Cologne – Part II!

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Right, so, glass of wine in hand, I am ready to finish writing about my trip – and about time too!

Our last day, Easter Sunday, got off to a good start when two of our group decorated our table for breakfast that morning with little chocolate eggs. Generally, we all noticed how much more seriously they take Easter on the continent. I love how enthusiastic the Germans are about Easter decorations – it reminded me of the Easter tree my mum used to put together, with budding twigs (not sure if this is the right phrase – but hopefully it makes a kind of sense!) from the garden and painted wooden decorations.

I was looking forward to this day on our trip as I had heard that the Sunday Flea Market by the chocolate museum was meant to be particularly good. The fact that most other shops were shut encouraged the rest of the group to join! There was a fantastic selection of stalls, with beautiful glasswear, old fashioned gramophones, prints, jewellery, tin baths and the list goes on…

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A friend of mine who has recently bought a flat, found two fantastic advertisement prints to decorate his living room, another found a pocket watch!

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I had been looking for some cocktail glasses as I had been quite keen on getting some more, in spite of the fact we rarely use our current set, so that my first browsing aim. A sensible attitude prevailed though, until I stumbled upon a fantastic 50s suitcase for 20 euros. Despite fears about it exceeding EasyJet’s hand luggage allowance – which would make it less of a bargain – we went for it. I even got complimented on it at another flea market we went to later that day! Here it is in situ:

IMG_0575The ‘culture’ quota for the day was fulfilled by the chocolate museum, with some of the men in group peeling off to go to the Sports Museum instead. Initially, I regretted my choice as the exhibits seemed be a lengthy advertisement for the ethical nature of the Lindt chocolate company, but after seeing a giant Lindt bunny hand wrapped in foil, a bit of history, some reconstructed sweet shops, displays of beautiful and elaborate 19th century vending machine (!), plus a few quizzes likely to have been intended for children, I was won over.

IMG_0588We then had our final hearty German lunch of the obligatory pork and potatoes in various guises. CB had his second pork knuckle in four days, and I had sausage and fried potatoes with bacon. The creamy cabbage accompaniment was surprisingly delicious – comforting in a bread sauce kind of way.

We found another flea market after lunch, stretching apparently endlessly down the banks of Rhein. It was described by CB as being ‘a bit more flea-y’, but was kept us entertained! The chill of lightly falling snow eventually drove us to take refuge in a cafe for some more card playing and warm drinks.

The last thing I need to add is that the suitcase was the perfect size – hurrah! so no horrific penalty charge for us. Thank you Cologne!

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Cologne – Part I

Cologne Cathedral

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A 4am taxi ride to the airport is never an ideal start to a holiday, but that is what the marginally cheaper than average EasyJet flight to Cologne required! The fact that it was a break with a lovely group of my old University friends did ease the pain, as six of us gathered at a coffee shop in the glamorous Gatwick.

This was my first trip to Germany and, particularly in view of our collective exhaustion, it was a relief that our hostel was easy to find, central and much more like a budget hostel than your average hostel, with en-suite bathrooms, clean rooms, and fresh towels.

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The lobby area of our hostel…

The long weekend was essentially intended as a tour of the coffee shops and beer halls of Cologne. So, after an initial wander, including a few faltering attempts to find a good venue, we plumped for a launderette themed cafe/bar, with washing machine drums used as light fittings! The remainder of the day included the Museum Ludwig – a modern art museum – containing an interesting but not particularly memorable array of art. The most telling factor being that we all enjoyed the visit but found it hard to name a favourite piece.

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Our first beer hall experience at Peters Brauhaus (Mühlengasse 1, 50667 Cologne) was, on the other hand, exactly what we’d hoped for – a traditional Kölsch (Cologne style beer) in what we would discover was a typical serving – 0.2ml glasses. The effect was that you felt you were drinking a lot cheaply, when in fact moderate amounts were consumed for a moderate price! We booked the venue for dinner the following night, when three more of our group were due to arrive. Another beer hall near the Cathedral was our next event, and seemed to include an impromptu photo shoot, presumably to promote the brauhaus itself, with lighting rigged up and a raggle tag bunch including a tall blonde model typed posing with beers glasses in hand! The scene disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared, and we returned to our traditional German sausages…!

