The Berns sign in Stockholm, Sweden.

Berns – a Stockholm boutique hotel and more

Berns, I learn during my two night stay close to central Stockholm’s Nybroviken Harbour, is more than just a hotel. You might think it smacks of marketing speak to describe a hotel as an institution but this place is worthy of the term.

Heinrich Robert Berns, a successful pastry chef, established his café-cum-concert hall, Berns Salonger, at this site back in July 1863, with an orchestra proving a popular draw. Today it’s also a live music venue, a nightclub and has two restaurants. The hotel side of the business was established just a generation ago, in 1989. Berns is a chic yet affordable boutique hotel with 82 individually furnished guestrooms, designed by Olle Rex and displaying original artworks.

Stockholm’s Cultural Scene

This hip venue has its finger firmly on the pulse of Stockholm’s cultural scene. Berns partners with the city’s fashion and art weeks, as well as the film festival, which explains why you’ll see photos of actors displayed around the hotel. It also means you’ll be able to get hold of tickets for fashion shows if you’re around during Stockholm Fashion Week (held in mid-May).

On arrival the reception staff prove personable and well-informed about Stockholm’s attractions, helping me to orientate and find attractions and bars. Their willingness to chat is welcoming and they strike a balance between professionalism and informality.

Chic Accommodation in Boutique Rooms

I’m staying in room 508, which has a flat-screen TV at the foot of the bed, on top of shelving containing a number of coffee table books on art, Swedish design and photography. I grab books on Helmut Newton and Andreas Gursky and flick through them while relaxing on the leather sofa. My room also has a desk and French windows. The mirrored bathroom has rainfall and power showers plus a gorgeously scented range of Malin and Goetz skincare products, including a rum body wash.

Berns is no stranger to visiting stars and dignitaries. Guests have included the Dalai Lama and Bill Gates. The hotel made the news a few years ago when the Spice Girls shocked neighbours by sunbathing topless. The terrace they appeared on is visible from my room.

Live Music by International Stars

Long before the hotel was built the Stora Salongen, an ornate music hall, was drawing people to Berns. The hall dates from 1886 and holds up to 1,200 people. A number of top international performers have appeared over the years. In 1968 the Supremes and Aretha Franklin played, and in 2012 Rihanna performed. The Prodigy, Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan are also among the names to have been on the stage. With bas-relief stucco, gilded artwork and chandeliers it’s not the kind of place I immediately associate with the pop and rap acts who’ll be performing over the months ahead.

“I have a deluxe room above the stage that used to be the dressing room of Marlene Dietrich and displays photos of her,” says Annika Frisch, Sales Manager at Berns, as we chat on the balcony. Dietrich performed here more than 20 times over a five year period. She is, of course, one of the divas widely adored within the gay community, which the hotel welcomes.

Nightclub, Bar and Restaurant

Berns tends to become busy at weekends and is popular for its basement nightclub, 2.35:1, named after the format of video films once shown there. The décor of the club changes every three to four months, with original artwork by Swedish artists displayed on the walls. The club remains open until 5.00am but I don’t notice the sound from my bed.

A buffet breakfast is laid out in the conservatory of the original hall, which has mirrored walls, chandeliers and booths with leather seating. Since 1940 it has hosted an Asian restaurant, Asiatiska (+46 (0)8 5663 2766), for which reservations are highly recommended. DJs perform on evenings from Thursday to Saturday. I book a seat at the sushi bar. The chefs prove entertaining, working with verve to prepare sushi and sashimi dishes. As the evening progresses the place takes on the feel of a lounge-bar.

Sipping on a Swedish wheat beer I mull my options for the night ahead. Do I stay here for the evening or head out to a nearby bar?

Further information

Berns is located by Berzelii Park (Post Box 16340, 10327 Stockholm, tel. + 46 (0)8 5663 2200). See the Berns website for more information, to book a hotel room or to make a table reservation.

The hotel also has a compact fitness room plus eight meeting and conference rooms. Berns Bistro and Bar (+46 (0)8 5663 2515) also serves French style cuisine in the pavilion next to the hotel.

Guests booking rooms directly with the hotel can take advantage of a weekend package providing a VIP wristband giving priority access and free entrance to 2.35:1 plus five other leading Stockholm nightclubs (Ambassadeur, Hell’s Kitchen, Sturecompagniet, The Spy Bar and The White Room.

A room at Berns hotel in Stockholm, Sweden.

A room at the Berns Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden.

Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket being worn.

Kit review: Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket

Despite the chill in the air and overcast sky, we’re told spring is on the way to the United Kingdom. I’m planning to get out and walk a lot more frequently during the weeks ahead, so currently in the process of updating my equipment and outdoor clothing. A lightweight waterproof jacket is the latest addition to my wardrobe.

Craghopper’s Reaction Lite Jacket retails for £70 and is on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award list of recommended kit. I choose the blue version of the jacket, which is also available in black and red.

