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My friend Hardeep invited Rebecca and I to India to attend his wedding in Kota. Hardeep is a good friend that I met while working in London. I was looking forward to seeing many friends from the UK, but unfortunately, only Eddie could attend.
India was not high on our go to list. We did want to visit. It was definitely on the bucket list. Having heard so many wonderful things, I was very interested to see the place for myself. You see so much of India on television. You see a lot of the wild beautiful countryside and the rich beautiful history, they tend to skip over the abject poverty.
Some people come away from India with a spiritual awakening; an urge to return. Others will never want to go back. I fall somewhere in-between. Next time I think we will head to the south.
There are many Indians around the world. They have left to make a lives in England, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Italy and many other places on earth. They leave for a reason and I can see why. There is a lot of poverty and the place is run on a dime. Anything goes, which can be quite exciting. For a foreigner it can be frustrating, especially when your wife walks at snail pace. Being male, I am the target of harassment. The holder of the cash. I learnt very quickly not to make eye contact, and if they persist, to wave my hand dismissively.
That said, it was the first time I have not been on a guided tour through a third world country. In Egypt, we were on a tour. The guide would shoo people away, or they knew who he was and stayed away. In Sri Lanka, our personal guide did the same.
This time we were flying solo, and one of us was disabled! By the end of the day you become a little frustrated. Walking out the hotel door the negotiations begin and only end when you walk back in. We were nearly hijacked at one point but I will come back to that later.
The wedding was so much fun. As soon as we met Hardeep and the crew, I made the transfer of power. I was able to sit back, relax and let Hardeep do the organising. Cheers Hardeep. Sorry we did not get to spend more time with you guys.
We flew into Delhi at midday where a driver, arranged by our accommodation, was waiting. My welcome to Delhi was less than inviting. At the very first set of traffic lights, I received the piercing sound of metal hitting glass, directly into my left ear. A lady, standing with her baby, is bashing her wedding ring against the window repetitively. I looked over at my driver who did nothing. Thankfully, that never happened again, but it was not the nicest introduction to a country.
Please allow me to sidebar here. We have just returned from a trip to Japan. Upon arrival to Melbourne airport, I encountered a person trying to push into the line to go through customs. We call this person here in Australia an Aussie yob. I gave him the evil eye so he did not push in front of me. He did push in behind us and rammed his baggage trolley into the back of my legs. Rude, racist, asshole. That is what you get here. No country is perfect and without its pests.
After a long journey, we were glad to arrive at Bnineteen, our accommodation in Delhi. We sat down immediately for some very good chicken curry and dhal. We had a rest and around sunset, we visited Humayun’s Tomb.
Bnineteen is situated in a residential area of Delhi right next to Humayun’s Tomb. It’s quiet, and there is a lovely little park just across the road where old people would do laps, either walking or jogging. We ate dinner there every night which never disappointed.
I had a great relaxing time here at the Tomb. It was not crowded and there were no hagglers outside. The Tomb itself is very beautiful, especially at sunset. The camera loved it. Rebecca and I stayed until the sun was almost set. Out of all the sites we visited, it was by far the most tranquil.
We arranged a driver the next day. We had to purchase a salwar kameez for Rebecca to wear at the wedding. The driver was instructed to take us to the Central Market, a shopping district where we could find a tailor and material. We arrived at 9:30am to find most stores were closed until 10am. We found a store that was just opening and went in. The material was not cheap. I suppose they are not taking us to the cheapest area being westerners. Only a little price haggling was to be done. We eventually found a material, the tailor measured Rebecca. We then paid and left our hotel address with strict instructions that we needed it done before we left for Jaipur. The dress did arrive in time and fitted Rebecca perfectly. Thank you to Bombay Selections New Delhi.
We asked the driver to recommend somewhere to have lunch which was not too pricey but authentic. We got neither. By the time we discovered this our driver had already departed (no parking out front!). The restaurant was upmarket. So I had a cocktail and something to eat and learned another lesson. Upon returning to the car, I let our driver know that we were not impressed with his selection.
After lunch, it was off to the Red Fort. Do not be fooled by the old ruins, the new Fort is right next door, and is quite a magnificent structure. I have not seen anything quite like it. It is hard to believe that anything could penetrate the larger than life walls, which were hiding many rather humble internal pavilions and residences. You proceed down the main corridor, lined with shops, to the open park area where the various smaller structures lie. We had a little wander, and after tipping the toilet guy to let us use the not cleaned toilet, we departed. Trying to find our driver and a place to stand among the throng of taxis, bikes and auto rickshaws was amusing, but I found a spot, our man found us and we were off.
An observation: It’s funny how a country that seems to have no laws on it’s roads seems altogether ridiculous and highly amusing at the same time. Driving in India gave us an insight to why the taxi services in Melbourne can be a little left of centre. I am thanking god they actually adjust to the laws of the road in comparison to the chaos that is Indian roads.
The following morning Rebecca wanted to shop. We drove to the Dilli Haat Market. You pay to enter and it is very touristy. Not genuine India, but with Beck walking slowly we could at least take our time in a uncongested relaxed atmosphere. Also located inside the market are outdoor restaurants, which were cheap and more authentic than lunch the previous day. We ate before heading off to the see the Qutur Minar (note the many ways to spell this) in the Qutur complex.
The minaret is made of red sandstone and marble and is the equivalent of an eight story building. You can walk up it, but after exploring the complex and trying to stay cool in a place with hardly any shade, I would not have bothered. In addition to the fact, Rebecca would have had to wait for me. We wandered around enjoying the complex, taking photos, people watching and generally relaxing. I felt peaceful there. It is the type of place one would bring a picnic basket to.
Out the front of the complex Rebecca and I were sitting waiting for our driver. Behind us were school children waiting patiently to enter. Rebecca and I sat along a fence the children were behind. They were eager to say hello and some of the boys were fascinated with my hair, which is long. Some even tried to touch it while I was not looking. I assume it was a dare of some sort as the others teased the culprit. When we waved goodbye there was quite a ruckus.
Sidebar: I can be mistaken for a light skinned Indian. I am of Italian decent. I have Indian friends that look like my Italian relatives. There must have been some interbreeding at one stage in history. Rebecca was asked by several people at the wedding if I was Indian.
The next day was a busy one, and a day in which I shall never forget.
It began with a ride in the back of a mid-sized Toto hurtling down the road from Delhi to Agra. We knew what to expect on Indian roads pre-warned by Hardeep, but nothing can prepare you. Rebecca could not watch, and I could not take my eyes off the road. Our driver was a young man in his twenties. He drove like he just got his licence. With no fear.
When booking the ride we were given the option of a guide. We declined. On our way to the Taj, we were again given the option by our driver, we declined. Then a phone was handed to me and we were again pushed to have the guide. After I was told we would not be paying any extra, we accepted, if a little begrudgingly.
In the end, he came in handy. We arrived at the Taj Mahal early. It was quite a walk from the drop off point to the entrance, so our guide arranged a lift for a pittance. He arranged our rapid entry and besides hijacking Rebeccas camera for a while, he was not overbearing or annoying.
If you want to see the Taj Mahal get there early. When we were leaving it was getting rather full, and standing room was becoming scarce. It is a majestic building, although I would beg to differ on the wonder status. Maybe I had too high expectations. After a cheap average lunch, our guide attempted to make us shop, which we declined. I gave him a little extra in tip to avoid the forced shopping experience, which he graciously accepted.
After dropping off our guide, we proceeded to Fatehpur Sikri. Now I come to our almost high jacked experience.
I decided to close my eyes and have a little nap on the way to the old city. I had just awoken to see our driver being pulled over by a random man standing on the road. A different man comes over and talks to our driver. Our driver again asks if we want a guide. We decline. An argument breaks out between the two men during which our driver exits the car and both men walk away. At this point I lock my door. A moment later another man enters via the front door, sticks his head between the two front seats and proceeds to inform us that we must get out here to get to our destination. He informs us he is an official guide (he flashes some laminated paper at us) and will take us by rickshaw and guide us. I tell him no. He then becomes very insistent.
On advice from my internet research, I proceed to tell him this was not arranged by our hotel and that I will call them to complain. According to the internet source, these people are more afraid of the tourist police than the actual police, who they usually pay off. He exited for a moment and the driver returned to his seat. Once again, the man enters the car, insisting that we need to come with them or we will not be able to enter. The driver at this point has his head on the steering wheel and I can see he is frustrated but powerless. I finally have enough. I awake from my half slumber and look the gentleman in the eye, and ask him to leave. It is then he starts to plead with me that he needs this money to feed his wife and children. This may be true but this is not the way you go about earning money. I apologise but insist that he leave us alone, politely, very assertively, and repeatedly. He eventually leaves the car, and we drive off. I ask our driver (who has limited English) ‘bad men?’, he says yes and thanks me for getting rid of them. So be warned. I had read about these happenings. They are criminals. They may only take money as payment for a service they are not qualified or officially supposed to do, or they may rob and dump you.
So after the scare we make it to the car park, from which we did not know how to get to the entrance. It was very badly signposted. We walk briefly past some shops and find a bus with what looks to be tourists inside. We wander over but there is no-one to help. Eventually a man walks over, and asks if he can help. He tells us to board the bus which will take us to the entrance. Nothing for nothing in India he insists I visit his shop on the way back.
