Category Archives: Cafes
Porto Rotondo is a place of fantasy: an artificial port and marina filled with luxe and super-boats. The one below is charming instead of the usual gin palace that’s the size of a house on water.
The sad thing is that these super-vessels only get used for a few weeks each summer. The rest of the time they sit idle, waiting for their pop star/ movie mogul/ politician/ Swiss banker owners to arrive for a bit of show-off time with their loaded friends; a sure case of ‘my boat’s bigger than your boat’. Some, like this one, are real whoppers.
Regardless, Porto Rotondo is a beautiful place to visit, an easy drive from the big Sardinian town of Olbia. Bougainvillaea blooms in all directions, the main pedestrian drag of Via del Molo is paved with fish and shark mosaics, crew in matching polo shirts bustle about preparing yachts for visitors and real Pucci maxi-dresses float casually by in the warm sea breeze. You get the picture. There’s another magnet to the lush sanctuary of Porto Rotondo, though: The Bar-Gelateria Del Molo.
Monsieur and I first found the Del Molo when we visited Sardinia three years ago. We loved their breakfasts so much that we decided to fly our new Lear jet over for lunch. (Okay, okay, I lie. We were there again on holiday and found ourselves in the area…No Lear jets at our disposal. Easyjet works perfectly well for us. )We just wanted something quick and light, but ended up going the whole hog with three courses each. Monsieur kicked off with prosciutto and cantaloupe, the melon perfectly ripe and oozing with juice, the ham deep with flavour. This was no supermarket-shelf ham, but slim cuts with little fat, ever so slightly thicker than parchment.
In the mood for cool, fresh, raw food, I chose the mozzarella and tomato salad. Sprinkled with oregano and fresh basil, I splashed some extra virgin olive oil onto the plate and tucked in. Admittedly, the tomatoes were a tad hard – a couple more days on the vine would have done them no harm, but the mozzarella was superb – rich dairy goodness with a consistency part-way to burrata, it stole the show.
Monsieur does enjoy a good club sandwich from time to time. Here’s how the Del Molo does it:
Once more, only the freshest ingredients were used, including the egg mayonnaise, salad and tender chunks of Sardinian chook. Even the bread was toasted to just the right shade of gold, but it was my main that will go down in the Epic book of all-time favourite dishes: tuna carpaccio with artichoke. I’m a carpaccio queen and I swear to the gods of all things culinary that this was the best tuna carpaccio I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat.
I think the trick was in lightly smoking the fish, for there was the vaguest hint of smokiness in the flavour. Sliced paper thin, dotted with fresh tomato salsa and preserved artichokes, all of it posing prettily in that same peppery extra virgin olive oil, each tiny mouthful contained a fishlover’s fireworks. At once fine yet unexpectedly fulsome, I ate slowly, allowing it all to seep into my cheeks so that I could hold the flavour for as long as possible. In the greatest gesture of generosity, I forked a bite’s worth onto Monsieur’s plate, keen to share the experience. It will be a long time before I forget such a wonderful culinary treat.
Our waiter was a proper character – tri-lingual at least, generally displaying his trio of international skills in the same sentence: “Monsieur, your order, per favore,” or “tutto a posto, Missus, oui? C’est bon?”. Cleverly, this covered all the bases. Now he suggested “un’ gelato, ice cream, glace?” It would have been rude not to, although at €10.00 per three scoop sundae, stabbed with a branded wafer and squirt of whipped cream, the cost was excessive in a country where you can buy decent gelato at a euro a scoop. Still, we bore it with a smile, as the lunch had been fantastic, we were looking out at a stunning marine-lover’s vista, and it seemed sad to leave without something sweet on the tongue. The Sicilian cassata ice cream was excellent. Don’t leave Porto Rotondo without trying it. Homemade glacé fruit makes such a difference. NB If you don’t want to fork out €10.00 for a sit-down sundae, you can always opt for the take-away option for about half that.
A clue to the excellence of our Porto Rotondo lunch lay just inside this doorway:
That’s where I spotted a shelf absolutely groaning with well-thumbed, sauce-flecked cook books.
Certainly, this was an expensive visit at around €90.00 for just the two of us, including diet cokes and bottled water but no wine or alcohol, yet for the memory, it was definitely worth it. As for the tuna carpaccio – it’s the stuff my dreams are made of.
