Tag: holiday

In search of blue cod

In search of blue cod

We wanted to go out for lunch on our last day in New Zealand. We decided on a seafood restaurant because people kept raving to us about blue cod. Ok, so it was Eric, Eric raved about blue cod.

So I googled seafood restaurants in Christchurch, chose one with a nice looking menu and picked a random time that we might rock up after driving from Arthur’s Pass.

Turns out this restaurant wasn’t exact in Christchurch. It was on the outskirts of Christchurch. And when you have no internet and the GPS in the car won’t work, you have to memorise where this restaurant might be and hope like hell you’re driving in the right direction.

We were sandwiched between semi-trailers the entire way, slowing us down and hiding all road signs, but we finally found ourselves approaching the village. As we rounded the corner, the whole port was spread out in front of us. Rail lines, container ships, cranes, semi-trailers loaded with logs. Rocks, noise, dust.

The trucks surrounding us peeled off down a dirt road in behind a ramshackle structure overlooking all the port activity. The building looked as though any minute a stiff breeze would knock it into the ocean. Worn boards held it together, there were no windows and nothing adorned it. It sat by itself on the side of the road – no shops, cafes, nothing. And no sign of human activity anywhere.

There was a hand written sign out the front stating ‘Chef wanted’.

‘That’s our restaurant,’ I said to Don.

We kept driving right past that old building and around the block, looking at other options. But there wasn’t much else, and we’d booked, so we thought what the hell.

As we walked up the street we could finally see the back part of the restaurant, and it was packed. People laughing, drinking, eating. The food smells as we entered were incredible. We were given the best table and champagne was brought immediately. If we hadn’t had our hearts set on blue cod we would have had difficulty choosing from the amazing menu. And when our lunches arrived, oh my God, that blue cod was indeed delicious. The potatoes were golden, the herb butter sauce light and tasty, the salad fresh.

It had turned out to the perfect choice of restaurant.

I can’t even imagine what it’ll be like when they find a chef.

In love with glaciers

In love with glaciers

We have arrived at the west coast – New Zealand glacier country!

People have often asked me what’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my travels, and forever I have answered Svartisen Glacier in Norway.

Australia has a lot of things to offer, but it’s the only continent that doesn’t have glaciers. I can’t even begin with glaciers. They’re just so magnificent – kilometres high, solid and beautiful. Powerful and tangible reminders of how lands were formed. They’ve ever so slowly bulldozed their way through the continents, and crept backwards, leaving new landscapes in their wake. Wikipedia calls them persistent!

I walked on Fox Glacier during that first New Zealand tour, but I’m not sure I recognised the significance of a glacier at the time. I don’t think you can fully appreciate the might of a glacier until you stand in front of the sheer wall of ice at its face. We were lucky enough to walk right up to Svartisen Glacier, to see inside to the ice crystals and shards, to touch the retreating cliff face. It was an extraordinary experience.

We walked up the South side walk to Fox Glacier today. The end of the trail is several kilometres from the glacier, but we could see the ice and snow solid and unmoving at the top of the valley between the mountains. Even from a distance it was spectacular; we stood there for ages just watching it, unwilling to turn and walk back to the car. Then we were on to Franz Josef, where we only caught a glimpse before clouds obscured our view.

Perhaps we’ll try Franz Josef again in the morning. Perhaps I just don’t want to leave glacier country; because glaciers continue to be one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen.

Road Trip New Zealand

Road Trip New Zealand

We’re going overseas!

Like everybody, it’s been a while. We’re visiting New Zealand’s South Island. Don’s never been to New Zealand other than one night in an Auckland motel when our flight to Chile was delayed. I’ve been three times. I went on a Contiki tour of the South Island many, many years ago when I was within the age bracket and frankly all I have from that are dim memories, blurry photos and a firm conviction that I shall never bungee jump. I’ve been to the North Island to run 10 kms and be rewarded at the finish line with a bottle of wine, and a few years ago I went on a girls’ trip to Waikiki Island to drink wine.

I sense a theme.

