Sunday, 4 October 2015

Berlin Wrap Up

Part of the Kent AC team who ran in Berlin
After the Berlin marathon I headed back to the apartment for a shower and stretch before heading back into town to the Georgbraeu brew house which had been nominated as the post race venue. It was a pub that I'd visited three years ago when I was in Berlin with my uni friends.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting about our races in the late afternoon sunshine over a couple of beers. Even though we were genuinely all on our best behaviour and no one was drunk told us it was last orders and stopped serving us even as they continued to serve nearby tables. We'd obviously done something to offend and running up a 300 EUR tab obviously wasn't good enough business for them!

Swiss Miss from Zsa Zsa Burger
I surprisingly wasn't that hungry after the marathon but decided that I'd better go out for dinner so headed to Zsa Zsa Burger which was close to the apartment and recommended by the person we'd rented it from.

I decided to wear my medal to the restaurant, hoping it would be a conversation start so I could tell someone about my epic 2:49 or perhaps even a free drink. I noticed a few other runners in the restaurant from the blue wrist bands and none of them were wearing their medals. Deciding it perhaps wasn't the coolest thing after all I tucked my medal inside my jumper.

The burger was pretty good. In London the trend is very much for decadent US style burgers and I'd assumed it would probably be the same here, but it was more a Berlin take on a burger. The coleslaw had a sauerkraut edge and the cheese was a punchy raclette rather than the mild American style cheese.

Half way through the burger I thought my stomach had finally come back to life and I was going to have to order a second, but I was forcing it down by the end and decided not to have dessert.

Inside the Pergamon Museum
My flight back to the UK wasn't until 6pm on the Monday and I'd bought a museum pass so that I could check out a few of the exhibitions on Museum Island before I left the city.

My first stop was the Pergamon Museum. It's currently undergoing a huge renovation project and two of the three wings are currently closed, including the Pergamon Alter that I was hoping to see.

However, the wing which was open was still pretty impressive. Most of the exhibits were on an epic scale like the theatre entrance you can see above. The website describes some of the exhibits as architectural superstructures from Greek and Roman antiquity and I think that is a pretty fair description.

I couldn't help thinking whether they get in any bother for having these superstructures in Berlin like we do for having the Elgin Marbles in London?

After an hour looking round the Pergamon my legs weren't thanking me for so much time standing up.
Neues Museum
My next stop was the next door Neues (New) Museum. I'd read a review that morning saying to go for the architecture of the building if nothing else and it certainly was a beautiful building.

I haven't looked into the history of the building so I don't know how much of it was there pre-war, how extensive the repairs were post war and what type of state it was in at re-unification. However, the latest renovation is a thing of beauty. The different eras of the building have been moulded together brilliantly with a simple palate of materials. It no doubt cost a fortune.

I spent another hour wandering around the Neues museum and my legs certainly weren't thanking me by this stage so I decided to make my way back to the apartment.
East Berlin's TV tower / observation deck
On my way back I walked past the Altes (Old) Museum . The pass I'd bought entitled me to free entry to this museum as well, but I secretly thankfully it was close on Monday's as it gave my legs a break.

Back near the apartment I had some lunch and an ice cream, before buying a couple of gifts for Becks, putting my feet up for an hour and then heading out to the airport.

The plane on the way home was definitely the 'marathon express' with quite a few people wearing their medals and lots of others sporting the distinctive blue wrist bands. After looking distinctly un-cool the night before, my medal was firmly in my bag and I'd cut my wrist band off. Was I the quickest runner on the flight? I'd like to think so.
Altes Museum

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Berlin Marathon Race Notes

I'd set my alarm for 6am as I wanted to eat breakfast three hours before the race, but woke up around 15 minutes before my alarm.

I'd laid all my race gear out and packed my bag the night before, so I was pretty efficient at getting dressed, having breakfast and applying sunscreen etc.. and had finished everything I wanted to do by around 6:30. At 6:45 I left the flat and headed for the start.

I was concerned that the underground trains could be pretty infrequent at that time on a Sunday morning or they'd be packed with runners and I'd struggle to get on, but I hardly had a wait. While nearly everyone else on the train was a runner, I was still able to get a seat on both trains.

I had a 10min walk up to the start and knew roughly where I was going from my last visit to Berlin, but I also knew I'd be able to follow all the other runners heading in the same direction. Because the journey had been much quicker than I expected I stopped, along with quite a few other people, to take a photo of myself in front of the Brandenburg gate.

