Category Archives: Travel

A Night at The Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-58

Arriving at the Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam, we looked up at the beautiful buildings, wrapped with a  sparkling festive bow, and were won over immediately.

First admiring the marble floor, incredibly detailed ceilings and beautiful sweeping staircase, we were lead to our room to check in. The welcome was so warm and friendly I felt quite at home (although of course at home I don’t have a personal concierge, choice of rooms scents, or a mini bar, but, you know!)

Our room was light and bright with beautiful white embroidered bed linens. Classical music whispered gently in the background.

From the large windows we had full view of the city’s grandest canal, Herengracht (Gentlemen’s Canal), which was built in the Golden Age and is now a UNESCO heritage site.

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-49

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-42

On a table next to a vase of almost-open tulips, atop a glass stand, sat a chocolate dome – hand decorated with a row of marzipan canal houses in front of a frosty night sky. Underneath this fabulous cloche of cacao freshly baked cookies sat neatly on a paper doily. Doesn’t it sound decadent? You should have seen me modelling that chocolate masterpiece as a very fetching (and melty) hat. So decadent.

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-44

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-56

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-61

The fruit bowl was brimming with berries, beside it cotton napkins and a finger bowl decorated with petals. The mini bar was stocked to the gunnels with all the best bits, and the bathroom had everything you could possibly need.

But, the carpets. You know how I love a good hotel carpet!  The carpets were fabulous – designed especially for the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam to reflect the calm waters of the canals outside, with a little nod to the palette of Vermeer too.

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-41

It was hard to leave the room when it was so comfortable and relaxing, but there was a whole hotel to explore, and then some more of the city – which included the fabulous Botanical Gardens, and the not so fabulous purple-potato dinner ( all of which you can read about over here).

2016-12-10-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-12

2016-12-10-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-03

2016-12-10-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-07

I couldn’t help be be drawn to the gloriously glitzy Christmas decorations – the huge wreaths, the piles of golden fir cones, and the massive tree with it’s small heap of presents placed around it. (No, I don’t think those packages were empty. Yes I do think they were full of magic.)

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-10

The hotel is made up of six individual canal houses neatly stitched together with personality and charm. Most of the buildings had been a bank, and the old safety deposit boxes remain – now a feature in The Vault Bar, providing storage for single malts and aged cognacs.

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-05

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-07

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-06

Behind the beautiful buildings is a large private garden (the largest in the city) which, in the spring, bursts into colour with thousands of tulips.

Looking up to the rooftops, along the undulating roofline, there’s an interruption of houses so small they look to be only good for Borrowers, or bees.

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-16

When the Waldorf Astoria brought the bees to the city they made every effort to welcome them. The Queen bee arrived by Rolls Royce and was walked up a red carpet to a welcoming reception and ceremony fit for royalty. I would have dearly loved to have been there for this experience, but it’s okay, my imagination is vivid and I can picture it all quite well. (Her crown was a work of art!)

Everywhere I looked I spotted charming details – odes to the past, marble and plasterwork, and a finish that looked like it had just been completed yesterday. Maintaining such historical buildings is an ongoing task, and one that the Waldorf Astoria appear to do with unseen precision. Not a thing out of place, not a chip in the paintwork, nor a crack in the ceiling, everything thing is perfect as it should be. It might be odd, but I am always most impressed by these things!

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-22

2016-12-10-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-05

2016-12-10-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-16

I had the most peaceful and comfortable nights sleep I have ever had away from home. Eight solid hours, undisturbed. I didn’t want to leave.

For breakfast we ate the Waldorf Astoria classic of Eggs Benedict, sat in the calmness of the gently toned Librije’s Zusje restaurant, sipping hot tea and discussing what we’d do next time.

Next time I’d dine in the 2 Michelin starred restaurant, drink cocktails in The Vault Bar and take afternoon tea in Peacock Alley. I’d have lunch in the Goldfinch Brasserie, swim in the beautiful pool, and have a treatment in the exclusive Guerlain Spa. Next time.

I feel happy to think that there could be a next time. One night might not be enough (it wasn’t!) but it was such a delight to extend a work trip and make it into a superb getaway, that it feels like a real privilege to even be able to think ‘next time!’

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-65

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city, and the Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam for hosting me and my guest for a night in their incredible hotel.

