Ok, I think I’ve reach that point where I need to stop and catch up on lost sleep …
There seems to be a lot of recent interest in location based technology, and now with the latest MyLocation functionality in Google Maps for Mobile (GMM), it wont be long before businesses start chomping at the bit to get their products/services mapped to make it easy for Joe Public to navigate to a shop or restaurant, using just a humble GSM mobile phone without GPS fitted.
So I thought I’d join this race and get myself up to speed with the latest tools and development ideas – hence the insomnia and radio silence (haha pun not intended!). Anyway, I’ve written a number of PHP scripts to geocode LAC/CID data from the RIL module on my Windows Mobile WM6 PDA into a seachable AJAX google map – in English, this means that my PDA is continuously updating my webserver with the GSM cell tower information which I am currently connected to, and I then turn this into geogaphical references (Latitude & Longitude) which are plottable on Google Map. And just for fun, I nicked someone’s code to reverse geocode the Lat/Long into Street Name, Town, Postcode, Country etc … click here to see my last reported position, click on the pushpin to get details of timestamp. Next step, a J2ME app that will work on most GSM phones to query the RIL for cell data, do some triagulation onsignal strength to determine the hotspot (cell towers don’t provide GPS accuracy) and update a MySQL database with an ‘invisible’ http session. Now that will be an interesting project …
Those of you who want to try this out, I’ve also knocked up a prototype script which you can access from http://fiftyone.no-ip.org/files/geocodecelltower3.php?lac=10&cid=16701 – you just need to put in the LAC (Local Area Code) and CID (CellID) – if you know what these are …
And so we end our little Italian adventure that has taken us from Rome to Naples, and beyond. The Amalfi coast incorporating Sorrento, Positano, Priano, Amalfi and Ravello (pic is of east slope of Positano) has views that are simply breathtaking; it is fully understandable why folks continue to pile on dwelling above dwelling to create beautifully terraced suntraps that look even more appealing in real life. Think Big Sur on Highway-1, add a splodge of Donegal, then airbrush in a mosaic of pastel coloured facades and you have an approximation of something close to what I’m talking about …
Then narrow the roads, add a few Alpine hairpin turns, some homicidal bus drivers, a stray dog or two and suddenly the most beautiful scenery is transformed into an ugly nest of hazzards, made worse by bumbling tourists who like us had not anticipated or fully appreciated the chaos of Italian motoring.
Italians should stick to making performance sports cars, but leave the driving to other people … seriously.
Apparently, if you toss a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi fountain, you will return to the Eternal City one day … actually we somehow managed to miss this spectacular place the last time we visited in 2003 but the matter is now rectified … but who needs legend as an excuse to re-visit this enchanting city 😉
We are now installed at our wellness B&B after a day’s travelling which pretty much included planes, trains and automobiles … well, not necessarily in that order. And at one point in the taxi from Fiumicino airport, I was beginning to think we might actually arrive at St Peter’s pearly gates before seeing Rome – such was the ferocity of driving of our chauffeur, an aged disco queen with a particular passion for Barry White ballads. Or perhaps, he imagined himself on track at the Brazilian Grand Prix rather than the autostrada. But I digress …
Last night, after strolling from Spagna, to the Fora Traiano (Imperial Forum just outside the Colosseum), we ate at a decent enough restaurant in Trastevere, away from the tourist honey traps of other more famous piazzas. Note to self: the next time Franco (the hotel manager) suggests an area of nice restaurants, be sure to extract an exact address for the GPS! After an hour or so of walking (Trastevere is a pretty sizeable area!), we eventually found several nice eateries that had already seated the locals and could accommodate no more diners that evening. We also found a lonely supermarket trolley by our bus stop (see pic) which provided some light entertainment to round up a long day …
Sometimes, only a Michelin starred restaurant will do … and what better way to celebrate the passing of one’s 40th (David’s & J’s on this occassion) than to re-visit an old haunt, Laurent.