An evening of less traditional Moroccan mezze and, what eventually transpired to be a walk through Cologne’s gay district followed. Given the prominence of techno music blaring from bouncer patrolled doorways and bars filled exclusively with men, it took us a worrying time to realise what was happening!

Waking up to snow dusted roofs and trees the following morning, our second day included a spot of history with a visit to the National Socialism Documentation Centre. It was definitely worth going for the audio guide as the upper floors of the museum would otherwise be difficult to interpret with my non-existence German! A really fascinating run-through of the effects of the Nazi regime on the administration and day-to-day life of Cologne – one memorable visual representation coming in the form of two contrasting displays of youth movement badges, countless variety in one box, and a single Nazi Youth badge in the other. The basement level countaining the cells where the Gestapo kept people for questioning and torture had a more visceral way of communicating its message – graffiti was transcribed and cells left as they had been used, allowing visitors to imagine the horrifying nature of the experience. By no means lighthearted holiday fun, but a moving and educational experience.

A more lighthearted lunch followed in the form of a crepe restaurant, Engelbat (Engelbertstraße 7, 50674 Cologne), with a delicious array of filled pancakes to sample. My choice of chicken, spinach, mushroom and crepe fraiche was comforting and very tasty indeed.

Crepes for lunch!

I fear this blog post is becoming long, rambling, and is taking far too long to complete! I will quickly whistle through the highlights of the following day, and leave the chocolate museum and flea markets for a separate post this evening.

So,  one thing every tourist must do in Cologne is endure the (long and winding!) 15 minute walk up the stone spiral staircase of the Cathedral for a bird’s eye view of the City. Exhausting, but oddly satisfying! I would say however, that the most beautiful building in Cologne is the Cathedral and that is the only thing you can’t see from the top! My favourite part of the  experience was popping into the bell tower, just before you reach the top.

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We had looked around the inside of the Cathedral beforehand as well, including admiring the amazing tessellated stained glass window! Difficult to capture in all its glory, but I had a go!

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After all that exertion, we indulged in a gentle afternoon, including a boat trip down the Rhein – avoiding the proffered services of an over keen boat operator in a grubby captain’s hat! – and then found a friendly beer hall for cards and more drinks. Huzzah!

I’ll tell you tales of chocolate and markets in my next post. Plus, I need to write about the amazing play of Tom Wells’ ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ at the Watford Palace Theatre. Exciting posts ahead…!

Birthday cocktails!

Just a quick post today, post-cocktails/pre-bed…..(writing this on the iPad or iPhone is tricksy, especially after three cocktails so am editing this on a PC before work now…!)

A fantastic smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toast breakfast rustled up by CB, washed down with a home-made flat white started my day perfectly. If it wasn’t for the fact I love sleep so much I’d eat a proper breakfast all the time!

The pumpkin and ginger cupcakes I’d made for work friends last night went down really well. The spices- ginger, allspice, cloves and nutmeg with the syrupy stem ginger, added some much needed warmth to a grey March day. Adding a little of the ginger syrup to the cream cheese icing was delicious too [I’ll need to rescue the photos from my camera and add them later]

I had a little wander around Old Street before heading to Happiness Forgets, and stumbled across a cafe/shop on Pitfield Street – imaginatively with the name ‘Pitfield’. It was one of those places so beautifully dressed with vintage furniture, crockery, glasswear and alike that you assume you’ll want to buy everything in it, only to discover that you cant really find anything you’d want in your house – or if you do, it costs thousands. I think sometimes people feel so bereft that they buy something small anyway. Anyway, after a browse I had a quick snack and did a spot of gazing out of the window…

Pitfield Cafe

Happiness Forgets is a fantastic cocktail bar on Hoxton Square that I’d first been too a couple of years ago. For some reason, despite really enjoying the atmosphere and drinks, I hadn’t returned in over a year, so my birthday seemed a great opportunity to head back to this dimly lit speakeasy style bar. For a Tuesday a good group of friends amassed and clocked up a healthy bar tab, including a Dapperman Sour with absinthe and grapefruit juice served in an elegant coupette. The Mikey [something] was another popular choice, with whisky, clove bitters and apple juice. The cucumber infused water that you get to accompany your alcoholic drinks is another good touch. All in all, a great birthday evening.

