Salvador, Bahia

Leaving the chaos and fun of Rio behind a very tired Annie boarded a plane for Salvador a city on Brazil’s northwest coast known for it’s Afro-Brazilian culture and beaches. Arriving in the evening I bussed to my hotel Casa Inglesa (would highly recommend) (I splashed out after the not particularly good hostel in Rio) and promptly told the hotel owner that he didn’t need to worry about giving me activities or things to do that evening, all I wanted to do was shower and sleep! To my delight the hotel owner did inform me there was Netflix on the TV in my room… So for the first time in a long time I lay in bed watching TV as I fell asleep and when I woke up I continued to watch TV and not do anything for a while… It was bliss.

When I finally forced myself out of bed I was treated to complimentary breakfast which was a real step up from the complimentary breakfast we were served in Rio ! I started the meal with fresh fruit (melon, mango and papaya), followed it with some granola and yoghurt and finished it off with a cheese tapioca… It’s fair to say that I was taking full advantage of the breakfast and had zero intention of purchasing lunch that day. Leaving the hotel I initially struggled to find the bus stop as there were no visible signs of one, after wandering up and down the street for about 10 minutes I noticed that the bus appeared to just stop where the crowds of people had chosen to congregate along the street. So I joined one of the groups, asked if they were waiting for a bus to the historical centre (or if they could tell me which line was) and I was set, within 5 minutes I had boarded a bus with AC and wifi (very upmarket I thought) and off to the historical centre I went.

Lift between the Upper and Lower parts of the historic centre

Salvador’s historic centre is divided as an upper and lower area, while you could walk up or down the hill between these two areas it is far more novel to take the lift that costs all of $0.10 NZ between the two levels. Getting into the lift with 20 other people, there was no AC and just one man sitting on a chair playing music from his phone very loudly who operated the lift. After 15 seconds the cramped and hot journey was over and I stepped out to this view…


It’s fair to say that a lot of Salvador is missing the facelift that I suspect Rio de Janeiro had prior to the Olympics. Buildings like these littered the streets of the historic centre. I wandered the streets in search of the Mercado Modelo which I had been told was full of artisan handicrafts from Bahia. Finding the market I should probably not have been surprised to find that the area was full of junk and all those useful travel items I had been missing such as hammocks, drums and Gollywog dolls… Obviously it took an awful lot of self-control not to buy everything in sight!

After a brief wander through the Mercado Modelo I headed back up to the upper level of the historic centre, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, to have a look at the colourful buildings and just wander through the streets. The area was full of touts, pastel coloured buildings, musicians, women dressed up in traditional Bahian dress… It was everything a tourist attraction should be!


The Church at the end of this street, Igreja e Convento de São Francisco, gained my custom due to the promise of a bathroom inside. While the Church’s interior is enormously ornate and golden, my favourite part was the blue tiling in the courtyard which depicted scenes based on quotes from the bible, my favourite quote being…


Which translates to ‘Nothing is more useful than silence’… I like it in more of an ironic rather than instructive way.


As I wandered down the side streets of the historic centre I was surprised to find that unlike many European cities, the historic centre is still very much an area where people live. There were kids coming and going from school, houses opening out onto the streets and men sitting on verandas shooting the shit.

While walking through the streets I was also able to see a drumming band walking through the streets, with the noise so loud you could feel it vibrating up from the streets and through your bones.


The streets were just very full of colour, both in buildings and in the way people dressed. It is evident everywhere you turn that Salvador’s Afro-Brazilian culture is well and truly alive and thriving in the city.

This was the only evidence I found that Salvador was involved in the Olympics at all!

Leaving the historic centre around 2:30 I headed back to my beachside hotel for an afternoon of blobbing on the beach and basking in the sunshine. After negotiating the buses back to Barra I stumbled across a vegetarian buffet restaurant that was heaving with people and decided I would be silly not to give it a crack. After some confusion over how the buffet worked the staff successfully explained to me that this was a restaurant where you weighed your plate at the end of the buffet and paid based on the weight of your plate! Excited by the prospect of this I loaded my plate up with all the delicious and mysterious things I could find (only one item of which I deemed uneatable)…

What this meal lacks in presentation it made up for in customer satisfaction… it was nearly all delicious!

Stuffed full of veges I wandered down to the beach where I concluded my day lying in the sun reading, swimming and watching the sunset… 


After sunset I somewhat lost my nerve to hang around that area by myself and sought refuge in my hotel room excited by the thought of Netflix, my book and another big night of sleep!

My second day started with another delicious breakfast, made even better than the day before by the discovery that I could have a banana and Nutella tapioca (naturally I had 2)! After breakfast I had organised to go on a tour 70km up the coast to a beach town called Praia do Forte. As I left my hotel it was pouring with rain and the thought of a day at the beach seemed somewhat ridiculous!! On the tour with me were two lovely Italian sisters, one of whom is currently living in Salvador working on her architecture PH.D., an Argentine woman, about six Brazilians and another Italian couple. While it appeared that every person on the tour spoke Portuguese except me I was lucky enough to have the Italians help translate everything into English for me so that I knew what was going on. Arriving in Praia do Forte the weather cleared, the sun came out and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.


We were taken straight to the Tamar Turtle Sanctuary which is a conservation effort that occurs down the coast of Brazil to help sea turtles. It was amazing to see the turtles and watch them cruise about… I even got to touch one… I couldn’t help but feel that this conservation effort was slightly misguided, the turtles were kept in very small pools and given that some of them migrate up to 10,000 miles each year.

I’m somewhat confused why we call sunglasses “tortoise shell” when it’s definitely a turtle’s shell that they mimic!

I then went to explore the town of Praia do Forte. It has a real “resort town” feel, like Denarau in Fiji. Walking down the Main Street the buildings alternated between restaurant, shop, souvenir stall (rinse and repeat). After about 30 minutes of wandering up and down the Main Street we got back into the mini van to go to another, less crowded beach for lunch and a swim. As we climbed into the van the weather turned at alarming speed, one moment it was a crystal clear, blue sky day and then all of a sudden the sky was full of black clouds that promised torrential downpours. 

We arrived at the second beach and decided that we would try wait out the bad weather by having lunch at Bar do Carlinhos. Sharing a meal with my new Argentine friend Silvia we ate moqueca de pescada amarela and camarão. A fish and prawn dish served in a broth with rice and some sort of cheesy mashed kumara. It was seriously delicious, traditional Bahian cuisine!

Again, looks don’t do this justice!

After lunch and another hour and a half of Spanish-Italian-Portuguese-English conversation the rain showed no sign of abating and so as a group we decided to head back to Salvador early rather than trying to stick it out in the rain.

As night set in and the heavens continued to pour down on Salvador I lay in bed watching multiple episodes of Gilmore Girls in the dry safety of my hotel room. The highlight of the evening was finding the perfect volume that didn’t need to be changed when the theme song was playing… Which was inexplicably much louder than the rest of the show!

As occurs everywhere I travel, inevitably at some point life admin, such as washing, must be done. So my third day in Salvador started with me trying to work out which of my clothes were dirty and which just smelled a bit funny because they have been travelling round in a backpack for four months. My two new Italian friends then invited me to their house for lunch to stopping by the vegetarian restaurant I found to buy some cake to take with me I tootled off to their house where I enjoyed a delicious Italian meal… “Just like Mama makes it”. We had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon talking about our experience in Brazil, my travels in Italy and their plans for the future. It was somewhat startling to hear these 28 and 30 year old girls talk about how they couldn’t move out of their parent’s house in Milan because it was so hard to find work and they just couldn’t afford it. They were equally surprised to hear me say that in NZ the norm is to move out of your parents’ house when you leave school and (unless you are like me) not move back in. After lunch we wandered down to the beach and stayed there till the sunset, laughing at the Brazilians cheering at the end of the sunset – I was then informed that that happens nearly every night!

My evening took a slightly strange turn when I returned to my hotel and found two Canadian women in the lobby. While normally that is not cause for concern or alarm given out history it was a seriously strange coincidence.. To explain this I must backtrack a bit…

While in Rio, travelling to the Modern Pentathlon, Angus and I helped two Canadian women on the train who were confused about where they should be getting off. We told them we were getting off at the same stop so we would let them know when to hop off. We did that, parted ways and thought nothing more of it. That night, after roaming the streets of Rio for a wee while Angus and I ended up at a random little cafe in Saint Teresa and ended up seated right next to these same two Canadian women. None of us could really believe the coincidence, while these women were dining near their hotel Angus and I were not near our hostel and had ended up at that cafe by accident because we didn’t like the menu of the cafe I had originally suggested we go to. We chatted to the two women a wee bit, laughed at the coincidence and discussed our respective travel plans. Realising they were also going to Salvador we laughed and said imagine if we ran into each other there – realising this was near impossible given the size of Salvador and the fact that our trips only crossed over by two days.

Back to Salvador… After a day with the two lovely Italian girls I walked into the hotel lobby (this hotel has 8 rooms… More of a guesthouse) and who do I see sitting in the lobby but the two Canadian women. After recovering from the shock (which in my case presented itself as a laughing fit) we all agreed clearly the fates were pushing us together so we popped out to a vegan restaurant down the road and had dinner together.

My final day in Salvador commenced with me doing battle with my backpack which seems to be getting harder and harder to close with each passing day. When I finally got to the zipper to close and lick I stored my belongings and headed off to the Afro-Brazilian Museum in the historic centre. The museum was very small and informative, explaining the influence of the African slave trade that was headed up by Portugal on the modern demographics of Brazil and in particular the Bahian region. My favourite part of the museum was the wood panel carvings at the very back of the museum by Hector Júlio Paride Barnabó. The wood panels had Afro-Brazilian deities carved into them and then had been made three dimensional through use of metal. 