The material from which the jacket is made is a laminated fabric called AquaDry Membrane, created by fusing a breathable waterproof membrane to a durable outer shell. According to product information, the material has been treated with a ‘durable water repellent,’ known by the acronym DWR, which helps keep the outer surface dry. The breathability allows water vapour to escape while retaining body heat.

Water Resistant and Windproof

As you’d expect from a high quality water resistant and windproof jacket, seams are taped to prevent the ingress of water during rainstorms. In my tests featuring stretching and a high-pressure shower, the fabric –which is also tear resistant – lived up to the manufacturer’s claim that it remains waterproof even when stressed.

Though clearly designed for outdoor activities the Reaction Lite Jacket has a sleek, contemporary look. Weighing 485 grams, the jacket is lightweight, so no great burden while in a rucksack.

Pockets are zippable and deep. In addition to the two on the outside, at waist level, there’s an inner breast pocket. This doubles as a storage pouch for the jacket, which packs in on itself, reminding me of the raincoats I used to have as a child.

The hood holds an internal peak and has a Velcro strip at the rear so that how it sits can be adjusted.

This piece of kit looks and feels good and will be with me during my forthcoming walks in the Durham Dales and Northumberland National Park.

Further information

Craghoppers garments come with lifetime guarantees. The company also offers an internet price match promise. The product code for the Reaction Lite Jacket, which is available is sizes from XS to XL, is CMW682—CH.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is aimed at people aged between 14 and 24, encouraging the development of life and work skills through activities including outdoor expeditions.

A Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket being worn. Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket being worn.

A Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket being worn.

Dickies Medway Saftey Hiker boots being worn.

Kit Review: Dickies Medway Safety Hiker boots

Dickies Medway Safety Hiker boots bridge a gap between hiking gear and work wear.

As someone who has suffered from plantar fasciitis - a painful, long-term injury affecting the heels and soles of my feet – I’m keen to wear only quality, comfortable footwear. The condition is sometimes known as jogger’s heel and affects many runners, dancers and basketball players; years of leaping for rebounds on courts up and down the country stressed tissue on the sole of my feet.

Energy Absorbing Heels

These boots have antistatic and energy absorbing heels, which podiatrist Dina Gohil says is a trait of good walking boots.

Weighing in at 840 grams per boot, according to my trusty kitchen scales, you know you’re wearing the chunky but comfortable Medway Safety Hiker. The boots have vulcanised rubber scuff caps and heel guards and waterproofed leather uppers with a waxy finish.

I tested the boots by walking in the Durham Dales and pounding the streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and found they offer good comfort plus ankle support.

The outsole is made of a cemented rubber compound, said by the manufacturer to be heat resistant to 300°C, not something I was able to put to the test effectively, even with sunshine streaming down to warm Newcastle’s Quayside on a beautiful spring day.

Water-resistant and Insulated

They are lined with breathable, water-resistant Thinsulate insulation.

The boots have steel toe caps plus a steel mid-sole, offering protection to ISO 20345 standards. This means they can withstand 200 joules of impact and 1500 Newton’s of compression.

Dickies Medway Safety Hikers look to be practical, hard-wearing and available in either brown or black.

Further information

Dickies was founded in 1922 and is today the world’s largest privately owned work wear company. Dickies Medway Safety Hiker boots retail for £60 and are available in sizes 6 to 12. The boots comply with European personal protective equipment standards.

Podiatrist Dina Gohil‘s clinic is at 58 South Moulton Street in Mayfair, London.

A Dickies Medway SS S3 boot.

A Dickies Medway Safety Hiker boot.

A yoga session by the naturally heated pool at the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat near Ipoh, Malaysia.

The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in Malaysia

“We discovered this place as guests. We were spending a long weekend here and blown away because we both love nature and jungle,” says Lucia Eppisser, who along with husband and business partner, Felix, took over the management of the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in August 2014.

We’re chatting on wooden decking by the geothermally heated pool at the heart of the 16 acre luxury resort and I’m sipping freshly pressed juice. Just minutes ago I was relaxing in one of the warm dipping tubs on the far side of the pool and dreamily observing dusk settling over the steep, densely forested limestone hills surrounding the Banjaran.

Caves with Japanese Graffiti

Wisps of water vapour are swirling over the surface of the pool, which the Japanese Army used as a base for rest and recuperation during World War Two. Graffiti etched into the walls of caves formed during the Paleozoic Era – around 260 million years ago – provides evidence of their occupation. The naturally heated pool and steam caves have something distinctly reminiscent of the onsen baths I’ve visited in Japan.

Nearby Ipoh is renowned for its many Buddhist cave temples. The Banjaran’s caves, meanwhile, are used mainly for wellness activities. I pop into the crystal cave then spend time in the multi-level meditation cave, which provides a place of quietude suited to contemplation. Candle-lit yoga sessions are held here too.

