Sunday 26 May 2013

Parkland Trail around Scotney Castle, near Lamberhurst, Kent

For a two-mile stroll through picturesque Kent countryside, locate the "Estate Walks" sign next to Scotney Castle's car park. Then follow the blue signs (the Parkland Trail) across the rolling fields, over bridges and stiles, past venerable old trees and through flocks of sheep. Early in the walk, you'll get a fine view of the crumbling castle, framed by the gardens and the brooding Victorian House on the hill above. Eventually, the blue arrows direct you up round the back of the estate and down to the car park. Try to do this walk around 5pm in the summer when the crowds have gone and Scotney Castle is at its most serene. 8/10  

Sunday 19 May 2013

Aston Martins at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, south London

Members of the Aston Martin Owners Club show off their vintage vehicles in the serene surroundings of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

Friday 17 May 2013

The Great Gatsby, The Ritzy, Brixton

Outside Brixton's Ritzy cinema, dancers celebrate the opening of The Great Gatsby film in style.

Barbeque Steakhouse & Bar, Kungsgatan, Stockholm

Images from the web site of the Barbeque Steakhouse & Bar

If you want an unpretentious place to refuel in Stockholm, the Barbeque Steakhouse & Bar is not a bad bet. However, this restaurant is too big to be cosy and the contemporary decor, featuring stencils of cattle in the style of cave-paintings, is a little harsh. The TV above the bar is likely to be showing a football match. The shiny plastic menus adorned with photos of the dishes are a little off-putting.  The menus explain the different cuts of beef, but the steak choices are limited to "beef, sirloin and tenderloin".  Incongruously, the Barbeque Steakhouse & Bar also touts pizzas, pasta, salads and other bog-standard fare. Still, the food is okay and not bad value by Stockholm standards - pizzas are less than 100 krona (10 pounds). If you want to push the boat out, go for the tenderloin steak (200g for 289 krona). You get two chunky, juicy steaks (each about the size of a fist), served with respectable chips, garlic mayonnaise, corn on the cob, pitta bread and coleslaw - there is almost too much on the plate. Drink options include the local Falcon beer (49 krona for 50cl), which has some bite, and more famous international lagers, together with a short wine list.  The young staff, dressed in shirts and ties, are patient and helpful. 6/10

Thursday 16 May 2013

Stockholm's harbour

Stockholm's waterways play host to all kinds of ships and the city's buildings provide a beautiful backdrop.

Cycling in Stockholm

Sweden's capital has an impressive network of dedicated cycle lanes, but sometimes you have to mix it with the Harleys.

The Nordic Sea Hotel, Vasaplan, Stockholm

Right next to the Arlanda Express terminal in the centre or Stockholm, the Nordic Sea Hotel is perfectly placed for international business travellers. However, it is not for the claustrophobic, as some of the rooms are very compact and have no windows. Some only have one electric socket, so you can't charge your gizmos simultaneously. Still, the walls of your room might be decorated with an atmospheric Stockholm panorama, the beds are comfortable, and you'll be able to jump on the fast free Wi-Fi. They also manage to squeeze in a safe (big enough for your laptop), a mini ironing board, a flat-screen TV, a couple of coat-hangers and an en-suite rain shower. Most importantly, the rooms seem to be well sound-proofed, so you should sleep well.  If you need space, head for the big foyer where there is a squad of responsive receptionists. Moreover, the hotel runs Stockholm's famous Ice Bar, which is kept permanently at -5 degrees centigrade. The buffet breakfast, served in a large, utilitarian canteen-style room, has an impressively wide selection of both hot and cold food. It isn't top notch fare, but it does the staples, such as fruit salad, freshly-baked bread and coffee, well enough. The Nordic Sea Hotel is a good choice for a flying visit, but not the place for an extended stay in Stockholm. 7/10

Wednesday 15 May 2013

The Royal Palace, Stockholm

On a May evening, the courtyard of Stockholm's magnificent eighteenth century Royal Palace is almost  devoid of tourists.

