the MooBrew artisanal beers from your own brewery.

It’s the ferry service to and from the docks in central Hobart (although I must confess I was slightly disappointed you don’t have white branding on a black hulled ferry instead of the more ordinary black on white – that would’ve been the icing on the cake of the superb design aesthetics consistently applied to your brands and your websites). It’s the ability to easily go to the MONA website, book my ferry transfer times, and have my wine flight and antipasto plate booked and ready to revive me at The Wine Bar when I need them. It’s the fact that I can have a nice glass of your vino on the ferry ride too, have all the booking and organising work like clockwork, and not be overcharged for any of it.

It’s all much bigger than I imagined. And the technology is great – how can I not love being issued with my own ‘iPod-like’ O on arrival, which then identifies the art closest to me, gives me a choice of reading about the artist, or reading a more gonzo view on it if I didn’t want to take it too seriously? At the press of a button it records what I stop and see, and gives me access to a permanent online tour that follows in my original footsteps. I like that I can click “love” or “hate” for any part of the exhibition. I like the rumour that any art work which gets “loved” too much gets removed from the exhibition and replaced with something more controversial. I love the idea that you may have spread that rumour just to mess with our heads and have us second guessing whether to claim to love or hate something.

I am quite delighted with the Cloaca. I hear that this is the most hated exhibit, and also the one people spend the longest time in front of. First off, the smell is not that bad at all, I think a lot of people may have been exaggerating. It’s quite a beautiful, clinical thing, this shiny machine representation of our human process from digestion to waste. Maybe people stand in front of it for so long, like I did, because it is so much fun watching other people’s reactions?

I really like that people who would never choose to go to an art gallery will probably enjoy  MONA , there is nothing stuffy about the place or the enthusiastic staff, and the art is a mix of fascinating old egyptian and a huge variety of modern and new. Some I loved, some I didn’t, some I even found boring, but many made me laugh – and there’s nothing better than art with a sense of humour. The bit.fall waterfall of words was beautiful, the bean bags scattered around the floors so I could plop down and watch videos on the wall or the roof were very comfortable and inviting.

And I love that I completely underestimated how long I would need to wander MONA, have refreshment breaks, do some wine tasting, maybe some beer tasting as well, definitely some eating, a browse through the museum shop, not to mention taking lots of photos. We booked ferry times to give us almost 5 hours there, and it wasn’t nearly long enough. But it does give me an additional reason to visit again soon. And we really did love the antipasti tasting plates to death before we left.

So thanks David, its a wonderful thing you have done.



Garagistes, the best way to spend a Sunday in Hobart

We are planning our long weekend in Hobart, Tasmania. “What shall we do on the Sunday?”. “We could rent a car and catch the ferry to Bruny island”. “Or go for a wine tasting drive”. “Maybe go to Port Arthur, get some history”. “How about a long Sunday lunch with the set menu at Garagistes?”. “Perfect, Tasmanian food coma!”

Garagistes Restaurant, Hobart
Garagistes Restaurant, Hobart

And so we do. Forget sightseeing, I firmly believe the best way to get under the skin of Tasmania is to eat and drink, and right now there is nowhere better to do that than at Garagistes. Chef Luke Burgess, who did a stint at the world’s current no 1 restaurant, Noma, a couple of years ago, and his partners, have turned an old auto garage into a cool industrial dining and bar space. All black, brick and industrial, matched with sensuous pottery plates and bowls in all shades of grey scattered over large communal tables, Garagistes have been earning praise for their food and wine ever since they opened. The wine list is mainly natural biodynamic wines, and the food philosophy is cooking seasonally with local produce. The outcome is reputedly some of the most exciting food being served in Australia, and we want to sample it. There’s also a no booking policy, except for their renowned Sunday lunch.

A quick 15 minute stroll from Salamanca Place and we are pushing open the large heavy stylish steel door and are seated at one of the communal tables, with an aircraft engine sized heater located not too far away from us, keeping the Hobart winter chill away. Over the next three and a half hours, the following six courses, plus the warmth of service, kept us delighted, amused and satiated.

    1. Tea brined quails eggs, tonnato and heirloom radishes – the tonnato was a splendid mayonnaise enriched with fatty tuna belly.

      Tea brined quails eggs, tonnato + heirloom radishes
      Tea brined quails eggs, tonnato + heirloom radishes
    2. Chargrilled leek, horseradish curd, bay oil, truffled egg yolk, land cress and saltbush – I was delighted to find a dish making leeks the hero!

      Chargrilled leek, horseradish curd, bay oil, truffled egg yolk, land cress + saltbush at Garagistes
      Chargrilled leek, horseradish curd, bay oil, truffled egg yolk, land cress + saltbush at Garagistes
    3. Poached striped trumpeter, almond cream, toasted rice, chickweed, duck bouillon – a feast of strong creamy flavours

      Poached Striped Trumpeter, almond cream, toasted rice, chickweed, duck bouillon at Garagistes
      Poached Striped Trumpeter, almond cream, toasted rice, chickweed, duck bouillon at Garagistes
    4. Roasted onglet, smoked beetroot puree, roast celeriac, pickled onion, bone marrow – melt in the mouth richness, except the celeriac – it had been roasted in salt and was way too salty for my liking.

      Roasted onglet, smoked beetroot puree, roast celeriac, pickled onion, bone marrow at Garagistes
      Roasted onglet, smoked beetroot puree, roast celeriac, pickled onion, bone marrow at Garagistes
    5. Garagistes washed rind cheese – perfectly ripe and runny

      Garagistes washed rind cheese
      Garagistes washed rind cheese
    6. Pannacotta tradizionale, whey caramel, hazelnut, puffed buckwheat – sublime cream and crunch mix.

      Pannacotta tradizionale, whey caramel, hazelnut, puffed buckwheat
      Pannacotta tradizionale, whey caramel, hazelnut, puffed buckwheat
Accompanied by a french chardonnay, a local pinot noir, and in my case a Pedro Ximenez with dessert – thats some sightseeing I’d love to do every weekend!

#fridayfaces – smiles in vanuatu

It seems like the whole island comes to the “airport” each time a plane lands on the outer islands of Vanuatu, for the teenagers it seems like their equivalent of hanging at the mall in my country!

The smiling faces of Vanuatu
The smiling faces of Vanuatu

Photos of the faces of people I come across in my travels take me right back to that time and place.