Oh my sweet, soft, romantic Udaipur. The apple of my metaphorical Indian eye. My first and favorite introduction to our whirlwind adventure through Rajasthan.
Known affectionately as the Venice of India, Udaipur has firmly lodged itself as my favourite Rajasthani destination. Being somewhat off the beaten track, Udaipur has a slower, quieter, more luxurious feel in comparison to the neighbouring cities of Rajasthan. The locals were friendlier - less jaded by the greed that tourism brings and were ready and willing to share a smile and story with any wandering tourist.
To be honest it reminded me a lot of a tiny, more colorful, slightly shabbier sprawling European town. White washed walls and tiny cobblestone streets as far at the eye could see.
Meandering through the narrow streets filled with the smells of Chai Masala (the occasional cow shit) and sounds of hawkers selling their wares all the while dodging the stray cows and donkeys is a sensory delight. And if that's not enough, be prepared for colours so bright they may just burn your retinas (dramatic flair intended).
If shopping is what you came for - Udaipur is the place for you. I practically had a tiny little meltdown in the streets every day out of pure unadulterated lust for everything my eyes touched (don't judge me i have an unhealthy love of shiny things). The central markets lining the narrow winding roads making their way towards the banks of Lake Pachola are crammed packed with treasures enough to light up any seasoned travellers eyes. From jewellery (oh.. the jewellery!) to rugs - from bags to artworks - these markets have it all. Personally my favorite place to shop - which is something I wish I had known at the beginning of our trip considering I than forced will to trek 30kg of rugs through the rest of India...
While still intense, the pace is much, much slower here, allowing you to slowly make your way around with a stop for the occasional chai and without the overbearing pressure to make a purchase. A kind no or a firm shake of the head and you are left to continue your perusal in peace ( not that i ever said no, much to wills despair )
I highly recommend staying anywhere alongside the lake's edge. We chose to stay at Jagat Niwas Palace - a veritable palace all for the price of a mani - pedi in Bali. Perched right on the shores of Lake Pachola Jagat Niwas has a breathtaking view of the Lake Palace and is beautifully overshadowed by the flamboyant City Palace which stands at over 400 years old.
Most nights were spent here with a bottle of red watching the city lights reflect off the dancing waters, followed by attempting to drunkenly negotiate the practically vertical stairs with no hand rails. Beautiful, no entirely WHS approved, but beautiful.
If money is no object and your looking to live it up fancy free than you absolutely must stay at the Lake Palace. A floating heaven once used as the Maharana's winter palace (no big deal). The only way to see this splendor is to stay there, and considering we are mere peasants we had to look longingly from the shoreline.
Also worth a mention is Udai Kothi - based on the adjacent side of the river, this was our favourite luxury location for a mid day dip to shake off the peak of the indian heat. It was worth every cent of the $3 AU we payed for use of the rooftop pool. For those not wanting to swim, they do a mean Tikka Masala and the architecture of the building alone is enough to pay this little gem a visit. And if none of that tickles your fancy (and if it doesn't you deserve a smack) it takes some of the best pictures in India.
- Upre 1559
- Jagat Niwas
- Savage garden
- Udai Kothi
If there is one place you go in India - make it Udaipur. The perfect place to ease yourself into the pace of India with a touch of comforts from home. This was the first, but will not be the last time the soles of my dirty little feet traipse the slender lanes of this breathtaking city.
India - Jodhpur
The awe-inspiring city of blue. From Udaipur we made our way via car (approx. $70 au) to Jodphur. Having come from Udaipur - Jodphur was a step up in intensity and was our first true taste of the frenzied India often portrayed.
As we were staying in the old city - the area directly surrounding the Mehranghar Fort and closed in by 10 m high walls with several gated entrances - we were offloaded out of the car and popped into a Tuk Tuk as the streets are far too narrow to allow for cars (and to be honest far too narrow for tuk tuk's!). I'm not going to sugar coat it I honestly saw my pathetic existence flash before my terror struck eye's during this little foray. Udaipur had lulled me into a false sense of Indian security. Blame Udaipur.
