European Vacation—Aah Copenhagen

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Copenhagen was a like a big sigh after a long and busy journey. There are wide, clean avenues, lots of bicycle commuters, colourful buildings overlooking the canals. We had three days here, with not a lot to have to fit in. It was a relaxing place to end up. Our spacious apartment was not far from Nyhavn’s waterfront restaurants and canal tours. Nor were we far from the shopping along the pedestrian street, Strøget.

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The one tourist attraction in Copenhagen is the The Little Mermaid. It symbolises the fairytale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and was presented from Carlsberg brewer Carl Jacobsen to the city of Copenhagen in 1913. Once you’ve seen that, there’s not much else besides the shopping, the majestic cruise liners docked at the port, and maybe the autonomous neighbourhood of Freetown Christiania.

But the whole reason for us travelling to Europe via Copenhagen was so we could experience the original Legoland in Billund. A couple of hours out of Copenhagen, we hired a car and drove to Billund, crossing the Great Belt Bridge. We’d read mixed reviews about Legoland—some negative remarks about the cost of food, the dated appearance, and the less-than-thrilling rides—but for kids in the same age range as ours, it’s great fun. Yes, the replica models are dated, but they don’t care; and when you’re a captive audience, of course you’ll be paying more for food. Unless you BYO, which they let you do, you don’t have a right complain. Lincoln and Fraser still think it was the best part of the holiday.

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We were very conservative with our souvenir shopping, coming home with 2 small Lego Star Wars kits, engraved Lego keyrings, lego t-shirts; and from Disneyland stormtrooper and Darth Vadar dressups, Star Wars blasters, and a Mickey Mouse backpack. We also encouraged Fraser to collect decks of cards from the places we visited.

Thankfully, the one thing we didn’t bring back with us were the headlice. Ugh. Those things were with us (the kids and I) the whole way through, having survived manual searches before departure, and then some sort of foaming treatment in Florence. In Copenhagen, I let loose with the real chemical warfare that I’d bought in Paris a couple of days before. Finally, no more scratching.

And if you’re ever in Copenhagen airport can I suggest you enjoy the best beef I’ve ever eaten at Hereford Beefstouw. And one’s just opened up in Adelaide!

Thanks for travelling with me. Catch the photos on Flickr and retrace our steps through Ireland, Italy and Paris.

European Vacation—Gay Paree

After reaching a comfortable level of understanding of Italian, we arrived in France in the late evening having to start over with a new language and new expectations. Despite some high school years of French language study, I just couldn’t get into the habit of even using the French words I did know. And yet, the French appreciate it when you try. Maybe we just needed more time than the one week we did have on one of our best Paris vacations; we’d had three weeks in Italy, after all.

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For Mum and Dad, Paris was about galleries, museums, getting lost, and a shitload of walking. For us, it was socialising and Euro Disney. We had some friends to meet up with over dinner and a few nights booked in one of the Disney hotels, but our first day was about Monet. While Matt took the boys to a science museum, I went with Mum and Dad to Giverny—Monet’s home in Normandy, north-west of Paris. I must admit, I get bored of museums and galleries very quickly but actually seeing the surroundings so familiar from the paintings of a well-known artist is much more interesting. To be immersed, in even just a small part of someone else’s life, is what travel is all about. To see the waterlillies, the bridge, the garden and the personality so evident in Monet’s former home—it’s almost like standing inside a painting.

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We left early the next day for Disneyland. Having been to the California Disneyland when I was 11, I had clear memories of Space Mountain and was looking forward to reliving it. Going during the French school term, and on a weekday, was the best thing we could have done. We had minimal queueing time, no major crowds and were easily able to repeat our favourite rides more than once. The only muscling in we had to do was for photos with the roaming character. Honestly, parents are much worse than the kid. There was no order, no patience, and when my politeness ran out, I had to shove Lincoln right in there while elbowing someone else out of our way.

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IMG_1225 IMG_1229The Disney complex has Disneyland, which we’d seen all of on the first day, Walt Disney Studios, and the Disney village. The village is just all restaurants and shops so we didn’t spend a lot of time there, but we had most of our second day in the Studios. Not too dissimilar from our Universal Studios experience in Singapore, there were plenty of rides as well as cinema activities and performances. Again, being a weekday it was easy to see the whole park in a day. We went back for our third day on a Saturday and that was a whole different story. The place was jam-packed. Rides which we’d previously waited maybe 15 minutes for at the most, now had a wait time of over an hour. We rode a couple of our favourites for the last time, bought some souvenirs and came straight back to Paris on the metro.

