Tag Archives: travel

India Pt 1: Learning Lessons

21 Dec
A tuk-tuk on a very quiet roadway in Delhi.

A tuk-tuk on a very quiet roadway in Delhi.

Rahul seemed like a nice chap when we met him.

The b0y and I were standing at a roundabout near Connaught Place in Delhi having freshly arrived from London. We had been standing there a while watching the throngs of never-ending traffic with frustration, wondering when we might be able to cross.

“Be careful,” said Rahul, appearing suddenly by my side. “The traffic is a bit crazy here.”

Smiling at us, the boy and I followed him as he weaved his way through the traffic while it paused for a second.

“England?” he asked, when we got to the other side, having felt we’d played a real-life game of Frogger.

“Yes, England,” the boy responded.

“Ah, I lived in London, is that where you’re from?” he continued.

“Yes, we’re from there,” I said.

I wouldn’t normally open up about my life to strangers but Rahul seemed a nice enough chap – well dressed with baseball cap on and a comfortable grasp of English, we spent another ten minutes walking around the beaten up and excavated Connaught Place, speaking about England, Bollywood and his movie date. We asked if he knew of any good restaurants nearby and, saying he didn’t, he added he knew a local tourist information office that would be able to provide us needed information. As we approached it, I instantly felt slightly wary – the outside was all falling apart and was obviously being renovated. Rahul went in for us and, emerging a minute later, said it was no problem – it was simply being redone.

Rahul headed off to his movie and girlfriend and we thanked him and wished him well. Inside, we met Rahim who said he’d tell us about Delhi’s sights. It wasn’t long before we started to get the hard sell about what tours we could do with his tour agency. Declining most, we said we’d return after a meal to discuss a potential quick jaunt out to Rajasthan.

Heading out into the warm evening, the boy and I felt unsure if we could trust the tourist agency – but we equally felt that with jet lag we were possibly being slightly harsh on what could just be nice people.

Connaught Place as it used to look pre-"renovation" (photo credit: delhitravel.org)

Connaught Place as it used to look pre-“renovation”        (photo credit: delhitravel.org)

We wandered around Connaught Place, surprised at its dereliction. Our guide book (the Lonely Planet 30th anniversary edition) had told us it was the most upmarket area with lots of nice restaurants and shopping areas. As it was our first night, we’d taken the tuk-tuk up specifically because it seemed an easy first choice and we were exhausted. Instead, we found ripped up streets, excavators on every corner, hazardous holes with no signage and (later on) many people doing crack in the alleyways.

We read menus at a few restaurants finally choosing United Coffee House – a more up-market locale with suited waiters, a doorman and lovely, Raj-era interior decor. It was pricy but we decided to treat ourselves for our first night in the city until we became more acquainted with it.

And I’m ever so glad we did – it was definitely one of our best meals in Delhi. I recall little (given the waves of jet lag washing over me at the time meant I wasn’t up for making notes) but we had some gorgeous chickpeas in a rich, spicy sauce, lovely lamb and fresh cold beers. It was expensive – around £23 for the meal – but we were so happy to finally be in India that we couldn’t have cared less.

After our huge meal, we wandered back over to the tourist office to check in with Rahim. Seeing us return, his eyes lit up and he was soon trying to talk us into going to Rajasthan. I wouldn’t have minded – in fact, it was an area I was sad we hadn’t planned on going to – but the fact he was really trying to hard sell us made me keep my guard up. Another 20 minute conversation followed after which – with me giving “I don’t know about this” starey signals to the boy – we said we’d be back the next day to finally make our plans.

I'm usually pretty intuitive when it comes to scames, unlike Dilbert.

I’m usually pretty intuitive when it comes to scams, unlike Dilbert.

A tuk-tuk ride back to the place we were staying – a shared apartment in the nice Nizamuddin East area found through my favourite accommodation site, airbnb – followed and, in eagerness, I opened up my Lonely Planet book to see if it talked of any scams. Sure enough, it warned of friendly looking, English speaking, young men who direct tourists to travel agencies and get a referral fee.

Trying to keep my cynicism at bay, I left it in my mind that maybe it was just coincidence. Until the next night that is when – unsure where else to go for a late night dinner – we headed back to Connaught Place and, outside of a bar, saw both the Rahul and Rahim drinking beers.