We arrived at our destination (very rattled) - dropped off our bags and made our way to the rooftop for our first good view of Jodphur.
And Jodphur kissed it all better. Blue. As far as the eye could see. Every shade imaginable. It was a visual assault. Albeit this time a polite, less invasive aesthetically pleasing assault (unlike said previous experience).
The next few days were spent exploring the narrow alleyways that stretched out like a maze around our hotel, leading up to the Fort in one direction and towards the infamous clock tower markets in the other and generally getting out Jodphur sea legs so to speak.
I have to say the locals were a little less friendly here - but nonetheless we happily made our way by foot throughout the old city without ever feeling threatened (except by the occasional pack of dogs or staunch cow). And if it ever does get just a bit too much for your delicate western senses you can always just hop in a tuk-tuk, they are always ready, willing and waiting to take you on the ride of your life (literally) and whisk you away from the heat of the crowd.
No trip to Jodphur is truly complete without braving the frenetic clock tower markets. Be prepared to be pulled and prodded in every direction known to man - it's all part of the fun! Be open to every experience - we made a friend in the markets - a lovely man who owned a tea shop and invited us inside for a chai and a gossip. How could you possibly say no? Alas, I for one cannot. What is gossip to a bearded Muslim man who smelt like cinnamon? I had to know.
We started by chatting about life and culture and ended our brief encounter with me giving him a deep tissue massage on his aching neck (he found out i was a rehabilitation Occupational Therapist, you see). In return he sold us tea which we later accidentally illegally smuggled into Australia. You gotta give a little to get a little...
We stayed within the old cities walls at Singhvi's Haveli Hotel. Sitting just below the Fort, the building itself is over 500 years old - having been passed down through the generations.
This eclectic little bnb was more parts funky homestay than hotel - which only added to its old world charm. Every room had a brilliant view overlooking the blue washed houses and the staff were absolutely brilliant.
The best part is you get to watch cheeky little monkey's run across the rooftops stealing everyone's delicates. I mean it practically paid for itself.....
India - Pushkar
Pushkar, the holy lake city. Built around a lake supposedly made from the tears of Shiva, after his wife's death, Pushkar is a sacred place of pilgrimage for Hindu's.
For me however, it was more a place for the weird and the wonderful. Pushkar itself is strictly vegetarian and alcohol free, but with the right smile and a subtly placed wink you can weasel yourself a beer or two at most venues.
Everything is centred around the holy lake - but beware - avoid the pushy men trying to place flowers in your hand and promising to bless you for eternity for a small sum (rather large truth be told, i still haven't forgiven Will for the cool 30 dollars we forked out for a few petals and what i assume was just the menu from a nearby restaurant being read in a deep bass).
Instead keep walking and find a quiet alley way that leads down to the lake and take your own time breathing in the serenity.... as long as you don't mind a monkey or 10 checking you out for edible goods. Another thing to keep your eye's open for are the exotic 5 legged cows - thought to be blessed for their deformity. Both creepy and intriguing - they make a great story for later.
Arguably the most famous attraction in Pushkar is the annual Camel Fair, where thousands of Rajasthani's and their camels gather in the arid deserts surrounding Pushkar and set up metaphorical shop. Be warned - the camels will have more style than you could ever dream of possessing.
Never fear - if your trip to Pushkar doesn't coincide with the fair, there will be camels a plenty to quench your adventurous thirst. We took a half day camel tour organised by our hotel into the dunes just outside the city to watch the sun set - and it was magnificent. Out styled by my camel Maharaja, and outsmarted out of a fair few dollars by the local children we returned after dark thoroughly exhausted but happy.
On this leg of the tour we chose to get a little fancy - and opted to stay just outside Pushkar in the Luxury camping accommodation Hotel Orchard.
There was no better feeling than returning from a full day of five legged cow watching, wrapping ourselves up in robes and relaxing in glorious air-conditioning! (although we did have an incident of accidentally locking ourselves in our "tent" and Will consequently suffering a panic attack from sudden onset claustrophobia - but don't let that frighten you off).
Pushkar is a city with enough colour to knock your socks off. We took a private driver from Jodphur for around $40 au. (Although Im still not convinced he actually had his licence...)
