Ryanair gets me to Dublin in a B737 decidedly older than the Treviso-Stansted leg, with a far narrower seat pitch. But the flight is only one hour, so no big deal. DUB is a 1970’s concrete style airport in need of extensive renovation: this is in fact taking place, hanging ceiling fixtures and missing floor panels testify to this, but certainly do not give a good impression to the first-time visitor.

I exit the customs area; my Man In Ireland is not there – after a while, I spot his boss, named Ivan. He bears bad news: apparently MIIs father in law is gravely ill, so he cannot meet me. The visit plan has to be rescheduled and Ivan will now take care of me. No matter: Ivan is an urbane 35 year old, he drives me to my hotel in an industrial area outside Dublin, a standard British style establishment with thick red carpet and a tea-making apparatus in the room. On the way, I remark on the M25 style traffic jam on the Dublin ring road (the M50) and the fact that the Irish drive on the wrong side of the road.

I glance at the name tag of the hotel receptionist: he is called Iqbal. His colleague is Siobhan. The global village has arrived in Ireland too!

We start the evening well: a couple of pints of Guinness in the hotel bar. We then get a taxi to the town centre about 20 minutes down the road. No great sights: apparently Dublin has no cathedral as expected in a Catholic capital city. The town center regretfully resembles that of Birmingham: a few Georgian style civic buildings left over from the colonial past and a dilapidated, now being renovated city centre area known as Temple Bar. Apparently there are green squares further on, but I don’t see them.

We dine at a modern restaurant, designer lighting, designer furniture and matching designer prices. But the food is excellent: I choose a Guinness organic beef stew with root vegetables and expect a Shepherd’s Pie sort of thing, but no! I am served a delicious bowl of tasty, tender meat chunks in a beer jus, with a side of potato purée and a golden brown croûte. A good Spanish merlot to drink and a lime and chocolate cheesecake to finish. Ivan generously takes care of the designer bill.

Some typical Irish entertainment follows: we go to Fitzsimmons pub, featuring a Man U vs. Everton match showing at a wide screen video at one end and an Irish folk group at the other end playing on the tin whistle, fiddle, guitar and banjo, with a foursome of tap-dancing girls. A crowd of Italians (!) and Americans look on. Seems touristy stuff, but Ivan assures me that similar entertainment is common throughout Ireland – OK, but maybe not all over on Monday nights. We partake of a pint of Kilkenny’s and a pint of Guinness – then a taxi back to the hotel!


Another departure lounge. The flight from Treviso was uneventful, smooth baggage pickup at Stansted, where my Woman in UK was waiting for me. Went with her to eat and talk shop. Located a self-service café-restaurant in the terminal and helped ourselves to two sandwiches (dry bread), one salad, one small beer, one orange juice. I spluttered when the till rang – total cost GBP 19.00!!! How do these locals survive????

Flight to Dublin seems full up – must be full of refugees escaping British prices!

The Emerald Isle

Short hop this week over tio Ireland. Hey, I’m curious, I’ve never been to the place before! I’m flying Ryanair, so no Chardonnay, no lounges, indeed, no service at all. Not even any seat allocation. You are handed your boarding card stub, and you then race to get to a seat. First come, first served. But hey, what do you expect for an EUR 75 flight to Stansted and then a GBP 8 (yes, eight…) flight to Dublin!

Treviso airport is basically a one terminal, one runway ex-military airfield, served daily by three Ryanair flights to Stansted, and one to Charleroi and also a mysterious Carpatair service to assorted Romanian destinations. It’s actually closer to my house than the “proper” airport at Venice. My fellow passengers are an assortment of Great Unwashed and besuited biz people. Still, the plane is completely full, there is an empty seat next to me and a grand view of the Alpine snow from my window.

Lunch at Stansted with my UK agent before onward flight to Dublin.

Three Pigs

After 10 days of hard fair work in Düsseldorf, I barely had time to drive back, dump the papers and have a meeting that I’m off again. I now write to you from the fair city of Lyon.

I am still this morning attempting to digest last evening’s meal. We met a pal of my colleague, and all went to a restaurant recommended by him. A _bouchon_ called *Les Trois Cochons*, nearby Place Bellecour. Decoration based on three piglets. Many plastic, glass and ceramic pigs on the walls. Menu features all kind of porky stuff, that even German cooks cannot devise. Nothing remotely approaching _nouvelle cuisine_ to be had. Pork scratchings were served with the apéritif. As starters I had sliced pigs ears with salad. The meaty bits were tender and garlicky, but ears are mostly chewy cartilage!! For seconds I had _andouillette au gratin_, which are pig intestines in a creamy sauce, also very tasty and tender, but so heavy I was unable to finish the plate – a rare event for me, I assure you! Colleague and friend had a _Double Gras_, which is just as fatty as the name implies, consisting of tripe and other innards. House Côte du Rhône, coffee. NOT a restaurant to go to if you are prone to indigestion. We both skipped breakfast this morning!

