I have been travelling to India for almost 25 years now, and it is fair to say that I have seen a few changes over the years. I have seen this country dynamically shift in some ways, and in other ways not. I mean India still has masses of terribly poor people eking out a living from day to day, and admittedly, the very-poor have always existed alongside the super-rich. If you go to any major city like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, or Chennai, you will see the slums and the skyscrapers together.
However, what is different now here in the 21st Century, is the emerging middle class, the young, ICT literate and upwardly mobile – that generation of Millennials that have reached adulthood. This was never more evidenced than when I was riding the Metro in Delhi last year. Smartly dressed young men and women absorbed with their smartphones, as interconnected and aware as the rest of us on planet earth.
Delhi’s Metro is ever expanding and easy to use. Colour coded footprints on the walkways help direct you to the right lines; it really is a thing of beauty and an enormous asset for all city dwellers. Sprawling out like a spider’s web across the nation’s capital it transports the young and beautiful, and the not so young and beautiful to wherever they so choose.
My friend Varun, from Varanasi but now living in Delhi with his family, remarked that once you’re inside the Metro system, it’s like being in the UK. However, the moment you emerge, you are back in India again. I knew exactly what he meant; the metro is relatively new and modern and yet when you come out it’s almost like you have been in a time warp, because you are back to the rickshaw wallahs, the roadside vendors, the noise, heat, and pollution. But this is always the way that India has been – rich and poor living side by side.
This is a vastly different story from when I first arrived in India back in November 1995. There was certainly no metro and the preferred method of transport was nearly always an auto-rickshaw, or an old ambassador taxi. But I guess now in this age of climate change, something had to give, because as you will know if you have ever visited Delhi, the smog there is fairly legendary. In fact, at times, it will bring the whole city to a halt because the visibility becomes so poor.
I always knew that air pollution was going to be a challenge for this emerging economic giant. The moment our 400 ton 747 landed with a heavy thud at Indira Gandhi International at Delhi, and its tyres screeched and smoked along the runway tarmac, I could smell the definite bitter, poisonous tang of heavy smog in the air. I cannot say that the air quality has massively improved since then, but with initiatives like greener, less polluting auto-rickshaws and the Delhi’s dazzling metro, things are sure to improve over time.
Rain, lots and lots of it. In fact, it was endless, and Sigra Road outside our hotel was rapidly becoming a river. It was September, and we were in Varanasi, North India, in the back end of the monsoon season. Clearly, all the locals were not bothered by it as everybody just carried on, even though by this time the street outside was under 1-2 feet of water.
Big, thick, deafening rain just kept falling out of the sky; heavily, incessantly, and persistently as we watched from the relative shelter of the Hotel Padmini, just around the corner from my friend’s house. I had never seen weather like it in the UK, and I was at once filled with excitement, awe and wonder at nature’s power to bring everything to a grinding halt.
The drainage along the road just could not cope. Too much water, too quickly with no let up. People were getting off motorbikes and pushing. Auto-rickshaws also could not withstand the deluge, and their beleaguered drivers had to dismount and physically force their vehicles through the dirty, brown water.
Cars broke down and again had to be propelled by human effort. But no one gave up, they just got out, got off and put their backs into it because that is what you do in this part of the world. You don’t let something simple like a massive weather system stop you from going about your daily business here.
Geneva, in Switzerland, is a short flight from Heathrow, and consequently, is easily accessible from the United Kingdom or anywhere in Europe. It was my first time exploring this beautiful country, and I was not disappointed at all. Geneva itself, hugging the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), is a fairly cosmopolitan place by all accounts. But then, what would you expect from the city that is home to both the Red Cross and the United Nations? The Jura mountains provide a stunning backdrop to this lakeside metropolis, and the city itself is interesting enough with plenty of areas to explore.
Like in any city, street cafés abound where you can unreservedly indulge in a spot of people watching. Witness meetings between businessmen, couples enjoying each other’s company or maybe a pair of Swiss girls chatting excitedly in French in between cigarettes and food. To me, this is travel. It’s not just the places that you see but the people you meet.