India - Jaipur
Annnnd welcome to the city. There is absolutely no escaping it, your in the intense, bustling, overflowing metropolis - and what a phenomenal experience it is.
By this time we well and truly had our metaphorical Indian sea legs, and were ready for all that Jaipur had to offer in its sticky, packed centre.
We arrived via private driver from Pushkar, the journey took about 3 hours and cost approximately $40 au. Im sure there are much cheaper options for travel through India, however seeing as there were two of us with quite a bit of luggage ( and one of us *cough will* with a public transport complex) the convenience and relative in-expense of door to door service was far too good to pass up. And let me tell you, it was worth every single tiny little dime. The entire experience was pleasant and streamlined. If there's only one thing you splurge on in India - make it how you get from A to B.
For those of you looking at the picture's to the left Im sure i know what your thinking. The Taj Mahal is not in Jaipur... ten points to you, your correct. Seeing as our time was limited ( and we had heard a total of 0 good reviews about Agra itself ) we chose to take a day trip to Agra from Jaipur. And by day trip i mean leave at 2am in the morning trip ( my idea, Will was less than impressed). We had been told that the best time to see the Taj is at sunrise, before the crowds arrive on the first morning trains from Delhi. So once again we roped in a private driver whom we organised through our hotel for $80 return. We pretty much shuffled from our bed to the car and were awoken by our delightful driver at the gates of the Taj. We bought our tickets and patiently waited with about 100 others for the gates to open.
And the red hot tip did not disappoint. We virtually had the Taj to ourselves for the first half an hour and shared it with relative few others for the remainder of our time with this architectural beauty. On a side note - Im glad we chose to do a day trip from Jaipur as Agra was unimpressive to say the least with its only redeeming savour being the glorious Taj.
By the time we got to Jaipur i felt like i had seen every Fort and temple from here to Timbuktu, so we opted to visit only the Amber fort and the palace of the winds - which were both absolutely magnificent and a must see. The rest of our time was spent at an elephant orphanage - which just so happened to be the highlight of our trip.
The gentle giants at elephantastic are all rescue elephants, having been saved from circuses, temples or the Amber Fort where they're used to ferry tourists up and down the steep ramparts.
We arrived in the morning and were introduced to the elephants - and they were introduced to us. No chains or restraints are used on any of the elephants and they are rotated on a day on, day off principle. In saying that, their day 'on' consists of being fed, patted, walked to the water hole and than given a luxurious scrub and massage for all their hard work. I will never forget the way my elephants intelligent eyes rolled around in pure unadulterated joy whilst i was scrubbing behind his sensitive ears.
Jaipur was an absolute riot - not my favourite of the Rajasthani cities, but thats because i prefer a slower, less frenzied pace of life - but still worth a visit.
We rested our weary heads at the Sunder Palace guest house. It was central, clean and is home to the most fantastic driver we came across on our trip - Ashok. Sweet, loving hilarious Ashok. Not only did he ferry our sweaty little bodies about, but he organised tailors to come to our rooms to have clothes made, airport transfers, day trips and much, much more.
Hot of the plane from India, i was in search of a Pina Colada with my name written all over it - and El Nido did not disappoint.
Located on the Island of Palawan, El Nido is a short flight (1.5 hours) from Manila. We flew from Manila to Puerto Princessa on Cebu Pacific - its no Etihad but it gets the job done. From the airport in Puerto Princessa we wandered outside into the sticky humidity and hopped on one of the several roro buses's making there way on the five hour journey to El Nido.
Firstly let me start by saying if your looking for a luxury tropical resort oasis El Nido is not the place for you. This eclectic ramshackle little town perched on the edge of absolute paradise may not be everybody's cup of english breakfast. The power cuts in and out intermittently throughout the day, the supply of fresh food other than sea-life is almost non-existant and you would be forgiven for thinking you were reliving the plague for the sheer number of insects.
But don't let that put you off. The untouched beauty of the surrounding islands and Palawan itself is like nothing else seen today. Virtually excused from the greedy paws of tourism, this little slice of paradise is an unpolished diamond.