We make it to the gates and enter the red-stone walls. We sat for a while in the shade of a tree to enjoy the peace and quiet and to reflect on what just happened. Compared to the Taj, this place was uncrowded and after our road trip, was serenely peaceful. We took our time wandering around the ancient city, not wanting to leave.
Upon exiting, the hassling begins. Thankfully, we were able to watch others being harassed this time. Upon arrival at the car park, our friend was waiting to lead me to his shop. I offered a small donation instead of a visit to the shop, but he was insistent. It was not his store but I look regardless as I was sure he received something just for bringing me in. I found a jewellery box I liked, they said $50au, I offered $5. After an insistent no no on the price, I thanked them and left. Once again I get the ‘I need to feed my kids story’ as I walked away. I apologised but kept walking. He then accepted my offer. I went back and purchased the box, but not after being asked again if I would pay more. I indicated I would leave and he fell silent.
Finally, back in the car and back onto the crazy roads, our very competent driver gets us back to Delhi in one piece and in time for dinner. We thanked him for allowing our innards to remain internally with a substantial tip. There is no way I could have made that drive myself. Many times I saw my head outlined on the front of a truck, only for it to be flashed away with some brilliant driving.
We had a train booked to Jaipur the next morning. With some time to kill we packed our bags into a little car, (which was supposed to be a medium car) and drove to the Jama Masjid located in close proximity to the train station.
At the entrance, Rebecca could not take her shoes off, so they were not going to permit us entry. Thankfully, they allow her in after getting her some shoe covers. We paid and entered, only to be kicked out not long after. It was nice to have a break from the car and to see a Mosque of such grandeur. It is guarded with gusto. The boys shooing people out could have done so a little more politely. With such a large population, crowd control is a must in India I suppose.
We were dropped off into the hustle and bustle of the old Delhi train station. What I thought was going to be a nightmare was relatively smooth. We had security scanners to go through, which always creates the sense of peace and relaxation (not). I sent Rebecca through first, and dealt with the bags myself. People were pushing in everywhere, but nobody tried to push in front of me. Maybe I had a look in my eye?
We boarded with ease into the first class cabin and took our seats. We were joined by an Indian businessman, and an elderly Indian woman. They were very quiet and polite, and we all kept to ourselves. I was taking photos, the ladies were reading, some polite talking on the phone, snacking and napping all the way to Jaipur. It was a pleasant ride.
One thing that you can be sure to see when catching the train is abject poverty. The slums line the tracks. It looks like the shacks would not withstand a stiff breeze. The people I saw looked happy enough. I suppose there is an acceptance of your location in life. There is a caste system that is inherent in Indian society which is starting to break down but with so many people, this will take time. I can see why people try hard to leave India, start anew and climb out of whatever caste they were born into.
Let me sidebar again. We went to purchase alcohol last night in Melbourne. At the register ahead of us were Indian gents making their purchase, rather sheepishly. I guess they are from a province where it is forbidden to sell or drink alcohol. So for them, they are breaking what they have always been taught is the law. Probably in addition to disobeying their parents. It is hard to break with what you have been taught your whole life. I was proud of them for stepping out of their comfort zone. Although I hope someone teaches them about moderation.
We pull into Jaipur station, and as we depart the train the tallest Indian man I have ever seen, offers to help with our bags. I agree after a small negotiation. We tell him taxi, but he leads us to the car park, to a man who has a fan club of giggling morons and the tall man walks us to this gents car. We negotiate with giggling fan club man as we follow tall guy who has our bags hostage on his head. I pay the large man and he leaves us to be extorted. I have enough and start to walk off with our bags. The driver drops his price to a reasonable amount and we accept. He was pleasant enough. He gives us his card and makes a good offer to taxi us around the next day, but with a large crack in the windscreen I was not feeling too safe in that car.
Samode was high class. A lot of strong ‘I was born into money’ English accents and the like were to be heard when dining. The Haveli was immaculately kept and very beautiful. The room was comfortable the shower one of the best I had in India.
We booked a car the next morning, which was not cheap but of a very good quality. Our driver drove right up to the front door of the Amer Fort, which is not usual practice, but our driver used Rebecca’s disability to get us up there. And glad we were. It would have been hard for Rebecca to climb, especially in the heat.
I enjoyed the fort. It was not over crowded, although there were people everywhere, and there was so much to explore. You could easily get lost within its many tunnelled walls and myriad of stair cases. I did so while Rebecca sat and rested, at which time I was approached by a young man who was sweeping. He offered to show me a good place for photos. I accepted and followed. After many steps and a stop or two on the way to take more photos, we arrive at a high location where you could look down into the valley below and a different fort above. I tipped him and made my way back to Rebecca.
We wandered around slowly, and managed to get around rather easily. There were many ways of getting up and down with gently sloping ramps. We had a coffee at the cafe after which Rebecca spotted a shop she had read about that was fair trade. So, after the purchase of a few scarves, we left, but not without the purchase of some non fair trade puppets on the way to the car.
We asked the driver to take us to lunch somewhere traditional, and not expensive. I was a little more assertive in this request, and it was granted. On the way to lunch we stopped by Man Sagar Lake for a few photo’s of the Jal Mahal.
After a lovely lunch, we made our way to Jaipur City Palace. One of the things the camera loves about India is the colour. As dirty and dusty as Rajasthan is, the use of colour is extraordinary. The City Palaces pink, orange, browns and sometimes greens, exemplifies this.
Before retiring for the night, we had just enough time to visit the Jantar Mantar, just next door to the Palace. The Jantar Mantar is a collection of architectural astronomical instrument. We only had an hour or so, but it was well worth the entry fee.
The following day we were to change hotels, which was a little bit of a disaster. The previous day the driver and car were exceptional. Now that we were leaving, for the same price we received a crap car and average driver. Not even in a fancy hotel are they to be trusted. In addition to this it was a public holiday. On Republic day, most things are closed. The sights we wanted to see were closed, or we were not permitted entry. Eventually we were taken to a garden on the outskirts of town, the location and name escape me, as by this time Rebecca and I were rather frustrated. It was a nice small garden. We had wasted enough time and went to the Alsisar Haveli.
Upon arrival, we were given a sub standard room. I suspect they were just trying to be nice to Rebecca as the room was on the ground floor. But with no running hot water, a damp smell, and considering we already paid for a superior room, I requested we get what we paid for. They tell me it’s a few stair flights up and I tell them this is no bother. After a length of time, our wish was granted, and although several flights of steps had to be negotiated, the room was far superior.
We had lunch and hung around the hotel relaxing before dinner. At one point Rebecca returns to our room in a bad mood. She tells me a man had approached and was asking about her disability. She had lectured him abruptly about asking such things and retreated. I came across the same fellow, and after a chat, found that he was the resident masseur. He apologises regarding his question. After telling Rebecca, we end up inviting him to give us both a deep tissue massage. It was painful but very relaxing. He was very observant about Rebecca’s condition and her posture or lack thereof. Just by doing your feet, he could tell your ailments. We had a great chat about cricket during which h tells me he had massaged the Australian cricket team. He liked Glen McGrath and Jason Gillespie though he was not a fan of Sachin Tendulkar. He said he was rude, and did not do enough with his wealth for the Indian people.
We had dinner and rested as the next day we were meeting up with Hardeep.
Next morning we had a little trouble but eventually found Hardeep and boarded a bus Hardeep had hired for our journey to Kota. Then we were treated to several laps of Jaipur, trying to find Hardeep’s sister’s hotel. Evidently, like the Japanese, Indians do not like to say no, so they will send you in any old direction even if they have no idea. We found the hotel, had breakfast there and boarded the bus headed for Kota. It was a bumpy trip, but we sat down the back of the bus like we were back at high school and caught up with Hardeep and Eddie over a few whiskies.
We made it to Kota in time for dinner, where all the men gathered and went out for a drink. In a dry town, it was not easy. We found a place that would permit drink for a price. There was not much to eat, but we managed a drink. The Indian boys got fed up with management and we left. The ladies got a good feed in the hotel, which made my stomach jealous.
Next morning we had breakfast in the hotel, and the pampering of Hardeep began, much to his disappointment. I enjoyed watching. Shortly after we suited up, crossed the busy road, went under the smelly bridge to the temple. The temple was on the second floor of a standard city building which again was to my surprise. We sat on the floor and waited. The bride arrives and the ceremony began. It went much quicker than I anticipated and next thing we know we are back over the road to have reception number one. There was a lot of banging of drums on the way to and back from the temple, and before entering the reception, there was more music.
Inside we sit for introductions and entertainment headed by a Kamahl lookalike. Intelligently all the Indian people sat as far away as possible from the stage, where the westerners had no choice but to locate themselves. We joined in the fun and frolics with the band and dancers. Why the hell not. No one really knew whom we were and it was unlikely they would ever see us again. Eddie was having the most fun. He knows why.
We ate a vegetarian meal, drank soft drink and chatted. The couple cut the cake, danced, and called it a afternoon, for that night, meat and alcohol was to be had at reception number two. We had a little sleep and a shower, and boarded the bus to the second reception.