Amsterdam – Working Away & Taking Time to Explore the City

amsterdam-e

Travelling for work seems at first to be a very exciting thing, but flying in and out of cities without seeing a true glimpse of them doesn’t sound at all fun to me. So, when I was invited to give a talk at Foam Museum in Amsterdam I felt it was important to try and make a bit more of it.

After dropping my bags at the stunning Conservatorium hotel and having a quick rest and refresh, I headed over to Foam to do my talking at the Photo/Video Edition. The event was great fun, and although much of it was in Dutch (and my translator got told off for talking, so I had no idea what was going on) it was really great to meet and speak to so many people afterwards, and to make plans for future visits.

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-01

2016-12-09-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-21

In the morning, having woken to a beautiful sunrise, I headed off to a meeting, then for a quick cheese toastie and waffle stop and a think about what to do over the next couple of days.

I’m not much of a planner when it comes to these things, I’m more of a haphazard wanderer to be honest, and even the best made plans get broken when I’m around (and easily distracted by all the things).

We meandered through the streets, down to the station, zig zagging back along the canals, car spotting, bike spotting, window shopping, taking everything in.

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-02

2016-12-09-amsterdam-12

img_9765

2016-12-09-amsterdam-02

2016-12-09-amsterdam-08

2016-12-09-amsterdam-04

2016-12-08-amsterdam-11

2016-12-08-amsterdam-09

2016-12-08-amsterdam-04

In a narrow and unassuming street we found the door to Restaurant LT Cornelis and climbed the stairs to their cocktail bar and restaurant.

Three buildings made into one, respectfully maintaining the character and evidence of the building’s heritage. The visible wear and tear of well over 100 years still evident in the space, especially on the spiral staircase up to the private dining area.

2016-12-08-lt-cornelis-restaurant-amsterdam-18

2016-12-08-lt-cornelis-restaurant-amsterdam-01

Copper stills lined up as lampshades over the bar. High ceilings, blue grey walls, golden velvet, a ginger martini just for me – I could live here!

“It’s our mission to enable all to experience the absolute delights of the Dutch cuisine. By combining the current with the past and the purest ingredients we strive to offer our guests a legendary experience.”

We  sat, overlooked by a large reproduction of the famous Dutch painting of the Meagre Company (also known by it’s original title of ‘Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw’) and worked our way happily through the five course menu.

The restaurant has only been open nine months but you’d think that people had been going there for years, they seemed so happy and comfortable. The staff were lovely and cheery, they appeared to take pride in everything.

2016-12-08-lt-cornelis-restaurant-amsterdam-06

2016-12-08-lt-cornelis-restaurant-amsterdam-09

2016-12-08-lt-cornelis-restaurant-amsterdam-21

2016-12-08-lt-cornelis-restaurant-amsterdam-08

2016-12-08-lt-cornelis-restaurant-amsterdam-07

The amuse bouche was good, and the Ossenworst was pretty special (smoked beef sausage with Amsterdam pickles, kohlrabi, silver onion and rye bread sauce). The Sirloin was cooked to perfection and beautifully flavoured (Dutch beef with a beet jus, cream cheese stuffed onion, sweet shredded onion and a melty, crunchy onion crisp with confit potatoes), but the chicken and fries ‘Appelmoes’ was just awesome (soft chicken with salty gravy and chicken liver, sweet apple sauce and crispy potato). I’ve never had chicken and apple before. Apparently it’s a dutch thing, a childhood classic that everyone knows. I’ve been educated and enlightened!

2016-12-08-lt-cornelis-restaurant-amsterdam-11

The dessert, to me, was bizarre, a real insight into dutch flavours and a challenge to my tastebuds. Meringue, sea buckthorn berry, shredded dutch carrot, white chocolate mousse, crunchy caramel biscuit, with a gravy, yes gravy, of yellow carrots. Tangy, sour, sharp, kind of astringent, occasionally only ‘almost’ sweet. I can’t say that it’s something I’d choose to have again but I do think it was a taste worth trying.

If I lived in Amsterdam I’d probably make LT Cornelis my local. I’d be like the cool one out of Cheers (was there a cool one? There wasn’t a cool one) sat at the end of the bar with my personalised ginger martini tankard and a pocket full of sweet snacks. I’m sure I could blend in.

Full of food and happy, we made our way back to the hotel. Amsterdam is such a safe and busy city that it feels perfectly fine to wander the streets at night, and it’s nice to see everything in a different light (or dark, as the case most often is at nighttime).

