Category Archives: Beer

Antigua out of season…


The opportunity to spend a few days of holiday in Antigua was not one to be missed – even if it was in the middle of the ‘so-called’ Hurricane Season! Never having been to the island before, the first challenge was to find a hotel. This was by no means easy, since most were shut for September, and those that were open were mainly offering all-inclusive deals. Can you imagine having to eat in the same hotel restaurant every night, and being stuck on a beach miles from anywhere? Well, if you do, read no further!

Catermaran Hotel 1Restless as we are, and eager to explore as much of where we are staying as possible, we searched long and hard to find a small, relatively hidden away, privately owned hotel. The result was the Catamaran Hotel in Falmouth Harbour – not far from Nelson’s Dockyard – and in the much-to-be-preferred south of the island (although only 30 minutes from the airport). The hotel advertises itself as “a peaceful getaway in an idyllic location” – and that it really was! From the first moment we arrived, the receptionist Annique made us feel incredibly welcome – and even offered us a room upgrade. The small hotel is right on the beach, with large self catering rooms. Although I don’t usually like using air conditioning, it was definitely necessary at this time of year, when the weather was regularly over 30 degrees C in the daytime, with high humidity as well. For most of the week we were here, we were the only guests, and had the swimming pool, a sailing dingy (thanks Robert for the great training), and the small beach all to ourselves. Just nearby is the excellent Bailey’s supermarket which provides most of the daily necessities (including excellent cherry coconut ice cream, plenty of Carib beer, and well-priced Cavalier rum), and a little further afield is the bit smarter Crab Hole Liquors at Cob Cross (where there is also a pharmacy).

Out of season, Antigua is incredibly quiet, with many of the restaurants and facilities shut. The two restaurants just by the Catamaran (the Captain’s Quarters and Cambusa) were both closed, as were most other restaurants on the island! Hence, a car was absolutely essential for getting around! We did our best to travel almost every road, and visit most of the island’s historical sites and beaches! Whilst the north-west of the island is where most of the light industry is located, with houses scattered almost everywhere across the countryside, the south is largely unspoilt with beautiful steep sloping wooded hillsides, and magnificent beaches. Sadly, many of the beaches have large modern hotels on them, largely preventing access to the beaches, and in some instances, as at Half Moon Bay, these hotels have simply been left to decay following storm damage.

Amongst our favourite beaches were:

  • Rendezvous Bay PanoramaRendezvous Bay (near to Falmouth in the south of the island) – needs quite a steep 30 minute walk (each way) to get to unless you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but definitely well worth the effort. Sadly, rumour has it that it is subject to development – which would be a huge pity. We had the bay almost to ourselves, and there were lots of fish to be seen snorkeling
  • Windward BayWindward Bay (near Nelson’s Dockyard in the south of the island) – again, needs a short walk, but definitely worth it.
  • Pigeon Beach – a public beach popular with local people, and very near Nelson’s Dockyard. It is a short sail from the Catamaran – but do watch out for the poisonous Manchineel Tree!
  • Long Bay (in the north-east) – despite there being a hotel there, and even at this time of the year with lots of people, there were lots of fish to be seen snorkeling, especially at the eastern end.
  • Half Moon Bay (south-east of the island) is beautiful, despite the decaying hotel!
  • Morris Bay on the south-west coast is also the nicest beach on that part of the island.

Looking at some of the luxury hotels on the island – way beyond our price range – the nicest seemed to be:

  • the Carlisle Bay hotel – for those who can afford at least US$ 674 a night! Perhaps one day!

We took the time to visit many interesting parts of the island – and for those wanting to explore, rather than just getting sunburnt on a beach, the following were definitely worth visiting:

  • Betty's Hope sugar millBetty’s Hope – an old ruined sugar plantation – with a small museum – in the central east of the island
  • Fig Tree Drive – from the centre to the south-west of the island – through lush wooded hillsides, with an opportunity to buy the delicious Antiguan black pineapples from roadside stalls
  • Wallings reservoir – a Victorian reservoir just off Fig Tree Drive, with walking trails up into the hillsides
  • Christian Valley – an agricultural station with trails (hard to find!) from which a rich variety of Nelson's Harbour 3birdlife is visible (sadly now named Obama Mountain National Park – formerly Boggy Peak – seems after all quite appropriate!)
  • Nelson’s Dockyard – definitely worth visiting – the reconstructed 18th century dockyard where Nelson was based between 1784 and 1787 – a haven for English ships during their battles in the region, offering good protection against storms.