Spend your days lazing in a hamock overlooking Bacuit bay with a cold drink in hard or join one of the four island hopping tours that make their lazy way through the archipelago which surrounds the main town.
We chose to go on island hopping tours A and C ( which we were told by locals were the best ). Crystal waters so clear they could be glass, deserted beaches reminiscent of a long forgotten time, coral so bright and swarming with colours you wont want to lift your head too see where your swimming ( once again, sorry will ). And when you have had enough diving, swimming and lounging, the captains of your tiny little sea vessel will cook you fresh caught seafood off the back of the boat right in front of your little peepers.
El nido is a place of extreme relaxation. A sleepy, tiny little village just waiting for those with a spirit adventurous enough to reach it.
We stayed at Island front cottages - a colorful collection of little huts right on the water with temperamental wifi, although too its credit everything tends to be temperamental in El Nido. It was cute, quaint and cheap - exactly what we wanted.
Who ever would have thought this little island hanging off the southern end of India could hold such magic.
Our journey began ( as most journeys do ) at an airport. The Colombo airport, to be exact. From this humble tropical aircraft hanger we shared a driver with a fellow traveler into Colombo city - Sri Lanka's biggest - and only, really - bustling metropolitan.
We stayed one night which was more than enough and made our way to Fort railway station early the next morning to catch the train up to Kandy. We had been told by friends who had recently returned that no advanced bookings for the train were necessary, and second class was just as pleasant as first. As such we arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed with no reservations and subsequently no idea.
Unbeknown to us, we just so happened to heading to Kandy the day before the biggest Buddhist festival of the year - Esala Perahera. So, we purchased our advised second class no reservation tickets and patiently waited for our train with excitement. Around 15 minutes prior to our train arriving, a kind local ( with a patriotic love for Ricky Ponting im yet to see rivaled ) advised us to ready ourselves and stand in the exact position where the train was to stop. We smiled, nodded and kindly brushed off his affectionate advances with the patronizing indulgent smile of well seasoned ignorant travelers.
Karma, my friend, is real. With 60 seconds and our train fast approaching - hundrends of Sri Lankan locals appeared literally (well, not literally) out of thin air. Before the train had even ground to a stop, every man and his dog (and grandmother, 10 children and 6 roosters) were cramming onto a carriage as wide as a regular school bus. Sardines in a can does not do this justice.
So we were left standing, with two suitcases and a surfboard bag, on the platform with not enough room on the train for a single strand of my hair - which is very thin and would hardly cause any trouble. Tired, exhausted and overwhelmed we traipsed outside and hailed ourselves a driver for the harrowing 5 1/2 hour drive up into the mountains to Kandy.
Fortunately, it could only go up from here. Kandy is Sri Lanka's next biggest city - and i use the term city very loosely. Its more like a charming town spread beautifully over the surrounding mountains and culminating around an enchanting river at its center.
We spent our days meandering the green streets around the temple of the tooth and being shown the sights by our effervescent tuk tuk drivers. For around $30 au for an entire day they will be your tour guide, spiritual counselor, local historian, food critique, personal assistant and photographer if you let them. Never have i met people so bursting with life's energy, so enlightened and so in touch with the beauty of nature.
My favorite story goes like this - we hopped in a tuk tuk and while on our way home i noticed there were many different religious stickers on the drivers car - so i asked him if he affiliated with any in particular. He replied; I have a picture of Islam, Hindu, Buddha and Christianity - I am not one religion but all, because i believe in the people. My skin is black and yours is white, but beneath our chests beats exactly the same heart.
And so it turned out that this was the theme for our entire Sri Lankan journey. Religion and race were a non existent issue - Muslims best friends with Buddhists who in turn shared their produce (or tuk tuk) with their Hindu business partner. It was the gail force gust of fresh air i sorely needed after drinking in the bitter taste of resentment left by so many in today's society. I felt a need so great to drag every single person i could get my hands on to this magical place and and scream " See ! See ! There is another way ! ".