SAS Economy class, Nice, Cote D'Azur to Stockholm, Arlanda

Crowded and expensive, Nice Cote D'Azur airport can be a grim place to wait for a flight. In the middle of the day in May, there may be nowhere to sit upstairs and long queues for the pricey cafes. The vending machines, which charge 2.5 euros for a modest bottle of water, sometimes don't recognise your coins, but keep them all the same.  Still, there is a nice view of the sea out of the floor-to-ceiling windows. If you want to sit, head downstairs where there may be spare seats next to the gates. The airport has free WiFi, but it is a bit shaky.  Moreover, you may have to catch a bus to your SAS plane, which can involve a tedious wait while the driver waits for all the passengers to pass through the gate. On board, the economy seats are quite large and you can have as much coffee or tea as you like. But you have to pay for the limited choice of soft drinks and food, which is expensive - six euros for a lame chicken sandwich. Towards the end of this two and a half hour flight, you can survey the watery, wooded landscape of central Sweden. After you land, you can pass through Stockholm airport very quickly, as there doesn't appear to be any passport checks for passengers coming in from France. 5/10

Trastevere, Quai de l'Amiral Courbet, Villefranche-sur-Mer

One of a clutch of waterfront restaurants in the picturesque port of Villefranche-sur-Mer, Trastevere is a traditional Franco-Italian eatery, mixing pizzas with classic French dishes, such as moules mariniere. On a warm evening, you'll probably want to sit at one of the tables next to the yachts floating in the unusually clean seawater, separated from the restaurant by the very quiet road. Trastevere is fairly expensive, but it serves large portions. For example, a big bowl of salty fish soup (14 euros), comes with shredded cheese, mustard and plenty of croutons. Or you can start with a huge pile of white bait, which can be a bit dry. Among the mains, the steaks are thick slabs of good meat, but can be surprisingly overcooked for a French restaurant. A tad more healthy is the filling seafood risotto - a succulent and salty special. Its fat grains of rice are soaked in a scrumptious sauce. Trastevere's service can be a little gruff and sluggish, but is good enough. 7/10

Hotel Kyriad Nice Port, Place du Pin, Nice

Housed in an incongruous modern building in a historic Nice neighbourhood, the Hotel Kyriad Nice Port seems to be trying to keep capital costs to a minimum. The small rooms are kitted out with poor quality fixtures and fittings. There is barely enough room in the wardrobe for a few days' clothes, while the small en-suite bathroom, with a circular shower, is tired and functional. There is no iron, but there is a flat screen TV. The free Wi-Fi works well enough, but the PIN-operated safes can be flaky and you might have to ask for a key from reception. In a seventh-floor room, you can open the small window and you might get a view over the rooftops of Nice to the hills beyond. At night, the regular roar of mopeds means you will want to shut the window and turn on the chugging air conditioning.  Still, the  buffet breakfast is okay. It includes a decent fruit salad, sausages, bacon, bread, croissants, yoghurts and you can squeeze your own orange juice. Unfortunately, the machine coffee is lame and the Wi-Fi doesn't seem to work very well in the breakfast room. 5/10

Sunday 12 May 2013

Cycling Herne Hill to Greenwich via the Ravensbourne River

A 12 mile ride along a little known London backwater, this route takes in just about all walks of life in the Big Smoke. It starts at the Herne Hill Velodrome, which played host to the cycling events of the 1908 and 1948 Olympics, and then passes the old-world elegance of Dulwich College and its extensive playing fields. It climbs up College Road, through the tollgate, to Crystal Palace, where you cut through the park past the National Athletics Stadium. You then ride east into leafy suburban Beckenham and swing north into Beckenham Place Park, past the golf course and the hulking, grey, neoclassical country house.

Friday 10 May 2013

Street Entertainers in Covent Garden, central London

Seasoned jugglers on unicycles draw a big crowd to Covent Garden's cobbled piazza.

Broad Court, central London

A pedestrianised lane near Covent Garden, Broad Court has a row of five traditional red telephone boxes and a graceful bronze statue of a ballerina, facing the Royal Opera House.  Lined with handsome buildings and trees, Broad Court links Bow Street with Drury Lane.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Fitzroy Square, central London

The term oasis is over-used, but it is a fitting description of Fitzroy Square in central London. This is a spacious and largely pedestrianised garden square surrounded by gleaming white Georgian terraces, period lamp-posts and cast-iron railings. Genuinely peaceful, it is hard to believe you are only a couple of hundred yards from the traffic mayhem on the Euston Road.