It was colder than I expected and I considered putting on another layer, but didn't. That was probably a mistake as I spent the next hour feeling cold.

Once inside the starting area I decided to use the loo before the queues got to long. I also grabbed one of the disposable plastic tops they were handing out to put on as an extra layer. I then stood around near my baggage tent for a good 20mins trying to catch some sunshine that was rising up over the Reichstag to stay warm. Unfortunately the sun was a bit to weak to be much help that early in the morning.

Around 8:15 I decided that I'd done enough hanging around, so I handed in my bag before heading to the start area. It was much further than I expected to the start and the paths were more crowded, so I was pleased that I had left enough time. When we were close to the starting pens I did a short warm up jog around the paths in the Tiergarten. I realised I need the loo again, so the warm up was useful for one thing at least.

Thankfully I found a toilet which didn't have too long queues on the far side of the starting pen and didn't have any stress about not being able to make the start on time.

As I was heading back into the starting pens I saw Lawrence from Kent also going in so had a quick word with him. I was looking out for other Kent runners, but was quite surprised not to see anyone else. With ten minutes before the started I decided that I needed another (!) wee so nipped out of the starting pen to use the nearest bush and then I was back in for good.

The start had two lanes. I was on the left hand side, furthest from bag drop, and I did notice that it seemed a lot emptier than the other lane. I didn't have too many problems with the start, but speaking to other people later on who were in the right hand lane found that start quite congested.

With the minimum of fuss were were off at exactly 9am.

Kilometres 0 - 5
I was telling myself not to go out too quickly and was consciously trying to start off in as relaxed a way as I could. Too relaxed it turned out as my watch was showing 4:11 as I went past the first km marker, 11 seconds behind my target pace. I told myself not to panic and I'd bring the time back gradually over the next 10km. I didn't need to try and make the time all back in one kilometre.

Around the 1.5km Amy came past me and we exchanged a few good lucks. She must have started way too far back I thought.

As I went past the second km marker I realised I was obviously doing far too good a job of holding myself back as I'd run the second km behind target pace as well. It was time to consciously turn up the pace (just not too much).

Around the 2.5km point I was running on the blue line and I could see everyone in front of me peeling round to the right. It looked like the blue line (the official route) crossed the central reservation a bit further up, but spectators were now standing on it, so I had to make a slight veer to the right to make sure I got on the right side of the crowds before the turn.

At 3.5km I could feel something underneath my right heel. I'd tried to be really careful putting on my shoes and socks to make sure I didn't get any grit in them. Do I stop? I should stop. I don't want a huge blister under my heel crippling me later. I thought I'd give it a little longer before stopping and thankfully the annoyance went away after around 500m.

Then I started worrying about my left foot. Am I getting pins and needles? When I attached the timing chip to my shoe yesterday did I do my laces back up too tight? I've had a similar sensation on really cold mornings out training and my feet have come good again once they've warmed up. I hoped it would be the same again today.

The 5km marker came up and my watch was showing 20:20. I'd lost 20 seconds in the first two km and had then stabilised.

Kilometres 6 - 10
Just after the 5km we hit the first drinks station. There were going to being drinks stations every 2.5km along the route. I didn't want to take on too many fluids during the race and risk cramp and had only made a very last minute decision that I would pick up a cup at every water station on the way round. A small sip and then the rest over my head to keep cool.

Just before the 7km marker Peter, one of the coaches from Kent, gave me a cheer as I run under a road bridge. It was good to get some support.

I missed seeing the 8km marker and feared that they might have stopped being every km. I still didn't trust my ability to pace and was using them as a support to know I was on track.

My second 5km split was 19:57. That was exactly what I wanted. I'd pulled back three seconds of my 'deficit' in a very controlled way.

I took my first energy gel

Kilometres 11 - 15
The race had definitely begun to stabilise at this point. The runners had thinned slightly and all the people who had gone out too fast were beginning to pull back. I started to slowly over take and work my way through people as I bashed out the metronomic kilometres. Something that would continue for more of less the next 20km.

I was sticking to the blue line painted on the road. Something I'd keep doing until more or less the end of the race.

Just before the 15km marker I started to catch a gentlemen in red vest with 'Wales' written on the back. I don't know why, but I felt like I needed to speak with someone, so guessing he must be an English speaker, I asked him how it was going as I pulled level and we had a short conversation before I pressed on. He seemed to be running the marathon to a target heart rate rather than a specific pace.