Kölner Kölsch

Not for want of writing, but gastronomic highlights are few and far between in this teutonic land. Let me attempt a brief description, as now, at 22.57, I am seated in an S-Bahn rolling through every poxy station between the fair cities of Köln and Düsseldorf.

As you may recall, it was decided to spend the evening with my Man in Turkey, who is staying in Köln . Accordingly, we set off from the fairground at closing time, and with the assistance of an Intercity train, we arrived in Köln at 19:15. Rapid visit of the Dom to refresh my knowledge of gothic architecture, then an obligatory shopping visit in Kaufhof to buy wind-up aeroplanes, Barbie doll sets and Gameboy cartridges for the kids – yes, I assure you kids are very expensive!!!

It is raining. We have no raincoat nor brolly. My intended place of call, Em Krütschke in the Altstadt, is firmly geschlossen, being it Montag. Hence we repair to the nearest hostelry, an anonymous Gasthof, where we are offered the most standard germanic fare: Bauernplatte, Herrenplatte, Jägerschnitzel and variations of pork meat in brown sauces, Bratkartoffeln and Krautsalat. Yes, OK every now and then, but tiring after six days in a row!! But my MIT is an entertaining fellow, and we wistfully reminisce about favourite Istanbul kebap establishments.

We exit the Gasthof. It has stopped raining. We head back towards the Hauptbahnhof, but then I make a beeline for an old haunt of mine, Cölner (sic) Hofbräu Früh, maybe my favourite German brewhouse next to Spatenhaus in Munich. This, fellow Gastronauts, is the home of Kölsch, where the Köbes serve the beer direct from the barrel, and the refills arrive as soon as the glasses are emptied. A most delicate amber nectar, light and very drinkable, so much so we down three glasses each before remembering we have to head for Düsseldorf!! The Speisekarte is also very enticing and makes us regret our earlier hurry to get out of the rain!

Gute nacht!

more German food…

German food is not known for its lightness and delicacy. Rheinischer Sauerbraten or Düsseldorfer Senfrostbraten are staples. At this time of year you can get Spargel – asparagus – , but they insist on smothering it with Hollandaise Sauce, accompanied by Wienerschnitzel and gigantic Beilagen.

Yesterday night was different as we went with my Man in Japan and friend to a Japanese restaurant: sushi, sashimi, grilled eel, rice, pickles, Altbier, Pils, warm and cold sake. Proceedings were enlivened by a loud group of Japanese at the next table. MIJ commented that Japanese abroad behave in a less constrained manner than at home – hence get drunk and rowdy!

We are feeling somewhat tired after several days on the go and with the dreary wet weather. So tonight has been decreed rest night and I will relax with my latest Harry Potter instalment.

Monday night has been booked with my Man in Turkey. We will take a train down to Köln and go straight to Früh am Dom – a real Cologne institution where the Köbes (waiters) serve you Kölsch non-stop. Kölsch is a most wonderful light beer that slips effortlessly down your throat!

Ein Prosit!


Exhibition time again – I’m spending the week (!) at our largest trade show in Germany. Finally got to Düsseldorf last Monday at 18:15. 1.025 km exactly from Bassano, in about 11 hours. Not bad going, considering the endless sequence of Baustellen on the Autobahnen. Seems as if Schröder wants to spruce up the roads before the election, but has failed miserably.

Arrive in hotel to discover it’s a DUMP. An EXPENSIVE DUMP! Not that it’s dirty or anything serious, but at DM 300 a night for a single I’d expect wallpaper that wasn’t peeling, sheets with no holes and a telephone with some minimal kind of connectivity to hook a modem. I don’t even have the option of moving elsewhere as it has all been paid for in advance. Never mind. I console myself with the idea that I won’t be in the room for much anyway.

Evening meal at my one of my favourite Düsseldorf breweries, Schumacher in the Oststrasse. House motto: “Ein jeder spricht vom vielen trinken, aber keiner spricht vom grossen Durst“. Standard German brewery fare: Eisbein, Haxe, Schlachtplatte and variants of hearty dishes. To drink: what else but the famed Altbier! This will be the Leitmotiv for every evening in Düsseldorf. Other good addresses for you: Brauerei Frankenheim in the Wielandstrasse, Zum Schlüssel in the Bolkerstrasse and Zum Uerige in the Bergerstrasse!