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IMG_1246 IMG_1175The kids really enjoyed riding the metro and it certainly makes it so easy to get around. But more than that—every metro stop has a different look and feel, roving musicians play French music on the accordion. There’s so much…atmosphere. My tip is to make sure you check the map to find the closest metro to your accommodation. We’d been walking much further than we had to before we discovered another metro station only half a block in the other direction—on our last night.

Oh, and here’s another tip for Paris: allow plenty of time for the hop-on hop-off bus. The local service is called L’Open tour. It’s similar from the red CitySightseeing bus in other cities with the open top and multi-language commentary, but it is The. Most. Inefficient. Operation. Ever. There’s no one assisting the driver to take payments and process vouchers, so every stop had a 10 or 15 minutes wait so the driver could process the paying passengers, himself. With four available loops in Paris, we ended up completing one and a half before calling it quits. You will definitely need the full two days to get your money’s worth on the Paris tourist buses.

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No destination is wrapped up without Mum and I getting dedicated shopping time. So on our second last day we headed straight for the Galleries La Fayette. Mum had been there once before, during a weekend stay in Paris in 1987. Its colourful domed interior is dazzling and sets the tone for the expensive price tags. After checking out the major department stores we drank champagne at the Ritz and then went home for a rest in preparation for our tour of the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower Eiffel TowerIn my mind, the Eiffel Tower was the culmination of our European holiday. We paid for a skip the line tour and timed it so we’d be up the top for sunset. We looked out at the monochromatic white and grey buildings, with the Seine river passing through, as the long shadow of the tower fell across the Parisian cityscape. And when we reached the bottom, it was just in time for the sparkling light show at 8pm. Stunning. Easily the best thing I’d seen through the whole trip.

European Vacation—Oh, Italy!

Did you miss the Ireland piece? Go back and catch up, because next stop, Rome.

Oh, Italy… You are hot, dusty and chaotic but with so much potential. The locals are welcoming and the history is overwhelming. On arrival at our AirBnb apartment in the Trastevere, we unloaded and headed straight downstairs to where the locals eat. This is where the real action is—away from the bulk of the tourists. Pizza, pasta and gelato. We’d been looking forward just to the eating part of this trip for months. We weren’t disappointed. Our first dinner out was at a little side-street pizzeria called Pan Unto. Our kids, especially Lincoln, were lavished with attention from owner, Anna. The pizzas and calzone were devine. We loved it so much we went back on our last night, where Anna insisted on buying and giving KinderSurprise chocolates to the boys.
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But there’s more to Rome than pizza and roaming accordionists playing Dean Martin tunes, right?

We’d planned to do a hop-on hop-off bus tour on our first day in each new city but thanks to a union strike, the City Sightseeing buses weren’t running. So we were left to our devices in a sprawling, unknown place with no idea what we were looking at. We were confused, hot and tired from just walking around aimlessly that first day. But we’d found a groove on day two and toured the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
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Our stay in Rome was jam-packed with sight-seeing—the Vatican City, with St Peters Basilica, the museum and the Sistine Chapel; Trevi fountain and the Spanish Steps; the Pantheon; and Mum’s special request, Bernini’s statue of The Ecstasy of St Therese in the Santa Maria di Vittorio church. The church has such a plain facade but inside is covered with stunning paintwork, statues and gold. Dad and I found this place even more amazing that the Sistine Chapel, which seemed small and anti-climactic. Rome is so full of stuff to see that it’s impossible to see it all and we were forced to let some things go, like the Villa Borghese Gardens and the Catacombs. After our easy week of driving around Ireland, we suddenly felt overcome by Rome. There was too much to do, not enough time, and we were unfamiliar with the language. And it was hot. Obviously, I’ve become accustomed to the sub-20 temps of Bowral.

