Only You Boutique Hotel, Madrid

I love interior design. I love travelling. It isn't always possible to combine both but on those occasions when design, budget and travel needs align, I get ridiculously excited. It's like trying on a new wardrobe for a few days,  seeing if it fits, squirreling away any ideas I can use and then walking away from it without having to break the bank account.

Reception 

Reception 

Lobby

Lobby

Apart from its incongruously unappealing name, Only You Boutique Hotel ticks a lot of boxes. It's a 15-minute walk from Puerta Del Sol and Prado Museum and a 3-minute walk from Mercado San Anton. It's far enough from the tourist crowds and surrounded by a lot of small boutiques. The staff are friendly. They have a generous breakfast deal and a 24-hour gym.

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Lounge

Lounge

This will give you a lift.

This will give you a lift.

Cocktail bar

Cocktail bar

The hotel used to be a palace in the 19th century. Its current style draws you into spaces that make you want to explore and linger.

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Padrino bar

Padrino bar

Hotel lift

Hotel lift

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The only downside was the room temperature. We were here in November and while the weather was cold our rooms were too hot. You can't control the temperature in your room despite there being a thermostat. All the room temperatures are set centrally. The hotel advised us to turn our a/c off and open our windows, which did little to really cool the room. Furthernore, the windows of our rooms opened out into the hotel's inner central courtyard and provide you with no privacy or peace and quiet if the hotel's courtyard is busy. Despite this negative, I'd still recommend this hotel and suggest getting around the overheating problem by asking for a room whose windows open out of the building.

Hotel facade

Hotel facade

What makes an LAPD Sergeant?

It's difficult to think of North American culture without images of heroic law enforcement agencies coming to mind. Crime-fighting squads feature in so many of their films and TV shows like I've never seen in any other country.  A lot of people in the world who own a TV or computer would probably be familiar with acronyms like FBI, CIA, DEA, NYPD and LAPD.

One of the best things about seeing the world is meeting its people.  So when I last visited L.A., I felt compelled to talk to one of their finest. 

I did this interview 3 years ago and posted it in my first blog (now abandoned, like a shipwreck at the bottom of the internet sea). I thought of re-posting it in light of the deeply saddening events in the U.S. involving racial tensions, guns and the police.

I've always wondered what makes someone want to become a cop and put their lives on the line as a matter of course. Is it to make society better? Is it for the excitement and power? Or a continuation from the military or navy? Coming from a health background, I am curious about the nature and amount of support cops receive in relation to the work they do. How is society looking after them? And I'm not talking about financial compensation.

Sgt. Dennis Beacham works for the LAPD. He has been working as a police officer for the last 26 years.  I remember being pleasantly surprised when I found out what he used to do before becoming a cop.

LAPD Sergeant

LAPD Sergeant

BSK: How did you decide to become a police officer?

"Before I became a police officer I was a social worker. I’ve always wanted to help people and have an impact on people’s lives. So I decided to change professions and become a police officer. I still use my social work education though. I counsel people and I’m always doing interventions."

BSK: What’s the best thing about what you do and why?

"The best thing about my job is just being able to have an impact and to help people. I can only imagine what our society would be like if we didn’t have any law enforcement entity. It would probably be anarchy."

BSK: What’s the most challenging thing about what you do and why?

"The most challenging thing is going into situations and not knowing the outcome. Going to a radio call and it could be the first time you’ve been into someone’s home. You’ve got to resort back to your tactics and training. To me it’s basically dealing with the unknown."

BSK: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had on the job?

"I really haven’t had any unusual experiences.  All of them have been unique. Each situation is different. It makes you think. That’s the other thing with law enforcement. You’ve got to be prepared for anything."

BSK: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned on the job?

"The most surprising thing for me is although you try and help everyone you can’t help everybody. There’s only so much you can do as a law enforcement officer.  A lot of people’s problems go far and beyond what a police officer is trained to do.  

