Sunday, August 21, 2016

Wallpaper* City Guides

I started collecting Wallpaper* City Guides sometime last year after first stumbling upon one in a coffee shop. After reading tons of white texts on numerous Rogue Guides and Lonely Planet, the concise and design-led manner in which Wallpaper presents its city guides caught my eyes. Text were minimal, but always informative. Suggestions were limited to one venue per page or two, sometimes even three!

Wallpaper* City Guides are supplementary guides aimed at design, style and culture conscience travelers. These are not meant to replace your typical Lonely Planet, which are good for pointing out obvious tourist stuff. Published by Phaidon, City Guides books on the other hand are guides for architecture and design fans seeking a more sophisticated and curated experience on whichever cities they are visiting. For example, a listing in Copenhagen suggested a visit to an Arne Jacobsen designed petrol station about 20km outside Copenhagen.

Our current City Guides collection currently number about fifteen, and growing. We aim to get a City Guides book for every city we visited and those we are planning to visit. Some we've skipped (like Genoa) because we were only in the city for a couple of hours, though we will likely visit again due to its proximity to dreamy Cinque Terre. Despite its diminutive and pocketable design, we do not make it to a lot of the venues suggested - normally out of budget constraints - but that's fine as it means we have to visit again.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Eneko at One Aldwych

This month sees the opening of Eneko Atxa's newest restaurant at the basement of One Aldwych hotel in the Strand. Eneko at One Aldwych is a more casual version of his three-Michelin Azurmendi restaurant in Bilbao, Spain. Azurmendi has recently been rated as one of the world's top twenty restaurants, so we were excited to dine at Eneko's newest restaurant today.
The simplified menu consists of several seafood and land-based dishes, as well as vegetarian options. We had the anchovy tempura and a trio of pork consisting of  mushroom and Iberico ham, suckling pig brioche and crispy pork jowl. The anchovy tempura were served in a cute fish and chip style cone. Despite being a battered dish, I found the anchovy tempura to be light, but the trio of pork (trexxi boda pork festival) stood out for its generous portion and delicious variety of pork.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Visiting the Italian Riviera Liguria and Cinque Terre

The Harbour of Portofino
The Italian Riviera, also known as the Liguria, is one of those ridiculously beautiful places, you have to wonder why it isn't on more lists of places to visit in Italy. Not that we mind. While busy with tourists, both local and international, it never felt like a tourist trap like much of Italy's more popular tourist destinations.

It is here where you will find the Cinque Terre national park, a UNESCO world heritage site. The entire park is only accessible via railway, boats or trails. You could drive within a mile or so distance to a couple of villages, but Cinque Terre is best enjoyed walking. The five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggioreare are connected via four well marked trails (though two are currently closed due to the devastating floods of 2011), and is via these trails that I recommend you enjoy the national park. There are also other off the beaten path hiking trails around Cinque Terre.
Have a cocktail in Manarola
These five villages are also connected via a railway network to the rest of Liguria. We made our base in Rapallo, about one hour away, putting us somewhere in between the port city of Genoa (where you would normally fly in, or take the train down from Milan) and Cinque Terre. On the east side you have La Spezia which connects the Liguria region to Florence and the rest of Italy. You could also take the ferry to most of the villages (bar Corniglia) from Rapallo, La Spezia and Portovenere. Rapallo is also a good base to stay if you want to visit Portofino, the glamorous harbour village favoured by celebrities on honeymoons.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Thameslink, Still Shit

As you know Thameslink is one of the poorest performing railway franchise in this country, whether they were until First Group or Govia (majority owned by Go-Ahead). On 7 May 2016 we traveled down to St Albans City for a day trip, and aimed to take the 11pm fast train from St Albans City back to South East London, catching the connecting train at London Blackfriars.

Unfortunately the train in St Albans City was delayed due to a passenger trouble at Harpenden, where it took police about 30 minutes to arrive (austerity innit). We managed to catch another train, which was a slow and also delayed train meaning we missed our connection at London Blackfriars. With no way back, we walked to London Bridge station hoping to catch another train home to South East London, only to find that the trains were cancelled there too!

We eventually got back home after paying for a taxi, and submitted a delay repay claim immediately only to find the claim rejected!

Thameslink, rather than connecting people, they would rather con them.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The case of a useless bus lane in London

Sometimes you wonder if the people at Transport for London ever use the buses they provide. Living in South East London, I understand the frustration of being someone who is very dependent on public transport and yet resigned to the fact that Transport for London will never improve the infrastructure here.

If you have ever taken a bus through Brockley Road between 7.30am and 8.30am, and between 5pm to 7pm, you will be aware of how much this road sucks your life. It takes about 20 minutes to cross a half mile stretch of Brockley Road before the buses reach the bottleneck that is Brockley Cross.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Android Marshmallow update available for Samsung Galaxy S6

Finally, after months of waiting, Samsung has released the Android Marshmallow update onto their soon to be ex-flagship phone Galaxy S6 - four months after Android 6.0 was released on the Nexus series.

The update, which is rolling out at snail's pace and on the whim of carriers who rather you buy a new phone than update your current phone, is currently available on only a handful of Galaxy S6 variants. Namely, it is only available for the G920F global variant running in certain regions.

Fed up with waiting for Samsung to update my variant, I downloaded the bloatware-free French firmware (via XDA), and applied the update using Odin 3.10.7 for Windows. The process was simple enough, though it does expose a huge flaw with Android and Samsung's terrible update policy (like why do we need to wait months for firmware updates for certain variants to arrive or be forced to flash our firmware manually).