Those of you salivating already, here are the choices of yummy things we had to choose from …
MENU DU PAVILLON
– Palette de légumes raves relevés d’huiles aromatiques et épicées
– Saint-Jacques marinées dans un lait crémeux au goût fumé, perles de concombre et radis
– Poule faisan et foie gras de canard en fine gelée et champgnons verjutés, rôtie aux abats
– Fricadelle de tête de veau caramélisée sur un éventail de pousses de moutarde
– Trompettes de la mort juste rissolées, crémeux d’oeuf de poule et jaune coulant sur un sablé fin au parmesan
– Saint-Pierre cuit doucement dans un beurre d’algues, “purgatorio” aux cristes-marines et couteaux à l’huile de ciboulette
– Merlan de ligne frotté au safran et poêlé, parmentier léger aux coquillages
– Noix de Saint-Jacques légèrement blondies et servies dans un consommé clair, pleurotes et borage
– Epaule d’agneau confite et rouelles de légumes aux épices d’un tajine, côtes caramélisées
– Pigeon rôti au sautoir, endives et pommes mitonnées dans leurs sucs, ravioles d’abattis
– Friands de pied de porc croustillants, purée de pommes de terre
VOITURE DE FROMAGES
– Coeur de poire william rôtie au gingembre, tuile pistachée et glace riz au lait
– Glace vanille minute en corolle
– Soufflé à l’Irish-coffee
And tomorrow, to Rome and beyond …
Finally, some proper sun … having been cheated of a summer in the UK, we made a late-ish booking for a week of snorkelling and diving in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. And as I type, a blonde apparition in the skimpiest bikini has just floated by 😉 Beach holidays should always be like this …
You’ve guessed it … more rain. And so we missed Feluka at the Jazz Stage this morning – which J2 really wanted to see 😦 but by lunchtime, we were as mobile as we could be and were aptly tucking into Jerk chicken and Goat Curry to the reggae sounds of the Marley Brothers on the Pyramid. J1 disappeared off again for more of his favourite milkshake from the Shaken Udder stall, whilst J2 decided to go back to the Kidz Area to continue work on his tunnel in the sandpit. Me, I paid another visit to Burrow Hill for more liquid refreshment 😉
After packing up the tent, we were half way to the Other Stage when the heavens opened again … and it was then that the kids and I made the executive decision to detour to the exit … and catch Mika and the Kaiser Chiefs from our very snugly sofa at home … and in HD on our 42″ plasma telly!
I guess that’s my main gripe about Glastonbury 2007 – in 2005, about 2 month’s rainfall feel in one night but the rest fo the festival was pleasant enough, and more importantly there were still lots of green grass to sit on when one got a bit tired, drunk or over-laden with food. This year, it rained every bloody day and by Saturday morning, there were no patches of grass left … which made it a real slog. Time to petition Mr Eavis to move the date for 2008 … any takers?
There doesn’t appear to be an end to the rain, and now the mornings have a chill about them too 😦
We missed Liz Green this monrning because of the weather and instead plodded about, dropping into the Chai stall for a game of carrom with J1, but by late afternoon, the sun had come out … in time for Babyshambles at the Other Stage – see pic. Why do people find Pete Doherty so offensive – man, the boy’s got talent! Even the beautiful Kate Moss made a cameo appearance on stage, kissed Pete and then squeeked a bit in La Belle et La Bete – keep the day job dear, you’re infinitely better at that 😉
Then it was a marathon sprint (well, as fast as it is possible to travel in mud) back to the Pyramid to catch Paul Weller, the Kooks and headlining Saturday evening, the Killers – oh, and catching Eric Bibb singing the blues at the Acoustic stage on the way. Actually, I listened to the Killers from the relative comfort of my dry tent … the weather here has been doing something really strange and sound seems to travel a lot further resulting in the organisers having to turn down the PA system, so as not to annoy the locals.
Set of the day goes to a small band I came across at the Bandstand called the Cedar. There’s also an Americana band playing Glastonbury this year by the same name – I’ll post a link to one of their songs later from a CD I bought on site …
I need a teleport machine! There’s so much happening it is impossible to be in three places at the same time. And because sound travels, the stages are located sufficiently far apart to avoid any contamination … which is a tad inconvenient at the best of times, but a royal pain in the backside when the paths are sloppy and swallowing up your wellies.