Bar-Gelateria Del Molo - Walk all the way down the Via Del Molo until you reach the water. The Del Molo is tucked just around the corner on the right hand side. Local phone number: 0789 34338.
Click here to see my last post about the Del Molo, where I talk about breakfast.
There’s nothing quite like a quality Continental breakfast, especially the way the Italians do it. The Maleti Bar on Venice’s Lido island knows exactly how to get the day off to a good start with just a few, simple ingredients:
Excellent coffee with a proper Italian kick, just the way I like it. Freshly squeezed orange juice. Warm brioches, the Northern name for croissants, one hiding a soft chocolate filling. My waistline didn’t thank me for that particular indulgence, but my tastebuds rose in a standing ovation.
One of my favourite lunchtime bites is the Venetian take on a sandwich: the tramezzino. The Maleti Bar tempted us via its counters filled with snacking potential. The tramezzini sit in fattened white triangles on the bottom shelf. If you ask me, a tuna and onion sandwich made Venetian-style is the world champ of its species.
If you’re more of a wrap-enthusiast, check out the top shelf here. Have you ever seen anything so artfully appetising? These wraps are colourful, stylish and huge; the Pavarottis of the wrap world.
Ah, Italy. Repeatedly, you win my heart, and always through my stomach.
*To find the Bar Maleti, take a vaporetto to the Lido. Get off at Lido Santa Maria Elisabetta. The Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta is the long road in front of you, moving away from the water. The Bar Maleti, a favourite with Lido locals, is about halfway down on the left hand side.
There are four branches of Petite Abeille, or ‘Little Bee’ in New York City, each with Belgian charm and all proud of their reputation as being the providers of an excellent weekend brunch. Alas, house rules say no reservations are possible; you have to present yourself in person and be prepared to wait.
Monsieur and I were in New York for a long weekend, late in March. We were lucky with the weather: the sky was nothing but high and blue, the air crisp and we couldn’t wait for a proper Noo Yoik Sunday brunch, so, armed with a pair of rumbling stomachs we headed down to lower Manhattan to the Petite Abeille at 134 West Broadway.
On arrival there was already a line out the door, but within a few minutes we were inside and soon after that were offered seats at the bar while we waited for a table to become free. The restaurant byline is ‘a taste of Belgium’ and the walls were suitably covered with Tintin posters and a variety of Belgian memorabilia. We ordered drinks to quell our hunger. Monsieur had an OJ and I went all out, ordering one of the famous Petite Abeille Bloody Marys.
This was one fantastic cocktail, with plenty of va-va-voom courtesy of oodles of fresh horseradish and a liberal dose of Worcestershire sauce. The usual celery stick garnish was enhanced by a sprinkling of colourful batons of capsicum, a bit like fat pick-up sticks. The success of this drink surely augured well for our brunch – if we ever got a table.
Just as Monsieur’s stirrings of impatience became dangerous to the waitresses, we were ushered to a table by the window – one of the prime positions in this otherwise tiny shack of an eatery. The wait was worth it for our view of both our fellow patrons and the street of eclectic boutiques outside. There must have been a fun run that day because runners and their cheerleading friends and family started to descend on the Petite Abeille, wrapped in aluminium blankets. These sporty folk knew exactly where to get their post-exercise carb fix.
Monsieur and I ventured into the menu with caution, nibbling at first on a shared almond croissant and a tartine of perfectly toasted baguette slathered with Nutella. My husband being French, his critique of breads is utterly unforgiving, so when he declared the baguette perfect and asked for a toaster like the one in the Petite Abeille kitchen, I was blown away. Such praise is rare.
Around us, the meal of choice seemed to be the waffle special, loaded with blueberries, strawberries and rounds of fresh kiwifruit, all scattered atop an evil layer of whipped cream. This was obviously not the place for slimmers, as proven by a quick glance at the menu which features a lot of eggs, potatoes, burgers and cheese. With such a tempting selection I was torn; would I honour my penchant for croquettes (North Sea shrimp or Belgian Cheese), cave in to an Omelette Maison (smoked salmon, scallions and sour cream) or tuck into the vol au vent filled with chicken stew, bacon, mushrooms and accompanied by fries? In the end I decided to go all out on the calorie front, ordering the Macaroni Jambon-Fromage - traditional mac ‘n’cheese with ham and Gruyère, delightfully gooey and rich with melted dairy products. Then to assuage the guilt attached to the glutton I am fully capable of being, I ordered a side salad of leaves with sliced red onion, seedless cucumber chunks and divinely marinated tomato that’s reminiscent of how tomatoey a tomato should taste. All of the time.
