Category Archives: Travel

Not love, actually

Geneva is very beautiful. So why have I had problems falling in love with it?

After four years of travelling to Geneva – to visit Daughter after she moved there – I haven’t really taken to it. Yes, once you get to know it a bit, and you know to turn left when exiting airport arrivals, and you can find your way around, and you know to say bon jour all the time, except when you should say bon soir, it feels, well, familiar, on a limited basis.

And it looks so good. The lake. The mountains. The jet. Lots of things look good. The view from Daughter’s balcony of the steamer on the lake.

I kept thinking the love would come at some point, and then I realised Daughter was about to leave and I still didn’t love it. Nothing had popped up that was love. Like a little, yes. Because it’s beautiful.

The penny finally dropped, just before what I think might have been my last visit a few weeks ago. Geneva is like Karl in Love Actually. That impossibly handsome man, who nevertheless left me totally cold. Because good looks do not equal love. I’d prefer Gavin, the PM’s bodyguard, who sings Christmas carols so beautifully.

It’s funny, though, because you can fall for a place, even in the first minutes there. Take Llandudno. Or you love the place because you belong there, or you’ve spent much time there and learned to love it.

And it doesn’t help how many times the Swiss say they don’t speak English – is it possible to go through school in a western country and not study the language for at least a few years? My non-existent French does not suddenly spring into full-on French when they say no. The wise among them then decide that their English might be poor, but not as bad as the French I don’t speak. I was informed at school that they all speak German, too. Seems not.

But it is beautiful there. And I’m glad I’ve been. It’s just not love.

Lake Geneva

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Tea out

I’m hard to please. Let’s just get that out in the open. But I’m also quite happy with the simple things in life. Like that hot milk I’m going to tell you about. It was better than the ‘fancy’ afternoon tea in the Glasgow hotel I went to last week.

And I don’t object to overbaked ‘kladdkaka’ as long as the people selling it calls it chocolate cake, which is what it is. For it to be ‘kladd’ anything, you will have had nerves of steel and removed the cake from the oven when it still looks like dark brown soup. I’m afraid I recently wrote to the very attractive Oxford restaurant where we had a really enjoyable Easter lunch and shared my tip of sitting in front of the oven as the cake cooks. That way you are less likely to end up with the oxymoron that is dry kladdkaka.

I’ve not heard back!

The very same day, I had been treated to an unexpected elevenses in a Danish style café – Ole & Steen – also in Oxford. Not being very hungry – which is so not like me – I chose a plain (hah) kransekage. It was small, but larger than the ones I’m used to. It was divine! I am plotting ways to return and have another one. I mean, what’s seven hours on the train if you can eat such perfection?

Unlike the afternoon tea at the hotel in central Glasgow, that I will leave nameless. I liked the hotel and where it was. I enjoyed my long chat with Pippi who was over in Scotland again. The tea was cheap, at around £12. But oh, what dreadful sandwiches! Nice enough scone, but not the jam. The little cakes tasted better than they looked, but then I had low expectations. The tea was on the strong and cold side.

Having said all this, I would go back. It was a convenient and nice place to meet.

In Berlin last month Daughter and I struggled to find suitable words – in German – to get across our wish for black tea, that we wished to un-black with milk. Cold milk, please. The first afternoon brought green tea with no milk until Daughter popped back inside and asked. She returned to our pavement table bearing a jug of beautifully warmed milk! After pondering the possibilities, I poured some hot milk into my green tea. It was seriously weird, but almost OK when taken with cake.

And it had us in paroxysms of laughter when we thought about it afterwards.

By now you will have worked out I am a nightmare guest for tea, so I give you the new café in Stirling’s King Street; Loving Food. Had a gorgeous scone there the other day. One of the best I’ve had.

I also reckon it will be easier for me to go to again, unlike Ole & Steen…

V&A Dundee

We were under the impression we were the last people on Earth to visit the new V&A in Dundee. Or, I know some exceptionally cultured people, as ‘everyone’ had mentioned going to, or having been to, the new V&A. Even Pippi managed to fit in a trip to Dundee when she was in Scotland. And Dodo and Son celebrated his thirtieth with a trip to Dundee. As you do.