A Subterranean Wine Cellar

Another cave has been converted into an impressive subterranean bar and wine cellar. Jeff’s Cellar is named after the Banjaran’s owner, Jeffrey Cheah, the chairman of the Sunway Group, who stores a collection of his vintage bottles in the subtly lit cave. Stalactites and rock pools mean there’s no need for interior décor beyond wood decking plus, of course, tables and chairs.

Within Jeff’s Cellar I dine on an exquisitely presented tasting menu overseen by Felix Eppisser, who was awarded a Michelin star for his restaurant Spice at the Aparthotel Rigiblick in Zurich, Switzerland. He’s now the culinary director at the Banjaran.

Modern, Healthy Cuisine

“We do Malaysian dishes in a modern, healthy way with organic vegetables and microgreens and salads on the side,” says Felix. Normally meals are served in Pomerol, the open-fronted, thatch-roofed restaurant near the entrance to the resort. “A lot of the ideas come from Malaysia and South-East Asia but with cooking techniques from Europe,” he adds.

His wife deals primarily with the HR side of the business. Felix is also involved in maintenance. The couple moved to the Banjaran from Le Planteur Restaurant and Lounge in Yangon, Myanmar, and are aiming to make this place known as one of the best spa destinations in Asia.

The Banjaran has 25 villas, around half of which have terraces with private pools and enclosed terraces. Those that don’t have pools have waterfront balconies.

Holistic Wellness Programmes

The resort is suited to breaks of couple of days or longer stays, involving wellness programmes lasting from between two days to three weeks.

Dr Rejith Daniel, an Ayurvedic doctor from Kerala, in India, is the Banjaran’s spa director. Guests receive a one-to-one consultation ahead of treatments, even if that’s just a massage.

“We try to advise a healthy routine, combining our treatments, that will be long term,” says Dr Daniel. He gets guests think about their diet and lifestyle and aims to have people adopt new, improved and ultimately sustainable routines. He’s very keen to get people away from blaming the pressures of work for eating badly and maintaining what he terms “an upside down routine.”

I experience the Banjaran Signature Massage, 90 minutes of blissful pummelling by a diminutive masseuse whose hands go work on my head before soothing away knots between my shoulder blades then easing tension in the soles of my feet.

Prior to departing, I join one of the guided walks held each morning on paths leading through the jungle around the resort, which seems well-positioned for achieving the goal of becoming recognised as one of the best on the Asian continent.

Further information

The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat (No. 1, Persiaran Langun Sunway 3, 31150 Ipoh, tel. + 605 210 7777, thebanjaran.com) website has more information about the resort, its facilities and on-site wellness programmes. Guests must be aged 12 and above.

In addition to a naturally heated pool, the Banjaran has a freeform swimming pool, a reflexology pool plus a pool holding a shoal of garra rufa fish. Try dipping your feet for a course of treatment by ‘Dr Fish’. If you can stand the tickling of their nibbling they’ll clear away dead skin from your soles.

For more on the surrounding region and country as a whole, visit the Tourism Malaysia website.

Getting there

Malaysia Airlines flies twice daily, in each direction, between London Heathrow and Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The Banjaran is located on the outskirts of Ipoh, a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. The Cameron Highlands and Penang are both around 1.5 hours by road from the resort.

Jeff's Cellar at the Banjaran Hotspring Retreat near Ipoh, Malaysia.

Jeff’s Cellar at the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat near Ipoh, Malaysia.

A Craghoppers lifestyle travel bag.

Kit review: Craghoppers lifestyle travel bag

The Craghoppers lifestyle travel bag is a multi-pocket, over-the-shoulder, satchel style bag with a canvas exterior and adjustable shoulder strap. It’s suited to everyday use and urban travel.

I got hold of a black version of the bag, using it during a short break in London to free up my pockets, carrying my usual array of on-the-road items, including a notepad and pens, a water bottle, laptop and charger plus a couple of magazines. The bag is large enough to carry a 13” laptop in a padded compartment with a Velcro seal.

The bag’s main compartment has a canvas flap that you can position, using Velcro, to ensure your water bottle remains standing.

The front flap has a zippable compartment within which you’ll find pockets to hold items such as business cards and tickets, plus an elastic strap with the capacity for three pens (am I alone in never setting out without at least two?). A couple of magnets hold the flap against the body of the bag, which you can close more securely by looping a metal hook through a strap.

There’s also a compartment sealable by a magnetic press stud is located on the back of this bag. On its sides you’ll find another couple of pockets, both large enough for a mobile phone. One is zippable and contains a transparent plastic inner section, the other has an elasticated top.

The appearance of this Craghoppers lifestyle travel bag is casual. It offers a practical, affordable alternative to a rucksack.

Further information

Craghoppers, the outdoor clothing company, was founded in Yorkshire in 1965. The brand’s ambassadors include survival expert Bear Grylls, endurance motorcyclist and off-road instructor Tamsin Jones plus evolutionary biologist Freek Vonk.