Monsieur was now elbow deep in his brunch fare: eggs benedict with smoked salmon, mesclun salad and stoemp, golden yolky lava coursing across his plate. “Your eggs are better,” he pronounced, “but the muffins and smoked salmon are excellent.” Having started the day unconvinced by my choice of brunch restaurant, fussy French husband was now praising my eatery-selection techniques. “And this stoemp is very, very good.” he mumbled through a mouthful of leek and potato mash. The only thing he didn’t comment on was the mesclun, but he wouldn’t; to Monsieur salad is simply salad, only worthy of comment when the leaves are brown.
Bottomless ice water and decent regular coffee with warm milk completed this sunny picture. We didn’t have room for any of the eight waffle options on offer but as a consolation, we would now not need lunch, having been fully topped up with calorific goodness. Monsieur and I paid our waitress with a smile, heading out into a bright Manhattan Sunday afternoon with gleeful step. I’ll certainly be back when the siren call of the North Sea shrimp croquettes becomes insistently inescapable and between you and me, I hope that might be soon.
In early May, the Sardinian summer season is slowly kicking off. The atmosphere’s halcyon, the sky cerulean, the waters clear and flowers exploding with colour everywhere you look, yet the tourist hordes have yet to land. It’s paradise.
One typically fine morning, Monsieur and I drove to Porto Rotondo, a village with impressive marina just south of the Emerald Coast in Sardinia’s north-west. It’s by no means ancient; farmers and fisherman inhabited the locale until prominent architect, Luigi Vietti arrived to design the village in the 1960s. He and his team of developers set to work, building hotels and apartments, boutiques and moorings and all the amenities a wealthy holidaymaker might demand. Love him or hate him, Silvio Berlusconi likes it here; he has a holiday home on the cliffs above the town. (If you’re into a bit of Silvio-spotting, I’ve heard it’s the one with several carabinieri cars permanently parked at the gate.)
Porto Rotondo is a curious place. It has a slick, artificial feel to it, with the tangible yet conflicting element of deep relaxation. The people don’t walk, they amble, whilst smiling in a slow, easy way. The streets are cobbled and inlaid with modern mosaic patterns, the church of San Lorenzo (patron saint of cooks) resembles an overturned hull and there’s a granite amphitheatre for the entertainment of culture vultures. The marina is a tribute to luxury pleasure boats, filled with every type of exclusive vessel imaginable, from fat, white gin palaces to wood-panelled speed boats and tall, classic schooners. Boat brokers are two-a-penny here and you can see why. There’s plenty of business to be had.
When I remember our visits to Porto Rotondo, it’s the perfect breakfasts that come to mind. Monsieur and I discovered a quiet, traditional eatery overlooking a quiet section of the marina, and there we’d sit of a morning, the tranquillity seeping into our souls.
The owners of the Bar-Gelateria del Molo have proudly hung the date of its establishment above the doorway: 1950. They’re evidently proud to have been here before Signor Vietti; quite possibly they fed and watered him as the village grew into a pleasure port. Our breakfasts there were simple – perfect shots of Italian espresso, hot and creamy with a proper Continental kick, tall, cool glasses of freshly-squeezed orange juice and soft, buttery croissants to start the day. At €10.00 a head for this simple breakfast, you might argue that it’s not great value, but Monsieur and I would disagree. The location is unbeatable, the staff welcoming, the views spectacular. The memory makes my heart slow in the most calming of ways.
Endearingly, outside the Bar-Gelateria del Molo is parked a tiny Italian delivery buggy of bright buffed red. In a wink to days of yore, there’s a wicker basket strapped to the back. I hope it’s tasked with carrying picnics to seaward-bound gin palaces, for it would be a complete waste to stay at home and order delivery food in Porto Rotondo, when you could so easily wander down to this refreshingly unpretentious bar with the perfect view. The del Molo certainly provides the quintessential Italian breakfast of quality, but I imagine it’s equally glorious for a cocktail at sunset, or a wicked lick of stracciatella on a hot afternoon.
