HOHO Virgin in Barcelona

Out my window this morning…Okay, so I am pretty well travelled I guess, but for some reason, I have never found myself on a Hop On Hop Off Bus.  Most cities have them and they’re designed to mass transport tourists directly to the sights, but I have somehow managed to avoid them, either by just going places on foot or by using public transport.  Today, feeling rather tired after yesterday’s stressful and exhausting adventures, we decided to get on the HOHO bus and just potter around Barcelona and see where we ended up.

We saw about four different buildings designed by Antonio Gaudi, his mark is definitely all over the city of Barcelona.
This building was a personal residence owned by some very rich earl – it takes up an entire block and the family typically lived on the bottom floor and rented out the top floors. The Segrada Familia in all it’s be-scaffolded and be-craned brilliance.  This is such a beautiful building and it is much further completed than when I was here 20 years ago, I dare say a trip back when it is finished would be well worth it… 

Barcelona really does have lots of wonderful architecture Sarria The Monestir de Pedralables The Palau Reial-Pavellions Guell – but unable to get a decent photo of the famous dragon gate… more Gaudi.Futbol Club of Barcelona
Pg. de Gracia – More Gaudi Painted under a street awning. In the pavement. We drove around for about two hours – most of my photos were crap.  Too many people, cars, lamp posts, trees in the way.  The commentary was good, but if I can’t move to a better vantage point or wait for people to leave my shot, I can’t take a decent photo.  So I guess HOHO buses are not for me.

After that we went down to the pier at the Port Olimpic for some lunch at El Cangrejo Loco, which was recommended by Antonio for their fabulous paella.  It’s a gorgeous spot right near the Playa Nova Icaria with gorgeous views.  Quite a nice restaurant. hoho 31ADuck breast lasagnehoho 32 Seafood paella.hoho 33

After this we bought the kids back to our hotel room for a much needed cool down in the pool.  Spent a few hours up on the roof with a few vodka breezers and some donuts that Mum bought… not a bad way to spend a bit of down time in Barcelona.  A bit later in the evening, the mob came over near our hotel for a bit of dinner.  The street our hotel is on – the Rambla Catalunya has a string of restaurants with alfresco dining in the middle of the road, so we chose one of those restaurants and had some more tapas and paella.  It was okay, but not great.  Took a few night pics of the area from the street and the hotel balcony…

While we were waiting for tables for dinner, there was a guy sitting on a park bench, playing a flute.  He was really quite good and seemed to be enjoying himself.  A few people were watching and enjoying him play, when a little girl walked over and put some coins in his flute case which was open in his lap (he had no cap/bucket on the ground as is customary), and then the poor guy looked all flabbergasted as he tried to give the money back and explain he was just playing.  It was very cute. So tired.  Going to have an easy sea day tomorrow in my hotel room, I think!

A sunrise, a military coup, a gothic cathedral and a tapas bar… Welcome to Barcelona!

Last day on the ship woke up to the most beautiful sunrise I have seen in years. Simply spectacular…Barcelona 1 Barcelona 2 Also woke up to the news of a violent military coup in Turkey affecting Istanbul and Ankara and oh shit – Mum is supposed to be flying to Istanbul in less than 20 hours.  So, of course that meant as soon as we got to decent wifi, I spent the better part of two hours trying to call travel agents, tour operators and travel insurance providers to find out how to cancel, rebook, claim a whole bunch of messy shit to change her plans.  The tour operator – Peregrine for anyone who is interested – were originally adamant that the tour was still going ahead.  That once they got out of Istanbul that everything would be safe enough for their passengers.  They did seem to be overlooking the fact that there were tanks in the streets in Istanbul, citizens rising up against the rouge military, a President holed up at Ataturk airport, and orders to shoot down planes that were not following lawful military commands!  There were over 80 people killed and hundreds injured when I was doing this, and later in the day some 3000 soldiers arrested and court judges exiled.  So yeah, saying you’re going to continue with your tour in a country with no stable government seems a bit well, fucking stupid to me.