Tonight, being it Friday night, is pub crawl Abend: with my Man in Japan, Man in UK and Woman in Switzerland and assorted hangers-on. Should be fun!

Exception: Japanese meal on Saturday night with MIJ and the head honcho of the company I visited in Nara last January. It’s the return match and I will be paying!!!

The Messe itself is VERY, VERY BUSY! I hardly have the time to uncork a bottle of wine or gouge a piece of Parmigiano extravecchio that hordes of punters invade the stand. Great to be rushed off one’s feet.

Osaka 3 – The Karaoke bar!

Soo….I am in Osaka, having slept like a baby after my full sauna/bath/scrub down/massage treatment the previous evening. Today’s schedule involves a trip to visit the factory and head office of a cap making company. I have met the boss of the company before, he came to visit us in Italy two years ago and his underlings came last year. We haven’t done any business together, mind you. In the inscrutable Japanese manner, we have “built relationship” and my MIJ assures me this will be “most valuable” in the future. We will see.

The company is way out in the countryside, so we take a train out of Osaka towards Nara. We get off at a station surrounded by rice fields, take a cab and go to the factory. We are greeted by the Prez. With him are his two underlings. They are identically dressed in the light grey company uniform. The meeting proceeds in a friendly but formal Japanese manner: no need to exchange biz cards this time as we have already met, but we have a formal exchange of gifts. Gift-giving is a very important part of Japanese biz culture, and here it is not the actual value of the gift that matters, but the manner of the presentation and the quality of the exterior wrapping. Hence the gift is presented with two hands, with much bowing and scraping. It is opened not in the presence of the giver, but later. I give a bottle of grappa to Little Tofu, and a box of chocs to his minions. I receive in return an exquisitely wrapped box of Japanese sweets. We drink green tea.

Factory visit ensues. I don white overalls and hair cap, then observe whirring machinery and smile politely. Back to the meeting room. The underlings open their notebooks, and evidently reading from a prepared script, one of them asks in English “What do you think of our factory?”. I reply with polite generalities. More polite questions and answers, then it’s my turn to ask: “How do you propose to distribute our products?” Much discussion in Japanese ensues, then a reply: “We will create a new division!” Well, I am sure they could do that, but it’s not exactly a marketing strategy. Further questions entice no greater details. Nevertheless, they seem confident enough, I sincerely hope that the famed Japanese “relationships” and “connections” will lead to concrete results.

We leave the factory in the Prez’s car, on the way to their R&D centre about 30 km away. We stop for lunch at a Japanese fast-food restaurant looking just like an American diner. From a glossy menu with pics, I order soba – cold noodles with deep-fried prawn. A quick meal, nice and tasty.

On the way to the R&D Centre, we have time for a little sightseeing: The Todai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara is one of the wonders of ancient Japan and we stop to have a look.

Within beautiful parkland (full of hungry Japanese deer!) stands a gigantic wooden shrine, apparently the largest all-wood structure in the world. The original building dates back to 728, but unsurprisingly, was destroyed by fire and rebuilt several times.

Within the shrine is an equally gigantic bronze statue of the Vairocana Buddha, known as Daibutsu, portrayed sitting on a lotus leaf with right hand raised in blessing. This statue dates back to 749. I am very impressed, and so is MIJ, who has never been here before.

The Company’s R&D centre is impressive, with many researchers in the regulation company uniform sitting in front of CAD/CAM workstations. A video is shown, more introductions are made and business cards exchanged with all and sundry. Another green tea, then much formal taking of leave: “we are honoured to have received your visit, look forward to long and positive collaboration, blah, blah…”. I bow politely and murmur similar platitudes. The formal meetings at an end, we make an appointment to meet the Prez and his underlings at our hotel for dinner.

18.30 – dinner time! The Japanese eat early! The Prez leads us through the streets of Osaka and we enter what appears to be a large private house. This is in fact a posh restaurant, kimono-clad ladies greet us at the entrance, we remove our shoes and are taken to a private dining room with view over a small garden pond. Tatami mats on the floor, a low table, equally low chairs. Two large pots full of water and a few leaves of seaweed are brought and set to boil in front of us.

