Tag: travel

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.

Hang the consequences

Hang the consequences

Waiheke Island

I’m afraid there was just no time – no time – to stop to write a blog last week. Soz. It’s just that a trip away with your girlfriends is an entirely different experience to a trip away with anybody else.

What sets these trips apart from others? There is magic in eight confident, intelligent, funny women travelling together. Grand ideas are hatched, empowering stories shared and sound advice given. We listen to and respect everybody’s opinions, at the same time lending lipsticks and complimenting earrings. We build each other up without even having to think about it.

Our New Zealand trip was eating and drinking and hang the consequences. Wine tastings across the length of the island, cocktails, ordering one of everything from the food menus – the crack cheese, the goat, mulled wine, smoked anything. And as we all know, alcohol and good food draw out the big ideas – establishment of the Brisbane girls’ choir and dance troupe, with the Central coast satellite branch, the Sydney affiliate and the Townsville chapter. A new business solutions company with a job for each of us. The advantages of purchasing a wine fridge. Like I said, the big ideas.

Something else? Girlfriends on tour are much better resourced. Multiple puffy jackets, boots a’plenty, earrings, curling wands, Bluetooth speakers, shopping bags, hairdryers, selfie sticks, board games, keep cups, pickles, it was all covered.

But above all there was the music.

Our entire four days played out with its own soundtrack. Every genre, every era represented. The obscure to the popular. Hilltop Hoods, Olivia Newton-John, Bowie, Haim (pronounced HI-im). Club Can’t Handle Me three times. The Big Chill soundtrack whilst making breakfast, a fully choreographed From LA to New York, a straight up Australian rock session. The biggies – Don’t Pay the Ferryman, Africa, Xanadu – all with a little less choreography but the same dance enthusiasm. A night of the best female artists – think Pat Benatar, Lizzo, Aretha, Janelle Monay – found three of us simply unable to go to bed. You cannot leave the room when Linda Ronstadt is singing.

The music was not limited to the living room of the Airbnb. There was a rousing rendition of Robbie Williams Angels with the soloist at our first restaurant (musicians love it when you do that), a top of our lungs in-house music Human League after the dismal Bledisloe cup defeat and a string of Doobie Brothers hits in the van as we tripped around the island.

At some point there may even have been sock puppets.

Drinking, eating, dancing and singing for four days takes an incredible amount of stamina, perseverance and commitment, not to mention poor judgement. Which leads me to some of the other things that the eight seemingly intelligent women said or did this week.

Watching the Bledisloe and asking if that player in the black with the silver fern on his shirt is Australian.

Group selfies that featured a prominent selfie stick and outstretched arm.

Sleeping three hours past your alarm for your international flight.

Talking about the lions that inhabit Russia.

Wearing two contact lenses in one eye all day.

Constantly being left behind in the shop, the garden, the bathroom, the beach…

Very loosely packed bottles of red wine. Very loosely packed.

All in all, a wonderful, hilarious, uplifting celebration for a fabulous friend.

Happy birthday Gab.

You are definitely smarter than a box of rocks.

#gabsissues

#gabsissues

In the way of flights, airports and things going wrong, Don and I have been incredibly lucky in our travels. Well, there was that one time our plane skidded off the runway coming back from Rome, but nothing to worry about, and we got a free flight! No, we’ve been relatively stress free.
Not so my friend Gab.

Gab has had to turn around midway to the airport to go home to fetch her passport on at least three separate occasions.

Gab arrived a day late to my birthday trip to Malaysia, then spent the next three days with no clothes while her suitcase travelled via Tokyo.

Just yesterday Gab and her sister Jen had a passport that wouldn’t work, a bag tag that wouldn’t scan and an Uber driver that wouldn’t…well let’s just say wouldn’t be polite.

Gab has had more flight delays, re-routes, lost luggage, missing passports and shoe blowouts than anyone I know.

And now I am about to embark on a five day girls’ trip to New Zealand to celebrate Gab’s birthday. Gab is already in New Zealand, Madonna and I fly today, so #gabsissues shouldn’t even touch us. #gabsissues are over 2,000km away from us. We even joked that we booked separately to avoid #gabsissues.

As I write this we should be boarding our flight. However, I’m on the couch. Madonna is still in bed. Since last night we’ve had:

  • Our flight to New Zealand cancelled.
  • Madonna booked on a late night flight via Sydney, me with nothing.
  • Madonna rebooked on an early flight via Sydney, me with nothing.
  • Madonna on the flight via Sydney, me on a flight via Melbourne.
  • Madonna on the flight via Sydney, me on a direct flight with China Airlines.
  • A woman on the Qantas helpline who can find no trace of the China Airlines flight that I’m booked on.
  • Finally, after much key tapping by the woman on the Qantas helpline, we are both on the China Airlines flight to Auckland.

    We’re not sitting together. And we’re not entirely sure there isn’t a layover in Shanghai. But what we are sure of is that eventually we’ll get to Gab, the epicentre of #gabsissues.

    Let the fun begin.

    Into the jungle

    Into the jungle

    On this day five years ago I flew to Melbourne. My niece was turning 11 and we were about to embark on an adventure together, just the two of us, to Singapore.

    I’d said to Peppa years ago that when she turned 11 I’d like to take her on an overseas holiday somewhere, just the two of us. Perhaps I should have cleared it with my sister first, but I naively thought Peppa would have forgotten I ever said anything. Ha!

    When she turned 10 we started planning. I set some rules for what would be the first in a series of trips, one with each of my three nieces.

    1. No more than one flight from Australia. This didn’t stop the suggestion from Peppa that we should go to Paris, or the follow up from Goldie three years later that perhaps we could give Brazil a whirl.

    2. The destination had to be somewhere I’d been before. I needed some sort of familiarity given that I was taking my sister’s children out of the country.

    3. It should be a country where people spoke a different language. We were not going to Hawaii to lie on the beach.

    Peppa and my trip to Singapore was filled with miles of walking, cable cars, hawker stalls, Universal studios, dumplings and one terrifying ride on a chairlift. We finished every day at the chocolate shop near our hotel, drinking hot chocolate and sharing some amazing chocolate creation.

    Peppa’s trip was where I learnt the benefits for me. When I came up with this idea, I thought about how interesting it would be for the girls to travel, how much they could learn about another culture, the fun in trying new foods and using different money. But during the six days with my funny, laid back niece (oh, dear God, did I mention funny?), the real value of the trip became apparent. Spending so much time together, getting to really know each other, forming that special Aunty-niece bond; that was priceless.

    Goldie and my trip to Tokyo was a whirlwind of temples, cherry blossoms, sushi, bike rides and 12 non-stop hours at Disneyland. My insightful, independent, stylish niece led the way through the crowded streets, mastering the money, the trains and the souvenir shops far better than me. Another beautiful Aunty-niece bond was cemented over croissants every morning and internet quizzes every night (FYI I know exactly what Harry Potter character, what small dog, and what colour fairy I am).

    Today, five years later, I’m back in Melbourne for the third and final trip. Somehow the rules have stretched a little for my youngest niece Lulu. We need to take three flights to get to final destination, and it’s somewhere I’ve never been before. We’re off to Borneo: into the jungle for a river safari. Orangutans, monkeys and elephants are on our agenda. Lulu is curious and adventurous, so this ought to be one wild ride.

    I’m a little sad that this will be the last trip. But then, this has all been my idea. There’s nothing to stop me coming up with another idea.

    I was thinking I could do a go around as they each turn 18. Or perhaps they could take me.