My two scents worth

My two scents worth

There is nothing that screams ‘GREEK’ than an image of a building whitewashed to perfection with the blazing helios (sun) spotlighting its surfaces and reflecting good housekeeping practices with not a speck of dirt to be found. AND across the eaves and tumbling down the walls is the Queen of Colour, the vibrant and saucy Bougainvillea.

 

A riot of colour against the walls of villas excites the senses and adds a special playfulness to the overall effect the Greek islands are unashamedly proud of.

But for me, and I’m not dissing the Bougainvillea, it’s about scents and aroma.

My first time in Greece, I landed in the old, gloomy airport in Athens. It was towards the end of summer and after midnight. Out into the night for my first breath of Greece and I could smell oil, leather and diesel. Oh, it was good.

As I was to spend a couple of years in Greece on and off, I can remember the scents that if I smell them now, take me to the heart of Greece, my spiritual home.

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Recently in Sydney, my first whiff of jasmin hit me and transported me back to Ellas, where I would be smothered in the scent in the late spring when night fell. The days would be stifling and the only aromas wafting through my village was lamb on spits in the restaurants, coffee and diesel.

But when the sun went down and the flowers could again breathe in the cool air – jasmin was queen of the night.

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Jasminum polyanthum.

I’m writing this innocuous blog with a nod to my past but thoughts of the future.

In the early 90s in Sydney I lived in a house where the side wall was a factory wall as high as my two-storey house. The great blank vertical wall was slowly being taken over by Virginia Creeper and jasmin. The creeper was a beautiful display of autumn shades before it became green in the summer and the ‘jasmin festival’ lasted almost two weeks with an abundant, aromatic riot from late September. I always held a ‘Great Wall of Jasmin’ party on the October long weekend and it was a blooming great event.

As I write today, 17 August, I have come back from a walk where I stole several sprigs of jasmin to put in my house to give me the bounty of the scent.

So, now, let’s think about it. Years ago, the jasmin bloomed in late September and now it is almost spent by mid August.

Climate change, changes everything. I’m not saying that it’s only jasmin. Read between the lines. Glaciers are melting in Switzerland, the seas are rising around the islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Nature is confused and she might just throw her hands up in the air and go on strike.

What have you noticed in the weather patterns around you? Talk about it, scream it out. You know, it won’t make any difference to me and people of my age, we’ll be dead, but there are hard times a-comin’ to do with lack of water and weather-affected agriculture. Human beings need water and food to survive.

If it starts with me, good, and will it continue on with you.

I love science, and if it makes a mistake, it goes back and revisits to make it right and give us the correct information.

I love science, Greece, diesel and jasmin.

Writer Bev Malzard will continue stealing jasmin (see picture below), beating the drum on climate change and telling stories about Greece. 

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China: First Encounter

China: First Encounter

My first visit to China was on a whim in 1989. I saw an ad in the paper for ‘six days in Beijing to see the ‘great’ sights’ on a Qantas special, for $599 – for flights, accommodation, meals and tours. What a bargain. So a friend and I phoned up (well before booking online) and booked our holiday. As Sydney sweltered through a steamy summer we packed for minus 10 deg. Geezus it was cold there. Lucky I borrowed a puffer coat as I had nothing warm enough.

In those olden days you had to travel with a group, so a small band of Aussies landed in snowy Beijing, mid-February and took the shuttle to well out-of-town, to a Movenpic hotel. One of the trip clowns thought it was hilarious as the building was structured like a cartwheel and you had to walk outside before you walked inside. “It’s like a bloody caravan park”, he said.

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I didn’t notice anything until the next morning when I entered the dining room which was all pretty in pink with lace curtains on  the windows – maybe I had arrived in Switzerland!

 

But no, outside the windows on a grey day, hoards of grey-clad cyclists were streaming by (also well before the advent of capitalism being embraced and the CAR coming to town).

And so began the tour of the great sights and tours of carpet factories, which were a big part of China tourism then. My travelling coach companions were an odd lot and as I had never travelled in a group before these people were a revelation. There were two couples who continuously whinged about the tea. Our gracious tour leader passed around warm tea from a thermos every time we got back on the bus. Being freezing we needed this elixir for warmth and also to hydrate us. But some people just wanted a cuppa Bushells with milk and sugar.