TrappasAs for restaurants, most were closed! We were very pleased, though, that Trappas was open (in English Harbour on the road to Nelson’s Dockyard) most of the days we were here, offering largely European style food, but with a touch of Caribbean flavour. The food was well-cooked, reasonably priced (ECD 25 for a starter, and ECD 50 for a main course), and there was a good atmosphere with locals and tourists alike. Nearby, the Mad Mongoose opened while we were here, and offered a livelier atmosphere (must definitely be very lively in season), with slightly cheaper, but still tasty, food.

The only bad eating experience we had was when we were tired and needed a quick drink and lunch in St John’s – and very unfortunately chose to sit down in Cheers. We thought the menu was in ECD (in line with most other restaurants) and only when the bill came, given to us by the unpleasant and supercilious front of house ‘waiter’, did we discover that a simple prawn salad cost US$ 27! Please avoid this horrid place at all costs! Much better would be to go to the nearby Quay Bar and Grill, which seemed much more atmospheric and well-priced – although sadly we did not eat at it!

Below are just a few photos that try to capture just what the beautiful island of Antigua is like out of season. When all of the yacht crews are here it must be very different, and much, much more lively, but taking a risk of the odd storm or even hurricane, and putting up with the higher temperatures and humidity, Antigua is definitely worth getting to know out of season!

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Dongsi Jiutiao – hostel and red dining


One of the pleasures of Beijing is the opportunity to explore its numerous hutongs – narrow streets surrounded by low rise courtyard buildings, known as siheyuan.  As most guidebooks say, many of the hutongs have been destroyed to make way for new high-rise development, but some still retain their traditional character, and others have been redeveloped specifically with the tourist in mind.  Traditionally, hutongs were 9 metre wide streets, with some dating from as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1341), and until the middle of the 20th century they provided the basic residential areas of most of Beijing.

Following a day exploring Ditan Park, the Lama Temple, the Confucius Temple and the Imperial College, we wandered south to have dinner at the Red Capital Club on Dongsi Jiutiao, which had been recommended by friends.  Everyone says it is difficult to find, but that was not our experience. Head south from the Zhangzizhonglu subway station and take the first hutong (Dongsi Jiutiao) immediately to the east (left as you head south!).  The Red Capital Club is then about 400 metres along on the south side of the road.

Anyway, we arrived too early, and decided simply to wander on to see if there might be anywhere we could sit down for a cold Tsingtao beer.  A short distance on, to the north of the road, we came across an amazing find – the Happy Dragon Courtyard Hostel at 51 Dongsi Jiutiao (note this is at a different location from the hostel mentioned on their website!  Phone: +86 (10) 84021970).  Although we only sat in the bar, we looked into the rooms which seemed very clean and well maintained. As well as dorms sleeping 6 people (RMB 90), they also had double rooms at only RMB 300 a night – amazing value for August (although the advertised rate was RMB 498).  The bar itself was in the centre of the courtyard, full of comfortable chairs, and served a good range of beverages – the beer was definitely cold and refreshing! Its WiFi service was particularly popular – and people from many different nationalities were logging on to their emails and Internet!  All in all, we reckoned that it would be a great place to stay for those on a limited budget.

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The Red Capital Club itself was also definitely an ‘interesting’ experience.  It is intended to reflect the life of the ruling elite in China in the 1950s.  As its website comments, “The immaculately restored compound captures the mood of the 1950s when China was driven by idealism. The lounge cigar divan is like stepping into Mao’s private meeting room. The furnishings were originally used by the central government in the 1950s. Two sofas next to lounge door were actually used by Marshal Lin Biao (Mao’s fated successor who lost out in an attempted coup). A poem of Mao’s adorns one wall and a photograph of Deng taken by his daughter and presented to the club another”.  The decor is now a little faded, and the food quite expensive, but it was definitely worth the visit.  They even had a bottle of Marsanne from the Caves de Tain in the Rhône Valley – which tasted remarkably good (although that could have been related to the fact that it was the first white wine I had tasted for almost a month!).