Sgt. Beacham (yes, i took pleasure in calling him that) tolerated my request for photos despite the fact that his fellow police officers were hooting their horn as they drove past in their car.

Sgt. Beacham (yes, i took pleasure in calling him that) tolerated my request for photos despite the fact that his fellow police officers were hooting their horn as they drove past in their car.

A lot of people out here are dealing with mental health issues.  We do have some training in how to deal with the mentally ill but I think our society has really failed when it comes to these people. What happens is they’re placed on the street and then they’re confronted by law enforcement and sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you would like it. We as a society, especially a very rich country like ours, we should be doing more for the mentally ill."

BSK: What are you most afraid of?

"To be quite honest, I’m not afraid of anything. The only thing I fear is God. I try to walk by faith and not by sight."

BSK: If you were an animal, what would you be and why?

"I would probably want to be an eagle because I would like to fly and soar.

BSK: What can you live without and why?

"I can live without sadness. If you think about it, I would like to be happy everyday but that’s not reality."

BSK: Can you complete this statement? I am happiest when…

"I am happiest when I’m at home with my family."

BSK: If you had 3 wishes, what would you wish for? 

"I don’t want to sound like a cliché but I would definitely want to wish for world peace. I would wish for people with different nationalities to get along. We could do without the bigotry and racism. I would also wish for the end to world hunger."

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The Ganges, India

The sun is rising on The Ganges.

India is filled with extremes and The Ganges is a great example.  It is the most sacred river to the Hindus. They bathe in it to purify their souls from sin. They make wishes by releasing flower offerings on its waters. They send their loved ones back to it by burning funeral pyres on the banks and laying the ashes in the river. The Hindus believe that doing so will help the souls of their departed go straight to heaven and escape the cycle of reincarnation. The river is one of the most polluted in the world but as the sun rose and cast everything in a pink and golden glow, it was not hard to see and feel how this place makes people feel connected to something greater than themselves.

The sun is rising on The Ganges. Bent Street Kitchen.
The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen
The sun is rising on The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen
The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen
The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen
The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen
Flower offerings on The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen
Flower offerings on The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen
The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen

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The Ganges by Bent Street Kitchen

When in Rome...

The Colosseum by Bent Street Kitchen
Pantheon

Pantheon

Octopus, potato & celery salad from Palatum Enoteca Regionale

Octopus, potato & celery salad from Palatum Enoteca Regionale

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When in Rome:

  • Tourists seem to live in Rome so see the main attractions then seek refuge in the less hectic areas of Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto
  • Try the pastas Rome is famous for - amatriciana (flavoured with tomatoes and pig's cheek) and casio e pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper) 
  • Have a real pasta carbonara - no cream, just egg yolks
  • Sample Roman-Jewish food in the Jewish Ghetto
  • Eat like the Romans and have a sweet pastry for breakfast. The Romans don't eat eggs or anything savoury for breakfast. The only time they have a savoury breakfast is Easter Sunday.
  • Beware of mountains of brightly coloured gelato. Thickeners and colour enhancers have been added to those. Authentic gelato would melt if you tried to pile them up high.
  • Try an aperitivo buffet where you can enjoy drinks and a buffet of nibbles generally between 7 - 9 pm. However, we saw many places doing buffets of small dishes during lunch and dinner time as well. 
  • Do a food tour with Eating Italy Rome. Even my reluctantly-converted foodie husband thought it was the highlight of our trip in Rome.
  • Do not ask for garlic bread because it doesn't exist over there.
  • Get out of Rome and see the nearby countryside like Napoli. The green country fields are hypnotically luminous.
The mighty Tiber river and the bridge that takes you to Trastevere, my favourite area in Rome.

The mighty Tiber river and the bridge that takes you to Trastevere, my favourite area in Rome.

