elb's hovel of thoughts

Monday, October 31, 2005

Wien Part I: Griechenbeisl Restaurant

So anyway, on to the next overdue travel series, which I shall open with a restaurant review. Because let's face it, one of the major highlights of travelling is FOOD! Its pretty sad to travel to a foreign culture and to be reduced to eating pot noodles or Chinese stuff.

Anyway, we were in Wien (that's Vienna for you) recommended to a particular restaurant along Fleischmarket Strasse (Fleshmarket Street in English for you) by the hotel staff. Our criteria was simple: it had to serve authentic food. Never mind if we had to pay a bit more to experience it.

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It was less than five minutes stroll from our hotel, which was good. The interior was typical German/ Austrian. Why German? Because Austria is Germany, and Germany is Austria. If you get what I mean. If you don't you need to hit the history textbooks!

First up was some delicious beef carpaccio. If you don't know what that is, its paper-thin slices of raw beef with some toppings. From experience, its either grilled mushrooms, olive oil and rocquette. Or shaved Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and rocquette. In this case we got the former. Yes, its raw, if you didn't notice. Yum! 8/10 for this dish

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Raw beef. Mmmmm.

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A closer look at those delicious mushrooms!

The mushrooms used in this were rather unique; we agreed that it was what stood out the most in the dish. I eventually found it at Harvey Nichols a month ago. Girole mushrooms, or something. A whooping 60GBP per kilo. Not as bad (price wise) as truffle, but certainly something I wouldn't have everyday unless it was a really special occassion.

And oh, we had schnitzel! Proper deep fried veal schnitzel (6/10)! Just like what was being lamented in the Sound of Music. And some proper beef goulash too (7/10)! And the salad dressing was just absolutely delicious.

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Notice the squid with the goulash? On closer inspection, it turned out to be a sausage. What a great presentation!

Okay, then the next dish came. I can't remember what its called, but it had capers and all that. 5/10 (my standards are high, what can I say :P)

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And the other dish was a pan-fried steak with tons of deep-fried onions. The waiter nodded and gave a small smile as I ordered this, indicating that it was supposed to be a good choice. But it was alright I suppose. (6/10)

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And for the warm chocolate brownie thingajig, it was pretty decent (6/10).

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The highlight came after the second visit (yes, we returned again a few days later, and all the dishes reviewed were ordered on separate occassions), when we got to visit and take a look at the room where many estimeed people such as Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss et cetera signed the walls.

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Can you spot Mozart's signature? Or Beethoven's? Because I can't. At least I can no longer remember. But the picture's probably too small for you anyway :p

Oh, and a couple of boring interesting food facts I learnt on my previous two trips:

Danish pastry is actually called Wiener bread in Denmark, because the person who first came up with it learnt his trade at Wien. I should have mentioned this under my Danish travelogs, but its still relevant here, so what the heck.
The Austrians call a particular type of sausage 'Frankfurters', but the Germans call that sausage 'Wiener'. Heh.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


One of the hot issues around the UK right now has got to be regarding Islam. After 7/7 and the subsequent scare two weeks later, it is inevitable that interest (or rather, phobia) into Islam has increased.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was at Speaker's Corner at Hyde Park. Almost all the speakers there were preaching about Islam/ Christianity or having a debate about the Middle East. Most of the crowd were drawn towards the Middle Eastern debate, where a young African muslim was having a debate. Excerpts:

'Do you know the difference between the British and the Americans? The British knock on your door, show a badge and ask to look around, whereas the Americans bomb everything. The British know how to leave infrastructure intact for later purposes whereas the Americans don't show any respect at all.' I mean, hell, the Brits won't even throw out the radical clerics in their own soil.

He also raised the following question, which was: 'What is the difference between bombing a place, and shutting off all the exits of a building and setting fire to it (arson)? Aren't they both terrorist acts?'. To which I must comment that more fear is generated out of a bombing; i.e. the purpose of terrorism.