The company is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, set up to support worker’s rights around the world, and the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA), which promotes protection and respect for wild areas across the European continent.

The Craghoppers lifestyle travel bag (product code CER5057-CH) weights around 820 grams, is 32cm by 30 cm and 10 cm deep, retailing at £35. It is available in dark khaki and black. The Craghoppers site offers an internet price match promise.

Details from the Craghoppers lifestyle travel bag.

Details from the Craghoppers lifestyle travel bag.

Inscription at the Cemetery of the March Fallen (Friedhof der Märzgefallenen) in Berlin, Germany.

Berlin’s Cemetery of the March Revolution

A sailor with a rifle slung over his right shoulder stands under foliage on the edge of the Cemetery of the March Revolution (Der Friedhof der Märzgefallenen) in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district. Like the cemetery as a whole, the bronze sculpture is somewhat hidden yet a monument to tumultuous, formative times in Germany and Europe.

To understand the significance of this place, you need to look back to 1848 then 1918, years that saw unrest, revolution and bloody episodes which shook the established order and whose legacies prove both powerful and open to interpretation.

Burying the 1848 Revolutionaries

On 22nd March 1848 183 civilian bodies were interred in this cemetery with a cross-section of Berlin’s society in attendance, including the likes of Alexander von Humboldt, the explorer and naturalist.

Many of the people laid to rest were killed on barricades, some almost three storeys high, thrown up on the streets of Berlin by people protesting against unbearable economic, social and political conditions and calling for change. Discontent simmered among the inhabitants of a rapidly growing city, whose population had doubled to 400,000 since 1815. Mass demonstrations, buoyed by reports of revolutions in Paris and Vienna, called for liberal and nationalist concessions from Prussia’s King Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

It’s said that a couple of unintentional shots, fired by troops clearing Palace Square (Schlossplatz), sparked the revolution and resulted in the raising of barricades on 18th March 1848. Just a day later 180 protestors and 20 soldiers lay dead. More would succumb to wounds in the days and weeks that followed.

Significantly, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV donned black, red and gold – the colours of the revolutionary flag – when he rode through Berlin on 21st March proclaiming his support of more liberal government and German unification.

Interpreting the ‘People’s Spring’

The ‘People’s Spring’ of 1848 is interpreted as a key stepping stone in the movement towards democracy, liberty and the evolution of national sentiment in a number of European nations. To some, the people buried within the Cemetery of the March Revolution are heroes; martyrs who fought against autocracy and oppression. Some believe their sacrifice contributed to the forging of a collective German consciousness.

On 4th June 1848 Berliners gathered in the cemetery to hear Paul Börner, an activist for democracy, call for the achievements of the revolution to be publicly acknowledged. Nine months later, the first anniversary of the street fighting was marked by the mass laying of wreaths and bouquets in the cemetery, which became a symbolic place of homage.

The politicisation of the Cemetery of the March Revolution resulted in the chief of police forbidding visits on 18 March 1850 and it being closed in 1856. Five years later, following protests from bereaved family members, it was re-opened but speeches were not permitted here until the German Empire collapsed at the end of World War One (1918).

The Revolution of 1918

From November 1918 soldiers and workers took the streets of Berlin and, once again, violence and revolution resulted in death. Thirty-three of the revolutionaries of 1918 and 1919 are also buried in the cemetery, whose story is told on a rotunda of display boards and within a converted shipping container.

Over the past century the cemetery’s fortunes have waxed and waned according to changes in political regimes. The National Socialists neglected the cemetery while the Socialist Unity Party, who controlled the eastern sector of Germany after World War Two, erected a stone memorial in 1948 to commemorate the centenary of the 1848 revolution. The monument honours the people who died to be “united and free” and 18th March 1948 was declared a state holiday.

Also, during the era of the German Democratic Republic, the significance of the November Revolution was celebrated. In 1961 Red Sailor, by Hans Kies, was unveiled, depicting a participant of the November Revolution of 1918.

A National Memorial?

Calls are now being made for the cemetery to be recognised as a national memorial, a place marking the spirit of ’48. I stand reading the names and inscriptions on the headstones – those of the likes of Wilhelm Krause and Gustav von Lenski – contemplating if their deaths really did help bring liberties we now take for granted.

A school group arrives, breaking the silence with laughter and chatter. The teacher begins talking and the kids start to listen. They hear how this is the most significant location in the former kingdom of Prussia to be associated with the 1848 revolution. I decide to push on and explore more of Germany’s capital.

Further information

The Cemetery of the March Revolution is located within Berlin’s first public park, the Volkspark Friedrichshain. Learn more via the friedhof-der-maerzgefallenen.de website (only in German).

Learn more about the city’s attractions on the Visit Berlin and Germany Tourism websites.

Getting there

Get off tram M5 (travelling to Zingster Strasse) or M6 (towards Riesaer Strasse) at the Klinikum im Friedrichshain stop. Bus 142 stops at Platz der Vereinten Nationen.