Leaving the museum I got caught in a surprise thunderstorm and in the 50m I ran to reach the shelter of a cafe I was soaked to the bone. As I burst through the door of the cafe the waitresses response was perfect, she simply picked up a pile of napkins, walked over to me and started patting me dry. The staff at the cafe took a liking to me and gave me my second cappuccino free and both of them were decorated…


Jumping on a bus to head back to my hotel to do some odd jobs, such as buying presents for people in Japan, I became slightly distracted by the wifi on the bus… I missed my stop and didn’t notice for 20 minutes at which point we were well and truly in the slums. I decided to sit tight as I thought surely the bus would do a loop. Well, an hour and a half later the bus did turn around to complete the loop.. We had reached the airport!!! 

A map of my extended bus trip

Three and a half hours after boarding the bus I made it back to my hotel. Losing faith in my bussing ability I called and uber and ubered to the airport setting off on my final adventure of my five month trip. Back to Japan to climb Mt Fuji!!

Rio 2016 (not how the newspapers reported it!)

Flying into Rio the sky was filled with a grey haze that made any sort of airborne sightseeing impossible… All I could make out was a lot of hills and a very large city beneath me. Both those observations were correct. 

Having read the newspaper I anticipated that I would arrive in Rio and experience endless queues, thieves, mosquitos just waiting to bite me and infect me with Zika and generally have a terrible time. I am happy to report the descriptions by newspapers could not have been further from the truth! From the moment I stepped off the plane Rio was a slick operation, well sign posted, efficient and lots of people who either spoke English or were willing to play the game of trying to communicate despite the lack of mutual language! The one flaw in the trip was the number of people expected to fit on the bus into town… The bus arrived already full, 20 people hopped off and about 50 got on, this process continued the whole way into town. When we reached the last stop it looked like the bus was power-chucking humans as the spilled into the station. After a trip on the metro and a ride in a taxi (I was so tired I gave up on finding the bus I could take to my hostel) I arrived at my hostel absolutely shattered! It had been a decent 32 hours since I left London and therefore that long since I had lay flat or had a proper shower!


My exhaustion was quickly forgotten as soon as I saw Angus and excitement took over! After an hour of excitement charged energy the exhaustion of the previous 32 hours set in and Ang and I turned in early in preparation for our big 3 event day at the Olympics!

Our first day at the Olympics was undoubtedly our busiest.. While we left the hostel with the intention of attending 3 events we ended up seeing 5! First up was track cycling, one of the coolest venues we went to with 360 views of the action. 

Olympic Velodrome
We also got to see the funniest event of track cycling, this was the Keirin this involved a ridiculous looking man sitting on an electric bike leading the race for the first six laps and then the cyclists were able to sprint the last two laps… The guy on the electric bike undoubtedly had the best job at the Olympics!

Keirin Race (note the Kiwi in the front)

After the track cycling with a few hours to kill Ang and I started wandering through the complex when the world’s worst skelper came up to us… Offering us tickets to the artistic gymnastics final (including the men’s parallel bars, women’s floor and men’s high bar – we didn’t know this until we went into the stadium.) these were student tickets that retailed at 130R, he offered to sell them to us at face value so we were surprised when we gave him 250R and received 20R back (like I said, terrible skelper). So, off we trotted to the gymnastics final. We were sitting up in the Gods (could feel the air getting thinner as we climbed) but thanks to the big screens we could still see everything that was going on
We sat next to two hilarious Brazilian women who made some very borderline comments about the Chinese gymnasts. These comments continued even when men wearing China track suits sat down right in front of us. The men’s finals were cool, but the women’s floor final was the highlight. Not only did we see America’s superstar Simone Biles compete and win but we got to see a gymnast from GB get 3rd and sob with joy the whole way through the victory lap and medal ceremony… It was seeing people like that win medals at the games that was really cool!

Simone Biles in action
Tokyo 2020 NZ Gymnastics Delegation

After the gymnastics we feasted on an inspired lunch of wholemeal bread (that was weirdly sweet) with cheese and Doritos… It turned out the supermarkets didn’t really stock ready to eat lunches the way M & S does! From the gymnastics we did a full 180 and went to the 105kg + weightlifting B final. Not only were the athletes very different, but it turns out the people who attend gymnastics and weightlifting are quite different crowds… While sitting at the gymnastics we enjoyed pop tunes and a diverse audience, the weightlifting attracted in general a large, male crowd (or females who lift) and we listened to heavy metal! It was hard to believe it was the B final, neither Angus or I could have lifted what they were lifting and we are both renowned as very good weight lifters.


From the B final we went Badminton… These were tickets Angus bought cheaply when he arrived in Rio. I don’t think I will attend badminton again. While I was impressed that the shuttle cock moves at over 300km at its top speed there was little else about the sport that excited me.


After 45minutes of Badminton Angus was sitting reading and I was really only watching so that we didn’t both sit there are read. At that point we decided to call it a day. Well we intended to. Walking out of the Badminton we were offered free tickets to the A final of the 105kg + weightlifting.. After our thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the weightlifting we jumped at the chance to see the A final.


SERIOUSLY BIG BOYS! The heaviest in the class was 169kg, an Iranian, the favourite, who it turns out is basically a rockstar in Iran. The reason we worked out his fame levels in Iran was because of the high drama that unravelled in the final. In the first round the Iranian managed to break the world record for the snatch and was headed for the gold… Until he was disqualified in the clean and jerk. We didn’t understand what he did wrong but we did understand the Iranians screaming and booing as every subsequent competitor completed their lifts. After being disqualified the 169kg Iranian walked around and stood behind the judges arguing against is disqualification, initially terrifying, that evaporated when he sat on the floor with his legs splayed on the floor crying. While the Iranians continued to boo the competitors from Georgia and Armenia (the soon to be medalists in place of the Iranian) the rest of the crowd banded behind them with the Brazilians getting louder and louder trying to drown out the Iranians. The other highlight of the weightlifting were the facials that came with it… It looked like a battle of the human thumbs, which Angus and I then tried to replicate…


Leaving the Olympics at 10pm after over 12 hours we then had to make the 2 hour trek back to our hostel (this happened regardless of which venue we were in) on the bus and the freezing cold metro!

After our 14 hour Olympic marathon day 2 started slightly slower than the day before, but as had occurred the day before we were able to indulge in cheese toasties for breakfast! We headed to Copacabana Beach in the morning where there were very small tog bottoms on both the males and the females, it appears in Brazil togs are made in one size fits all despite the fact that one size most definitely does not fit all!!

Flags on Copacabana

After tracking down fresh fruit and vegetables for lunch… And NO bread (something of a miracle in Rio) we headed to an afternoon of sailing at Marina da Glória. Sadly however we spent more time sitting on the side of the beach reading in the shade than watching sailing due to a severe lack of wind (the day was eventually cancelled).

Ang testing the wind for the sailing

The lack of wind did however give us a clear blue sky and plenty of time to get some token Olympic photos!


We wandered on to Olympic Boulevard which was busy and had a very confusing flow of traffic, our attempt to view the Olympic flame was a failure due to the flame having one way access (we did see it later in the week and turns out it wasn’t very impressive).

View from the new museum on Olympic Boulevard

The evening of day 2 was one of the highlights of the week, the men’s team Table Tennis final!!! Japan vs China and a seriously vocal crowd. While the Brazilians quickly sided with Japanese team and boosted the Japanese’s volume, the Chinese supporters were relentless in their cheers and had the world’s best table tennis player in their team, Ma Long.


While we could not understand a lot of the cheers, the atmosphere was one of the best we got to experience in the games.. Turns out the Japanese and Chinese really do love table tennis!

Ma Long in action
Day 3 started with a morning at the athletics, our morning started watching two Kiwis, Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill qualify for the shot put final, our seats were looking straight onto the shot put pitch (??? Is that the word you use to describe it???)

Jacko Gill’s qualifying throw

Both male and female heats for the 4x100m relays were on… While we had hoped to see Usain Bolt (and did initially think we saw him) sadly in a relay team you are apparently allowed 5 athletes so one of them was subbed in for Bolt for the heat!

The man we thought was Bolt

Despite our mocking of the Japanese team, due to their bizarre peach/orange onside looking outfits, they ended up winning the heat and beating Jamaica much to the shock of everyone in the stadium.

Watching the 400m Hurdles final confirmed to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will not ever be an Olympic 400m hurdler… They just looked so goddam tired in the final stretch, like all the light and joy had been sapped from their lives (also hurdles are high!)

Another 2 hours on public transport and we were back at the sailing for a second attempt and a condensed programme which meant we got to watch three NZ medal winning races! The girls in the 470s and 49s (both silver) and the booths in the 49s who won gold! There was a huge Kiwi contingent there to support the athletes and getting to watch the NZ flag being raised three times, once including the national anthem was a seriously cool experience!

Intending to go to NZ House for a beer at the end of the day we somehow stumbled our way into a swanky drinks party at NZ House with free food and drink (great result). Despite looking very out of place in our shorts and jandals we at least weren’t the poor sods who were dressed up as Zespri kiwifruit and had to dance! Aside from the free food and drink we also got given kiwifruits on entrance and exit… Something both Ang and I were very excited about!

Despite arriving in Rio with tickets to the women’s hockey gold medal match the Black Sticks sadly didn’t make the gold medal match and instead we managed to trade tickets with a couple of Dutch people in our hostel and therefore got to watch the Black Sticks compete in the bronze medal match. We were playing Germany and the Germans were well prepared with noisemakers and air horns making them particularly annoying spectators to sit alongside! The Kiwi contingent did however manage to rally with strong vocal chords and retaliatory chants!

While unfortunately we didn’t get the bronze watching a hockey game like that was so cool, the final 10 minutes were super intense and well yet again I established that I won’t be an Olympian, this time hockey was ruled out!