We are about to eat shabu-shabu, yet another style of Japanese cuisine! The kimonoed ladies busily bring it plates full of ingredients to be set to cook in the water: mainly large plates of very thinly sliced Kobe beef. Have you heard of Kobe beef? Only in Japan do you find this delectable meat, taken from cows that are fed a diet including beer and that are given a regular massage!! The beer stimulates the appetite in hot summer months and the massage, well, reduces stress and muscle stiffness. Logical, isn’t it? Result: Highly tender meat, with a marbled appearance as the fat is distributed, and is not just on the edges. Literally melts in the mouth. Price: Don’t ask…

So the water boils, and we put in the slices of beef to cook. A quick swish around with the chopsticks (shabu-shabu literally means swish-swish), a dip into sesame seed or soy sauce and into the mouth – Delicious! Mushrooms, tofu and some greenery are also put in the pot as a side dish. We drink Asahi Super Dry beer and cold sake. Incidentally, drinking etiquette in Japan requires that you never pour your own drinks but they are poured out for you. The instant I take a drink from my glass and set it down, it is refilled by the Prez, and I do the same for him. Needless to say, glasses that are always full increase alcoholic consumption! Amongst cries of “Kanpai!” (Cheers) the evening proceeds merrily. Ritual photographs are taken, more bowing from the kimono ladies and then we are ready to leave.

But the evening isn’t finished yet! The Prez leads us through the streets to an apartment block. We enter a lift, get out a few floors up then enter a karaoke bar! The Japanese name for a karaoke bar is “boxssu“, which is very apt as the entire place is no larger than my bedroom! A bar lines one wall, a TV is above it and a lady pours the drinks – which here is whisky! The back wall is lined with bottles of whisky all neatly labelled with a name: the idea being that you buy one bottle, drink some of it and then save it for another time at the same boxssu. We sit on a settee opposite the bar, two other punters with a couple of girls are sitting on bar stools, drink in hand, ready to sing! You must know the basic operation of karaoke: thousands of different songs are listed in a book the size of a telephone directory, you take your pick, punch in the corresponding number on a remote control and when the song comes up on the TV screen, you get up and sing! The Prez does his song and he has excellent voice. Now I actually quite like singing, but as my voice resembles the call of a male bullfrog, I am rather embarrassed to sing in public… but then again, a few whiskeys on ice loosen all inhibitions! My greater problem is that my choice of songs is limited to a few pages of that directory and my Japanese friends insist that I sing “canzone“. Canzone is Italian for song, but I interpret their request as being one for Neapolitan songs! Not my genre at all… and I can’t read Neapolitan dialect either! But here goes… I launch my Luciano Pavarotti impression with Domenico Modugno’s “Volare”, then a duet of “O Sole Mio” with one of the girls, change of rhythm with U2s “With or Without You”, grand finale with another Neapolitan classic, “Santa Lucia”. I am rapturously received, glasses of whisky are poured, recording contracts are signed….no, no, forget that last bit! Anyway, we get out of the boxssu content. We have truly cemented our “working relationship” and are thoroughly pissed!

Ah well, this concludes my trip to Japan. Will I be back? I’d love to, but MIJ had better get some serious business going first!

Osaka 2 – The Massage Parlour

Where was I? Yes, walking down Osaka’s Dotonbori strip, I follow my MIJ who shepherds me into a massage parlour! Make no mistake, this is no seedy European joint, we are in a GENUINE Japanese spa and massage house! “Completely normal!” my MIJ assures me.

Ladies greet us at the counter, we pay for a ticket, and get to a changing room. We undress and pull on a pair of baggy blue underpants. My MIJ hurries me down a flight of stairs and into a large sauna, complete with TV. Temperature 80°C. We sit here sweating for about 10 minutes. An attendant then bursts in, greets us loudly and jabbers away in Japanese. He invites us to follow him and we enter another sauna – temperature 90°C! The attendant is about to start an aromatherapy session: pours water and some kind of oil on the stove – steam billows out and he shouts loudly, beating the air with a towel to spread the vapours. I resist this kind of treatment no more than five minutes and have to get out. We hurry through a door and to my surprise I find myself in the open air, with three large pools full of men conversing immersed in the water. We strip naked, wash off the sweat with a jug, then gingerly get in a pool rated at 15°C – I resist all of 5 seconds in here, then jump in the warmer pool nearby. Another still warmer pool, a Turkish steam bath, and a foot bath follow.