Eventually, they came to their senses and cancelled the tour and were offering a full refund.  But the whole thing made for an extremely stressful morning, what I am sure is an enormous phone bill, a huge amount of disappointment… and a deep sadness for the people of Turkey that followed us around all day.  I love Turkey, and Istanbul has long been my favourite city in the world.  I hope things settle down for them.

By the end of that it was nearing lunch time… oh yeah, we ate, but you know.  There was jugs of sangria.

Barcelona 3 Public fountain on the corner of some building… so cool.Barcelona 4

Barcelona 27

On our way back from the Ramblas area where we found some lunch, we wandered past the Barcelona Cathedral and decided to go in and have a look.  It’s a brilliant gothic cathedral and very imposing just in its sheer size.Barcelona 5

Saints looking down at you as you walk in.Barcelona 6Above the doorway into the cathedral…Barcelona 7This cathedral has the typical high vaulted gothic arches and is lined with little naves on either side of the main part of the church.  Each one is dedicated to another saint and holds a scene with elaborate paintings, statuary, tapestries, and ornate gold painted carvings.Barcelona 11 Barcelona 10
Barcelona 22Barcelona 21There’s a lift that goes up to the roof, so we got a chance to go up and have a look at the city roof tops, as well as see some of the restoration efforts that are happening as they repair the roof.
Barcelona 24 Barcelona 23 The outside of one of the stained glass rose windows – there are many of these above the buttresses, but from the ground inside you can hardly notice them they are so high off the ground.Barcelona 25We also had a chance to go out the side where there is a huge cloistered courtyard, with many tombs of important cardinals and bishops, as well as more naves dedicated to saints.  This beggared belief to me – there were 13th-15thC paintings out in the courtyard naves that were not protected, not in humidity controlled environments and just outside!  Bizarre.

Barcelona 17 Barcelona 16 Naves in many nooks to the right…Barcelona 15 This nave is OUTSIDE!  Paintings and all.Barcelona 14Centre of the courtyard.Barcelona 13 Barcelona 12 There was also a museum area within the complex, which was a ‘no fotos’ area.  But we still managed to get a snap of this Rowan Atkinson look alike on the ceiling…
Barcelona 14A

In the centre of the cathedral were stalls heavily decorated with heraldry of members of the Order of the Golden Fleece.  I’ve seen these images on the internet for years (and yes, have a whole bunch of them on Pinterest under Heraldic Achievements), but it was amazing to seem them all together.Barcelona 19
Barcelona 20 Barcelona 18 Last nave as we were leaving the cathedral.
Barcelona 26We eventually got back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and then went to find our own hotel.  By happy coincidence – or just me being forgetful – it turns out we have a rooftop pool, and nothing could have been more welcome this afternoon.  We went up for a quick swim, cooled right down, and came down for a bit of a nap before meeting back up with the others for some dinner.

They took us to a quaint little tapas bar that they had found when they were in Barcelona last year and we hooked into the sangria and shared a lot of delicious tapas.  It’s called Rebelot, and is one of those dodgy looking places full of old furniture, mismatching chairs and weird stuff on the walls, but seriously good food.
Barcelona 29Barcelona 30Grilled octopus with chorizo on hummus.
Barcelona 28AMarinated duck breast with asparagus and orange flavoured puree something? 😛
Mini lamb burgers with cheese, caramelised onions and salad – sans burger.
Barcelona 28Scallops carpaccio with avocado and tomato salsa with dill or something.
Barcelona 28BAll fantastic – 10/10. Would go again.

It was then onto another bar for more drinks, then eventually back to the hotel.  All up a very stressful day to start with, followed by a bit of touristy stuff, and a great relaxing meal with good company to finish the evening.  I am exhausted – and know not how to say that in Spanish!