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IMG_0620 The Ecstasy of St Therese

Onwards then, to Florence, by first-class Eurostar. Fabulous. It’s a smooth, comfortable ride, well organized and roomy. I came to enjoy these transit days for the forced 2hours or so of rest, either on a train or plane. They were like an oasis amongst a hectic touring schedule. Our itinerary was a little looser in Florence, and maybe this is why I liked it more than Rome. I felt I had time to breathe, do a bit of walking around on my own, and a bit of laundry. (I really missed having clean clothes!)

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Florence was home to the Medici family. The Palazzo Vecchio—home of the royal family—is now the florentine’s town hall, and they run a number of great family activities and tours. Mum and Dad took the boys to a fresco painting workshop, and later the boys came with Matt and I on a tour of the Palace, where we tried on the Medici family clothes and saw secret passageways and the family’s bedrooms. Two hundred thousand gold florins were used to create the gold leaf that covers the timber parts of the enormous living room ceiling—now the council hall.

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This is also where you can take tours to Tuscany from. We went on a full day’s bus tour out to Tuscany, where we visited Siena, San Gimignano, and a working farm for a Tuscan lunch of pasta, bruschetta and ham. Absolutely a highlight of Florence and somewhere I would go back to again. The tour finished at Pisa, before coming back to the city, and no visit to Pisa is complete without making a cheesy pose with the leaning tower.

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On our last day in Florence, Mum and I saw the Uffizi and Accademia galleries; and we shopped and bought new leather jackets, while the boys hired a car and drove out to Maranello for the Ferrari museum. Apparently awesome, they also went for a half hour test drive of a Ferrari something something. I dunno. It was red, anyway.

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Italy kept getting better with our next stop—Venice. As soon as you step out of the Ferrovia train station, you are metres from the Grand Canal. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. I knew Venice was made up of a series of islands, but I just didn’t realize there would be so many canals, so much water, and so many bridges. I loved it. I loved it for the character, the laundry flapping over the canals, the weddings on gondolas, the slightly cooler weather, and no vehicles. I was also happy about no mosquitos—Lincoln had been eaten alive in Florence. And though we’d been warned of a smell, there was none.

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The apartment we stayed in was right in front of the Ghetto, the Jewish quarter, if you like. We strolled through it, late on a Friday night, and enjoyed the atmosphere of the families out late having dinner, the musicians, and the children playing in the campos. If there was one thing I loved about Italy in general, it was the popping out at the end of a street into a huge square where locals would come to meet and socialize. We rode the vaporettos of Venice like buses and did lots of walking. We toured St mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, a Murano glass factory, the Burano fishing village and Torcelli—another island of Venice where only 15 people now live. Venice is also home to the Peggy Guggenheim museum. On Sundays the museum runs kids workshops where you can leave the kids for 1.5 hours while you go exploring the gallery. The workshop includes a tour of the contemporary art gallery, a lesson and activities about a contemporary artist or painting. The boys enjoyed it and there seemed to be plenty of English speaking ex-pat children and interns on staff.

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Matt and I went out for dinner alone on our second last night in Venice. After so much pizza and pasta I was desperately needing something different. We hunted down one of five Chinese restaurants. They gave small servings, but tasty shrimp. By the end of our three weeks in Italy, we could understand some basics of the Italian language, and I was looking forward to the new kinds of cuisine we’d find in Paris.

More photo of Rome, Florence and Venice on Flickr.

European Vacation – Ireland edition

Well-travelled and slightly world-weary, I was glad to be home after five weeks traversing Europe with Matt, the kids and my parents. Despite there being six of us with a range of personalities and interests, Lincoln’s non-stop talking, and oftentimes close quarters, we all emerged at the Sydney Airport arrivals hall with relationships intact, and without having suffered any of the Griswold shenanigans. I’m also amazed that nothing serious was lost (except a souvenir pen from Rome) or left behind (just a white nit comb**) out of the five suitcases through four countries and countless accommodation stops.

Our first destination was Dublin, Ireland. To get there, we flew from Sydney to Bangkok; Bangkok to Copenhagen; and finally, Copenhagen to Dublin. It must have been around 30 hours of transit. Our kids have handled the lengthy transport remarkably well. They always have. Always amused by whatever inflight entertainment is available, they are content to sit and keep to themselves for the duration. It was us that couldn’t handle their boundless energy once we were between transportation, often with a couple of hours or more to kill, and that’s when we were short-tempered and irritable.