Alas i did not do this, instead we hired a driver and made our way through the mountains to Ella. Unfortunately all the trains in the area were booked out for the next two weeks - so we had no choice but to make our way by car. At first disappointed, our mood soon lifted as the lush green country side zoomed past. We stopped to marvel at monkeys, eat rotti from locals huddled in huts and simple stand in the middle of the road and let ourselves be dwarfed by the sheer size of the ranges.
Three hours later we arrived in Ella. My absolute favorite little town in Sri Lanka. It has one main street with a handful of small shops and restaurants and a view to kill for. We booked a little Airbnb with a million dollar view for $20 au a night called Ella Mount View Guest Inn. We spend our days walking along the railway tracks into town, and hiking ella rock - patting all the baby cows (and children) along the way.
If you just so happen to make it to Ella (which i highly recommend) make sure you pay a visit to Ravana falls. Now don't be discouraged upon arrival by the sheer number or semi-naked locals taking their bath in the streaming falls. If you - like us - would rather a more relaxed, less crowded dip, simply make your way up the falls (with or without the help of a local who will be more than willing to show you the way for a few bucks). If your lucky (like us) you will have it all to yourself and can frolic until your hearts content without an audience.
From Ella we once again hired a driver and made our way to Arugam Bay. The trip takes around 4 hours and is rather pleasant - if you don't get a lunatic driver who has distant aspirations of being a formula one driver and tries too sell you weed every 15 minutes. Despite this we arrived in one (slightly shaken) piece. We booked a little beach hut called stay golden cabanas on air-bnb and after a few well deserved coconuts quickly relaxed.
Arugam bay is a strange little place. A predominately Muslim town perched on the sea catering to western surfers and yogi's alike. As you can see these two groups are a bit of a juxtaposition - however they seam to weave a unique harmony of life together.
Now if your looking for descriptions of where the best surf was - you have come to the wrong place. I mean, sure, we went to all the hidden breaks but you cannot expect me to remember them all - that's will's job, not mine. Instead ill give you a run down of the few i can remember that had great coconuts, fabulous rotti's and a safe environment for girlfriends left on the beach for hours to entertain themselves.
Peanut farm - Just south of Arugam bay, an enchanting little beach with a singular cafe (using that word loosely) and funky little wooden swings to laze the day away.
Whiskey Point - North of Arugam, a funky little beach bar with day beds and cold coconuts.
Pottuvil Point - This little gem has delicious little candy coloured boats all lined up near the water, and most days you can see wild elephants on the drive in.
After Arugam we made our way north (once again, private driver) to Nilaveli - host to crystal blue waters and a rancho relaxo vibe. We stayed only two days - ate good food, drank fruity drinks and snorkeled with reef sharks on pigeon island.
We than made our way back to Ella - i was absolutely determined to catch the train from Ella to Kandy as i had been told numerous times that it was one of the most scenic train rides in the world. I was not disappointed. We arrived at the train station with no prior booking and had no worries securing a first class ticket for that day. From Ella we took the beautiful, fluorescent green, meandering journey to Nuwara Eliya.
I, for one, did not like Nuwara Eliya. A freezing cold strangely foggy little town known affectionately as little England and un-affectionately as horrible. But please don't let my opinion put you off - after all one man's trash is another man's treasure and all that.
From Nuwara Eliya we joyfully boarded the train to kandy. I cannot stress enough how absolutely breathtaking this journey is - the rolling tea plantations, the panoramic views, the colourful villagers and their fabulous sari's - incredible!
We disembarked at Kandy and hired a driver to take us to the airport as i desperately wanted to stop at Pinnawala elephant orphanage - an hour out of Kandy town.
The orphanage was set up to care for orphaned unweaned elephants found wandering in and around the surrounding forests. Throughout the day the large heard spends its time playing and washing in a nearby river. The price of entry is a little steep, but seeing the beautiful majestic heard roaming freely throughout the river makes it worth whatever you have spent to get there.
Sri Lanka is an eclectic, culturally rich, breathtakingly beautiful introduction into eastern life and tradition.