“Hey Englishman,” they yelled to us, laughing.

It was a lesson all around (and a bit of a sad one at that). But at least Lonely Planet was right for once – something we did not find so frequently in the weeks to come.

In Part 2, the boy and I head to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and get accosted by both a “security guard” and a monkey.

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Highland Adventure: The Torridon

29 Apr

“I don’t want to leave,” I whined to the boy as I looked at the purple hued mountains that had finally cleared of mist.

“C’mon,” he said, grabbing my hand and nearly dragging me along the pavement due to my feet having firmly frozen themselves to the tarmac.

The Torridon Hotel at Loch Torridon

The day before we’d arrived at The Torridon hotel, which sits at the base of Loch Torridon in the far west of Scotland. A former stately home, the space has been converted into one of the most blissful places I have ever rested my head.

With crackling fires that beckon you in from the cold, to cosy drawing rooms filled with chess sets and walls lined with whisky, the Torridon exudes a certain level of relaxed opulence I have yet to find elsewhere in my travels.

The warming entrance with smoky, crackling fireplace.

In our room, which looked out onto the vast mountain landscape, was a bed so plush and high, I had to do a little leap up to get onto it. In the bathroom, a roll-top bath and REN products awaited to warm my bones, chilled from the feisty Highland air.

The view from our room at The Torridon

After settling in, we – like every guest – were treated to some lovely hot coffee and shortcake in the comfort of the drawing room. Tastefully decorated and holding on to a certain “classic” charm, the room is a welcome space to sit back in the large leather chairs and look out onto the manicured and misty gardens out front.

Coffee & delicious delights awaited us in the drawing room.

The Torridon has 58 acres at its disposal, which include long walking paths, gardens and a lochside boating launch. The boy and I put on our walking shoes and headed around the squelchy paths, taking in the fresh air so uncommonly found in Londontown. A kitchen garden, filled to the brim with various herbs, spices and veggies, was reassuring: everything that can be grown for the food served at the hotel’s AA three Rosette restaurant will be. That includes the friendly, shaggy highland cattle which munch happily nearby, not knowing their fate but at least allowed to roam and be as natural as any creature should be if it’s going to be eaten. There is a separate inn onsite which includes a pub. As it was Sunday, the boy and I stopped in for a swift pre-dinner pint – a perfect remedy after all that muddy trekking.

A Highland Cattle soft toy in our room - just as cute as the real version!

But the final and, potentially, most rewarding part of the evening came with dinner: five courses of delectable delights starting with the sweetest mini eggs benedict amuse-bouche and a starter of creamy, sweet almond soup. A starter of handmade, juicy lobster and crab ravioli, and mains of tender guinea fowl and the best sea bass fillet I’ve ever had, followed.

The delicate yet fully flavoured food of the Torridon.

After dinner, over a raucous game of chess and a cheese platter, I sat back and thought about the day – how far we’d traveled in the rain and how warm I felt now. I can truly say, the stress had completely left me by this point and I think it was the most relaxed I’d felt in months.

Chess and cheese: my kind of night!

Next time, I become shaky with nerves over the bends along the Applecross Way, feel weepy at the sight of the Isle of Skye Bridge, try some amazing Talisker whisky and land at another delightful hotel…

Thank you to the Torridon for hosting the boy and I. For more information on the hotel, its activities and rates, visit: http://www.thetorridon.com

A Frozen Foot Solution

27 Feb

I could feel the plastic bag sliding around my feet as I concentrated on not falling over on the ice. Slip, slide, crinkle, crunch. I clenched my toes to give myself more grip and felt happy at least for one thing: my feet were warm.

Having arrived in Bruges earlier in the day, the boy and I were freezing. We’d come ill-prepared: he in his Converse sneakers and me in my leaking boots. It was far below zero and we hadn’t experienced temperatures like this for a long time.

When we’d made plans to come to the medieval Belgian town, I’d envisioned fluffy snowflakes falling to create a fantastical scene and romantic strolls across the town’s many bridges lining the canal. But I’d underestimated just how cold it would be.

The boy feeling very cold by the frozen canal

Luckily we weren’t alone – our four other friends along for the journey were also lacking sufficient layers or protective shoes to fight the freeze. So, instead of sight-seeing, we spent much of our time holed up in the bars of Bruges, drinking beer (which I discuss in this post, here).