Pippi mentioned how convenient it was that it’s right next to the station, and it made me wonder how I could not have seen it being built, all those times I changed trains just next to the fledgling V&A. But I realised it was all hidden behind scaffolding and in the dark you see nothing.

The Resident IT Consultant said how it’d be good to go before the Ocean Liners exhibition ended, and I silently concurred. Which is why we went two days before the end, me thinking Friday was bound to be better than the weekend. Maybe it was, but it looked like the whole world was there. Which is odd as I thought they’d already been. Not that there is a rule against going more than once, of course.

We will probably go again.

As I said, the place was heaving, mainly with other old people, and mostly speaking with an English accent.

I hope this was why the place felt as if it could have done with being bigger. The café in the middle was definitely too small. An army of helpful staff improved things, but searching for a table at which to drink tea and eat their gorgeous scones was hard. Actually, I found enough table space. It was just that the chairs had gone walkies, and even as I watched, more chairs went off to join their friends at small tables with too many people around them.

The Ocean Liners exhibition was interesting, but I didn’t linger. The crowd effect meant I couldn’t reach to see or look in peace and quiet. But that was fine. I left the Resident IT Consultant to study it in detail and went to sit outside. Good thing I did, as it meant I didn’t miss the postman. My postman. He was there too. (He’d probably hoped for a Witch-free day…)

Lovely though they were, the scones didn’t last us all day. We had hoped for lunch in the restaurant, but it was booked solid until 3pm, so we went back downstairs, to the moving chairs. The brie croissants were nice, if somewhat soggy. (I’d have put the brie underneath the tomato slices.)

Tay Bridge

A quick look at the Tay Bridge from the balcony, and then we did the Scottish Design exhibition, which was much better than reviews had led us to expect. Wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

Then it was time to go home, before the Friday travelling crowds made it impossible.

But I’d go back for the scones alone.

I love Stefanie

Or to be more formal, Hotel Stefanie, Vienna. I can thoroughly recommend it.

You know how things slowly move in some direction, and because it’s all gradual, you hardly notice the change [for the worse]? And then something comes back to you and you remember all that was lost.

That’s what it was like for me when Daughter and I stayed at the Stefanie in October. She’d stayed before and was hell-bent on returning, so we even shifted our stay by one day in order that they could accommodate us. I thought I understood why she wanted this, but it was only as we got there that I properly grasped what she’d discovered, and what I’d lost, decades ago.

I’ve had more recent ‘favourite’ hotels, by which I mean they have been places I’ve come back to for various reasons, including cost. But a hotel like the Stefanie I’ve not stayed at since I was a child. Not that we were well off, but we were lucky and I got to stay in some good hotels, and I clearly built my expectations from those occasions.

Hotel Stefanie is not enormous, nor is it small. It’s just right, in a Goldilocks kind of way. It employs a lot of staff, and it is they who make the place. They are professionals, whether helping people out of taxis and looking after their luggage like it was their baby, or bringing a tea-tray to your room. Or anything else. Remembering your room number. Offering you a clean knife at breakfast.

The decor is quietly classic, but the rooms have obviously been up-dated to what you need today. And it smells like a hotel. I mean that in the nicest possible way. Smells lead to powerful memories, and can move you anywhere, anytime. In my case it was straight back to childhood, the good bit.

The rooms. We’d booked two singles, in order to snore in peace and – erm – quiet. They had three rooms for us to look at. The head of reception knew we’d definitely want one of them, but wanted to give us the opportunity to look at two more before deciding. The rooms are not all identical, and we could soon see which second room would be best. It was a thoughtful offer, I felt.

The first day it rained hard, and someone had not packed her umbrella. By watching other guests as I waited in the foyer, I learned that they have umbrellas you can borrow. And when you bring it back, dripping wet, they take it off you, giving it a good professional shake.

Breakfast is rather pleasant. Polite service, coupled with the ubiquitous buffet where you can choose what you like. Continental quality bread, for instance. And … champagne, although we never tried that.

It’s so old style that you even hand your key in when you go out. Annoying if you are only popping out for five minutes, but it is gratifying to see them reach for your key before you’ve uttered a word.

On departure I was too exhausted to take the underground to the railway station. I asked for a taxi, which was ordered with a minimum of fuss, and the same lovely man who greeted me on the first day, saw me and my suitcase into the vehicle when it arrived.