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Top Ten Tips for International Visitors to the Peking University (北京大學) campus


When I was planning on visiting Peking University (also know as Beida, an abbreviation for Beijing Daxue the pinyin for Peking University 北京大學) I searched on the Internet for advice and guidance – and found really rather little of help.

So, having been here for five weeks, I thought it might be useful to offer some simple tips for visitors from abroad so that they can start to enjoy themselves as much as I have done:

  1. The campus is approximately rectangular with the main gates in the middle of the east, south and west sides.  It is a haven of relative peace and quiet, amidst the noise and bustle of modern Beijing. Note that the pedestrian (northerly – illustrated) and vehicular (southerly) gates on the west side are separate, and there is a further pedestrian gate at the south-west corner.  Remember to take your campus card with you when you go off campus, so that you can get back in past security without any problems!  It takes about 15 minutes walk to cross the campus from west to east.
  2. Food: there are numerous different food outlets across the campus – for most of which you need a pre-charged card to purchase meals.  The largest, with the widest diversity of food is situated at A on the map below – but it can be noisy, and is definitely not the place for a quiet chat. If you don’t speak much Chinese, there is a self-service counter on the ground floor, and so it is very simple to choose the food one wants, and pay with your charge-card. One of my favourite places to buy delicious take away bing (a combination of a pancake and an omlette) is at B (illustrated).  ‘International-style’ breakfasts are available at C, as part of the Shao Yuan campus hotel complex.
  3. Weiming Lake (D) in the centre-north of the campus is a great place for an evening stroll – or somewhere to walk when one needs to think reflectively away from the office and the oppression of e-mails!  The blossom was really beautiful in spring, but I imagine that the cool of the lake makes it an equally pleasant place to escape in the heat of the summer as well.  Just to the west lies the university museum and art gallery, which are well worth a visit.
  4. There is a subway/metro/underground station just outside the East Gate  – known as East Gate of Peking University (at E on the map).  This is on Line 4 and provides ready access into the centre of the city, and all of the various tourist sites that can be visited.  It is best to buy a transport card (blue in colour), which can then readily be topped up.  Single journeys across the city cost a mere RMB 2, and the card must be swiped across the entrance/exit scanners when entering and leaving.  There are also airport style bag checking devices for scanning all bags being taken into the stations.  The underground system is excellent, safe and easy to use – with station names written in Chinese and English, and clear announcements warning in advance of the next station at which the train is due to arrive.  It takes about an hour to get to the airport by underground (lines 4 and 10 costing RMB 2) and then the airport express (costing RMB 25) – and unless you have a lot of baggage this is the easiest way to get there.
  5. Cash: contrary to what I was told on arrival, the cashpoint/ATM machines on campus do work with foreign cards (at least they did with my Visa Debit card), and so getting cash is simple. I tended to use the ones by H on the map (next to the Post Office)
  6. Accommodation: I was fortunate enough to stay in the university’s Chiatai International Centre (illustrated; part of the Shao Yuan complex at F on the map), which provides perfectly comfortable, clean accommodation, with a refrigerator, shower/bath, kettle and TV (you soon get to enjoy CCTV’s English language broadcast).  The hot water can be a bit hit and miss, but I generally found that it was fine at around 21.38 in the evenings.  The Centre gets very booked up well in advance, so if you plan to stay here do make sure that your hosts get you booked in.  It is by no means a modern 5* hotel, but I have really come to feel that it is home, and the staff are all incredibly kind and helpful.  There is an expensive restaurant and café on the ground floor (remember that in China this is known as the first floor). The one drawback is that not all of the US students staying there have yet acquired their hosts’ respect for other people’s ears!
  7. Internet access is generally good across campus.  The PKU wi-fi system works well (although you do need to get an appropriate username and password from the IT Services Department), and there is Ethernet connectivity at the Chiatai International Centre.  Skype (even video) works fine, and is a great way of keeping in touch with family and friends.
  8. Supermarkets: there are two main supermarkets on campus, with the nearest to Shao Yuan being Wu-Mei (G on map – illustrated; the other, slightly more modern and cleaner looking is at H, which has several cashpoint machines nearby). Although quite small, Wu-Mei provides most things one might want, including: bread, sliced cheese, cashew nuts, dried fruit, yoghurt, water, beer, fruit juice and wine. So, when you cannot manage the same basic sorts of Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and just need to have a cheese sandwich or fruit yoghurt for breakfast, this is the place to go. You can also buy the ubiquitous large flasks there for filling with boiling water and using to top up your tea cup throughout the day.  Just at the top of the stairs going down into Wu-Mei there is a small stall selling SIM cards and top-ups, and this is the best place to purchase your mobile connectivity.
  9. ‘Western’ food.  Should you want a relatively quiet and peaceful place to eat, apart from the university canteens, try the Café of Luck (I on map – illustrated), which serves a range of dishes such as steak and rice, salads, and pizzas (and even if you don’t speak fluent Chinese you can always point to the pictures), as well as cold beer – I always opted for the Tsingtao (although when that was not available the Yanjing was also not bad). Hidden away under the Centennial Hall there is also a small café called Paradis (see J on map) where it is possible to find reasonable coffee and capuccino – remember that China is a tea drinking country, and this is about the only place on campus where reasonable coffee is to be found – for that moment, when you are desperate for that wonderful bitter flavour, and the kick to the body’s energy system.
  10. Remember to walk on the right! Traffic in Beijing travels on the right – and this is also true (generally) of pedestrians.  So, when it gets crowded on campus, with thousands of people and hundreds of bicycles rushing to and from lectures, you will find it easier to ‘go with the flow’ if you walk on the right side.  And, do watch out for the silent electric scooters – they travel much more quickly than bicycles, and I am not quite sure why I have seen so few accidents!