Recipe – Lemon Squares

I’m not one for sweets so when I stumble upon something sweet that has a high probability of not being sickly sweet – I always want to try it.  So, saw this recipe for Lemon Squares and thought, ‘yep, that looks like a bit of me’.  Will report back once I’ve had a chance to try it.  In the meantime, I’m saving it here to find it easily.

lemon squares



4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled, plus more for pan
1-1/2 cup digestive biscuits, crumbed
1/4 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (3 lemons)

*Preheat oven to 350F / 180C degrees.
*Brush a square baking dish with melted butter.
*Crush biscuits
*Then add in sugar and butter and blend to mix.
*Press mixture into bottom of prepared pan.
*Bake until lightly browned, 8 to 12 minutes.
*Cool crust, 30 minutes.

*In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and condensed milk.
*Add lemon juice; whisk until smooth.
*Pour filling into cooled crust; carefully spread to edges.
*Bake until set, about 15 minutes.
*Cool in pan on rack.
*Chill at least 1 hour before serving.
Serve with whipped cream.

(via Mum’s Mag on FB)

P&O Food – Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill

Just back from spending a short four night trip on the Pacific Dawn for Australia Day.  Aaand… it was a great reminder why we usually sail Princess!  The ship is quite small but packed to the gills (lots of quad rooms) and everyone in a party mood which was great.  The biggest problem with P&O in my not so humble opinion, is the dining.  The buffet tends average to poor, the room service is not included, and the only dining room (on most of their Australian fleet), the Waterfront Restaurant, isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone onboard in two sittings – so getting bookings for dinner is a bit iffy tending towards difficult, to sometimes, just, nope.

Anyway, we went to the Waterfront the first evening on the ship and had what I would call the most ordinary meal I have had on a cruise ship in over 200+ days at sea.  Bland pasta, over cooked steak, and ridiculously pushy service edging us out the door (which was a stark comparison to a later lunch sitting where we were left nearly 40 mins with no one taking our order, and then two waiters each trying to say our table wasn’t in their service area!).  Every breakfast menu was the same – poached eggs that were boiled solid, avocado that tasted like it was squeezed out of a tube, feta pieces so small as to be non-existent, and mixed up orders.  Lunches were likewise uninspiring due to the same menu offered everyday, and things like sliders with mushy pulled pork similar to the consistency of canned tuna, seafood and fish pie with soggy pastry and defrosted marinara mix in a mysterious flour based white sauce, and again with the bland pasta (it said gorgonzola pasta for crying out loud!  How can it NOT taste even a tiny bit blue?!).  So, all round uninspiring food and below average service… seriously, my local pub which does nothing more than cheap steaks and schnitzels, but for a mere $12 lunch specials provides a far superior meal with way better service.  Waterfront Restaurant – 2 out of 5… would not try again.

So we decided to check out the Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill, one of the specialty restaurants on the ship in the hope of finding something that was actually nice to eat.  Others had said it was worth the AU$49 cover charge and by the time we’d had a couple of meals in the Waterfront, we were ready to risk it.

The restaurant is small, probably seats about 40 patrons, but has a lovely decor and enjoyable ambiance. Lovely quiet music and attentive staff which makes for a sharp contrast to the bustle in the MDR.  The menu, well it was fabulous… and the food turned out to be amazing!  So much so, we ended up booking to go back again so we wouldn’t have to face the Waterfront’s underwhelming offerings.  I took photos of all the different dishes we tried, so I could share them here.

House baked plain and zartar bread with Luke Mangan olive oil, balsamic vinegar and dukkah.

Five Spice Cured Duck – with golden beetroot, almond dressing and crisp pancetta.

Charcuterie Plate – bresaola, capicola and proscuitto

Kingfish Sashimi – with ginger, eschallot and Persian feta

Top: Scallop Sashimi – with confit potato, salmon and avruga roe, truffle and chive dressing. Bottom: Arancini of Wild Mushroom and Leek – with taleggio and green golden dressing.

Tempura Prawns – with wasabi and sesame, daikon and carrot salad.

‘Glass’ Sydney Crab Omelette – with enoki mushroom, herb salad and miso mustard broth.

