Texas de Brazil – strictly for carnivores

Whatever you do, do not visit this restaurant if you are a vegetarian. For anyone who hasn’t tried it, that’s assuming you like meat and lots of it, this place is a must at least once. It’s become a bit of a tradition when we are in Orlando, partly because it’s actually quite a fun place to go, but also because finding restaurants that you really want to be in is very hard out here. I am sure that if you are a local that’s not the case, but when you are out here for work and you need to find somewhere on the spur of the moment that isn’t stupidly priced or just following a tired formula, it can be quite difficult.

Dining room – Orlando

The way it works is you first serve yourself with your eponymous starter which consists of every imaginable salad that you could ever think of. Although I think the lobster bisque is the thing to go for because first of all it’s very good and secondly the last thing you want to do is to pig out on the starter, because you have the mother of all meat-eating experiences just around the corner. When the starter has been cleared away, you’ll see by your plate there is a little cardboard disc which has a green side and a red side. As long at the green side is visible it tells an endless stream of waiters to keep appearing at your side with sword-like skewers about three feet long loaded with meat which they slice off at the table for you. Straight from the barbecue. You choose what you want and the way it’s been cooked direct from the chef, as it were. The real experience here is the beef, but there’s plenty for those who prefer chicken, pork and lamb. What I like about it is that you can eat a little and often and the guys coming to your table know everything about the meat they are bearing. Then when you feel you’ve had enough, just turn the disc over to the red side and they instantly stop troubling you. After a rest, turn it back to green and they start appearing again.

The wine list is extensive, not cheap of course, but comprehensive. There really is something from everywhere and you can drink an exclusive French bordeaux, and pay accordingly for it, or work your way through a comprehensive list that majors on the States but has good selections as well from other quality wine producing regions like South America and Australia. We always manage to go overboard on the Californian wines, but then that’s part of the fun of experiencing what you might not normally get the chance to experiment with back at home.

The service is excellent as you would expect in a top quality American restaurant. It’s quite pricey with the exchange rate as it is. Forty bucks or so a head without the wine. I forgot to mention the deserts, partly because I’ve never actually lasted that far. But they look overblown and I’m told are nothing to write home about. But you know what? You don’t come here for the pudding. And the value? Well, it’s all about whether the glass is half empty or half full. You can eat just as much as you are able to. So probably on balance that sounds like quite good value.


Orlando – where it was also cold

You always associate Florida and Orlando in particular with being a warm and uncomfortably humid place. Well let me tell you that it isn’t always so. I had some friends from the Orlando area staying last week and they said it was definitely warmer in England. It doesn’t get exactly freezing but it gets to nearly that there, just a couple of degrees above and enough to discourage you from being a smoker. For those that don’t know, you are banned outside to smoke just about anywhere in the States now.

We were staying at the Orlando World Center, a Marriott property (as the Americans like to call them) south of the city and north of International Drive. It’s a strange characterless area with these vast hotel and golf complexes dotted around the Kissimmee area centred on the Disney and Universal tourist attractions. You only realise just how little there is in terms of civilisation out there when you have a room high up and can look out across this vast flat expanse of flood plain, pretty much at sea level having been drained and reclaimed in the 19th century. High rise hotel and resort complexes appear out of the landscape in isolated pockets of development. It’s really quite eery. And the whole place is make believe. From the shopping malls, to the hotel complexes, to the fantasy attractions, it is home to a constantly changing, transient population of tourists, visiting with the sole intent of having fun. As always in life, when that is the sole contrived objective, it never really works. Personally I hate the place. That’s not to say that there aren’t really nice parts of Orlando, where normal people live out their daily lives, just like anywhere else in the world. Well, maybe not quite like anywhere else, but I think you get the point.

To be honest I have only ever done the conference thing in Orlando hotels, so I do not know what it is like as a family holiday destination. But I guess there’s an excitement to any really large hotel if you are there on holiday. More restaurants than you can imagine, pools of every variety and all the usual big hotel amenities. Conferences revolve around massive ballrooms that seat hundreds of people and endless supplies of coffee, carbonated drinks and unhealthy snacks. Like so much in the US it is larger than real life. Alcohol when it’s served invariably comes in disposable plastic containers and outside, where it’s either uncomfortably humid or, as in this case, too cold. But the event must go on regardless.