Asleep in Copenhagen airport

Once we arrived in Dublin, we decompressed in our hotel, picked up our red minivan, and slept off the jet-lag before beginning the trip of a life time. What strikes us all about Ireland are the stunning floral displays in the window boxes on houses and shops. I also loved the colourful exteriors and the personality they give the place. Our first day sightseeing was spent at the Wax Museum and Trinity College, where we toured the grounds and saw the Book of Kells. Walking through Temple Bar on the way back to our car, I could just imagine the rowdy nights of drinking and singing that must take place during high tourist season. And when Contiki Tours are in town.

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After lunch we made our way to our next accommodation, which was a farmhouse property not far from the sea port village of Kinvarra. For six of us travelling together, we managed to keep costs down by using Airbnb for a few of our accommodation stops. We stayed here for a few nights while we explored County Galway and The Burren. Galway itself, was alive with tourists and buskers. We walked along the cobblestones, soaking in the atmosphere and marvelling at the colour. Deciding to continue on up the west coast of Ireland we drove past the Twelve Bens mountains and stumbled on Ballynahinch Castle, a high-end fly-fishing destination that had the tastiest seafood chowder and mushroom soup; and stopped in at Aughnanure Castle, an impressive tower house from the 1500s.

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The next day we headed for County Clare, to see the Cliffs of Moher. Past ancient, tumble-down rock walls and the green patchwork fields, the Burren coast leads to the cliffs. Black and sheer, they are an imposing sight. But I think the best part about Burren is the smokehouse. Here, they smoke salmon and sell a variety of cheeses, other smoked fish and deli goods.

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Burren Smokehouse

We said goodbye to our farmhouse and headed for Killarney via Limerick. In honour of Limerick I challenged the family to making up some limericks. Here is one I made up:

There once was lady from Shannon
She won a game of backgammon
She was on the front page
of the County Clare Age
because she played the game with a salmon.

Not as picturesque as Kinvarra, Killarney has it’s own charm with jarveys and jaunty cars. Part of the reason Ireland was on our itinerary was to get a feel for where my Dad’s ancestors came from. About thirty minutes away from Killarney is Tralee – the town my great (great great?) grandfather was born. And, though we’d intended to trace some of the history, none of us actually thought to bring the genealogy research that had been done, so we were unable to work with the local librarian to find out which of the district’s 25 Cornelius Enrights actually belonged to us. Oh wells. Walking the streets and gardens of Tralee, I knew that Enrights would have walked these streets before us. After the comparatively dull and great Tralee we arrived to a cheerful but raining Dingle. Again, the colourful buildings line the streets and harbour, and we’re taken by the scenery while the boys run around on the grass playing Star Wars with each other.

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We made sure to see some other famous County Kerry spots like Ross Castle and Muckross House, before starting on our longer drive to Waterford. Waterford was our last destination before heading back to Dublin and we all agreed that the Waterford Crystal factory was a fabulous way to finish. The tour took us right through the working factory, which was still manned with skeleton staff on a Sunday (Father’s Day in Australia). We watched the skilled craftsmen blowing and moulding the glass, hand marking, and etching. Fraser was lucky enough to be able to sit and hold the 2012 London Paralympics trophy which will be presented at the event next year.

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Waterford Crystal Factory

Back in Dublin, on our last morning in Ireland, Fraser was sleeping off a tummy bug. Mum offered to keep an eye on him while the rest of us went for a Viking Splash Tour of Dublin. In an old army aqua-duck vehicle (or boat-bus as Lincoln called it), the tour driver had a thick Irish accent and a sense of humour. We got a whistle-stop tour of most of the sights and finished off at the basin where U2’s recording studio was pointed out. Highly recommended if you don’t mind a dirty joke or two.

We scrambled back to the hotel after the Viking Splash tour to make check-out time, drop off the car and head across to the airport for our next leg: Rome.

For more photos check out the Ireland set on Flickr.

** I am very sad to have lost our white nit comb. You can only buy nit combs in black these day. Lord knows why, when head lice are dark brown!

Get it India – Part 2

Have you read Part 1 yet? We left the trip at the Amber Fort and this part takes it up again just down the road.