Dusky skies in Trastevere

Dusky skies in Trastevere

Carciofo alla giudia - deep fried whole artichoke from Da Enzo

Carciofo alla giudia - deep fried whole artichoke from Da Enzo

Baccala alla Nonna Betta - baked codfish with pistachios at Nonna Betta

Baccala alla Nonna Betta - baked codfish with pistachios at Nonna Betta

Casa del Menandro in Pompeii

Casa del Menandro in Pompeii

Napoli scene

Napoli scene

Rome is famous for their amatriciana

Rome is famous for their amatriciana

Buffet bar at Panella. This place was just up the road from our place and packed with locals all throughout the day.  For about €13 you get a glass of wine and unlimited access to the buffet for lunch and dinner.

Buffet bar at Panella. This place was just up the road from our place and packed with locals all throughout the day.  For about €13 you get a glass of wine and unlimited access to the buffet for lunch and dinner.

Roast chicken and vegetables at Pizzeria La Cuccuma. Offers 9€ deals for pasta/meat with choice of vegetables.

Roast chicken and vegetables at Pizzeria La Cuccuma. Offers 9€ deals for pasta/meat with choice of vegetables.

The Forum by Bent Street Kitchen
Fountain de Trevi by Bent Street Kitchen
The start of every Italian meal (after breakfast)

The start of every Italian meal (after breakfast)

Roman forum

Roman forum

Campo de' Fiori

Campo de' Fiori

Bramante staircase at the Vatican museum

Bramante staircase at the Vatican museum

Vatican museum. The life of Jesus and the opulence of the Vatican don't add up.

Vatican museum. The life of Jesus and the opulence of the Vatican don't add up.

Charms of Trastevere

Charms of Trastevere

 Left scoop- rose, hibiscus & orange. Right scoop - pear, vanilla and chocolate gelato from Fatamorgana

 Left scoop- rose, hibiscus & orange. Right scoop - pear, vanilla and chocolate gelato from Fatamorgana

Suppli - Rome's favourite street-food and their version of arancini from I Suppli

Suppli - Rome's favourite street-food and their version of arancini from I Suppli

Jewish ghetto

Jewish ghetto

Spaghetti carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara

Eat at:

  • Palatum and sample their regional wines
  • Nonna Betta for Jewish Roman cuisine
  • Da Enzo for a traditional trattoria
  • Spirito Di Vino for their pork stew and 1000 + year-old cellar
  • Enoteca Ferrara for their gnocchi, ricotta ravioli and tonarelli (a type of short pasta) cacio e pepe
  • Fatamorgana, Giolitti, San Crispino, Old Bridge & Frigidarium for real gelato
  • Innocenti for a range of biscotti made by the Innocenti family since 1920
  • Il Sorpasso if you want to experience the bearded hipster vibe in Rome, or not
Pompeii fresco

Pompeii fresco

Mt Vesuvius carb burner

Mt Vesuvius carb burner

Our apartment block in Monti

Our apartment block in Monti

Rustico antipasto

Rustico antipasto

First plate of aperitivo at Panella. I loved that chicken stew in gorgonzola sauce at the top and savoury-sweet chestnut slice at the front of the photo.

First plate of aperitivo at Panella. I loved that chicken stew in gorgonzola sauce at the top and savoury-sweet chestnut slice at the front of the photo.

During this trip to Italy, we largely ended up eating at trattorias (usually family-owned, rustic, casual and serve traditional local food) rather than at more formal restaurants. I did look into fine dining options but I found myself reading menus that didn't look all that different from fine dining menus in Australia or the U.S.  I thought the trattorias and osterias (even more casual than trattorias) gave a better sense of what everyday Italians eat and that's the experience I wanted and hopefully got.

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't posted any photos of pizza. I did try a few and had the famous Margherita pizza at its birthplace in Napoli but I'm not a fan of pizza so those photos haven't made the cut! Sorry!

