Simon Calder: Twenty years on - proof in the Pudding Shop
Saturday 14 November 2009
The Pudding Shop is a rare geo-cultural travel icon. Its location at the heart of Old Istanbul, together with the indulgent attitude of the staff towards long-haired, impecunious Western scruffs, helped it become the information exchange at the heart of the backpacker revolution.
Those who were serious about the Hippie Trail to Afghanistan, India and Nepal could pick up information, Volkswagen vans and, I dare say, mind-adjusting substances from travellers arriving from Asia, a 20-minute boat ride across the Bosphorus.
I first visited the restaurant that stands across the road from the magnificent bulk of the Aya Sofia in 1989. I was researching the prototype for our city-break series, 48 Hours. By then, the last hippie had faded away, but I was happy to recommend the Pudding Shop, not least because at the time, there were few places to eat in the historic centre.
The story had, I assumed, long been consigned to the recycling bin, where it belongs. Yet when I returned to Turkey's largest city to research the 20th-anniversary "48 Hours in Istanbul", I revisited the Pudding Shop – and discovered a framed copy of the article on the wall. A quote from it, along with the date of publication, appears on every place mat. Now, what I know about marketing can be written on a very small place mat indeed, but I imagine some prospective visitors will infer that no one has had a good word to say for the Pudding Shop since 1989.
Since the staff are unfailingly charming, the hours are long and the menu still includes the curious savoury-sweet combo called tavuk gogsu, the Pudding Shop remains my recommendation for "Out to Brunch". And the management is welcome to refresh the quote , rather than making it appear that the restaurant's glory days ended 20 years ago.
A village located on a road to nowhere – well, the B1191 to Horncastle – has an equally curious approach to self-publicity. Woodhall Spa has a vast amount going for it. In the 19th century, this central Lincolnshire village became a classic Victorian spa, celebrated for its "bromo-iodine waters". In the 1920s, a concert pavilion concealed in forest to the north of the village was converted into the Kinema in the Woods, still the local cinema: 2012 opened there last night.
The village hosted the RAF's 617 Squadron, better known as the Dambusters. The Petwood Hotel on the outskirts of town was the officers' mess, and plenty of Second World War memorabilia remains on show. Today, Woodhall Spa is home to the National Golf Centre, and heaven for cyclists: it straddles Route 1 of the National Cycle Network and offers hill-free rides alongside the river Witham to Boston and Lincoln.
None of this, though, is evident to the passing motorist, who is likely to conclude from the "welcome" sign at the, er, city limits that 48 seconds is about the right length of time to spend here. The notice informs you Woodhall Spa is twinned with Roézé-sur-Sarthe, a village near Le Mans that lacks the cachet of, say, Rio or Istanbul.
The sign also boasts, at least to that part of mankind straying along the B1191 or the village's other superhighway, the B1192, of the title "Best Kept Village" in 1989 and 1998. It does not reveal if that superlative was earned against competition from Lincolnshire, or the whole planet. But it invites the conclusion that, for the past 11 years, life in Woodhall Spa has been all downhill.
Watch your way around the world
Since the concept of prescribing 48 Hours of exploration in a great city was first unveiled in The Independent in 1989, we have tried to improve the offering. What began as half a broadsheet page with a single black-and-white photo has become a full-colour double-page spread together with a map (we have also tried to feel flattered rather than miffed when competitors have copied the concept and its title).
If it works in print, perhaps it could work on the screen: that's what we began to test out three years ago, and this week the pioneering television series of "48 Hours In..." is broadcast on Travel Channel. The first episode, on Tuesday 17 November at 9pm, features Rio. Other cities in the six-part series include Singapore, San Diego, Bergen, Zaragoza and London (but not Woodhall Spa).
Travel Channel is on Sky 251 and 252 in the UK; the films are also available online, starting with independent.co.uk/rio.
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