19:47 A bit quick, but feels good.

Kilometres 16 - 20
Things were beginning to go well, very well. I was cruising, it felt comfortable and I wasn't too far off half way. Mentally breaking things down in to 5km blocks was working well. Take this feeling through to 30km I told myself and then see what I can do from there.

It was somewhere around this stage that I started to notice the bands along the side of the course. They were pretty regular. Maybe around every kilometre. Good musicians and good for the spirit.

The Kent AC vests can be a bit grating, so I'd put plasters on my nipples that morning. Unfortunately one of the plasters had started to fall off and with all the sweat it was never going to stick back on. With so much of the race left I know I could be in trouble by the end. I'd seen on the course map that there were supposed to be first aid tents and they usually have Vaseline. Slightly worrying I'd not seen one yet, but if I did I was going to grab some Vaseline.

While I'd be running a few people had come past on mountain bikes. They had signs attached to the front which I couldn't see, but I was pretty certain they were officials.

Somewhere around the 19km marker another cyclist came past and he was playing with his mobile phone and had a selfie stick. I didn't see it happen, but I heard a noise and looked up to see that he'd fallen off his bike around 30 / 40m in front of me. He hadn't taken out any runners thankfully and I didn't have to break my stride to get round him. I'm pretty sure he fell because he was playing on his phone. Totally unacceptable in my book and it could have caused a nasty accident.

19:54 - a more sensible split.

I took my second energy gel. As I hadn't seen a medical tent I decided to apply some of the gel to my chest working on the basis it was thick and gloopy like Vaseline. I'm pleased to report it worked.

Kilometres 21 - 25
I don't remember a lot about this segment. I was just knocking out my consistent rhythm.

I went past the half way point in 1:24:20, ten seconds inside my target time. I'd manage to pull back all of the time I'd lost in the first two kms and got a little bit of the time in the pocket. I started wondering if I was actually going tiny bit quick. Should I settle down and save it for a push at the end?

Approaching the 25km marker I could hear some rock music. I thought that the live bands along the side of the road had taken a turn for the worse and I wasn't particularly impressed. When I got a bit closer I could see a women had set up a sound system under a gazebo by the side of the course and was enthusiastically playing air guitar in front of it. It brought a huge smile to my face and gave me a little lift.

19:54 - exactly the same as the previous split.

Kilometres 26 - 30
I noticed that it started to feel like harder work at this point. Not in a bad way, in fact it was really positive that I'd got to this stage and only just started feeling like I had to 'work' to keep up the pace and I'd been able to cruise for so long.

However, it did make me feel that it would probably be unwise to ramp up the pace at the 30km marker.

I'd done what I wanted to do by getting to the 30km marker in a nice an controlled fashion and feeling relatively comfortable. My aim became to keep it going and consider a ramp up at 37km depending on how I felt.

19:51 - another excellent split.

Kilometres 31 - 35
It was a this point that it started to get hard.

At the end of the 31st km I realised I hadn't taken my energy gel so got that down me. It was time to focus and I managed to get back onto pace for the remainder of the split.

I was still steadily over taking people and very few were coming past me which was a positive sign, but the rate at which I was reeling people in had definitely slowed.

It was around this stage that two German runners came alongside me. It appeared that one of them was fitter than the other and pacing their friend. I know next to zero German but I think they were aiming for 4min per km the same as me. I had thoughts of joining them to form a little group, but the more fatigued runner couldn't hold a straight line and I feared he might take me out. I pushed on.

Somewhere around this phase of the race I caught up with three runners who I thought looked like they were working together. As I knew I was beginning to get into trouble I decided to get on the back of them and see if they could help pull me along. I seemed to still have the pace to run through them and pulled away when I got to the front of the group.

The watch of the strongest looking runner in the group was regularly beeping. You can set alarms on your watch to alert you if you drop below a certain pace and I suspect that is what he had done. If we were going to be occupying the same space of road for the rest of the race as beeping man it could get very irritating. I never saw the other two members of that group again, but I did see the beeping guy quite a bit towards the end of the race. Frustratingly he beat me.

19:59 - very respectable. Could I hold this pace? It would be a dream if I could.

Kilometres 36 - 40
The 36th km was a gentle incline and into a head wind. Two challenges I didn't need at that stage. It was a bit of a slog and I did a 4:11 split for the km. I hadn't run this slowly since the first km! This was bad news.