Our last overseas trip was India, back in January 2020, on the cusp of the pandemic, and already it’s obvious that I’m no longer match fit in the ways of international travel. Usually I do some research first, but I was so excited booking flights that the research was only secondary.

To start with, I booked our flights ages ago. So long ago that after I’d booked them I realised New Zealand wasn’t even open to tourists yet. Just a small hiccup, only rectified by my anxious scanning of websites and the passage of time.

Then I started researching things to do on the South Island, only to find that seeing everything on the South Island requires at least 143 days. We have seven. That’s ok, I’ve done some targeted planning to narrow down the itinerary to a few key places that have wine, cheese and penguins.

Only yesterday I researched expected temperatures, and was immediately down to Kathmandu for shoes and socks and anything else that might keep the heat in and the cold out. I already had two beannies on the packing list, but the ones I own are for Queensland winters, so it was then on to Spotlight where I bought balls of wool to give to Mum. She’s told me it takes her about a day to knit a beannie so she should get it done with time up her sleeve, even if she does have to deliver it to me at the airport. I have undergarments and overgarments, and am thinking I might need to practice layering before we leave. We should never forget how I go with dressing for the cold.

Don has a couple of t-shirts, a jacket and a beannie, and is wondering what all the fuss is about.

Despite the excess of clothes and the lack of research, we’ll be fine. There are mountains, lakes and glaciers to see, hot tubs to relax in and wine and cheese to consume.

Of course if Qantas loses our luggage, I’m screwed.

Cherry picking

Cherry picking

On Day 2 of our roadtrip we went cherry picking in Wombat. Yes we did. And yes there is a place called Wombat.

It was pouring rain and cold, which I suspect are very good conditions for tromping around the hills picking cherries.

The old cherry farmer explained the pricing structure to us.

‘So it’s $15 per kilogram if you pick a kilogram but you have to guarantee you pick probably five or so kilograms each for all of you altogether and then we’ll weigh them and then you’ll pay per kilogram. Or you can pay $10 per person for the five of you and then you can pick as much as you want and then that’s yours. So what do you think?’

Nat and I just stared at each other.

‘We probably just want to pick this much,’ I said pointing to a box of cherries.

‘Five boxes,’ said the farmer, ‘so that’s about 20kg.’

‘No, not each, just one box total please!’

‘Ok, we’ll it’s best you just pay $10 each. That’s $40.’

‘There are five of us.’

‘Yep. $40.’

So we paid our $40, took two white buckets and headed out into the rain. A young boy gave us a quick lesson on how to pick a cherry, pointed into the distant hills and told us that’s where the best cherries are.

It was still raining, and we were wearing thongs and Birkenstocks, but we were determined to go where the best cherries were. For about a kilometre we slid through the mud, sank into mud puddles, slipped down hills, and slipped backwards trying to go up hills, all the while shrieking and clutching each other’s arms as we tried to reach the utopia of cherry trees.

We picked two bucketloads of lush, plump cherries, probably ate a kilogram between us, and then back into the mud we went, down to the farmhouse, where another young boy wanted to weigh our cherries and charge us even more.

‘No, we had the family deal,’ Nat was saying as I slid to a halt next to her.

The old farmer wandered up at that moment, assessing our efforts.

‘Looks like we owe you $10,’ he said.

What?

‘You can go collect $10 from the house over there,’ he pointed to a shed up another hill.

What?

‘No, that’s ok,’ said Nat, backing away towards the car with our enormous bag of cherries.

So now we have five kilograms of Wombat cherries and a bag of wet muddy shoes stuffed into the last available space in the car.

What fun!

The most logistically complex road trip ever

The most logistically complex road trip ever

I’m leaving for the airport at 5am in the morning to fly to Melbourne, and I haven’t packed yet. It’s ok, I’m not taking much with me. Because once I get to Melbourne, I’m immediately turning around and driving back to Brisbane with my sister Nat, three teenage nieces and a dog.

I’m so excited about travelling again I even ironed my Lorna Jane cargo pants. I’m so excited by a road trip I’m back on my travel blog to record the journey. And I’m so excited about Nat and her family moving to Brisbane, I’m flying from Queensland to Melbourne and driving through three states, two of which are border to border designated Covid hotspots, to cross back into the relatively safe state I left four days previously.