Sidebar. I have damaged my hearing over the years. My ears pop with pain when the music is too loud. At a large concert it might happen once or twice, which is tolerable. But unfortunately, for me, the music was so loud, even when sat as far away as we could from the speakers I had to plug my ears to stop the pop, and the pain. These Indians like to party! I was told not be a party pooper. The music was eventually turned down to a level that did not give me too much trouble thanks to Hardeeps request.
We had a great night drinking Indian whiskey. This has to be mixed with cola. We chatted, laughed, and got very drunk. Rebecca asked for beer, which was a mistake she later regretted, and so did I. The night ended and we boarded the bus home. Hardeep’s new wife found out what a drunk husband is like and we heard she had to nurse him till morning. I also found that it was only the second time they had met in person. I was astounded as this was not an arranged marriage. I later found out they had been Skyping for over two years before meeting, which is where they fell in love. Romance over the internet. They are still together, both very entrepreneurial, and maintain a relationship over the distance from India to the UK. Quite astounding.
The bus ride home was fun. We got lost again, but found our way back. During this time, the beer had set in and Beck was no fun to be around. It was a few hours before we also got to have any sleep. The next morning we were both hung over and Beck was rather sheepish.
The holiday must go on! A car was arranged for Eddie, Beck and I and a smooth ride was had to Udaipur. We found our hotels, and met Eddie for dinner. Dinner was had at our hotel. We stayed at the Jagat Niwas Palace which is right on the lake. We dined on the roof taking in the view over the lake. The meal was of a high quality and we had a cocktail or two over some great conversation.
I awoke early the next day and wandered the narrow streets. It was a beautiful morning. The weather pleasant and the sun just starting to poke up over the horizon. We found a little place to have a cup of tea and breakfast after which we made our way very slowly to the City Palace Udaipur.
Once inside the palace grounds the gardens are very peaceful, so we sat and let Rebecca rest for a while before entering. Once inside you follow a proscribed path. It was one of the better sights we visited. Many internal views were on display and the palace has a style I had not seen before. I read it was a fusion of the Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles. A must see if you are in town. It was not crowded and Rebecca made her way round rather easily. We did stop off and take a break now and again. That evening Rebecca returned to the room to rest and I went out to photograph Udaipur at sunset.
That night we had dinner with Hardeep’s family over the lake at Ambrai restaurant which was of a high standard. Once back at the hotel the ladies and gents split. We had a few whiskeys in one of our hotel rooms and the ladies had some tea in the reception hall. Ed and I had a good chat with Hardeep’s brother in law and his father. I had a good time and the boys were great company.
Next day was a slow one as Rebecca’s leg was playing up. We had to make our way through the palace to catch a boat ride round the lake and over to the Taj Lake Palace. I enjoyed the boat ride. I could have forgone the Lake Palace. It was nothing special. I gather it is very nice if you can afford to stay and see the internals of the building.
We dined in the hotel again that night, as we were leaving the next day.
Rebecca awoke to sickness. We were to leave our bags at reception and explore until it was time to catch the overnight train back to Delhi. We ended up hiring a room for Rebecca to rest in while I went to explore with my camera, getting myself lost and found in the process.
The train ride to Delhi was OK. We had some good company, and ate the on-train meal for dinner. We should have noticed that our fellow passengers passed on this offer. The meal was lukewarm and Rebecca did not eat much, which was good as I was the next to fall to illness. I had thought myself invincible. If I was thinking straight, I would have not eaten the train meal as it was obviously not cooked properly. I awoke in the night feeling rather ill, and to a bad smell. (more on the smell later) Upon arrival in Delhi we took a taxi back to Bnineteen for our last night in India. I was in need of a lie down, but our room was not ready, and we had to wait downstairs where the smell of fresh paint was evident.
Needless to say, our last day in India was a sad one. I was very ill and I received a message that my grandfather had passed. So sick or not I was determined to return home. We requested some medication from the hotel staff and they obliged. The first pills temporarily rid me of nausea. The second lot (which after looking up on the internet are given to cancer patients for nausea after chemotherapy) did the trick and we left for home. I had a pill before we left the hotel, and another shortly after the plane departed. I had a good nap all the way to Kuala Lumpur airport, after feeling a little trippy.
Once in the lounge at KL airport I was feeling better, and was in need of a shower. I could have a shower. But with no hot water? Why did I need a shower? I smelt. A change of shirt helped. I thought it was just me but when we arrived back in Melbourne and opened the bags, we found where the smell was coming from. Everything in the bags smelt like diesel. I suspect in the overnight train back to Delhi our cabin filled with diesel smell. Rebecca was already sick and I was getting sick so we did not notice. It must have permeated into the bags. Most of the smells came out in the wash, but some things were bound with the rubbish bin, and others needed a bake in the hot Melbourne sun. India followed us home, like a bad smell.
We chose the train as our form of transport believing that we would experience a more authentic India. We did.
A word of advice, get a driver. Or take your Indian friends recommendation and fly.
I have never attended a wedding overseas. Out of nowhere I had two. The first was in Macau to celebrate the wedding of Terry and Carolina. The second was in India to celebrate with Hardeep and Sonia. Both in the span of four months.
We flew Premium Economy with Qantas. It was OK. Seats are adequate and the meals good quality. But on the way to Hong Kong we sat next to business men who had friends in business class. One of their friends decidedt four in the morning would be a good time to come and talk loudly, disturbing everybody in premium economy. Inconsiderate? A few hours later I was eating muesli, when a filling popped out. It was one of my front teeth, I was the best man, the wedding was the next day. I was not impressed. I looked like a true Collingwood supporter. (For those foreign to Australian Rules Football, Collingwood fans are depicted all too often with teeth missing)
As soon as we landed at 6am I rang Terry. Carolina’s mother Sonia then arranged a visit to the dentist. We had to wait for the 10am ferry to Macau, and by the time we had arrived at Sonia’s house it was past midday. We had time for lunch after which Sonia and I left for the dentist.
Sonia and I squeezed onto a full bus. On the way there, with her limited English Sonia tells me ‘dentist very, ummmmm, messy, but good dentist’. OK. I trust you Sonia. We arrived in town and made our way up a few flights of stairs above a shopping street, and enter a lone door.
My surroundings? Let me just say had Sonia not escorted me there, I may have walked out. It was very messy, the walls a little dirty, and the equipment a kickback from the seventies. Sonia left and I was alone with the Dentist. No nurse? Cool. He gave me two options, temporary fill like the one I had, or full root canal and I had to come back tomorrow. I explained I had a wedding to attend the next day, so the filling will do. We chatted about Melbourne. He had relatives there and in Sydney. Doesn’t everyone?
Sonia was right, he did a great job, with a small amount of pain killer and no nurse. What a dude. I did not have to pay a cent. He told me it was a favor for Sonia. This guy came in on his day off as well! I thanked him and departed.
I had to wait for Terry to come pick me up. I waited and walked around Senado Square for a few hours. Terry had taken the wrong bus and ended up at the Chinese border. He took a taxi from there to make sure he was headed in the right direction. We went to the entrance of a casino to get return taxi. By this time it was getting rather late. We had time to get to the hotel, change, have a shower and go out to dinner.
Our accommodation on Macau was the Pousada De Coloane. The wedding reception was also taking place there. It was reasonably priced, the pool was good, and the room clean and neat. The beds were a little hard but comfortable and the food in the restaurant very tasty and affordable. Looking back it was a great place to stay. It was not too far from central Macau, and it was out of the way enough that we escaped the hustle and bustle of the casinos and we were right next to the beach. We had our own little piece of serenity. Highly recommend it if you are going to Macau. Unless you love casinos in which case forget about it. Not a slot machine or roulette table in sight.
Dinner that night was close by and attended by the immediate family and us. We had a great time drinking and eating. Rebecca and I felt more than welcome. A little too welcome as a matter of fact, as the next morning we had regretted the frivolity.
A couple of pain killers later I am up and dressed and make my way over to give Terry some support. Plus I needed someone to do my tie.
Terry was, to put it bluntly, wetting his trousers. Keep in mind he is already married, in a civil union back in England. But this was different. Terry was not brought up with religion and a church is a foreign and rather daunting place. Terry, I hope I did my job as best man by settling you down. I think we ended up having a laugh of two which always calms the nerves.
The drive to the church was a little squeezed and confused (don’t ask), and after some sweaty armpits we arrived.
A few I do’s and a prayer of two later the wedding was over, and it was photo time. I think the photo session inside and outside the church was longer than the ceremony itself.
Back at the hotel there was some time before the main reception started, so we were able to have a few beers and a shower to freshen up before the main event.
The reception was great. We had a great time and met some new people. Two things surprised me. There were no names on the tables indicating your place to sit. I am not sure if this was a cultural thing or not. What was cultural though, was the karaoke. The band was good, very good. I appreciate a good wedding band. It’s not often you get that. As the night wore on, the perfect pitch of our guests getting up to sing declined. At which such time the western gents retreated to the bar.
We sat up late that night with Debbie, Bel, Terry, Carolina and Adelina. There is nothing quite like being in a foreign place but feeling so welcome and relaxed after such an occasion. I will never forget being there with them. Thanks guys for making me feel a part of your celebration.