I resolved to lift the pace. I wanted to beat 2hrs 50mins and none of the gremlins from Wokingham were entering my head. I could still hit my target. I wouldn't say I wanted it above everything else, but I was managing to stay positive.

We ran past the end of the road where I'd rented an apartment, not long to go now. There was going to be no lifting the pace for the final 5km, but I needed to maintain and stay on it.

I touched my wedding ring.

Things were beginning to annoy me now like banners over the road that weren't actually km markers. Why are they there being distracting?

Beeping man came up onto my shoulder and then fell back again.

20:50 for the split. That was just about acceptable, but I couldn't afford to lose any more time.

Kilometres 40 - Finish
Having been over taking people for most of the race I was now definitely starting to go backwards. There were a couple of people struggling more than me and I managed to overtake them, but I was canon fodder for most!

I didn't feel resigned to my pace dropping like I have done in previous races and started to put in mini surges in an effort to lift my pace. The change actually felt quite good in my legs, although looking back at my splits I was still getting slower at this stage. However, I think psychologically it was important to do.

Beeping man overtook me and this time I knew it was final.

As we turned onto Unter Den Linden I could see the Brandenburg gate in front of me. I'd seen them put timing mats out underneath the gate earlier that morning. Was it the finish? Oh I hope it's the finish. There isn't enough paraphernalia on the gate for it to be the finish. Oh, no I'm going to have to run on.

I could hear a couple of shouts of my name. That was a help. I made a pathetic kick for home.

As I passed through the Brandenburg Gate I could see the official finish. It seemed a terribly long way away. I wasn't fully conscious of my time, but I had a feeling sub 2:50 was still on.

I was happy to stop my watch at 2:49:53. I'd done it!

I immediately realised how light headed I was feeling so sat down on the kerb about 5 meters from the finish line. There was a doctor standing next to me and he didn't look remotely concerned so I can't have been too bad, but I did take it as a sign that I'd probably given it my maximum if I felt like this.

I decided it wasn't good to be blocking the finish so stood up and moved on. I only made it around 10 meters before feeling the need to sit back down. After a couple of minutes I saw people handing out cups of water a little further along the finishing shoot and decided that is what I needed so stood up again and went to get some water.

I grabbed a goody bag containing some food and then walked further up the finish to see if I could find anyone else from Kent. Due to a security alert in the baggage area we were all being held at the finish. I found Phil and Amy and saw some more Kent runners in the distance. I was feeling pretty nauseous as we stood talking, a state I'd be in for quite a while.

After 20 - 30 mins we were allowed back to start making our way back towards the baggage area. On the way they were handing out alcohol free beer so we all grabbed on and I started to sip it.

I collected my bag. Initially they couldn't find it and I was standing there like an idiot gazing into space. Finally I told myself to stop being dozy and to look for it and point it out to them. I spotted it and with some pointing and a few mutterings managed to retrieve it.

I changed on the grass and began to feel a bit more human again. Once I'd composed myself (and posed for a photo), I went in search of the pre-agreed meeting point to catch up with everyone else. Non-alcoholic beer in hand slowly sipping it as I went.

The data from my watch is here.

The official results are here. I was the 729th finisher and 183rd in my M35 age category.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Open House London weekend

Inside the clock face of St Peter's church
This weekend was the annual Open House London event. I enjoyed my visit round some local houses three years ago so it was good to see a few more places this year.

On Saturday Becks and I did a couple of hours volunteering at St Peter's church where we were married. The church wasn't part of the official open house weekend, but had scheduled its open day for the same weekend.
Three of the five bells
I was asked to give tours of the bell tower. I had never climbed the tower before so it was great to have the opportunity, but I know very little about the history of the church which would make my tours interesting!

The marketing for the open day had been slightly underwhelming which meant I needn't have worried about being unable to cope on the tours. In the two hours we were at the church I only showed two small groups round the tower and both of them were related to the church.
View from the bell tower towards Canary Wharf
The views from the bell tower were pretty good. Including even glimpses of our own house (below)!

Apparently the panoramic views from the roof are excellent, but I was told the highest we could take visitors was up to the bells.
You can just see the yellow bucket from our house build
On Sunday afternoon we decided to go and visit a couple of nearby venues that were part of the London Open House scheme. The first was a close of self build houses in Honor Oak designed by he architect Walter Segal.