So as much as I’m excited, I’m more than a little nervous. My sister has already hashtagged this #themostlogisticallycomplexroadtripever. We have counted backwards 72 hours from Tuesday to calculate when to do our Covid tests to get us into Queensland. We have checked towns and cities to find all of the clinics that are open early, possibly on a Sunday, that take walk ins. We have scoured the internet for dog friendly accommodation in rural NSW for five people and said dog in peak holiday season.

We’ve downloaded the check-in apps for three different states and connected our Covid vaccination certificates to each, and then emailed our Covid vaccination certificates to ourselves. We’ve mapped out an inland route that has some tourist attractions along the way, but which we now realise doesn’t necessarily take into account possible floods.

Nat has written a list of what can come in the car given there’s precious little space: one small bag for each person plus dog bowl, dog bed, dog food, dog lead, dog poo bags and dog seat hammock. I don’t know what that last one is, but it sounds to me like Tassie is going to be the most comfortable out of all of us.

In between all of this my amazing sister has packed up a household of five people, sorted new school enrolments, sold a house, done her Christmas shopping and continued working. Amazing.

Logistically challenging as this all may be, I’m certain we’re going to have fun. We have playlists and card games, we have snacks and stories, we have five wicked senses of humour and a collective spirit of adventure.

And most importantly, we have a dog.

A guide book and a map

A guide book and a map

And then you have the opposite of the walking tour.

Today we took an auto-rickshaw to Golconda Fort, the sprawling ruins of a huge 16th century citadel in the middle of Hyderabad.

Because it’s handy to have a small guide book with a map, I bought one that may or may not have been photo-copied from a lovely old man who pestered me endlessly when we came through the entrance. I did refuse the postcards – really, I have no need for postcards.

“How useful will that be?” Don asked me.

“It’s as useful as 50 rupee,” I answered. “it’ll be handy to have a small guide book with a map.”

“For example,” I went on as we approached a long building with huge archways, “this is where they kept the elephants.”

“Does it say that in the booklet?”

“No, it doesn’t say anything about elephants in the booklet.”

“Is it on the map?”

“Yes, I think it’s building number 22.”

“So what does it say about building number 22?”

“I don’t know, there’s no corresponding legend for the map.”

“Then how do you know it’s where they kept the elephants?”

“I know this from experience and my extensive knowledge of ancient Indian architecture.”

I flipped through the booklet some more.

“Oh, wait, there’s something in here about the royal camel stables.”

“Well are they building 22?”

“There is no way of knowing this. However here’s something interesting,” I continued, “apparently there’s a mosque within the fort grounds.”

“Is it that one?” Don asked, pointing to a bright white mosque right in front of us.

“There’s no way of knowing this, but I suggest yes.”

“Well I suggest you put the booklet away and we just walk around and read the signs.”

“Fair enough,” I said, tucking the guide into my bag. “So do you think we got our 50 rupees’ worth?”

“I think you would have been better off with the postcards.”

Walking tours

Walking tours

We’ve done a number of food tours on our travels – tasted delicious fish stew in San Francisco, local churros in Lima, famous skyr yoghurt in Reykjavik. On the first day of our India holiday in we took a Storytrails food tour of the bustling Rattan bazaar in Chennai with Karunya, sampling our way through the streets until we were absolutely stuffed with dosa, dal, hot milky coffee and sweet gulab jamon. Food tours are usually one of our first choices to explore new areas, but due to a number of factors this trip we’ve taken two city walking tours, and they’ve been absolutely brilliant.

We only had one day in Bangalore, so to get the most out of our time we booked an offbeat walking tour with Tours by Locals. Sushma took us for a local breakfast, before we set off on a fascinating walk that included the old neighbourhood of Bangalore, Dodda Basavana Gudi (the bull temple) and the hectic fresh produce and flower markets.