We managed to see the folks we wanted to see, and then some. Set of the day has to be Newton Faulkner at the Acoustic Stage (go to link for his cover of Massive Attack’s Teardrop). Now, Sponge Bob Square Pants will never be the same after hearing him play so beautifully! This set was closely followed by Reverend & the Makers on the Other stage – an opnionanted little runt with plenty to say about nationalism, but perhaps should keep to making music 😉
Other bonus acts included The Hothouse Flowers (who are looking and sounding a little saggy), Sandi Thom (with a voice like hers, I don’t understand why she’s still a Lonely Girl), Bloc Party (who were surprisingly good) and Kasabian (what a show – see pic).
Oh, and Burrow Hill has started to do this hot & spiced (mulled) cider – ummmmm, absolutely yummy. Make note to self: don’t buy alcohol when kids are about – J1, the little bugger, has been keeping tally of my alcohol consumption throughout and plans to divulge all to wifey, unless I offer a generous bribe …
At Glastonbury, you can count on music to draw the crowds: even with limited appearances at the Left Field Stage and the Bandstand by relatively unknown artists, where there’s a drum beat, there you will also find revellers … filing into lines like ants to a hive – and this year, we are expecting a whopping total of 177,500. Now that’s a lot of ants!
Last night, we watched Ghostbusters on the giant outdoor screen – an interesting experience made more amusing by the pantomime-like heckling from the very inebriated audience. In case you didn’t already know – you should never cross the streams!
The Kidz Field opens its gates today, and J2 has already declared his desire to hone his skills with diablo by sundown.
Also, the music starts in anger this morning. Already earmarked are The Fratellis, Mr Hudson & the Library, The Earlies, Amy Winehouse & Damien Rice. Rock on …
Pic is of the infamous Brothers Bar outside the Jazz Stage. Let the small print be a reminder to all the pissed farts who were circling aimlessly outside our tent last night – you lot, buy a GPS already!
Update: I’ve just been informed by my learned wife (who has deicded not to brave the inclement weather) that ants live in *nests* – yeah, like I give a flying f*** when you’re covered in mud!
Update#2: As the alcohol dissipates within the system, more and more is coming back to me … like seeing Paris Motel at the bandstand sometime in the afternoon.
It isn’t really Glastonbury without the rain, mud and general flotsam of cans, paper plates & cups generated by the welly-cladded crowd that seems to be descending on the quiet village of Pilton earlier and earlier each year. The boys and I made camp around 6pm yesterday and even then struggled to fird a pitch large enough to accommodate our 4 man tent. Still the rest of the evening was mild enough to allow us to mooch around, marking waypoints of old haunts on the GPS just in case one is overcome by the effects of Julian’s Burrow Hill cider 😉
Attached pic is from the Green Sculptures field. The music starts on Friday, and until then we plan to loiter with some intent (mainly to put nice food in our bellies) and generally soak up the electric atmosphere, mud and anything else that comes with this crappy weather.
What more can I say?! The weather is brill, the snow (apparently) is superb, and Luc’s team at Les Amis de La Montagne is as always looking after us well. If only all Easter holidays can be like this …
Marrakech is a place of beauty, which is desperately looking for the eyes of its beholder. Whether it is in the deepest and smelliest alleys of the souks, or the greenest and prickliest parts of the Jardin Majorelle, or the most intricately tiled palaces around Bahia, or the contrast of the fantastic food stalls with the heart numbing squalor of beggars on the Djemaa el Fna, or the freezing cold but picturesque villages in Ourika on the ascent to the Atlas mountains – one is attracted to its beauty in the same subjective way that people generally react to Marmite: you either love it or hate it!
But on the quality and comfort of our riad (Dar Vedra), the verdict is unanimous – Didier and Sebastien have perfected the art of service to the extent that guests feel like they have been invited to a friend’s home, rather than the usual functional arrangement of providing a room for the night in exchange for money.
Riads in architectural terms also convey an understated modesty that is prevalent in islamic culture: the high but very plain exterior walls conceal an inner courtyard that is open to the elements, and is often adorned with a central fountain and lush greenery. From this inner sanctum, doors open into rooms on all sides of the courtyard and if it is a dar, there will be a second storey supported by tall columns that tower upwards to an open sky … think of it as a house that has been turned outside in vis-a-vis Lloyds of London which has been turned inside out. And then compare this to an oriental home (or indeed a capitalistic western one) that seeks to flaunt the wealth of its inhabitants with unnecessary alcoves, fancy windows, colourful roof tiles, and in some cases gilded cornices. All houses should be built like riads, where those living in them can enjoy their beauty from within the comfort and security of their homes, rather than waste it all on strangers and passers-by.
