Friday, 27 July 2012

Meaty! The Salami Museum of Szeged, Hungary

Slaughtering called for a number of separate professions, such as the stabbing master, the guts cleaner and the salami making itself...”

Urgh. They say you should never enquire too closely into how a sausage is made.

The same is true for salami, judging from this caption at the Pick Salami and Paprika Museum in Szeged, Hungary.

I was fearful of this institution being packed with lots of boring industrial information presented via small, dusty captions.

However, the meat-flavoured museum in this attractive city on the Tisza River in the nation’s southeast turns out to be good fun.

In addition to the occasional “Too much information” text on how salami is created, there are interesting, simply presented displays involving industrial equipment and overall-wearing dummies. 

The dummies lack facial features but come complete with enormous moustaches, cloth caps, and in one case, a brush that’s applied to the “noble mould” that encases the salami as it matures (best not too ask too much here either).

What’s interesting in the story of Pick Salami, named after the company’s 19th century founder Mark Pick, is how much it parallels the political and industrial history of Hungary.

As I make my way past dummies extruding meat into sausage-like casings, or hauling salamis dangling from sticks hung over their shoulders, I learn how the meat was initially prized for its ability to be transported without refrigeration, and how the factory’s export markets were in flux after World War I led to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The upstairs section of the museum is devoted to paprika, the quintessential Hungarian ingredient. It may lack the humorous potential of salami, but paprika is the essential element that marks out Hungary’s unique cuisine from that of the nations which surround it.

Frankly, it’s a mystery as to why there aren’t more Hungarian restaurants snuggled between all the Italian and Chinese eateries around the world. One of the most distinctive European cuisines, Hungarian food is memorably denoted by spicy paprika and flavoursome sauces, and accompanied by fine local wine.

Better still, eating well while travelling through the nation of the Magyars (as Hungarians call themselves) is laughably inexpensive. A fine tureen of goulash soup served suspended above a flame will only set you back a few dollars, as will most main dishes and bottles of locally produced wine.

Szeged’s Salami Museum is clearly irresistible; you even get presented with some salami on bread at the end of the tour. And a free prepaid postcard so you can tell your friends all about Szeged’s salami fixation. Tasty.

This post was sponsored by Flight Centre NZ. Check out its site for cheap flights.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Truths of Sherlock Holmes (Part 2)

One of the first places that novelist Narrelle Harris and I visited on our first visit to London in 1990 was Baker Street, home of the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
The Holmes novels and short stories have remained great favourites of ours over the years, supplemented by the fine TV versions starring, respectively, Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes.
Reflecting on the great detective, we realised the 60 adventures related by Dr John Watson via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle contain recurring life lessons which we would all do well to learn.
In Narrelle’s blog Mortal Words she outlines the first six of these truths, so you might like to visit there first then return to this page. 
For here are our final six Truths of Sherlock Holmes, with some of my London photos and references to stories which you can read via this link to Project Gutenberg. For your pleasure, there's an extra added bonus truth at the end: 

7. It’s a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing gown. 
Goes without saying, even when confronted by Professor James Moriarty.
(See The Final Problem)

8. The days of the great criminal are past.  
Holmes whinges almost constantly that crime has become dull and uninspired. The life lesson we can draw from this is that every job has its tedium and drudgery; there has to be some uneventful time available to update Holmes’ biographical indexes and commonplace book, after all. But hang in there. Something interesting will show up eventually, possibly disguised as a routine task.
(See The Solitary Cyclist and just about every second story in the canon)
9. Holmes already knows everything, so your only hope is to confess the whole story, in a clear narrative structure. 
If you're going to make a confession, make sure it's concise and in neat chronological order, so any nearby friend and colleague of the detective can easily take notes for later publication.
(See The Devils Foot,  The Abbey Grange, The Blue Carbuncle, The Resident Patient and big chunks of A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Valley of Fear)

10. It’s never the gypsies. 
Conan Doyle was always even-handed with his villains, who came from all walks of life. But never, apparently, from gypsy clans. They had enough on their plates, what with being blamed for every instance of horse stealing and petty theft throughout Europe. So much for stereotypes.
(See The Speckled Band; The Priory School; Wisteria Lodge)
11. You can't come up with a solution that ignores some of the facts. 
On several occasions, police detectives (aka Scotland Yard bunglers) devise a theory they think is good enough, even though it leaves some quirky facts unexplained. This always turns out to be a bad idea, when Holmes shows them up by incorporating these facts into the correct solution. The moral is to not put the cart before the horse; let the facts lead you to the correct answer.
(See The Dancing Men, The Six Napoleons)
12. Run a mile from self-confessed “faddy people”. 
Their curious and seemingly harmless fads will inevitably prove to be cover for sinister deeds. Basically, if someone asks you to put on an electric blue dress and sit at a window while he tells you funny jokes, decline. It’s probably not your colour, anyway.
(See The Copper Beeches, The Three Gables)
And a bonus truth to make it a baker’s dozen:
13. As you value your life or your reason, stay away from the moor. 
Even if you do like dogs.
(See The Hound of the Baskervilles)