Before you go anywhere though, pop into the Swiss tourism office in downtown Geneva. I found the staff, especially Anna who just paid a visit to London herself, very pleasant and helpful. Bulk up on useful local info about this city on a lake, grab yourself a city pass which will discount a number of activities for you, and of course a free map on which the staff will indicate key places though the useful application of a biro. Chris, my travel buddy, and I emerged ready to explore Geneva’s altogether lovely and engaging tourist offering.
OUT & ABOUT
Bus Tour: No city break would be complete without the ubiquitous bus tour. This particular bus tour was informative and interesting but sadly not open-topped. C’est la vie… can’t have it all I guess. The bus will whisk you around various points of interest, including of course the UN quarter of the city, home to various wings of this world-famous organisation: UNESCO, UNICEF, UNHCR and of course the UN building itself. The final part of the tour is conducted, rather uniquely, on a land train down some of the more narrow streets.
The Saleve: If you fancy something a little different, why not try a mini excursion up to The Saleve. A mini massif, just over the border in France, it affords amazing views across Lake Geneva and the city itself. Take a bus to the terminus, walk across the French border and ascend via a cable car to enjoy unparalleled views of the landscape below. It is well worth the effort indeed.
Boat Tour: No visit to Geneva is complete without taking a boat across, or around Lac Leman. It will certainly give you a different perspective on the city, and the boat tour I took was included in the price of the city pass.
Walking Tour of the Old City: This is also well worth doing. Old Geneva is fascinating, interesting and of course historic. You can wander around the old streets of Geneva, and in fact you should do – it’s immensely satisfying and relaxing. Strolling at your own pace, you can simply take in the sights and sounds of the old city. This is what holidaying is all about surely? We opted for the walking tour with an audio guide which was great. All the info you need right there in your hand and you can take things at your own pace. Perfect.
THE DAY WE WENT TO LAUSANNE
Well, it had to be done didn’t it? Hopped on a train we did and headed for that ultra-Swiss town of Lausanne. A train ride along the shores of sparkling Lac Leman on one side with row after row of vineyards on the other will bring you to this mini metropolis by the water. Like Geneva, Lausanne is interesting, historic and engaging. A climb up to the cathedral is well worth it (for the cathedral itself and the panoramic views across the city itself), so make sure that you include that in your tour, however brief.
We even found time for a jaunty boat ride across to Evian, the home of spring water, on the French side of the lake. We didn’t really have the time to disembark, but the journey was worthwhile nonetheless. As we headed back, Lausanne loomed large on the horizon. Soon enough we found ourselves sat outside café & bar drinking a local brew. Like I say, travelling is all about the people that you meet and soon enough we found ourselves chatting to Pete and his buddies.
Turns out that Pete was from Cardiff, but had found himself in Lausanne some twenty years ago, met a girl and never left. Well there’s a story that has been repeated a few times around the world I should imagine. Pete seemed quite content with his life as an English teacher who regularly topped up his wages by busking on the street. Well, Switzerland is an expensive country you know. Soon, we were joined by his friend Christine and I somehow managed to end up paying for her drink. A chance encounter with the locals (ex-pats included); now that is travel.
THEN WE WENT TO GSTAAD…
On the final day of our trip, we decided to leave the sparkling shores of Lake Geneva, and head on up to the majesty that is the Bernese Oberland. We skirted by Lausanne, heading purposefully for Montreux where we would change trains and start the long climb through the beautiful Alpine meadows that are so typical of this part of the world. One Swiss chalet after another seemed to float by, as the train carried us inexorably up and up towards our destination. Eventually we arrived in Gstaad which according to my learned friend was an uber-posh Ski resort. However, since it was early April, it was a deserted uber-posh ski resort.