Janta Manta Observatory

Near the Amber Fort is the Jantar Mantar observatory. (Literal translation “calculation instrument”!) It’s a collection of structures designed to predict eclipses and track time, stars and planets. The Hindus are into their zodiac, so there were instruments for each star sign, and the enormous sundial was told to be accurate within seconds. Although, I suspect time and materials would have taken their toll and created an amount of subsidence by the time we saw it. Either way, there were monkeys all over this place.

Lake Palace, Udaipur
Photo by aparajith. Click through to original.

Udaipur is about 400kms southwest of Jaipur and is known as the Lake City. We arrived after a rickety, hot bus trip. We did that a lot—rode rickety, hot buses. I also slept a lot. It’s a good way to pass the time, despite missing out on the passing sites. After arriving in Udaipur, and seeing more palaces, we had dinner at the Lake Palace. I’ve no photos of my own and no details except for what I ate, (rice and bread was fairly common), but I do remember the Lake Palace was built as a royal summer palace in the 1700s and is now a luxury 5-star hotel. According to the hotel’s website, the Royal Butlers are descendents of the original palace retainers. In shimmering white marble, it covers four acres of an island in Lake Pichola, and all visitors to the hotel are ferried by boat from Udaipur’s City Palace. I don’t remember that part, at all.

The Ganges

Leaving behind the decadence of the many forts and palaces we’d been seeing, we travelled to Rishikesh. It is here we find the spiritual heart of India. The Ganges has long been regarded as a sacred river. Indeed, the Hindus consider it the holiest of rivers. Everything happens here. It’s used for irrigation, it generates electrical power; people bathe in it, have ceremonies by it, and the Hindus cast the ashes of the dead into it. In my diary I noted that we watched everyone pray and send candles down the river. “This happens every night—what a drag.” I can’t help but chuckle. Was I dissing the boring ritual we’d just seen or did I find the notion of nightly prayer a bit ridiculous? Obviously, as an obstinate and unenlightened youth, I failed to see the cultural significance in front of me. And I chuckle because this devotion to and immersion in spirituality is utterly fascinating to me now. Here I was, at the lifeblood of India’s mysticism with no enlightenment to show for it. I can think of nothing more moving, now, than to stand by the Ganges river for Diwali—India’s annual five-day “festival of lights” that celebrates an inner awareness and the awakening of higher knowledge.

It isn’t just the Ganges flowing with spirituality. Rishikesh is sometimes called the “capital of yoga”. It’s a popular place for tourists to come seeking out enlightenment in one of the many ashrams, and more so since Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. And it was Rishikesh, in 1968, where The Beatles cloistered themselves for an intense period of swamis and songwriting.

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Rishikesh is also the gateway to the Himalayas. An eight-hour bus trip took us up into a town called Auli. It’s close to the Chinese border so there was a heavy presence of military police. Our mountain trek was supposed to take us higher into the Himalayan Mountains, but India was on the brink of war with Pakistan over the northern state of Kashmir. Tensions were high and we’d already been diverted from Ladakh, and the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri in Rajasthan.

So, with a safe route plotted out for us we began our trek into the mist. By now, everyone had had a brush with Delhi Belly, or was in the throes of it at the time. We’d already lost three members from our group due to sustained illness and dehydration—a friend, one teacher and a staff member had stayed back at the hotel awaiting medical treatment. Ironically (and thankfully), having packed two jars of super-strong, expensive, broad-spectrum anti-biotics, supplied by my family doctor, I had no cause to use them.

Trekking up through the clouds we came across kelpie-like dogs that could only survive in the mountain environment where the air is thin; we saw members of the Army out on training exercise; and we came across temples and other buildings dotted through the mountains.

Mountain kids

The mists of the mountains were cool and calming—a pleasant change from the 40-degree heat of the low-lying cities. After four nights of camping in the mountains we spent our last one on a rice field. Children flocked to where we were sitting and Fiona gave them plastic flutes she’d bought at some stage from a market stall. We had a chance with these kids to see them in their own environment, doing the same sort of things kids at home in our own country would do. Maybe these children experienced a similar poverty to their city counterparts but this felt different. There wasn’t any begging, just a simple curiosity. I guess life has always been more expensive in the city and with a bigger population to compete with, there’s no choice but to stick to the task at hand. Those few rupees from a harassed tourist could keep a whole family fed for several days.

