Monday, October 24, 2016

It's been a while...

8 months to be exact, since I lost the will to update this little diary due to major changes on the work front. 8 months since I suddenly lose half of my work mates, and soon to be 4 months since it was my turn to leave the work place. It has been quite an emotional roller coaster ride these few past months, but thankfully there were more highs than lows. We've had some great holidays, went to places we've been wanting to visit but never got around to, and I also got to visit friends I've not seen in a while due to continental difference. While it has been mostly fun being a fulltime 'housewife', doing not very much or whatever I want and basically just be, the time has finally come to get back to the hamster race and back to reality. With this renewed will to start writing again, hopefully I'll find time to finish my throwback posts and get on with my recent travels before #inbetweenjobs comes to an end. Hopefully... :) 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Backwaters of Kerala - Houseboat in Alleppey

Was it worth doing or is it just a big touristy thing?
Yes and yes, especially if you just want to just unplug and do nothing but chill. Eventhough it is obviously a touristy thing, we didn't feel like it was over crowded, there were parts of the boat ride where it felt like we had the place to ourselves and we were there in January which was supposed to be the some of the best time to visit.

How many nights would be enough to experience it properly?
One night was enough for us since there's really not a huge amount to see and we were not planning to go for other activities like Ayurvedic massages etc. offered in nearby villages, but maybe a couple of nights for people who just want to relax, not do very much and enjoy being in that idyllic surroundings.

There are so many houseboat operators online, how did we pick ours? Luckily for us, our houseboat excursion was arranged by Saj, who runs Saj Homestay where we stayed in Fort Kochi. We opted for a simple, not fully covered/air conditioned, one bedroom houseboat because we want to be able to feel the breeze as we cruise. There's A/C in the room though, which is important otherwise it'll be too warm for a good night's sleep. It costs Rs 9000 per night on the houseboat (lunch and dinner included) and Rs 1400 for the cab ride from Saj's to Allepey.
Our 70 year old cab driver. Honking is a way of life in India, or at least in Kerala and this uncle has truly embraced it, honking every few seconds throughout our hour and a half journey!
Free from the honks at last.
Our little houseboat, how lovely!
A tour of our casa for the night - here we have the kitchen.

Our messy bedroom - I forgot to take a photo when it was nice and tidy.

A proper bathroom with shower and toilet!
Getting out from our parking towards the lake/lagoon.
Parked for lunch.
A very good meal of rice, sambar, vege curry and fried fish! Keralan rice is awesome!
Our captain, a man of few words. He'll just turn to us occasionally and stare/smile. Can be a little bit awkward, but we soon learn to ignore him. Haha kidding. We just continue smiling back awkwardly.
We stopped at a village to get some seafood for dinner. I don't remember whether you can get beers here, but best bring them with you before starting your boat ride.
Going back to the canals to park for the night.
We hired a canoe to go around the smaller canals while waiting for dinner.
Chicken curry, masala prawns, sambar and vege curry. One of the best meals during this trip!
Early morning view for our room.
Hubby's video:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Kerala in 9 days - Fort Kochi / Cochin

Kerala is very nice we were told, by friends and the money changer who has visited before - one of them (the money changer) even got a little misty eyed reminiscing about his own trips there. Good start!

We arrived at Cochin airport late at night, and our driver from the homestay was looking a little bleary eyed when we met him. We got held back going past the customs because we'd declared on our custom's form that we have more than Rs 10000 with us - which was only about RM 1500 back in Jan 15, which apparently is not allowed. Hubby and I will never forget how the customs officer shook his head in (what looked like major) disappointment asking us "Why do you do things like that? We have ATMs here for you take money. Why?".