For some strange reason I could not sleep very well. Maybe it was from all the excitement, not to mention the alcohol. Who knows? So early morning I got up, grabbed my camera and ventured outside. Carolina’s Uncle Edmundo was out sitting enjoying the morning air, with his cigarette and a coffee. I sat with him over and chatted over a coffee. Edmundo then told me a lot about Macau, its history and how it’s changing. He was also a keen photographer, and noting my SLR offered to take me into a little village close by. I believe the village was called Coloane. Not 100% sure. After a short bus trip, we wandered around town. From the coast you look over the water to China. I learnt a lot about the ever changing Macau that morning, and a little family history as well. It was a rare morning for me. I thank you very much for you time Edmundo. Little things like that will always remain prominent in my memory.
Not much else happened that day. We went out for dinner later that night with Bel and Debbie after which we ventured into one of the Casino’s. The Venetian. So garish. A robust discussion was had about casinos that night between Belly and I. It was good to have a discussion where two people on opposing sides are able to discuss and debate without losing respect for one another. Much appreciated Belly.
Terry and Carolina were available the next day. Or should we say not indisposed. They took us around Macau to see some of the more historical sites. A-Ma temple was our first stop. Terry and I climbed the hill and the girls stayed below. Becks leg was giving her a little grief and Carolina was looking after Lavina in the pram. Not the most awe inspiring temple I have been to but worth a stop.
Next we took a taxi, eventually, to the Mandarin House. We spent a lot of time here. I was fascinated by the layout and architecture. Nestled among the taller buildings, tucked away in a little street on the hill. Somehow this place was serene. It was a small, ancient complex. A great place for us to relax, talk and for Lavina to play.
It was getting late. The sun was going down. And the best place to see the island from was the ancient Monte Fortress which houses the Macau Museum. It was dark, we could not see much, and it was closing time. We left shortly after an argument with the elevator Nazi who made Beck walk the steep cobble stoned slope, instead of taking the lift.
Upon leaving the fort we wandered down the hill and after some antics on the public gym equipment we went down to see the ruins of St. Pauls, then continued on down the hill into Senado Square where I had spent hours waiting for Terry a few days previous. It’s a nice walk with the old Spanish colonial buildings lining the street, and the ladies loved the shops.
We were to depart for Hong Kong the next day, but before we left we had a final lunch of yum cha with Carolina’s mother and father. The place was packed, and I gave everything a try. As far as I remember I don’t think I passed anything up. That afternoon we boarded a ferry and took a cruise over to Kowloon upon which Terry had some interesting noodles. I passed them up for a sandwich. I would have fallen asleep had I indulged myself.
Rebecca and I splashed out for the few days we were staying on Kowloon in one of the cheaper rooms at Hotel Icon. We arrived by taxi and were well looked after. In our room we relaxed and took a shower before meeting Terry and Carolina for dinner. It was a nice room. I recommend it. A very well designed building with a cavernous entrance containing the reception and bar. A welcome change to the poky entrances to most hotels we have stayed at.
Dinner that night was cheap and traditional, and delicious. Noodles were to be had by all, including Lavina. For desert we stopped off for some ice-cream. Some interesting choices with American size servings. We were met by one of Terry’s friends whom Terry informs me is a pop star in Hong Kong. Nice bloke. Forget his name. We left the famous people to lap up the limelight and headed to bed.
The next day there was a lot of walking to be done. Needless to say Rebecca stopped off a few times to rest her leg. After waiting for the arrival of Terry and Carolina during which I got very hungry and ate from a street stall, (I will get back to that later) we wandered down the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade, down the Avenue of Stars on which we knew only a few of the persons listed in the pavement, except for Jackie Chan and the statue of Bruce Lee.
After spending some time at the Kowloon Public Pier, shopping was the call for the rest of the day. First at the Ocean Terminal, and then in Kowloon town, where, by the time Rebecca had finally purchased a few leather bags, my feet were killing me and I was so hungry that anger set in. I think I contained myself quite well considering the last shop she was in for over an hour! One shop! She was still there after going for a wonder looking in shops by myself! We ate dinner in the hotel that night. No way was I going out to find a restaurant! Low and behold all of a sudden Becks leg was killing her. Talk about timing. But I digress.
We had breakfast the next morning in the hotel with Terry and Carolina as we bid them farewell on their trip to enjoy a beach in Thailand somewhere (if I remember correctly). Mean while Beck and I had booked an apartment on Honk Kong Island.
Having one backpack and a large suitcase with us, eventually took its toll on me. Upon arriving at our apartment on Hong Kong Island my back went out. It was giving me a lot of pain. I ventured out onto Queens Road West to find myself a massage parlour. No, not the kind you’re thinking! After an hour of deep tissue massage and a walk on my back, I was back on my feet, feeling a little better but cautious. After a rest and refresh, we used goggle maps to find a place to dine. Becks leg was hurting and my back tender, so we found the closest place with the best reviews, and like a pair of invalids, slowly wandered up a few streets to dinner at Serenade.
It specialises in seafood. I was hungry so I had a steak. A very nice soft steak and we had oysters as an entrée. The staff was very friendly and the atmosphere relaxing. Highly recommend it.
That night, I got the sweats, and the toilet became my friend. That sausage I mentioned I had consumed a few days earlier? We could not think of anything else I consumed that Rebecca did not. I gave Rebecca the other half of the sausage, and she gave it back to me. She said it smelt. I put it down to cultural differences. But just maybe it was bad. So the next day I spent in bed and Rebecca rested her leg. Regaining my composure and drugged up a little we left the apartment that evening.
We wandered over to take a ride on the street escalator. Starting at Cochrane Street we travelled up past Hollywood Road and up into the tourist district where all the western yobs, Bogans and all manner of suited up people could be found. We found a Japanese bar and stopped off for some sake, beer and snacks. We people watched for a bit, contemplated never coming back there ever again and called it a night. We wandered down to Hollywood Road and caught a taxi back to the apartment. Back at the apartment, I paid the taxi driver and got out. As he drove off, looking in my bag for the apartment keys I noticed my wallet missing. Not missing. Gone! It was last seen when retrieving the apartment complex business card out of my wallet to inform the non English speaking driver our destination. Upon entering the taxi, I placed the wallet between my legs, then helped Rebecca to find her seatbelt, which was not able to be located. I must have forgotten to put my wallet away after.
We were duly helped to file a police report for insurance purposes by reception, and that night I either placed a hold or cancelled my cards. I was in hope that the taxi driver was a Good Samaritan. The wallet did have the apartment’s card inside, so hopefully someone would find it and get in contact with reception.
As we were exiting the next morning the receptionist tells us a Hong Kong resident had found the wallet in the taxi, and had waited until the morning to call reception as she was a little intoxicated the previous night. The receptionist lived nearby to this lovely person, would pick the wallet up that night and deliver it to me the next day. So that morning was spent shopping to purchase a little present for the receptionist and a larger present for the Good Samaritan.
After shopping we wandered down to the tram stop. This particular tram transverses the whole north side of the island. It is a good way to see a lot without walking. We travelled all the way to the end and departed at Shau Kei Wan Terminus. We wandered up the street to see a little temple, which was closed and wandered back to sit outside the Shau Kei Wan metro station to have a snack and rehydrate. While I was off getting snacks, Beck was being abused by some old local man. The locals were not engaging this guy, so we figured him for the town nut job, and just ignored him. I guess Beck was a good target, being the only westerner in the vicinity and sitting alone. He stayed away after I joined her. We took the MTR back into town.
Departing the train at Admiralty station, we found it very difficult (as did some others) to get over to Hong Kong park. You could not see the park, but you knew it was close. Not wanting to drag Rebecca and her sore leg too far in the wrong direction we caught a cab. Thankfully there was no argument about the short trip, and if he had taken the long way round we would not have minded. Plenty of people leaving the park to pick up I suppose.
Hong Kong Park is well worth a visit. There are tea rooms and a tea museum. The museum of tea ware was quite intriguing. I spent a lot of time admiring the new and old tea sets. Do not ask me why. I suppose it is just amazing how artistic a utensil can get. After a long day, we had dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant a few doors down from the apartment, which was reasonable, and called it a night.
The next morning my wallet was returned and Beck’s leg was feeling a little better, so we explored locally. I ran up and down a ridiculous amount of stairs taking photos, and Beck did some snapping of her own and some shopping. To avoid a repeat injury to my back we went shopping for another rolling suitcase. Found a nice bargain down what Beck called the Filipino street. Apparently there are a lot of housemaids from the Philippines and we went wandering down their shopping street on their only day off. It was a little congested and off putting for the amputee, but after a little haggling we left happy with our purchase. Not too long after Becks leg was causing her pain so we took it easy for the rest of the day. Dinner was had on Gough Street, but I cannot seem to find the place we ate at. It was OK. It could be one of the restaurants that has changed nine times since its incarnation.