After a quick visit to the tourist information centre, we were directed to the PostBus nearby that would transport us to the Aerial Cableway (very large cable car). The cable car runs every 20 minutes and takes approximately 15 minutes to reach the snowy peaks and ski runs of Glacier 3000. Halfway up, we stopped briefly only to be joined by a horde a skiers and snowboarders (unsurprisingly) and we were suddenly feeling very under-dressed.
Actually, as we emerged at the top of Glacier 3000 Snowpark, I definitely was under-dressed because I was, well, basically freezing. However, the views are simply stunning and literally take your breath away (sorry about the cliché). Prepared to be dazzled by an array of no less than 24 x 4000m peaks including the Eiger, the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. If you’re feeling daring and not afraid of heights, navigate the spectacular Peak Walk by Tissot between two summits – it is stunning. For more information on all this, check out the Swiss tourism website: https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/destinations/glacier-3000/
No doubt there is much more you can do in this wonderful country, but I don’t think that is half bad as a starter for 10, don’t you? I invite you to come and explore Geneva, Lausanne, Lac Leman, Gstaad and the beautiful, stunning, incomparable Bernese Oberland. You’ll definitely be coming back for more!
Well here’s a thing. How about sitting by the river, drinking in the local vibe and enjoying some scrumptious food to boot? If that appeals, then I advise you to head for Hickory’s Smokehouse sat on the banks of the serene River Dee in historic Chester.
So, new to the city and feeling hungry, I left my hotel and followed the signs down to the river, and duly discovered Hickory’s. And for a Tuesday night, the place was buzzing with young and old alike; which is always a good sign methinks.
The menu is varied, interesting and quite frankly – very appetising. Yeah they have ribs, pulled pork (of course), Texas Style Brisket, steaks, skewers, waffles, burgers and if you’re feeling really hungry – the truly awesome Smokehouse Platter. This dish cleverly enables you to try all their classics in one go. I however, went for the XXXL burger.
Inside the 2 creaking halves of your burger bun (skewered to keep everything together), you will find the following: 2 burgers, pulled pork, streaky bacon, gherkins, cajun onion rings, lettuce, tomato, their rather tasty house sauce and American cheese. This fullsome tribute to some kind of American culinary dream is accompanied by fries served in a mug and their very own coleslaw. This of course can be washed down with a refreshing chilled beer. Perfect.
Not content with dinner, I returned the following morning for breakfast and swerved around the usual temptation to go for the full English (I was still full from the night before), and choose instead the pancakes. Not just any pancakes though, but the Hickory Pancake Stack complete with Blueberry compote and cream.
This comes with a pot of maple sauce, the contents of which I used to saturate and envelop my pancakes with a sweet, sticky sheen. Anyway, the result was absolute deliciousness, and since they are served all day, there is no excuse not to try them. Of course you can always come back later and go for the lunch menu which advertises 2 courses for £10.
So, if haven’t cottoned on yet, I’m recommending you come here when you’re next in Chester, or anywhere nearby for that matter. The location is great and the staff are real friendly too, which all adds up to a winning combination. Great for the food scene and great for Chester.
North Devon is the home of a farm that is helping to rescue men from the iron grip of addiction and homelessness.
Eagle Community is a Christian 2nd stage rehab situated at Ovis Farm in North Devon, on the edge of Exmoor. They take prison offenders, and those who have struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism and street homelessness. The work is enormously varied, and no two days are ever the same as the residents tend to present different issues and problems on a regular basis.
Carole Jones, founding trustee and a director of Eagle Community, explained how she became involved in work here. Carole had lived in Zimbabwe for most of her life and returned to the UK in 2003. Eventually, she got a job working as an administrator at Ovis Farm which was then being run as the ‘House of Heroes’ drug and alcohol rehab. She said: “I worked there for seven years and then I retired. After a while Ovis Farm became vacant, the previous tenants left and the owners of the farm, David and Margaret November wanted the farm to be used for used for Christian purposes.