I'm a bit hazy on the details (as I didn't read the information boards), but Walter Segal came up with a design concept for self builders without construction experience to build their own homes and a group of self builders in Honor Oak Park did exactly that.
A Walter Segal house in Honor Oak
We had a look round a couple of the compact houses. The designs were of their time, but had a certain charm. I couldn't help thinking how badly insulated they seemed! Something I overheard one of the owners acknowledge when they were speaking to another visitors.

The view from The Horniman Museum
We then drifted across the Horniman Museum to soak in some of the views of the city. Forrest Hill has excellent panoramic views of central London from the museum gardens and some of the nearby back streets. The views really are fantastic, but didn't come out on camera due to the haze.

More city views from Forest Hill
As we were walking through the back streets we came across an Indian film crew. We didn't actually see them film anything, but they were rigging up the pram you can see below on wires for some form of runaway sequence.
Indian film crew with a run away pram
The second house we visited was the Courtyard House, built on some old garages near Peckham Rye Common. The house was designed by an architect for he and his wife to live in. A single storey house built around two courtyards had a strong emphasis on the living areas which were large in proportion to the bedrooms. The two bedrooms might have been compact, but there were still two bathrooms and a dressing room to the master bedroom making the private spaces feel luxurious.
Courtyard House near Peckham Common
There were quite a few similarities to the house we are building in the roof lights, Velfac windows and clean lines.

I did note that there there extreme amounts of built in storage which almost certainly help with the minimalism. Something we don't have designed in! If we end up with a house that looks and feels as good as the Courtyard House I'll be a very happy person.
Grey door

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The road to Berlin: Warm up races

In just under a week I'll be running in the Berlin marathon. I haven't run a marathon in close to two years and I'm gunning to improve my time after struggling in the last six miles at Abingdon.

It has been a strange build up. Previously I've taken a break before going into a block of marathon training. While the wedding disrupted things a bit, I had a reasonably good base before starting serious training in June. I've completed more 'quality' sessions and run higher mileage weeks than ever before. However, I've also had weeks of complete exhaustion where I've barely run at all. In the last three weeks before the taper my training has been pretty disrupted which has left me a bit nervous. In my attempts to train hard could I have peaked a bit too early?

Three races in a week have given me hope that things aren't as bad as I feared! Although as I write I'm feeling pretty tired again.

Assembly League: Beckenham
The Assembly League is a summer series with a race on the first Thursday of each month between April and September. I don't usually target a serious time in the Assembly League, just turn up and see what happens on the night. No pressure.

I was a bit concerned going into the race at Beckenham as it was close to the end of my 'dodgy fortnight' of feeling tired and not getting in as many training sessions as I'd hoped. I was a bit unsure of how to approach the race but decided that I'd attack it and see what happened. I was really pleased with how I ran, equalling the time I ran in April, coming 26th overall and finishing in a points scoring position for the team. I also managed to out sprint a few people on the final hill up to the finish line.

It was the confidence booster that I needed and my first medal in the Assembly League

Wissey Haf Marathon
On the Sunday after the Assembly League we had a club outing to the Wissey Half Marathon up in Norfolk.

The aim is always to run a PB prior to the marathon as a nice confidence booster to take into the big day. Given the rough two weeks I'd had, I almost whimped out of running Wissey, or only using it as a training run.  A talking to from Rich and Pete at the club, as well as supportive words from Becks made me decide I would try and run the event as hard as I could.

The Wissey half was set in quite a rural area of Norfolk on quiet country roads. As we lined up to start a tractor with hay bales on the back came trundling through the field. Once we'd given the tractor time to clear, and waited for the wheelchair start, we were off.

I decided that I'd try and run the race much more evenly than I had at Wokingham and went out at even 6min miles. (I usually think in kms but didn't this time.) Everything was feeling very comfortable for the first three miles as we rolled along country lanes and I was beginning to feel confident that a good time was on.

I had to work a little harder between miles three and six, but I was still hitting the split time that I wanted to. It started to get harder from there as we hit the long uphill drag on the course. Mile seven was a gently uphill and my pace slowed slightly as I had to work harder and then I hit mile eight which was a long straight road that stretched upwards in front of me. There was around forty meters of elevation gain during the course of the mile. It was enough to drop me down to marathon pace and finish of my legs!

Even though the last two / three miles were pretty flat I struggled to get the legs going again and I struggled home not much quicker than marathon pace in the final few miles.