Today we walked around Hyderabad with the Hyderabad Walking Company. We started the morning drinking chai and eating Hyderabad’s signature Osmania biscuit at a local cafe at the base of the magnificent Charminar, before Navin took us up the steep stairs to the top of the monument to look out across the bustling bazaar area and the old gates of Hyderabad. We spent a while exploring the grand Chowmahalla Palace, then walked through Laad Bazar where thousands of colourful bangles are made and sold.

Neither of these tours felt like ‘tours’. It felt like we were wandering around each city having a conversation with a local. Both Sushma and Navin gave us time to take in each sight and experience. Each told us fascinating stories about their cities – legends that people still believe, and those that may be closer to the truth. They even took photos for us. And they were both genuinely interested in our own story and holiday.

The difference between wandering around by ourselves or being guided is pretty significant.

If it had just been the two of us we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to wander through somebody’s home in the old neighbourhood of Bangalore, or see the dhobi ghat where every day clothes are beaten and scrubbed in big open tanks before being hung to dry in the sun along the street. We wouldn’t know that the kings of Hyderabad were ridiculously wealthy, nor would we have been thoroughly entertained by the stories of their personalities, deeds and lives at Chowmahalla Palace. We wouldn’t have found our way through the crowded KR market in Bangalore to get to the beautiful flower markets, nor would we know the difference between the genuine bangles created by Hyderabad craftsmen or those made elsewhere and sold in the street.

I’m a fully converted fan of the walking tour.

Chamundi steps

Chamundi steps

We like to use the local buses and trains when we’re in big cities, get a feel for how people commute, have a bit of an adventure working out the system to get us places.

However nothing beats walking. Walking really lets you explore neighbourhoods, buildings, shops and people. We’ve walked for miles through many cities across the world.

Yesterday we set off walking to Chamundi Hills that overlook the city of Mysore. Our plan was to walk to the entrance at the base, and then climb the 1001 steps to the temple at the top, taking in the smaller temples along the way and the beautiful views over Mysore.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s extraordinarily apparent that neither of us had any freaking concept of a) a walk across Mysore or b) what 1001 steps is like.

“How far is it to the steps?” Don asked in the morning.

“Four kilometres.”

“That’s good, we can walk that.”

“And then 1001 steps to the top.”

“Ok, no worries.”

And off we went.

Google maps has done a lot for walking in foreign cities. Via what I can only assume is magic, you can track where you are without needing the internet. I have no idea how this works, nor do I care, I’m just grateful that it does. And so we tracked our walk to the hills – out the front gate, down the street filled with Levi jeans shops that aren’t actually Levi jeans, past the busy markets and around the glorious Mysore Palace.

Unfortunately Google maps magic shows you the way, but doesn’t tell you what the way is actually like; the roads, the terrain or the neighbourhoods.

On we trekked, past the bus depot and some government offices, across a busy roundabout and onto a major highway. Over a guard rail and down an embankment to an access road. Through a small local market. Over some ditches. Past some goats. Onwards towards some fields, now only 2km into our walk.

An auto-rickshaw driver who was parked by the road spoke as we trudged past.

“Chamundi steps?”

We were in the back seat faster than anybody could say how much, where are you from or how about that cricket, happy to be driven the final two kilometres to the base of the 1001 steps.

Now I’m going to be generous here and say we made it roughly 100 steps before our first rest. Those steps were randomly short, tall, deep and narrow. They sloped left, then right, and wound back and forth up the hill. Our next rest stop may have been after 80 steps. Then 60. I’m sure you can see what’s happening here.

As the number of steps we could manage decreased, the amount of rest we needed increased. We stood to the side each time, panting, sweating, our hearts thundering. Barefoot 80 year olds flew past us, teenagers stopped to take selfies.

On we went.

We’d been sitting on a step close to number 600 for quite a while when one of us finally cracked. I can’t remember who, doesn’t matter.

“Screw this, we’re on holidays.”

And straight back to the bottom we went.

This was not defeat, this was astute holiday decision-making in action. There will be plenty more temples available for visiting.

Ones not at the top of a fucking mountain.

THIS is lime pickle

THIS is lime pickle

We had lunch at the XL Hotel in Fort Kochi yesterday. Don ordered butter chicken, I ordered a local dish – nadan chicken. Don had two beers, I had a Pepsi. We chatted about our morning exploring Mattancherry.