“So a group of us met regularly to try and think of a way forward and eventually in November 2014 I got a phone call from a woman who I had been supporting for some time who had previously been at the women’s rehab and she said, ‘My son is coming out of prison and he wants to get himself sorted out. What is happening about Ovis Farm?”
Carole went on to relay how in that very moment she felt a divine calling to carry on this work and start up the rehab again at Ovis Farm. “I immediately spoke to the owners of the farm, David and Margaret November, and within a week I had actually got two men and moved out to the farm and started Eagle Community at that point which was early December 2014.”
The community can now accommodate ten men, and seeks to rehabilitate them through a program of practical work, the learning of life-skills, working with local tradespeople, training providers and offering valuable assistance with form filling, debt issues, and family and relationship problems. Counselling is available to those who want it, and the staff are always on hand to chat and pray with the residents. The work can often be long and arduous, but the rewards are immense when the men are able to really move forward with their lives.
Carole talked about some of the pitfalls and problems that she has faced over the years. She said, “The main problem has been the lack of finance. To start of with, the owners of property funded us until we could become viable which took about six months. Starting a thing from scratch, it’s quite heavy going particularly when you’re battling on your own. I did have various volunteers who worked with me over a period of time, but for the first two years, I lived in the house with the men and we went from there. The biggest thing was trying to cope with all the different aspects of the work; it was quite comprehensive.”
Thankfully, Carole is no longer alone in this work and has gathered a small but effective team around her. A key member of that team is Jason Huxtable, Projects Manager for Eagle Community. Jason described what he does on a day to day basis at the rehab: “My role is simply to try and organise a plan for each day, to make sure the house is in a fit and organised order and to listen to the men on a daily basis, not so much give advice but just be someone that can walk alongside them, chat with them, befriend them, and introduce them to God. It’s the last stage of people’s recovery where they can basically start to piece their life together before they move on. It’s a place where people can push the pause button. A place where they can meet God and start a new journey.”
It is very evident that the work that Carole and her team do here at Eagle Community is highly valued by both local authorities, clergy, the police and also the prison and probation service, as applications for prospective clients land on her desk regularly. I asked Carole about her motivation, and what was it that kept her going in such a difficult and challenging line of work. Without any hesitation she cited her God given passion to work with the men saying: “In this kind of of environment I just thrive, I really enjoy it, and that’s why I do it.”
Situated at the ‘East of the Water’ end of the ancient Torridge Bridge in Bideford, you will find The Riverbank Bar Bistro. Chef Proprietor James Priestley is at the helm of this foodie venture, and by the sounds of it, he’s carving out his own niche right here in North Devon. James moved down from Yorkshire and has been living locally for over 2 decades, acquiring The Riverbank 2 years ago. He’s friendly, approachable, but professional and ably assisted by a small but effective team.
The Riverbank, as you would have guessed by the name, sits right on the banks of the River Torridge, and with a sundeck to the rear you can observe the very same river slip silently and peacefully by. On a sunny afternoon, with one’s favourite tipple in hand and in the company of friends or indeed a loved one, I would imagine it would be utterly delightful.
Invited to partake of the inaugural Greek Night for 2018, my appetite was already whetted as I prepared myself for my very own Hellenic odyssey. It’s not every night you can sample some tasty Greek food in North Devon now, is it? I asked James about his inspiration for holding Greek nights at The Riverbank, and he said: “I was lucky and privileged to have worked with some top Greek chefs so that is where my passion comes from.”
With glass of chilled beer in hand, I dived straight in and ordered the Garlic and Lime Chicken Kebab, which is described as a ‘Char grilled chicken kebab with garlic & coriander sauce and salad leaves.’ Well all I can say is that it did exactly what it says on the proverbial tin, so to speak. In fact the aforementioned chicken kebabs were nothing less than deliciously garlicky, limey and full of flavour. Other starters on offer were, Keftedes (Spicy Meat Balls) and a Traditional Greek Salad.