Sitting here in the grey of January in London, the simple act of recalling breakfasts at the Bar-Gelateria del Molo warms me through. If that isn’t a glowing reference for an eatery, I don’t know what is. So, promise me, please, that if you find yourself in Sardinia one early May, you’ll make your way to Porto Rotondo and, even if it’s just the once, you owe it to yourself to breakfast by the marina. For the oft-harassed escapee from the hamster wheel of the Western World, this is a tonic not to be missed.
In recent years, I’ve found one of the most efficient conversation starters to be “what do you think of Starbucks?” The opinions fly about as fast as Roadrunner on his sixth triple espresso, and there’s often the feeling that it’s a bit uncool to admit to liking Starbucks, just like when it wasn’t cool to like Abba. Don’t get me wrong; there’s always a handful of brand-faithful caffeine addicts ready to share their love of vanilla frappuccinos, Christmas gingerbread or eggnog lattes, caramel macchiatos or the reliability of the simple flat white. On the other hand, there are plenty of folk who make no secret of their disdain for the world’s most famous coffee house.
Some people hate Starbucks because it’s everywhere. Others love it because it’s everywhere. It would seem the jury’s still out, especially because of the effect of Starbucks on the small, old-fashioned coffee shop which has been fast-disappearing, unable to keep up with the larger coffee chains. Think: You’ve Got Mail, only with independent cafes, instead of bookstores, being put out to pasture by the new big boy on the block. Given all the different opinions, the argument seems nowhere near being resolved. Then, in one online dispute between some of my fellow bloggers from different cities around the world, each with their own Starbucks (plural) nearby, I learned something new about the coffee giant: in the States Starbucks is respected for the benefits it offers its employees and the fact that it has a notable non-discriminatory recruitment record. That piqued my interest. Gay, straight, young, old, black, white, with or without qualifications. If you’re willing to work, you’re almost assured of a job at Starbucks.
A while ago, I picked up a book in a charity store. It was called ‘How Starbucks Saved My Life’. It sat in my To Read pile until recently, when I found I could not put it down. The author, Michael Gill, tells the tale of his successful career, for which he sacrificed Christmas with his kids and quality family time as he jetted around the States and beyond in the name of advertising. Not so clever in hindsight, he finds. He never considered that the agency for whom he worked would axe him. No, he really believed he’d be there until he retired, but the agency didn’t see it that way. Suddenly, and without further ado, Gill was fired. His face no longer fit the image of the agency.
One failing consultancy, an affair, a love-child, a divorce and a tumour later, Gill finds himself down-and-out, applying for a job at Starbucks. Instead of feeling embarrassment at taking a blue collar job with very basic hourly wage, Gill surprises himself by realising how much he enjoys his new, simpler life. He makes new friends, looks back at past experience with fresh eyes, learns to take pride in all aspects of his new-found work, including toilet cleaning, and starts to reassemble the different parts of his broken life. It’s inspiring.
Some cynics would say that the Ad-Man in Gill saw an opportunity here; by writing about his experience of such a global brand, he’d get his book noticed, and he did. I don’t have a problem with that. Others might complain about Gill’s name-dropping, which did annoy me at times, but we should remember that until he lost his job in advertising, Gill really was a major player in that world, so a certain amount of his past-life involved schmoozing high-profile people. What impressed me, however, was how the once-grand man with everything learned to take pleasure in simple things and be grateful for them. Once upon a time Gill would have taken his ad-agency remuneration package, including health care benefits for all his family, for granted. He is now almost pathetically grateful for the health care he receives through Starbucks. In the past Gill would have been scared to cross paths with some of his co-workers, from starkly different backgrounds to his. Now they share music and anecdotes and learn from each other’s life experiences.
Gill works hard and steadily, getting himself into a new groove and routine. He overcomes fears, confronts his failings and learns enough about coffee to run tastings for colleagues and guests. I’d say that’s pretty admirable for a man who only recently thought he was on the scrap heap for good.
Apparently Tom Hanks thought Gill’s tale was worth further attention, because he bought the film rights. The film version of How Starbucks Saved My Life is listed on IMDB as being a 2012 release, so we’re going to hear a lot more about the global coffee king before too long.