To delve further into the truths of Sherlock Holmes (for it is a capital mistake to theorise without data):
And for the first six Truths of Sherlock Holmes, click here. Do you have any further Sherlock truths to add? Leave a comment below.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Skål! More Cafe-Bars of Södermalm

Last post I reviewed three bars in or near the ever-so-hip SoFo district of Södermalm, an island south of Stockholm's central business district.

This week I go north to the area around Slussen, with its steep bluffs and views of the picturesque Old Town...

1. Gondolen, Stadsgården 6. This remarkable bar is suspended in the air high above the locks in the channel between Södermalm and Gamla Stan (the Old Town).

The structure was originally built in the 19th century as a lift to take residents up to the heights above the water, a development which led to an early gentrification of parts of the island - because you no longer had to haul your way up those steep inclines if you were posh and fancied a view:

The lift shaft on the water side no longer works, so Gondolen is accessed via a lift in the commercial building it's attached to. As you'd expect, there are great views from the bar:

As for the bar's name, you might imagine like I did that it's a fanciful reference to the gondolas of watery Venice - but you'd be wrong.

The lift was rebuilt in 1933, at the height of the age of the airship (and four years before the destruction of the Hindenburg ended it).

According to my barman, the name Gondolen evokes the gondolas which once hung beneath the gigantic balloons, carrying the passengers and crew. There is, I imagine, still a passing resemblance:

There's a restaurant attached but I was happy to order a dry martini made with local Svensk Vodka ($13.50), reflect on the last time I'd encountered a zeppelin in my travels, and enjoy the view.

2. Akkurat, Hornsgatan 18. Not far to the west, this sprawling modern pub stocks an astounding range of beers - 700 in bottles and at least 20 on tap on any given day. You can see some of the variety via this board, which listed some of the offering on the day I visited:

I was at the bar to interview Micke Bayart, a diehard ABBA fan who met all the group's members in the 1980s and had recently written a book about his experiences, ABBA by Micke.

As we talked, we each tried a couple of the bar's stock, helped by this gent behind the bar:

I started with a Golden Ale from Sweden ($10.25), then recklessly moved onto the #500 ($14.50) from the Norwegian brewer Nøgne Ø - which I belatedly realised was 10% alcohol. Powerful stuff.

3. Mellqvist Kaffebar, Hornsgatan 78. Further to the west is a cafe-bar I didn't actually get to drink in, as it was about to close when I passed by. It's worth noting, however, as one of the regular haunts of ace investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist in the Millennium series of novels:

If you're a fan of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you'll remember this as the cafe in which Salander asks Blomkvist for a sizeable and very consequential loan near the end of the book. In real life, novelist Stieg Larsson worked nearby and hung out here. And, possibly, plotted over coffee... 

This post was sponsored by

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Skål! Cool Cafe-Bars of Södermalm

The island of Södermalm, south of Stockholm's Old Town, was once known for its industry and gritty working-class housing. Now the wheel has turned, and its proximity to the city centre has led to gentrification and an influx of the monied and the arty.

Crossing that new population with the still-gritty streetscape has given rise to some interesting places to have a drink. Here are a few I visited on my recent trip to Sweden (assisted by the Stockholm Visitors Board)...

1. Gilda, Skånegatan 79. This cool cafe-bar is located in the pretentiously-named SoFo district of Södermalm, south of Folkungagatan and east of Götgatan. It's in a pleasant spot, as it overlooks the greenery of Nytorget square. As you can see from the pics, it's a relaxed, eclectically decorated hang-out of the hip:

It serves decent food too - I had an excellent tuna toastie ($10.50) and double-shot black coffee ($3.50), with the coffee served in the sort of delicate cup and saucer your gran might have sipped tea from. Nice touch, Gilda (whoever you are):

2. Cafe String, Nytorgsgatan 38. Not far away in SoFo is this corner cafe with huge windows letting in natural light on the strange collection of oddments that constitute its decor. It's a laidback, grungy sort of place, very reminiscent of the retro-themed cafes of Brunswick Street, Melbourne in the 1990s:

I had a coffee ($2.80) here when it opened one morning, and on the way out admired the all-season Santa in the front window, next to a scuffed old motorbike:

3. Kvarnen, Tjärhovsgatan 4. Just outside SoFo to the north, this old-fashioned beer hall is the polar opposite of an edgy modern cafe. Open since 1908, its cavernous interior is furnished with timber tables against wood-panelled walls, and there's a long, pitted, metal-topped bar running down one side:

I wasn't eating, but the menu looked interesting. The standard offer was two courses for $25, including such Scandi options as pickled herring cake, smoked sausages, homemade meatballs and reindeer stew. 