From Casablanca to Cologne…

Almost three months into the year and operation ‘make the most of London’ has been pretty successful. I haven’t used my camera nearly enough, but I am hoping that when I have some free time I can read up on getting the best from my camera and do a spot of meandering round London with it. I’m off to Cologne for a long weekend with CB and some friends on Thursday so I’ll take it with me and hopefully get some good use from my lovely Christmas present.

London events have included a whisky tasting last week led by the owner of the American distillery Balcones and hosted by Milroys of Soho. An evening listening to a really interesting and knowledgable guy, and drinking four tasty whiskies, including a fantastic smoky one – they unusually smoke the whisky itself rather than the grains. It conjured up the smells of bonfire night and will go amazingly well with barbequed food.

Wilton’s Music Hall

Wilton's Music Hall

At the beginning of the month CB and I went to see a production of the Great Gatsby at Wilton’s Music Hall – the oldest surviving music hall and a wonderful building. It featured recently in Stephen Poliakoff’s great BBC drama ‘Dancing on the Edge’ which made me extra excited about going back. We’d been there for the first time shortly before Christmas for a market, so it was good to see it being used as a theatrical venue too. As is the trend at the moment, it was on the immersive side with actors mingling amongst the audience as barmen and police ( the latter checking you weren’t drinking alcohol – definitely sarsaparilla!), and encouraging sing-songs outside of the main performance. We followed that with a meal at Tayyabs, a Whitechapel institution recommended to me when I moved to London five years ago, but which I hadn’t actually been to before! Delicious curry, a highlight of which was a plate of succulent tandoori lamb chops.

Casablanca at the Troxy

I’ve been so excited about this Future Cinema event since I booked it at the beginning of the month. The chance to see one of my favourite films in a beautiful Art Deco venue with the added Future Cinema touches was too good to pass up. I’ve spent the last month scouring Etsy for a 40s style outfit for the event. I have discovered that some 80s dresses with the big shoulders and small waists echo the classic 40s silhouette and are MUCH cheaper. A lovely emerald green dress fitted the bill perfectly and only £16 including postage from the US. Somed nude seamed tights by Pretty Polly from Asos added to the vintage look.

In the morning CB and I trekked through the flurries of March snow to the Dalston branch of Beyond Retro. We were able to combine our classic pastries and coffee Saturday breakfast in their cafe, with shopping for finishing touches. Braces and a neckerchief for the CB and a fake fur stole for me.

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I was completely in love with the event itself, from spotting fellow guests in 40s garb on the journey there and the police patrolling the queue outside- CB was accused of being in the French Resistence due to his ‘radio device’ (iPhone!)- to the main event which beautifully created a microcosm of the film’s world. It included the Blue Parrot cafe (with food courtesy of Moro), Rick’s Cafe Americain with Sam at the piano and a casino at the back. Actors recreated scenes from the film throughout the night, the most memorable of which was played out above the stage, shrouded in mist.

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At one point, I returned from the toilet to find myself in the midst of a Resistance meeting led by Victor Laszlo! After the film itself, which was as fantastic as ever, CB and I danced our socks off at the front – allowing me to swish the skirt of my lovely dress about me! Meanwhile, a group enthusiastically limboed under a pole next to us. Which reminds me, there was also an impressive conga danced around the vast venue earlier in the night! A great early birthday treat!

Next stop, birthday drinks at Happiness Forgets on Tuesday and the trip to Cologne…

Arrival of the butchers block and beyond!

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Well, there has been a bit of a gap since I promised a post about the arrival our lovely new item of furniture. I’ll explain why in a moment, but for now I will enthuse about this…

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As I explained before, we went out for a table and came home having bought this! Even better in situ, so am very happy! Looks beautiful and is so useful. As William Morris famously said (and I try to remember when having a clear out!):

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

A couple of drinks and meal with some former work colleagues on the Saturday was really lovely- great to catch up with them both. I did however, drag them round the Charles Lamb, Earl of Essex, Duke of Cambridge, and Pig and Butcher before finding somewhere with space for us! In the event, that place was a Vietnamese restaurant on Liverpool Road. I even managed to persuade the group to order my old favourite – tamarind squid, delicious!

CB and I also battled our way through the heavy snow on the Sunday to an art exhibition. I had been given free tickets by a friend on the Saturday, so it was a great bonus event for our weekend.

