Day 60 – FRIDAY 20th March 2015
Arrived Melbourne at 2:00 am and had to wait around the airport till 6:00am to get our baggage checked in. Most uncomfortable.
Anyway, we made it back to the Gold Coast and home quite exhausted. In fact I think we need a holiday get over it!
Day 59 – THURSDAY 19th March 2015
Today we are looking forward to heading home. Our flight leaves at 3:30 pm – 7.5 hours to Melbourne (arrives 2:00am!), 5 hours in the lounge (curses on curfew) then arrive on the Gold Coast at 8:30am.
Day 58 – WEDNSDAY 18th March 2015
Through the concierge we booked a tour of the PETRONAS Towers. It cost an extra $30 to do this. We should have pre-booked online a few days before.
We walked from our hotel to the towers which took about 15 minutes in a rather hot 34 degrees. It appears that the sky is permanently hazy because, they say, by nearby Indonesia burning off their forest clearing. So visibility is always restricted.
To escape the heat we went to the movies (in the new shopping centre opposite the hotel) and Kingsman followed by dinner at the same Japanese restaurant.
Day 57 – TUESDAY 17th March 2015
Our room at the hotel was not ready when we arrived at 9:00 am. We had to wait in the Club Lounge which was very comfortable but we were so tired. We craved sleep so much and by 11:30 when the room was finally ready we were about ready to collapse. Three hours later we awoke much refreshed and set out for a look around the area.
Most of the activity in Kuala Lumpur appears to be around shopping. There seems to be a large international shopping on almost every block which is fine if you are a shopaholic. We walked around a bit (good for some exercise) but did not spend much. Opposite the hotel there is a brand new shopping centre which had been open only a few weeks. We found a nice Japanese Restaurant and had an early dinner.
Day 56 – MONDAY 16th March 2015
Our flight does not leave until 12:40 am tomorrow morning which has given me plenty of time to update this website.
So, we had a full day available which gave us a chance to take a walk along the water front. From there we walked in to the business district where we were accosted by a chap who spoke really good English who offered to take us on a tour of the city in a tuk tuk. The price was very reasonable so we took up the offer. It turned out to be a very good decision. He took us to places we probably would not have found. It was so much better than yesterdays tour which was boring and painful.
Day 55 – SUNDAY 15th March 2015
I made a terrible mistake today. I booked this leg of our journey myself so I did not have an agent to organise a tour. I chose a company at the airport and checked out their web site (www.srilankainfoguide.com) and it looked OK. Anyway, I booked what I thought was a tour, recommended by the tour company, to take us to Kandy. Well it took almost four hours to cover the mere 110 kms to get there. The ride was very jerky with lots of traffic weaving, bendy and bumpy roads and so SLOW. And, on top of that, the driver spoke almost no English so we found out nothing about places on the way or when we got there. Most disappointing.
Once there we visited the Elephant Orphanage where they care for baby elephants and others in need of care which was the only saving grace for the torrid journey. Then we had a look at the lake and had a cup of tea at the rather colonial Queens Hotel. Then we had to endure another four hours in the car for the journey home. We were exhausted and hungry when we got home so we went to a food court in a shopping mall attached to the hotel. We had the cheapest meal ever! $12.50 for a full curry meal each with naan, rice and lassis. The taste and quality was as good as any of the very expensive meals we have had to date. Remember The Mango Tree!
Day 54 – SATURDAY 14th March 2015
Last night was our last in India. Today we drove back to Kochi then flew to Colombo. BUT, there was a state wide workers strike as a protest to the recent budget in which there were substantial increases in fares on public transport. All the shops and other businesses were closed and the streets were occupied by union led workers who were stopping every car and protesting to our driver that he should not be working. Some were quite aggressive so it was a little scary. They let us through when I showed our plane tickets even though the driver had put a sign in the window saying AIRPORT. The driver told us that on a previous strike he was dragged from his car and beaten up. Anyway, we got through OK.
Goodbye India – Hello Sri Lanka! Arrived in Colombo at 5:30pm. By the time we collected our bags and got away from the airport is was already dark so we did not see much of surroundings. We are staying at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel which has over 500 rooms, is very busy, but very nice. Our room is quite large and comfortable but, alas, only one bathroom!