Here's a very quick guide (insert disclaimer claiming no responsibilities for any screw ups that may or many not happen) on how to successfully flash your Samsung phone with the latest firmware without tripping Knox:
  • Turn off your device
  • Press and hold down the Volume Down and Home button, and then press the Power button until you see a disclaimer, then release all buttons
  • Press the Volume Up button to engage the 'Download mode'
  • Connect your device to your computer
  • Open Odin
  • On Odin, check AP, and select the .tar firmware file you've downloaded and extracted
  • Wait for Odin to verify
  • Then press Start
  • Go and make a pot of tea
  • Depending on how many apps you have installed, your phone would have booted into a fresh new firmware
  • Alternatively, do a factory wipe for a fresh install
In any case, the update brought a fresh breath of new life to my Galaxy S6 (in a much positive way than the disastrous Lollipop update did to my old Nexus 5), and also updated my phone's security update to February (from October).

It is still early days, but the phone just feel faster (probably placebo but a nice feeling regardless) despite not doing a factory wipe and the ability toggle app permissions is a huge welcome. But best of all is the support for manual control of the camera's shutter speed and RAW output. The S6's camera is pretty decent - perhaps one of the best on a smartphone - so the ability to gain more control over the control element is massive.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Four days in Budapest

Continuing with our recent January travels (I promise this will be the last travel-logs for a month or so), we recently spent four nights in Budapest. We flew Ryanair again via London Stansted Airport.

We stayed at the City Ring Hotel, short walk from Budapest-Nyugati Railway Terminal and the Hungarian Parliament building. The hotel itself was fairly comfortable and based on what we paid for, I can't find any fault with it. There's free (but flaky) WiFi connection accessible from our room and a mini-fridge in the room. There is however no kettle (we brought our own kettle), something which we have learned never to expect in most European hotels.
Fisherman's Bastion
As there aren't any direct railway service from the airport to the city centre, we took the frequent 200E bus from outside the airport terminal to the closest metro station (Kőbánya-Kispest) before taking the M3 line into the city. It was rather straightforward if a little tiring process (the bus isn't one designed to take multiple luggage). Taxi rides to the city would cost about 23 Euros, which is rather pricey.

Friday, January 29, 2016

24 hour in Stockholm

Our January trip continues with a quick 24 hour trip to Stockholm. Well the entire trip was closer to two days if you factor in the flight time and the bus to and from both airports. This was our first time to a Scandinavian country, so it was worth the stress.

We stayed at the Anedin hostel on-board the M/S Birger Jarl, one of many boat hotels around Stockholm. It was moored near Slussen, Södermalm (where other cruise ships were moored as well) only 15 minutes walk from tourist island Gamla Stan, and also a short walk to the trendy district 'SoFo' in Södermalm. The cabin itself was small, though it does have its own en-suite bathroom and toilet.
As we were only in Stockholm for 24 hours, we knew that this was more or less an exploratory trip - one designed for us to get our bearings and to see if we like Stockholm enough to warrant a proper holiday there another time. We limited ourselves to the two islands, Gamla Stan and Södermalm, while also getting a metro pass to explore Stockholm's cavern metro system, which is dubbed the world's longest art exhibit.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Samsung's regressive attitude to product support

Ever since my partner bought her iPhone 6S on launch day, it has received four or five software updates - I can't remember but it was at least once a month.

On the other hand, the last update on my Samsung Galaxy S6 was way way back in October. Meaning, not only is Samsung's so called flagship still running on the archaic Android 5.1, the security patch for it is October! The mind boggles on why this company still loves treating their customers with utter contempt. Even my five year old Windows 7 laptop is still getting its monthly security updates (and also a free Windows 10 update that I haven't applied yet), but not a barely year old flagship.

Android apologists will no doubt refer me to the Nexus series - which I did own for two years under the guise of the initially superb, but then deliberately neglected Nexus 5 phone. If there was a compelling new 5" Nexus phone running on updated hardware that isn't more expensive than the S6, then I would get it.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Six days from Berlin to Vienna (via Dresden and Prague)

Petrin Hill
Early this January we spent six days and five nights visiting four cities in three countries in Central Europe. The budget for the entire trip was roughly £500, including tickets, hotels, attractions, transports, souvenirs, food and coffee. We flew easyjet, and because it was a post-Christmas/New Year period, tickets were as cheap as you can imagine (the entire return flights for both of us were cheaper than lunch for two at Hawksmoor, or a train trip to the North of England).

The itinerary were two nights in Berlin, followed by taking the train to Prague, but with a six hours stop in Dresden, a night in Prague, then the coach the following evening to Vienna (the coach trip takes the same time to get to Vienna as the train, but is significantly cheaper). Then it was two night in Vienna before we flew back to London.
Reichstag dome
Despite our modest budget, we still managed to snag a private room with en-suite shower room at the Generator Hostel in the so-called trendy Mitte district. Right beside a metro station, we are always minutes away from most attractions, including just two stops away from Brandenburg Gate. With only two nights in Berlin, we had to make a lot of it, but with its excellent metro system, we managed to cover a lot more than what we thought was possible, with plenty of spare time to seek out cafes in between sights.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Late to the Party

It is almost mid January and still no Marshmallow update for my Galaxy S6 - supposedly the current flagship Android device from Samsung. Come on Samsung!

Oh, happy new year!