After a good nights sleep and a good breakfast of truffle-topped Eggs Benedict, we checked out of the Conservatorium and got a car over to the Waldorf Astoria, where we stayed for our third and final night of the trip.

2016-12-09-amsterdam-01

2016-12-09-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-01

Having explored the superbly beautiful hotel we wandered out, making a beeline for the zoo. I don’t normally visit zoo’s, but so many people had suggested that the zoo was the last place we should think about going, it kind of became top of the list out of inquisitiveness.

We were on the way to the zoo but an exceptionally large palm pushing it’s self against a condensation-blurred window lured us in to De Hortus (that and the iamsterdam city cards burning holes in our pockets!) and we were lost for hours.

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-05

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-41

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-30

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-27

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-33

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-10

Amsterdam’s De Hortus Botanicus was founded in 1638 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. What a magnificent place. Green parakeets flew from tree to tree, as two large herons sat watching. In the butterfly house were hands of green bananas, small golden pineapples and these things that looked like deflated balloons.

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-36

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-28

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-19

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-20

2016-12-09-botanical-garden-amsterdam-38

Leaving De Hortus we continued on our journey across the city, grabbing frites and mayonnaise from a street stall, and as the daylight dimmed we headed to catch the Water Colors Cruise and see the Amsterdam Lights Festival from the water.

Glass roofed boats chugged up and down the canals as the flashes of many tourists cameras fired simultaneously.

img_9929

The Lace by Choi + Shine Architects was by far my favourite installation. Fifteen metres long and suspended above the canal, The Lace pays homage to the traditional Dutch bonnet, and is made from over twenty miles of hand crocheted cord! Utterly stunning (and probably very weighty).

After our excursion we headed over to De Culinaire Werkplaats for dinner. From the vast and varied information I had passionately pressed upon me throughout the evening I’ve attempted to narrow the concept down to the following for you:

De Culinaire Werkplaats is an interactive experimental art gallery vegetable restaurant performance with a freestyle story-telling menu of ‘a selection of japanese world views in 5 courses’ sharing the message of sustainability, future food problems, and food scarcity.

2016-12-09-culinaire-werkplaats-amsterdam-03

2016-12-09-culinaire-werkplaats-amsterdam-17

2016-12-09-culinaire-werkplaats-amsterdam-24

We sat, balanced atop tall 3 legged chairs, concentrating on not falling, and were presented with a run of dishes, all of which, we were told, related to Japanese culture.

Rice and beans in a bowl with brown water poured over it as a ‘tea ceremony’.

Gold and silver clay covered purple potato with sauerkraut, chestnuts and prunes.

A smoke filled box with beans wrapped in cabbage leaves and buckwheat noodles, and a flower on top.

A paper wrapped ‘gift’ of raspberry and almond.

A Japanese garden of build your own dessert – Wasabi flavoured sesame seeds, fish shaped sour tasting jelly, trimmings of cress.

2016-12-09-culinaire-werkplaats-amsterdam-07

2016-12-09-culinaire-werkplaats-amsterdam-09

2016-12-09-culinaire-werkplaats-amsterdam-11

I would have liked to enjoy the food, but for me the multitude of mixed messages needed to be refined and matched with food that is full of flavour. A gold and silver clay covered potato may make a artistic statement (this one was about the beauty of ageing, I am told) but it does not demonstrate the idea of sustainability (the waste of clay, silver and gold paint), and even though it was purple and shiny (and rather regal looking)  it was still a plain potato.

My favourite bit was the part where you had to take your own dishes up to the sink when you’d finished eating. I thought that was quite nice.

Food for thought? Absolutely, if you’ve got €90 burning a hole in your back pocket, several hours to spare, and a personal selection of seasonings.

Luckily I filled my chubby boots with the most delicious Eggs Benedict only hours later at the Waldorf Astoria and all was right in my world again.

2016-12-10-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-17

2016-12-10-waldorf-astoria-hotel-amsterdam-15

Foam Photography Museum Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS

Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, 1071 AN

Restaurant Lt. Cornelis Voetboogstraat 13, 1012 XK

De Hortus Botanicus Plantage Middenlaan 2a, 1018 DD

Water Colors Cruise Departs from Prins Hendrikkade 33a (opposite Central Station)

De Culinaire Werkplaats Fannius Scholtenstraat 10, 1051 EX

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG

iamsterdam City Card €75 for 72 hours and totally worth it if you plan to do lots –  includes unlimited travel on public transport, a free canal cruise, and entry to most museums and attractions.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city.