The hop on, hop off bus tour was the call of the following day. Rebecca needed to stay off her leg, and we needed to see more of Hong Kong. It was a beautiful day so we sat atop the bus, took in a little vitamin D and snapped happily from the elevated position. The bus travels around the West part of the island from North to South. The South part of the Island is filled with beach resorts. It was a very nice day for a wander on the beach but we stayed on the bus and returned to the big smoke up North. We did hop off briefly to take a ride on an overpriced boat ride in Aberdeen Harbour. I say overpriced as we were on the boat maybe 15 minutes at the most, while the next bus was nearly a half hour away. It was good to get off the bus regardless.
That night we had another great meal, this time at Basement. I had another great steak along with a fancy bottle of red. It had great atmosphere. Dark enough that you could enjoys each other’s company without feeling like you’re in a large room filled with people.
Our last day we were up early to get the forty five degree vertical tram up to The Peak. Trust that on our last day it was overcast and windy. We got blown a bit, but worth a look. It was very touristy. On a good clear night I would have loved to be there with my camera and a tripod. The tram ride was good fun.
This brings me to the end of our journey. One we may not have had had it not been for Terry and Carolina’s wedding. I find you always get nice surprises when you have no expectations before your journey. It was great to spend a little time with old friends and makes me miss them all the more, and reinforces the importance of travel and living in another country once in your life. All the people I have met have made an impact on me and who I am today. I thank you all for being a part of my life, and I hope to meet many more of you.
Happy travels people.
P.S. – A word on the photography. The images reflect the way I feel in an international city like Hong Kong. Hong Kong for me was like New York. There was form and color, texture and line. I enjoyed it immensely from a photographic sense. But unlike New York, it was very alien, which is reflected by the images of the cats.
From when we visited Sydney, a year has passed. I know this blog gets little attention, but for my own records and the few friends and family that are interested, I will recall.
Up until I was twenty eight I was living in Melbourne. I never did see Sydney in that time. Darwin, Surfers Paradise, most of Victoria, and my mother refreshes my mind of the time I went to Adelaide, when I was two! It took a wedding invitation to get me up there. I was 36!
The drive from the northern suburbs of Melbourne is not a bad one. It can be done in a day, if you leave early. The drive from town to town is approximately eight hours, which included a stop for lunch in Gundagai.
Our stay was at the Intercontinental Sydney. Not cheap by any means, but a very pleasant stay. No complaints at all. I highly recommend it. The location, right next to Circular Quay was superb. From there, I was able to go for several walks around the Quay and the Rocks, while leaving Rebecca to rest her leg and a half at the hotel. We ate in our room the first night, including a lunch on a lazy day. The food was excellent.
Our first day included a harbour cruise. I highly recommended it. On this cruise you see where Sydney leaves Melbourne for dust. The reason Melbourne has so much culture is because it is basically a boring, rather ugly, unappealing city. You find beauty in Melbourne down individual streets and alleys, and at a few parks. Sydney on the other hand seems to have beauty in abundance. Visually it has more history and natural beauty. The city has a bit of history around every corner and you always feel like the water is a block away.
That night we met our old London comrades at the Belgium Beer Cafe at the Rocks. Not dissimilar to the one in Melbourne, where the beer is excellent and food is good (not great, just good). A great place to catch up over a few Belgium brews. You can always find a beer that the ladies will like (if they are not into beer already).
Next day was the wedding. The church was very quaint and pretty, the reception in Sydney Zoo very nice with a wonderful view. The boat ride over to the zoo was an excellent idea. The problem was it was around 36°C, with a low of 28! There was no air-conditioning anywhere except in the bus. The air conditioner on the bus only worked if we were moving. In traffic? The only cooling down period was on the boat ride. I cannot stress enough the need for air-conditioning at a wedding reception, in Sydney, in early January. Otherwise it was a lovely evening. The next day we could not get out of bed suffering heat exhaustion. No, I was not hung over, I did not drink much due to the extreme heat.
The day after the wedding we spent in bed suffering from exhaustion. Thank god we had not booked anything. I went for a wander to the Rocks around sunset to take some shots. For dinner we went to Fish on the Rocks. The meal was superb, the staff friendly and accommodating, and the wine recommendation perfect. This is one place you get what you pay for. I highly recommend it.
The next day we were booked into the Blue Mountains tour. It was an ok tour. We were treated to a few nice lookouts, although nothing spectacular. It is hard to top glacial views and the volcanic mountains in Iceland. My standards have been raised too high. The history and knowledge about Sydney and the surrounds we learnt along the way was probably the most interesting part of the tour.
That night, after chasing micro brewed beer on the web, we attended The Lord Nelson. We had a few rather good English style ales, in the English style pub that reminded us of a good day in London. Recommended for any Englishman that is missing home but does not want all the cheese that goes along with a themed establishment. We ate from the bar menu that had a good selection of beer soaking meals. The quality of the food as I remember was fine.
Last day we did the Sydney Aquarium. It is not recommended during a hot day. No air-conditioning again! It’s a wonder how the fish survive. Also, a visit during school holidays is best avoided. Otherwise it might be worth a visit. I find it little odd they sell fish and chips at the entry. Maybe so the kids can see what they just ate!
Our last dinner in Sydney we visited the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar. It was not easy to get a table. After some patience we were seated. To our surprise we were given a view over the harbour with the Harbour Bridge in sight. Once again the food was superb, and the staff did remarkably well for a restaurant that was under the strain of fussy, well off tourists and locals. The oysters were fresh! Drop in if you can.
So a quick tour of Sydney! I think we will be back.
Leaving Kangaroo Island on the ferry, the weather was good, the wind light, and our bellies remained intact.
The drive from Cape Jervis to Adelaide was long and painful. The speed limit on the Adelaide highways needs revising. People of South Australia, I ask you, how can you be intelligent to have the speed limit in the country 110km/h, but dumb enough to have 60km/h on your three lane highways in the city?
I will reserve opinion about Adelaide, as we only stayed a night, and we did not leave the hotel. The humble size surprised me on arrival to the city. Adelaide seems like a large town. After visiting New York, Adelaide is dwarfed. We stayed at the Medina Grand Adelaide Treasury, ordered room service, and went to bed early. Another long drive was ahead of us. The hotel was good, food nice. The only drawback that our breakfast was not delivered.
Up early we stopped for coffee and a few V’s, and drove. And drove and drove, north, up the A1. Back on the 110km/h roads being held up by wide loads and trucks only few times, we made good time. Off the A1 we took a right before Port Augusta, and stopped in Quorn for lunch.
Quorn is famous for the Quorn pie. We circled the small town and found Quandong Cafe who sold the famous dish. We had assumed the pie would consist of some sort of baked meat and pastry dish. We would be wrong. It’s a dessert. We were asked if we knew as much when ordering. We may only get this chance once, so we had a dessert for lunch. I thank the gods of my belly that day, as the angels had landed on my taste buds. This piece of heaven has only been rivalled by two others, once in Sicily, and the other here in Melbourne. If you get the chance, stop by and try it.
After satisfying the stomach, we headed towards our next stopover, Wilpena Pound. We stopped along the way, getting out to take photos, and to leave my sunglasses atop of the car. What happened next was straight out of a comedy movie. I noticed my glasses were missing, and that they fell off the roof as I drove off, so we drove back to find them. There they sat, in the middle of the road. I pulled over, and checked my mirror before opening the door. In the mirror, a truck, I could do nothing, but watch my sun glasses get crushed!
At Wilpena we stayed at the Wilpena Pound Resort. The resort is dated, the staff is friendly and helpful, and the restaurant was reasonably priced with food commonly found in a good pub. The location is perfect, and you can camp also if you like.
The pound is located in the Flinders Ranges National Park, and consists of massive crater which appears to be created by a meteor impact. In fact, the pound was created by moving plates. It lies on what used to be a fault line. We took a four wheel drive geological tour on our only full day in the pound. We were shown the old fault line, fossils, and rocks that are clear evidence that that area was once under water. Rocks in clear view were up to 800 million years old. As you drive through the red, white and brown rock with minimal vegetation, that the whole area would have had fish, sharks and coral all around is hard to imagine.
The morning of our leaving, we took a light aircraft scenic flight. Rebecca was afraid that she would not be able to get into the plane, but with her leg removed, she was able to get into the back, and we were off.
I was invited to sit next to the pilot. It was also the first time I was able to use the D300 on such a flight. No easy feat, but I did manage to get a few nice images. If you go to the pound, you have to go up. Without the aerial view, you miss the scale of the pound.
After the pound it was time to head back south. We were able to get to our next port of call the Clare Valley by about 3pm.
Clare Valley is a wine region, so on arrival we looked for a place to go for a late lunch and wine tasting. It being Sunday, many were closed, but Skilogallee was open until 5pm. We were greeted by one of the rudest, most arrogant woman I have even had the displeasure of meeting. We were a little late for lunch, but there was no need for the attitude. We later found out, after speaking to Diane, our host at the Brice Hill Country Lodge, that this woman has this attitude to all, unless you obey and make a booking. It is supposedly the best restaurant in town, therefore the arrogance. I do not see a need for it, and do not recommend visiting, unless you are into being snubbed. We managed to get a good feed at the Clare’s town bakery.
