We don’t really “do” brunch or breakfast out in Britain the same way they do in America and Australia – I blame the climate, and of course some folks just aren’t morning people.

But things are changing, certainly in London, led to a large degree by a bunch of Aussies and Kiwis who’ve opened up cafes with more than just a hint of Melbourne and Wellington about them, which is no bad thing – think avocado and Vegemite, rather than baked beans and HP.

So if you’re visiting the capital and fancy an early morning treat with an added dose of g’day and a flat white, here are five of my recommendations.

Lantana (and Salvation Jane)

Lantana interior

Tucked down a lane not far from Tottenham Court Road, Lantana works well on several different levels – in winter it’s supremely cosy, while in summer it manages to be light and airy, and there are a few tables outside. If there’s a downside it’s that it’s small and gets busy quickly, but fear not – Salvation Jane, near Old St tube, is its sister and opened this month offering a very similar menu and atmosphere but with heaps more space. If you’re feeling healthy there’s warm poached fruit with Greek yoghurt and crushed pistachios for example, while at the “oh sod it” end of the scale you’ve got maple French toast with crisp bacon, grilled bananas and candied pecans.

Brunswick House Cafe

Inside Brunswick House Cafe

Brunswick House Cafe is the odd one out, being (I believe) the only one of the five that doesn’t have a direct Aussie connection. It’s in an odd spot, near the horrid roundabout system just in front of Vauxhall station’s bus depot (ah, the views!)  but it’s only a quick whizz down the Victoria Line and once you get there you’ll agree there’s no more eclectic place for breakfast in London. Basically, it’s like being a large village hall which is having a jumble sale, as you can see from the photo above.


Caravan, Exmouth Market

Hop on the 38 or 19 bus from the centre of town because Caravan, at the end of Exmouth Market isn’t really near a tube unless you want a long’ish stroll from Angel or Farringdon. When I went for brunch on a Sunday morning, I got there for opening at 10am and by 10.10 every table was full and people were waiting. Coffee is roasted on site, service pleasant and dishes on the right side of decadent – if you don’t want to push the boat out, you may as well stay home in your jim jams with a bowl of Weetabix. If you do want to vaguely kid yourself that you’re being healthy go for the banana caramel porridge with cream (concentrate on the words “banana” and “porridge”) or smokey black pudding, maple roast apples, fried egg and toast perhaps with a side of slow-roasted tomatoes. Yum.

Workshop Coffee Company

Workshop Coffee, when it was stil St Ali

Until a few month’s ago, Workshop was called St Ali, a London branch of a Melbourne coffee shop. Maybe the name change is something legal? Anyhow, this Clerkenwell spot is always busy with people just popping in for a flat white (they roast on site) or staying for something more substantial.  It’s open for brekkie and brunch every day from 7am. Toasted banana bread, date and orange jam and espresso mascarpone sounds good to me. Or how about corn fritters, baby spinach, grilled haloumi, kasundi** and poached eggs? (A quick google suggests ** that’s some kind of Indian-style mustard).

Granger & Co

Bill's happy because he's just had a ricotta hotcake

Bills in Sydney is a yummy-mummy’tastic brunch institution but unfortunately when Bill Granger wanted to open in London, someone else had already got there with the name Bill’s, so instead it’s Granger & Co (are you still with me?), located in the equally yummy-mummy tastic Notting Hill / Westbourne Grove area.  But let me save you some time here because there is only one thing you should have from the menu. Not that the rest of the offerings aren’t any good, just that the ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter are the stuff of absolute legend. Seriously, you and your elasticated trousers will thank me.

If, for whatever reason none of those take your fancy then honourable mentions go to the Wolseley (THE place to go for that crucial first meeting with potential future in-laws or to impress out-of-town business clients, but do book well ahead);  Dishoom (a Bombay-style cafe near Covent Garden / Leicester Square, and always easy to get a table in. The chai alone is worth it, not to mention the bacon naan. Word on the street is that a second location in Shoreditch may well be on the cards); Bills in Islington (as mentioned, nothing to do with Mr Granger – in fact this mini chain started out in Brighton; the better-known London branch is near Covent Garden but I have been to that one several times and found the service off hand at best – this spot near Angel tube is much friendlier);  Kopapa (also near Covent Garden and with the added bonus that you can book a table for weekend brunch – always a plus in this busy part of town); Kaffeine (really nice little spot tucked away near Oxford Street and with more than a hint of friendly Melbourne cafe) and Riding House Cafe (actually, almost opposite Kaffeine, but bigger and more corporate – like Kopapa, it has the advantage of taking bookings for weekend brunch).