In the afternoon Angus and I parted company for a few hours, while I headed to diving, Angus trotted off to wrestling. At the diving I sat next to Tom Daley’s family… Not knowing this until about 20 minutes into the diving I managed to get a fair few stupid comments to them e.g. Which board do they jump off! But sitting next to the Daley’s was very useful I enjoyed quizzing them on why dives were scored different ways and what the requirements of a diving competition were!

The moment where the dive goes horribly wrong
Lifeguards at the diving wear FLIPPERS!

With no plans for the morning of our fifth day we decided we would walk up to Christ the Redeemer, arguably Rio’s most famous landmark. While the conventional tourist walking path went through the botanic gardens and national park, Ang and I worked out that we were already part of the way there in our hostel so we took the very non-touristy path to Christ. 

Angus’ short cut

Walking through a pretty dodgy neighbourhood and then along a few winding roads without footpaths we made it to the information centre. This was sadly as far as we got as the security guards told us we couldn’t walk up from there (even though Christ was only about 500m away) and we weren’t able to get in one of the shuttles up for two hours!


So, back we turned and down the road we wandered with a couple of quick glimpses back to Christ who was swallowed by thick cloud we decided we hadn’t missed out on too much and happily headed off to the modern pentathlon.

The modern pentathlon is one of the less well known Olympic events but has always been one of my favourites… Mainly because I think it’s ridiculous! The event combines swimming, fencing, show jumping and, cross country running and shooting (two disciplines combined as one event). My favourite detail about the show jumping is that the horses are drawn from a hat, meaning the rider is riding an unfamiliar horse!!!


Angus and I arrived at the modern pentathlon just after the fencing demonstration and just as the rain set in. While initially I had something of a sense of humour bypass sitting in the pouring rain, freezing this abated as the show jumping commenced and chaos ensued. Quite a few of the horses were really rather naughty and where they didn’t refuse at jumps they would often jump them in a manner which would leave the audience amazed that the rider stayed on. Undoubtedly however the funniest part of the show jumping was when a rider would fall off their horse… While normally that would result in elimination (in normal show jumping) in modern pentathlon the rider is not eliminated until their fourth refusal or dismount meaning… The riders would fall off and then chase the horse round the course trying to catch them and get back on!!!


After watching 36 rounds of hilarious show jumping the athletes changed and prepared themselves for the 3.2km cross country run combined with laser pistol shooting! The current winner of the pentathlon was set off first with everyone else let off after him depending on how many seconds faster than him they needed to run/shoot to win – this meant the Russian was being chased around the course. The staggered nature of the start made for a really exciting race where you could see people losing and gaining medals as the running/shooting went on.


As strange as the whole event is it was a very fun event to watch and made me rethink (just a little) just how much I take the piss out of this sport!

Starving and damp (the rain did eventually subside), Angus and I decided to get dinner before going back to the hostel and showering. With a bit of a hike up to Santa Teresa we managed to catch the conclusion of the men’s gold medal football match (which the Brazilians won) and found a delicious cafe to eat. Cafe do Alto was the first cafe I ate authentic Brazilian cuisine in that I really, genuinely enjoyed! Angus and I shared two tapiocas, one with guacamole and the other with marinated tomatoes and haloumi, as well as salad, a bean and rice dish with masses of haloumi and finished it off with dulce de leche tapioca!!

You could sense the heart foundation’s disapproval with every mouthful

Our final day of Olympics (and Ang’s final day in Rio) also saw a lot of rain… Only this time we were prepared, with bin liners! Well equipped for the rain we headed off to watch the men’s marathon. Despite having tickets to the actual stadium where the marathon started and finished we opted to see them twice on the course and then head to the cross country mountain biking. Marathon runners are alarmingly fast.. I mean I couldn’t hold that pace over 100m, let alone 42km! Seeing them at 3km and 16km the only discernible difference in the runners was that there were slightly less people in the leading bunch, other than that they were still moving with serious speed!


As we headed off to the mountain biking the weather started to clear and we were finally able to abandon our bin liners for the day. A busy, male dominated crowd the mountain biking was not an event I was that interested in… Or so I thought. The mountain biking was actually a really cool event to watch, despite the terrain the bikers still move with serious speed uphill and with a couple of spills on the course the event was exciting even though I know nothing about it! Angus was a huge help in this area as he actually know about mountain biking and could explain things to me!


Farewelling Angus who had to scoot off to the airport to fly back to NZ I watched the end of the mountain biking on my own and then headed back to the hostel for a quick nap and a shower before heading to watch the closing ceremony at NZ House. Enjoying a cold shower and a power cut (which carried on for the next 16 hours) I darted back out in the pouring rain for a spot of Mexican for dinner with my friend’s boyfriend who was also a loner for the closing ceremony. My final night in Rio wasn’t a wild party, instead it was a few drinks at NZ house and dodging more torrential rain on my return journey to the hostel – I felt terrible for the athletes who were standing in the rain for about 5 hours at the closing ceremony!!

Leaving Rio the next day I spent the morning sleeping in and packing before finally leaving the hostel with zero plans to return there in the near future! I managed to find a nice cafe where I ate lunch and then started making my way to the airport due to warnings of bad traffic and queues. My own trip would have been exceptionally efficient had I not jumped on the wrong bus and headed in theopposite direction to the airport to begin with!  I still made it to the airport with more than enough time and safely boarded my plane for Salvador!

A final few notes on our week in Rio – we were consistently impressed with the speed of public transport and security queues, the locals were very kind to us and always tried to help us get around whenever we looked confused or lost… Aside from turning off the air conditioning on the metros I really don’t think the Rio Olympics could have gone any better for us!!!

Oh and finally…. I never want to have another plain cheese toastie for breakfast again!

Budapest the Beautiful

I’d had it in my mind for a fair while that Budapest was a place I wanted to visit. I don’t know where the idea came from or why it was there but it was and now having been there I can think of a lot of reasons why I would want to visit there and am very pleased I went!


Budapest, and Hungary, are both a city and nation steeped with history. Having endured both Nazi and Soviet rule they are a city/nation that has experienced persecution in many forms and given that Soviet rule only ended in 1989 the various forms of persecution are still relatively fresh in public consciousness. Despite studying history through Uni and focussing on modern history, specifically the Cold War and WWII it had never really crossed my mind that I was travelling to a country where I would be surrounded by memorials and the legacy those conflicts left behind. This was the first reason I loved being in Budapest, everywhere I turned there were places to learn more about WWII and the Cold War – it also reminded me of how limited our curriculum can be in terms of informing us about all aspects of these conflicts – as Hungary was not such highly contested land as say Poland, France and Germany it has been somewhat neglected by the history books (or at least only mentioned in passing in the books that I was given to study).


One of my favourite memorials to the Holocaust in Europe would have to be the Shoes on the Danube. Sixty pairs of iron shoes are fastened to the bank of the Danube near the Hungarian Parliament to commemorate Jews who were forced to strip naked (including removing their shoes) and stand on the edge of the Danube to be shot by Arrow Cross militiamen from 1944-1945. There is something very real about this memorial, perhaps it’s the fact that there are women’s, men’s and children’s shoes mixed up along the bank – a strong reminder that the persecution of Jews was uniform, with disregard for age and gender.

I also went to two very different museums in Budapest both related to WWII and the Cold War. 


The first was the House of Terror on Andrássy Avenue. The House of Terror is building was used by both the fascist and communist regimes of the 20th century to detain, interrogate, torture and kill victims of the regimes. Now transformed into a museum you are able to walk through the building and see the rooms while also being given a detailed history of both regimes in Hungary and how each regime utilised the building.

Images of the victims tortured and killed within the walls of this building
Soviet Propaganda
Resistance

The exhibitions span three floors with the last floor being the basement – aside from the ridiculous system of having one lift that holds eight people, very slowly, to transport people down to the basement (stairs are not an option) – this was by far the most chilling part of the exhibition. You could walk into the cells people were held in, see the gallows they were hung on and here quotes from their executioners. 

The second museum I went to was the Hospital in the Rock. This hospital was built in the 1930s beneath Buda Castle in preparation for WWII. The hospital was constructed within a series of caves and tunnels under the castle that are naturally warmed by the thermal waters running through tunnels parallel to the hospital. Utilised through WWII and during the Hungarian uprising against the Soviets in 1956 the hospital that was designed to house 200 patients often had over 600 patients there during these periods of intense conflict. The hospital was later repurposed as a nuclear bunker to face the threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War. This is not a museum you can just wander through, you have to go on a tour – while originally this pissed me off it did mean that I learnt a lot more about the siege of Budapest in WWII and the Hungarian uprising in 1956. The museum is full of wax figurines and it seems obvious to me that the person who made the figurines had a real sense of humour e.g. The person depicted on the loo really looked like they were trying to squeeze one out!!! Seeing this hospital (and the wax figurines in it) made me even happier with Coventry Hospital where Alice is than I was before.. Things looked very grim in this hospital!!

As well as the history of the city Budapest is full of beautiful buildings, bridges and views over the Danube! Buda Castle Hill, situated on Buda side is a wonderful area to walk around, from here you see Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church as well as having a great view over Pest and the Parliament buildings.

View of Pest from Buda Hill
 

The castle has now been turned into an art gallery and a museum, neither of which I went into, but rumour has it like most castles it’s quite good looking on the inside! I spent quite a large portion of the day wandering around Buda Hill. I paid to go into Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion – the view from Fisherman’s Bastion is no more impressive than anywhere else on the hill and the church, like many churches in Europe is very grand on the inside, but it’s exterior is truly beautiful!


Another church I visited was the Basillica of St Stephen – again unless one was totally enamoured with European churches I wouldn’t bother with the interior… I would however encourage people to pay the 500 HUF and climb up to the dome viewing deck. As the Basillica is in Pest this gives you a view of Buda Hill, the climb isn’t hard and the view is worth it!