FRIDAY 13th March 2015
Today we drove to Alleppey to spend a day cruising the backwaters of the region and a night on a houseboat. The boat was a bit rustic but it was comfortable enough. We had three crew – driver, boat boy and cook. They made us feel very welcome and the food was very good but as usual there was too much of it.
The backwaters area has many rice paddies that were created with man made canals. The area is lightly populated with rice farmers and fishermen.
Day 52 – THURSDAY 12th March 2015
Our guide today, Sebastian, made tour today really good. Pictures and comments say it all.
Day 51 – WEDNESDAY 11th March 2015
It took longer to get to the airport than to fly to Kochi which is just over 1000 kilometres south of Mumbai.
On our first look at Kochi you could tell that it is very different from all the other places we have visited in India. The landscape is very green, lots of palm trees and mango trees, tiled roofs on many houses, clean roads and streets with pavements, modern high rise apartment buildings, modern low and high rise office buildings, expensive cars on the roads and no cows!. Apparently the State of Kerala, of which Kochi is the capitol, is the first state in India to have a fully literate population. It is a major centre for IT development and international support call centres for business all over the world.
Looking forward to tomorrow’s tour.
We are staying at the Trident Hotel (Oberoi group) which is on one of the many islands (some man made) amongst the 56 rivers that run through the area. The room we were allocated had the smell of smoke. I reported this to the Adventure World (our travel agent) representative in Delhi who contacted the manager of the hotel. As a result we were moved to a very nice large suite with 2 bathrooms and a sitting room. Much more to our taste!
Had a buffet dinner in the hotel dining room which included a different style of food to what we have had so far. It was very nice.
Day 50 – TUESDAY 10th March 2015
Today we went on a City Tour. We felt that the guide was a bit disinterested but perhaps it was the content of the tour and lots of traffic. We drove past lots of buildings which she told us about but we did not stop at many. Nevertheless it was important to get some idea of what Mumbai was about.
The young housekeeper who cleans our room noticed that we had a birthday cake (from last night’s dinner) in our room and, together with his colleagues, prepared a lovely surprise for us by decorating our room with rose petals and balloons. It made us feel very special.
In the afternoon we joined a guided tour of the Palace section of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel which was very informative.
Day 49 – MONDAY 9th March 2015
A short flight (and quarter hours) from Jaipur took us to Mumbai. Then it took us an hour and half to get the hotel from the airport! The traffic in Mumbai is really bad. At least the city looked quite clean and modern compared to all the other places we have been in India. We did not see any cows in the streets so the smell around the place was OK!
Our hotel is the Taj Mahal Palace (the site if terrorist attack in 2008). Our room is on the 16th floor of the Tower attached to the old original hotel. The old part of the hotel (the Palace) is 111 years old and quite beautiful. See pictures below.
We had a good walk around the streets (that even had pavements!) near the hotel and saw many buildings that were built during the British rule. We felt quite safe and comfortable out in the streets compared with elsewhere.
Day 48 – SUNDAY 8th March 2015
First stop today was the Amber Fort via the Pink City. This is another massive fort complex with lots of buildings inside the permitter. To get up to the entrance we took an elephant ride which was fun.
Next stop was the City Palace followed by a visit to the usual arts and crafts bazar. But thankfully this one was different. The artists occupying this venue were had all one awards for their work which is the qualification for their presence. They paint intricate very colourful pictures using a brush with one hair from a squirrel. The colours used are from the natural pigments of stone which do not fade with time. The paper they use is very old rice paper (more than 110 years) that had previously been used for land contracts. They even have a stamp duty mark that authenticates them.
Day 47 – SATURDAY 7th March 2015
We had another long car ride today, about 4 hours. It was only about 150 kms but the road was really bad, mostly dirt with lots of pot holes.
Our hotel in Jaipur is the ITC Rajputana which belongs to the same chain as the hotel we stayed at in Agra and it was about the same standard except we did not get a suite so only one bathroom (but we managed anyway).
Day 46 – Friday 6th March 2015
Up early for a jeep ride in to the Ranthambhore National Park to see wild animals including the rarely sighted tigers. We were lucky enough (so we kept being told) to see a couple of tigers from a distance.
After breakfast back at the hotel we went for ride to see the Ranthambhore Fort. It was built by the King of Rajasthan around 500 AD. It is an amazing structure that has 6 impenetrable gates in series followed by a water trap that would wash away invaders should they get that far. According to legend the fort was never penetrated by an invading army, a testament to the architects and builders.