Now, go eat, people!




Apparently it’s May outside but this month is doing a pretty good job of impersonating early March.

If you want to get away but can’t afford even a one way on Ryanair to Prestwick, it’s time to holiday at your desk through YouTube.

Thinking about having a holiday in the USA, for example? Could Roseanne Cash tempt you? The American songstress has just been drafted in by the newly-created “Brand USA” team to croon along to some rather stirring visual images.

Strange, though, how there’s no mention of two-hour queues to go through immigration at JFK, Chicago or Los Angeles, although with the current border control fiasco at Heathrow, I probably shouldn’t be throwing stones in glass terminals.

Personally, my favourite travel advert of all time is actually for TVs. This spot below, with melody by the unswedish sounding Swede Jose Gonsales, is actually for Sony televisions – it definitely wouldn’t make me buy one, but the stunning visuals would encourage me to hop on a plane to San Francisco asap.

And then there’s the 2003 (has it really been 9 years?!?!?!) “So where the bloody hell are you?” Tourism Australia campaign which raised plenty of smiles.  With only 1.5 Aussie dollars to the pound at the moment (down from 2.3 a few years ago) where the bloody hell we are is quite frankly anywhere but Australia unfortunately.

As for tourism tag lines, the clear recent winner has to be Colombia. Realising that the negative international perception of their country is in total contrast to the fact that the vast majority of visitors return home praising the South American country to the skies, they came up with “The only danger is wanting to stay”. (If you ignore the rather cheesy voice-over). Genius. Now if only they could Roseanne Cash to sing about it.

A recent stealth entry that’s slipped under the radar is this rather catchy number from the Philippines, where apparently life’s more fun.

Lastly, I always thought this was a great ad by Virgin Atlantic. For all you of out there who dreamed of telling the boss where to stick it where the sun don’t shine and fleeing to the West Indies.

I have a fantastic job – the bottom line is that I get paid to go on holiday. What’s not to love about that?

But, being freelance, you have to generate your own work (not to mention chase payment when it mysteriously gets forgotten – I’d say 3 months is the average for getting paid after submitting an invoice and 6 months certainly not uncommon) and maintain relationships with various people, the most important of whom is your editor. And that can sometimes be ‘fun’.

This article below, by American writer William Georgiades about his experience penning a piece for Conde Nast Traveler in the States has always made me laugh. It is taken from the website www.mediabistro.com

“Isn’t sexuality just weird?”

I open my mouth automatically because my impeccable manners have taught me that when someone speaks and then stops speaking, I am supposed to respond. I do this too often. Someone makes a statement, I open my mouth, and then the words won’t come. I sit there with my mouth open, lips twitching as if they are about to mouth a response, as if I am weighing my words carefully, as if I am flipping through a Rolodex of bon mots. But there is nothing there. Nothing.

“Yes,” I say finally after about twenty seconds. “Yes, yes, yes. Sexuality is so weird.” I give the last sentence an upward lilt, just like she did, as if I am a Valley girl who has spent a lot of time in Center Moriches.

I am wearing a Kilgour French Stanbury tailored suit, light grey. The suit is worth $3,000 and is one of the last remnants of items I received for free after writing a puff piece about the Savile Row tailor. It feels wonderful, this suit, though it was made for a plumper, more prosperous version of myself. Occasionally, I will receive a call from an editor and they will offer me lunch. I will put on my suit and walk forty blocks uptown and we will both behave as if I am not sitting there with a begging bowl.

So, yes. I’m dressed for success and nodding incoherently at this woman who has the power to give me work. She is a Conde Nast editor for a travel magazine and the lunch is going badly in the sense that a good lunch with one of these people means you leave with the assurance of a contract, a bad lunch becomes conversational like this, and a meandering conversation with a Conde Nast editor is never too good for anyone.

There is a lull in the conversation, while she ferries pieces of raw fish into her mouth with chopsticks. I look at her carefully. She is 36 years old, I know, from the last man who slept with her. Her hair is in pigtails and she is wearing shiny black trousers, a short skirt over those trousers and a tight top that emphasizes her stomach, which is flat and fit.