Before you all jump on your soapboxes to tell me that I’m evil for supporting what one acquaintance calls The Devil’s Coffee House, just remember that my day job is in Human Resources. In recent years I’ve had to tell too many good people that they needed to find a new way to cover their rent/ mortgage/ school fees/ loan repayments and credit card debts because their job had ceased to exist. I’ve seen grown men and women sway with catatonia and cry, and it’s been soul-destroying for all concerned.
We weren’t alone; the credit crunch has forced many companies to shrink their staff numbers or close down completely, and many firms use the credit crunch as an excuse to remove non-contractual benefits and cut salaries. Often the business reasons for this have been valid. At other times, you’ll find they’re a tight-fisted pretext for making those at the top richer and Joe Bloggs poorer. Of those still in work, most of us are worse off than we were four years ago. So when you’re jobless, sixty something, down on your uppers and are accustomed to having coffee served to you as opposed to serving it to other people, but have never made cappuccino foam in your life, what do you do? Take a leaf out of Gill’s book and head for Starbuck’s. Then ask for an application form. In this tough climate, Starbuck’s is rare in not pulling the plug on staff benefits and however you look at it, the list of benefits for U.S. Starbucks workers is impressive. They cleverly call it a ‘Special Blend’. Here’s a brief summary of benefit components that a Starbucks partner might expect, taken from the U.S. website:
- Competitive pay
- Insurance: medical, prescription drug, dental, vision, life, disability
- Paid time off
- Retirement savings plan
- Stock options and discounted stock purchase plan
- Adoption assistance
- Domestic partner benefits
- Emergency financial aid
- Referral and support resources for child and eldercare
- A free pound of coffee each week
Further information is here:
When it comes to finding out what benefits a UK Starbucks partner can expect, there is a curious lack of information on the UK website, but I did manage to find out that Starbucks intends to introduce an NVQ training scheme for their staff from next year, with an MBA-style programme for senior managers currently in development. These courses and more will be available to partners through the Starbucks University, helping them to gain education whilst working, whatever their level.
As for Michael Gill? He’s written a second book, called How to Save Your Own Life: 15 Lessons on Finding Hope in Unexpected Places, but according to a quote on his website, he is intent on keeping things simple.
“I have heard from literally thousands of people who have told me that they have benefited from my surprising story,” Mike says, “I think because my life is irrefutable proof that simply acquiring things does not bring happiness. In fact, the contrary has proved true for me: losing a lot of stuff frees me to be truly me. There is a cost to working 12 hour days like I used to do, or striving to keep up a big house and a big life. There is a freedom to going through life without a lot of heavy status stuff—and just giving yourself the chance to do what you were meant to do, and be who you were truly meant to be.”
Sounds like someone’s been talking to the ghost of Epicurus…
In case you’re wondering, yes, Michael Gill still works part-time at his local Starbucks. And my favourite Starbucks beverage? Ice-cold mocha frappuccino, even when it’s snowing.
Do you have a comment to make about The Devil’s Coffee Shop? Let’s debate. Let me know YOUR experience of Starbucks, good, indifferent or bad – all opinion is welcome here.
Ever since I first set eyes on an image of Mont Saint Michel in a school French textbook I’ve dreamed of visiting the famed island abbey and recently that dream came true. At last Monsieur and I were able to see Mont Saint Michel for ourselves, but that experience is a whole different blog post. First, I have a rant just BURSTING to get out.
Most readers of Epicurienne will know by now that I like to accentuate the positive in this blog, but sometimes the negative will rise to the surface, bubbling like an angry little New Zealand mud pool. Today I am that mud pool.
It’s a sad fact of life that popular tourist sites often become overrun with mediocre eateries and tacky souvenir stalls purveying their wares various at premium prices. All’s fair in love and commerce, as they say, but what really irks me is when a little premium becomes mass extortion. That’s when a sightseeing experience with great memory-making potential runs the risk of being badly tarnished. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the sort of experience we had at Mont Saint Michel.
