Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Gus Carter

Hong Kong’s fading Britishness

Not much of Hong Kong still feels British. There is the odd tube stop – Admiralty, Kennedy Town, Prince Edward – but that’s about it. On the car ride from the airport, I chatted to the driver as we passed under half-built concrete arches covered in green construction cloth. He told me the authorities were

The growing appeal of dreary Düsseldorf

In the cavernous basement of Bilker Bunker, a second world war air raid shelter in downtown Düsseldorf, the staff of groovy events guide the Dorf are toasting the magazine’s tenth birthday. During the war, Germans sheltered here from the RAF. Today, their descendants come here to party. With an art gallery up above and DJs

Israeli nightlife is slowly returning

Tel Aviv is the size of Bristol, with about 400,000 residents each. While Bristol has 400 pubs and bars, and just shy of a thousand restaurants, the rough concrete charm of Tel Aviv yields no fewer than 1,750 cafes, bars and clubs and more than 4,000 places to eat. Tel Aviv is a dense, hedonistic city: friendly,

In praise of the späti, Berlin’s late-night corner shops

The späti is a Berlin institution. These late-night corner shops began popping up in the former German Democratic Republic for workers clocking off from their evening shifts. Serving as a mixture of mini-supermarket and meeting place, spätis have outdoor seating, often wobbly wooden tables and benches on which locals sit and drink cheap bottles of

Hungary, the autumnal civilisation

A couple of weeks ago, I made the dish I always make at this time of year. It’s a Hungarian gulyás – or more correctly, a pörkölt – a mixture of beef, onions, peppers, tomatoes and paprika, stewed very slowly and served with plenty of sour cream. It’s appropriate this dish should be from Hungary, as

How to travel India by steamboat

‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. Nowhere is this so true as in the streets of Calcutta, departing point of our cruise. The legacy of Mother Teresa has placed a stigma on the ancient capital of the British Raj, now forever considered a city of the dying and destitute. Unsurprisingly, Calcutta does not

Finding my family roots in Spain

The sun had sunk behind the mountains that surrounded the harbour of Cudillero, a small fishing town in Asturias. My hair was still wet from the sea. Two old men were sitting next to us, chatting loudly in Spanish while my husband, father, and I ate bonito pate. Despite being a shy child, my grandfather

Will the Las Vegas Grand Prix survive?

Equal parts hype and horsepower, this weekend’s Las Vegas Grand Prix is the most talked about sporting event of the year. For the first time, Formula One will take to the strip, with 20 cars screaming past the floodlit Venetian Caesar’s Palace and the faux Eiffel Tower at 200mph. Certainly, it lost its shirt on

Why I love terrible towns

There are plenty of reasons to visit Catania in Sicily, and some of them are positive. The town is impressively ancient – dating back to the 8th century bc. It boasts a handsome, lavishly voluted Baroque core. A few steps from that main piazza you can find the picturesque fish market, the Pescheria, which sequins the

Philip Patrick

Japanese service is stiflingly polite

One thing you can be sure of on a visit to Japan is that the service will be at the very least good, and quite often superb. The chances of being short-changed, snubbed, or slighted are virtually zero and truly bad service is so rare I almost, after 24 years in Tokyo, crave it now

Would you drink fermented horse milk?

To my great disappointment, I was never (knowingly) fed qarta – a popular dish of boiled and pan-fried horse anus served without sauce or spices. I did, however, get to try the next best thing – kymyz, mares’ milk fermented in a goatskin. It was the second day of a horse trek in Kyrgyzstan and

Leuven: Belgium’s most underrated city

From the vertiginous belltower of Leuven’s university library, you get a great view across the mottled rooftops of Belgium’s most underrated city. Leuven isn’t swarming with sightseers, like Bruges. It isn’t choked with commuter traffic, like Brussels. It’s lively and compact, ideal for a weekend away – so why have most British travellers never even

What’s more trendy than space travel? Banning it

In bedrooms across the country, women are wearing £145 sexy silk chemises emblazoned with jewels spelling out the words ‘Ban Space Travel’. This isn’t just a bit tacky or part of a new kink. It’s a sign of growing cynicism around space exploration. (Another item in the same collection, sold by luxury underwear company Bluebella,

Gorillas in the mix: in search of Rwanda’s silverbacks

Two hours into a muddy hike through Rwanda’s Nyungwe rainforest and though I’ve been barked at by a baboon, crossed rivers of fire ants and stepped over a foot-long centipede, I have yet to see any chimpanzees, which is the reason I’m here.  My guide and our team of trackers are on the path ahead, armed

Are party holidays ever that fun?