I finished in 1:20:36, over two minutes slower than my time at Wokingham, but it was a lot better than I'd thought it could have been just a few days earlier. Speaking to other Kent runners on the way home we'd all slowed down to marathon pace on the long hill (although they'd picked up the pace afterwards). I was initially fearful of putting my race time into one of the marathon predictors, but I did it when everyone else did and it suggests that I can still run my target time in Berlin.

The data from my watch is here.

The official results are here. The official results show my gun time of 1:20:38. I finished in 22nd position out of 258 runners to complete the course.

Kent AC 5000 Championship
Just four days after the half I ran in my first 5,000m club champs. My legs had felt pretty battered in the easy running I'd been doing since the half marathon so I really wasn't sure how I'd go.

John from the club had volunteered to run as a pace maker in the C and B races before he ran in the A race (which he went on to win - amazing!). I had a chat with him as we were warming up and he said that he would be running 81 second laps and taking the field to 3,000m. I said I thought the best I could do was 82/3 second laps and John said he drop the pace to help me out if I was in the lead.

I sprang off the line (above) and slotted into third behind John. I was managed to stick with the pace, and it actually felt quite comfortable, up to the 1,600 / 1,800m mark when I began to slip back from James and John in front of me. I didn't fall off a cliff, I just couldn't stick with 81 second laps any more and dropped back to around the 82/83sec laps that I thought I was capable of.

I didn't look at my watch, but kept pushing round as fast as my little legs would take me. It was fantastic to hear my name called out as I went round the bottom bend each lap and definitely helped to keep me on it.

With around 600m I started to think about lifting the pace for the finish, although I didn't think I had enough me to go that early. It was great to hear the bell as I started the final lap and I began to wind up what I had. As I passed 200m to go I heard Pete call out 16:37 which was the first time I'd really hear a split time. I knew sub-17min was gone at that stage, but I gave it everything I had in a 'sprint' finish over the last 200m.

I ran the final 200m in 37seconds and finished in 17:04. There was momentary panic as I approached the line and the bell was rung for a second time. Did I need to do another lap? I glanced at my watch and was pretty sure I had run far enough so gave up even if it meant I was short!

It was a new PB and I was really happy with the time considering the previous ten days.

The data from my watch is here.

Thanks to Ted for the photo.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

A weekend in Rochester

Rochester castle 
For months Becks and I have been saying it would be nice to have a weekend away over the summer, but we didn't get around to forming any concrete plans, let alone book anything. Two weeks prior to the August Bank holiday weekend we finally got round to looking into options. We thought the Kent coast might be nice, but unsurprisingly everywhere we looked at was booked. Which explains how we ended up staying at the Medway Leisure Park just outside of Rochester.

I had a long training run on the Saturday morning, so we caught the train to Rochester just before lunchtime on the Saturday morning, arriving in Rochester for a late lunch.
Inside the castle
We headed straight for the quaint High Street when we arrived and had lunch in the Tony Lorenzo café not too far from the station. The attractive looking sausage rolls in the window drew me in, but it turned out to be pretty standard café fayre. It seems that we well as being a café owner Tony Lorenzo is also a singer and his new CD was available to buy. Although they didn't have his CD playing in the café so we'll never know how good a singer he is.

After our late lunch we continued up the High Street, stopping at the Rochester flea market, the tourist information centre and looking in a few shop windows. They've done well to keep a historic feel to the high street and all of the shops were well maintained.

After our drift along the high street, we crossed the Medway into Strood and walked through a not particularly glamorous industrial estate out to the Leisure Park where we were staying. It was just over a 3km walk, bit further than I was expecting and not exactly convenient for popping in and out of town!

On Saturday night we decided to stay in the Leisure Park and had dinner at Frankie and Benny's (classy) and went to the cinema to see The Man from Uncle.
Rochester cathedral
Sunday was our day to check out the local delights! After an early morning run and maxing out at the buffet breakfast in our hotel we headed back into town. We started by visiting Rochester Castle. The castle is open to the elements with no roof, windows or floor joists, but we were able to climb the walls of the castle with the staircases still in tact. It was interesting without being fascinating. Unfortunately we missed that we could have received two for one entry with our train tickets!

After the castle we walked the few steps over to the cathedral which is in much better condition than the castle.

I enjoyed the scale and tranquillity of the cathedral which is well looked after with beautiful choir stalls and alter. We didn't spend that long in the cathedral, but it was very pleasant to wander around.
Not quite Leica
By the time we left the cathedral we were looking for some lunch and started drifting down the high street keeping our eye open for suitable places. We didn't really know what we fancied and before we realised it we were at the end of the high street. We decided to press on towards Chatham where we planned to visit the Historic Dockyards hoping we'd see somewhere along the way. Pickings were slim (although we did see quite an epic looking all you can eat Chinese) and we ended up grabbing a sandwich in the shopping centre.