More pics from this little adventure to follow … meanwhile, there is a pile of work to chomp through before the Christmas break …. ummmm, what *is* the collective noun for a mass of emails in you Inbox?
Ok, ok so I didn’t make this yummy looking deep fried tilapia … but I imagine it should be possible to prepare this in 5 minutes … if you work quickly, and don’t mind taking short cuts with the accompanying coconut curry sauce i.e. buy it ready-made rather than starting from first principles!
This last week-end has been somewhat eventful. Coincidentally, the celebration of Loy Kratong at the Buddhapadipa temple in Wimbledon also fell on our very own Guy Fawkes night (Remember, Remember … the 5th of November?) and naturally we attempted to fit in as much good eating at the food stalls around the temple in London, in between watching rockets hiss and pop around glorious bonfires closer to home in the West Country.
Next week-end promises to be yet another foodie excursion: on Saturday, we attend the Deepavali (Divali) ‘Festival of Lights’ celebration organised by the MIC at Craven Cottage (Fulham’s FC clubhouse) in London, followed by our annual pilgrimage on Sunday to the BBC Good Food show to stock up on pressies and other essentials for the forthcoming festive period. Yes, boys and girls … only 48 days to the big one. Ho, ho, ho!
The summer hols are upon us once again, and moving at a surpisingly slow pace. After my father’s very successful 70th birthday party at the E&O in Penang, we are now installed in Pulau Redang – a beautiful tropical paradise off the east coast of Malaysia, where the warm waters are teeming with pretty fishes, exquisite coral … and of course, the ubiquitous assortment of annoying tourists.
Another 2 nights of total chilling from our seaview bungalow (gratuitous photo included), then a long 7 hour drive back to Penang. Why is it that the most beautiful places on this planet are invariably the most difficult to get to? Perhaps Steve Levitt (author of my rather entertaining holiday reading, Freakonomics) could apply himself to solving this conundrum in his sequel.
Weather is awful (it’s a bright crisp morning here in Prague), the food is lousy (I’ve put on 6 pounds in 3 days living on goulash, duck, dumplings and potato pancakes), the beer is tasteless (Staropramen Granat is just pure nectar), the accommodation sucks (our suite in Hotel Artesse in Mala Strana is one of the most comfortable places we’ve stayed in) and generally having a crappy time (never been more relaxed) …
Lots of love, Pinocchio xxx
p.s. Really missing the UK (Ummmmm, thinking of buying a place here) 🙂
Life is presently rather sweet. The air may be thinner at 3600m and admittedly a tad cooler, but I can’t think of a better way to finish my recuperation than lying on a sun-lounger, dozing off to the ambient tones of Morcheeba.
We have returned to Les 2 Alpes – our third visit in 3 successive years which is something of a record for us considering the family’s appetite for travel and exploratory pursuits. There was a small change to the accommodation arrangements this year: Les Amis de la Montagne could not or rather did not want to take a mid-week booking so we are installed at the Les Lutins, a simple but functional family run hotel, situated rather conveniently opposite the main Jandri ski lift. Most of the Parisians (who incidentally ski the same way they drive) departed yesterday and we are not expecting the incoming Brits to hit the slopes until Sunday morning … great news for J and the boys, whose skills under the tutelage of Charlotte Swift (of Easiski), have come on leaps and bounds – a tribute to her passion for the sport which she imparts so effortlessly to her students. As for me, I’m happy just to be Caddy Daddy and go for the occasional trek down to Venosc village … gall stones are also a great excuse to put your snow-booted feet up and generally chill 😉
This is our last day in Cairo and we will leave with fond memories of Egypt and her people, especially the Cairenes. We did meet some top guys in Luxor but most encounters were marred by their salacious desire for money and the dishonest methods for acquiring it from innocent tourists.