Then our meals arrived, and the conversation somehow became completely one-sided.

“Oh,” Don moaned when he tasted his dish. “Oh, this is good.”

“The flavour!” he exclaimed before I could speak. “It’s like it’s just that little bit more. A little bit over. It just goes over. You know what I’m trying to say?”

I opened my mouth to answer but apparently it wasn’t an actual question.

“Oh my,” he continued, “oh wow. I mean, you think you’re having lime pickle, but no, THIS is lime pickle. And THIS is butter chicken. It just is the thing. The real thing. THIS is butter chicken.”

I nodded. Yes, this was indeed butter chicken.

“So good. Is this the best meal we’ve ever had? It could be the best. I think it’s the best. This is the best butter chicken I’ve ever had,” he went on as he dipped his parathas into my curry. “Oh my God, yours is amazing too!”

He sat chewing, deep in thought, lost in contemplation of the amazing flavour that was my lunch. “So good,” he repeated, then back to his own.

He continued talking and groaning and working his way through the food in front of him until he finally leant back in his seat.

I opened my mouth to speak.

“No, no, I’m not finished yet,” he lurched back up, “I can fit more in. Wait,” he said to nobody in particular, and started scooping more rice onto his plate.

“We don’t cook rice like this. Do we?” he asked. “Do we cook rice the wrong way? We need to learn how to cook rice like this. I don’t even like rice. The carrots, the carrots in this rice are amazing!”

“Oh my God, that was so good. Ok, that’s it, I’m officially done,” he finally said, pushing his plate away and picking up the last scrap of parathas and dipping it again into the remains of my curry. “Except for this. Hey, are you going to finish that?” he asked, reaching for one of my chicken bones.

Finally he truly was finished.

“Well, that was one of the finest meals I’ve had in my entire life. Can you take a photo? No, no,” he waved me down and pulled his phone out, “I’ll take a photo. That was magnificent.”

He snapped a quick pic, then reviewed his work.

“You bet your arse that’s a good photo,” he was now definitely just talking to himself. “This will remind me how good that meal was.”

Yep, that plus this blog post.

Just India

Just India

From the minute we returned home from our India holiday seven years ago, I’ve wanted to go back. There’s just something about India.

It always takes us a day or two to acclimatise to an overseas holiday – to recover from the flights, orient ourselves in the city in which we’ve landed and to generally remember we’re on holidays.

Chennai is a huge, busy city. We got ourselves stuck in a few snarly traffic jams, auto-rickshaws and cars stop-starting for hours. We walked several long, hot miles and spent many an occasion crossing eight lane roads where cars and bikes drove through, around and between each other. We ate cautiously and washed our hands religiously. It took us a while to find our India feet.

Now we are in Kerala, in Fort Kochi, and India feet are well and truly found. And I know that India is just as I left it.

India is a place where everything goes at its own pace, and everything eventually happens. People are friendly, accommodating and helpful, but nothing is done quickly. That doesn’t matter – you arrive at a place in your mind where nothing needs to be done quickly. Things get done in their own time.

You can just be in India. Early this morning we walked along the seafront and watched the fishing boats come in. Lots of people were out, and there was a calmness and apparent joy everywhere – girls walking with friends, people breathing, stretching and practicing yoga, young men laughing together as they swam in the Arabian Sea. Men operating the old Chinese fishing nets, smiling and calling me over to have a go. Sure, people were exercising, but nobody was running. Nobody had their head down in concentration and nobody appeared to be in any hurry to get anywhere.

Yesterday we floated the Kerala backwaters for hours; most of the time with nothing but the sound of the heavy poles hitting the water to slowly move our boat along. It was absolutely stunning, but I’ll admit we had our moments – it was a long time to sit and do nothing but take in the scenery.

But that’s what India does. Amidst the noise and crowds, it makes you sit still and take it all in – the sights, the smells, the people, the activity. So that’s what we’ll continue to do. And I’m pretty sure that when we eventually return home, once again I’ll want to turn around and come straight back.