“Bhutan,” I say. It’s a non sequitur.

Sexuality is weird. Silence. Bhutan.

The meal is winding down and we’ve yet to discuss work—the reason I am here.

I’ve suggested this piece about Bhutan before, as well as a story about the mountains of western Greece and both have been rejected—courteously, reassuringly, understandingly even, because they are, in a word, too hilly. “We’ve been doing a lot of mountainous, hilly work lately. We’re looking more for flatter stories. Do you have any flat ideas?”

I do, in the end, (after much nodding about mutual friends) leave with a promise to publish a piece about a small village in Greece which, while technically a hill town, is also a traditional Greek village and I can concentrate on a hotel that was built there recently. 1,200 words, front of the book, she says.

We part in the light spring rain which will be a downpour by the time I walk forty blocks downtown which will put the suit out of action until I can afford the dry cleaner. She kisses the space that dangles a quarter inch away from my right cheek, and I put my lips on her left cheek—my too full lips—and I leave an imprint of gum disease and tooth decay and raw fish residue on her left cheek, inches away from one of her pigtails. She hands me a manila envelope containing the latest issue of her magazine. “It hasn’t even come out yet,” she says excitedly, and mentions a feature she wrote about a celebrity I have never heard of.

“Can’t wait,” I say.

Without asking her, I know that a 1,200 word piece about a hotel in a traditional Greek village means no travel budget, write from memory, and do research. It’s better than nothing, but it isn’t the reason I spent an hour and a half looking at her and mouthing words.

I start writing the story the minute I get home and after two hours it’s finished—a lovely, lilting piece about the Mediterranean and the olive groves, about two Austrians who fell in love with the area and built their dream hotel, about the festivals and the character of the place, about how it’s where Greeks go for their vacations while tourists all flock to the islands. It isn’t writing per se, but it is publishable. There is always a difference. I read it over twice before remembering that I am wearing a wet suit.

The story can’t be sent just yet, because if a story is sent the same day it is assigned, the editor will think the story was already assigned, written, delivered and rejected and is now being recycled. I am not organized enough to be that devious—not anymore—but there’s too much riding on this to be careless. I know that whenever I do send it in, it will sit on her desk for eight weeks until the day before it needs to be readied for publication. Then I will be called by a fact checker, a copy editor and by her, all in a desperate flurry—the urgency of the trivial. So I leave the story alone, let it sit for a week, allow for the contracts to arrive.

Three days later, the contract arrives. $800 for 1,200 words, their lowest pay rate. I sign it, send it back immediately and send the story off. Two weeks later, she calls me.

“Great story,” she says.

“Thank you,” I say. “That means a lot to me.”

“Right, right, the only thing is, well, it reads like a hotel PR release rather than a Conde Nast Traveler story.”

“You think?”

“I know,” she says. “So, I don’t know what we can do with this, unless you change it around to a general piece about the village itself. We can use the details of the hotel as a sidebar to let people know where to stay. If you like.”

“I could do that.” I say, much too enthusiastically.

“Great,” she says. “End of the week would be perfect. Oh, and do you have a lead on any art? No one in the office has ever heard of — what’s it called?”

“Mount Pelion.”

“No one in the office has ever heard of Mount Pelion.” She lingers here for a moment, and I imagine her mind clicking over, wondering if she has been duped, if perhaps there is no Mount Pelion, given that the well-traveled editors of Conde Nast Traveler have never heard of Mount Pelion. Then she says, “So we need some art for this story, do you happen to have any art?”


“Pictures, snapshots, photographs?” She stretches the last word out as if she were speaking to a retarded person.

“No,” I say. “I don’t have any art.” Unfortunately, there aren’t enough syllables in the word “art” to stretch it out and make it sound like you are speaking to a retarded person, but I try. “But I do know a good photographer from the area and I can try to track him down for you if you like.”

“I like.” Click.

And that’s the conversation. I can imagine her with her rows of callbacks, the different colored inks she uses to denote importance of callbacks, the time allotted for our conversation—thirty seconds. A minute has passed.