But, there was still ample time to find myself laden with frozen, wet feet. There were the walks between the bars and back and forth to our abode, after all.

So what was my solution?

I went for the homeless-chic look.

Buildings beside the frozen canal

Given the big problem was waterproofing, I thought about what keeps water out of things. And since I couldn’t wrap an umbrella around my feet, I opted instead for the humble plastic bag.

After warming my socks on the radiator, I slid into their heated comfort and quickly enveloped my feet into Sainsbury’s bags before putting on my boots (warmed first with a hair-dryer).

Now, I will admit: I may have had one or two of those strong Bruges beers before this burst of invention, but I still think it was ingenious.

Walking out into the icy night, I decided I was not only a genius, but a bit of a fashionista too.

Unfortunately, I have no photo evidence of my great invention. But I will say my feet stayed dry for the rest of the trip. And let me tell you: when it’s absolutely freezing and you manage to keep your feet toasty, it is incredibly pleasing!

2012? When did that happen?

3 Jan

When I was a kid, any date after 2010 seemed an impossibility. I remember very clearly, sitting at home in a philosophical haze (as much as my 10-year-old self could handle) trying to envision the thought that by 2010, I would be 25. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS old! To my brain, that seemed an eternity away.

And yet, I couldn’t wait. Having a sister 11 years older than you, tends to make you want to be a grown-up much quicker – she was already off to university, living away from home, getting to “play house” as I called it.

So, now here we are in 2012. And all I can think is, “When did that happen?”

But, happen it did. And moving into a new year always makes me reflect on the year that was.

So, what was 2011?

Well…2011 was the year I started this site with a post on the food I savoured in Montenegro.

Hot air balloons drift in front of ours in the Napa Valley

It was the year I discovered fantastic wine in the Napa Valley and went hot air ballooning over the vineyards; worked on an organic farm; and, volunteered to take care of turtles in Costa Rica before returning to London to a new home with “the boy” and a new life writing about food, drink and travel.

A little girl runs after friends in the small village of Parismina, Costa Rica

It was the year I discovered my great weakness for whisky and created a site to encourage more young/female/people (!) to drink it, while also trying some fantastic tipples such as absinthe, tequila and cognac (the latter while sitting in a window at Harrods) through my work with Fluid London.

Glasses of Martell Cognac sit on the table in the window at Harrods

It was also the year I and the boy found out how absolutely, divinely incredible Ireland was with a series of posts (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) on our journey up the west coast.

The boy stands near yet another beautiful vista in Ireland

And, finally, it was the year I finished off by tasting some great mince pies for a worthy cause, going off the beaten path of food and drink writing, by thanking many supporters who donated to a fantastic charity night I helped organise with Marie Curie, learning about soup making with Nusa Kitchen and writing about some lovely wines I tried at a Virgin Wines event.

Me, looking incredibly cool, making soup at Nusa Kitchen.

All in all, very pleasurable indeed – and I have to say, far from what my 10-year-old self necessarily envisioned for my 26-year-old self.

And so, I say thank you to the people who have taken a spare few minutes to read my ramblings, and to wish you all the very best for 2012 – it’s the year of the Olympics, the year of the Jubilee, and the year of…well…we shall just have to see. I hope to continue celebrating London’s great food & drink, and maybe do some further exploring afield. And I hope for many pleasurable things all around for all of you (and your ten-year-old selves!)

Incredible Ireland: Part 1

2 Nov

I didn’t want to go to Ireland.

Well, let me re-phrase that.

It’s not that I didn’t want to go to Ireland. It was just that I wanted to go to Spain more. Get some practice in with my Spanish. Refresh my fading tan. So when the boy came home, oddly enough on the same day I’d been researching how cheaply we could get ourselves some sun & sangria, and said: “I really want to get away,” I thought, ‘Hurrah, Espana here we come.’

But he had other ideas.

“Ireland,” he said, “what about Ireland?”

“Uh, I guess, sure if that’s what you want. I was actually, ahem, thinking Spain, ahem,” I responded.