And so forth. To be honest, it is easy to be misled particularly if you know nothing about what goes on in the Middle East et cetera. Or in that young man's words: 'We are discussing politics here. You, sir, are talking about meat and potatoes. Everyone can talk about meat and potatoes. I refuse to answer your question.' To be honest, the Brit who was engaging him wasn't very knowledgable, so fair enough.

Just metres away an Islam cleric was starting his own speech, opening with the lines: 'I am not going to talk to you about terrorism and all that; Islam does not advocate it'. What an irony, which I could have captured had I brought my camera along. Bah.

And just today my university's in-house newspaper's front page read: Extremists at ? Apparently, a group campaigning under the front of 'Stop Islamophobia' was at the Fresher's Fair and all that, but also secretly trying to recruit for a radical organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, soon to be banned in the UK. A problem which was also manifested itself at other parts of the University of London.

But hey, at least there are people that I know of who are at the other side of the spectrum. Its good to know that not everyone is hell-bent on destruction and all that. I know of an Iranian friend of mine who happily offered me a pancake in the computer room the other day. The problem? It was the middle of Ramadan. He didn't care; he was grinning away and said that he hadn't been fasting since last year because he felt faint whenever he did. I suppose its his way of 'letting loose' after spending many years back at his home country.

I also know of friends who happily buy fresh meat from places like Sainsbury's and Waitrose etc, which to my knowledge is not halal. I know of Muslims who drink alcohol. I met recently an Uzbekistan who eats pork. And so on. Totally unlike certain people who get pissed off because of a small thing like 'DeepaRaya'. Ah well.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My Camera Kit

One of my main passions is photography. I've been doing it a lot for a very long time - since I was a little kid, in fact. The only difference is that back then it was with a point-and-shoot film camera (the last one I remember was a Olympus Mju), with me not knowing much about stuff like compositions, et cetera.

Then before I left for the UK, I got my hands on a Sony DSC P2. Digital cameras were still relatively new back then; I paid RM1500 for it during a promotion. The flexibility - i.e. recomposition was easy, no need to process pictures if I don't want to, etc etc - I loved it.

But the pictures were grainy and full of noise and all that. It was no SLR, and at only 2 megapixels, I wasn't going to gain much. It was pretty iffy, especially when I saw shots from 4 and 5 megapixel cameras. I wasn't well acquainted with the concepts of aperture, shutter speed, etc at this point - I had simply heard of them but knew peanuts. It was still quite point and shoot.

Then I met a friend of mine, he had purchased an SLR camera and was taking pictures. He showed me experimental pictures he was taking, and recommended a book to me: Introduction to Photography, by John Hedgecoe. Or something similar to the title, I'm not sure at this moment.

Then came the time to upgrade to a new camera. At first I was looking at cheap compact digital cameras - I could not afford to spare much for one without making large budget cuts elsewhere. While at the camera shop, I saw that they were having a promotion for two budget digital SLRs - the Canon EOS 350D and Nikon d70. Both were going for a couple of hundred lower than the usual price. I hit a brainwave - my graduation was soon, and at that moment I could think of nothing else that I wanted. To cut the story short, I got the 350D - in silver.

Some of you wonder why silver, and I've been asked that before - black is too boring. Too many SLRs are in black; admittedly it looks more professional, but it felt boring nevertheless. For compacts its the opposite, too many are in silver. Besides, the 350D is only a budget dSLR, the professional ones are really the 5D, Mark-1, etc etc. And I chose Canon over Nikon because the d70 was still a bit more expensive after the discounts (the d70s had just come out and had no bloody discount), and some cajoling by Silencers helped me a little.

So anyway, this is my kit:

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Picture taken courtesy of Vysia.