Given these homegrown food choices, I was surprised to find that the bar didn't have any Swedish beers on tap; so I settled for a 600ml glass of Falcon ($9.60), which was once an iconic Swedish brew but is now owned by the Danish company Carlsberg:

The only negative thing about Kvarnen was a
compulsory $3 coat check (in my case, a jacket check) as you enter, whether you're wearing light or bulky outerwear. Presumably they just have to do without this annoying little surcharge on hot days.

Next: Three more Södermalm drinking holes of an entirely different nature - one very high, another with an overwhelming range, and a third which features in fiction...

This post was sponsored by

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Sydney's Hidden Tank Stream

There's nothing I like more than discovering a completely hidden feature of a city, and the Tank Stream in Sydney is a fine example of that.

When the city was founded in 1788, its fresh water came from this stream, which flowed into Sydney Harbour where Circular Quay is today.

In fact the Tank Stream is the very reason for Sydney's location, as Captain Arthur Phillip decided to build the new town here because of the presence of this fresh water source; following in the footsteps of Aboriginal inhabitants who had camped near the creek for the same reason.

At one point, the new settlers carved water storage tanks out of stone next to the stream, giving it its modern name.

Over the centuries the creek was polluted and covered over by the modern city, which drew its water from other sources. However, if you keep an eye out on Sydney's streets, you can still trace its now-subterranean course.

Here's what I saw when I went looking for the Tank Stream last year (ably assisted by this excellent web page by Jens Korff)...

1. Tank Stream Fountain. Just back from Circular Quay off Alfred Street, I found this 1981 fountain commemorating the stream and its crucial role in Sydney's early life. Aptly, it's a watery oasis among the concrete buildings, decked out with sculptures of plant and animal life:

2. Tankstream installation. The fountain was easy to spot, but the Tankstream art installation was not. Created in 1999 by artist Lynne Roberts-Goodwin, it consists of a series of markers set into the pavement through the city centre, following the original course of the creek. Here's the first one I located, near the fountain on the corner of Alfred and Pitt Streets:

On the long arm of each marker is a quote from Captain Watkin Tench, who in 1788 described the "small stream of fresh water" which would sustain the new settlement. The shorter arm was, I believe, originally fitted with a blue light which would simulate running water - but doesn't do so now.

3. Tank Stream Way. Further south I walked along Tank Stream Way, which contains the Tank Stream Bar. This laneway runs off Bridge Street, named after the bridge which once crossed the stream here. I was delighted to discover three double sets of Tankstream markers embedded in the foyer of the office building at 17 Bridge Street:

4. Following the flow. More markers appeared as I walked south, including one outside a sushi bar and a double set pointing to the General Post Office building in Martin Place:


5. Beneath the GPO. Most of the building is now given over to shops and eateries, but tucked away in the basement I entered a small but fascinating museum display about the history of the GPO and the Tank Stream. Exhibits included sections of brick drains which once enclosed the stream, and objects found in its waters:

6. Hidden Swamp. The Tankstream installation ran out after a final double marker in the Pitt Street Mall...

... but I continued on to the area just west of Hyde Park where the Tank Stream once sprang from swamps. I wanted to mark their presence so I took a seat at the rather swish Bambini Trust Bar (found via Kate Armstrong's fine Sydney Travel Guide app) and ordered a long macchiato ($4.50) and the hummus and candied orange dip ($11).

As I sipped coffee and ate my expensive dip, Sydney's first fresh water gurgled unseen far beneath my feet, making its way to the harbour as it had done for millennia.

This post was sponsored by Check out its site for accommodation in Sydney.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Business End 2: MEL-SIN on Qantas

The Business End is an occasional (sadly too occasional) series in which I review airlines’ offerings in classes above Economy… on this occasion, Qantas Airways’ Business Class in its huge Airbus A380 aircraft.

I was on my way from Melbourne to London on trusty QF9 (a flight I’ve been on many times before), but was only in Business Class as far as Singapore so that’s the journey I’ll focus on here.