After our stop we continued to press on towards the dockyard which was a bit further than either of us expected and we walked close to 10km since leaving the hotel that morning by the time we arrived.
Chatham Historic Dockyard
The first thing we did when we arrived was to book on the (free) timed tours of HMS Ocelot and the Rope Works.

We had a quick look at a display of model ships before it was time for our tour of the submarine HMS Ocelot. Built at the dockyard in 1962 the submarine was retired in the early nineties. We entered the submarine via the torpedo room at the front of the vessel and then made our way to the engine room at the back of the submarine before leaving via a rear hatch.
HMS Ocelot
HMS Ocelot was diesel electric submarine (the sub ran entirely on electric motors, with the batteries charged by the diesel engine which ran when the sub surfaced). The tour gave us an appreciation for how cramped it must be to live on the sub. There were absolutely no private spaces and the bunks effectively lined corridors. Only the captain had a cabin.

It was also a reminder for how far computing technology has come since the sixties. There was a lot of cabling and electronics on board and I'm sure all the computing power was probably equal to the smartphone I was carrying in my pocket.

I (don't think) I've been on a submarine before and it was very interesting to look around.
HMS Cavalier 
After the submarine we had a look round HMS Gannet. Launched in 1878 she is an example of a composite (timber frame and iron clad) and steam / sail powered ship. I didn't pay full attention to all of the historical information boards, but it was enjoyable to look around. In contrast to the submarine the captain of the Gannet had a palace at the rear of the ship to himself. Some of the furniture in the captains quarters reminded me of pieces in my parents / grandparents house.

We then headed across to the rope works for our second tour of the day. The rope works at Chatham is still open, although they weren't rope making the day we visited as it was the weekend. The ropes for the recently renovated Cutty Sark were made at Chatham.

We had an interesting talk, and demonstration, on the materials that go into rope making (who knew it was the cannabis plant?), the types of rope the Navy demanded and a little about the workers who made the ropes when the dockyard was still open. The rope works building is a quarter of a mile long and, built in 1790, is the longest brick build building in Europe.
Inside the rope works
By the time we'd finished looking round the rope works the dockyard had started to close down for the day. We had a look round a couple of further exhibitions, including the might 'big space' (below) as we headed to the exit.

Thankfully we were just in time for the last bus of the day from the dockyard back to the Leisure Park. The bus was almost like a private taxi as we only picked up one other passenger on the 10km journey back to the hotel and we were both pleased not to be walking!
Big space
We were both a bit too tired to head back into Rochester for dinner so again had dinner in the Leisure Park, this time at Coast to Coast. Almost identical menu and prices to Franky and Bennies, but a slightly nicer atmosphere. It was nothing is not a sophisticated culinary weekend!

When we woke up on Monday morning it was a complete wash out, so after a lazy start to the day we decided to get a taxi back to the train station and head home.

It was a random weekend but quite enjoyable. There were quite a few attractions in the local area that we didn't get a chance to visit and sounded pretty good. I wouldn't rule out going back, but next time I think we'd need a car.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell - I want the duck!

Selection of starters to share
Just over a week ago Becks, a couple of work colleagues and I had dinner at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell. It was memorable for the waiting staff that looked after us and the rather amusing man at a nearby table.

We started off with a waiter who couldn't exactly be described as enthusiastic. Menus were dropped off at our table without a welcome to the restaurant or wishing us a pleasant evening. He then returned a little later and told us, incredibly matter of factly, that the duck confit wouldn't be available for another hour and that the lamb chop on the menu was being replaced with a pork chop. Even some faked regret might have been nice.

The main 'entertainment' of the evening then occurred when a nearby table attempted to order the duck confit. The diner in questions became most 'excited' that an item on the menu should be unavailable. He may have really wanted to the duck, but there was no need to take it out on the poor waitress. If someone I was dining with behaved like that I'd be more than a little embarrassed, but his two dining companions didn't bat an eye lid. It made me wonder if these were regular antics.

Shortly afterwards one of the managers sidled over to the table to try and soothe the troubled waters.