Our problems started on the Monday as the builders moved in to strip the render from our bedroom wall, sort out the damp and then replace and plaster the wall. It’s a long story, involving leaking radiators, brown bath water, leaking toilets and mysteriously expanding timescales…! Two weeks and much angst later it still isn’t finished, but the new date for completion is the vague sounding ‘mid next week’.

Wall..

In the meantime, we fortunately haven’t been forced into a variation on watching paint dry! CB’s Christmas gift from me, a bourbon tasting at Milroy’s of Soho on the 21st was fantastic, 6 different whiskeys and bourbons, three of which emphasised particular ingredients – corn, wheat and rye. The corn heavy sample was pretty unpalatable but smelt of caramel, the wheat smelt strong but had the characteristic sweetness of bourbon, and the rye had a complex marmalade like taste. Really interesting to add 2-3 drops of water and see how that altered the taste, opening out the tight mesh of flavours. I really hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious, or rather that you don’t judge me too harshly on that!

We’ve also been to see two more of the BFI’s season of screwball comedies – Palm Beach Story and Monkey Business. Both enjoyably ridiculous, the latter also allowed CB to note how much more attractive Marilyn Monroe is in film as opposed to static photographs!

Other ‘adventures’ (!) included a Saturday lunch with a couple of friends, henceforth ‘Fredd’ at our favourite pub the Charles Lamb, complete with card games. A film – Zero Dark Thirty – intense, thought provoking and long, was viewed with a different friend, and then a tasty dinner at Fredd’s place.

Baking experiments include the arduous but successful making of real puff pastry – most of which I’ve frozen ready for a suitably amazing dish to use it for – and, most recently, some little almond and grapefruit cakes from the Lily Vanilli Sweet Tooth book. The cakes are delicious, but browner than I’d like which I think is down to our overly hot oven. Might need a proper oven thermometer to check!

Almond and grapefruit cake

BFI and baking….

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Since I last posted it has been all quiet on the blog front – but fortunately that doesn’t mean that I’ve been missing out on London life or, for that matter, baking!

Despite having been to the BFI bar on many occasions, embarrassingly I had never seen a film there! Last Tuesday, I booked myself and CB tickets for The Philadelphia Story. I had never seen the film either so the combination of a classic film and iconic cinema seemed like a good one. I really loved the experience – fantastic film and one I am very pleased to add to my list and the cinema itself was great. I really think it makes a difference to see a classic on the big screen.

My new job near Waterloo means plenty more of the same, and have already booked a double header from the same season of Screwball comedies in a couple of weeks. Hurrah!

Last weekend we indulged in a spot of old and new London. Saturday night was spent in Hampstead’s Dach & Sons with my brother in law and his wife-to-be, drinking expensive but delicious beer (Liberty Ale) and eating hot dogs. On Sunday we decided to head out to Upper Street to look at a potential new dining table. When that failed (it had sold-booo!) we trekked across to our old neck of the woods to go to the Old Cinema, an antiques shop on Chiswick High Road, and came back with (or the invoice for!) a beautiful butchers block style unit with painted legs and greengrocer style drawers – I’ll post a picture when it arrives on Saturday.

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Finally, the baking update! In my quest to become a better baker I have made for the first time – choux pastry (stressful but successful despite the efforts of a pan that retains too much heat – lesson learnt!), madeleines, and a sponge pudding made with home made plum and orange jam plus a spot of poached rhubarb. The pudding was meant to have just marmalade in it, but my jam is effectively a marmalade-light, and rhubarb is always good! I have also made Dan Lepard’s One-a-day cookies, packed with seeds but also enough butter, sugar and vanilla essence to make them delicious, and the Lepard’s chocolate and mint cookies, but with a more subtle orange blossom water in the icing due to CB’s aversion to chocolate and mint…

See the pictures for the results!

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Hello!

Living in London, as I have done since 2008, I often feel that I’m not making the most of all the City has to offer. It is this feeling, combined with the forthcoming New Year and the gift of a digital SLR camera, that has inspired me to set up this blog.

I plan to post about my meanderings around London…strolls, trips to museums, meals out, and anything else that takes my fancy. As a keen baker a few of my culinary adventures may also find their way onto this blog…