The lounge

Business Class travel starts, of course, with the lounge. Qantas’ international business lounge in Melbourne had recently had a makeover and was very impressive visually.

As you can see from the pic above, this “island” area to one side had a spacy look, lots of modern whites and browns with multiple spherical white lampshades. For some reason this put me in mind of the Pan Am spacecraft to the Moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At this long table there’s a dish of the day served; on the day I was there it was a bratwurst sausage with creamy mashed potato and braised cabbage, accompanied by a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon wine. 

Quite apt for a journey which would start me on my path to Central Europe, but by the time I discovered this dish I’d been enjoying the general buffet and was no longer hungry.

There were plenty of low comfortable chairs in the main area of the lounge. I would've liked more high tables by power points, but a long table at one end had plenty of points and this was a good place to plug in the iPad and work.

The buffet was fine, a nice mix of quality meats, salads and a hot dish (in this case curry). I particularly liked the hommus. 

Staff also walked around periodically offering alarmingly coloured cocktails, chips, ice cream and so on. There was no way any passengers were going to starve here.

On board

As expected, the biggest bonus of Business Class (upstairs in the A380) was space. The seats were wider than economy, and there was enough room for me and my seatmate to put our elbows onto our shared armrest, even with a divider slid up to shoulder height for semi-privacy.

A flight attendant offered to hang my jacket in a nearby closet, but I’m always slightly paranoid about losing things if they get separated so I declined. Curiously, the bins above my seat were quite small and shallow, but the nearby bins above the central seats were the usual proportions.

My seat, 24K (seen above), had a little less space than other seats as it was located at an area where the hull curved in to accommodate the exit door; so although I had the same elbow room, it seemed more closed in.


The seat itself was an electronic marvel, with a set of controls which moved various elements into various configurations, right down to the point of becoming a completely flat bed.

Once we were up in the air, I decided to put my feet up to watch a movie, keeping the seat back up but extending the base out to recliner position. 

I couldn't get it to extend quite long enough for my legs; there's a flip-over panel at the end of the extension which should accommodate feet, but was a bit too short. It turned out that this section would flip over straight when extended as part of the bed.

Entertainment setup was great: a good-sized screen slid up automatically from within the armrest, It was a comfy seating arrangement and I could I imagine watching lots of films all the way through to Europe, interspersed with sleep.

Entertainment & dining

Headphones were sturdy and comfortable, though I could still hear some flight noise with them on. There was a good selection of Australian films - I've always thought this was a clever point of difference for Qantas - in addition to Hollywood's latest.

It was about this point I discovered the massage setting. So while watching Any Questions for Ben (better than its reviews suggested) I was being steadily and methodically massaged by little electronic fingers moving up and down my back. This, I could get used to.

Dinner involved a white cloth over the tray table, an excellent prosciutto entree equal of a restaurant (seen above) and a good main, though my salmon was perhaps a little drier than the ideal.

For dessert, in retro style the crew came through with what amounted to a dessert trolley, serving whatever was preferred from the selection. I went for the seasonal cheeses and a glass of port, a good fit for the Sherlock Holmes movie I’d moved on to.

(And though I didn’t notice this on the way out, on the way back from the UK a few weeks later I spotted a small lounge area at the front of the plane where one could sit, stretch out and watch telly. Here's a pic of it, below.)

The bed

Not usually one to sleep on flights in the middle of the day, I nonetheless reclined the seat toward its bed configuration, with the head still slightly raised, and had a go at reading a spot of PG Wodehouse.

It was relatively firm, but the relaxed angle still sent me a fair way towards sleep and so I reclined it a bit more and had a short nap (Six weeks later, on the way back from London, I got to try out the flat bed on the long London-Singapore leg, and managed a longer and satisfactory sleep).

The flexibility with the chair's configuration means I could keep adjusting it for comfort and variety the whole trip, very welcome on a longish flight; as was having a measure of privacy in my own little area against the hull.

The verdict

Qantas Business Class to Singapore was a very pleasant experience, with good facilities and quality service from the lounge and onboard staff. As I was coming straight from a stressful week at work, it presented an enjoyable way to have a bit of restful downtime from the Internet and work commitments, with a decent measure of comfort.

If money is no object I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this class of travel on Qantas’ A380 aircraft. If you have a budget to stick to but with some flexibility, Premium Economy would also be worthy of consideration; I flew in that class on the return leg from Singapore to Melbourne a few weeks later and it was also comfortable. Minus the ability to lie flat, however.

Disclosure time… On this journey Qantas Airways upgraded me to Business Class for review purposes. For other reviews of Business Class travel, click on The Business End link in the Topics section below, then scroll down.