It consists of:
Canon 350D silver body
Canon 15-55mm USM kitted lens (not shown)
Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens (shown above)
Speedlite 430EX (I think I was one of the first in the world to get it, only one bloody shop in London seemed to carry it out of the 20 or so that I looked and some magazines were only mentioning about its availability after I bought it.). With the diffuser lowered down in this pic.
Velbon DX-888 tripod (not shown)
Hoya circular polarizers for both lenses (not shown)

and some random bits and pieces.

To view some of my portfolio, click here for it. The link is also accessible from my sidebar.

Meet Write Up

What a great weekend, spent in the company of a fine young lady, as well as the pleasure of spending some time with some great people as well. Not to mention the great big gap inside my wallet as the aftermath, but that's another story altogether.

Firstly, I met up with YingCi and a friend of hers on the Thursday before. She bullied me into going to Whitechapel - which thankfully wasn't as dodgy as I had feared. We had dinner at some Indian place with great mango lassi and tender chicken curries. Yum! She reminded me of how dodgy Whitechapel could get by chasing me out early 'just in case'. I escaped with my modesty and backdoor intact, so that was fine.

I won't bother to bore everyone one else with too many details of the main meet; suffice to say, we had ice cream and coffee at Rendezvous @ Leicester Square, followed by dinner at Chinatown (since Wagamama was packed); and we then headed to Borders @ Charing Cross for a cuppa and to read free (well, I paid for mine anyway) magazines, before winding down the meet when it closed.

No pictures I am afraid; half of us enjoy some semblance of semi-anonymity; whereas the rest of us felt too podgy. Sorry. That ends my very brief write up of the main meet.

Poor Vysia had to lug her luggage around on the day she left - I asked her to leave her stuff with me on the day that she was leaving, but she decided not to, stubbornly deciding to take the Underground instead of the bus (and finding a plethora of staircases), and subsequently the shocking price of storing goods. 5 quid is fine for leaving huge luggage at the airport, but for several small pieces at the coach terminal at 5 quid each?

Oh well. At least that gave me time to grab a little bouquet of lillies to show my affection for her cheer her up a little (To everyone else besides Vysia: actually, I had a long list of reasons which I told her, I think, but that's for me and her to know. Just don't bother over speculating!). And it worked, I like to imagine.

Thanks to all who came! It was great! Especially because I didn't have to think about my assignments and revision and what not for a few days. Die die die.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Malaysian UK Bloggers Meet Reminder

Just a reminder, we're supposed to have a little gathering of sorts next Saturday the 22nd!

List of those coming that I know of:
Ying Ci meeting her this Friday instead.
Kuzco (to be confirmed)

Notice: Please be aware that the daylight savings time is not due until the following week! (Or correct me if it is)

List of venues:

Rendezvous, Leicester Square, 3pm. Let me know if you wish to change this.

or... buka puasa (if anyone wants)
or... both, if anyone wants.
or... somewhere else.

At any rate, if anybody reads this and decides to make an impromptu appearance, please do! Just don't bloody sit at another corner of the place and observe us, ffs! Bring your friends along, whatever!

I will be arriving with Vish, but before that we'll probably be (taking an artistic nude photoshoot of V) walking about taking photographs and all that, weather permitting.

Friday, October 14, 2005

How small is the world, really?

I'm sure you've heard of it many times before. Your friend, A, knows another friend of yours, B, who is halfway around the world. What a small world! Or your aunty finds out that your mother's friend used to teach her art during primary school. Even smaller!

But I bet that there are fewer instances of how small the world can really get, when you've heard my tale.

The basic settings are:

The place? Outside Hermes, KLCC
When? Summer 2004

The situation:
My girlfriend and I were walking around KLCC. She bumps into a friend of hers and goes away to talk with her. I amuse myself looking at the shop displays for a few seconds, look around, and see a familiar face.

Me: *surprise* X! Hello! What are you doing here?
X : Eh hello! I'm here with my sister, but she bumped into a friend...

And he gestures to where my ex and his sister were catching up. The two of us could only look at each another, my face flabbergasted. Understanding of the whole situation at that moment.

