Posts Tagged ‘people’

I Do Like Manchester. Really.

Monday, March 25th, 2013

I have had it brought to my slightly one-sided attention that my previous entry was very anti-Manchester, which I honestly didn’t mean for it to be. But I have had a “I’m so lonely” day today so my view on the world is somewhat negative. My sincere apologies to Manchester – I really do like you! I am going to make up for my previous rant with a TOP FIVE GREAT THINGS ABOUT MANCHESTER entry! Ready? Go!

  1. People are FRIENDLY here. It is remarkable – people smile, are polite, laugh, provide you with additional information when you don’t even ask etc. I am yet to feel like I am wasting someone’s time/generally annoying someone by asking them to do a job they are being paid for. Pure brilliance.
  2. I could finally quench my intense craving for fish and chips. A few months ago I smelt fish and chips in Paris which is impossible because they don’t have it. But since that moment I have wanted, desperately, to have deep fried fish with delicious fat chips. AND I NOW HAVE! Sadly it was served with mushy peas which are seriously, seriously disgusting and I love everything green.
  3. The buildings. There’s something about an ex-warehouse/factory building that has been turned into apartments or a pub that really excites me. The big brick facades, chimneys and large open interiors are fantastic. And I’m living in the heart of the industrial revolution! Plenty of mills and factories here.
  4. Pub food. Hooray for pies, roast lamb and sticky toffee pudding! People say that British food is bad, but they clearly have never had a good roast.
  5. Access to the great outdoors. In the past two weeks I have managed to spend a fair amount of time walking through the countryside. It is so close and accessible (when trains are running) and breathtakingly beautiful. The English countryside offers, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful scenes in the world.

And that, my friends, is why I am very pleased to be living here.

Chocolate Land

Monday, October 24th, 2011

We all know that if I was sentenced to death and I was allowed one final meal before my beheading, it would consist predominantly of chocolate. Chocolate cake, chocolate biscuits, chocolate sauce, chocolate ice cream, chocolate chocolate… I’d probably ask for muesli and yoghurt as well, and lots of really good cheese, but I would leave enough room to gorge myself on chocolate so that I ended up killing myself with cacao overload rather than having my head removed.

Somewhat unfortunately, I don’t think I will be committing any significant crimes any time soon so my last supper will have to wait. However, I came fairly close to chocolate death on Saturday afternoon when I attended the 2011 Salon du Chocolat with Tom and our friends Sonia and Guibril.

Salon du chocolat

The Salon du Chocolat awaits

Salon du Chocolat is French for ‘Insane Chocolate Fair’ – a large convention hall filled with row after row of stalls selling chocolate related goods. There were high-end chocolate craftsmen, international chocolate makers, bio/eco/organic brands, local chocolatiers, and a strange assortment of chocolate paraphernalia (jewellery in the shape of chocolates, cooking utensils etc.) This being France, there were also two or three stalls selling foie gras and adding chocolate sauce in order to make it theme appropriate.

Salon du chocolat arc de triomphe

Only Leonidas would make something as tacky as this

The main purpose of the Salon du Chocolat is for retailers to present their products and provide little samples that amaze and entice you, resulting in the purchase of more chocolate than you really need. As you can expect from a chocolate-related event held in Paris, it was very, very busy. There were human traffic jams as everyone fought their way to the next chocolate sample. Of course, we’re talking about FRENCH humans who are incapable of seeing other people and who merely barge their way through, stepping on your feet, walking into you and then blaming you for the collision. I think Sonia and Guibril found my intolerance for the crowds amusing as I would push my way through until I found an empty space and then rest there for a while, calming myself down before tackling another onslaught.

As for the chocolate, I wasn’t overly impressed. There were a LOT of stalls and we did sample a lot of chocolate, however none of it really blew me away. I was judging each chocolaterie on the quality of their plain dark chocolate and I can’t say I really liked any of them. I put this down to two factors:

  1. It was mostly French chocolate, which, in my opinion, isn’t the best in the world. The French are very good at putting chocolate INTO things, however their straight chocolate lacks substance and spark. The Belgians kick French butts at dark chocolate making.
  2. The chocolate that was available for sampling had been handled by so many people before I could put it in my mouth. Gross, but true. The teeny tiny pieces that were on offer had been sitting around in strange temperatures and then chopped up by someone wearing plastic gloves. It was hardly the best tasting conditions and the chocolate suffered for it.
Salon du chocolat chocolate

Lots of chocolate

I may have felt differently had I been allowed to taste entire pieces of chocolate. Some of it was really dreadful though. I had a few pieces that had the texture of soap or were gritty and appeared to be full of sand. Not pleasant at all. On the other hand, the higher-end chocolatiers had some amazing chocolates on display with intriguing fillings and beautiful designs.

I did sample one piece of chocolate that did make me very, very happy – it was a japanese chocolate company called Tokyo Chocolate and the chocolate looked like a bright green worm. It was green tea flavoured with a crunchy wafer on the inside, surrounded by dark chocolate. It was absolutely amazing. I stood there looking dumbfounded for a little while, hoping they would give me the entire bowl to finish. Sadly they didn’t. The other chocolates on offer from Tokyo Chocolate were beautiful – bright shiny surfaces and amazing intricate designs. I want to find out where I can buy their chocolates because green tea is good for you and so I should probably have some more.

For Tom, the highlight of the Salon du Chocolat was the alcohol companies that were also promoting their wares with free samples. The perfect accompaniment to chocolate – a glass of Baileys Irish Cream whizzed together with ice. We spent a fair amount of time standing next to the Baileys stand, taking turns to get more rounds. It made tackling the French human traffic jams more bearable.

Baileys at Salon du chocolat

Thank you, Baileys.

Overall, the Salon du Chocolat proposed the ultimate experience and I think if I had been more willing to buy, I could have gained more enjoyment from it. However, nothing enticed me enough to want to make a purchase, particularly considering I have a box of Willie’s Venezuelan 72% in my kitchen. Now THAT is a death-defying chocolate experience.

Madrid Part 3

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

The People

The staff in restaurants were always very friendly and helpful and joked about our lack of Spanish speaking abilities. The first night though I think we managed to find every single grumpy Madridian. No one seemed happy to serve the stupid tourists and we thought we’d be doomed for the entire trip. Until the next morning we had breakfast at the bar next to our hotel and were served by a welcoming and friendly young guy. His name was Junior and he spent time each morning teaching us Spanish. He was 27, worried about turning 28, married and showed us photos of his son. He started the trend for friendly Spanish people who looked after us, gave us good food and even gave us free drinks. I wanted to give everyone hugs.

Our hotel was run by a lovely, short Spanish lady who must have lived in the apartment block where the hotel was located. She spoke no English and we spoke no Spanish yet we managed to understand each other. She insisted on carrying our bag to our room before giving us a map, explaining the three different keys we needed to get into our room and then leaving us to enjoy the city. The hotel was great – Coup found it on Hostelbookers for just 20 Euros a night for private rooms with ensuites. The hotel was located in the centre of town, close to everything, and was situated in a dodgy looking apartment complex that had weird looking people living in it. The room was tiny but amazingly clean and despite having walls as thin as paper we managed to sleep like babies.