 

Amsterdam & A Stylish Stay at The Conservatorium

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-02

The rowdy boys on the low cost flight were excited about coffee shops and brothels. After 45 minutes in the air one of them declared loudly that he needed a fag so badly he’d have to have two when they landed. They all agreed. One of them said he was so desperate for a fag he was going to Henry Hoover it up.

The Amsterdam they were looking for is not the Amsterdam I know.

For me it’s about culture, people, canals, house boats, beautiful architecture, heritage, bicycles, poffertjies, stroopwaffles and croquettes, so many wonderful things, and of course, the cat boat.

The main reason I was visiting this time was to give a talk at Foam Photography Museum. I could have easily flown in and out again, but the lure of the beautiful city was too much, and three nights were really not enough!

If you are going to travel the world then you should take the time to see the world. I don’t want to tick places off a bucket list, or tell you how I’ve ‘done’ a country or a continent, I could visit the same place time and time again and still find something new to experience, and I am more than happy with that.

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-01

And so we were back in Amsterdam. Arriving in no time at all at Schipol airport and heading off by bus and then tram to the first hotel of our stay, the stunning Conservatorium in the heart of the museum district.

‘The Conservatorium Hotel is Amsterdam’s leading luxury lifestyle palace, evoking glamour and elegance for sophisticated, design-literate travellers.’

2016-12-09-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-16

2016-12-09-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-20

Built in 1897, originally designed by the Dutch architect Daniel Knuttel as the Dutch Savings Bank, in 1978, when the bank merged and moved, the building was abandoned. Lying empty for five years it then became the home of the Sweelinck Conservatory of Music who moved out in 2008. The building was bought by The Set who worked with architect Piero Lissoni and opened the Conservatorium hotel at the end of 2011.

The hotel is a pairing of neo-gothic and modern buildings – a large glass and steel structure ties the wings together over the original courtyard, connecting the communal spaces; a mixture of arts and crafts tile-clad hallways, stained glass windows and stone and iron railed staircases, with airy, structured steel and glass, and open areas full of angles and interest. Pay attention to the original details too – the tiles depict bees and hives, the gathering of honey and storing it a reflection of the buildings original purpose as a bank.

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-09

The long corridors, dressed for winter with fir and lights, look like they should take you to a magical Narnian world, but instead they lead you in one direction to the most stunning restaurant, a gin bar and a cigar  lounge, or in the other, to the shopping gallery where you can buy Bentley cars and beautiful Bonebakker jewellery, with Boucheron gold rings shaped like hedgehog knuckledusters.

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-07

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-06

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-13

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-12

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-25

The rooms are subtle and calm with small flashes of colour, taking influence from Japanese styling and designed in full by Piero Lissoni – the screen like walls and simple lines, the hidden wardrobes, safe, and well stocked mini bar behind the glossy doors.

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-24

2016-12-09-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-01

The bathrooms are very spacious, the doors concealed as huge mirrors –  a beautiful and clever design, but also a trap for strange creatures with short memories like me.

Everything is in calm and considered, even down to the Luigi Bormioli fine glasses and Villeroy and Boch china.

In the evening the blinds were closed, slippers and mats were set at the side of the bed, and pillow spray laid out with a note to tell us what tomorrows weather would be.

2016-12-09-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-02

2016-12-09-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-08

And, in the morning we ate a peaceful breakfast in the bright atrium, admiring all the beautiful touches, the Christmas tree and seasonal decorations, and the over-sized Miffy, before heading off to explore the beautiful city.

2016-12-07-conservatorium-hotel-amsterdam-20
Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, Amsterdam, 1071 AN NL

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city, and the Conservatorium for hosting me and my guest for two nights in their stunning hotel.

Mumbai – A Few of My Favourite Things

mumbai karen harvey idontlikepeas

Five nights in Mumbai is not enough, but it was good, very good. We didn’t do big fancy tourist things, I was only just off crutches, (if my physiotherapist asks, I was on them all the time!) and it was hot, heatwave hot. We’d not planned ahead, and we just went with the flow, which was good enough for us!