The final church I admired in Budapest was the Sziklatemplom (the Church in the Rock), like the Hospital in the Rock it is built in the naturally occurring caves under Buda Hill the church is unlike any other church I have seen in Europe (and therefore was my favourite in Budapest). The church pews wind through the cave and it is a wee bit difficult to work out how a service would work in the church, but it is very impressive that the Hungarians have managed to utilise the space!

Sneaky snaps inside the Church (no photos allowed)

The final architectural masterpiece that must be commented on is the Hungarian Parliament building…

Slightly more impressive than the Beehive
View from the back

Not only has Budapest got an array of impressive buildings but it also has plenty of large green spaces and views… Walking along the Danube, climbing up to the Citadella, walking around the City Park (and going into the Széchenyi Public Baths) and running around Margaret Island – all activities I was able to enjoy in the beautiful city!

View from the Danube at night
The lushest grass I ever did tread on
Széchenyi Thermal Baths (turns out I still don’t like spa baths)
Heroes Square

Walking up to the Citadella is a fairly easy walk uphill to a beautiful view over Pest…
View from the Top!
I was very surprised to find really good coffee in Budapest… Probably the best I have had since leaving NZ! The Pest side seemed to be overflowing with cool little cafe that made delicious pastries and breakfasts alongside their coffee. For anyone heading to Budapest here are my top recommendations for coffee

  • My Little Melbourne – Great coffee and pastries – all designed to be takeaway (including muesli)… While the guy who completed the transaction was very slow at working out change that is really my only complaint outside of that the whole operation was fantastic!
  • Blue Bird Coffee – Only does coffee (and sells beans)
  • Kontakt – This was my favourite coffee shop in Budapest, mainly because across the alley there was also an amazing cafe where you could buy really delicious food for about $6 NZ (Szimply Good Food)!! There was however a slightly strange rule… You could drink the coffee shops coffee at the cafe, but couldn’t eat the cafe’s food at the coffee shop!

Ice cold coffee from Kontakt

I must confess, I did not find Hungarian food to be all that appealing… A heavily meat based style of cuisine I was not enthused! I did manage to find delicious alternatives in the form of Japanese, Italian and Turkish cuisine (oh and lots of ice cream).

Overall, Budapest was a very beautiful and cool city to be in… I decided it would be an amazing city to be a student in as everywhere is within walking distance (the only public transport I took was to and from the airport), there is a great public transport system and it looks Ro have an amazing nightlife (not that I got involved in that haha). While I still don’t think it has overtaken Salzburg as my favourite city in Europe it definitely has made itself the other woman in my relationship and placed Salzburg under serious threat!

My favourite statue

The Amalfi Coast on Foot: Praiano to Positano (with a bit of Capri in between)

As mentioned in the earlier post Mum and I between us do not have any sense of direction, or apparently ability to follow instructions. This has been made painfully apparent to us in the past few days as we muddled our way along the Amalfi coast in a very long winded fashion!! 

Moving from Amalfi to Praiano was a walk that was meant to be a maximum of 13km. While the instructions suggested we take a packed lunch Mum and I thought stuff it, we will walk fast enough to have lunch in Praiano. Our walk started off well enough, we were able to follow the instructions all the way to Lone (it was basically just following the road) but we came slightly unstuck when we were meant to descend into the fjord of Furore.

The point where we were meant to descend turned out to be quite a seriously overgrown and closed path that had no clear way around, over or through. Retracing our steps back through the overgrown path we phoned Peter, the friendly Dutchman who was meant to help us if we got lost or stuck. Peter was unsurprised by us getting stuck (which infuriated me ever so slightly as it seemed like perhaps he already knew this would happen and just failed to send us revised instructions) and gave us new directions that should have linked us up with the path further ahead. 

What we were meant to descend into
Whether the instructions were faulty or Mum and I simply failed to understand them we will never know (although I do suspect it is the latter) but we possibly never did meet up with the right path and if you look at the map you can see we did quite a bit of looping over ourselves and backtracking!


Finally arriving in Praiano, 19km later, we stopped for lunch (where I consumed an entire pizza) and then walked the further 1.5km to our hotel which much to our dismay was up a very slight hill and a flight of stairs. Finally making it into our hotel room at 4pm we failed to do anything with the rest of the day other than going for dinner! Dinner however was a thoroughly enjoyable experience… The tables were on a verandah below lemon trees and the fresh fish was on display, the owner was a typical Italian who addressed every female as bella and was adoring of even the most visually terrifying guests! The whole dining experience was enhanced by the fact there was an Italian wedding going on below us! Our meal was spent spying on the wedding guests and bride. While the dresses at the wedding were not to our taste we were most impressed with the efficiency with which the wedding finished, by 9pm nearly all the guests had left and basically everything was cleaned up.

Heart balloons released at the wedding

The next day Mum and I were meant to be walking in the Green Valley of Praia… These plans came unstuck within the first 2km when we were unable to find the turn off into the valley. Stopping on the roadside for 20 minutes to try and read a map we eventually gave up and, seeing a sign for The Path of the Gods, the walk we were meant to be doing the next day, we decided that walk could just be brought forward a day! The path we chose was endless stairs all the way to the uppermost point of the Path of the Gods – doing some research after the walk I discovered we chose “the shortest and steepest of the paths to the top, this path from Praiano is not for the faint-hearted”


It must also be said that our walk to the top was not just us two, no, we found ourselves a rather gormless companion, with bright eyes, four legs, a shiny coat and a wagging tail. He met us in Praiano and followed/led us all the way to the top with no concern for his owner who was presumably worried about him somewhere down in the village. At the top however he ran ahead with another group while we stopped for water and we never saw him again.


Descending down the Path of the Gods we arrived in Nocelle a very small, hillside village where we were rewarded with fresh squeeze orange and lemon juice. Descending from Nocelle was an enjoyable 1,800 steps (enjoyable only because we didn’t have to walk up them) followed by some road walking to arrive in Positano. Stopping in Positano for lunch and gelato we then caught the bus back to Praiano and spent our afternoon lazing by the beach and swimming before I bullied Mum into walking up a few more flights of stairs for dinner at a rooftop restaurant!

By day 7 of walking, having done the Path of the Gods the day before we gave ourselves a day off walking and instead took the ferry from Positano to Capri and spent a day exploring the island. Being the idiots we are we decided rather than bussing or taxi-ing to Anacapri instead we would walk up the Phoenician Steps to reach the town. Having read online that the steps take about 1 hour and seeing a sign that suggested they would take 2 hours, Mum and I were enormously confused when after 26 minutes the steps abruptly stopped. Asking a couple of local guides where the steps continued and where we could rejoin the steps we were surprised to hear that no, we had in fact reached the top. If you could have seen us at the top and the amount we were sweating you may have suggested that perhaps the steps were not designed to be taken at our chosen pace (and we might have agreed). 


Seeing the Axel Munthe Museum (inside Villa San Michele) not far from the end of the steps we paid 7 euros each to go inside primarily to use the bathroom to make ourselves more presentable and cool off. Our attempts to make ourselves presentable once more resulted in two Italian women walking into the bathroom with me standing in a bikini top and shorts holding my top under the hand dryer and Mum standing with the buttons of her dress completely undone airing herself… A surprisingly not awkward situation despite what it sounds like!!


After our cappuccino in the museum cafe Mum and I finally made proper use of our tickets and walked through the museum which detailed the life of Axel Munthe a doctor/author/musician with a fascination with death and the Greeks and Romans. A very interesting museum with beautiful gardens I am somewhat embarrassed to say my favourite part of the whole museum was found in the gift shop, it was this quote from Axel Munthe….


Catching a single chairlift to the highest point of the island we were ever so slightly disappointed for the clouds to roll in and hide the views from the top but were treated to better views on the descent as we dipped below the clouds again.



My favourite activity that we did in Capri was go to the Grotto Azzurra. While there was a fair bit of queuing involved Mum and I were well entertained by watching the boats bob about and people enter the grotto in the tiny boats.


To explain why this was so funny you must know that the entrance to the Grotto is only about 1 metre high (maximum, could be lower if the ocean has swelled as you enter). These tiny rowboats that fit about 6 passengers max are propelled into the cave by the oarsman who lays down as they enter resulting in every person in the boat lying on top of one and other regardless of whether you were friends prior to this experience.


It is a very noisy, Italian experience with the oarsmen smoking between trips into the grotto, singing and generally fooling around to keep us all (and themselves entertained). The ticket office is a boat floating in the middle of the sea so the tiny rowboats lurch towards the ticket boat with precious euros being handed over in a precarious fashion as the two boats crash together or float apart depending on how bouncy the water it. 

When it was finally our turn we climbed into the boat, Mum lying on top of me and a girl from South Korea at the other end. Our boatman who loved the fact we were kiwis and sang Gangnam Style to the girl from Korea took us into the cave and it was AMAZING!


The oarsmen sing as they row you around the naturally lit caves. I would happily have waited double the time to go into the caves and 100% recommend that anyone going to Capri take the time to go.

Arriving back in Positano in the evening we ate a most delicious dinner at our hotel restaurant…

Ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers fried on a zucchini purée
Baked aubergine and ricotta rolls wrapped in prosciutto
Fried mixed fish
(Gerald as I know you are reading I said to Mum that you would have loved this whole experience – the walking and the eating… I think next time you should come!!)

Our final full day on the Amalfi Coast was once more spent walking and once more ended up with Mum and I being unable to follow the instructions we were given and guiding ourselves through the walk. (We realised at the end of the day we had done the whole walk backwards, how we don’t know, and added on about 5km to the original walk). 

Within the first 5 minutes we had looped back on ourselves about three times

Bussing up to Montepertuso Mum and I immediately confused ourselves with the written directions, looped back on ourselves about three times and then asked a local what way we should walk (abandoning our instructions completely within about 10 minutes). We walked up (stairs) for about 50 minutes and then came to a level area with a stone hut… Re-addressing our original instructions we thought we may have reached the highest point of the day. I however told Mum that we hadn’t done enough uphill and coerced her into a bit more ascension. As we walked up, and up, and up it began to get colder, windier and much clearer… The up and up and up continued until Mum finally decided just short of the top that we should call it there.