After a long drive across Britanny, Monsieur and I decided that doing the abbey on an empty stomach simply would not do, so we made lunch our priority. We’d heard of a place called La Mère Poulard, long-established on the mount and renowned for its omelettes, but I’d been put off by internet reviews saying that the Poulard establishment charged €20.00 for one omelette.Outrageous. Wary, as ever, of tourist traps, and admittedly not a huge fan of omelettes unless cooked by my brother, I wasn’t that keen to dine at La Mere Poulard, but Monsieur changed my mind by pointing at the menu hung on the outer restaurant wall. It showed a set menu for €15.00 and it wouldn’t be necessary to eat omelette. I could have galettes, peut être. The menu sounded like good value so we waited for a table, watching the theatre of the kitchen, open for the benefit of the passing public. Before too long, we were ushered to a table and presented with a different sort of menu, consisting of omelette, omelette or omelette. The price per omelette was no longer €20.00; it had escalated to €28.00. I was not impressed.
“They’ve probably just given us the expensive menu so we should ask for the one we saw outside,” I suggested to Monsieur, who was sitting in stunned silence, staring at the menu in front of him. Meanwhile, I tried to remember how much we pay for our eggs at home, and how many of those eggs I could buy with €28.00. (The result was 112, to be precise, which would make 37 three-egg omelettes.)
When the waiter returned we asked for the €15.00 menu.
“I’m sorry, but it is not served at this time. Only omelettes are served after 2.30pm.” It was 2.35pm. Nowhere on the outdoor menus had it stated time restrictions and by keeping us waiting for a table, we’d missed our chance at dining reasonably. I wanted to leave, but Monsieur just wanted to have lunch and get on with our visit, so we stayed. I didn’t really want to eat omelette, so asked if there was a more extensive menu. The answer was a definitive “Non.” So now we’d be paying a ridiculous price for eating something I didn’t even particularly like. What a pair of idiots. Mr T would rightly call me a foo’.
So, stuck with the expensive menu, we surveyed our options. The choice was
- Omelette with tomatoes
- Omelette with ham
- Omelette with smoked salmon.
Monsieur had a 2 and I had a 3. I expected the omelette to have the smoked salmon whisked through it, forming part of the overall whole. Instead, the smoked salmon was served in a little bowl to the side of a gigantic, foaming hemisphere of omelette. The smoked salmon was far from the best, which one really should expect when dining in an omelette house so ancient that the walls were hung with dozens of pictures of politicians and actors chowing down on the world’s most expensive chicken eggs. At least the omelette looked sizeable,(not that I cared because in case you don’t remember me saying, I. DON’T. LIKE. OMELETTE.) but on cutting into it, air escaped, the formerly fat half-moon deflated and in spite of not being the number one fan of omelettes, even mine disappeared in a jiffy. So in essence, not only had we just paid €56.00 for 2 omelettes, they were so insubstantial that eating them took a mere 5 minutes. That’s €11.20 per munching minute per pair of omelettes. If that’s not extortion, I don’t know what is. Shame on you, La Mère Poulard. You make my mud bubble.
Annoyed with ourselves for having been suckered into a tourist trap so soon after arriving at Mont Saint Michel, we grumbled our way up the path to the abbey, a well-trodden way lined with store after store of souvenirs, Norman biscuits and (strangely enough) replica swords – something to do with Saint Michael’s skill at slaying demons. The queue for entry tickets was quite long, but moved at a reasonable pace. Soon enough we were paying for our tickets. At €8.50 each, the total was €17.00. Now, I’m no banker, but I do know that when you hand over €20.00 note for something that costs €17.00, you should expect €3.00 in change. I received tickets and a receipt but no Euros. So I said to the ticket man “you owe me €3.00. I gave you a twenty.” And he glared at me as if I were a thief and thrusts coins into my hand in a rough manner before stalking away from his booth in a dark mood, probably because (a) the tourist could count and (b) the tourist spoke French.
By this time, the story of Christ and the money lenders was foremost in my mind. The irony of visiting a religious site, built in honour of The Archangel Michael, and being ripped off IN the abbey itself by a ticket salesperson was not lost on me. Sadly, the rip-off culture of Mont Saint Michel was to continue.
After our visit to the abbey, Monsieur and I were understandably thirsty, so we returned to the busy shopping street and found a little terrace bar looking out at the coast from the island. An ice cold soft drink was just what the abbot ordered, so we asked for 2 LARGE cokes. What we received was 2 teeny weeny pepsi colas, not at all cold and able to be swallowed in about 2 gulps each. The bill when it came was for a whopping €8.00. We did NOT leave a tip.