One of the guys wore shorts, a sweater and a windcheater and sandals. I asked him how cold he was on a scale of 1-10. “Bloody 12, didn’t know what the weather would be in this part of the world.” (He eventually, and wisely purchased a pair of socks!) This was his first trip out of Australia – he was 30. “Usually, the first overseas trip for Aussies is to New Zealand, ” I said to him. “Yeah, but the travel agent recommended this place and I like Chinese food.”

He ganged up with us and he had a fab time, without knowing anything about the history or actually where he was. But we were awed by the Great Wall as the snow fell on it; as we walked into the cold Ming Tombs and saw the mighty marble ship on the frozen lake of the Summer Palace and the glory of the Forbidden City, shrouded in fine snow glistening in the sunny day.

We had a few adventures there and a trip out to Tianjin which was not so used to seeing foreigners. A man followed me around for an hour or so, until I stopped and quietly confronted him. His English wasn’t bad and he wanted to know where I was from. He told me he had worked on container ships throughout the 1960s and had visited Melbourne. So, time with a new friend to take tea and talk.

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We were pretty much confined to our coach except when stopping for tourist sites. And it was difficult to get around with no language as there were no street signs in English.

Our adventurous man with the bare legs that were freaking the locals out came exploring with us one night when we ventured out of our hotel. The street lights were about 3 watts and stumbling along in the dark wasn’t easy. But at the end of a long lane the world opened up to a deep cut in the terrain and I thought it was a little valley until we climbed down a steep banks of a deep and dry river. Lights ahead beckoned and we came across a small city of coloured lights flooding ice carvings – the first I had ever seen: bridges, palaces, animals, walls and people depicted in the frozen art works. Yet again, not a word of Mandarin from us but we made a few friends who guided us back to our digs.

Once our coach stopped at  the back of a city park and all these colourfully dressed ethnic women came out of the bushes carrying fur hats of all colours – rabbit I think. So we started doing business through the window. My aim was to buy one hat to keep my head warm  Police came out of nowhere and I’m throwing money out the window and women were laughing and shreeking and skedaddling out of view. How did this happen? How did I wind up with six fur hats stacked up on my lap?

Bev Malzard was to return to China several times over the next couple of decades but that first visit where she felt like a bull in a China shop holds the happiest memories.

Four months after her return, the Tiananmen Square protest took place.

https://www.chinahighlights.com/greatwall/

 

Spain: Meandering through Madrid

Spain: Meandering through Madrid

Apart from short periods of time in my misspent youth, Spain was just a passing flirtation. Someone I had a few drinks with.
But recently as a grown-up I discovered a few choice locations in Spain and fell head over heels.

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As we couldn’t cover the entire country on this visit we stopped short of a whistle stop trip and picked the eyes out of culture, gastronomy and a little history and some time for reflecting on the cult of gluttony. Gluttony was my failing in Spain – but hey! The country has no mercy and takes no prisoners – just eat!


Arriving in Madrid on a pleasant end of summer day, we drove along tree-lined boulevards and were delivered to Villa Magna in the elegant Salamanca barrio (precinct). This is the time when jet-lag kicks in but it’s too exciting being in a new city and it’s afternoon – lunch time, yay.
And this is when the eating frenzy began.

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First stop was a five-minute walk from the hotel to the beautifully restored and beloved Platea Madrid (featured image at top). The old art deco theatre has had new life breathed into it and has become a fragrant complex of tapas bars, Michelin starred restaurants and snack bars with rustic market-style décor. A cooling ale and a plate of potatas bravas (fried chunks of potato with spicy, paprika ridden tomato sauce) and small bites of battered cod – I was hooked.
And an early dinner eschewed.

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Mercado De San Miguel, undercover market housing dozens of gourmet food producers.

This was the disjointed part of the trip – our timing was not always conducive to being ‘hungry’. Breakfast isn’t a big deal here. Coffee and a little pastry maybe or two coffees. Lunch is from anywhere between 2pm and 4pm and if you are on a schedule, you’ll find yourself having dinner within a couple of hours after a banquet at lunch.

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Plaza Mayor.

So after a quick change in my room and a studious count of the threads in the cotton sheets, we were off to  nearby Tatal, a fancy restaurant owned by Rafael Nadal and Julios Ingelsias (both of them stood us up for the shared plate). The restaurant began to fill up and by the time we left at 10pm (early by local standards) the place was packed with well-dressed patrons – and on a week night too.