Where to stay

Staying at 4-star Hotel NH Berlin Alexanderplatz (Landsberger Allee 26-32, 10249 Berlin, tel. +49 (0) 30 4226130) places you across the street from the Volkspark Friedrichshain. The smart hotel has a wellness area with a sauna and steam room, meeting facilities, a lobby bar plus a restaurant serving tapas and Mediterranean cuisine.

Inscription on the memorial erected in 1948 at the Cemetery of the March Fallen (Friedhof der Märzgefallenen) in Berlin, Germany.

Inscription on the memorial erected in 1948 at the Cemetery of the March Revolution (Friedhof der Märzgefallenen) in Berlin, Germany.

Saddle of rabbit wrapped in pancetta, braised leeks, linguine, black truffle and jus au naturel at Angelus restaurant in London, England.

Angelus French restaurant and lounge, London

“Can I offer you a glass of Champagne, or maybe red wine?” asks Thierry Tomasin once I’ve settled at a corner table in his restaurant, Angelus, a couple of minutes’ walk from Lancaster Gate tube station in central London.

When I choose sparkling water he looks somewhat nonplussed. Sheepishly, I mention I’m normally a fan of red wines. He reminds me I’m here to enjoy myself and suggests a glass of slightly peppery red wine, based on syrah grapes. He’s forthright yet charming; I’ll give the wine a go.

After all, Thierry knows a thing or two about wine. He was the head sommelier at Le Gavroche then restaurant manager at Aubergine. In 1996, aged 26, he became the youngest person to be distinguished as a Master of Culinary Arts by the Academy of Culinary Arts and has served as chairman of Britain’s Association of Sommeliers.

French Style, English Substance

The vibe here, for lunch, is refined yet relaxed. The walls bear Art Nouveau paintings and mirrors with sweeping frames. I sink back into a comfy, burgundy coloured, leather banquette and take in the restaurant’s innate Frenchness. Dark wood conveys atmosphere and warmth, hinting at the premises previous incarnation as a pub; one which Winston Churchill visited long before Angelus opened on 22 August 2007.

Angelus’s lunchtime menu looks good value but, instead, I’m tempted by the à la carte options. The latter features duck liver crème brûlée, served with caramelised almonds, poppy seeds plus toasted prune and Armagnac bread; the closest Angelus comes to a signature dish and one of the starters. I’m in a French restaurant and find it impossible to look beyond the pan-fried Aylesbury farm snails, Dorset black garlic, crisply grilled baby beetroots, chicken wing confit and fried frogs legs served in breadcrumbs. It’s practically France on a plate and delicious.

Pan-fried Aylesbury farm snails, Dorset black garlic, grilled baby beetroots, confit chicken wings and fried frogs legs, served at Angelus.

Pan-fried Aylesbury farm snails, Dorset black garlic, grilled baby beetroots, confit chicken wings and fried frogs legs, served at Angelus.

Seasonal À La Carte Menus

The à la carte menus are seasonal, changing every six weeks or so. For my main course the Wagyu beef fillet appeals, yet so too does the Pyrenean lamb. After dithering, I decide on the saddle of rabbit wrapped in pancetta served with braised leeks, linguine plus a hint of black truffle and jus. It’s satisfyingly big on flavour. The meat is gorgeously tender while the pancetta adds a delicate crispness.

I’m no longer hungry but the flavours and careful presentation of the two dishes I’ve chosen so far have persuaded me it’ll be worthwhile staying on for a dessert. What’s more, I’m enjoying watching the charming, sassy manner with which Thierry and his colleague Olivier interact with guests. The Black Forest gateau strikes me as a tad too Teutonic and I’m won over by prune d’Agen soufflé served with rum and raisin ice cream, which is worth the inevitable wait.

Talking to Thierry Tomasin

After dining I take a look downstairs in the private dining room, which offers a view into the glass-fronted wine cellar stocking a number of notable vintages. I then ask Thierry for a chat in the lounge, at the back of Angelus, where an array of empty wine bottles from leading chateaux add to the décor.

“I’m not doing anything here, I’m just coming and enjoying myself and my life…I’m not a waiter or whatever; I’m just a salesman of pleasure. People come here to have a good time. I think they should forget the mobile phone for 30 minutes, two hours, five hours or whatever. People should enjoy the good food or a glass of wine and c’est la vie; that’s how it should be,” he enthuses.

“Instead of going to France come to Angelus! You’re in the middle of London, not Parisian je ne se quoi but more south of France. Voilà. We’re open all day long. That, to me, is what it’s all about. If you fancy something to eat at ten in the morning or eleven at night, or three in the afternoon – a coffee, a glass of wine, ten course or just an egg Benedict – then welcome to us, seven days a week,” he says with conviction.