TIPS TO ENSURE YOUR TRIP TO MONT SAINT MICHEL GOES SMOOTHLY:
- Avoid La Mère Poulard at all costs unless you like to pay a fortune for a few whisked up eggs or are curious to dine at a place which has an impressive list of patrons, from Edward VII and François Mitterand to Claude Monet and Woody Allen. There are more affordable places to eat further up the path, but the best thing would be to dine away from the Mont and it’s money-grabbing ways. As we later realised there are some great meal deals to be had just the other end of the causeway, on the mainland, and a few of those eateries have stunning views of the Mont.
- Stop off at a shop or supermarket on your way to the Mont and buy water bottles to take with you. On a warm day the hike up to the Abbey is thirsty work. This will also save you a small fortune which is what all drinks on the Mont will cost you if you wait to purchase them there.
- Note that parking a regular car for the day will cost a flat fee of €5.00 – about the only thing at Mont Saint Michel that seems reasonable.
- When you arrive at the car park, check the signs which state when the tide will come in and flood certain areas of the car park, otherwise your visit to the Mont could become a lot more expensive than just a couple of overpriced omelettes and cola drinks.
The irony is that the most amazing aspect of the visit to Mont Saint Michel is the view – both of the Mont as you approach it and from the Mont looking out at the coast and sea. It’s really quite magical. And a view, like a smile, costs nothing.
Last Sunday I decided that something had to be done about my current addiction to (a) duvets, (b) blankets and (c) our gas fire. Donning as many layers as possible I took my camera to photograph the canals of Little Venice, which had frozen over.
Looking down Regent’s Canal from the blue Warwick Avenue bridge the canal looked more like a road you could drive along, rather than a waterway to float along.
A rare patch of water was visible under the other side of the blue bridge. Further along I found the beautiful red puppet theatre barge, which brought its optimism to the otherwise grey-and-white day.
Around the corner, poor old Jason sat quite inert. In the warmer months of the year he keeps busy chugging tourists up to Camden Lock and back, but now the canals are frozen solid so there’ll be no chugging for Jason for a while.
Some local folk had been testing the solidity of the ice, throwing bricks and other rubbish onto the canals to see whether the ice would break. It didn’t for this piece of scrap metal that will soon be polluting Browning’s Pond.
I once watched someone walk across an iced-over canal in Regent’s Park, but didn’t feel like risking an icy bath by trying to do so here. Meanwhile, in Scotland, a couple of joy-riding youths narrowly escaped death this week when they took their Peugeot 406 for a spin on the frozen Union Canal. Were their brains frozen? Apparently so.
This barge-café was open as usual, serving mugs of tea and coffee to walkers in need of somewhere to thaw.
Looking back at the Puppet Theatre and the blue bridge on Warwick Avenue, all of Browning’s Pool had disappeared beneath the ice.
The seagulls and other inhabitants of Browning’s Island took to their feet, walking about the ice in confusion. Where had the water gone?
Bilster wisely wore a coat against the weather.
And Bilster had obviously been around for a while, having been part of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company, in the days where the canals were used to transport goods up and down the country. FYI London hasn’t seen a phone number like CITY 4755 for quite some years.
The plants on this barge were hardy in the cold, but still I wondered if they might like to be taken inside to warm up, if only for a little while.
Further along, I met a swan in a patch of water near Paddington. He was swimming in circles, bleating at me as he searched in vain for his friends. Where had they gone? How ever had he been abandoned?
Still, he seemed happy of my company, even if the other walkers looked at me with concern each time I replied to his cries with a quack of my own.
Near Paddington I found a barge with homely plume of smoke coming from its chimney and two loads of firewood stacked on its roof. The occupants must be long-time residents of the canal and know how to protect themselves against the elements.
It was time to turn back. At Browning’s Pond the island’s usual population of Canada Geese were on the ice, preening themselves with the aid of watery reflections.
But now it was time to trudge home, careful not to slip or do involuntary ballet-like manoeuvres in an attempt to stay upright on icy patches. Enough of ice and snow. Bring on the gas fire, duvets and blankets!