I write the second version of the story with renewed hope, cutting all references to the hotel, which is pretty much the whole story. I see now that the heart-warming story of the two Austrians building their dream hotel and hosting cultural events year round in the mountains was too limiting, so I close my eyes and remember what I can of the region then open them and start writing. I write about swimming far out into the Mediterranean, about turning on my back and staring at the beach and the olive groves during siesta hour, about the mythology surrounding the place, about the pool where Achilles was dipped, the cave where Aphrodite would lie down with Poseidon, about the cafes and the miles of empty beaches. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, if I do say so myself, and I’m done in two hours. I hold onto it till the end of the week and send it off.

Two weeks later she calls again.

“Hi, yes, hi,” she says. “Great photographs—we really like them. But there’s a problem.”

I know I’m supposed to respond to this but I can’t imagine what problem there could be. Ten seconds of silence pass.

“Listen,” she says. “The story you wrote is very general, you know.”

“So sorry, I thought you wanted a general piece about the Greek village.”

“We did, we did,” she says. But some of my colleagues wonder if there is something we can peg the story to.”

This is a death knell. I’ve used this ruse myself many times, when I was in her position over the phone. An editor’s job is always to say no in the best or most excruciating way possible. Ideally, one can say, oh, we ran that exact story just 19 months ago, so sorry, but great idea; which is invariably the case, as magazines tend to tell the same story on a rotating basis of nineteen months. Or you can say you are not interested and you might be alienating a future Important Person. The last line of defense, however, is to say your colleagues have problems with the story and that a colleague says there is no peg and magazines are nothing without stories that have pegs. Can you imagine a world without pegs?

“But there is a peg,” I say. “A perfect peg, in fact.” Before she can interject, I say, “Have you ever seen a Greek Easter?”

“No…” she says.

“Oh, God, a Greek Easter, especially in this town, is amazing. It’s unchanged for over 600 years. The village priest lights a candle in the church and comes out and lights all the villagers’ candles—thousands of them—and then there are processions and feasts and everyone fires guns and eats meat and drinks and…”

“Sounds fascinating,” she says in a convincingly bored voice. “Really, really wonderful, but unfortunately our April issue is all booked up already, with a special piece on Caribbean hideaways.”

“Your April issue ten and a half months from now is all booked up?” I can’t help myself.

“It’s a theme issue,” she says. “So, so sorry—”

“Actually,” and I draw this word out, cutting her off, “let me ask you, your May issue, a year from now—is that booked up already?”

“Er, no.”

“Perfect, because Greek Easter falls two weeks after our Easter and next year that falls in May, so the peg would fit perfectly in your May issue.”

“Oh, oh,” she says in the distracted manner of one who is already well over her thirty seconds of allotted phone time. We both realize that unless she is simply rude now (in her position, I would have been), the quickest way for her to get off the phone is to say, “fine.”

“Good,” she says. “Excellent, in fact. I’m so glad we finally have something to work on together. End of this week.”

“It’s not running for a year.” But the phone has already gone dead.

I sit down again for two hours and write 1,200 words about the magnificence of a Greek Easter, about the processions and the earnestness of the priests, about how a village of meat-eating heavy drinkers are vegetarian teetotalers for a whole week, about how they go wild at midnight on Good Friday, about how this tradition has gone unchanged for centuries, about how a Greek Easter could teach a New York New Year’s how to celebrate. I add a bit about the hotel at which people should stay, and about how this is the part of Greece Greeks come to for their vacations. I wait until the end of the following week and send it off.

Then I receive a tip. A new editor at the same travel magazine enjoyed some book reviews I did in London. Would I happen to have any ideas for her new section on celebrities and travel? I send a polite note to the new editor immediately, with three story ideas, two of them fluff for the main idea about Francis Coppola’s career as a hotelier in Belize, and specifically his new property by the sea. I receive a call almost immediately, which is more or less unheard of.

Love, love, love your ideas! Where have you been hiding? are the first words I hear. More to the point, there is a promise of a contract and a definitive need for a feature on the Coppola story immediately. Could I possibly go to Belize within the next, oh, three weeks or so, and have a story in a month? I’ll have to check, I say, but probably sooner than that.

“Perfect,” she says. “Just perfect.”

Within an hour another call comes through. The caller ID tells me it’s from the same number at Conde Nast. “Hi there,” I say, as if the editor and I are on a honeymoon.

“Hello,” says the pigtailed editor on the other line. “You know, this is really, really embarrassing. I’ve been pushing your work for over a year now. I’m your editor at this magazine, and when you start sneaking around behind my back—”

“No, it’s a different section and a mutual friend just thought that…”

“You listen to me,” she says. “I’ve already spoken to her about you and about our arrangement.”