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Next day we fitted in a visit to the mighty Prado, and soaked up Velasquez, Goya, Van Gogh and the major Spanish artists; sashayed through a couple of the BIG squares, walked the gardens and snacked along the way on creamy, sexy pastries and cakes. The divine Plaza Mayor is portico-lined and tiny shops offer up traditional goods and cafes will take a lot of money from you to enjoy a café con leche.

Moving again and it’s to the Buen Retiro, a popular city park for locals.

Churros is almost the sweet national dish and the best place to eat this is at Chocolateri San Gines where you will be served by grumpy staff – if they feel like it. But jump right in and join the Madrilians who are stuffing their faces with vast amounts of this beautiful chocolate-dipped stripey doughnut.

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In this tiny tapas bar, mushrooms and green peppers are the hero ingredients.

We finished off our short time in Madrid with a Tapas tour. Our host was a vivacious American woman who had come to Spain with her Spanish boyfriend. The boyfriend is gone, but the woman studied the language and stayed as she fell in love with Spain – who is treating her very well indeed. (During this trip, I met three women, one an Australian, who had the same story – left home for a Spanish bloke, ditched the bloke but stayed)
It was short, it was sweet, but after Madrid there were windmills to tilt at further afield.

The writer Bev Malzard reignited a long past food love affair in Madrid – garlic prawns. They are back in her life again. And several pairs of espadrilles were purchased in Madrid too.

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Switzerland’s Bag Men

Switzerland’s Bag Men

After spending a couple of days digging into the past of the buzzy city of Zurich, a visitor can be completely mellowed out by the beautiful old buildings, historic structures and the cosy vibe of the inner working of the old town. But as pleasant and pretty as Zurich is, there’s the ‘other’ side of town where light industry chugs away and the buildings aren’t going to win the princess pageant.

Zuerich West, Viadukt-Boegen, Frau Gerolds Garten

There are parts of the industrial sector here, but no longer traditional industry or fabrication. And like many diminishing industrial areas throughout European metropolises, neglect and dilapidation were the starting points for gentrification and new beginnings in the 21st century.

Zurich west used to tap along to the sounds of machines and black soot would hang in the air – but now it’s the hippest place to visit in town, Buildings have been renovated and windows made over in a modern way – sympathetic to the past and the people who slogged away here – architecture on every street is innovative and thoughtful. Facades remain and the buildings behind them peep through with a wink to previous generations and a nod to the future.

One such standout here is a building block constructed of steel containers – the flagship store of Freitag.

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Freitag is a ‘bag concept’. Freitag’s original products are made from recycled materials – used truck tarpaulins, car seat belts, air bags and bicycle inner tubes. Because these materials are tough, the products are too. Wonderful bags, wallets, satchels, back packs and overnighters are part of this super cool range – and there is not one product the same as another because they are made from original pieces of tarps, Every Freitag item is an individual.

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The first bag was sewn 24 years ago – a messenger bag sewn by hand from an old tarp. Early pieces were put together in a Zurich apartment by the young founders themselves, two graphic designer brothers Markus and Daniel Freitag. They had been inspired by the multicoloured, heavy freight traffic that hummed through the Zurich transit intersection in front of their apartment.

The first bags were sold out of the brothers’ living room and in 2006 they decided to sell their bags from a store made of freight containers – the ‘floors’ are home to more than 1600 individual bags for sale.

The Freitag Store Zurich is completely built from recycled containers which were gutted, reinforced, piled up and secured. Zurich’s first bonsai skyscraper: low enough not to violate the city’s restrictions on high-rise buildings; high enough to produce vertigo.

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From the Freitag Store Zurich looking into the colour of the west end – the coolest address in town.

Freitag has grown rapidly ever since the first tarps were washed in the brothers’ bathtub. The bag makers have gone from two to around 170 employees, from one to more than 40 bag models, and is now producing cool, and comfortable workwear – t-shirts and shorts and accessories.

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Head west in Zurich to stroll the area and visit the shop that started a worldwide trend and if you can depart that little high-rise without making a purchase, you have more self-control than this writer.

Writer Bev Malzard purchased a cool bag after much deliberation over the colour. Of course I did!

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My bag.