Oysters Kilpatrick

The oysters attract a $2 per oyster surcharge, and we thought we’d try them out – but to be honest, my own Oysters Kilpatrick efforts at home, wipe the floor with these.

Oysters Tempura

Lobster Agnolotti – corn puree, soft herbs, sauce vierge

Warm Goat’s Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart – with beetroot salad

Highly recommend the goat cheese and caramelised onion tart – really fantastic blend of flavours on this dish… the sweet onion, tart cheese and slightly vinegar flavour of the beetroot was beautiful.

Brushetta – of crushed peas, feta and maple bacon.

Dukkah Crusted Lamb Fillet – with roasted pumpkin, feta, rocket, green olive salsa, and harissa yoghurt dressing.

Another favourite, the dukkah crusted lamb fillet was superb – beautifully prepared lamb and lovely flavours and textures.  Fantastic, definitely try this if you get the chance.

Grilled Snapper – with parmesean and truffle oil fries, served with chipotle aioli.

Petuna Ocean Trout – grilled, with teriyaki wok-fried vegetables and coconut sambal.

Cajun and Herb Spiced BBQ Baby Chicken – with homemade BBQ sauce.

Tuna (Rare) – grilled, tandoori spiced, with curried lentils, cucumber and yoghurt.

Yale was really impressed with this tuna dish – unusual Indian flavours on rare grilled tuna that was quite distinctive. Very tasty.

Floating Island – with fresh berries and fruit, served with Frangelico anglaise. 

Luke’s Liquorice Parfait – with lime syrup and tuile.

Goey Chocolate Tart, with banana, caramel ice cream and honeycomb.

Strawberry Cheesecake, with jelly, sorbet, light meringue and freeze-dried stawberries

You wouldn’t expect a strawberry cheesecake to be much to write home about, but this dessert was truly delicious and a little surprising.  What I thought was crushed toffee on the plate turned out to be something similar to popping candy.  Made a very pretty and tasty dish, a bit unexpectedly fun as well.

Tiramisu – with lemon custard Ice cream.


The verdict: everything we tried during our meals at the Salt Grill, was absolutely delicious.  And I have vowed, that should I be so foolish as to go on the Pacific Dawn for one of these short cruises again, I would seriously consider adding a $49 per night cost to our overall trip budget, so I can partake of the specialty dining every night and happily avoid the whole Waterfront Restaurant Disaster Area entirely!

William Morris and Covent Garden Adventures

“I have never been in any rich man’s house which would not have looked the better for having a bonfire made… of nine-tenths of all that it held.” – William Morris on why the rest of us shoudl not give up our day jobs and become interior decorators.

Went out the the William Morris Gallery today in Walthamstow somewhere, and found a wonderful little free gallery that illustrate Morris’ art, his life, work and influence. Naturally I was very interested to see the works, but somewhat worried for my credit card as there was bound to be a bookshop and giftshop full of lovely reproductions of William Morris’ designs (I LOVE the Compton design on just bout anything) where I would surely buy some truly beautiful, but enormously expensive scarf, that I would never wear back in Brisbane … but I needn’t have preemptorily panicked as the gift shop was modest and filled mostly stationery and small knick knacks, and both myself and my credit card got out un-scarfed and unscathed respectively!

The exhibition has many printed, woven and embroidered fabrics, rugs, carpets, wallpapers, furniture, stained glass and painted tiles designed by Morris himself – as well as items painted and designed by his Chums from the Pre-Raphaelite Bortherhood – Edward Burne-Jones, Philip Webb, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, and others.  Together they eventually borrowed some moey from Morris’ mother to create the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company in 1861… eventually Morris & Co.