Thankfully he then told us to discard our old forms and fill in a new one declaring that we Do Not have more than Rs 10000 on us. Both of us kept apologizing to him, while trying hard not to burst out laughing and were very relieved when he finally let us leave with a "Please don't do that again". Yes, headmaster, we will not carry 'so much' money here again, or if we are we will declare a lesser amount than we actually have on the custom's form next time. Anyway, the amount has increased to Rs 25000 as of August 2015.
No, we don't want to be birdbrains.
Breakfast balcony at Saj Homestay in Fort Kochi. 
Being our first trip to India, we were happy to get all the help that we can with our excursions around Kerala from Saj, the owner of the homestay. Hubby had been emailing him prior to our trip and  everything was well taken care of throughout our entire trip. It was basic accommodation but was good enough and we've stayed here during the first and last few days of our trip. 
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica Church.
The lovely Princess Street up ahead - one of the oldest street Fort Kochi. 
Vasco Da Gama Church - The place where Vasco da Gama was initially buried before being moved back to Portugal.
Tuk tuk lining up by the side of the Parade Ground next Vasco Da Gama church.
A short walk from the Parade Ground takes you to the 282 year old Dutch Cemetary.
Couples dating under their umbrellas on Fort Kochi beach, another short walk away from the Dutch cemetary. The great thing about Fort Kochi is that lots of things are within walking distance and the place just has a nice small town feel to it. This would also be a great place to cycle around.
Finally caught sight of the famous Chinese fishing nets. I think people pay to have a go at it.
Great place to see the small fishing boats coming in and the people rushing to get the best catch of the day.
One thing to take note when in Kerala. Dry day applies to the bars, restaurants or shops in the entire state of Kerala. Although, if you're in more touristy areas like Varkala, you can still get alcohol served very discreetly, like in a corn shaped mug or something equally odd.

Apparently Kerala has the highest alcohol consumption per capita. Well, I can confirm that we did not contribute to the statistics when we were there, and this was our probably least alcoholic holiday ever.
Oh, speaking of booze, our driver from Fort Kochi to Allepey, who was really old and a little hard at hearing was so proud of hubby when he thought that hubby didn't want to stop to stock up on beers for our night on the houseboat. We didn't realize that he'd misheard us and kept waiting for our booze stop, but there was no stop. He just kept driving and praising hubby for being a very good man. It was only until we arrived at the houseboat and realized why hubby is a 'very good man'. And thus begin, our second dry day in Kerala.
Anyway, back to Kochi. We took the ferry from Fort Kochi to Ernakulam in search for this restaurant that we saw on Rick Stein India's series. 
The restaurant's name is Shappu Curry, on T D Road (Behind Maharajas College). There is also a hospital nearby, so chances of having doctors or surgeons as your lunch buddies are pretty high.
The fish dish is Karameen Pollichatu. Karameen is the name of the fish and it is good! So is the chubby Kerala rice. It's unlike any rice we've ever seen or eaten before - lighter and less starchy than the normal rice.

One of the temples around Ernakulam.
Rupees are a handful! Most places only accept cash.
Another Rick Stein recommendation - First Class Railway Mutton curry at the Brunton Boatyard Hotel. It was quite a splurge but unfortunately wasn't the best meal we've had in Kerala.
You're of course paying not just for the food but also the lovely setting and the live traditional music to accompany your meal.
The hotel's lobby. Now where did we keep our 'complementary' hand towels from the Gents.
The best breakfast we've had on this trip was surprisingly at our homestay - Saj's Mrs makes the best Masala Dosa and Pineapple Lassi. We had more than one serving each time and they were more than happy to keep refilling our plates.
Got our driver to stop at the Kerala Folklore Museum on our way back to Kochi after our time away.
Goldsmith at work.
Spent more time just walking around Fort Kochi.
Jew Town. Got some lovely cotton napkins here.
Dhoby Khana Laundry.
Dobiwalla hard at work.
Drinks by the sea at Brunton Boatyard before our flight that night. Really nice thing to do on our last afternoon in Kerala.
Checking out. Thank you Saj!
Interesting airport chairs.

We spent a total of 9 days in Kerala (individual posts on these places coming soon):
4 nights in Fort Kochi
1 night on a houseboat in Allepey, the Backwaters of Kerala
1 night in Thekaddy/Kumily - base for people visiting Periyar National Park
2 nights in Munnar

Ate: Shappu Curry - T D Road, Marine Drive, Ernakukam

Stayed: Saj Homestay, Fort Kochi - Rs 2500 per night, Pick up from airport - Rs 1100