 

FACTS & FIGURES

Headquarters: FREITAG lab. ag / NŒRD, Zurich-Oerlikon, Switzerland

Year founded: 1993

Proprietors: Markus and Daniel Freitag
Number of staff: around 170
Production: around 400,000 products per year

Number of stores: 17 F-Stores, with six in Switzerland (Davos, Flagship Store Zurich, Grüngasse Zurich, Zurich Noerd, Lausanne, Basel), four in Germany (Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt), one in Milan, one in Vienna, one in Bangkok, one in Taipei, one in Melbourne and two in Tokyo
An Online Store based in Zurich-Oerlikon and 450 retail partners worldwide

Materials used: 390 tons of truck tarpaulins, 150,000 car seatbelts and  15,000 bicycle inner tubes per year

Products: around 40 bags, around 30 accessories and FREITAG F-ABRIC workwear

Visit: www.freitag.ch

Vist here for some fun videos:  https://www.freitag.ch/en/tarpblanche

Read the origins of this tarp tale from rooms to riches from the source:

hhttps://www.freitag.ch/en/about/history

 

 

 

 

 

Free stuff in Beverly Hills – yes, FREE!

Free stuff in Beverly Hills – yes, FREE!

My previous blog told a tale of my first visit to the city where the Bold and the Beautiful hang out. This one is all about today and as much as a credit card is your token to get through the hallowed gates – there is FREE stuff. Yay! 

Just check out this lineup and see how many items you can tick off the list without having to sell a kidney.

 

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1. Try to spot your favourite celebrities on Rodeo Drive and restaurants around the Golden Triangle – an area ripe for star sightings!

2. Capture a perfect souvenir by snapping a picture in front of the famed Beverly Hills sign in Beverly Gardens Park.

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3. Window shop ’til you drop on Rodeo Drive! These three blocks of luxury shopping are the best in the world for day-dreaming and indulging!

4. Spot your favorite designer, model or other fashion legend on Rodeo Drive’s Walk of Style. Each honoree has a plaque embedded in the sidewalk with their name, a quote and their autograph.

5. Watch the Electric Fountain come alive with varying light and water patterns. Look familiar? The fountain has made appearances in the movie Clueless and the Go-Go’s Our Lips Are Sealed music video.

6. Admire Bijan’s signature Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé which is nearly always parked outside the Bijan store on Rodeo Drive.

7. Get lost in the vast department stores along Wilshire Blvd – aptly nicknamed Department Store Row. Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus provide hours of shopping entertainment.

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8. Feel like a celebrity when you walk the red carpet entrance at The Beverly Hills Hotel.

 

9. Admire the silver torso sculpture in the Rodeo Drive median at Dayton Way. “Torso” by world-renowned artist Robert Graham is the symbol for the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style.

10. Head to the edge of town to view the signature Beverly Hills city limits street signs. One is located on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Blvd and Moreno Drive.

11. Strike a pose with the family of statues outside the Fred Hayman commemorative building on North Canon. The building, with eye-catching yellow and white striped awnings, is a recreation of Hayman’s storefront of Giorgio Beverly Hills, the first luxury retailer on Rodeo Drive.

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12. Take a seat on any street in the Golden Triangle and see some of the world’s finest cars whiz by. Ferraris, and Maybachs, and Lamborghinis, oh my!

13. Pick which public art sculpture in Beverly Gardens Park is your favourite, from the wildly colorful Hymn of Life: Tulips by Yayoi Kusama or the stainless steel Erratic that measures 15 feet long.

14. Don’t miss a look at City Hall’s Spanish Renaissance-style architecture, including an eight-story tower with blue, green and gold tiled dome.

15. Head into Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel to admire the beautiful lobby floral display and get a peek inside this famous hotel where Pretty Woman was filmed.

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The original post box in The Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel.

16. Walk just north of Beverly Gardens Park onto a quiet residential neighbourhood and receive a major surprise as you stumble upon a real life Witch’s House! This whimsical cottage was built on a film studio lot and relocated to its current location, where it is used as a private residence.

17. Take a seat inside the lobby of The Beverly Hills Hotel and absorb the luxurious grounds that many celebrities have walked upon throughout the hotel’s 100 year history.

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18. Pause on the 300 Block of Rodeo Drive to see the Frank Lloyd Wright designed “Anderton Court,” marked by the identifiable spiral ramp and triangular tower.

19. Take a somber moment and reflect on the events of 9/11 at the 9/11 Memorial Garden. A structural beam recovered from Ground Zero acts as the centerpiece of this space.