Let me just start by saying I cannot believe it took me so long to come here. I can't help but feel that I have been completely cheating myself for the past few years. My feelings towards this humble little Island are reminiscent of a Nicholas Sparks novel. For years I've been attracted to Bali, the loud, boisterous, classically handsome yet arrogant sibling - it's an all or nothing kind of relationship, one that has as many highs as it does lows and occasionally leaves you a shell of your former self afterwards.
When all the while, sitting quietly unnoticed in the background was his kind, unpretentious, bewitching younger brother - all the more intoxicating for his sweet subtle allure.
A quick hop skip and a jump from Bali (actually a $40 plane ride) Lombok had me hooked from first sight. We hopped off the plane and grabbed a driver (not literally, that would be assault) and made our way to Senggigi - the only place on the island that really caters for traditional tourists. We figured it would be a good place to slowly submerge into this new relationship.
Making our way through the lush green countryside one of the first things I noticed about Lombok was the sheer number of mosques, poking their tops through the tree line like rows of candy colored nipples. Unlike its Hindu neighbor, Lombok is a predominantly Muslim island - most days will start and end here listening to the call to prayer.
The second thing i noticed was green. Everywhere. Interspersed with the occasional building, but mainly just uninterrupted, blissful, natural green. No monstrous new infrastructure selling everything from here to China, no funky new cafe's selling organic whatever. Just locals, some huts and green. Now let me just butt in here on my wistful reverie and say that the Island only really looks like this in wet season - for the remainder of the year your eyes might be assaulted with a little more brown than my aforementioned green.
Senggigi itself is a small outcrop of hotels and Villas perched on the aqua blue seaside along the West Coast. It's great if your a traveler who likes creature comforts, or the finer things in life. But be warned. This is no petite Seminyak. Outside the hotels themselves there is not much variety for eating, drinking, shopping or doing. It is however an incredible place to treat yourself and indulge in the art of relaxation.
If you, like me, are more of a shot of whiskey than cup of tea kind of traveler than I feel Kuta Lombok will be much more too your liking.
Located on the Southern end of the Island, Kuta Lombok is a surfers haven. Please don't get the wrong idea, I'm in no way interested in getting tubed. What i am interested in is long uninterrupted stretches of coastline, laid back attitudes and elevation with a view - which is what Kuta Lombok is all about.
We hired a scooter for three days, grabbed a sketchy hand drawn map of the local area and got seriously and totally lost. And it was magic. Don't be scared, the locals here are ridiculously friendly and are happy and willing to point you in the right direction if you stray too far from the dirt path.
Once again, I have no idea about the surf beaches. What i can tell you is nearly all of the beaches cater to girlfriends with a coconut and a sun-lounge or two. And if your really lucky, the local kids will rock scissor paper you for a free Bintang. Disclosure: they're good, you will loose, it's OK, be a sport.
In Senggigi we rested our weary little heads at Qunci Villas. The place was so beautiful that I accidentally got drunk on fruitilicious cocktails by sundown and much to Will's delight participated in the traditional dance show. Yes there is a video. No i will never show it. None of my meager words can do this place justice, so I'm going to let my photos do the talking.
Kuta Lombok caters more to backpackers and young Kelly Slater applicants than wealthy sightseers. We stayed at Kies Villas - located right in town. It was clean, stylish, extremely well run and are the proud owners of a fabulous map that should keep you mostly out of trouble.
If your in Kuta Lombok, check out El Bazaar, Nuggets corner and Krnk for food. They are all next to each other so you cant really get that lost....
If you want to get out of the rat race and get a taste of a more traditional Indonesia - than Lombok might just be your new favorite destination. I'm almost loathe to write this as i fear i might have just given away some of Indonesia's best kept secrets.
