Around the world in taxi cabs

We’ve caught taxis in most places around the world, an experience that is unique to each locale. In India the taxis are quaint old fashioned Ambassadors but you can also hire drivers with more ‘modern’ vehicles. Doesn’t really make a difference because the experience is hair-raising either way. And noisy. Indian drivers beep their horns all the time. I think its because no one really bothers to obey the road rules (if indeed there are any) so drivers are constantly making their presence known by way of their loud horn. But maybe its also a male macho thing (“my horn’s bigger/louder than yours”?). Similarly in Vietnam, but there it appears to be some logic to the madness and because people don’t drive fast, they seem to be able to cope with negotiating cross roads etc without lights and passing by. It still makes me incredibly anxious – I can’t bear to look out the windows, I have to occupy myself by reading or doing something. Either that or taking a chill pill (does help). In Malaysia its much more ‘civilised’ and organised but even so, drivers pay little attention to lanes: a 3 lane highway can easily become 5 and I’ve even seen drivers driving on the shoulder in order to bypass traffic. Still, I felt relatively safe in taxis in Malaysia. In London, one of the things I wanted to do (as well as riding on the top of a London bus) was take one of those traditional black cabs. They’re very different from our Aussie cabs: roomy in the back – enough room to put your suitcases in with you or to fit 6 people: 3 on the backseat and 3 on the pull down seat opposite. Plus they have individual settings for air con and music. Now that’s civilised. One of the things I noticed was the protocol of getting into a cab. You hail one, and then you talk to the driver about where you want to go through the front left side window, and only then do you get in. Here in Australia, you just jump in the cab and say where you want to go. I always sit in the back – I don’t think that in London people sit in the front. In Singapore we were amazed that you couldn’t just flag down a taxi. You have to wait at a designated taxi pick-up place. One time we saw a taxi stop at the lights and ran across 3 lanes of traffic and jumped in. The taxi driver was horrified. You just don’t do that there. He gabbled on and on about how we couldn’t just jump in. Finally I asked him if he didn’t want the fare and and should we get out? Eventually he clamed down and explained that it was illegal for him to pick up people in that manner and he could be fined. We found that very strange indeed. So regulated. But that’s Singapore. People queue and they never venture beyond that white line. Oh the freedom of being in Australia where you simply hail an empty cab and just hop in.

Eating well acrosss the continent

We’ve eaten rather well on our trip: from street food in Hong Kong to great London pub food and Scottish specialities. In London we would take a break from our walking and sightseeing to have a beer and a bite to eat. I’m not a beer drinker but the beers in the UK are very different to those back home. They’re full of flavour and as different in their complexity as wine. So, when in Rome…… However, one pint is my limit. Thereafter I need to revert to wine; most pubs had a good selection of wine by the glass. English pies are a British pub food specialty (as are fish and chips) and these are nothing like the pies back home, they’re hand made and sensational, particularly ones with ale and game (eg, ale and venison). And of course chips, hand made and crisp I couldn’t go past these. And because we walked so much each day I figured I could indulge.

In Scotland, haggis was the choice du jour. I love haggis. Its rich and flavousome, peppery and spicy and tastes very much like the Spanish morcia. I took every opportunity to order this. I just wish it wasn’t served with neeps and tatties (that’s turnips nad mashed potatoes) though I must admit that they do go very well together. My preference would be for haggis to be served with a rocket and tomato salad but I guess in the cold weather people want something filling and sustaining. And so to porridge. Another Scottish speciality. They cook it with salt but also serve it with whisky, brown sugar and cream. Its heavenly and a wonderful way to start your day. Especially when its only 3 degrees outside.

In Oban, home of the malt whisky of the same name, we indulged in local seafood – scallops from Mull, langoustines and huge oysters. Scottish hot and cold smoked salmon came in a variety of forms. And then there was game: pigeon, partridge, pheasant, grouse and venison. Grouse is very strong in flavour, much more so than pigeon or partridge or pheasant, due to the fact that it subsists on a diet of wild heather. Venison was similar to kangaroo – very lean so it could be cooked quite rare and a very mild gamey taste. In Oban I had a superbly cooked venison saddle with spiced red cabbage, pickled walnuts and a chive and truffle mash. It was sensational and the venison was so perfectly cooked that I wondered how this was done (it was a very thick cut). I thought it would have been seared in a pan and then finished off in the oven but turns out that it was all done in a pan because it was cooked rare. For medium rare it would be first seared then finished off in the oven. On the Isle of Skye I had a wonderful confit of duck leg served with julienned vegetables – beetroot, carrot, spring onion, coriander – with a thai style dressing. Inspired. And this from a bar menu. True, the bar food came from the same kitchen that serves the dining room which has won awards and a Michelin star. Venison shin with bone marrow jelly. Sounds weird but it was wonderful. The venison is slowly cooked until it falls apart (much like slow cooked lamb) and is then put into a mould (like a timbale) and the jelly on the outside.

Over the channel we wanted to experience good traditional French food: escargot, steak tartare, coquilles St Jacque, pot au feau, confit of duck, rabbit in mustard sauce and of course, pates and rillettes, cheese and baguettes. Generallly we just wondered until we found a bistro that appealed to us – spoilt for choice, there are bistros everywhere, mostly serving much the same. One day, walking through Montmartre we spotted a little Coriscan bistro. It was very small but they had a range of charcuteire plates and all we really wanted was a bite to eat, rather than a meal. The young woman who ran the place was friendly and welcoming and despite not speaking much English, but was very chatty. We had a fabulous white beer and then the house red wine (which was excellent) and a mixed cheese and charcuteire plate. And then we sat outside with our cofees and watched the world go by.

I’ve never eaten so much on a holiday (or at home for that matter). We generally only have breakfast and then dinner. But who could go past all these wonderful foods. We’ve come back slightly heavier but happier for the experience.