I thought it would be fun to share my ‘best bits’ of Mumbai with you, like an old school holiday-snap slide show, but hopefully you’ll still be awake by the end of it.

I’m burning a joss stick, and I’ve made you some holiday themed drinks and snacks, there’s some supermarket onion bhajis that don’t look like something you should eat, and a bowl of Bombay mix that you suspect I made from carpet sweepings. The lights are low, and the sound of Ravi Shankar’s sitar playing is drifting from the hifi. I’m nodding my head side to side with attempted Indian style and a smile as I tell you, ‘I want to take you on a journey!’  You are sitting patiently, but perhaps not comfortably, wondering if I’ve laced your drink with opium, as we begin…

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0295

Street food tour. We took the train to Chowpatty Beach and then went on an incredible edible journey into the depths of the city. It was totally AWESOME… even if we did end up with the Mumbai bum-byes for the next two weeks! You can read my full blown low down here (- on the food, not the aftermath!)

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0209

Street stalls. In between the pashminas and the shiny things, were little pop-up stalls selling all kinds of food and drink. The sugarcane-juice stalls were fascinating – long canes were striped and fed through mechancial contraptions, and the extract mixed refreshingly with ginger and lime.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0210

These shoes. We were walking up to Kala Ghoda when we heard the sound of a squeaky dog toy coming from a small child. Once we realised it was his shoes, I spent the rest of my days keeping an eye out for my own pair, but alas, I was out of luck. I did buy three giant balloons for 50 rupees though, which is totally over priced, but, seriously, how can you put a price on giant balloons?

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0174

Colaba Causeway. Known as Mumbai’s Oxford Street, it was busy and every other person seemed to want to sell me a pashmina. We were talking to a chap in one of the shops and, after we declined to view his vast pashmina selection he told us that Britain was poor now, China has the money, and India is coming up. We talked about the cost of living in the city – money and health, the smoggy skies, the future of things. I told him that global warming was caused solely by the over production of pashminas.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0224

Looking up (and down). I was overjoyed, this is true, to find a comb, (COMB!) on Veer Nariman Road. I have collected pictures of the combs I find since about 2006, it is the most exciting collection and enthrals many. I really was very pleased to be able to add to it in Mumbai. Then a rat rushed across the pavement, so busy looking at us that it ran straight into a metal table leg! It was a fabulous few minutes.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0057

Crows. Whilst green parakeets flew overhead, the Indian house crows, with their grey necks and their sleek black feathers, lurked at eye level. I find crows quite fascinating, that’s why I’ve got a stuffed one in my hallway.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0084

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0083

Dinner at Gaylord. Our first attempt of attending the street food tour was foiled by a national holiday. We decided to share a meal with the other wannabe tourers, Jesse and Liam. Liam led the way into the street and said, “Take your pick!” So I chose Gaylord, and I chose well!

I drank green apple iced tea, ate the delicious Gaylord speciality of Murgh Makhani, (butter chicken) and was most content.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0218

People. Just, people.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0073

Muckhwas. It means ‘mouth smell’. Yes, I am easy to please. We had little sachets of this on the plane, and it was on almost every restaurant table. Fennel and sesame seeds with anise and colourful minty sugary bits. Like a fancy edible confetti.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0204

Sleeping dogs (and cats). They were just lying around, smiling. People were kind to them. I wanted to be kind to them too, but I knew I wasn’t allowed to touch any of the animals, (after that time I got bitten by a bat in the dining room and the ‘We think you’ve got rabies’ debacle that followed). I was very restrained, just smiling intensely at them all, trying to ooze animal appreciation through the ether.

lunch at masala kraft taj mahal palace hotel 02

Lunch at Masala Kraft. We managed to get the VIP treatment before the real Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived at the Taj Mahal Palace. Four hours of incredible Indian food, cooked right in front of our eyes by our own dedicated chef. I’ve written about the experience in more detail (and plenty of photos!) over here, on the Glorious Foods website. It was delicious.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0043

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0226

Hotel room picnics. I know, it’s a bit lame to eat in your room when you’ve got such an amazing city to explore, but the Taj Mahal Palace had ten restaurants for us to choose from, including The Patisserie, a luxury destination in itself, apparently.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0177

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0181

Breakfast in the Sea Lounge. Is it wrong for me to include the hotel breakfast? Probably, but I’m in charge here! I love a hotel breakfast, mostly for the opportunity to observe other people’s choices, but also because I am a pastry fiend. Sitting in the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal Palace, overlooking the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea, with the sun waking me gently, drinking good tea and marvelling at the pastry variety on my plate – a good place to be!