Chic, Fresh and Informal

“I loved to bits what I did before; 12 years at Le Gavroche and five years at Aubergine. But I wanted to do something less formal but still chic and serving fresh produce. Most importantly, you can have whatever you want, spend however much you want and dress the way you like” he says, of Angelus.

Thierry likes to offer wine that’s value for money but adds, “I‘m not in the Salvation Army, I’m in business. However, I want people to drink wine and not charge a ridiculous amount of money. Consumers have access to the internet and they know the prices of the wine. I want them coming to Angelus and enjoying themselves and then to buy the same wine, probably cheaper, and drink it at home.”

A native of Toulouse, Thierry has lived in the UK for 25 years and loves the country but is critical of high rate of value added tax (20 per cent) on wine in served in restaurants, which he sees as a disincentive to drinking it.

Sex in a Glass

“Of course I have my favourite. However, as a professional it wouldn’t be fair to say if I like a region or country; it might not be the taste of my customer and the most important to me is my customer. However, I love Burgundy. Burgundy, I think, is sex in a glass. But that’s just my taste,” he says with a smile.

“85 per cent of the wine list is French because our identity is French, with French cooking but British produce. I don’t know why we should go abroad and buy when we have absolutely fantastic produce on our doorstep. We know where we’re coming from. We don’t pretend to be the best restaurant in the world. We serve fresh food and try as much as we can to make you happy, so that you have a smile on your face when you open the door to go, so that you say ‘I can’t wait to come back.’”

“You can come and have whatever you like with whoever you want; we don’t see, we don’t hear. It can be pleasure, it can be business, it can be seven days a week. Just come and relax…Chill out, have a nice bottle of wine and a good laugh… voilà,” he says effusively.

To see Thierry at work, as much as the food, is a reason to book a table at Angelus.

Further information

Angelus is at 4 Bathurst Street, London, W2 2SD. Reserve online or by calling +44 (0) 20 7402 0083. Outdoor seating is an option in fine weather and cocktails are served in the lounge. The restaurant’s chef’s table seats up to six guests.

The set lunch at Angelus is served from noon until 6pm, seven days a week. Two courses cost £22 while three are £27, including coffee, tea, infusions and petits fours. The menu changes weekly, on Wednesdays.

Thierry Tomasin, the owner of Angelus restaurant in London, England.

Thierry Tomasin, the owner of Angelus restaurant in London, England.

Tickets from the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.

The Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb

What would you do if you were in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and, by chance, found yourself booked into the same hotel as your ex? Would heading to the Museum of Broken Relationships be an option?

That’s precisely what I suggested when faced with just such a potentially prickly situation. To my surprise, the idea, floated over coffee, proved favourable and we ended up heading to the museum. Hardly a date but an arranged outing; the first together in over six years. (Not that I’ve been counting the days, I hasten to add…just in case you’re surreptitiously following this blog, my former dear.)

Objects Displayed with a Story

Like so many inspired creations, the idea behind the museum is simple. People were asked to donate an object relating to a failed relationship, tell its story and provide information as to the duration of their relationship. Items as diverse as garden gnomes, underwear and axes are exhibited anonymously, along with an explanatory story, in both English and Croatian, running to a few paragraphs in length.

Some of the tales are humorous, others seethe with underlying anger or hint at enduring emotional scars. There are those I could easily relate to, while some struck me as banal. But who are we to judge others? Some of the stories leave little doubt as to why the relationship terminated.

What Item Would You Donate?

Visiting with the ex proved surprisingly therapeutic, at one point leading us to discuss the demise of our relationship; a robust debate that fellow museum visitors might have interpreted as some kind of live installation.

We talked at length about which objects we would donate to the museum and how we’d tell our story. That’s something, in fact, that people around the world are invited to do via the museum’s website.

Not all of the stories and artefacts on show stem from romantic relationships; those between estranged or abandoned family members and erstwhile friends are also represented. Some of the tales really do make you think and convey raw emotion.

It’s All Over Now

Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić came up with the concept of the Museum of Broken Relationships, which originated as a travelling exhibition. Over time the collection has grown and part of it remains on tour. It’s visited locations as diverse as Singapore, Taipei, San Francisco, Mexico City and London in recent years.

Make no mistake about it, this is a thought-provoking place. In 2011, at the European Museum of the Year awards ceremony in Bremerhaven, Germany, the Museum of Broken Relationships was presented with the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum.

So what, you may be wondering, did my ex think about visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships together? Is it something she’d recommend to other former couples?

“I suppose it shows that both people appreciate each other, for being an important person in their lives. Being able to laugh about the past is necessary to establish a creative relationship and also a sign that it’s matured through transformation,” was the answer.

On that note I’m off to dig out an item that you may one day see in Zagreb.

Further information

Take a look at the Museum of Broken Relationships website for up-to-date information regarding opening times, admission fees and where the touring exhibition is on display at present. The museum, which houses a shop and café, is located at Ćirilometodska 2, within the Kulmer Palace, in Zagreb’s attractive Upper Town.