Again, doing research that night I realised we had climbed very nearly to the highest mountain on the Amalfi Coast, Monte Sant’Angelo!! We then spent the next hour and a half going down, down, down! Again the cloud returned and we found ourselves walking through what seemed like a horror film set, tall trees, dark clouds… It was the point in the film where everyone is thinking “don’t go in there you idiot, you won’t come out alive”!


I can happily report we did come our alive and in a horrible little village called Santa Maria del Castello… Finding a cappuccino stop with a helpful owner who pointed us in the direction of Positano we continued down and after another hour of descent we finally arrived in Positano.

Useful signs like these guided us back to Positano
As well as well maintained, obvious tracks like this

Perhaps the best thing about returning to Positano that day was the presence of Jamo and Rachael, two friends from NZ who had walked the Path of the Gods and come for a visit. I therefore spent the afternoon sitting on the beach with them and catching up on our respective travels.. With brief moments marvelling at how bizarre it was that we were on the other side of the world and still able to hang out.


The entertainment for our final meal in Positano was a soccer game between Italy and Spain… With absolutely zero interest in the game Mum and I watched everyone watching the game while we ate, particularly one man who looked like he might burst into tears at any moment! Thankfully Italy won and the restaurant erupted with cheering, hugging, high fives and kissing as all the locals celebrated the win.

En route to Switzerland we had an all too brief stop in Milan where we had just enough time to go to the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum (that had scaled models of many of his designs) and the Duomo. 

Today we train to Bad Ragaz where we meet Dad and Alice for a few days. 

Hiroshima.

Hiroshima was a city of extremes for me, immense sadness and also a lot of enjoyment. With little over 48 hours here my first afternoon was spent within the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Starting in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was fairly harrowing. Entering the exhibition with an audio guide you are immediately presented with life size figures and a poem about trying to pull a girl from the rubble as fire rages steadily closer to her. From this point on I spent most of the exhibition with tears rolling down my face. The exhibition demonstrated both the immediate and long term horrors of the Atomic bomb.

Tricycle damanged from the bomb

Watching videos from survivors of the bomb you realise that aside from the health issues that arose from the use of nuclear weapons almost just as troubling was fear of potential health issues – many of these people lived out the remainder of their lives fearing that they would be diagnosed with a terminal illness that was a consequence of their exposure to radiation. By the time I left the museum I felt both immense despair and also pride. Despair that we continue to live in a world where nuclear weaponry exists and could again be used, and pride to come from NZ, a country who’s identity is partially formed on being steadfast in their commitment to being nuclear free.

Moving through the Peace Memorial Park there were numerous monuments and statues dedicated to both those lost and those who survived the bomb.

Memorial cenotaph for A-Bomb Victims
Children’s Peace Monument

While this monument is dedicated to all children who suffered from the A-Bomb, it was inspired by one young girl called Sadako Sasaki. Aged 2 when the bomb occurred she survived the bombing but died at age 12 from Lukemia – prior to her death she relentlessly folded paper cranes (under the belief that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes your wish will come true), hence the depiction of a girl holding a crane on the monument.

People from all over the world make and send their paper cranes to the monument as a symbol of shared hope for peace and the abolition of atomic weaponry

The A-Bomb dome is perhaps one of the most controversial reminders of the bombing in Hiroshima, much like our own Cathedral in Christchurch people don’t like the idea of the centre of the city being framed by such visible destruction that undoubtedly evokes painful memories. However, the building continues to undergo reinforcement work and will forever remain in the city – serving as a reminder to the world of the destructive nature of atomic weaponry and a continuing appeal for their abolition. 

The structure of the building was able to remain somewhat intact as it was almost directly below the centre of the bomb

My second day in Hiroshima played out in a fairly stark contrast to my first. I spent the first part of the morning running through Hijiyama Park and eventually finding my way back to my hotel. I then went and explored Hiroshima Castle – while not particularly exciting, it was interesting to learn about Hiroshima’s identity prior to the dropping of the A-Bomb. It is very easy to forget that Hiroshima had an entirely separate existence from the one it now has.

Entrance to the castle

Afterwards I made my way via foot, bus, train and ferry to Miyajima Island. The island is about 45 minutes away from the centre of Hiroshima and is categorised as one of the “3 best looking spots in Japan” (or so the brochures say) – this would have to be a fairly accurate assessment from what I have seen so far. The island is probably most famous for the “floating Torii” (it at least appears this way at high tide) – but the best part about it in my opinion is the view from Mt Misen. While I had originally planned to hike up the whole way, with the temperature being 32 degrees and quite humid I decided against this and instead took the lazyman’s option of the cable car. 


The view from the cable car was spectacular, both the bush that you glide over and the views out to the sea. Once I had reached the top of the cable car there was still a 1km quite steep hike up to the peak of the mountain – with the sun beating down I got quite burnt and very hot! It was 100% worth the walk however, on such a nice day you could see out round Hiroshima and the surrounding towns as well as other islands in the area. 

Along the walk there were some very cool mini shrines and areas of worship…


One thing that Buddhists do here is often the statues are dressed up, their dress changed according to the seasons – throughout this walk however it appears that some people were also having a bit of fun with the Buddhas with this guy being my favourite…


(Apparently there was also one along the way that I missed who was holding a set of Dumbbells!) And these guys being a more traditional example of how to dress a statue for summer…


What I couldn’t believe was how similar to the Malborough Sounds it looked at times.


Working my way back down the hill to the seaside I managed to time it perfectly for high tide so that the Torii  and Itsukishima Shrine were both surrounded by water, therefore achieving the desired look of apparent floating!


While neither sight held nearly as much appeal for me as Mt Misen did, they were still both worth seeing as I was in the area! 

The island also houses a 5 Story Pagoda (again not something that really spun my wheels)

Returning to Hiroshima I again successfully navigated both trains and buses (something that I was very proud of myself for doing) and made it back to the noodle shop next to where I am staying… I had eyed this shop up the night before and decided to go in and my god am I glad that I did! My cold soba noodles with dipping sauce and tempura vegetables and prawns were so goddamn tasty I had to restrain myself from ordering the dish twice over!


It is fair to say that much like the rest of Japan, Hiroshima has continued the trend of stealing my heart – with views, food and history like I have experienced in the past two days I know that I will return here for a more extended visit in the future!

Konichiwa Japan

Landing in Japan an overwhelming wave of relief came over me. I loved India and consider it an invaluable experience but Japan promised to be efficient, clean, have running water and perhaps what I was most excited about friends. Spending 6 hours unconscious in Tokyo I boarded a plane early in the morning to Shonai. Shonai airport is 20 minutes from Sakata where Ben, a friend from coaching, lives. Sakata is on the coast of Japan and is a rural town that produces a shit tonne of rice.

Blue dot = Sakata

Ben met me at Shonai airport with his friend Umetsu Sensei, an incredibly kind woman who has clearly taken a real shine to Ben. Umetsu Sensei drove us back to Sakata and en route took us to a local bakery to buy breakfast. While I picked out 2 items and went to pay Umetsu Sensei filled an enormous basket of bread, croissants, apple strudels, unidentified bread related items, a burger and lemon curd. Seeing my attempt to pay Umetsu Sensei squealed that I was not to pay for anything, she was paying. Ben quickly hinted that any fight against this was useless, so I relented. Delivering us to Ben’s apartment, Umetsu then revealed that all the other food she bought was for Ben and I as well, she was terribly concerned that Ben’s apartment wouldn’t have enough food for two!

Whole lot of bread

Ben’s apartment is very traditionally Japanese – tatami flooring, rice paper walls, futons to sleep on – you get the idea. 

Living area
Kitchen
Fi and my room
Loo complete with hand basin on top of the loo – the tap automatically runs when you flush
Shower + bath combo

My first day in Sakata saw both Ben and me doing a lot of talking – while Ben was happy to be speaking constant English, I was happy to be speaking to someone about something other than where I was from and whether NZ really is that beautiful. Aside from talking we also went down to some of Ben’s local stores… Japan really is everything I hoped for. The first one was called Hard Off, this is a Japanese second hand store however everything in it looks brand new as the Japanese take such good care of their belongings. The store has everything in it from kimonos, to Rolex watches, to game boys, to homewares. Ben and I spent a good 45 minutes looking at everything… With me cackling through the store at all the bizarre shit you can buy. Afterwards we went to the 100 Yen shop. Basically the Japanese equivalent to a $2 store only as they don’t really do complete crap (like we do) there is some great stuff in there – there is also some hysterical items such as disposable underwear (for the business man/woman who doesn’t have time to shower?) or my personal favourite.. Finger condoms…


We also ventured to the supermarket which like all the other stores was filled with mysterious items of various shapes, sizes and textures – with barely anything written in English I spent a lot of time asking Ben what things were (he generally didn’t know). In the evening we went for sushi at Ben’s local sushi joint Kappa Sushi. This was a delicious evening filled with salmon, tuna, squid, miso, frozen mango, noodles and green tea. Seated at a table with a tablet above it Ben showed me that we just picked what we wanted on the tablet and ordered it and it was delivered to our table by either a spaceship or race car…

Spaceship delivering our food

All the food was delicious and Ben and I stuffed ourselves completely full – I went from having no protein in over a month to overloading on the stuff in one sitting!
Day 2 in Sakata started with me lying in bed relishing just how quiet Japan was, at 8:30am there was no tooting in the streets or people yelling at each other.. The loudest thing was the sound of a bike bell as the kids rode their bikes to school. Ben had to go into work so I was left to my own devices. After going for a run and getting supremely lost (and realising how unfit I was), I enjoyed making breakfast (with eggs that have yolks) and drinking tap water (all novelties after India). Around midday I finally set out on my commuter bike to adventure around Sakata…


The commuter bike is great, with no gears, a basket and the world’s most discrete lock (it’s the round thing around the top of the back wheel) it is the perfect mode of transport for this small and relatively flat town. Yet again my sense of direction let me down and I wound up well away from where I was meant to head and into a suburban area. Finally working out that I had headed in the wrong direction I biked back across the bridges and found the port and the fish market. The fish market was a bit of a disappointment, mainly because it smelt fishy which suggests that the fish isn’t perhaps that fresh. I then found my way to what is a very popular local park/garden. The park was generally quite empty with the occasional old person walking. The park had a few temples/shrine in it which were all rather beautiful – as in India, shrines/temples are everywhere.