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0112

Gateway of India. Looking down on the Gateway from 20th floor of the Palace Tower is quite a special thing. Sitting on the edge of Mumbai Harbour, a mighty 85 feet high, it was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. I like it most because of the story – it wasn’t built until several years later, so they got to see a papier mache version instead – which must have been pretty incredible!

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0006

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0105

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0121

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. An incredible building with so much history, marble, symmetry and style. The abundant displays of flowers were incredible, and the smell, so sweet (sometimes intoxicating). This is a luxury hotel where the staff’s motto is ‘Guest is God’ and you can have anything you want – if you are rich enough. It was an amazing place to stay, and a wonderful experience, (see more here) but if you only visited The Taj you would never get a feel of the vibrant, real and fabulous Mumbai. 

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0107

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0110

Special tortoise of luck and prosperity.  Along with all the restaurants in the hotel, there were also several shops – Louis Vuitton, Dior, Rolex, and a few Indian gift boutiques. We could have had the only rose quartz lucky tortoise in the whole of India for just £380. Fabulous and unique. She’s like the Mr Blobby of the carved stone lady-tortoise world. Apparently if we’d have brought her home and faced her towards the door, she would have given wealth to anyone who visited. I reckon she could have dealt with the Jehovah’s witnesses too.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0197

IMG_3306

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0193

The Royal visit. We knew something was going on when we saw a man spend his whole day outside in a small courtyard killing insects with one of those electrified tennis-rackets. ‘You must feel very privileged to be staying here when we have VIP’s in!’ we were told by the concierge.

The red carpet was rolled out and a crowd gathered to watch their arrival. We gathered to watch the crowd. I did catch a glimpse of the top of Prince William’s head. Job  done.

Later that evening several thousands of people lined the streets outside the hotel, as Rolls Royces and Bentleys rolled up and Bollywood stars and dignitaries poured out. We decided to join the hot crowd, leaving the excellent viewpoint and cool marble of the hotel, to stand for a few minutes and look on.

IMG_3292

Marine Plaza Hotel. My brother’s colleague, Laxman, recommended we have the buffet dinner here, he said it was beautiful and scenic, and a must in his view. He emphasised the word ‘must’ with capitals, so that sold it to us immediately.

The buffet was a strange mix of dishes, enjoyable, and complimented  by the 1980’s art deco theme and window view of promenading Range Rovers and Porsches. After dinner we drank masala chai whilst listening to the lift-music version of the theme tune from Titanic and watched fireworks going off across the bay.

After dinner we rode the lifts a few times, we didn’t even need to use the lifts, but they were magnificent to behold and too good to be missed.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0258

Marine Parade. Outside the Marine Plaza hundreds of people sat, enjoying the slight breeze coming off the bay. I kind of felt that this guy was channelling the ‘draw me like one of your french girls’ vibe, in a totally Titanic style, but a quick and sneaky photo had to suffice.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0345

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0358

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0363

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0359

Crawford Market. There was so much to see, and we missed a lot of it, but visiting a proper local market was just wonderful. The stalls and spices, the people rushing round, the fresh fruits,  the  worn Victorian architecture, and weirdly, the pet stall. The boy above sent his friend to ask me if I would take his photograph, he was very happy, sat in front of the most wonderful fountain (designed by Rudyard Kipling’s father) that has been long neglected, slightly butchered, painted quite garishly and used to store random stuff.

On the pet stall they were keen to tell me that the hamsters were asleep, not dead. I had no idea people kept hamsters and guinea pigs in India. There were also fancy pigeons, tropical fish, and squidgy little labrador puppies. The signs said ‘no returns’.

We didn’t do masses of shopping, just a lot of looking, but we did pick up teas, incense and a big spangly horse thing.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0279Chowpatty beach. In the distance, outlined against the glare of the lowering sun, you can see some of the most expensive properties in Mumbai. The richest man in India’s house (with it’s  300 maids, 6 residents, and 3 helipads) is just out of shot on the right. On the beach anyone and everyone can enjoy the view, and the food stalls – but not the water, if you are sensible and aware of local sewage processing!