I have no particular reason to return to Vienna soon. But I’d happily go back just to stay at the Stefanie. Time travel like this is a treat. Revisiting the mid-twentieth century, while still having access to wifi.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you who work at Hotel Stefanie.

Strauss at the Musikverein

A week ago the Austrians celebrated their National Day. Daughter and I very accidentally happened to be in Vienna just then and – less accidentally – wanted to have a closer look at the Musikverein than you get from our sofa in front of the television on New Year’s Day. We discovered there was a Strauss concert on that very morning, so booked tickets to go.

It was all we had hoped. The concert hall really is that golden, and they really do cram in as many chairs as they can, wherever they can. We had good chairs on the side, quite close to the stage.

Musikverein

The Musikverein is housed in one of many elegant buildings in Vienna, and it was pretty much as I’d expected. The ushers speak English, and were most helpful. There are wardrobes for coats and larger bags, and there I learned – from the woman on my right (who, incidentally arrived long after me) – that you can say ‘bitte’ and be very very rude. She certainly wasn’t going to wait for anyone else to deposit their stuff, thank you very much! It pleased me no end to discover her halfway down a rather long queue for the ladies’ toilets later on. There are not enough toilets, but this is understandable in an older building.

Plenty of bars, however, and the audience indulged in eating and drinking. I’ve always wondered how they get the audience in and out on time when we see them on television. I’m still wondering that.

We enjoyed the concert. The Wiener Johann Strauss Orchester is no Wiener Philharmoniker, but that was fine. Likewise, conductor Johannes Wildner was no Karajan, but a chatty, bubbly chap who told jokes between numbers. At least I think he did. People laughed. My Austrian German wasn’t up to such detail.

We began with the Overture to Die Fledermaus, through lots of Strauss tunes, ending with Auf der Jagd and An der schönen blauen Donau. Much stomping and clapping rewarded us with another polka and the Radetzky March, enabling us to leave on a high. Daughter hadn’t quite dared hope for the latter, so was very happy.

They offer tours of the Musikverein, but I’d say go to a concert instead if you can. It doesn’t have to be the New Year’s Day one. After all, I don’t expect people can leave on January 1st and proceed to have coffee outside in the sunshine.

Or maybe they can. It’s Vienna, after all.

The unexpected Bull

We needed something to accompany our dinners last week, Daughter and I, sitting in our holiday house, all alone, with nowhere to go. So we rewatched a lot of episodes of Bull, to get us into the right mood for when Bull returns in ten days’ time.

At least we hope he returns, and that the heart attack was merely a nasty warning for him to take things easier.

Picking episodes at random, going between season one and season two, there was no big plan. I’ve only watched them once, so some were more forgotten than others, feeling almost new.

And then there was Light My Fire, from December 2016. It looked unexpectedly new to me. The longer I watched, the ‘newer’ it felt. I concluded that I must have missed that episode first time round.

Bull - Light My Fire

Hmm, I hadn’t expected that.

I blame it on it having been nearly Christmas. I might have been busy with other things. 😊

(Photo © CBS)

Happy 10th, Culture!

How to mark the occasion of ten years of CultureWitch? Especially now that there is less action here than formerly.

The sun was shining and it was warm – for September – so we decided to drive to Göstas at Steninge for some tea and cake and a sea view.

And there was action! There is nothing quite like a bit of car park rage on a nice day. First space was taken by car coming in the way out. Second space was about to be taken by the next car coming in the way out, except I planted myself in the way. I even informed the driver he was wrong.

Silly me.

He behaved so aggressively that I said; ‘You’re going to drive into me, anyway, aren’t you?’ My survival instincts kicked in and I moved. I was quite surprised when he drove off and parked illegally at the other end of the small car park instead, not running me down.

After which we all gathered for sustenance in Göstas…

Had intended to show you one of those tiresome photos of pretty cakes, but we had wolfed them down by the time I remembered. So here are two used cake plates,

Empty plates

a  flag, and

Flag

the beach.

Steninge

Herr Ped*rsen, check the road signs next time! That round one with a horizontal bar through it means No Entry. Which means no entry. Let’s hope we are both here in another ten years.