The rest of the day we relaxed and had a nap (to catch up on lost sleep) before a very nice outdoor dinner listening to the Indian rock band.
Day 46 – THURSDAY 5th March 2015
Today we spent the day driving from Agra to Ranthambhore, 6 and half hours in the car along lots of bumpy roads.
The hotel here, Vivanti by Taj, is a heritage classified building that was built by the king of Rajasthan in 1930 as his hunting lodge. Very comfortable.
In the evening the General Manager of the hotel invited us along with some other hotel guests to join in their Holi festival celebrations. Holi is the Hindu celebration of spring. Holi is a major festival in the Hindu religion. It is celebrated on the day after the last full moon of the Hindu month of Phalguna. Phalguna falls between late February and early March in Western calendars. It is also known as the festival of colours because everyone paints each other with powdered colours. It is also a national public holiday.
Day 45 – WEDNESDAY 4th March 2015
Very early start today to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. It is a magnificent marble structure and truly one of the wonders of the world and a symbol of love that will never be repeated.
After the visit to the Taj Mahal we went back to the hotel for breakfast then off again to see the fort. There are lots of forts around India most of which were built by Hindis to protect their homes or Moguls who invaded India and then had to protect themselves!
Then in the evening we went back to the Taj Mahal for a sunset viewing. The colour changes from white to yellow as the sun goes down.
Dinner at the hotel’s Peshawri restaurant was a real treat.
Day 44 – TUESDAY 3rd March 2015
Today was not a good day. To get from Khajuraho to Agra we had to take a 9 nine hour train journey. It started off with us not waking up until 5 minutes before our scheduled departure. I set the alarm to 6:30pm instead of 6:30am!
Our seats were what is described as 1st Class. However, in our opinion it was closer to 3rd class. The cabin was private enough but it was grubby and dirty and we did not want to touch anything. The common toilet was absolutely disgusting. Lyn did not go all day! There was no alternative because there are no flights to Agra from here.
The only joy for the day was arriving at the best hotel we have stayed at so far, the ITC Mughal.
Day 43 – MONDAY 2nd March 2015
Today we flew from Varanasi to Khajuraho – 1 hour to the airport then 45 minutes in air!
Khajuraho is a temple city where the are many temples all in one are. Apparently they were built here because the local granite makes really good foundations. The hotel (the Lalit, same group as the one in New Delhi) is beautiful and we had a lovely room.
Day 42 – SUNDAY 1st March 2015
This morning our guide picked us up at 6:00am (which meant a we had to get up at 5:00am!) for a visit to the Ganges River to watch the morning bathing ritual.
We arrived at the waters edge in time to almost get sprayed by a relieving cow (missed us by that much!). We saw men getting their heads shaved which is a custom for grieving relatives. Then we went for a another boat ride but this time in daylight.
After the boat ride we walked through a very old part of the city where the streets are so narrow that only bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians can pass. In this area there is a gold covered Hindu temple and a Mongul mosque that was built on the foundations of a Hindu temple which the Mongols had demolished to assert their power). Photos could not be taken in this very heavily army guarded area where everyone is touch searched upon entry. Apparently they fear an attack by Muslim extremists.
Day 41 – SATURDAY 28th February 2015
A one and half hour flight from Delhi took us to Varanasi. The city is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, over 5000 years. And it looks it!
The streets are narrow, dirty, smelly and terribly overcrowded. The main income earner for the are is the spiritual pilgrimage of Hindus for dip in the Ganges or being cremated along its banks.
We stayed at the Radisson Hotel which, according to their web site, is one of the finest 5 star hotels in the city. Well, in our opinion, 5 star is stretching it. The hotel is old, tired and smells of urine (but that could be the smell wafting in from outside!).
At sunset we went for a boat ride on the Ganges to see the funeral pyres which are lit along the banks in specified areas run by the Untouchables (the lowest cast of Indians). Apparently, in spite of this title, they are doing well financially since there are over 300 cremations per day every day of the year. They get well paid for the service and are entitled to sift the ashes for melted jewellery that is often left on the bodies. We stayed on the boat tied up to the steps and watched the evening performance by the Hindu priests.
Day 40 – Friday 27th February 2015
This morning we went on a guided tour of New Delhi. This is a city designed by the British in the 1700’s.
