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.

The journey south

Our journey is coming to an end. We’re on our way back to London. We left Duffus (north east of Inverness on the Moray Firth) yesterday midday and drove down to Gattonside in the Scottish Borders. It was a long and slow five hour drive with the usual detour around Edinburgh (not knowing where we were going). This morning we got up early in order to get to London at a reasonable time – hopefully before dark (4pm) and the rush hour traffic. Yesterday the peaks of the mountains were covered in snow. This morning a layer of frost covered everything. It was zero degrees – freezing; even the cows were huddled together. The sheep were just barely visible, blending into the frost covered ground. Mist hung low as did the sun which was blindingly bright making it difficult to drive.

We had figured six hours would get us to London but we’ve been on the road for an hour and a half and have only just crossed the border into England. We’ve done 100 miles and still have over 300 to go. The journey is made slow due to queues of cars behind trucks and slow farmers on single lane roads. That and the visibility difficulties due to the blinding sun. But it’s a pretty journey with the road going through the centre of villages with narrow streets and lovely old buildings. The car has finally warmed up and the water in the windscreen wipers thawed. Our iPod is plugged in and we’ve resolved to simply enjoy the trip – the only pressing need is to get the car back before the hire place closes. Negotiating London traffic will be another matter but hopefully the lovely google map lady will assist. By the time we return our car we would have covered over 2000 miles. Quite a journey.

Tomorrow will be another early start – Eurostar to Paris at 7.55am. We have to be at St Pancras Station half an hour earlier which means leaving our digs in London at 6.45am. Yikes. Once upon a time I left home at 7.00am every weekday to go to work. These days I have to set an alarm to be out of bed before 9.30 in order to make it down for breakfast. I’m looking forward to being in our apartment in Paris where we can fend for ourselves and there are no schedules for breakfast. And a sleep in. Then again, there is so much to do and see that sleeping in would be a waste of holiday time. I’ll save that for when we’re back home.

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The Isle of Skye

Sitting in front of an open fire in our quaint little hotel on the Isle of Sky. Once again, it’s been an amazing journey traveling from Oban to Tyndrum, past Ben Nevis and Glen Coe to Ballachulish then Fort William, past Loch Linnhe and Loch Locky to Invergarry and on past the majestic Five Sisters and Loch Alsh to Kye of Lochalsh and then finally crossing the bridge to the Isle of Skye (whew!). We’ve been blessed with good weather. We were warned that if it were cloudy/misty then we wouldn’t see much – which would be a shame as the whole point of being on Skye is to experience it’s stunning beauty.

But the gods have been smiling on us and so far the weather has been relatively mild (by Scottish standards) and we’ve had clear blue days and even sunshine. When it’s rained we’ve blissfully been indoors.
Tonight we took a pre-prandial walk. So dark. There are no street lights; the only light coming from the windows of houses ¬†scattered about. We can just make out the mists on the mountains and the dark waters and it’s so still and quiet. The only sound is our feet crunching on the road and the lapping of water nearby.
And it’s only 6 o’clock. It takes some getting used to night falling so early – it still surprises me when I realise it’s not yet 5 o’clock and it feels like night time. Here on Skye there’s nothing to do. We sit by the fire and drink red wine and whiskies and read. A self imposed exile and a time to recharge and enjoy being on holidays in an unfamiliar territory and nothing to do. Bliss.