The Japanese take a lot of pride in everything they do, so their parks/gardens are beautifully maintained and clean – it makes for a great spot to lie in the shade and read (which conveniently has become a favourite pastime of mine).

After the park I continued on my bike through the town, continually getting very confused by the lack of street signs (and where there were street signs, lack of English street signs) I spent a lot of time consulting my offline map app and going into supermarkets/convenience stores to browse and also try gain my bearings. When I finally worked out which way home was I began the journey home – stopping once when I saw a very beautiful shrine with pieces of paper tied everywhere.

Fortunes/Wishes

Stopping at the shrine I asked a man what these bits of paper were for… In very broken English he explained to me that they were fortunes/wishes people had brought and tied here to ensure they come true (well at least that’s what I think he said, I could be completely wrong!). 

That evening Ben and I cooked dinner together – it was my first home cooked meal since leaving NZ and it was delicious full of vegetables and salmon and NO curry sauce I went to bed very content!

The next day Fi, another friend from coaching arrived to hang out with us. Ben had a regatta so I drove to the airport with Ben’s friend Umetsu Sensei to collect Fi. On arriving at Ben’s apartment to collect me, Umetsu presented me with a gift for Ben and I which was about 1kg of corn bread and a pack of bagels – I think she thinks Ben has no food in his house!

Carb dense diet
After collecting Fi, Umetsu insisted that en route to Ben’s apartment we stop so she could buy us ice creams. After the ice cream I asked about a picture of some Japanese food that looked like an Indian desert – it was immediately bought for us to try…

Tama Konyaku (spelling I am unsure of)

These balls were not at all like the Indian desert I had tried… They had the texture of human flesh (well what I imagine it to be like) and were really one of the worst things I have put in my mouth. After one ball I politely told Umetsu that they were not for me and passed the balls off to her son who loves them! Umetsu then proceeded to buy us some strawberries and courgettes before delivering us to Ben’s. The endless gift giving is very hard to keep up with here. The people are so kind and hospitable which is wonderful but even with small gifts from India and NZ it still feels like I am unable to give them back as much as they give to me!

Once Fi was showered and settled we went off for a wee explore and to do some supermarket shopping for Ben while he was coaching. Fi took nearly as much joy as I did touching everything and laughing at the stock of the 100 yen shop! I honestly think I could go to these shops everyday and not get bored! That evening the three of us went to a cocktail bar, it is run by a very old Japanese man who is an award winning cocktail maker despite the fact he has never drunk alcohol before! We sampled everyone of his award winning cocktails and then walked home quite drunk and probably quite loudly for a Japanese town!


Ben’s regatta continued on to Sunday so Fi and I went down to watch him coach and race. The racing here is very different to NZ, every kid is only allowed to race once and the races are only over 1km. This means there is a lot less racing than there is at home. There is also a lot less structure than racing in NZ, there is no age divisions and it is more about giving it a go than anything else! 

Ben has to coach in Japanese so listening to him give debrief a was not very informative but it was very impressive listening to how good his Japanese is!

Ben truly is a giant here

Arriving in time to watch Ben race his single, Fi an I took great pleasure in trying to cheer for Ben in Japanese (Ashi Ben chan = Legs friend Ben). The bizarre race structure meant that Ben was racing a single against a boys quad and boys four…

Ben with his favourite mountain in the background

The tables then turned… Fi and I were then asked if we would race in a Japanese knuckle boat…


Secretly really chuffed at the chance we jumped into the old wooden bath tub with our mixed crew and heavyweight cox and headed down the course ready to race. Despite me catching 2 crabs (how embarrassing) during the race our crew still managed to pull through with a win. When we crossed the finish line anyone would think we had won at the Olympics based on how the men reacted – it was great!!

Winning Crew

While there are definitely some design flaws with the knuckle boat Fi and I agreed that it was very smooth to row in and the wide bottom made it very well balanced! 

Despite being a small town, Sakata is a lot of fun. Having friends who I don’t have to get to know is a really nice change and I think Ben is loving being able to speak English all the time! Ben’s friends here are also enormously kind and funny, tonight we are off to dinner with a group of them from rowing so I am sure my crab will be a hot topic of conversation!!

That took a long time

Well. That was a lot of travel time. After busing to Delhi and spending 6 hours in Delhi airport I landed in Chennai which was a balmy 39 degrees. My first reaction was to get out of the heat and ditch my bags… While escaping the heat was easy it turned out ditching my bags was not. Upon entering the airport (at 3:30pm) I discovered I couldn’t check in until 9pm… I also was no longer allowed to exit the airport for reasons that I never understood. So began what ended up being my 12 hours in Chennai international airport. Flying internationally from Chennai is like flying internationally from Queenstown or Hamilton… There is nothing to do in the airport. Originally stuck outside of customs I drank a chai and read nearly an entire book for 6 hours. Then just as I was about to be able to check in for my flight I was told it had been delayed until 3:30am. I was less than thrilled for two reasons.. (1) I was already sick of the airport and (2) the delay meant I would miss my connecting connecting flight from Hong Kong to Japan. Full credit to Cathay Pacific the staff were lovely and immediately sorted a new flight for me. When I finally cleared customs I gave up and forked out $20 to go into a lounge that had sofas, food, wifi and way less people. Boarding the plane to Hong Kong at 3am I was exhausted and smelly (a situation that did not improve until I arrived in Tokyo). I struggled to keep myself awake for boarding… The second I sat down on the plane my eyes closed and I managed to sleep nearly the whole way to Hong Kong.

The ultimate sleeping arrangement on the plane

Landing in Hong Kong I was given a food voucher by Cathay Pacific and spent the next 3.5 hours wandering the airport. I can tell you now, Hong Kong airport is an airport that you could spend 12 hours in, I caught the trains to various parts of the airport, ate ramen and discovered that their duty free shops had free tasters of chocolate… I was set! Obviously I tested all chocolates (more than once). Being a responsible traveller I emailed the hostel I was meant to be staying in in Tokyo saying my flights had been delayed and I wouldn’t be landing arriving there until 10:30ish… The owner promptly replied saying I probably couldn’t stay there as I wouldn’t be able to get there as public transport stops at night and I had to cross the city from Narita airport to Haneda. This was something of an issue. I resolved to head straight to Haneda airport and stay in one of the airport hotels… I just really needed to shower before heading to Sakata to see Ben and meet his friends!Boarding my plane to Japan I realized by the time I landed it would have been more than 48 hours since I boarded my bus in McLeodganj… Making it more than 60 hours since I lay down or had a shower!

Arriving in Japan I was immediately struck by how quiet everything was. Indians are not a quiet population, every aspect of their life is loud (I am aware that probably sounds rich coming from me). Landing in Tokyo there was a lot of bowing, quiet please and thank yous (I think, it was in Japanese) and polite smiles. No one wandered up beside me asking where I was from and if I would take a selfie with them. The Japanese were supremely efficient at processing customs etc… My only hold up was a security guard questioning me over what my earplugs were and why I had them. Again boarding the bus the difference between Japan and India was obvious… When entering a safari in an open topped jeep in India there was no safety warning, request to remain within the vehicle or risk analysis. Boarding the bus between airports in Japan my bag was dutifully labeled, a man walked through the bus ensuring we had our seat belts on and a message was put out saying please turn phones onto silent so we wouldn’t disturb other passengers. All I thought was “we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”. When I finally reached Haneda airport I walked straight into the airport hotel and asked for a bed, no longer caring about costs, all I wanted was a shower and a place to lie down. So I had probably the best sleep I have had since leaving NZ, after spending 45 minutes in the shower (a real shower that has hot water too) scrubbing India off I collapsed into the best with a feather pillow and passed out. In the morning I boarded my flight and headed to Sakata to spend the next week with my friend Ben!

McLeodganj part 1: 9,000 feet with a bee sting on top

Arriving in McLeodganj to perhaps the strangest greeting from a guest house yet I was somewhat sceptical about what the place held in store for me. My first full day in the town was however everything I was looking for and some. 

Waking up to the sun streaming over the mountains and straight into my room was a hot but happy experience. After eating a couple of eggs (WITH yolks) at my hostel I set off to see what the town was like. Full of Tibetans, travellers, yogis and Indians the area is perhaps the most relaxed place, both in terms of vibe and the place of females in daily life, that I have been to in India – with women walking round in shorts (primarily western women- but even that is a change of pace) and having a much more visible presence than they do in the bigger cities of India. For the first time since I arrived I felt immediately comfortable. Walking around the town I realised that even I would find this a difficult place to get lost. Made up of 2 main streets and nearly no side streets I was always either walking uphill or downhill. Spending an hour trawling round the town and looking at the market stalls and cafes I decided to head up the hill. This was prompted by discussions with one Indian guy at the airport the day before and discussions with three Australians at my hostel who all said that Dharmkot, the next town up, was far nicer. This walk also conveniently doubled as my chance to work out where exactly the track was for the day walk I wanted to do up to Triund.