IMG_3218

The skyline. The evening sun setting over the city. Such hazy skies, and a strange sense of calm as the air cooled very slightly and the sound of beeping horns drifted around the corners and across the roof tops. The city stayed busy late into the night, or, if you like,  early into the morning. 

IMG_3327

The airport. Hands up if you like airports? Well, I do! Chhatrapati Shivaji airport was huge and shiny. It seemed like we had to go through many, many security checks to even get inside. But, it was worth it – because otherwise we would have missed our flights. There was a large water fountain, surrounded by luscious greenery. Tiny birds were living in the trees, creating their own little pockets of paradise without permission.

So, that’s it then! I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey… can I interest you in another onion bhaji?

A Street Food Tour of Mumbai, India

mumbai karen harvey loves pigeons

We headed over to Churchgate Station, stepping over sleeping cats and dogs sprawled across the pavements. A few green parakeets flew over, and nice black crows watched on from railings.

karen harvey churchgate mumbai

We met at Wheelers book store, under the shelf where the pigeon parents were feeding their oversized pigeon baby.

There were five of us, and our guide, Raj. We recognised him as he’d emailed a photo of himself to Adam already.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0265

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0266

Our first stop, within the station, was Subkuchh for a Vada Pav (Vada meaning ball and Pav, or Pau, bread). Now, just you wait for my marvellously explanative descriptions. It was a potato thing with chilli sauce in a soft bun, and I liked it.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0269

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0271

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0272

We hopped on the train to Chowpatty Beach. We were, apparently, travelling first class, I was told, the key teller being that there were fans on the ceiling. We stood near the doors and enjoyed the air and the views.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0321

Arriving at Chowpatty Beach we marvelled at the clean fine sand and were reminded, ‘No swimming!’ Not everyone realises that the sparkling warm waters are also the recipient of the city’s sewage outlets. It looked nice though.

Under the canopy of a tree, we signed our disclaimer form. There was no going back now!

Stop number two of the tour was Bhim Singh.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0285

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0288

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0290

First we were fed a cold filtered Pani Puri. A small hollow ball made of corn flour with a hole broken in it, packed with chickpeas and two types of cold water – sweet water (date syrup and tamarind) and spicy water (chilli, mint leaf, coriander).

I probably could have coped if this was hot, but it wasn’t. I’d already forgotten the tasty Vada Pav from the station and now had the fear that everything on the tour would make me gurn. The cold, almost sweet and sour mouthful was hard to swallow without a little gag, like eating some kind of plughole scrapings after the Sunday dinner washing up.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0293

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0294

Next, we were given the ‘complimentary gift’ of a Sukha Puri. I did not gurn, all was well. This Puri was dry, no water (hooray!), savoury and tasty.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0295

Things only got better, the Sev Puri with green mango, tomato, onion and coriander was really good (as was it’s paper plate) and I could have quite easily eaten all of the Dahl Batat Puri with potato, mung bean and yoghurt.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0298

One of the lads came and talked to me, asked me what the words said in my notebook, practiced his English. ‘Your name is?’ ‘Vijay’ he said. My brother had a sponsored donkey in Devon called Little Vijay, I had to get Raj to translate, Vijay looked nonchalant, Raj gave me a high five!

We sat on a make-shift bench, whilst a mother cat washed and fed her kittens, and waited for the delicious Pau Bhaji to arrive from Sai Sagar Sharma. Soft, soft, buttered buns with the most flavourful vegetable curry – tomato, potato, onion and peas (!) smashed on a pan and cooked with spices.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0304

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0300

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0311

You know how sometimes flavours just hit you and take you back in time to another place, a partial flashback to a past memory? Well, sitting with my back to the sun, on the beach in Mumbai, I was reminded of London, of the restaurant Dishoom, the food I ate there, the Pau Bhaji – the thing that made me want to be rushed to Mumbai straight away, and most wonderfully, the absolute reason I was there! Full circle. Dots connected. Prophecy fulfilled.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0309

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0306

From our bench we were able to enjoy our next foodie treat, and when I say enjoy, I mean, I really did. I drew hearts in my notebook! Sweet, cold, creamy, perfectly textured Kulfi from Kapoor Punjabi Rabdi Kulfi and Falooda. I tried all the flavours – mango, pistachio, raspberry, orange, and Malai (milk) and I loved them all.