That my then girlfriend's friend's brother was my then housemate at a smallish city in the UK. His room was literally right next to mine (We've since moved on, and I have moved to London since then).

Since then, the world appears to be too big, if I can't somehow connect a friend with another. But not that I want it to happen often, anyway.

If you know of any other similar situations that you were in, do share! :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Flam & Oslo

I know this post is long way overdue, as is the next travel series. Sorry sorry sorry.

After a couple of nights at Bergen, we made our way back to Oslo. We purchased one of the 'Norway in A Nutshell' packages, which involved a train ride between Bergen and Voss, a coach ride between Voss and Gudvangen, a cruise between Gudvangen and Flam, a train ride along the world famous Flam Railway (which is rated among the top 20 train rides in the world), and a train from Myrdal back to Oslo. All within the space of a few hours, because of our tight schedule.

Anyway, I tried this at Bergen:
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In case you're wondering, that was whale meat on the left, with gravlax on the right. The whale tasted gamey, and the salmon pure enjoyment. Eventhough I forgot to add the mustard and dill sauce which usually goes with it.

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More whale meat.

The coach driver amazed us by managing to navigate the coach around a really steep narrow windy road without needing to reverse.

The cruise was nothing short of amazing. Some of my best pictures were taken on the ride. Here is one of them, you can find a few more at my DeviantArt site once I bother to polish and upload them.

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We also spotted two cruise liners at the port of Flam; one of them being the world famous luxury liner Queen Elizabeth II.
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To be honest, the rail journey wasn't very spectacular. Perhaps because we were feeling annoyed because some Chinese tour group took their own sweet time getting there and were late. Or maybe it was because C got herself stuck in between carriages and we were trying to figure out how to free her. Or maybe because it was somehow overrated.

But anyway, we reached Oslo late at night, checked into the hostel, spent the next morning looking around Oslo, then caught the departing flight.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Removal of Feature

Just to notify those of you who haven't noticed, that I have removed the auto comment modification to my blog and enable word verification, due to the proliferation of stupid trawlers that are spamming my comments.

Unexpected and unwanted phone bill

Earlier this month:

Oxygen: Oxygen customer service, can I have your details blablabla.
Me: Blablabla details. Can I enquire how much credit I have left?
Oxygen: *Checks* You have 14 hours left.

*Cue phone call spree galore*

A few days later:

Oxygen: Oxygen customer service, can I have your details blablabla.
Me : Blablabla details. Can I enquire how much credit I have left?
Oxygen: *Checks* You have 38 minutes left. Until towards the end of the month.
Me : So little?
Oxygen: Your other minutes have probably expired by now.
Me : Hmm okay. *Makes mental note to only call if absolutely necessary*

This morning:

Me : Hmmm, private call? *dials*
Oxygen: You are at least 50 GBP above your monthly phone bill. Please wait while we transfer blabla

Oxygen: You have spent a whole fucking amount above your monthly bill
Me : That cannot be. Can you break it down for me?
Oxygen: Your two biggest bills are for two calls at 25 pounds and 15 pounds, to
number 07 **6 **1 **6.
Me : Impossible! I made two calls...
Oxygen: Well it says here...
Me : Don't interrupt me! I made two calls to your colleagues earlier this month.
I was advised on both occasions that I had 14 hours and 38 minutes remaining
on my credit. I do not see how I have dipped below zero. *temper flaring*
Oxygen: *Robot mode* I'm just telling you that you have spent....
Me : Just tell me the other calls.
Oxygen: Blablabla
Me : I clearly made those calls when I was aware of the time I had left. And
there is no way I would make calls when I have a second line, let alone long
lengthy ones!
Oxygen: Anyway I just want to know if you are going to pay for it.
Me : NO! I challenge that amount.
Oxygen: Then I will have to freeze the line
Me : You do that, I am too busy to argue with you right now (I was hurrying to
university). But I will definitely get back to you. *puts line down*