Walking the 2km uphill to Dharmkot I arrived at a hilltop cafe – filled with people I decided to stop in for a chai and a chat. Nearly everyone there was staying in Dharmkot and attending a yoga course of some kind, some doing their teacher training, some a retreat and others just live here and it’s one of their daily activities. I felt slightly out of place, while everyone seemed to be seeking some sort of enlightenment through yoga and meditation I announced that I had come here to escape the heat and really didn’t know much about the place! Upon hearing this everyone was filled with advice, ranging from get out of McLeodganj and come to Dharmkot to “you should get a 6 month visa and move here for 6 months”… I have acted on none of that advice. Perhaps however my favourite person I met was the man in a shirt and dress pants who handed me a leaflet inviting me to a Shemanic Ceremony


Dancing, similar to being on drugs – this was clearly my kind of event!

As everyone dispersed I asked for directions to Triund, I was told to walk round a corner and the rest would be obvious… Some people are liars. Following the track/road for a while I suddenly came to a split, one going left with a car parked in the middle, the other going right with nothing. Knowing that at some point the track stopped allowing cars I followed the one with the car parked in the middle of the road thinking that would be their way of stopping motor vehicles going up the track. Walking for 45 minutes I was surprised the track didn’t rise up given that Triund is over 9,000 feet high, and that there was no one else on it. It turned out there was good reason for this… I had taken the wrong track. I worked this out when I came to a Tibetan Monk temple and asked the monk sitting there how far from Triund I was. He just laughed. Happily, the temple I found was awash with prayer flags all flying in the breeze, it was aesthetically very pleasing.


Deciding that these trees were as good a place as any to take a break and read for a while I holed up on the hill and lay in the shade with my book. Eventually I retraced my steps and found the split in the path again… Knowing where I went wrong I was adamant that tomorrow would be fine! I returned to Dharmkot where I found yet another cafe full of yogis who I sat and had lunch with. 

Eventually returning to McLeodganj I found a drop in yoga class just steps away from my hostel that I decided to attend. The class had about 12 people in it and was led by a lovely German (I think) woman, Vijay. Vijay was lovely and for the most part a good teacher, she did however insist on calling ‘toes’ ‘fingers’ and ‘fingers’ ‘toes’ which I found progressively funnier as the class went on… The high point for me being when she told us to stand only on our fingers and stretch our toes to the sky (no one else in the class seemed to find the confusion at all funny!).

Returning to my hostel I was thrilled to see the three lovely Australians I met that morning sitting on the rooftop. I was determined that we should become friends. The friend targeting commenced. I asked them about their travels and plans, learning the two boys were in a band together and the girl had just done her yoga teacher training in Nepal, I diverted the conversation towards dinner and said I had been told of a nice cafe to go to. HOOK, LINE AND SINKER. They took the bait and suggested we all go have dinner together at the place I knew of. Googling the place before we left I thought it was just below the town. As we descended down the hill and the town of McLeodganj disappeared behind us I became mildly apprehensive that I had got us lost… Not a good way to cement a friendship. We continued to walk down an unlit road with cars and motorbikes hooning towards us periodically when out of the blue a small block of shop emerged that thankfully contained the cafe Illiterati that I had suggested. The cafe was great, doubling as a bookshop and the food was delicious, if only a little slow (Dad you would have walked out). I had a ball and they seemed to tolerate my company well. I considered the evening an absolute win on the friendship front. 

Waking up to the not so peaceful sound of the water tank in my room filling at 5:00am I was unable to sleep so I decided to get up and tackle Triund. 

Sunrise view from my hostel

While the walk was only 9km (ish… Indian measurement isn’t all that accurate) it rose up 1.4km so I was told it took 4 hours ish. Setting off from McLeodganj at 6:00am I walked up past Dharmkot and the right way round the original track. About 1 hour in I reached the spot where cars had to stop and signed the register saying that I was going into the mountains and stopped for a couple of Vegemite crackers (Vegemite courtesy of Jo, the Australian from my tour).

Here the track turned into forest type land and was very rocky but not all that steep. The track was empty apart from a few Monks walking downhill. Every now and again I would round a corner that would either give me a great view down the valley or a clear view up to the mountains.
Putting Pam’s selfie stick to good use
The track was sporadically littered with chai shops and with 3.5km to go I stopped to take in the view and enjoy what I like to call Indian crack (due to it’s addictive nature), a masala chai.


While chai is delicious all of the time I definitely think it is made more delicious when consumed post/during-exercise! The owner of the shop sat with me and explained to me that he got up every morning at 5:00am and walked up the hill to open the chai shop, his son later followed with the ponies carrying any supplies needed for the shop – he has done this for the past 34 years! Leaving the chai shop I pressed on up the hill, the terrain became steeper and rockier with rock hopping becoming a more crucial element of moving forward than walking. 5 minutes away from the top the terrain changed again to undulating grass that turned into a plateau. The view was spectacular, a view right down the valley to Dharmkot and McLeodganj to my back and the mountains ahead of me.



Settling in on a rock to admire the view the land around me was a hive of activity, people packing up tents, taking photos and drinking chai, I however relished my space on the rock above them all just taking in the view. As I enjoyed my 4th chocolate bar of the entire trip (to India, not up the hill) and peeled my mango my enjoyment was cut short… I was stung on the finger by a wasp. Bastard. My finger promptly started swelling and a rash developed down my arm. Venturing to the nearest chai shop to ask if they had any antihistamines I was greeted with confusion, and then the offer of either a bandaid, or a spray. Opting for the spray option thinking it might be vaguely useful I watched the man pour water into a spray bottle and spray my hand. I have no idea what this was meant to do but I can confirm it was no help whatsoever. Assuring the chai walla he was very helpful and thanking him I started my trip back to McLeodganj for an antihistamine. 


Stopping at the other chai shop I asked again for an antihistamine – while he had no such thing he gave me a complimentary cup of chai while chattering about the medicinal properties of the spices. Stoked with the free chai but with a hand that was growing at an alarming rate I downed the drink and kept moving. By the time I reached McLeodganj two of my fingers were akin to sausages and my palm had begun to puff – the Australians thought this was quite a funny sight. 


Luckily the antihistamine kicked in and my fingers became slightly more mobile again. 

Despite being covered in dust and dirt I was unable to shower as the water for the day had yet again run out. Baby wipes to the rescue I made myself slightly more presentable and went into town for lunch.

Sitting in Moonpeak Espresso, drinking an iced chocolate, eating a grilled eggplant toastie and reading my book I began to understand the appeal many westerners see in living in an area like Himachal Pradesh for a period of their lives – yoga, hiking, diverse population and home comforts like western food all within such a small and peaceful community – it’s a pretty good life. While I’m not planning to move here, I have abandoned plans to go anywhere else in India and instead will stay here for the week until I depart to Japan.

The day concluded with me eating a traditional Tibetan dinner of momos and watching Flight of the Concords with my new Australian friends!


Despite the visual similarities to my beloved PSDB vego dumplings they are no where near as good!

Transit

My time in India is like this weird Monty Python, Fawlty Towers hybrid where things continually happen and I am left thinking that can’t be right.

Needing to leave my Mumbai hotel at 3:30am I had spent the night before checking and double checking that someone would be there to hail me a taxi as I was told I could not just book one for that time. So, at 3:20 I rocked up to the front desk and there was absolutely no on around, I went to exit the hotel to try and get a cab for myself only to discover that a grate door had been pulled across the entrance and I was locked in. About to go upstairs and yell until someone came and assisted me I heard the thumping of feet coming down the stairs with a shirtless man yelling “Mam, Mam, excuse me Mam”. His jiggling belly nearly collided with my face as he started explaining in very broken English that he had fallen asleep behind the counter and his alarm hadn’t gone off and he was so, so sorry. Telling him it was fine, and wanting to add it would be better if he were fully clothed, I was escorted out to the street to witness one shirtless man wake up another shirtless man in his taxi. The taxi driver saw me and at least had the good sense to quickly put a singlet on before approaching me about the fare. The taxi driver and I quickly settled on a price and off we went, with the shirtless hotel worker yelling apologies after me. Driving through Mumbai at 3:30 in the morning was a very stinky experience – I don’t think it smelled that bad during the day time but my god early in the morning the place just reeked. Unable/unwilling to wind the windows up (I feared the taxi driver may be generously contributing to the odour) I held my scarf to my face and hoped the drive would be short.PICTURE

Arriving at the airport I approached screening #1 (at Indian airports you have to present your ticket about 8 times before you get on the place – the first is before you even enter the airport) only to be told that my print out of my ticket confirmation was insufficient to gain me entry into the airport and that I should have checked in online. Having used flight confirmation for my other flights in India as opposed to a ticket I was confused – moreover, I had been unable to check in online as I had paid for the ticket with an international credit card. Attempting to explain this to the guard he proceeded to ignore my pleas and let everyone else through. I was thankfully saved by a guard coming to relieve the initial guard who knew what I was talking about and let me in. At 4:00am I was already exhausted from the stress of the morning. The flights through to Delhi and then on to Dharamsala were unremarkable. Arriving at Dharamsala my pre booked taxi failed to appear, after 10 minutes I asked a couple to call my hostel the owner said they were 20 minutes away. Passing time I chatted to two Indians who were separately travelling the country, they were very nice and one even invited me to a vegan buffet dinner that night (I did intend to attend but it didn’t start till 8pm and at 5:30 I was already ravenous and ate in town). 45 minutes later two young guys rocked up with a hand written sign to collect “Any Montgomery” – as a Montgomery I fitted the bill and off we went.

The road to McLeodganj is not what I would describe as wide or well maintained. The winding mountainous road has little more than enough room for a Toyota Corolla, yet you are sharing the road with trucks, cars, bikes, motorbikes, pedestrians and of course cows. 


Deciding it was easier to focus on something other than the road I looked out the window – it was amazing! For the first time since landing in India there were wide open spaces, masses of greenery, and pitched roofed houses (that might seem like an odd observation but seriously everywhere else has a flat roof). It was beautiful and felt just ever so slightly closer to home than anywhere else I had been. The two young men after 45 minutes suddenly declared we were at my hostel and pointed to a steep upward set of stairs saying “just up there ask for Ganesh”. There was absolutely no sign of a hostel.