But, as he went on to tell me tales of escaping the city, of heading to the wild countryside and getting some fresh sea air into our lungs, I capitulated. Plus, the flights were ridiculously cheap. As a Canadian, who spent years paying out insane amounts of money to fly anywhere in my vast country, the idea of getting to another country for £10 still shocks me. As do the inane advertisements which play throughout a flight on said Irish-carrier’s trips. But, the £10 still wins out everytime.

When we landed at Kerry airport after leaving a gloriously sunny morning in London behind, and it was grey and rainy, I couldn’t help but say: “We should have gone to Spain.”

“But this is how I pictured Ireland,” he responded. “Grey, dark, drizzly and a bit depressing.”

Well, at least one of us had expectations that were being lived up to.

The rain did not last for long luckily. A hop, skip and a 55-mile-jump in our oh-so-cool silver Nissan Micra later, we were in sunny Cork, just in time to see the city pre-darkness, the river Lee swirling peacefully through the town.

The boy with a bag of scarves & me at the river Lee.

After spending the night holed up in cozy and warm pubs, listening to some great Irish music and drinking whisk(e)y, we decided to shrug off all potential “city” life for the rest of our trip, and get down to some countryside jaunts. After a trip to Penneys (ie: Primark) that is. It was bloody freezing. We needed scarves.

But although Ireland was proving “pretty” I couldn’t help but wonder: ‘Will it get much more dramatic than this?’

It did.

It got gorgeous, dazzling, impressive and downright stunning.

A drive-by shot of the scenery in Killarney National Park

Driving up the N71 takes you straight through Killarney National Park – a part of the famed Ring of Kerry. Filled with evergreen trees, mountains, lakes and steep windy roads, the park is breathtaking. And quite a bit like British Columbia’s outdoors, as I continuously remarked between gasps of, “Wow!”

We wound our way along this road, then up the N70, until we hit the R561, which would head west and take us to our stop for the night: Dingle.

After travelling through the park I wondered if it would get any more exciting, but as the sun shone and sparkled along the coastal path we were taking, I couldn’t quite take it all in. Death-defying cliffs, ruff-shod mountains, sheep, sheep and more sheep…and then…the beach…

We pulled over and stepped out into the wind – we’d arrived at the beach at Inch, a small village about 10 miles out of Dingle. And there, in front of us, was the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen – like glass, it reflected the puffy clouds hanging above us, creating a mirror image so stunning I actually got choked up.

Now, people who know me, realise I get emotional fairly easily: fluffy puppies, a good score by Tchaikovsky, Matthew walking again in Downtown Abbey, the last drop from a favourite bottle of whisky…all of these things are likely to bring a tear to mine eye. I’m a cancer the crab after all.

But never have I become emotional about a beach. I hate sand.

Taking in the beach at Inch in all its glory.

This though, was something else – I breathed in the sea air, felt the last of the day’s sunshine on my face, and realised, I was very, very happy to have come to Ireland.

In Part 2: the boy and I stay in – quite possibly – the best B&B in Ireland, attempt to understand bizarre signs at the Cliffs of Moher and meet a small drunk man named Kevin…

Montenegrin munchies

22 Mar

The hangover was bad…the morning heat was near searing, the headache plumb pounding. I needed food and I needed it to be luscious and greasy.

My friends and I had already discovered the joys of Cafe Armonia in our small village of Perast on the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro multiple times. For lunch, dinner and a few doses of our new favourite tipple – Amaro Montenegro – Armonia served the goods.

But could this mistress of tasty delights also satisfy the taste buds of a desperate gal in need of fat to soak up the previous night’s toxins?

Saddling up to our favourite table, the boy and I stared vacant-eyed at the menu – the words were in English rather than the local dialect, but we were too hungry to make sense of the muddle.

And then it jumped out: the glorious lines advertising a perfect match for our weary heads.

Its contents: slices of bread dipped in egg and fried, layered with tomato, cheese, more egg and bacon.

Its name: Przenice.

Like zombies we waved to our favourite hostess and, unable to pronounce this beautiful bit of bready goodness, merely pointed and wiped our drool away.

An eternity later – or 10-minutes in non-hangover world – and we were presented with steaming cups of coffee and our prized possession.

The bread was soft and savoury; the cheese crispy and running. The egg danced its way through every layer – the tomato its zingy partner in crime.

A little slice of heaven in an already heavenly locale…and a definite cure for the Montengrin munchies.

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