We’re back. Back to the sound of koels at midnight, and hot, jasmine-scented winds blowing through fake Halloween cobwebs. It’s good to be home.
When we set out on our big adventure six weeks ago I had high hopes of keeping the blog – if not actually relevant – at least occasionally updated. But there was far too much fun to be had to bother doing anything as boring as writing. At one point, as we mucked about in London and then Devon, I had some pretentious thoughts about saying something significant about The State Of The British Burger, but that was overtaken by the shock of finding ourselves lost in the souks of Marrakesh. Any spare energy that I might have had for writing was instead needed for bargaining the price of my fetching new red leather slippers down from stratospheric levels, to merely extortionate.
So this instalment is not a review of anything in particular, just a collection of rambling commentaries and notebook jottings.
The State Of The British Burger
British burgers have always been different from Australian burgers. The poms seem to think that the salad is not part of the burger – just something to be had on the side. This was true back in the 1970s when burgers were a strange and exotic thing in England. My first experience of this salad phobia was at a Wimpy Bar in Hampstead – the burger consisted of just a bun and a rissole, and the most memorable part was the bright red tomato-shaped ketchup bottle. Things are still a bit like that, the emphasis is very much on meat (or at least protein) in a bun. The meat also still tends to the rissole-like and is often a bit on the dry side. There are small improvements in some of the trendier pubs, where the salad is creeping stealthily from the side plate and insinuating itself between the bun and the meat. However, this raises the wider question of whether the appearance of burgers in English pubs is a good thing or not. On this subject, I am in two minds as usual. It has to be noted though, that the low proportion of salad, and the three-dimensional quality of the meat patty in most British burgers does tend to make them more structurally stable. So there is that. The best burger, and thus the most Australian-like (obviously), was at a hipster-run pub in Richmond-on-Thames. It had a good balance of meat to salad, and it stayed together long enough to be eaten. The White Cross was a nice pub actually. It had all the essentials: good ales, burgers, and wifi. So thank god for hipsters really.
In fact it is fair to say that English food generally is on the improve. We really started to notice this at the Orangerie at Kew Gardens. We were on our way to North Devon with a wet but compulsory stop at the historic gardens. When our orientation “train” trip ended, and it was still raining, we headed for the shelter of the Orangerie for some lunch. And amazingly the food was terrific: simple, wholesome and tasty. Soups, roast vegie salads, and good bread. We even got a decent coffee there. We didn’t expect that. We really didn’t. There had been an air of autumnal harvest feasting through the first week or so of our stay in London. The friends we stayed with have allotments and were keen to show them off in all their glory – especially the crunchy juicy apples straight off the tree. But what we didn’t expect was that the food concession places in tourist spots such as Kew and Lincolns Inn Fields would be so much improved.
Random Thoughts on Morocco
If you fly Royal Air Maroc don’t be concerned if your 737-800 only has 45 passengers out of a possible 180. No good can come of wondering what the other 135 passengers know that you don’t. Nor can any good come of noting that if there were more passengers, the crew wouldn’t have so much time to smoke up the back of the plane.
When arriving in Marrakesh it is wise to have the correct address for your riad. The correct phone number is also useful.
When Marrakesh locals offer to show you the way, sometimes they are actually just being helpful.
Stay in riads rather than hotels – they were universally comfortable and interesting even if the plumbing was a bit idiosyncratic.
There are a lot of courtyards in Morocco, and there are a lot of French people smoking in them at 8am.
Learning to say bonjour convincingly is more productive than huffing about the smell of cigarettes.
When you are lost in the souks, remember the old navigation trick: satellite dishes generally point south.
There is excellent orange juice to be had in Morocco. It comes from having excellent oranges.
Some of the best meals we had were on the road – travelling to and from the desert. Wonderful country-cooked tagines.
Fez v Marrkesh? Both. Marrakesh is crazed and edgy, Fez is smarter and more relaxed. You need a bit of both.
Go to the desert, like Australia it’s an essential part of the country.
Buy a stupid head scarf, you know you want to.
Take some Imodium.
On Being Home
Our arrival back in Sydney was marked by a queuing crisis in customs and a shouting match between taxi drivers. I blame the heat.
By Friday night we had mostly recovered from the jet lag, and headed for King Street. Out of habit really, and to remind ourselves of where we were up to. There was a lot of Halloween silliness going on, but as always King Street does things differently. You can never be sure whether the naughty-nurse-zombie outfit is regular Friday night gear or special for Halloween. On the way home we came across a heavy metal band blasting out frenzied riffs to the delight of the crowd beneath the I Have a Dream mural. They were the real thing: the bass player had a nazi helmet, eyeliner and a chain for a guitar strap.
It’s good to be home.
Back in the harness next week – we’ll be visiting Spencer Guthrie.