So far, so normal. Nothing you wouldn’t find in a European sauna house. But then MIJ calls out “Let’s go!”and takes me, still stark naked, through another set of doors. I freeze: in front of us a squad of young women with blue uniforms await us. A smiling 20-something girl in pigtails greets me. “She’ll take care of you!” yells out MIJ. We are in a big washroom full of large sinks and plastic stools. The girl leads me to another pool and invites me to get in – the water is close to boiling! Here I stay for five minutes or so, wondering what is to happen next. She beckons me out and leads me to one of the stools. I sit and she then proceed to give me the most intensive scrub-down I have ever had: first with a sponge, then a soapy loofah, turning me in all directions, arms, legs, chest, back. Two hair shampoos, conditioner, facial wash, foot scrub, shave. Years of body neglect are scrubbed away in a half hour session with this girl. She then pummels me on the shoulders “to loosen tension”. I hasten to add, complete propriety is observed: your private parts are for you alone to wash!! The scrub down over, the girl dries me off with warm towels, provides me with baggy underwear and with much smiling and bowing even gives me a questionnaire to fill in assessing the quality of the scrub!

MIJ and I relax in a sort of lounge with more TV and fags for chain-smoking Japanese. Then we go for the “main course”, as MIJ calls it. Another squad of women greet us, a little older than the scrubbers, with tan coloured uniforms – these are the massage specialists. We are brought to massage beds, I am covered with more warm towels, then receive a 45 minute session of oriental massage soothing every possible muscle in my body. This is so totally relaxing I almost fall asleep on the bed! At the end, the massage lady brings me to a dressing room table, blow-dries my hair, applies aftershave and face cream, even trims my fingernails! Finally, after another quality assessment questionnaire, we are led to a relaxation room with TVs, magazines, newspapers and comfy armchairs, and are handed a drink.

I have never had such a complete bodycare session in my life! Cost for all this? JPY 6.500 (EUR 55). Highly recommended!


Check out of my Tokyo hotel this morning – I am due to transfer to Osaka. My MIJ meets me in the morning (no rush here – all my morning meetings are scheduled at 10 or so, giving me ample time to wake up and send a few mails!). We negotiate the Tokyo subway and do a presentation at a large multinational. They seem suitably impressed. Back to the hotel to pick up my bags, and its already time for lunch!

More to-ing and fro-ing by part of my MIJ. He seems to be picky at choosing restaurants, and rightly so! Why settle for second rate when only the best will do? He chooses a Soba restaurant, the quintessential Japanese lunch, a noodle shop! Soba, buckwheat noodles much resembling dark spaghetti alla chitarra, are served in a variety of ways. I choose the standard bowl of noodles in broth, with a side of rice and tempura-fried prawn.

MIJ prefers a plate of cold noodles, also with a side of prawns. Interestingly, the cold noodles are dipped into a small bowl of broth into which MIJ has first grated some green horseradish. Soba is standard Japanese fare, and one that most Westerners would be happy to eat – very similar to a plate of pasta! Only one difficulty – eating the stuff with a pair of chopsticks! I am reasonably skilful with chopsticks, but the Soba slips and slides; I have to resort to shovelling it in my mouth from the bowl, which most Japanese appear to do anyway. Incidentally, loud slurping noises are not frowned upon here, they are signs of appreciation! With green tea, the bill comes to JPY 2.550 – EUR 21 or so. A good bargain!

In the afternoon we ride the Shinkansen Hikari “Bullet Train” to Osaka. When the railway was built in the 1960s it was a standard bearer of Japanese technology and was unsurpassed for decades. Of course Europe now has it very own TGV, ICE, Pendolino, etc, but the Shinkansen is still impressive and we cover the 550 km to Osaka in three hours. The fare comes to JPY 18.000 – EUR 150 in Green Car (first class).

We check into the Hotel Nikko, a centrally located five star with large rooms by Japanese standards. My MIJ has negotiated an excellent corporate rate at JPY 13.000 (EUR 110) a night. Quick brush up and it’s time for dinner!

This time my MIJ has no doubts. He knows exactly where to go and takes me to Mogami, a kushikatsu restaurant – yet another style of Japanese cuisine! A kushi is a wooden skewer, and here we eat little deep fried morsels of meat, vegetables, fish and so on. We sit at a bar, the chefs behind a copper vat full of hot oil. Here you can either choose from the menu or take an “all you can eat” option: you guess which we chose!

We leave replete, walk a few blocks to Dotonbori, the main pedestrian drag full of restaurants and milling crowds. Juvenile girls in miniskirts sit jabbering into mobiles, blond dyed adolescent boys pose in front of them. Assorted hustlers try to convince us to enter their girlie bars, but my MIJ has other ideas: he directs me straight into a Japanese massage parlour! But it’s late now, so I’ll tell you all this tomorrow!