When I first visited Rome 15 years ago, I found one of my best experiences in their ubiquitous local roast chicken. I recall having said chicken at a cafeteria-style place and was shocked to find it was the tastiest roast chicken I'd ever had because the meat was tender, moist and well-seasoned with salt and rosemary. So when I returned to Rome this time around I was keen to determine whether the Italian roast chicken of my memories lived up to reality.  I sampled them in various trattorias in Rome and Florence and was not disappointed. Italy still has the best roast chicken I've ever had. I've been trying to recreate it since I got back and hope to post a recipe soon. I've made one attempt and it has already been the best roast chicken I've ever made but I need to tweak it a bit more before I share the recipe so stay tuned.

One final tip is if you're interested in doing a food tour, try to book one within the first couple of days of your stay. They give you great tips about the local food and doing this helped us eat really well in Rome for the rest of our stay. Our wonderful Eating Italy food tour guide Francesco also got me onto Katie Parla who has a handy little dining app called "Parla's Rome". Not only does the app list all the different types of dining experiences Parla recommends but it also has a map of Rome with her dining recommendations plotted on them. We used her app a lot and wasn't disappointed.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Things to do:

  • explore the UNESCO World Heritage ancient town, a beautifully preserved trading port dating back from the 15th century
  • do a cooking class at Ms Vy's
  • purchase a slik lantern from the night market
  • have cocktails and watch the sun set at The Chef's rooftop bar
  • try some Vietnamese coffee at the Reaching Out Teahouse and check out their shop for beautiful crockery made by people with disabilities

Stay at:

  • Hotel Royal Hoi An - MGallery.  Art Noveau style hotel. Less than 10 minutes away from the ancient town by foot. Free bikes for guests. Friendly and helpful staff.

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Adelaide, S.A.

If you want to go somewhere quaint and relatively unspoilt but want the comforts of a city, then journey down to Adelaide.  Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia but feels more like a town and that only adds to its appeal. It has been making it to the list of the top 10 most liveable cities in the world in the last 2 years. The Lonely Planet Guide even ranked it as one of the top 10 cities to travel to in 2014. 

I've lived in Sydney for over 20 years and up until the last few years I haven't been given many reasons to visit Adelaide. Up until a couple of my good friends from Sydney decided to defect to Adelaide that is. Of course, by then the reputation of South Australian wines and Maggie Beer's status as a foodie icon had already been established. There were also murmurs of small and interesting bars coming into the scene. So by the time my friends settled into their new home, I was primed and ready for Adelaide.

Being the driest city in one of the driest continents, I'm amazed that Adelaide is as green as it is. It has a lot of parklands, space and light thanks to its designer Colonel William Light who became the first Surveyor-General of the colony of South Australia in 1835. He surrounded the city with 690 hectares of parklands to provide clean fresh air throughout the city. He wanted wide streets so carriages could do a u-turn and to prevent fires from spreading like they did in London. The Colonel also wanted enough space between buildings so light could hit the ground and avoid the proliferation of slums so common in other European cities at the time.  Talk about forward thinking. 

Adelaide zoo

Adelaide zoo

Adelaide is a great place to explore on foot with quirky bars, street art and a wide selection of cuisines to choose from. Check out Leigh, Peel and Gouger Streets and Topham Mall.

Madame Hanoi

Madame Hanoi

I envy Adelaide for it's Central Market, a huge undercover market filled with wonderful fresh produce that make you want to run to the nearest kitchen and cook something up. It's abuzz with interesting and multicultural eateries. I couldn't believe how well we ate at Comida, this Spanish tapas bar serving freshly cooked paella, grilled mullet, tortilla and pan con tomate with jamon serrano. Sydney, when are we going to catch up? As much as I like Eveleigh markets, it doesn't hold a candle to Adelaide's Central Market. For starters, Adelaide's Central Market boasts 80 food stalls, is open 6 days a week and has live music on Friday nights.

Paella time

Paella time

Quince tree at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop

Quince tree at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop

I couldn't agree with you more, Maggie.

I couldn't agree with you more, Maggie.

