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Saturday, 26 November 2011

The ultimate recyclable Christmas tree?

There won’t be any fallen pine needles to sweep up at St Pancras railway station in London this year - the Christmas tree on the main concourse is made entirely of 600,000 Lego bricks. It’s ten metres high and took two months to build. 

Even the decorations are made out of Lego.

The company says it’s the tallest tree ever made with its bricks.
There are no details yet of what will happen to them come January 6 when the tree is dismantled, but maybe we'll see another one next year.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Christmas Traditions

Stir Up Sunday, the traditional day to make Christmas puddings, falls this year on November 20. 
I can remember, as a child, clamouring for a turn at stirring the mixture - and a lick of the spoon. The highlights were making a wish and watching the silver coin go in. (I still treasure a sixpence from one my Grandmother made.)
Today, with time so precious, the pudding, mince pies and often even our Christmas cake are bought ready-made, with no hidden bounty. They probably taste just as good, but a little of the pre-Christmas magic has vanished.
Some countries, though, still hold proudly to their traditions.
Lucia di Domenico, a chef from Puglia, in the heel of Italy, was in London this week for some cookery demonstrations.

She’s passionate about the quality and variety of her region’s cuisine, and brought with her a selection of 12 different sweets which she and her neighbours would prepare on Christmas Eve (left).

These ranged from a rich chocolate cake to my favourite, calzoncelli (below), said to resemble the cheeks of the infant Christ. There are many local recipes for these little deep-fried treats, but Lucia, who has a restaurant in Orsara, prefers one which includes chickpea puree, cinnamon and orange peel.


Lucia’s demonstrations encompassed several regional specialities, complemented with local wines. Determined the dishes would be authentic, she had packed all the ingredients needed in her luggage. There were even bags of the black flour, Grano Arso, to make the dark pasta found in southern Italy, Cavatelli. It struck me how difficult it could have been, explaining what they all were to UK Customs, but luckily she and her bags had no problems.
Lucia's Orsara restaurant: Posta Guevara
The demonstrations were part of a Puglia promotion organised by Antonio Tomassini

Friday, 11 November 2011

The World comes to London

“Are you going to Ethiopia?”
 “No, Turkey, then a quick look at China.”

There were some surreal conversations floating round this week at World Travel Market in Docklands, where thousands of travel professionals rubbed shoulders with government ministers and journalists.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the recession, attendance was up by 5% overall, and exhibitors were working hard to get their messages across. Exotic national costumes were everywhere; a Turkish hotel group, Lykia, even hosted a belly-dancing masterclass (left) as a taster of what's on offer to guests at their Antalya establishment. Amongst all the razzamatazz, one small stand representing Libya caught my eye. The company, Arkno Tours, is hoping to run trips there come the spring.

Encouragingly,  many more companies seem to be embracing sustainable tourism – and not just with hotel messages such as: ‘Water is precious. Do you need your towels replaced every day?’
The need for this was brought home by the Travel Foundation's massive copy of Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker (left). Artist Dan Broadley created this using 1.100 plastic water bottles – the number the Ascos Coral Beach Hotel in Paphos was handing out to guests every day during the summer season. Cyprus doesn’t have the infrastructure to recycle large amounts of plastic, and landfill sites are filling up. The hotel decided to offer visitors carafes and reuseable cups instead, and more than 20 other local hotels are now doing the same. A small change with a big impact.

And tourism’s next ‘hot destinations’? Despite some local problems, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Argentina are all being tipped. For British tourists though, travel journalist Simon Calder might be nearer the mark with his suggestion that the popularity of Croatia and Spain will continue.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The best view of London? (And it's free!)

 This is the London skyline from the roof terrace of the recently-opened shopping complex at One New Change, just east of St Paul’s cathedral. (Click to enlarge.) A glass lift whisks you to the 6th floor, and suddenly there's this amazing panorama which takes in many of the capital’s landmarks - from the Shard at London Bridge (left), to Tate Modern (centre), the London Eye and Houses of Parliament (behind the spire), the dome of St Paul’s and the back of the gold-leafed statue of Justice on the top of the Old Bailey (far right and below).

The cathedral is so close it feels almost within touching distance, and  you can glimpse many details not easily visible from the ground, such the apostles in this group on the south facade.

One New Change was conceived by French architect Jean Nouvel, and has walkways that follow the medieval street pattern while at the same time framing the cathedral. It replaces a 1950s building that housed the Bank of England’s accounts department. A circular mosaic and a row of sculptures by Charles Wheeler were saved during demolition, and are at the far end of the terrace.
If you have time to linger and perhaps catch a sunset, there are places to sit, as well as a restaurant and a café.
The roof terrace is still largely unpublicised, so shouldn't be crowded. And even better, admission is free. So next time you’re in London, put One New Change on your must-see list.
One New Change EC4M 9AF