Chermoula marinated pollock

Our initial waiter had become so indifferent to our table that he didn't come back. Happily he was replaced by a very friendly waitress who was much more engaging and interested in us having a good time. She happily explained dishes to us so and even bought an ingredient out to our table so that we could see and taste it. The contrast couldn't have been more stark.

We, obviously, couldn't resist keeping an eye on the table across the dining room. When their main courses arrived I couldn't quite make out what our excitable friend received. Was it the duck? Or could it have been the pork chop? Regardless, it wasn't to his liking and it was sent back to the kitchen after a couple of bites. He didn't receive a new main course until well after both his dining companions had finished their dishes.
Chocolate and almond sponge and Peach Melba
The menu could best be described as 'ingredient led' and more often than not it was quite hard to work out what a dish was going to be like. All the menu had was a list of ingredients with no real indication on how they would be cooked or which ingredients would be the star.

The pollock I had for my main was well cooked, but it wasn't particularly substantial as a main course. It surely at £19 it wouldn't have hurt their profit margin too much to give me more than a couple of jersey royals?

On occasion, the dishes also felt a little over-complicated too. The chocolate and almond sponges we shared for dessert were overpowered by the cherry and mahlab sorbet. Just a simple cherry sorbet would have been better for my tastes.

47-48 St John’s Square
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Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Chicago and New York Eats

A couple of weeks ago I had a flying work visit across to Chicago and New York. I arrived into Chicago in the early evening on Sunday and in an attempt to keep myself awake for a couple of hours before it was a respectable time to go to bed I went out for a walk determined to see the 'coffee bean' which I'd run tantalisingly close to on my previous visit to Chicago, but not actually seen. It's a very cool piece of public art.

On my way back to the hotel I passed the Citroen van above. Turned into a food truck selling donuts I was quite surprised to see it so far from home. It is clearly not just the London street food vendors that are sucking all the retro Citroen vans out of France. There can't be any left in France by now!

I didn't take my camera with me and barely took any phone pics either, but here's a quick roundup of some of the highlights of what I ate.

On Monday lunchtime I made a beeline for the Montreal pastrami sandwich from the French Market in Central Chicago. It was every bit as good as the first time I tried it on my previous visit back in April.
Montreal Pastrami sandwich
For my only dinner in Chicago I went to David Burke's Primehouse with a couple of people from the office. We were told to try the Caesar salad and it was fantastic. Made on a trolley that they wheel to the side of your table the salad is made by the dressing. It's not a heavy mayonnaise based dressing, but a tangy parmesan laced version which perfectly coats every leaf. Definitely worth trying.

As a main I had the 40 day aged ribeye steak. It was quite enormous, quite heavily salted and very tender. I, inadvisably, ate the lot and was in a protein coma as I walked back to my hotel.

New York
I only had two nights in NYC and on the first evening I met up with my friends Rohit and Pryanka to try Amma and Indian restaurant that had been recommended to me and they had heard good things about to.

The restaurant is smaller than expected, located in a converted house on 51 St over on the East side. None of us realised it was restaurant week, where lots of establishments across NY offer fixed price menus for $38. They can be great value if you manage to get a slot at one of the city's top restaurants, but when you are (nearly exclusively) eating the vegetarian options from the menu, in what is a mid priced restaurant anyway, it can actually turn out to be more expensive than going a la carte during the rest of the year.

The service was a bit rushed, the air con not working properly on a sweltering evening and the starters and desserts nothing to right home about. However, the mains of shahi paneer, vegetable Kohlapuri and lamb apricot were all pretty good.
Crab cake at Wild Edibles
On my second night in NY I headed back to where I used to live for a short time and had dinner at Wild Edibles. They've changed the front of the restaurant so I nearly didn't go in as I thought it had changed hands, however, they've just reconfigured the layout so that they can fit in more seats.

I ordered the crab cake to start which, just as the menu described, came with lumps of crab meat and had very little "filler" in it which was great. For my main I had the New Orleans style shrimp with corn. The prawns and broth had the perfect amount of spice and I very nearly ordered some bread so that I could mop up the sauce that was left in my bowl.
Shrimp at Wild Edibles
During Thursday lunchtime I jealously watched a couple of people in the office devouring these hug looking buns which came from a place called Kobeyaki, so on Friday I headed out in search of one and, on the advice of my colleagues, ordered the soft shell crab bun which came served with japanese mayo, crab meat and shredded cabbage. It wasn't blow my mind amazing, but it didn't last very long either!
Soft shell crab sandwich from Kobeyaki