Tag: travel blogger

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.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

It’s our wedding anniversary and what a fabulous day we’ve had cruising Milford Sound. This is New Zealand’s most famous fjord; deep blue green water, towering mountains and cliffs and spectacular waterfalls. We had endless blue sky and sunshine and were lucky enough to see dolphins and seals. Perfect.

Our driver and tour guide, Eric, was superb. It was quite a long journey to Milford Sound, around five hours in total, and Eric’s commentary was on point. We learnt about the tectonic plates, the history of the land and lakes around Queenstown, the different sheep and cattle being farmed in the area. Volcanoes and their current risks, the elusive yet charming hermit graziers, the poisonous tutu berries, New Zealand freesias, how Shania Twain bought up land in New Zealand. The gold rush and the crazy, failed scheme to dam the lake and expose the gold.

Yes, Eric was knowledgeable, friendly, funny and informative. He told some great stories and was very entertaining. And this was some feat, because we were a tough audience.

‘This hill was featured in Lord of the Rings’ he said as we headed out of Queenstown, ‘is anybody into Lord of the Rings?’

Silence.

‘Ok, nobody? That’s ok we can talk about the glacier that formed this peak.’

‘Has anybody visited Glenorchy yet?’ he asked as we drove around Lake Wakatipu.

Silence. some shaking of heads.

‘No? Ok I highly recommend a visit.’

‘Has anybody experienced a hāngī yet? Eaten meat cooked the traditional hāngī method?’

We all shook our heads, no.

‘Anybody into fishing? Fly fishing?’ he asked hopefully a little later.

No. Nobody was into fly fishing, or had even tried fly fishing.

‘There really is some great trout fishing around the South Island,’ he persevered and went on to regale us with his adventurous fishing exploits.

‘Does anybody play tennis?’ he asked as we drove through Te Anau, home of the annual Tennis Invitational.

‘Anybody know about Lake Taupo?’

‘Does anybody trek?’

No, no and no. By this stage he must have been thinking he’d picked up the fifteen of the most boring tourists in Queenstown.

‘Is anybody a singer?’

This really is where we should have piped up, but honestly we were way past that point by now.

Our apparent lack of hobbies or interests certainly didn’t deter Eric. Over the five hour drive to Milford Sound he told us some cracking stories, knew the history of every place we passed, the geology of the land and waterways and the names and uses of the plants and animals.

Then on the shorter journey home he let us choose songs that we sang at the top of our lungs all the way home.

Even though none of us were singers.

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.

NOW BOARDING GATE 6!

NOW BOARDING GATE 6!

We’ve had a great three days in Chennai that included a fabulous food tour through Rattan Bazaar and a day trip to the amazing temples and monuments of Kanchipuram and Mamallapuram. Last night we left Chennai and flew to Kochi.

There were signs all over Chennai airport announcing that it’s a ‘silent airport’ and that there are ‘no departure announcements’. Unsure as to how this would work, Don thought it best we stick close to our departure gate.

I’m glad we did. It was most entertaining.

“I wonder how you know when you’re allowed to board,” I said to Don just as a young woman leant across the counter at Gate 7 and started yelling at the waiting people.

“PASSENGERS FOR DEHLI YOUR FLIGHT IS NOW BOARDING AT GATE 14!” she bellowed. “PLEASE GO TO GATE 14!”

Nobody moved. She drew a breath and continued.

“ANY PASSENGERS FOR KOLKATA , PLEASE BOARD NOW AT GATE 7!! PASSENGERS FOR KOLKATA, BOARDING NOW, GATE 7!”

Five people made their way to the gate. The woman at Gate 6 stepped up.

“PASSENGERS FOR KOLKATA, GATE 7! NO SIR,” she yelled as a man approached with his boarding pass, “KOCHI NOT BOARDING YET!”

“KOLKATA BOARDING, GATE 7! PLEASE HAVE YOUR BOARDING PASS READY!”

“DELHI BOARDING GATE 14!”

Gate 7 Woman took over.

“PASSENGERS FOR DEHLI PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAY TO GATE 14!”

This went on for some time, the gatekeepers yelling at the crowd, swatting away passengers with incorrect boarding passes and studying five metres of paper that had spat itself out of an ancient dot matrix printer whilst they’d been yelling.

“LAST CALL FOR DELHI!” Gate 7 woman yelled.

People eventually started running – no, sprinting – to different gates, trailing small children, pillows and bags, because they had somehow missed that their plane was about to leave, even though two women had been bellowing boarding calls at them for over half an hour.

Gate 6 Woman eventually lost her shit, bundled up the paper and threw it the best anyone can throw five metres of crumpled paper at Gate 7 Woman, who disappeared down the flight corridor with it. Gate 6 Woman was now solo.

“PASSENGERS FOR KOCHI ROWS 21 TO 30 YOUR FLIGHT IS NOW READY FOR BOARDING AT GATE 6. KOLKATA BOARDING GATE 7. DELHI BOARDING GATE 14!”

Her palm flew into the air any time somebody thought they might board early. “NO SIR,” she yelled at a particularly persistent man, “ROWS 21 to 30 ONLY!” Gate 6 Woman is my new favourite person.

Next minute Gate 7 Woman was back, and OMG she now had a headset with a portable amplifier around her waist. Don had to hold me up, I was almost crying.

“PASSENGERS FOR DELHI, YOUR PLANE IS ABOUT TO DEPART. GATE 14!” she yelled into the microphone.

Then that’s it, one announcement and the headset was gone and never used again. This is obviously contraband in a silent airport.

In the midst of this chaos, a tall young man strolled through the crowd, also shouting.

“PASSENGERS FOR DELHI, BOARDING GATE 14!”

Gate 7 Woman glared at him – this was obviously not his patch – and he too goes the way of the headset microphone.

It took some time, but eventually we were all on board. It had been compelling viewing; Don and I were in row one and had thus got to witness the show from start to finish.

Without a shadow of a doubt I am now a huge fan of the silent airport.

The forgotten city

The forgotten city

Late last night we left for our holiday in India. This is our second time in India; the first time was seven years ago and we covered the north – Rajasthan, Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi. We loved it so much we knew we’d eventually return. This visit we’re spending three weeks criss-crossing the south, and we’re so excited!

We flew out of Australia last night with a meticulously planned itinerary, a well stocked first aid kit, printed copies of all of our documents and bookings and an efficient selection of coordinated hot weather outfits.

However here we are on day one of our adventure and it turns out we completely forgot we were also going to Hong Kong. A 14 hour layover on the way over, a day and a half on our return.

I mean, we didn’t actually forget. We knew Hong Kong was in the mix. However Hong Kong played no part whatsoever in the aforementioned meticulous planning.

What we didn’t bring because we forgot we were going to Hong Kong:

  • Hong Kong dollars. In cash, on a travel card, in any form at all.
  • Warm clothes. Turns out January is Hong Kong’s coldest month. Granted, it’s not scarves and beanies cold, but it’s definitely not shorts and t-shirt weather, as I discovered when we stepped out of the airport.
  • Hong Kong power adaptor. When we leave India everything will need to be fully charged – iPhones and iPads, camera batteries, Don’s iPod. And then I guess it’s fingers crossed until we reach Australia.
  • An itinerary, a map, a guide book or a speck of online research on what we might do to fill 14 hours.

I tell you, this Kitzelman-Jarmey travel train is one slick operation.