See the Zagreb Tourist Board website for more information about the city and view the Croatian National Tourism Board for details of attractions beyond the capital.

A sign at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.

A sign at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.

Rembrant on the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum beyond The Night Watch

Rembrandt’s The Night Watch painting is by far the most popular item in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. My favourite exhibit is less of a draw and doesn’t even make the pages of the museum’s 250 Highlights book.

Don’t get me wrong, I am one of the many people impressed by the famous group portrait of Amsterdam’s arquebusiers’ guild, in which sash wearing officers – Captain Frans Bannick Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch – stand in the foreground.

The painting measures a whopping 4.53 by 3.79 metres but was even larger when Rembrandt finished work on it, back in 1642. When the picture was moved to Amsterdam’s town hall, in 1715, it was simply too large to be displayed on the available wall space, so The Night Watch was trimmed. That might sound unthinkable today, criminal even, but sections were actually cut away from Rembrandt’s masterpiece.

The Dutch Golden Age

As you wander into the Gallery of Honour, on the second floor of the Rijksmuseum, it’s hard not to be impressed by the golden aura surrounding The Night Watch like the halo of a saint in some medieval altarpiece. (If you’re not sure about my simile take a look at the museum’s extensive collection of religious artwork, dating from the 12th century through to the Renaissance.) The Night Watch draws your gaze from beneath an arched portal as you enter the grand hall containing dozens of oil paintings dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, the Netherland’s Golden Age.

With over 800 years of artworks and historical artefacts on display – including paintings by Vincent van Gogh and a biplane dating from 1918, the oldest airplane in the Netherlands – you may well wonder why I find seven woolly hats so fascinating. Yes, my favourite exhibit in the Rijksmuseum features wool caps within a glass cabinet. Wander along to gallery 2.9, The Netherlands Overseas, if you want to see them.

The Dutch on Spitsbergen

They’re not, as far as I’m aware, made of exquisite merino wool and are by no means pristine. In fact, some of the headgear in question is heavily darned and was once worn by fishermen – or whalers to be precise – working on Spitsbergen. The men whose heads they once kept warm were active in the Northern Company’s Smeerenburg settlement, harvesting oil from the blubber of whales.

Did the oil they produced help light an artist’s studio? Did the viscous fruit of their labour illuminate offices managing the trade of goods with colonies in the East Indies? Did captains of one of the world’s great sea empires view their charts at night thanks to the efforts of the whalers in Spitsbergen?

Cornelis de Man’s Painting

Cornelis de Man’s oil painting of life at the Smeerenburg whaling station hangs above the glass cabinet. The work dates from 1639. The icy, jagged mountains that prompted the Dutch to name Spitsbergen so are visible across the bay in which sailing ships lie at anchor. On the shoreline a whale is being cut into strips while men work at ovens, rendering down the blubber into vats while smoke spews from brick chimneys.

Gentlemen in broad brimmed hats – not dissimilar to those worn by the officers in The Night Watch – stand chatting in the foreground of the painting, wearing knee-length leather boots with cavalier-like flaps. The painting shows a fair day; the weather is calm.

I wonder if the men who wore the woolly hats displayed in the cabinet below would say the painting is romanticised? The reality is that life at Smeerenburg was harsh. The station was abandoned in 1657.

Excavating Graves on Spitzbergen

In 1980 archaeologists excavated the graves of 185 Dutch whalers and found the wool caps now displayed in the Rijksmuseum close to the skeletons. Each of the caps was different. The archaeologists surmised that the sub-zero temperatures of Spitzbergen forced the whalers to wear many layers of clothing and, by necessity, only their eyes would remain exposed.

One of the caps has a rim, reminding me of the shape of a boat. Another is speckled orange, heavily patched and bears a bobble; due its narrow, elongated shape it reminds me, anachronistically, of the headwear worn in the first series of Blackadder. A striped blue and beige cap has a felt-like appearance. One has with a lump missing from its patterned rim; of course, that’s unlikely to stem from a polar bear’s bite but perhaps it originated from a work-related accident or simply from years of wear and tear?

The hats allowed the men to identify each other, hence their unique designs. The names of their wearers are not displayed, suggesting they were forgotten centuries ago.

Perhaps, on an Amsterdam street during the Dutch Golden Age, some of those men who worked in Smeerenburg passed by Rembrandt and the guild members he depicted in The Night Watch?

Further information

See the Rijksmuseum website for information about exhibitions, entry prices and opening times. You can purchase tickets online and print them at home. The Rijksmuseum opened in 1885 and, following major modernisation and renovation, reopened in April 2013.

Information about the Rijksmuseum, plus a number of other attractions, is also available on the Amsterdam and Holland tourist information websites.

Painters from the Dutch Golden Age depicted on the wall of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Painters from the Dutch Golden Age depicted on the wall of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The Stockholm waterfront on a Friday night.

