Tag: travelling

We now know everything

We now know everything

Today we crossed the border into Queensland, and soon the roadtrip will be over. Nat and her family will be Queenslanders.

Travel, it broadens the mind. We’ve had many discussions, conversations, investigations and questions over the past four days. And we turned to google for these most pressing questions….

– what are some fun facts about Ned Kelly?

– Parallel parking – what is it again?

– Is Uno (the card game) Spanish?

– If Uno is from Ohio, how do you pronounce Uno?

– Where is the nearest coffee/petrol/sandwich/McDonald’s?

– Can you drink your pee if you’re lost in the bush with no water?

– Can you get sunflower honey?

– What is the actual name of the song about the dog that sat on the tuckerbox?

– What’s the name of that song that goes down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico?

– How do you play Go Fish?

– What are the top things to do in Coonabarabran?

– What’s the story of Jimmy Governor and Dubbo Gaol?

– How do you play Old Maid?

– What are the real rules of Uno not the rules Goldie is explaining to us?

– What/where is the world famous six foot tall cow and is it really a cow or is Lulu just making it up?

– What is the price of cherries at Woolworths compared to the price we paid to pick them ourselves?

– Nicole Kidman – googled by Peppa, who knows why?

– Why are there so many flies?

Yes, our minds are certainly broadened. Yep, Uno – pronounced like the Spanish word for ‘one’.

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.

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.