We descended from the quiet mountains into the hustle and bustle of New Delhi—visiting Connaugh Place for a pre-departure shopping trip. Loaded up with clothes and pirated cassette tapes we were ready for home.

I’ve often heard India described as a land of contrasts and I can’t disagree. Even through the lens of my forunate childhood, I could pick out the differences. It’s more than just the dry heat and the humidity of monsoon season, it’s the extreme decadence and despairing poverty; the arid land of the barren mountainsides of Rajasthan and the misty forests of the Himalayas; the desperate sadness of circumstance and the festive celebrations of life, light and love. The India of my adulthood would be full of all these things but with the time and temperament to savour them. Instead of the blandest rice and bread, I’d eat the hottest tandoori and spiciest curries. I’d find joy in the colour and ceremony—vibrant saris, market stalls of powder dyes, lights and song. And I’d take the time for quiet contemplation; appreciating the mysticism of the Indian people and their land.

Get it India…1990 Style

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Twenty years ago, in June 1990, I was lucky enough to travel to northern India with a group of girls and staff from my school. I forget the reason for the trip, besides being a geography tour. I don’t remember what it was about geography that we were there to study. Perhaps it was simply to offer a first-hand view of third-world survival. In any case, it certainly provided contrast to the experience of a typical 16 year old student at a private girls high school. I dug out the travel journal and old photos but who knew the writings of a teenager would be full of inane detail and little about the culture and surroundings in which she found herself? Not me. So instead, I draw from faded memory and these poorly composed photos.

Village kids

When I think back on my time in India, I remember an overwhelming sense of irritation with the oppressive heat, the flies, bovine traffic jams, and the adults and children who would descend on us, begging for loose change. Instead of being moved by the abject poverty, I was bothered by it. Would I feel differently if I went back now? Even the most mature travellers can find themselves irritated with India. With such a large populace, there’s a lack of personal space. Then there’s the pollution, the traffic congestion, the Delhi belly. Did I mention the oppressive heat? But the lots-older and a little wiser me, would be able to look past the mayhem to feel some compassion. These kids would be nearing their 30s now and I find myself wondering what they’re doing and if they survived their poverty-stricken childhoods.

Taj mahal

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To step out of the melee into Agra’s grand architecture of the Taj Mahal was warm relief. I won’t say “cool”, because it was a 40-degrees day and the white marble building wasn’t the chilled oasis I expected.

Though unmoved by it at the time, the story behind the Taj Mahal is one of great love. In 1631, Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved third wife of the Mughal emporer Shah Jahan, died while giving birth to their fourteenth child. One year later he commissioned the construction of this massive marble mausoleum in memory of her. Struck by the immense structure, I wondered if they employed legions of elephants to drag tonnes of marble into place.

The interior of the Taj Mahal is beautiful, featuring intricate marble carvings and inlays of precious and semi-precious stones. And, as every tourism icon needs a shop, we were treated to a demonstration of marble inlay work. The finished product really is stunning in detail and workmanship. I only wish I’d bought one of these gorgeous little elephants, instead of just taking an out-of-focus photo.

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From Agra, we moved on to Jaipur. The “pink city” represents what I love most about India—the colour. Jaipur is in the state of Rajasthan in the northwest, bordering Pakistan. The city was built in the early 1700s and was originally the home of Indian royalty but it wasn’t until 1853, when the Prince of Wales (then Edward VII) visited Jaipur, that the entire city was painted pink. It’s also home to the famous City Palace. It covers a huge area and contains a number of palaces within the complex, some parts of which have been turned into museums and galleries. It was boring, but I did enjoy the decorative Peacock Gate.

Amber fort and elephant
That same day, we visited Amber Fort (pronounced Amer Fort). Arriving in time for a 30-second drenching, we rode elephants to and from the fort, which is built into a barren hillside. This is probably, still, one of the more inspiring sites in northern India. The significance of such a structure, at around 400 years old, was missed at the time, but isn’t lost on me now. Inside the Amber Fort is the Sheesh Mahal, or Palace of Mirrors. It is stunning with thousands of tiny mirrors forming masses of mosaics. With it’s plain red and white sandstone exterior, I never expected the intricate carvings, murals and ornate designs inside.