The Falooda, vermicelli noodles in rose water and milk, wasn’t as favoured, but it was still good. I like puddings.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0317

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0318

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0324

We stood, from our seat, full of food and in wonder of what might be next. Across the busy road of Marine Drive, we waited for a bus. Raj told Adam that in India his hat, a flat cap, was called a Romeo cap, he used to wear one himself.

Our bus ride took us to Kumbharwada, through busy streets with so much to see. At first the bus was so full that we weren’t sure we’d all make it, Adam, as last one on, had to hang out of the door, holding on hopefully with one clammy hand. (It reminded me of the time in Delhi, where my brother insisted the four of us could fit in the tiny rickshaw, and we kind of did, apart from Adam had to sit with him bum out the window and it got dragged down the side of a bus!)

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0325

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0326

As the passengers stepped off, we found seats. We travelled passed shops, unusual electrical stores and metal works, through the red light district, to Mohammed Ali Road.

It was hard to move through the crowds, a bustling sea of faces, blurred with mopeds and lights, trolleys of metal poles and other goods, and so much noise it was hard to hear. It was fabulous. I loved it. It was just what I was hoping for from Mumbai, real Indian city life, with real people.

At Memon Wada Road, we made our next stop. In a dingy, fluorescent tube lit, open-fronted shop, we took our seats around the steel table as our food was served. We passed round the alcohol gel, rubbed it into our hands, and tucked in.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0385

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0340

Next-door to our greyish-white tiled eating cave, was the stall that was preparing our food. I went and chatted with them. They’ve been there for years, maybe thirty or forty, nobody remembers.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0334

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0338

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0336

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0339

We shared Baida Roti (egg bread), chicken roll, Chicken Naan sandwich and tiny kebabs. It was all enjoyable and tasty, even though we were all already full, we were still happy to eat and share. Later Raj let slip that the kebab meat was goat. I don’t think we minded, I’d say that the collective majority was goat friendly.

Back into the street, the traffic was intense – people, mopeds, occasional goats. We wound our way along the street, snaking through the crowds, trying to keep the flow going, no stopping, keep moving.

As we came up to our last, but-one, stop, we slowed at a narrowing in the road, a moped whizzed passed, ’Hello Karen!’ said the rider, as he and his passenger smiled, and I said ‘Hello!’ back. My fellow foodies looked at me, quizzically, bemused, Adam laughed. In an extremely busy street, in a city of over 20 million people, wasn’t it just weirdly wonderful to ‘know’ someone?!

(I was reminded of that time I went to see The Projectionist, and in between songs that could rip your bowels out through through your eye sockets, the singer stopped to say ‘Hello Karen, are you having a nice time?’ and people in the audience chanted my name, and it was surreal and unexplainably fabulous!)

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0394

Now. On Khara Tank Road, in Bhendi Bazaar, you will find the parlour of Taj Ice-cream, and you will probably never want to leave. For four generations, and 125 years, the family have followed the same recipe to hand-make the most wonderfully fruity, rich and creamy, ice-cream.

I had Alphonso Mango, because I really want that to be a man’s name, and Adam had Sitafel (custard apple). Both little tubs of ice-cream were made of awesomeness. So was the setting.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0393

Back out into the street, and onwards, to the last stop of our tour, JJ Jalebi. Everywhere people looked at us and smiled, children said ‘Hi!’ and then giggled when we said it back. As Dorthe walked along two boys pointed, inhaled sharply and said ‘Hollywood!’ 

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0396

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0399

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0400

JJ Jalebi has been serving Mumbai with sweet treats since 1947. I know I like puddings, but even I find Jalebi too sweet. Still, it was great to have one that was fresh and just cooked, and even more wonderful to see them being made in front of us – the huge vat of boiling hot oil in full sight and reach of everyone.

We stood outside, in the warm bright street, under the dark sky,  and shared and savoured our last bite of street food together.

And then the tour was over. We took a taxi ride through the city, back to the bling of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, and went to bed happy. What a great way to spend our last evening in Mumbai.

I Dont Like Peas Karen Harvey Mumbai 0342
Our street food tour with Reality Tours was 1700 rupees per person (that’s about £18) and included all the food, drinks and transport. It was ace. I highly recommend it. Also, 80% of the profits from the tour goes back into Indian communities, through Reality Gives, so you know you’re doing something useful too, not just eating your way across Mumbai!