Next on the menu, was the Marinated Chilli Salmon Fillet. In the menu I read this: ‘Marinated for 12 hours in chilli, coriander, garlic, citrus and honey.’ The highly marinated, and perfectly cooked salmon was laid upon a bed of Mediterranean rice and served with warm pitta bread accompanied by juicy wedges of lemon and lime on top. This was most satisfying and like the starter, looked thoroughly tempting on the plate.
Alternatively, I could have chosen a ‘Greek Butterfly Sirloin Steak,’ ‘Beef Stiffado,’ or even ‘Oven Baked Greek Chicken Breast.’ Admittedly, I’m no expert when it comes to Greek cuisine (sadly, it’s been 14 long years since my last Hellenic adventure), but I reckon this is a jolly nice offering for the people of North Devon, and makes a refreshing change. The menu overall was fairly compact, but I think there was enough on offer to tempt most palates.
Not exactly Greek, but I concluded my night with a delicious homemade chocolate brownie (lovingly created by James’ wife, Vicky) with a pot of clotted cream, both situated at the opposite ends of a long, narrow plate with a winding river of chocolate sauce in between. I was by this stage imbibing a sumptuous glass of Argentinian Malbec, which is described in the notes as: ‘Fair Trade and Organic, lovely rich chocolatey Malbec with structure and spiciness from the Bonarda.’ I think that sounds like a pretty good match to me…
I would judge the evening to be a great success, and would certainly consider returning in the not too distant future. I definitely recommend that you check this place out as I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! Greek nights in 2018, are every Thursday, April to September.
The Luttrell Arms Hotel is situated in Dunster, a rather splendid medieval village in beautiful West Somerset. Enclosed within the ancient walls of this 15th century hostelry, is the Psalter’s Restaurant. I was invited to stay at the Luttrell by Head Chef Barrie Tucker, with a view to trying out the culinary offering. Barrie, locally born, is very much at the helm of the brigade of chefs there, and is the driving force behind the food on offer.
I arrived on Sunday afternoon, after a not so long drive from North Devon, and was immediately impressed by the professional, courteous manner of the staff. I was at once ushered to my room, interestingly called Rodney (he wasn’t in there thankfully), and I soon found myself relaxing within my sumptuous and spacious surroundings.
My accommodation was supremely comfortable, with a vast queen size bed, sofa, reading chair, writing desk (how thoughtful), TV, and of course a lovely, modern en suite bathroom. I would say that Rodney was a mixture of modern decoration and antique style; and jolly nice it was too. I felt like an absolute king peering out of my second storey window over the historic Yarn Market below.
Having earlier spent some time unwinding in the bar – not far from the fire, I navigated my way eventually to the Psalter’s Restaurant, whereupon I was ushered to my cosy corner table. The menu was most definitely stimulating, offering a really good choice of varied and appetizing dishes.
Not wishing for the grass to grow under one’s proverbial feet so to speak, I quickly selected the wine for the night, which of course is the altogether superb Malbec – having an ‘explosive red berry nose with chocolate and soft vanilla notes.’ Sounds like a meal all by itself…
Now for the food. I opted for the Pheasant and Cranberry Terrine, followed by Roast Rump of Beef with Pepper sauce. The terrine was beautifully presented and prepared, resembling a work of art. It really looked fabulous on the plate, and tasted equally delicious too. I considered this a perfect way to begin the evening, and I couldn’t wait for the next course.
The Roast Rump of Beef with Pepper sauce arrived shortly after. The beef was rare, and I’m not sure that there was a choice with this, but either way, the two slices of beef draped across my very stylish graphite colour plate were melt in the mouth delicious. The attendant pepper sauce, with a hint of sweetness, was quite unlike anything I had ever tried before and extremely moreish.
Keeping the beef company on the plate were spinach, wild mushrooms and fondant potatoes. A very tasty, balanced and mouth-watering offering. All the while, this was being washed down with my ‘Hefty, deep fruited’ Malbec, making this a somewhat enjoyable experience.