Forget GCSEs or landing your first part-time job. Nothing screamed growing up in Britain like embarking on your first European party holiday, armed with an alarming lack of SPF or common sense but a suitcase packed full of skimpy outfits and condoms. Every summer, thousands of young Britons would jet off to Greece, Cyprus or

Nothing beats the Great British caravan holiday

Air travel isn’t what it used to be. I think we can all admit that. Those of us who don’t fly British Airways on a regular basis understand the true pandemonium of trying to get to Luton Airport at 3am with an Uber driver half asleep at the wheel. We understand what it means to

Confessions of a speeding granny

I suppose it was going to happen. But not inevitably. After 66 years behind the wheel, I’ve finally gotten a speeding ticket. In France. During those years, I’ve put the pedal to the metal in an Alfa Romeo (Spider Veloce with Weber carburetors), a zippy MG (my mother’s), a 375HP Corvette Stingray (my first husband’s),

The Welsh Marches: England’s foodie frontier

I’m in a car embarking on a road trip through one of the great foodie regions of the world, charged with the onerous task of scoffing and boozing my way through five days of epicurean heaven. But where am I? Trundling along the Rhone valley from Lyon to Provence? Barrelling down the autostrada to Bologna?

Among the Glastonbury pagans

England is a mystical place, and its epicentre is Glastonbury, known by its pagan residents as Avalon, the mythical island of the Arthurian legend. It has sacred springs, the supposed tomb of King Arthur, the Tor and ruined tower, proximity to Stonehenge and now a thriving, sprawling community of pagans, with dozens of denominations from druid to water-witch.

The night my friends went missing on a Spanish train

Twenty years ago, the Spanish railway company RENFE stole my girlfriend’s father. There were four of us – my girlfriend, her dad, and a university friend of ours. We had been in Spain for more than a month, walking the Camino de Santiago. Now it was time to head home, first by train to Bilbao

The drudgery of airports

Having a child growing up in Italy means regular flights there and back from Stansted airport. This is unfortunate, as I find nearly any other form of transport preferable. It isn’t so much the flying itself – I lack the imagination to envisage what it really means to hover 38,000 feet above the earth in

Melanie McDonagh

Sir Ranulph Fiennes: a living Lawrence of Arabia

Sir Ranulph Fiennes (a third cousin of Ralph, since you ask) has written a book about Lawrence of Arabia. He feels an affinity with him: he too has led Arabs in fighting, in Sir Ranulph’s case, for the Sultan of Oman. ‘I’d been in Arabia, leading Arabs against the Marxist rebels. In Lawrence’s day, the

Have I been sent mad by goats?

I am on a retreat in the Portuguese mountains outside Faro, a heavenly place called Moinhos Velhos. I have not eaten food in three days. I have practised hours of yoga and meditation. I have swum many cool, slow lengths of a blue-tiled pool and sweated in a wood-fired sauna and walked for miles through

Memories of Britain’s lost steam sleepers

In the early 1950s, as a very small school boy, I would travel between Inverness and London by steam sleeper train. The adventure started with tea in the Inverness Station Hotel while awaiting the train south. My parents never worried about my safety – unlike today, when children must have constant supervision from only the

Jonathan Miller

After 25 years, I’ve returned to synagogue

On Saturday, I went to the synagogue in Béziers. I was motivated by defiance, sentiment, and an urge to demonstrate solidarity, but hardly from any rekindled religiosity. I’ve never had any to be rekindled. Like my namesake, the late Dr Jonathan Miller, said in Beyond the Fringe, ‘I’m not really a Jew… but I’m Jew-ish;

Walking the Suffolk Coast Path

When was the last time you woke up bright and early on a weekday morning, with no need for an alarm call, rested and impatient for the day ahead? My last time was a week ago, when I awoke in the Pier Hotel in Harwich, eager to walk the first bit of my latest hike, along the Suffolk Coast Path. The Saxons sailed up this river to conquer East Anglia after the fall

Why the Square Mile beats Canary Wharf

When a building’s construction requires the closure of a nearby airport, you know that the building is tall. But that’s the thing about the Square Mile at the moment – it’s so successful that the only way is up. The cranes on 22 Bishopsgate (rather than the building itself) reached such a height, as the

Japan’s peculiar pizzas

Japan is known for its food. People from across the world visit the Land of the Rising Sun to eat everything from the delectable seafood of Tsukiji Market in Tokyo to the local varieties of ramen that can be found across the nation’s 47 prefectures. And yet you would be mistaken if you believed that