20. Hotel hop! You don’t have to be a guest to check out the impressive exteriors and lobbies of a dozen hotels around town, each with their own interior décor style from mid-century modern to Italian Renaissance.

The Beverly Hilton Hotel.

21. See the state-of-the-art Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts which opened in 2013. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts transforms a Beverly Hills city block into a vibrant new cultural destination with two distinct, elegant buildings: the historic 1933 Italianate-style Beverly Hills Post Office and the new, contemporary 500-seat, state-of-the-art Goldsmith Theater. Together these two structures embrace the city’s history and future, creating a new cultural landmark.

22. Head up to Greystone Mansion & Park, a legendary estate built by the Doheny family, which is now a park open to the public. Can you find the koi and turtles on the grounds?

 

Greystone Mansion, way up in the rarified air of Beverly Hills.

23. Print a Beverly Hills Walking Tour from LoveBeverlyHills.com or pick one up at the Beverly Hills Visitor Center and then explore the city on foot!

24. Take in the sunshine and sounds of the courtyard’s babbling fountain as you relax, on the grass or at café tables, in Beverly Canon Gardens.

25. Jog on the pedestrian trail down 11 blocks of Beverly Gardens Park. Shaded by ample trees, it’s also a great trail for a leisurely stroll.

 

26. Make your way to the “Mecca for cheese aficionados.” If you call yourself a cheese lover, then you cannot miss the sight – and smell! – of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. The staff is delighted to share their extensive knowledge of cheese as well as offer free samples.

27. See the world’s first 24-hour Cupcake ATM at Sprinkles Cupcakes. Though it’s viewable without making a purchase, it’s worth every dollar to try Sprinkles’ signature Red Velvet treats.

28. Indulge your sweet tooth at Edelweiss Chocolates, one of the oldest confectionaries in America that still processes its chocolates by hand. You may have the opportunity to take a tour of their chocolate factory.

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29. Check out the gourmet candy shop Sugarfina and indulge in a sample of their candy at their Tasting Bar. For a specil experience, chat with their Candy Concierge to create a custom Sugarfina gift.
30. Peruse the Beverly Hills Famers’ Market every Sunday from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. A feast for the senses, the market features farm fresh produce, artisanal packaged foods, and flowers alongside live music and activities for kids.

31. Groove to the sounds of live music – from rockabilly to jazz – in Beverly Canon Gardens during the summertime Concerts on Canon series.

32. Get fit with Lululemon! The fitness apparel retailer offers free yoga classes and a weekly run club, all open to the public at no cost!

33. Wednesday through Sunday, visit The Paley Center for Media where you can access a library of some of the best television programming of the past decades or catch a screening. Visit the Paley Center’s website for daily screening schedules.

34. Explore the literary world at Beverly Hills Public Library. With 2-hour free parking adjacent to the library, you have the time to curl up and read a favorite book.

 

35. Let the Beverly Hills Visitor Center Concierge assist you with all of your needs, from securing sightseeing tour tickets to making dinner reservations at one of the exquisite restaurants.

36. Not quite free, but at just $1 for children under 12 years of age, the Beverly Hills trolley tour is quite a deal! Hop aboard for a 40-minute narrated tour of art, architecture, historical and renowned areas of the city.

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37. Stop by the newly opened Community Dog Park to watch the posh pooches frolic in the fenced-in area. If you wish for your pup to partake, be sure to register in advance as it is exclusive to Beverly Hills residents and those staying in the city.

38. Enjoy two-hour free parking at one of the many City of Beverly Hills operated lots on S. Beverly Drive, Brighton Way, Rexford Drive and N. Canon Drive.

39. Pick up a booklet of Exclusive Offers at the Beverly Hills Visitor Center which can be redeemed at shopping, dining, sightseeing, and spa and salon locations throughout Beverly Hills. Including two-for-one ice cream at Sprinkles and 20% off lunch or dinner at CIRCA 55 at The Beverly Hilton, these special offers are not to be missed!

40. Access free Wi-Fi at many of the local coffee shops and on the Beverly Hills Civic Center grounds.

Visit the Beverly Hills Visitor Center, the gateway to the city! Our Visitor Center Concierge are pleased to help you plan the remainder of your time in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, provide insider tips and help you shop for Beverly Hills-branded merchandise.

visitbeverlyhill.com

Beverly Hills – the first time around

Beverly Hills – the first time around

Just returned from a sensational trip to Beverly Hills, California and I came back satisfied and with memories of inspired shopping, friendly natives and a relaxed and inclusive vibe.