“The 1,200 words in a year’s time arrangement?”

“And she’s agreed not to ruffle any feathers here,” she says. “She’s not very experienced. I mean, really, the Coppola hotel story has been done to death already.”

“It’s a brand new hotel,” I protest. “It hasn’t even opened yet. It’s his new hotel, in Placencia, not the one in the rain forest that was in Architectural Digest eight years ago.” Why do I know these things?

“It’s a nothing story and you aren’t going to Belize,” she says. “You have no idea how lucky you are to have an assignment from me. Just write about that Greek village.”

“I turned it in weeks ago.”

“If you ever do something like this again…”

If I’ve learned one thing about women’s hysteria it’s to just apologize, no matter what the circumstance, until they calm down. I imagine the two detectives at my door. “Sir, did you actually contact a Conde Nast editor when you had a contract with another Conde Nast editor?” I imagine trying to respond, being told it’s time to go downtown, being led into a small cage with a slim-hipped frightened Asian man who speaks no English and has no cigarettes. I imagine the large detective looking at me through the bars and shaking his head.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I was just excited about Belize.”

“Okay.” She softened. Just like that. Hell hath no recovery swifter than a woman apologized to. “Send those ideas over to me. You’re my writer, don’t you forget it. I’ll be in touch.”

* * * * *
Nine months pass and she is not in touch. She nods to me at two parties, as if to say, what are you doing here (a question I am asking myself at both occasions). Seated near her at an outdoor summertime dinner party, she regales our neighbors, telling them about this brilliant piece I’m working on for her. I don’t point out that she’s had it for months, that it’s all of 1,200 words, and that she hasn’t responded to the 17 ideas I’ve sent over the past several months. I don’t mention that the enthusiastic editor won’t speak to me anymore, and that our mutual friend tells me I almost cost her her job. Sitting there at that summertime dinner party feeling the crush of success all around me, I look at the pigtailed now-37-year-old editor and think of the glory that will hit newsstands. I smile at her suggestively and she blushes like the young woman she is not.

* * * * *
A few months later, the Conde Nast Traveler editor calls. She calls three times, in fact, in the space of two days—once to say she had never received the rewrite, and if she had, she had mislaid it, and would I send it over again immediately; and once to say she never received a signed contract from me, and if she had, she had mislaid it, and would I fax over the original contract immediately.

The third time:

“Great, great piece,” she trills. “Just lovely. It’s already laid out and I hope you don’t mind, but because it’s in our personal essay section we took a photo of you from Talk and drew a caricature of your face as an illustration.”

“I don’t mind at all,” I say. “But did you get the photos I had the photographer send you?”

“Yes, yes, sorry,” she says. “Those won’t really work for us at all.”


“Because this is for the personal essay section of the magazine, in the Hot Tickets Department, and we never use art for that section—only caricatures of the author. But let me fax you the story and we can go over it later.”


I get the fax from the local copy shop and go over it. The mention of the hotel has been excised completely. Paragraphs have been switched around, as they tend to be, the agonized-over lede and the tender, evocative kicker have both been cut to make room for graphics—but there it is, a full page about that little town and their great celebrations in a big travel magazine.

I call her back. “Looks great,” I say into her machine. “Thank you. It’s been a pleasure working with you. Could you process payment now? Thanks.”

* * * * *
A month later, I go to the local newsstand and I’m about to buy six copies of the magazine but then I open it up and check. The May issue, published in April, the front of the book. I look for the page that had been faxed to me, the odd caricature of my face, the two funny lines that they let me keep in the story, the concession that they allowed me to keep a bare mention of the hotel. It isn’t there. Nothing.

I go home and try not to call. When I’m about done she calls me. “Hi,” she says, quite sweetly.

“Hi,” I say.

“Have you seen the new issue yet?” she asks.

“Oh, it’s out already?” I say. “I had no idea. How does it look?”

“Well, there’s a slight problem. Unfortunately at the last minute our editor cut back our pages and it was either you or A. M. Homes’s piece about the view from her apartment window so, it broke my heart, but we had to cut your story at the last minute. I am so sorry. But,” She says this “but” very, very quickly, before I can say anything, “but I think it’ll hold for a year—you do say the celebrations have been going on for six hundred years so… and of course I’ll make sure you get paid right away. But payment will have to be a kill fee, just in case the story never runs, so that’s 25 percent, and 25 percent of $600…”

“$800,” I pip-squeak.