There were pleny of outstanding items on display including, Morris’ medieval-style helmet and sword that were made as props for the Pre-Raphaelite murals at the Oxford Union.  I also saw the original design for the Trellis wallpaper (the first of many Morris’ wallpapers).  They also have the gorgeous and famous Woodpecker tapestry woven at Morris’ Merton Abbey workshops, the Beauty and the Beast tiles and the Labours of the Months tile panels.  As well as works printed at Morris’ Kelmscott Press such as his own writings and the Poems of William Shakespeare and The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

They also have a substantial collection of furniture, textiles, ceramics and glass by Morris’ contemporaries in the Arts and Crafts movement, (the height of which was about 1880 to the 1920). Among those represented are Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo and the Century Guild, May Morris (Morris’ exceptional daughter who turned household embroidery into a thriving artform), William De Morgan, Ernest Gimson, Sidney Barnsley, Selwyn Image, George Jack, C. F. A. Voysey, Harry Powell, Henry Holiday, and Christopher Whall.

Much of the collection of is complemented by the Brangwyn Gift – Sir Frank Brangwyn was a former student of William Morris who collected many paintings, drawings and prints by Morris and the other Pre-Raphaelites that were later donated to this collection.

Upon leave the Gallery, I had the most unusual encounter in Walthamstow High Street… a good looking young man in a well fitting suit approached me and said, very amiably, “Hello. Have you had a good morning?”, to which I felt free to reply, “Why, yes.  I have thank you.”  He then proceeded to ask me if I have internet at home.  Ah, the penny drops, “Yes, I do, but at home in Australia.”… then the poor lad incapable of letting go of someone willing to reply to his innocuous opening questions starts asking me if I would consider changing providers.  I had to stop, look him dead in the face and say, “As I said, I live in Australia… I strongly doubt your company wants to solicit customers that far from their network.”  He then said, “Nooo. You’re not Australian, you don’t sound Australian at all… c’mon, where are you from?”  I had to flash him my passport before he would believe me.  He walked off very confused, and I wished him better luck with his next potential customer.

After this I head back to Covent Garden to have a look around the shops and find some lunch.  I have to admit, Covent Garden is nothing like it used to be… it used to be filled with heaps of fancy stores on the inside and surrounded by market stalls – the type you’d find in any market – nearby.  Now it feels like the market stalls are overtaken by people who are probably on Etsy selling over priced crap that no one needs. Not a hat stall or glove stall in sight and loads of custom printed aprons, over priced handmade silver jewellery, and 3D printed plastic London monuments. Mind, you could still get a bobble headed Queen so maybe I was over thinking that ‘too classy bit’, too much.  

On my way back to the flat, I stopped at Marks and Sparks for what turned out to be another unusual encounter.  I’m off on my cruise tomorrow, so I decided to buy a bottle of Shiraz to take with me.  As I am going through the self service point, the register sets off an alarm for a store attendant to come check me out, I guess because alcohol is a restricted product and they want to check you’re not 12.  The store clerk comes over to me, and logs into the machine, and say “You’re right aren’t you?  Over the age for alcohol.” I laughed and said to him, “I’m 43, how much more ‘right’ do you need to be to buy a bottle of wine.”  He looks at me and says, “No, you’re not!  Can I see your ID please?”  I was a bit taken aback… carded at Marks and Sparks!  But not because he didn’t think I was over the legal age, but because he didn’t I was as old as I was claiming to be!  *scoff*  Weirdos.

Tonight I caught up with Stephola for a few pints at the Prince of Wales in Covent Garden before heading out to the most amazing dinner at a lovely place called Sarastro with Stephola.  


 Sarastro has the most crazy and quirky decore. Outside it is an overgrown cottage garden climbing the walls.  Insider there are delightfully cosy booth spaces and hidden balconette tables amidst a veritable feast for the eyes in an all round fabulous atmosphere and the most delicious Mediterranean inspired food.  


We talked about old times and mutual acquaintances (there surely were plenty of ears burning back in Australia!), giggled like high school girls, and there may have even been a tear or two over lost loves, lost family members and the sadder dramatic moments of our lives.  It occurs to me that I am truly blessed to have friends like these – ones that I may not see for years, but when you do get together, you realise how much they mean to you and how much they have your back should you ever need them… and thanks to the Internet, the miles just melt away.
I had ever such a lovely evening, and if it weren’t for the hideous 30 hour transit, I’d suggest we meet up and do it every year or so!