Colleagues and students at the campus have gone out of their way to show us immense hospitality.  If ever in doubt, do ask your hosts for advice – be it restaurants, places to visit, the best bus to take to an obscure part of town – anything!  Many will go out of their way to take you where you want to go themselves, despite their busy schedules.  They will also relish the opportunity to practise their English!  Enjoy Beida – it is a great place to teach, think and do research.

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Obama in Barcelona


ObamaWalking down the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes in Barcelona last week I came across Obama – well, I guess not the Obama that most people will automatically think of!  What is the significance of “Obama – British Africa – Gin and Rhum”?  Could it be that Obama seeks to recreate a new empire in  the spirit of British Africa?

OK – it’s a bar/restaurant opened in 2008, and it being mid-morning on a trip to buy maps at Altair, I did not have time to check it out – but at least it served as a reminder of what might be behind the US administration’s current global agendas.

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The Durham Brewery


A holiday in Northumbria introduced us to the Durham Brewery – first bottle acquired on Lindisfarne….     the-durham-brewery

Journeying back south, we stopped off at the tiny brewery, just outside the city of Durham, and bought a range of their beers – all excellent.  It has just the right touch of quirkiness to make it of real interest!

This is how they describe themselves: “We believe that beer should be an experience in its own right. Too long it has languished as a nondescript alcoholic beverage; hops and malt subservient to the blandifying efforts of the big brewers. Have you ever reached the half pint mark and been overwhelmed by boredom? The Durham Brewery creates an experience that banishes boredom, enlivens the tastebuds and makes you want to have another. The Durham Experience uses the infinite combinations of malt, hops and yeast to give the ultimate in modern beer sensations. Traditional skills are employed to make beers from malt from a floor maltings and whole hops from around the world. Discover an ever evolving range of beers within our site. Some have been made since our inception and others are brand new. Between cask and bottle-conditioned, we believe that our range is at the cutting edge of beer flavours whilst retaining the traditional character of English ales.

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