“Are you sure?” she says. “Odd. Anyway, If you say so, 25 percent of $800 is $200, so you should have that in about two months. So sorry about this.”

“No worries,” I say. “I quite understand.”



William Georgiades

Dear Will

You fly so often, what are your thoughts on lessening the stresses of travel?

Well, funny you should ask…….

Is it worth flying business class?

If your company’s paying, yes. If you are, no. No matter how unpleasant it is to fly down the back, the difference in price between the pointy end and row 99Z will pay for your hotel, car hire and meals. And anyway, people in First and Business are usually fat, boring businessmen – cute people fly economy.

The exception is generally to Australia and New Zealand when the journey is awfully long (as well as longly awful) and on a pence per mile basis, you can often get some decent Business Class deals especially if you go with the “I wouldn’t have thought of them” airlines such as Asiana via Seoul or Etihad via Abu Dhabi.

You could see how much it costs to upgrade to Premium Economy at the airport. I did this recently and it was only £120 from Heathrow to Washington on BA, and I was recently offered an upgrade to LA on Virgin for £300.

What’s the difference between Business Class and First Class?

The level of sucking up from the crew and better seat padding. Businessmen are even podgier and more boring.

What’s the best way to overcome jet lag?

There really is no miracle cure for jet lag, despite travel editors loving to commission frequent articles on the subject.  I like to go for a short jog when I arrive and drink lots of water, but I still end up waking at three in the morning. Don’t force it – if you feel like having a nap at 4pm, do it. And then there’s always Ambien: it’s a prescription-only sleeping pill that is the only thing I’ve ever fond that will knock you out all night but leave no grogginess in the morning.

Should I drink on the flight?

Yes, life’s too short not to. You’ve earned it.  Crack open the Chilean red. Have a glass. Oh go on, have another.

Aisle or window?

There are those who rhapsodise about the time they witnessed sunrise over Mt Kilimanjaro blah blah blah, but for me it’s always aisle. You don’t want to be clambering over some stranger to get out every time especially when they’re fast asleep.

Should I join the airline’s frequent flyer scheme?

Yes, absolutely. If you’re a fairly frequent flyer the benefits start to add up and points make prizes. You will also be higher up the pecking order if they are looking for upgrades. Consider getting an airline-loyalty credit card too for extra points.

Anything extra should I take on board?

(1) A small but sturdy pillow for the small of your back, which economy class seats don’t support very well. Muji do a good one (2) A decent pair of quality, non-plasticy eye shades – if the airline even gives out a pair these days they’ll be pretty cr*ppy quality and make you sweat like a pig (3) Earplugs. Can you hear that small child screaming in row 34? No, us neither. (4) Healthy snacks – almonds and/or raisins are always a winner. (5) Moisturiser. Yes fellas, you too.

Should I pay attention to the inflight safety video?

Yes – the crew are about to give you several hours of their attention, so it’s only polite you give them several minutes of yours. Oh and it could save your life.

Any tips on packing light?

No – I’m totally rubbish and usually look like I’m going away for three weeks even if I’m on a day trip to Milton Keynes. My only advice is travel with someone who has a bigger suitcase, secretly load half your stuff in theirs when they’re not looking, then when unpacking at the other end, feign surprise with “how did all my books / toiletries / shoes get in your case?” Generally works just once.

Should I flirt with the crew?

Yes, absolutely. You could reap untold benefits from free bottles of champagne to upgrades and more.  So flash the pearly-whites and plunge in with “gosh, I just don’t know how you deal with the public day in day out” and away you go.

What’s the best way to fly with children?

Leave them at home with granny and grandpa. You can always toast the little cherubs with a glass of Malbec at the airport.


It’s 20 years ago this week that the conflict in Bosnia & Herzegovina started, which is estimated to have cost the lives of nearly 12,000 residents of its capital Sarajevo.

I went there in August 2008 to attend the annual film festival: W (Will) Hide had been confused with the Times’ film critic W (Wendy) Ide. Oops.

Sarajevo is a fascinating (and totally safe) place to visit for a long weekend break. There are no longer direct flights from London but you can go via Vienna for around £200, it’s easy to book a hotel on the internet and if you want to explore the countryside I’d recommend the excellent Green Visions.

