England’s second city – 26/11/18

Barges by Canal House, pub at Gas Street Basin Birmingham
Canal side pub

As you wander around the centre of Birmingham, through its walkways and canal area, around developments like The Mailbox and through its vibrant, lively streets, you can only be in awe of modern day city planners. Whoever it was who looked at the old Birmingham and had the vision of what has now been created, we salute you. A formerly run down, dowdy area has been transformed into the most vibrant and attractive of city quarters, and an environment well worthy of second city status, a city to be proud of. Our weekend here was centred around a Saturday night in this regenerated quarter, exploring its pubs and just soaking up a terrific city atmosphere; there are restaurants of just about every type – we chose South American – and pubs and bars to suit every taste, from Canalside and The Canal House with their waterfront tables, to The Pint Shop with its array of 27 different draught beers. Even though the city centre is still a work in progress with much construction and many building sites, what has been done is terrific, and what is in progress will make the city better still. Great city, thoroughly recommended.

Canalside, pub in Gas Street Basin, Birmingham

Sunshine countdown- from this

Morning fog at Broadstairs

It’s still a mild autumn in England; the autumn colours are here but the temperature remains too mild for November. So here on the Kent coast the climate is confused and today the fog never lifted, the dampness and the moisture lingered, the day remained drab, damp and grey. When this goes on in England, it’s not long before you start yearning for sunshine, and longing for warmth.

And so we’re counting down to Mexico, just 25 days to go until a trip which absolutely fills us with excitement; Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, Mexican food, sunshine, the Pacific coast, so much to look forward to.

Steak or steak – The Cafe de Paris experience

Geneva was full of restaurants of multiple nationalities and types, giving the visitor a full range of choices. In amongst the various options we visited Cafe de Paris near the main railway station and had one of our strangest restaurant experiences. This restaurant’s modus operandi is to only offer one meal: they only do steak, chips and salad. Not only is there no menu and no alternatives, but there isn’t even a choice of sauce, basically you get what you’re given, the only choice you have is what to drink with it.

What’s more, you don’t get to choose rare, medium or well done, because the steak arrives sliced, and pretty rare, on a salver over a candle burner, and so continues to cook at the table. You just turn it down to avoid over cooking. The steak sits in a butter sauce, with large knobs of home made butter melting on to the meat.

Amazingly this restaurant has been doing this for over 80 years, just serving the one dish in the one style. It is, of course, delicious, and the steak itself is fantastic. It’s also a quirky experience!


Swiss chocolate

We like chocolate, everyone likes chocolate but being from England we are rather biased and for us Cadbury’s chocolate is the best, more so for me than Phil. Having been brought up on the Cadbury estate in Bourneville, having a Nan who was an original Cadbury girl and having a great great Grandad who was foreman for George Cadbury, its hard to accept any other chocolate better than Cadbury’s. Well our visit to Geneva has shown us that Switzerland is pretty good at making chocolate and almost a match for Cadbury’s….. but not quite!! Sorry Geneva, Cadbury’s still tops the chocolate charts for me!!

Swiss chocolate shop

Fondue fondness

Oh, come on, this is ridiculous. The Swiss absolutely love fondue, so much so that every restaurant smells of boiling cheese. We did it once, in Paris, but seriously, what is this Fondue shit all about? If you got tasty meats, or peppers and courgettes, or herbs, we could maybe get it, but these people just cut bread into chunks to dip into the undoubtedly lovely cheese sauce. So these intelligent, discerning, selective, organised Swiss people, choose to go out and spend £25 per head to eat bread and cheese. What’s that all about? Are we missing something?

Geneva pocket history

John Calvin rocked up here in 1536, fleeing from the French Catholics who were hell bent on persecuting Protestants like him, and effectively founded the city which has become Geneva. Alongside three other founding fathers, Calvin created and built the antecedent to Rome, establishing the epicentre of the Protestant world and one of the focal points of the Reformation movement, with doctrines of non-aggression, fairness to, and freedom for, all people. Geneva remained an independent state right up until the late 19th century, retaining those laudable principles and altruistic beliefs.

Not too surprising then that we are here at the home of the United Nations, in a country where privacy is paramount (Swiss Bank Account Sir?), where tips are non-existent because wages are so high, but, moreover, where neutrality in the World Wars was achieved, and EU membership avoided. This is a nation which has worked hard to avoid upsetting anyone, anywhere.

In a country steeped in neutrality and fairness, this city in particular sits above conflict, and outside of attrition. Compared to some places we’ve been, that’s not a particularly colourful history!