My dessert choice for the night was Treacle Tart with Lemon Curd and Lemon Curd Ice Cream. This was not as overpowering as it sounds, but was in fact a delicately balanced finish to a wonderful evening. When you’re cooking at this level, it’s not always about strong flavours but something a bit more subtle.
The next morning, on the way to breakfast, I checked out the terrace overlooking the compact courtyard, which in turn leads out to the lovely Secret Garden overlooking the grounds of Dunster Castle. In warmer weather, this would be a marvelous place to eat and drink. I eventually exited the Luttrell arms after an immensely satisfying Full English Breakfast, containing hog’s pudding and potato cake. I think anyone who stays at the Luttrell will honestly have little to complain about, and will find it a very refreshing break.
If you ever find yourself in Dulverton, no doubt you will have noticed signs that proudly proclaim that you have now arrived at the gateway to Exmoor. True enough I’m sure, but instead of driving through, you should take some time to stay awhile and explore this charming little Somerset village. And if you are looking for food and drink, and shelter from the cold, then look no further than Woods Bar and Restaurant tucked away up Bank Square. Sit yourself cosily by the bar and the open log fire, and you’ll find it hard to imagine a greater level of enjoyment on a chilly, December afternoon.
Ed Heard has been the Head Chef at Woods now for about 6 years, and has certainly made his mark here in this perennially busy bar and restaurant. Ed is certainly a prolific, local talent, and he is very ably assisted by both Lloyd and Louise in the kitchen. The waiting and bar staff are friendly and professional too. Woods has a delightful ambiance, and I recommend that you visit here when you’re next in Dulverton.
I arrived just after midday, and the restaurant was pretty much empty. However, within a very short space of time, it soon filled up and was packed to the gunwales with hungry customers. Woods was then replete with that pleasing hubbub that you get when you have a room full of happy, relaxed people.
Having ordered a local ale, my attention turned to the menu. Filled with delights such as the Northcombe Lamb Burger, with Cheese and Barbecue Sauce, or the Slow Roast Somerset Pork with Black Pudding, I was irresistibly drawn to the very seasonal Roasted Pheasant Breast, Fondant Potato, Sprouts, Chestnuts, Wild Mushrooms and Wholegrain Mustard Veloute. And at £13.50, I would say it represents remarkable value for money.
I think the first thing to say about this dish is delicious. I know that might sound stunningly obvious, but it just was. Oozing with flavour in fact; the kind of flavour that just makes you want more and more. I can’t say that I’ve eaten a lot of pheasant in my time, but think after this little culinary wonder, I think I might be eating it a lot more in the days to come. Whether or not future pheasant dishes served in other restaurants live up to this high standard, we shall just have to see.
Presentation? Loved it. Colourful, interesting, different and not overpowering. So, adding together delightful, cosy, rural Westcountry ambiance, friendly staff, great ales and a knockout, value for money seasonal dish, I would say that was a jolly big success. Well done to owners Paddy & Sally and Chef Ed Heard and his team. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and I’m sure we’ll all be happy for eons to come!
Click on the link below to view a short, but highly entertaining video about this great event I was privileged to take part in. Video courtesy of Fly Monkeys Limited and Julia Amies-Green Photography. Enjoy!
Now we all like a bit of Shakespeare, don’t we? Well, what about some Shakespeare outside then? That is exactly what you’ll get if you turn up at Shakespeare’s birthplace in super Stratford-upon-Avon, and wander through to the enclosed garden and courtyard at the rear of the property. Just call out your favourite play by the legendary bard, and the two or three assembled Shakespearean actors, suitably attired in period costume, will enact a pithy scene for your listening and viewing pleasure.
These guys (and girls), are real pro’s. Making it look so effortless and easy, the impromptu audience are lavishly entertained with scenes from ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ ‘The Tempest,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – and everything in between. To be quite honest, I could have sat there all day and lapped up this eloquent street theatre (or courtyard theatre if you want to be pedantic), and that would have constituted a perfectly acceptable day out, with time well spent.