Walking up the dirt path and stairs I started yelling Ganesh to see what sort of response I got. An Indian man suddenly popped round a corner saying “ahhh AnnieI am so, so sorry about the taxi here I will show you to your room” – maybe the two young guys did know what they were talking about. My room was spacious and all seemed well until I discovered I had no running water, at all (or loo paper for that matter). When I went up to ask Ganesh why this was so he just did his wee Indian head wobble and said it would be resolved soon – he would not however specify how soon. Giving up on that conversation I sat down on the rooftop (at Ganesh’s invitation) to use the Internet and phone mum and dad – about 4 minutes into my conversation Ganesh interrupted me to tell me I couldn’t sit there. I nearly screamed… This guy could give Basil Fawlty a run for his money. Meanwhile Mum and Dad were laughing their heads off down the phone listening to me try and understand why I couldn’t sit there (yet another unresolved issue). Repositioning myself on the rooftop I sat and enjoyed the spectacular view all the way up to the Himalayas (I think… A snow frosted mountain at least).


Returning to my room to discover the water issue was not yet resolved I decided to wander into the town. McLeodganj is the home of the Dalai Lama and has a very large Tibetan population. Walking around the town (which would probably take 15-20minutes max if done in one go) there was a huge number of robed Monks wandering the streets wearing Nikes and using iPhones – I found the whole situation hilarious!


The town is small and picturesque and while there is a lot less poverty than other places I have been there is still a notable presence of beggars in the street. Walking around for 2 hours and enjoying a meal in town I decided that this definitely isn’t the worst place to be spending my last week-ish in India. While it’s unlikely I will stay just here I have definitely found a very nice part of India to be in at this time of year – on that note, it is only 22-29 degrees each day… BLISS!!

Mumbai/Bombay: So much humidity

Travelling to Mumbai I was back to complete lone wolf travel. I couldn’t quite work out if I was more or less apprehensive about this than I was when travelling with a friend. This might sound stupid, but when you are by yourself it’s much easier to ignore the voice of fear which is solely internal as opposed to the voice of fear when it comes from a companion’s mouth. Arriving in Mumbai I got a prepaid taxi from the airport as I assumed this was the best option – as it turned out my driver spoke no English beyond hello and didn’t know where my hotel was. The journey therefore was littered with stops to ask other taxi drivers where we were going, one of whom hopped in just to get a lift down the road. Finally we found the hotel thanks to my offline map (never leave home without one).

As I arrived early evening in Mumbai I walked straight down to Chowpatty Beach – a hugely popular beach with the locals the place was full of families, couples and friends. I felt out of place, all on my lonesome and without a picnic as everyone sat chatting with friends, playing games with children or sharing a meal. I was amazed that both on my walk and while at the beach for the first time since I landed in India I was left completely alone – no one said hello, asked for a photo or asked where I was from (this has been a common theme in Mumbai). Sitting on the beach I took a lot of pleasure in seeing things like little girls playing with their dad’s hair or kids running back and forth from the waves yelping with joy (although I would screech with fear as that water is seriously polluted). 


As the sun set, the voice of anxiety set in and told me to head back to the hotel. En route grabbing a butterscotch kulfi (Indian ice cream) I walked back to the hotel and realised for the first time that I was basically wet through with sweat from the humidity despite the fact it was only 33 degrees.


Looking forward to a shower when I reached the hotel room I was sadly severely disappointed when this was what came from the shower head…


I now understand why all showers in India have buckets in them – as the water dripped into the bucket I had probably the least satisfying “shower” of my life.

Waking early for my only full day in Mumbai I went straight to Cafe Leopold – a famous cafe that really wasn’t particularly interesting apart from the fact that there were still bullet holes in the walls from the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Conveniently the meeting point for the tour I was taking of the Dharavi slum met just past the cafe. Alongside 2 other kiwis we drove through the red light district of Mumbai, learning about the enormous issue India has with domestic trafficking of young girls who are then forced into prostitution. When I asked my guide about what the police were doing about it he said sadly much of India’s police force is corrupt so there is basically nothing happening

 to help these girls. In saying that however since 1990 when there was an estimated 60,000 prostitutes there is now only 8,000 – so clearly someone is making changes! From the red light district we drove to Dhobi Ghat…


This is an open air laundromat run by dhobis – the washing of local hospitals and hotels occurs here. It was a remarkable sight, hundreds of men moving below us soaking, bashing, hanging and moving laundry all through the area. Our guide told us that many of the dhobis will have come from out of state to make money and send it back to their family, working 10 hours a day they will earn roughly 200 rupees ($4.40 NZD) a day.

We drove on to the main purpose of the tour, the Dharavi Slum. The largest slum in India, and certainly one of the largest slums in the world. Estimates of the population of the slum vary but our guide suggested that when spread over the area there would be 500,000 people per square kilometre (the rest of Mumbai is about 30,000 per square kilometre). This slum is very productive, 80% of India’s plastic recycling occurs here as well as a strong pot making and leather making industries. However, there is still enormous poverty and a huge problem of child labour throughout the slum. Moreover, the conditions the workers endure are hazardous and no doubt shorten their life spans significantly.

Walking through the slum was unreal. The plastic recycling area saw men and young boys sorting, melting, cleaning, and drying plastic, no one wore shoes, goggles or a mask to protect them from the multitude of hazards that existed there. We saw a boy as young as 9 working – again like in the Dhobi Ghat for 10 hours work they will only receive 200 rupees. We then walked through the residential area of the slum. In the Muslim area the lanes were so narrow and low that anyone much larger than me would struggle to get through. The winding alleys trapped the humidity and harboured smells that I am definitely not accustomed to. The Hindu area had wider streets and generally slightly larger houses – in saying that they were still not much bigger than a single room 10 ft by 10 ft (8-10 people will live in that room). Our guide told us that none of the houses have loos, instead they all depend on the limited loos provided. Continuing through the slum we saw the leather production, pot and poppadom making. 

The company I did my tour through is called Reality Tours and Travel (I would highly recommend them) have been working within the slum for 10 years to try and improve the lives of slum dwellers, they provide education, job opportunities and practical training for children and young adults throughout the slum. Their tour guides have all lived in the slum at some point in their lives, so they really do know what they are talking about. Moreover they bring people like me into the slum and generate funds to invest in the slum through the tour I took. The work they are doing is desperately needed in the area – despite having already seen a lot of poverty in India there was something very confronting about the slum, maybe it was seeing a 9 year old working in such hazardous conditions. I don’t know. But I left the tour coming to terms with the enormous privilege I have come from and continue to live in compared to so many people in a country like India who are genuinely slaving away to provide the bare necessities for their family.

Note, we couldn’t take photos in the slum so these are provided by Reality Tours




Leaving the tour I travelled back through the city to the Fort area – this area is filled with Colonial influence, particularly in terms of the architecture. Once more wet through with sweat I first stopped for a particularly posh lunch (at a table for one). Like all good lone travellers I had done my research on places to eat and found a Burmese restaurant (called Burma Burma) that boasted a delicious tea salad – for anyone who knows me or my family this is an absolute favourite at the Bhodi Tree/Rangoon Ruby so I had to try it. I was not disappointed (however my expectations were not exceeded – Bhodi Tree still wins) the tea salad was delicious and accompanied by steamed buns of some creation…


Stuffed but still feeling the need for a sweet treat I found an awesome bakery called Theobroma where I bought a sickly rich and wonderful piece of brownie.


Ready to roll my way through Mumbai I headed across the road to the High Court as I heard I could sit in on court in session – which I thought would be rather interesting. After battling my way into the building and consistently coming across the least helpful humans in India (a rare find in my experience) I made it into the court building. I was however at the wrong end, I had made it to the area where all appellate judgments were stored. This was even better than I could have imagined – with absolutely no semblance of order there were leaflets of paper, some bound, some loose, stacked wall to wall throughout the building. In some areas the fans were blowing too hard and the paper was flying down the hall. The whole thing was so wonderfully Indian! (Sadly I had to relinquish my camera and phone due to the sensitive nature of some of the subject matter so there is no photo evidence of the mayhem that was).

From the HC I walked down to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) a remarkable piece of colonial architecture, admiring the building was only about 1/10 of the fun. Walking inside it was like being at a rave with no music, just the occasion horn of a train – people pushing their way on and off the platform and generally all round the station it was a thriving mess of humanity. My enjoyment was however short lived as I realised I was moving further and further from the entrance/exit and I suddenly had to battle upstream back to the entrance to escape!


Grabbing a taxi I went to Haji Ali – a mosque in Mumbai that at high tide looks like it is floating in the sea, all reviews said it was very beautiful and you did not need to be a Muslim to appreciate it. I did not appreciate it at all. Arriving at low tide I instead found myself looking at a sea of pollution, surrounded by touts and as was the theme of my day in Mumbai continuing to sweat. Walking down towards the mosque I the situation did not improve – I actually became angry as I witnessed people throw more plastic and rubbish into the sea! By the time I reached the mosque I was in no state to enter a place of worship. Instead I sat down on a rock and watched the sea for a while.


The only thing that managed to improve my mood was that amongst the stalls en route to the mosque there were about 4 guys sitting on the ground with scales – the service you could pay them for was to weigh yourself on your way to prayer. I found the whole concept ridiculous and it really did improve my mood…



This is just the sweat coming off me from walking to the mosque and back (probably 600m).

Saturated with sweat I began my slow journey back to my hotel. Originally believing I would walk the 4km my dreams lasted all of about 1km before I realised I may melt into the pavement before I reached the hotel. Giving up and hopping in a cab (with AC – absolute luxury) I retreated to my hotel to pack up my belongings in preparation for my 3:30am trip to the airport.

Peace out Mumbai – I’ll be back for High Tea at the Taj!