It was many years ago that I first strolled the streets of Beverly Hills. I admit I was a bit of an inverted snob and didn’t really want to connect with what I perceived as brashness, shallowness and the high and mighty exclusivity of the bold and beautiful; less than six square miles of high maintenance characters and unrealistic real estate desires.

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In fact, I was intimidated and nervous about entering shops to check out the fashion, I expected to get the ‘Pretty Woman’ treatment. And indeed I met many a fashionable boutique skeleton who had no interest in me nor my credit card with its small limit.

I stayed at the Beverly Hills Peninsula which was and is pretty classy and I now thank the Peninsula for my bed linen buying habits – it was all about the bed I slept in at the hotel. After sliding around on that thread count – you can’t go back.

I took off on an adventure from that wonderful hotel and caught a local bus downtown. This was such a social faux pas! Nobody walked in Beverly Hills and busses weren’t even considered a form of civilised transport. But I had a chat with my fellow travellers and exited the bus in a lovely Mexican market precinct. I ate great food, shopped and purchased an excellent pair of riding boots. The boots were not of the Big Label ilk, they were made in Mexico and they cost me about $50.

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On my return to the hotel, the doorman drew me aside and quietly asked me to hand over my shopping bags (all scrappy white plastic bags). He whisked  them away and before I actually entered the foyer he handed me two rather large and spiffy paper bags with Beverly Hills Peninsula written across the front.

Would madam like to try on a Chanel bracelet?

I went red and realised that I has come close to shaming him, the hotel and myself! But instead of sheepishly slinking away I sashayed through the hotel like I owned it, swinging my ‘shopping’ bags. Without turning into a total wanker, that taught me the lesson that it doesn’t take much to feel at home in the world of the rich and famous:

  • Dress suitably and nicely;
  • Walk with your head high and smile at your fellow rich bastards, they’ll always smile back;
  • Act as if – there’s no shame in taking your place in the world of the rich and famous, they’re lucky to have you.
  • DON’T carry anything around in a plastic bag.

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The Beverly Hilton, the original part of the building – it’s rad to be retro.

Over the years, this has worked well for me, and on a recent visit to Beverly Hills, me being older and wiser, I stayed at another beautiful hotel, was welcomed like a long-lost rich bastard, and I was at home as soon as I saw the beautiful bed linen.

The hotel had a private car for special guests (yep, me) and me in a cool and worldly manner said to the driver, “this is a lovely car, what is it”, he coolly replied, “this is a new Rolls Royce Ghost madame”. So much for the local busses . . .

Writer Bev Malzard travelled under her own steam the first time around. And she still has the boots she purchased and sleeps on a million thread sheets!

Beverly Hills – the first time around

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brew-ha-ha in the desert

Brew-ha-ha in the desert

                         Lancaster, LA County, California – who knew?

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Wall of Bravery, Bravery Brewing Company, West Lancaster.

If craft beer has come to the desert town of Lancaster in Antelope Valley, LA County (yes, the county covers 500 sq. miles (805km) of cities, beaches, snow-capped mountains, wild valleys and the Mojave Desert), the hipster world is turned on its ear!

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Have a sip, at Kinetic Brewing Company.

When I was invited to Lancaster I ignorantly thought: “mmm, Amish white cotton bonnets and horse and carriages.” Indeed I was a few states away from where I was going – how about across the other side of the country?  Lancaster was a two-hour drive out of Los Angeles, traffic on the great web of freeways and we were hitting the beginning of a bloody hot heat wave. Drink more water, drink more water . . .

The drive to Lancaster was amazing. The ruggedness of the surrounding nature was almost brutal in the shimmering heat-filled light. Every now and then I could see a cluster of pale houses, making every effort to look like a town comfortably waiting out the summer . . .

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We arrived in Lancaster and drove through a long stretched out town – certainly bigger than its boots! The main drag is a charmer (who knew?), the historic precinct of West Lancaster Boulevard, lined with trees that have grown to a size to gently fan a light breeze.

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Always up for a celebration, we happened to visit for the 40 year anniversary  of Lancaster becoming a city in 1977. The city was created around the United States Airforce base, aerospace and in March this year the Thunderbirds took to the skies at the LA County Air Show to honour the community’s achievement of cityhood!