- finding an old enamel teapot in the souk in Luxor
- Karnak – the temples & complex in general
- fresh mango juice from the numerous juice bars
- half-finished houses everywhere, especially on the drive out to Carrefour in Maadi
- tucking into the best and cheapest tameeya (only 6p) from Akher Saa (opposite Alfi Bey)
- being licked by a giraffe at Cairo zoo
- the felucca trip to Banana Island
- the medieval walk and shopping at the Khan
- the good eateries around Cairo
- taxi drivers in Cairo who drive without their lights at night (it is considered rude to have your headlights on, but honking is ok – go figure!)
- sipping mint tea / sucking on a sheesha every evening in the Bedouin tent at the Pyramisa Isis in Luxor
- the caleche drivers in Luxor
- people who say Welcome and don’t mean it
- hawkers who shout I don’t know what you need, but I’m sure I have it
- Cairo airport – the place , the people … particularly the immigration officers
On balance, it was a super holiday and in the immortal words of Arnie We’ll be back.
Photo below is of the magnificent Opera House, near our hotel.
I caught a few hours of sleep on the overnighter from Luxor. Dinner on the train was, as usual, a non event (unless you find rubberised beef and soggy chicken particularly appetising) but they did manage to provide us with cold cans of the local Stella beer.
We arrived at the hotel with the usual rigmarole of room cock-up – this time, the computer system had cancelled our reservation. We guessed that a wedding reception at the hotel later that evening may have something to do with this error.
This morning, we went on an adventure on the Metro – flat priced tickets at 75 piastres i.e. less than 8p – to Coptic Cairo (Mar Girgis station). While the museum was closed, St George and the Hanging Church provided an interesting insight into this Christian side of Cairo. And for the first time, we were directed by the tourist police and the army to avoid certain streets and lanes – the atmosphere was unsurprisingly tense, considering the evacuation taking place in the Gaza strip.
Anyway, it’s Saturday – and this calls for a trip to Arkadia (a shopping mall on the Nile close to the WTC), a last minute dash to the Khan to buy a sheesha, a walk down Talaat Harb for some footwear, and general soaking of pollution and adrenalin courteously provided by the local taxis. Oh, pic below is J’s nicely decorated hand, done by a Bedouin lady at the Khan.
Question: What do you do when you have two hours to kill in Luxor?
Answer: Take a felucca trip to Banana Island.
We were wondering about aimlessly along the Corniche, having been to Eddie’s little shop (Al Araby) for some cans of drinks (btw, Eddie’s the only guy in Luxor who doesn’t inflate his prices for tourists) when Captain Semsen approached us with a proposition. What a wonderful, likeable guy! Not only did he keep to his word to get us back in time for our train back to Cairo, he walked along with us explaining the flora and fauna, that included a 165 year old mango tree – apparently there’s a 600 year old one by the Rameseum on the west bank.
Banana Island was a favourite retreat of King Farouk’s and has probably seen better times, yet the wildness resulting from several years of neglect has added to the charm of the place, and reminded me very much of the orchard walk to Balik Pulau in Penang. Afterwards, we all sat down to taste the bananas for which the island is famed.
Anyway, look out for Blue Eyes, moored opposite the Mercure – Semsen also told me he married an English girl from Southampton last month, having fallen in love whilst sailing her into the sunset on his felucca. Lucky girl! See what a boat ride can do to your love life.
The kids did not let me forget an earlier promise to take them riding: in Luxor, this activity is relatively cheap – pick your animal (with the exception of J1 who insisted on acting out Frank Hopkins in Hidalgo, we all chose camels) but you will need to tip the boys / handlers who walk along with you. We rented our animals from Arabian Stables, located behind the Mobil petrol station, a short walk from al Mina – the ferry port on the west bank. It’s owned by a great guy called Nobi.
Afterwards, we took the national ferry service back to Luxor town (1 Egyptian Pound) and came across the Fair Trade shop, where J could not resist a very pretty shawl, hand embroidered by the Bedouin women-folk – I’m sure prices here were slightly inflated too, but 50% of what you pay should go back to these very skilful desert people. And then we discovered McDonalds …
Now, McDonalds is literally the coolest place in town! The A/C here is constantly set to ‘freeze’ (which is always welcoming in the excessive heat that touches 40 deg C on a normal day) but the view of Luxor temple puts it into my top 3 McDonalds in the world … the other two coincidentally are in France: the McPlage with a terrace that goes out to sea on the road to Antibes in Nice and the other, the little den at the top end of the Champs Elysee, Paris with comfy sofas and CD players.