Pond at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop

Pond at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop

Wine tasting at Primo Estate

Wine tasting at Primo Estate

Botanical gardens

Botanical gardens

Wang Wang the giant panda. Or, is it Fu Ni? Hard to tell when they've got the same outfits. Apparently, their time at Adelaide Zoo is running out. They've only got about 3 more years to get pregnant or they get sent back to China. 

Wang Wang the giant panda. Or, is it Fu Ni? Hard to tell when they've got the same outfits. Apparently, their time at Adelaide Zoo is running out. They've only got about 3 more years to get pregnant or they get sent back to China. 

Adelaide is so green you can even have a fine dining experience with the luminous field of Adelaide oval as your view at Hill of Grace restaurant (see separate post).

View of Adelaide oval from Hill of Grace restaurant

View of Adelaide oval from Hill of Grace restaurant

City of churches and highest homicide rates- these are two things Adelaide is reluctantly known for. Or, as The Age put it in 2002, "city of churches or city of corpses?" Well, apparently neither of those things is true. it's Melbourne that has the greatest number of churches per capita. One of our tour guides clarified that Adelaide is called the city of churches not because of the number of churches it has but because of the number of religious denominations among its residents. As for the homicide rates, the missing Beaumont children, bodies in barrels, the Truro murders - they've all helped paint Adelaide in a bloody light but it's actually Darwin that holds the highest body count.

Pink Moon Salon

Pink Moon Salon

German humour

German humour

Russian dumplings from Piroshki Cafe

Russian dumplings from Piroshki Cafe

Pan con tomate & tortilla in the background

Pan con tomate & tortilla in the background

Another big tick for Adelaide is you don't have to drive far to get to wine country like McLaren Vale (45 mins by car) and Barossa Valley (70 mins).  Our foodie friends ensured we had a lovely experience of McLaren Vale by taking us to Primo winery, Willunga farmers' market (make sure you try the quiches and lavender-flavoured chocolates) and D'Arry's Verandah restaurant - all of which I would happily return to.

We explored Barossa Valley during our second visit to Adelaide. The meals looked really appetising at Maggie Beer's but we didn't eat there as we had lunch booked elsewhere. You can have a meal in or get a picnic basket to go. What I enjoyed there most was walking around the pond and seeing all the beautiful pheasant birds in the farm. Silly me didn't take photos of these golden plumed lovelies but I've posted a video on Instagram. We walked through the town of Tanunda and it has been seared into my food-addicted brain because of the fantastic meal we had at fermentAsian (see separate post).

Primo Estate

Primo Estate

Candied eggplant with green papaya  at D'Arry's Verandah restaurant

Candied eggplant with green papaya  at D'Arry's Verandah restaurant

Langmeil Lutheran church, Tanunda

Langmeil Lutheran church, Tanunda

Adelaide is still gradually shedding its old reputation of not offering very much but hopefully that might help keep it unspoilt for a little while longer.

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The Getty Center, L.A.

Great views, art, architecture and gardens. Richard Meier's Getty Center offers all. The journey begins as you board the tram that takes you to 881 feet above sea level, where the Getty Center is perched on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains. The architecture is striking and uplifting with its abundance of light, open spaces and modern lines that go so harmoniously with the landscape.  

Trivia: Can you guess which blockbuster movie featured the Getty Center?

Hint: Actor Christopher Pine was in it.

I was particularly taken by the gardens.  There's a central garden with a maze and a walkway that winds through visual and sound sculptures created by the interplay of plants, water, stones and light. It's hard to explain because it's just one of those things you have to experience.  These gardens make you want to linger and reflect.  While I may have liked a potted mini-cactus or two, I never thought I'd ever describe these pin cushions as stunning or gorgeous. Dennis McGlade's cactus garden in the south promontory proved me wrong. I was so captivated by these prickly greens that I was so disappointed you could only view them from a distance. Just as well. Apart from the fact that the south promontory's location is too precarious, these cuddly-looking balls of golden fuzz, aptly named teddy bear cholla, can break off with the slightest breeze and attack you with its army of needles. 

 
 
 

Answer: Star Trek Into Darkness

 

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