In our day and a half in Clare valley, we managed five wineries. At every stop we purchased wine. We stopped going to wineries, as on every visit, our budget depleted. Sunday evening we went to Sevenhill, where I managed some good images in the church. Sevenhill has been producing wine since 1851, when it was produced as sacramental wine by the Jesuit priests. I thought to get a port while I was there, as I imagine they would drink a bit, being priests.
The next morning, we drop into Sugar Shack Soap. We spent an hour chatting to Lyn and Norm, about life, business and football. Lyn also felt so sorry for Beck that the longer we were there, the more she piled onto our tray of soaps. Lovely people and some beautiful soaps.
Reillys winery was the first for the day, just outside of Clare in Mintaro. We also had lunch after spending a fortune on wine. The food was good, the wine even better, and this time we were given a warm welcome.
We were also warmly welcomed by Alison at Paulett Wines, in which more chatter and wine tasting was had. By the time we left Polish Hill River we were a little intoxicated, and also a little wine wiser. Loaded with wine, we were a little worried that the wheelchair would get left behind, to make way for all the booze. And we still had two nights in the Barossa to come.
So lastly we dropped into the Knappstein Winery and Brewhouse to see if we could pick up some cheap beer. No chance. You can buy the beer cheaper in Dan Murphy’s. Go figure. So instead we purchased a few more bottles of wine.
After an afternoon sleep (wine nap) we had dinner at the Sevenhills local pub, because it was the only thing open! It was not a bad meal, but nothing to rave about.
Leaving the next day for the Barossa Valley, we decided to stop by the Barossa Brewing Company. It was closed as they also have 9-5 jobs and work the brewery on the weekend. The sign on the door did direct us to the pub around the corner we were able to purchase a few bottles. We ran into a guy from Dandenong who owned the pub with his wife who was an South Australian. Oh what a life that must be, and what a great change from the Nong!
In the Barossa we stayed at the Novatel just outside of Tanunda. Nice place with a nice view. It was very quiet for the amount of rooms. Arriving early, and being a little peckish we set off for Maggie Beers Farm. Maggie Beer has a cooking show on television here in Australia, and the food did not disappoint. The glass of wine was noting to rave about, but the duck terrine that was quite extraordinary. It is very touristy, but worth dropping into.
With some time before dinner we popped past Seppeltsfield. We decided that we had purchased enough wine, so as to avert any more wine purchasing; we would stay away from cellar doors, except for ones that had beer. The port on offer was too much to resist, but I purchased a Tokay for something a little different, and we left with beers and cordial also. Their bock beer is a little too gassy, and a little lacking in taste, but the blonde beer is very good.
The best thing about Tanunda and the valley was the restaurant we dined at the two nights in Barossa. Our first dinner at the 1918 bistro and grill was better than the second. I recommend getting the specials; they seem to put more love into them. We had some wonderful wine, and the first night was by far the best meal we had all holiday.
The next day we drove south, dropping by the Lobethal Bierhaus. The town is in the name. It is an award winning microbrewery. We were lucky the door was open as they were not. I wandered in and asked if we could purchase some beer. The owner and his wife were happy to accommodate us. The gent was a man of the financial world, making his money, he and a good friend decided to quit the high life, and do something they love; brewing beer. The love for the beer is evident is the tasting. We tasted all the beers and purchased a case with a pair of each type. The only thing missing was their Belgian brew, which we loved. It was only for sale over the bar.
That day we also dropped by Handorf, which we were told was a beautiful old town by many. If you have been to Europe, then don’t bother, you have seen old towns. This place is just touristy and boring (in my opinion).
When leaving the Barossa we dropped into the Barossa Valley Brewing Company located at the Yaldara Estate. They have two beers, the Bee Sting and the Organic Ale. We purchased a few Ales (you can get the Bee Sting in Dan Murphys) which is a fine beer, and left for Victoria, to the Grampians.
In the Grampians we rented a lovely little place just outside of Halls Gap. Relaxed would be how I describe this place. DULC Cabins was our home for two nights, and although we initially had no hot water, it was quickly fixed, and with the BBQ at hand, we were able to salvage a near disastrous end to a holiday.
The BBQ was the only alternative to the horror dinner we had the night before. If you stay in Halls Gap, DO NOT, go to the Quarry restaurant. It was by far the worst meal I have EVER had.
It is quite odd. I have travelled the world, seen many beautiful places, but right on our doorstep all those years was the Grampians. This was the first time we had visited; it will not be the last. It’s defiantly worth the trip. It is a great place for a weekend retreat out of Melbourne.
I have tried to sum our trip up rather quickly. There was a lot undertaken in a short time, and I have tried to give a reference for those that tread the same path and need a place to stay or eat, and those to avoid.
After reflection of our holiday, and after going through my images, I can see why people live in Australia and never feel the need to leave. The diversity of the terrain coupled with the friendliness of the people (in general), and the adventure of a drive that you never care to end. You are always looking out the window, and you can always find somewhere to stop and take out the camera, even from the side of the road.
I felt this country paled in comparison to many places I have been in the world, and I do miss having Europe two hours train ride away, but Australia certainly has a character that is of its own. It has an identity and a soul that I understand. I guess we are home.
For the first time after her motorcycle accident Beck was to leave the safety of our home. With the wheelchair in the back seat, all the medical supplies that were required for the two weeks and the luggage, we set off from Melbourne and headed to Port Fairy.
We decided to start our tour of the Great Ocean Road at Lorne. This route takes you through the mountains instead of around the coast. I mention this because on the mountainous, windy roads we encountered cyclists, racing. There were no signs about this race, no trailing car warning us of their presence. It seemed an unofficial race. But none the less, they like to take up the road, and not care about the traffic. As we passed them, Beck became uneasy, which resulted in a panic attack. She was having flashbacks about her accident.
Here our journey almost ended before it had started. Beck wanted to go home, NOW! She was worried about her ability to handle the lengthy drive we had embarked on. I held firm and we made it to Apollo Bay were we stopped for lunch. If you stop in Apollo Bay for lunch, and like seafood, Buff’s Bistro has great seafood chowder. I love my fishy dishes and this hit the spot.
This also gave Beck time to settle and reaffirm her confidence in my driving, and in her own ability to cope with this long journey. With a full tummy and a relaxed wife we proceeded with our journey down the Great Ocean Road.
We did the usual thing down the coastal road. Stopped a few times, took in the sights of the coast, and stopped at the Twelve Apostles with all the other tourists.
In Port Fairy we stayed at Clonmara, in a little cottage. (Their website was down when I attached this link). Clonmara is a bargain. The owner, who I am guessing is an English ex pat, was charming and very friendly. The room was big, clean, and had a nice large bath room for Beck and her wheelchair. In addition, some port and chocolates gratis on arrival. By the end of the holiday I had acquired three bottles of port, due to this kind gesture.
For dinner, we booked what we thought was a table at The Stag, but upon arrival we were told that our booking was not taken. The gent kindly informed us that we had most probably called Saltra Brasserie, as they now posses their old phone number. Indeed we had. No drama. Saltra was not as fancy, but the food was good and there were not as many noses in the air (so to speak), so overall a good night. I had a new beer there too. A very nice Prickly Pear beer. Have a pot if find yourself in the bar. Very tasty and light.
Our next destination was Robe, in South Australia. Right away we came across what was our first lot of wind farms on the journey. I just had to take a few photos. With the cows in the field, it made a good shot.
Shortly after setting off, Beck needed to visit the little girl’s room, and we needed a decent coffee. We took a detour to Portland. Not being on the way to anywhere, Portland seems to be a place forgotten. It was Sunday, and as you might guess, nothing was open. Beck found tea rooms that were open, so we stopped in the hope of finding a decent coffee. Decent coffee we did find, and a coffee table we could not resist either.
The tea room was also a gallery, called The Tea Tree Gallery. It has some very nice artwork, jewellery, tea cups, and ornamental nick knacks, and of course coffee tables. We chatted with Belinda the owner for so long, that Vaughn the artist who made the coffee table appeared. He informed us about the creation of the tables and the significance of the materials used.
If Rebecca had not needed to tinkle, we may not have our special little table. There is no other reason to go through the main street of Portland. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not on the way to anywhere. If you are on the way to South Australia, via the Great Ocean Road, drop into Portland, just to drop into The Tea Tree Gallery. It’s well worth it. You might find something you can not resist.
At the recommendation of Belinda and Vaughn we went a little further out of the way, to Cape Bridgewater. On the way to the cape, we took a dirt road and found more wind farms, and the walk that Belinda had mentioned. But Rebecca could not manage the walk so we headed to the Cape. It was a beautiful sunny day, and this little out of the way beach was perfect for surfers to exploit. We stopped, sucked in the sea air and I put my feet in the water, and quickly retreated and it was ice cold.
We wasted much time on our detour so from the Cape we headed straight for Robe, only stopping in Mount Gambier for a fish and chip lunch. I have a question. Where is the Mount in Gambier? Ok maybe it is there, but I did not see it.
The nice thing about going from Victoria into South Australia is the speed limit. From 100 to 110kph. I do not know what it is about 110, but the car just seems to like going 110, more than it does 100. Those South Australians have got that right.