First stop for us was at The Lemon Leaf for its famous iced lemonade. It hit the spot. The cafe was buzzing and the aromas lifted our flagging spirits.

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The cafe is owned by the ebullient Maria Elena Grado (pictured above) who is the product of Greek and Italian parentage which is DNA that makes for passion, food and creativity. Maria’s menu is influenced by what her mother and grandmother created in the kitchen, and some of the recipes, sweet (cakes) and savoury (pasta) are the family recipes. And despite the odd customer questioning her cakes as brought in  (how very dare they!) . . . the cafe is a welcoming hub for locals. (For the record, Maria bakes all the cakes that are served in The Lemon Leaf.)

And on the side of the angels, Maria is a tough (in a good way) employer. She insists that her young staff keep up their studies and school attendance while working for her – it’s a rule of employment.

And off the main drag in West Lancaster is our first brewery – Bravery Brewing Company that invites everyone over the legal age (21) for drinking into the tasting room to choose from an array of flavoursome beers.

Bravery Brewing is an indy microbrewery that has captured a faithful clientele of locals and the folks from the air force. The establishment is a committed supporter of patriots and veterans, and a rather splendid American flag on the wall made from timber has photographs surrounding it supplied by customers of fallen members from airforce, navy and army printed on the flag.

Independently owned, the craft brewery has up to 30 varieties on tap.

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The Bravery Brewing Company’s kegs, waiting to tapped and invited to the party.

Next stop is the Lancaster Museum of Art (MOAH), and this is an exciting find in what some might say is an out-of-the-way city. The architecture of the building is sleek and artful. Regular exhibitions are from noted artists from near and far and much of it reflects the beauty and tyranny of living in the desert. Downstairs in the museum is a large workshop for kids.where finds in the desert are put together as art pieces (Lost Angels) – yet again reiterating the value of ‘stuff’, and putting it to use as ‘art’ and as a reminder of what is thrown away and how it can still have value.

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At the Lancaster Museum of Art.

Time to mosey along to another brewery – down another block on the boulevard and the Kinetic Brewing Company is beckoning. Kyra and Steven Kinsey have made a great success of this company. The bar is a hip kinda exposed brick saloon – and filled with a crowd enjoying the brews and gastropub food. Not a man-bun to be seen that day!

A charcuterie platter is served up, plus house-made pretzels and their take on the pub classic – Scotch eggs.

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Kyra and Steven Kinsey, proud parents of the Kinetic Brewing Company.

Before we make the next and last food and wine stop there’s something I found rather peculiar with the food and booze stars of the town, all the owners had previously been in the movie business, from grip, to stylist to writing . . . mmmmm.

Strolling down the centre of town and the sun was getting lower but the air still stung with heat, we entered a room that transported me to Paris or Rome or . . . anywhere but here. It was Friday night and there was live entertainment in Pour D’vino a restaurant/wine bar that exuded the aesthetic of a European city hideaway. There’s a vast collection of wines from all over the world and the menu is constructed to work well as wine and food pairings. The room bustled with good humour and a large golden retriever made its way though the bar – ostensibly looking for a friend but I think not – it was a very thirsty day!

Mother Jody Cherbonneaux and son Jason Brookins (pictured below) set this bar up a few years back and as there was not a wine bar in the city – they not only established themselves but have created the cuisine and ambience of an Italian restaurant that more than lives up to its reputation.

And to be served brilliant seared tuna in the middle of the desert . . .who knew?

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Pour D’vino is opposite the city’s pride, the Performing Arts Center and the movie house, where first releases are screened and contemporary plays and classical, rock and country music are performed regularly.

And although we could  not squeeze another morsel or beverage in . . .we had a quick look at the rather tasty looking bar, Zelda’s – a smooth operator of a place with an art decor edge and a cool vibe – what more could you want?

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Late afternoon at Zelda’s, Lancaster.

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And if anyone asks me about Lancaster in Antelope Valley, I’ll just say “who knew”.

And by the way, there are no antelopes here.

The writer Bev Malzard was a guest of Destination Lancaster and was most grateful to experience this wonderul city – and no, I can’t eat any more of Maria Elena Grado’s cakes. Stop it. OK, just one more slice please. 

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Visit: http://www.lemonleaf.com

Visit: http://www.Braverybrewing.com

Visit: http://www.pourdvino.com

Visit: http://www.destinationlancasterca.org

Visit: http://www.unitedairlines.com