There are numerous other palaces scattered throughout the city of Jaipur. The Rambagh Palace became a world-class hotel and we were lucky enough to stay there for a night or two.  It was well appointed 20 years ago—impressive with its marble floors—so it’s no wonder that it’s now the favoured accommodation of sports and film stars. There was a palm reader on the grounds of the hotel and my friend, Rebecca, and I decided to have a reading.

The palmist was an elderly man, with long hair and probably a long beard, as well. My friend took extensive notes and it’s interesting to read over them, now. Quite a few of the points were true at the time and many others were warnings—avoid alcohol, express inner feelings boldly, don’t drive fast, think over decisions twice or risk making mistakes, try to control expenses. And a few are yet to happen. Apparently, at 41 years old I will relocate to another country and it will be the best time of my life. Perhaps, I’ll come back to update this story in four years time. ;)

I’ll post the second half of “Get it India…1990 Style”, featuring the Himalayas, in a few days.

World-weary? Not yet.

Club Med BIntan IslandWe got back late Thursday night from our 11 days overseas. To say we were impressed with our choice of vacation would be an understatement. It was a terrific holiday. There are only a couple of small things I would consider changing: trim the resort phase of the trip from seven days to five, extend the city/cultural phase by another couple of days, and do the air travel overnight.

Club Med is like McDonald’s. Not because it’s cheap and nasty, but because they use the same formula at any Club Med venue no matter where you are around the world. It will always seem familiar, friendly and comfortable. When we went to Club Med Lindeman, Fraser was not yet one, so we didn’t have any use of the kids clubs or babysitting options. We spent a lot of time in the room reading books and napping while Fraser napped. And because it was high Summer in the tropical Queensland heat, there was a lot of napping. This time things were different. We prepaid for Lincoln to spend some time in Petit Club, and Fraser’s kids club was included in the cost.

Fraser, our sometimes shy and scaredy-cat six-year-old learned how to swing on the trapeze, walk on the tightrope, performed on stage most nights and begged to go to kids club at opening time so he could do archery with the others. Lincoln went fish feeding, swam in the mini club pool, did craft and napped in the Petit Club, so that we could go snorkelling, play squash, swim at the beach, and enjoy a quiet lunch with a glass of wine. Everybody wins.

Floating along in the clear warm water of the South China Sea, especially while it was raining, was definitely my favourite thing to do. We had rain most days. The kind you get in the equatorial region—a moderate rainfall around lunch time for an hour or two. Enough to relieve some of the stifling humidity and revive the mood for the afternoon.

Club Med, Bintan Island was definitely good value. The staff are friendly, the food and drink is non-stop, the kids had fun, and we checked out with barely anything left to pay.

Singapore vacation 2010

A week later we hopped on the ferry back to Singapore. It’s not a large country. Indeed, it’s a small island of only around 700km sq. and if you go up high enough in one of the tall buildings you can even see Bintan Island. It’s a busy port often with more than 800 ships waiting to dock. Most times we looked out from the beach of Club Med we could easily see at last half a dozen ships on the horizon.

On our first night there we met up with an ex-pat friend who moved there ten years ago. He took us out to the New Asia and City Space bars of the Swissotel-Stamford. We had views of all Singapore as the sun set, while the kids were looked after by Chinese babysitter Fung-Ping. We finished off our first Singaporean night with a chili mud crab down on Tiong Bahru Rd. It’s a messy, but tasty, affair. There was crab in my hair and the sauce is to die for. We went through three rounds of fried buns soaking it all up. When people say “awesomesauce”, that’s what I think of—chili mud crab. Saucesome!

It’s hard to compete with an evening like that but we came close over the remaining few days. We walked the shopping strip on Orchard Rd, saw the Night Safari, went to the new Universal Studios and checked out the Science Centre. Thank you to those people who recommended I buy tickets in advance for Universal because it was indeed sold out on the day. We were there from opening to closing time and were on the go the whole day. We saw almost every show, rode almost every rollercoaster (the super-big one isn’t opened yet) and hoofed it around in the sticky heat for 9 hours. The waiting areas for rides and shows were a boon, providing cool relief and shelter from the sun. I must say, I had no objection to queuing up even though the queues weren’t too long, anyway. There are adequate bathroom and eating facilities and bubblers everywhere so they have really planned well—catering for us easy heat-stroking anglos very nicely.