In Robe we stayed at the Patsy Ryan Cottages in cottage B. It’s a cottage on the outside but a standard house on the inside. The house was roomy and comfortable. But my one complaint is that we still do not have our bond back. Sarah our host warned us as much, but it is three weeks later and still no sign of it. I will amend this if we get the bond back, but as of now, no bond, so bad review.
We unpacked, and went for a drive. While by no means a large town, Robe was quaint and quiet. It’s a town with a little history and a lot of new boat owning residents. I would guess a lot of the houses are those of the rich, who come down when the weather is good, to go sailing and the like.
As the sun went down I took a few shots, without the tripod, and then to the Caledonian Inn for dinner. For a place by the sea the Oysters Natural were very disappointing, not fresh. The Seafood Special was next, which was nice but nothing to rave about. Service was good and friendly. After dinner I had a few local ports, and we bedded down for the night.
Next morning we headed to Cape Jervis for the ferry ride to Kangaroo Island. A long 400km drive, then a ferry and another 130km to the accommodation. Needless to say it was a long drive. So, when we stopped for a break at Salt Creek, where there was the general store and that was it, I purchased one of those Mother drinks. After consuming most of that, I was well awake, and made it in good time to Cape Jervis. We had so much time on our hands, I stopped several times to take photos.
When we arrived at Cape Jervis, the winds were so strong, that I struggled to open the car door. 75km/h average speed we later found out. You could imagine how strong the gusts were. The wind cone at the port hardly moved. It was virtually locked in the horizontal position.
Beck was not in a good mood as she knew what we were in for. I was blissfully unaware. I drove the car onto the ferry and met Beck inside. She was close to the front. She informs me this is not good for sea sickness. Oh well, come what may. I was certainly not expecting what came next.
While Beck was throwing up, requesting a new vomit bad every 10 minutes, I was concentrating on my breathing, trying to hold back whatever it was trying to take over my body.
As the ferry rocked and smashed against the waves, Paresthesia appeared in my feet and hands. It then proceeded to invade my body from these two points, creeping all the way through my limbs, and into my stomach, where it had no place to go. So I concentrated on breathing and focused the horizon. 50 minutes later we made it Pennenshaw. We docked, and the call went out to all drivers to go to their cars. Beck told me to go, but I could not move.
It took me at least another 5 minutes to drag myself up and go down to the car. After disembarking and picking Beck up, we sat in the car park to recover. I do not know if it was the Mother energy drink, or just me, but that was one of the most intense experiences I have ever had. The next 3 days I kept an eye on the weather, praying for light winds when for our return journey. I recovered sufficiently to drive and we headed into Kangaroo Island.
Beck once again started to have panic attacks. Once again I pulled over; let her recover for a bit, but to no avail. We had to get going as it was near dusk, and driving in the bush not knowing where I was going, was not my idea of fun.
On our way to the accommodation we had the displeasure of running over the top of a blonde echidna, and I nearly hit a kangaroo. The echidna looked to be fine; he went under the car and bounced a bit after he’d rolled up into a ball. Beck went berserk, yelling ‘you killed an echidna’ over and over; until I told her that I thought it would be fine, just a bit bruised.
Our home for the next three days was the Wilderness Valley Studio. Beck had assumed that there was more than one, but to her surprise we were all alone, 8km down a dirt road, with not another house in sight.
The studio had a great wood fire convection heater, solar and wind power, rain water tanks and the lot. All you needed was provided for. We did not want for anything. Except for some strange reason a sponge to do the dishes and a tea towel to dry them. We settled in, and were very comfortable there. So much so we could have easily spent a week in this place, relaxing in front of the fire.
The next day the wind did not retreat. In fact it gained strength. Nothing stops the tourist, and tour we will.
Day one we went to the Flinders Chase National Park. First stop Admirals Arch to see the New Zealand Fur-seals. I managed to struggle against the wind, and avoid the rain, but not the sea spray. Beck made it out of the car, 10 meters, then back again. With the wind that strong, she could not make it 50m to the viewing platform.
Next we went to see the Remarkable Rocks. This time Beck was able to make it to the viewing platform which was behind a wind break. I went down to the rocks, and like many others, had to brave the wind, trying not to get blown over. Well worth it though, and had it been a better day, it would have been all the more enjoyable. Also I would have gone back with the camera at sunset, had there been one!
After, we dropped into Vivonne Bay general store and purchased dinner and a bottle of wine for the night. As we were leaving, we decided to drive down Vivonne Bay Road to have a look what was there. I was glad we did, as the sun had decided to show itself finally, and I found some rocks that were very unusual, and took a few good shots.
On the second day we were spared the wind, and the sun shone often. First stop Seal Bay to see the Australian Sea-lions. I was able to see the NZ fur-seals at Admirals Arch, even though I was drowned in sea spray, but Beck was yet to see a seal. We headed in without the wheelchair to see how far Beck could walk. It was a long way down, but there were no steps, so I ran back to get the wheelchair, though Beck told me not to bother. In the end she was glad I did.
You cannot see the seals from a distance. You may see a few sprawled on the beach, but when you get down you find that there is many more sunbathing amongst the vegetation.
It was Becks birthday, so I had booked us a late lunch at the Andermel Marron, which consists of the Two Wheeler Creek Wines and The Marron Café. We had some good seafood and very nice wine. The Marron is large freshwater crayfish, much like a yabby. They grow much larger so I was a little disappointed when the marron on the seafood platter was rather small.
I had assumed that was as large as they grew, and the images I had seen on the internet had been misleading. After lunch, we went to the holding shed come cellar door, to buy some wine. Here we discovered the marron do grow very large. These marron are sold to restaurants. Typical! If you ever come across a restaurant that has them, ask about the size, and if they are large, have one. They were delicious.
Regrettably we left the next day, and headed for Adelaide. Not before stopping in Emu bay to go for a drive on the beach. Yes, a drive on the beach.
The gods were with us on the return ferry ride. The winds had died, and our ride back to the mainland was pleasant and warm. I felt so good I went up top to take photos, even if it did smell like sheep shit!
I will leave you here. The trip is so long, so much seen in a short span of time, that it deserves a break. Hope your enjoying the trip and the images so far. See you in the next instalment.
Once again, as we do so often being half way across the world from family, we had visitors. My father-in-law Steve had to come to Paris for business, accompanied by my mother in law who come along for the ride.
I was more than happy to go to Paris. I loved Paris the first time, and this time all the more endearing. Fabulous place, fabulous people, and the food was, well, fabulous. I tried out my palette with snails this time, for the first time. We had lunch in a little restaurant over the quieter side of the hill at Sacre Coeur. The snails were to die for. I had a half dozen, I could have had another serving without another thought, but left room for the Argentinean steak that followed, cooked to perfection, soft as cotton. Delicious! Oh what pleasure!
Paris is a place to go and immerse you self in culturally. I was more than happy to see it once again. This time with the new camera in hand. Last visit I had an instant film camera. The weather was not kind, so i concentrated more on street photography and targeted the unsuspecting public. I quite enjoyed the change of style in photography, and enjoyed the challenge.
We went home to London, worked for a few weeks, and we were off again. This time to Hungary.
When we get away we like to spend a few days in a city, and get out a small town for a few days. Traveling by train. This time in Hungary we stayed in Budapest and then into the heartland wine region, Eger.
Budapest has quite a past, mainly one of Russian domination and suppression. For these reasons I presumed: One, that not many people would speak English. Wrong! Two, a free spirit. Correct! Not a rude person among the people we met. Not a one. A bit eclectic maybe, but that is what I have come to expect of each European county I have visited.
My mother in laws main complaint about Budapest, was the graffiti. I will agree there was a lot. But in a country where freedom of speech has been suppressed for so long, graffiti, I assumed, was a sign of freedom. Messages like a symbol of free speech. As long as the graffiti is there, the right to be your self and to say as you please exists alongside. I tell a taxi driver my thoughts on the graffiti, on the way to the airport. He tells me my thoughts are interesting and most probably correct.
The Danube river flows right through Budapest separating the east (Buda), where we stayed, from the west (Pest). Buda castle was just up the road from our apartment, and the Royal Palace further along from there. Buda is the hillier of the two sides therefore it has a wonderful lookout point from the front of the palace. Pest is more the business, luxurious side of town, with plenty of shopping, if you are into that sort of thing.
To cut a long story short, so what is Budapest all about? What is every place we have been to about? The people, food and drink, with some history for good measure. I have not seen so many couples sharing intimate moments in my life. They say Paris is the city of love, but Budapest must have overtaken by a country mile. I have not seen so much heavy petting since my days at high school. We were very warmly welcomed (meaning a European welcome, not a USA or Australian type welcome) everywhere we went. The food was great, even at the cheaper pubs that we visited. The beer was good and the wine was especially nice.
It has a buzz of Paris with the steady staunchness similar to Prague. But the people are a lot more welcoming than in Prague. If you had a choice, and were to ask my opinion, out of the two towns which to visit, I would tell you Budapest with up most confidence.
After a few days wandering the city, we take a train to Eger.
Eger is a little town with a great reputation for wine. There is a wine tasting area called the Valley of the Beautiful Woman, where you will find many wine growers, selling their wares. They can be purchased in large plastic containers, or bring your own. They fill you up straight from the casks. We spent the only whole day we had in the valley. We just popped in and out to all different cellars, slowly but sweetly, getting intoxicated. We had a great day with some beautiful wine, and a great homely atmosphere.