The bedrooms are tired and don’t feel very clean. I think it’s a visual thing rather than anything else, to do with the dark wood finish and slightly grubby carpets. There’s never anything better than a low level foot bath and the showers are always badly pressured and alternate between being too hot and too cold. Mind you, if you’re taking a shower in what must be nearly a thousand rooms, then I can imagine that’s going to be some kind of plumbing miracle. And of course there’s the inevitable connecting door to an adjoining room, which you could always go to reception and get changed, but you’re in some tower on the umpteenth floor and frankly it took twenty minutes to get there and anyway if you turn on the air-conditioning it will be so noisy that you can’t hear the television properly let alone anything from the next room.

I did go to Disney and Universal once. With some clients. The company insisted I take them over one weekend. After seven hours on the first day at Disney they begged me, please, no more. It was the weak bottled beer and the frozen margaritas that did it I think. There was so much frozen stuff and so little tequila and a chemical green tinge to everything. It sounds a bit like the start of a bad joke, but honestly, there was a Turk from Istanbul, two Nigerians from Lagos, a Pole from London, a South African from Munich and a German, also from Munich. So on the second day I promised them we would only do the really good rides at Universal and then I’d take them for a special treat in the evening. So we raced around Back to the Future, Terminator and Jaws, followed by a long lunch. All of which I have to admit was quite fun for a first time experience. The treat in the evening? Well, I am now ashamed to admit that it was an evening at Orlando’s very own little strip club, Rachel’s. A sort of feast of silicone and peroxide. They told me it was the best part of the trip.

It really isn’t my thing these resort hotels.

Some thoughts about Wroclaw and another hotel

It’s been a while since I was so cold. Here it was -20c overnight and an early evening wander around without a coat was not a good idea either. This city is 1,000 years old and has everything you would expect from an ancient Central European city – romantic old buildings, squares, cobbled streets, cafes and restaurants. Until 1945 it was one of Germany’s foremost industrial cities and still today Lufthansa confusingly refers to it by its German name, Breslau, like Gdansk the formerly named Danzig. However, it has one of the worst airports in Europe. Copernicus airport, named after Nicolaus Copernicus the Renaissance astronomer and mathematician, is without a doubt the most unworthy tribute imaginable to the man who probably had the single most profound impact on the understanding of scientific teaching over religious belief of the Renaissance. The airport itself is small, lacking in services and there is nowhere to sit. Plus it is extremely dirty.

The other extraordinary thing about Polish airports are the security guards. They dress like a paramilitary force, black tee shirts with Straz Graniczna emblazoned in white on the back. This means Border Guard in Polish. The ensemble is finished off with combat trousers and military boots … oh and a pistol casually strapped cowboy-style to the thigh. It’s quite some get-up for the girls if you like that sort of thing. But the whole image is one of heavy-handed oppression. I made the grave error the other day of smiling at a very attractive ‘Straz Graniczna’ of the female variety while waiting to be scanned at Warsaw airport. That’s Lotnisko Chopina for anyone who hasn’t been there, named after Chopin. What is it with these romantically styled Polish airports? Must be something to do with the perceived glamour of travel. Anyway, she fixed me with a stony glare and pointed to my laptop bag.

Now, I don’t know how it is with others, but my laptop bag, a Tumi one in fact, is a small portable part of my private world when I am travelling. It has many interesting things in it. Along side the work items like the laptop, mobile phone and papers there is a bag with all sorts of gadgets and adaptors required to connect to the outside world from alien hotel rooms, a plastic knife, fork and spoon set because sometimes you can’t get hold of these things easily on the road, Macbook Air or iPad for personal use depending on length of trip, my personal iPhone, pens, tie-pin, access cards to multiple offices, quite a lot of spare currency from various frequently-travelled countries, a couple of passports to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment in certain unfriendly countries, photographs to remind me at times why I get up and go to work at all and most importantly my glass evil eye to ward off bad things when I am airborne. A few years ago some unmentionable stole the trusty forerunner of my current bag while I was under the influence in a London restaurant and I had to travel all the way to Istanbul to replace that evil eye. It was a nerve-wracking flight without it.

But back to the bag. She took it off the belt and removed every last item from it and after examination spread them out over several trays as she put them back through the scanner. I stood there in absolute disbelief and after a few well-chosen words, which I don’t think she could have understood or otherwise I would probably not have got off lightly, I realised that I had no option but to just stand there and endure the smirks of other passengers as she made her point and no doubt her day. Beauty in an iron fist. I hope she stops terrorists.

By the way, I can highly recommend the Radisson Blu hotel in Wroclaw. It is clean and the staff are excellent. It also has a good bar that you can sit at and observe the comings and goings in the lobby. This is always a very entertaining activity to pass the time in Polish hotels. All round a very worthwhile place to spend the night and to base yourself if visiting.