Here is my report from the Times that appeared in May 2009. It was an interesting place to visit, with heaps of history and really great food. The saddest thing though was the locals’ pessimism that attitudes hadn’t really changed and that even a small nationalist spark on any side could fan the flames of hatred again at any moment. Even today, three years after the article appeared, no one side seems to have moved on.

THE call to prayer from the muezzin in the mosque next door woke me at 8pm, just as the setting sun lit up the slate roofs of Sarajevo’s old town, spread out beyond my bedroom window.

I left the courtyard of my guesthouse, walked down the hill, past the supermarket and the little kiosks selling packets of cigarettes at 40p a go.

In front I crossed the small, hump-backed pedestrian bridge over the River Miljacka, directly across from the street corner where, on June 28, 1914, the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife by Gavrilo Princip precipitated the First World War.

On Zelenih Beretki, west of the old cobbled Ottoman district of Bascarsija, crowds were carrying out a local version of a passeggiata — meandering with no particular purpose — in front of the buildings with their Austro-Hungarian façades.

Lovers walked arm in arm, grannies strolled with grandchildren, and teenage girls — some in miniskirts, others in hijab — flirted outside the lively City Pub. A more subdued hubbub came from the terrace of the Cafe Central, which linked the Catholic Cathedral at one end of the street with the Orthodox one on the other.

I was late and couldn’t stop to enjoy the scene as I would have liked, so I carried on for a few hundred metres, handed over my ticket, ducked into what looked like a car park, and plonked myself down in front of a cinema screen with about a thousand others as an advertisement for NATO blared out and bats flew in front of the projector. It was another balmy night at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

The festival began in 1995 when the city was still besieged. The actions of the “aggressor forces” (as one of my tour guides called the Serbian troops), after Bosnia and Herzegovina broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, caused 11,000 civilian deaths in the city. At least 5,000 artillery shells landed on Sarajevo each day.

The Zetra stadium, where Torvill and Dean skated a perfect ten to Ravel’s Bolero in the 1984 Winter Olympics, was smashed. Victims of the shelling buried after dark in case mourners were targeted by snipers.

The scars are still there if you look — from the burnt-out interior of the magnificent National Library (gutted by Serbian shelling at the end of the conflict) to bullet holes in buildings. However, there is a welcoming air about the place.

Sarajevo is an attractive place for a long weekend, there is no better time to visit than August when the entire town is in party mood for the film festival. The pavement cafes, bars and restaurants are at their liveliest, and in the Ottoman quarter the smell of fresh food fills the air.

The peoples of former Yugoslavia may agree on very little these days, but even the most begrudging would accept that Sarajevo does the best cevapi, small sausages served inside pitta-like bread with chopped onions and sometimes cream cheese on the side, washed down with Sarajevsko Pivo beer, and all for the equivalent of about £4.

The restaurant Kod Bibana, a ten-minute drive into the hills, offers views over the city and a plate of fresh ustipci — deep-fried savoury doughnuts served with cream cheese. In the evening, sit by the river opposite the National Library at Inat Kuca restaurant with a glass of wine and some local soup or stew and watch the sun set.

One of the Sarajevo Film Festival’s biggest attractions is the easy access it offers to star producers, directors and actors. Unlike Cannes or Venice, here you’re likely to bump into Kevin Spacey chilling in a caf? off the main pedestrian area or get close to Mike Leigh to ask him about his latest production.

Each evening there are at least two outdoor screenings, which I found as enjoyable for the people-watching as for the movies. The Sarajevans I met were a revelation. I’m not sure what, or who, I was expecting, but it wasn’t this polite, good-looking crowd.

During the day I would hop on one of the trams to visit the large fruit and veg market. I toured the national museum, which showed photos of the siege and contained a mock-up of a typical home 15 years ago, complete with plastic windows, a small gas burner for cooking and UN humanitarian rations.

I also went to the tunnel museum near the airport. During the siege the 800m passage under the runway was the only link to the outside world. Everything from soldiers to goats, cigarettes and food, passed through the tunnel and emerged in a suburban garage out of sight of the Serbian snipers.

“The last thing people here want is your guilt,” I was told by one resident. Still it’s hard not to feel uneasy when so many horrible things happened only a little over a decade ago. However, the film festival is one way that Sarajevo shows the world that it can look to the future without forgetting the past. END