OK, the pic is of the colossi of Memnon, but we did manage to visit the Rameseum after lunch at AL Qurna, after descending into the tombs of the pharaohs at the Valley of the Kings – an experience that is not unlike being baked in an oven and one that I’m pretty certain I will not be repeating. Deir el Bahari (the temple of Hatshepsut) on the other hand was amazing!
Anyway, if you remember your Ozymandias, this is what Shelley wrote. It’s not until you get close to the fallen statue of Ramses II at the Rameseum that the words ring out the impotency of this has-been king:
I met a traveller from an antique landWho said:
Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert.
Tomorrow, we are booked to go camel riding through Egyptian villages in the west bank.
If you are in any doubt about the ability of the Egyptians to build large temples, then come to Karnak – 84 hectares of pillars, avenues of sphinxes (what is the plural for sphinx?!) and temples within temples. We arrived at Luxor bleary eyed and before the morning sun lit up the orange cliffs of the Theban Hills in the west bank. At the hotel we had to correct a minor error in room allocation and ended up with a suite that has a view across the Nile to die for, and with sufficient space to host a football tournament!
Luxor is truly a wonderful place – and it is such a pity the inhabitants let it down; on two occasions today we were diverted to shops and scenic routes despite clear instructions to the caleche drivers on destination and price. At least the Cairenes have the decency and humour to let you know when they are screwing you.
Taxi booked for the Valley of the Kings tomorrow – meanwhile feast your eyes on this pic of Karnak.
I’m not convinced about this mobile blogging business: firstly, Opera (my browser on my Nokia 6630) died – in the spectacular way that makes it … well, nearly impossible to use anymore. And then GPRS died, which makes it difficult to say the least to be in communicado. So this comes to you from the air-conditioned business centre of the Pyramisa Hotel, Cairo where we are chilling out before stepping into another boneshaker of a taxi to take us to Ramses train station for the overnighter to Luxor.
Today was an interesting day. Having paid one Egyptian pound to get into Cairo Zoo, we used the rest of our money to engage the head of security to give us a guided tour of this fascinating zoo that basically involved … a dancing monkey, being 2 feet from a 20 year old Bengal tiger, feeding a baby hippo, having a giraffe eat a carrot from the top of my head (J had the dubious pleasure of having a piece taken from her lips!) and being cuddled (Read: almost crushed) by an over-friendly indian elephant.
Later, the kids found the walk through the medieval area of Cairo a bit too much in the heat, but were rewarded with a nice lunch at the Naguib Mahfouz restaurant in the Khan El Khalili market. Oh, pic below is a ceiling shot of El Fishawy – a must-stop for those seeking a recess from the bustle of the Khan. Sit down, sip mint tea, partake in a sheesha (ask for the apple tobacco), and generally chill … as the world about you continues to revolve at breakneck speed.
Speaking of chilling, onwards to Luxor … can’t wait!
I swear I will floor the next Egyptian who bids us Welcome. For all the genuinely helpful people in this city there are four times as many crooks who will lead you to their shop where helpfulness turns into hard selling of tacky papyrus and other equally tasteless pharaonic souvenirs.
The same cannot be said about the food – we have eaten well and in interesting settings. Yesterday we satisfied our appetites at Felfela after a long morning at the Egyptian museum – Fattah with trotters is a new and soon to be repeated discovery.
This afternoon, after a very interesting but hot morning at Saqqara and Giza (to see the Great Pyramid and Sphinx – pic below) we lunched at Alfi Bey (Downtown) on a whole kilo of exquisitely grilled kofta and mutton served on a bed of flat leaved parsley.
Tomorrow we leave for Luxor on the overnight train. Cairo is a great place but I think we all need a night off from the incessant hawking and driving machismo.
The Cairenes have an unhealthy obsession about their mobile phones. As we tucked into our stuffed pigeon and other delectables at the trendy Abu al Sid restaurant (pic of wonderful interior below) in Zamalek, all around us were busy texting (each other) or messing with silly ringtones at the expense of regular dinner conversation. Weird! But not half as weird as the sight of a sheesha disappearing under the niqab of a completely covered Muslim girl
An early night then to ensure we are fully recharged tomorrow to deal with the ordered chaos of this noisy and totally exciting city.