We had dinner at the hotel again but this time our choices were not as good but it was very nice anyway.
Day 39 – Thursday 26th February 2015
Landed at New Delhi Airport at 2:30am. We did not get to bed until 5:00am after our guide went through all the paperwork and helped us check in.
The hotel (Lalit) is a very modern and beautifully decorated hotel. High ceilings and lots of marble. Our room turned out to be a magnificent suite which we found very comfortable. It would have been awesome but the fact that is was quite cold since only cooling aircon is provided.
Our guide collected us around midday for an afternoon tour of the Old City. This was an excellent experience which included a ride on a cycle rickshaw.
Day 38 – Wednesday 25th February 2015
Rose early to make sure we got to the airport in time for our 11:45am flight to India. Just as well because we drove around the massive Heathrow Airport trying to find the car rental return depot for Avis. The signs were so conflicting we ended up at Terminal 3 instead of Terminal 5 and had to take the shuttle across. Anyway, we made the flight in plenty of time.
Day 37 – TUESDAY 24th February 2015
Today we dedicated our time to sorting out which clothes we should take to India and which clothes to send back to Australia. We managed to completely fill our two big cases and arranged for them to be shipped home leaving us with just two small suitcases and backpacks for the rest of journey. Which is just as well because we are staying only one or two nights at each location.
Visited Howard at the nursing home and found him to be in great spirits and looking quite healthy. Let’s hope that the trend continues.
In the evening we visited Brian and Valerie at their magnificent home which occupies the top floor of an Edwardian style building in the heart of Hampstead. Ruth joined us for dinner at a very nice restaurant a short walk from Valerie and Brian’s.
Day 36 – MONDAY 23rd February 2015
Went in to the West End by train today. Found Selfridges just across the road from Bond Street station. Had a look around but did not buy anything. Everything in London is very expensive for us Aussies.
Walked up Baker Street and had a hot salt beef sandwich at Reubens with pickled cucumber and lutkas.
It was too cold and windy to walk around the shops so we went to Finchley Road and saw a very good movie (The Theory of Everything).
Day 35 – SUNDAY 22nd February 2015
Wow! What a party!
The Barmitzvah party was held at the hotel where we are staying so it was very convenient considering the still very cold (at least for us!) and now wet and windy weather.
The evening started off with a massive bang – the MC got all the guests up on the dance floor for a traditional dance and sing-a-long. It certainly set the atmosphere for the rest of the night.
Speeches and presentations were given by friends and family members including a video from Benjamin’s ex school friends from the US.
The band was really excellent and included a sax and an electric violin even a pair of dance leaders who kept the children and most of the adults on the dance floor doing line dancing. Extensive use was made of sophisticated electronic equipment including a terrific LED dance floor.
Even the food, which was prepared by outside kosher caterers, was excellent.
The whole event was professionally photographed and video recorded (links will be added when available).
The whole evening was full of love and good will and we really enjoyed it.
Here are a few photos that I managed to take. The professional ones will be posted soon.
Day 34 – SATURDAY 21st February 2015
Today we went to the Borehamwood and Elstree synagogue for Benjamin’s Barmitzvah. It was a very nice service during which Howard, among other members of the family, were called up to read from the Torah. It was really wonderful to see Howard present and totally with it considering his health difficulties over the past year and particularly over the past few weeks. Benjamin performed his Maftir and Haftorah brilliantly and Daniel (with his Dad) gave his blessing backed by a choir. A very good performance all round. Many family members were present including Aunt Essie who is 93 years old.
After the service the congregation were invited to a kiddish followed by a lunch in the attached community hall for family and friends. Benjamin gave an excellent speech and so did his Dad in response.
Lunch finished about 4:00pm. A really lovely day.
In the evening we went over to David and Jill Graham’s home for a chat followed by a light supper at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Always great to catch with them and hear about their travels.
Tomorrow evening there will be a family function to continue the celebrations.
Weather still very cold (even colder than yesterday)!
Day 33 – FRIDAY 20th February 2015
Retail therapy day! We went to Marks and Spencer at London Colney armed with a 20% discount voucher kindly provided by Ruth.
Lyn bought a few very nice items while I restricted my expenditure to some socks.
Lovely Friday night Shabbas dinner at Ruth’s home with the Claydens and friends from New York.
Weather still very cold!