Before we headed home, we stopped in Budapest to have lunch at Gerbeaud Ház. If you visit Budapest, this place is a must. Not cheap, but very nice beer, food and the best sweets in Budapest.
I have been quite happy with my efforts with the camera of late, although there is always room for improvement. I am making an effort to capture people as well as places, and people in places. I enjoyed the challenge and was able to capture some really nice images of people. You can view images from Paris and Hungary in my Redbubble account. Please click on the images below.
This trip was initially planned for a wedding invitation. My wife and I were invited to see my friends Melissa and Luke get married, but that fell though and instead of cancelling the trip, we decided to go.
From London we flew to New York City on the Saturday morning and were in NYC by that afternoon. Off the plane and onto the subway we went. No, no taxi or silly personal car. We dove right into the heart of NYC. Let me tell you. The NYC Subway is no Paris Metro or London Underground. It’s vast and confusing. But by the time we left I had mastered the art of reading the subway. Took me four days but I got there. Bloody cheap too at $25 for a weekly card.
We stayed in a small apartment (typical of NYC) on West 14th street between 6th and 7th Avenues, just north of Greenwich Village and smack bang around the shopping area. The room was so small we had to climb a ladder to the bed which was above the kitchen. Comfy bed and the window faced out to rear yards, not onto the noisy 24hour NYC streets, so what more can a traveller as for?
Day one. Shopping. For me, camera gear. For Beck, clothes. Well for me some clothes too. First thing first. Jeans. UK levis – £70. NYC Levis £15. Half price sale. £7.50. Supposedly the jeans grow magic powers when they are sent overseas. Thus the ridiculous mark up!
Purchases made it’s was time for a walk. So from 14th we walked north up to Central Park located at 55th street. Stopped for some take away coffee and muffins on the way and sat in Central park watching the world go by, eating my big fat tasty muffin and my rather well made latte. (Advice for the coffee drinkers. Do not ask for coffee in NYC. You have to ask for a latte or the like to get a decent coffee. Trust me.)
Went for a wander and saw the skating rink in the park then headed south a few blocks to the Rockefeller Centre to grab some tickets for the Top of the Rock observation Deck. Hung around till sunset and went up to the observatory deck, to happily snap away. My fingers that is, were snapping off it was so cold, but well worth it.
Dinner and drinks I had sorted before we left the UK. All thank to the wonders of the WWW. As many of you may know I am a big beer fan. And thankfully so are many New Yorkers. I did my research before we left and had selected, with Beck, a few places to check out. First night, and our last night in NYC was spent at Jimmy’s No.43 down Greenwich way. Beside the weirdo’s coming in and out of the back room listening to their fusion Jazz, the beer was great and the food was even better. Not to mention the service. Great bar. Highly recommended.
Day 2. Beck had researched and discovered the now trendy and slightly bohemian part of town was Williamsburg in Brookland just over the river near the Williamsburg Bridge. We trudged around there all day. We did so much walking that by 4 o’clock we were ready for bed. But a coffee and internet café later, we were off.
Williamsburg is a great place to walk. An industrial area being revived without first being wiped off the map. As a consequence, there are hidden treasures everywhere. Right amongst the garages and small factories we stopped for some shelter from the rain, in what we though was a bar, but was also a restaurant. We had a coffee. And what do you know? The BEST coffee I had in the US. By far. Beautiful coffee. Seeing as the rain was still coming down we had a special brew beer from the Brookland brewery which is located up the road. It was to die for. Italian owner sat just across from us discussing business. So the best coffee in town was no surprise there.
Wandering again we picked up a few items of clothing in the trendy but cheap shop and then off to another bar I had discovered. Spuyten Duyvil. This place had Belgium beers that I had not seen in Belgium. Talking to the manager, he tells me the owners had been on a world trip to find different beers by small brewers. What a life hey? Once again a great place and great beer.
Dinner at a Moroccan place across the road and off to the next bar and the one I most looked forward to. Barcade. They have the biggest selection of US brewed beer on tap in NYC. And on top of that, old arcade games. And yes, they had my favourite game of my youth, Galaga, was among them. Two more beers and a few games later, we were ready once again for bed.
Day 3 we wandered down town. South from 14th. This time stopping off a lot so Beck could shop – for more jeans!!! Around 6 or 7 shops later and no luck with the right size I had had enough. I put my foot down and the city tour continued. And what do you know. We stop looking and we find. Finally found a pair that fit and she liked. Woo hoo. We were off with a happy Beck.
We wandered down to the 9/11 site. Just to see for ourselves. You could not have imagined. So big. Through the holes in the hoarding you could still see the basement. Twisted reinforcement everywhere. Quite a sight. It’s also the business area so to wander around the suits in NYC was fun. Sat down and had a sandwich from one of the carts. No not the type of sandwich OZ and here UK. I’ll let you go and find out for yourself. Went down to Battery Park at the south tip of Manhattan and then we headed north again back up to Greenwich.
There were a few more bars I wanted to check out. We dropped into BXL Café which was your typical modern bar but they had good beer and snacks, not to mention some crazy ladies behind the bar. The off to Ginger Man for a few more. Had a great beer here. But if you ever go, do not, I repeat, do not eat there. We only had a burger. I knew from researching on the net that the food was bad, but i could not have imagined. The worst meal we had in the US by far. But the beer. Ohhh very nice. Off to bed again. Jet lag was starting to kick in.
Day 4 – Last day in NYC. We headed up to the Bronx this time, to visit Little Italy in the Bronx. After being sent in the wrong direction by some idiot, we finally got there. A walk and half it was, but twice as long when someone sends you in the complete opposite direction. By the time we got there we were tired. So we stopped in an Italian sweets shop for a coffee. Coffee good, cannoli was terrible. The cream was textured and too sweet. Not creamy and smooth like ones I remember back home in Melbourne. And the pastry rock hard. Oh no. No good. I was disappointed. And tired.
We were there early so most shops were closed. Before we decided to head off we had a good look in the lonely planet and found the Italian market, which was across the street! As soon as we walk in I am greeted by guys rolling cigars. So I decide to buy some. I ask the lady (who could not speak English) and she indicates to wait and runs off. I stand around looking at pictures on the wall of some guy with Hollywood stars on the wall. Marlin Brando and Al Pacino for example. Next thing I know some Mafioso bloke is standing next to me. He scared the shit out of me. He looked like he just stepped out of Godfather the movie. He knew he scared me too. Funny stuff.
I got my cigars and we wandered around taking in all the smells and sights of great Italian food. I even got to have a traditional San Pellegrino Chinnoto in the traditional little bottles.
We headed down south again to catch the ferry to Staten Island to take some shots and get a good view of the city from afar. Headed back over to Manhattan and spent out last night in Jimmy’s getting drunk, with a tear in the eye, and a heavy head, tired and jet lagged.
Yes we were leaving NYC. And although many would not expect me to say it, I loved NYC. It rocked. It was like a bloody big Melbourne. But better. I felt at home and not judged like over here in London. A great city, built by multiple cultures. Just like back home. They know good beer, good food and a good time, with a friendly atmosphere. Bloody nice place. I can not say too much as I have not lived there, but it is a great place to visit. Let’s just say I would go again.
I’ve just realised this is getting a bit long. I will not carry on much more about the last leg of our journey.
So off to California via a 6 hour bumpy plane ride.
The wedding was supposed to be in Orange County. We were told to stay in Anaheim (the home of Disneyland) but when we discovered the wedding was cancelled we changed plans and stayed in a place called Laguna Beach. And guess what. That’s were they film that show I hate, The OC. Go figure.
I had heard everyone wants to be star in La, and we were not disappointed. We get off the plane, and after logging the forms for my lost luggage (it was still in NY. Helpful advice no 2. Do not put a laptop in your luggage, carry it on the plane), we were greeted by our helpful but nutty shuttle van rep. Oh this guy wanted to be on the set of a Hollywood movie bad, and said so. The world was his stage. Bloody hilarious. Welcome to California.
So off to Laguna Beach via a seven lane highway. I have never seen so many big cars in my life. I saw a Mini showroom before I saw a Mini driving around. They are nuts with the big cars.
Our first day in sunny California was rained out. Not that we complained. We needed a rest and we got it. The next day was nice and sunny. We got out and trawled the beaches, taking in the area and the houses. A nice place to live. Do not ask me how much it would cost, I’m sure a lot. But what was interesting was that there were a quite a few houses empty. Houses right on the beach! Apparently the housing market is so bad that they are not selling. So people just buy another, move out and leave them. What a waste.
Next day we were off. I left my jacket at the hotel. I left it on my bag and when we left just grabbed my bag and jumped in the shuttle car. My jacket was moved by the cleaning lady so I missed it. Not cold enough to remember. Cost me £74 to have it sent back! We arrived at LAX early. Doing so, at the check in, we were given the opportunity to upgrade to premium economy. Take the bargains while you can they say, so we did. For once I had a good sleep and did not have elbow wars for arm space with the person next to me. Bit of extra leg room too, was nice.
You can see some images of my trip on my Redbubble account. Just click on the images below.