Matt and I discovered, to our joy, that both boys love the rollercoaster. As soon as we finished a ride, Lincoln would pull the safety bar right back down and say “again”. By the end of they day, when we were the last remaining people, the attendants would allow us to just stay on the ride and not have to go back around through the entry gates again. Lincoln was like a little celebrity with his lily-white skin and rosy cheeks. He got smiles everywhere and was requested several times to be photographed. (He declined by hiding behind my legs.)

I couldn’t have wished for better little travelling companions. They surprised me with how well they coped with busy days, lots of walking, heat, air travel and late nights.

I’m looking forward to our next adventure.

Melbourne weather

Everybody talks about the Melbourne weather, either as a visitor or resident. It was pretty kind to us. Chilly at night, a bit of rain on and off on Saturday, but beautiful the day we left. We all had a great time.

Staying in St Kilda we were nice and close to some fabulous food. While Dad and Matt took the boys on the tram to the zoo on Saturday, Mum and I walked up and down the length of Chapel St. We didn’t buy much, unfortunately. There were beautiful clothes but when I put my hand in my pocket I failed to pluck out the $400. Note to self: next time we shop in Fitzroy St. On Saturday night we had hired a babysitter for the kids and we went out for a swisho dinner at The Stokehouse. It was absolutely superb food and service and easily one of the highlights of the trip. They have a couple of huge, gorgeous chandeliers that look like twisted pieces of glass suspended from stainless steel mesh but it’s actually plastic dinner implements that have been heated and twisted.

On Sunday we all caught the tram up to the Botanic Gardens, Mum and Dad caught up with some old friends, and then Matt and I went with the boys on the train to Brighton Beach. (We had no car for the weekend so we did loads of walking.) I’ve been wanting to see those colourful beach sheds for ages so I took the opportunity to meet up there with internet friend housenbaby. We’ve known each other for over five years, in the time before blogs. She and her family are just as lovely in person as they seem online and I’m really glad we could get together. I hope we can do it again some day.

The boys were great the whole time. They’re easy travellers and Fraser coped well with all the walking.

Coming back from Melbourne we missed an earthquake but arrived home to the beginnings of this huge red dust storm.

Photo by toolmantim
Photo by toolmantim

We didn’t have this fantastic eerie red glow where we live, just a dirty haze, but we could see the orange developing in the sky on our way home from Sydney on Monday night. On Tuesday we had a heavy downpour that settled the dust but smeared all the north facing windows of the house with red slime. We’ll have to get the gurney out this weekend to blast it all off.

Barossa Valley

As promised – a brief rundown of the Barossa leg of our trip.

On Thursday 6/11, the day after the new POTUS was elected, we got the ferry back to Cape Jervis and drove back through Adelaide to the Barossa Valley. We settled in to our B&B accommodation in Tanunda and had dinner at the local kid-friendly pub.

On Friday we wandered around Angaston and made a beeline for the Lego Man. He has been collecting Lego for fifty years, has every kit ever produced, and stores them in a back yard shed. He claims to have a couple of limos and drivers that he uses to pick up VIPs from the airport to bring them, in comfort, to his collection. Apparently the Queen has visited and gave him a solid gold model of a miniature coach which is delivered by the Bank every morning, and taken back securely every night. He has a dedicated border patrol unit on call should anyone threaten to steal or damage the collection; and he still owns a real-life, genuine railway somewhere in the world. He sure has a massive collection, but he’s also a massive nutjob.

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After the Lego Man we tasted (bought) some wines at the Gomersal vineyards and stayed in for the night to eat some locally produced camembert (and drink wine).

On Saturday we drove back to Adelaide via the Whispering Wall. It’s the retaining wall for the Barossa reservoir and due to it’s unique acoustic properties you can stand at one end, and hear someone talking to you from the other end more than one hundred metres away!

I had a lovely time strolling through the shops in Angaston and Tanunda, admiring the architecture and the gardens. I hope to go back to the Barossa again sans children.

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Today’s gossip? Just a whole lot of cleaning and washing. But I did make sushi for dinner!
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