A taste of nightlife in Stockholm, Sweden

It’s Friday night and the lights are low. I’m in downtown Stockholm and, following a visit to the Abba Museum, looking out for a place to go.

Sound familiar?

Sweden, like Scandinavia as a whole, once had the reputation for being a prohibitively expensive place for a night on the town. Years ago I remember a fella who’d just returned from a business trip bemoaning “they charge you a tenner a pint!” in an outraged tone. I’d wager, though, that nobody forced him into a bar.

Times have changed. Going out in the UK has become markedly more expensive in recent years, so perhaps we don’t mind paying a little more when exploring the nightlife in far flung, foreign lands? Also, based upon my research over the first weekend in February 2015, a beer in a popular city centre bar in downtown Stockholm now costs nothing near a tenner. I paid between 56 (around £4.30) and 77 crowns (£5.90) a drink.

Rather than going online for tips on where to experience Stockholm’s nightlife, I undertook my research on the ground. The concierge at Berns Hotel provided helpful pointers, suggesting Nosh and Chow (Norrlandsgatan 24, tel. +46 (0)8 5033 8960) and the Grand Escalier (Sturegallerian 4, tel. +46 (0)8 5194 2272) as potential starting points.

The Sturegallerian Shopping Mall

While on the lookout for the latter, within a smart Stockholm shopping mall, I stumbled upon Tures Brasserie and Bar (Sturegallerian 10, tel. +46 (0)8 611 0210). This stylish bar is located under an arched atrium ceiling, has leather-backed booths and an inviting atmosphere. It buzzes with the conversations of well-dressed locals meeting for post-work drinks. It’s a fine spot to stop for a cocktail or an early evening beer.

Grand Escalier is up on the first floor of the mall. People were standing shoulder to shoulder by the time I arrived and queuing two deep by the bar. I observed as an earnest looking cocktail waiter prepared drinks with entertaining verve. A handful of local beers are served on draught, so I selected a glass of Norrlands Guld.

Heading out onto the terrace I noted the bar outside was serving drinks. However, on a chilled winter night I preferred cosy indoor spot by the fireside. Grand Escalier really is a popular meeting place so arrive early if you want a seat.

Established as a Beerhall

Downstairs I ventured into Sturehof (Stureplan 2, tel. +46 (0)8 440 5730) which opened as a German style beerhall in 1897. The restaurant serves a range of traditional Swedish dishes but I headed into bar and ordered a beer from one of the uniformed staff.

Sturehof has a timeless elegance and is a good place for people watching. The tiled bar has a marble ledge for drinks and a hip vibe, thanks in part to the work of the DJ. Out on the heated terrace, I stood under a canopy and watched life unfold on Birger Jarlsgatan, one of Stockholm’s main thoroughfares.

An Elk or a Moose?

My last port of call, prior to returning to my hotel, was Broken (Kungsgatan 18, tel. +46 (0)8 5451 0633) a vast, multi-room bar-restaurant. What I took to be an elk stood motionless on the bar, towering over me as I ordered my drink (Really. I swear that my powers of observation were still intact). For good measure one of his antler-bearing forest buddies stared out from the white-tiled wall.

While at Broken a couple of locals suggested I should take a look at the Café Opera (Karl XII’s torg, tel. +46 (0)8 676 5807) nightclub. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Maybe next time?

Clubbing Through the Night

On returning to Berns I requested a VIP wristband from the concierge. Any guest booking direct with the hotel can make use of the VIP bands, which provide priority access to a number of Stockholm’s leading clubs.

The club within Berns cellar is named 2.35:1, after the video format that was once screened here. Artwork is now displayed on the walls, changing every couple of months. If you want to take a good look around, then arrive before 1.00am, when the club starts to become busy. Alternatively stay until closing time, at 5.00am.

Alas, I’m not a dancer. The elk atop of the bar in Broken may well have moved with more fluidity than I did on 2.35:1’s dancefloor, despite the best efforts of the guest DJ.

Returning to my room after a night out has rarely been as easy. No long walk. No need for a taxi. All I needed to do was call the lift in the lobby and head upstairs, taking with me positive impressions of Stockholm’s nightlife.

Further information

Berns (Nächströmgatan 8, tel. +46 (0)8 5663 2200) is a boutique hotel with two restaurants, a bar, a concert hall and a nightclub. The VIP wristbands also provide priority access to Ambassadeur, Hell’s Kitchen, Sturecompagniet, The Spy Bar and The White Room.

Abba The Museum (Djurgårdsvägen 68, +46 (0)8 1213 2860) is an interactive attraction telling the story of the Swedish pop group. It is located within the same building as the Swedish Music Hall of Fame.

Find out more about the Swedish capital via the Visit Stockholm website.

Getting there

Direct flights between London and Stockholm take around 2 hours 30 minutes.

Berns Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden.

The facade of Berns in Stockholm, Sweden.