Qunci Villas - Senggigi
Seger beach, Kuta Lombok
Driving west from Kuta Lombok
En route to Mawan beach
Aire Guling beach
Qunci Villas Senggigi
Qunci Villas Senggigi
Qunci Villas Senggigi
Kies villas Kuta Lombok
Artati cafe, en route to Mawi beach, Kuta Lombok
Tahjang Ann beach, Kuta Lombok
Monthly markets outside Kuta
Mawan beach, Kuta Lombok
The very first thing I noticed about Morocco was that our driver wasn't waiting for us as promised. Not a great start - still, it meant it could only go up from there ( touch wood ). After logging on to the airport WiFi and hastily calling our Riad - we found out he was indeed there! He was however in a bit of strife, the tagine he had for lunch was sitting a bit askew and he was currently undertaking a somewhat prolonged fecal evacuation. Great. Thanks. No that's fine tell him to relax and take his time, the detail was appreciated...
A good ten minutes later he arrived (albeit a little sweaty) bundled us into his cab and drove us like a bat out of hell to a small square which is as far as cars are allowed into the Medina of Marrakesh. There, he handed us over like produce to our 85 year old porter who proceeded to lead us into the narrow, shaded, pastel pink maze that is the Medina - all without a word of English or a backwards glance.
Now is probably a good time to tell you that first impressions aren't always accurate. I'm not going to lie, at this point in our journey the first stirrings of panic began. I'm in an alleyway made for midgets, being led by a geriatric into tiny dark spaces filled with hostile stares and random cats (disclaimer: hostile stares not from random cats). By the time we arrived at Riad Berbere I was looking over my shoulder like I was Jay Z and Beyonce was behind me.
Silly naive Emily. How paranoid you were. From the second the door to Riad Berbere was opened, it was like I awoke from a bad dream to realise I had actually stumbled upon heaven. The entire Riad smelt like Jasmine and freshly washed linen. We were given pancakes and mint tea, and Ingrid the delightful owner softly whispered all my previous worries away with the encouraging words of "toughen up". Such tender dialogue.
Thank god for Ingrid. After showering, regrouping and armed with a ridiculously awesome map from the Riad, we made our first solo adventure into the souks. And it was incredible. Not once were we heckled to purchase something after looking, never was a voice raised in anger to us, never did I feel uncomfortable as a woman with my tantalizing bare arms and sexy calves showing. In fact in comparison to India it was relatively reserved!
The only negative thing I can possibly say is be prepared to part with your hard earned cold hard cash. If you, like me, have a sick, twisted, sinister fetish for rugs - than you've reached the promised lands. Its actually disgusting the sheer number of enticing Kilim's to be purchased and owned and loved. Even thinking about it now is making me salivate. Now if you don't have a lot of luggage fret not my fickle friend - most stores will ship your little goodies home to your doorstep for you for a small fee. We paid around $100 Aussie dollars for around 8 kilo of woven goodness. And if that wasn't enough its customary to christen every purchase with delicious round of mint tea and a good ol' chat.
Right, so we've covered my favorite topic - merchandise, thus we can now naturally progress to my next favorite - food. First on my list of worthy mentions is Nomad. Do yourselves a favor and wrap your lips around their luscious tagine, it will do things to all five senses you didn't know food was capable of doing. Hidden bonus - they serve alcohol! ( important if your spending 3 months alone with your significant other ) Other admirable establishments include cafe des espices, cafe de france and le jardin. I'm just going to make a wee little side note here and say if your a vegetarian, vegan, plantarian, fruitarian or just a general animal activist you may find Morocco... unsettling. If you want to buy chicken for dinner for example? They pull it out of a cage, chop its head off and pluck it in-front of you. Nice and fresh. Now if you have a nice open mind you'll be fine. After all I'm an atheist but I can still appreciate the beauty of a mosque.
Now, if navigating the souks get a bit much for you, than I highly recommend you get yourself a driver ( I cannot abide group tours, I'd rather pull my own toenail off ) and head to the Atlas mountains for the day. I promise you will have never seen anything like it ( I cant actually promise that, I have no idea where your from ).
Its important to know what while Arabic people populate most of the cities - it's the Berber people who run the mountains. And man do they have some funky style. I swear it's what every boho gypsy wanderer whatever aspires to look like- at one point I thought we had accidentally stumbled into a Moroccan Coachella ( no music of coarse ). The only thing that really got on my nerves was I could not for the life of me get "rock the Kasbah" out my head the entire time, but I guess I can't really put the blame for that on the collective population of the Berbers, can I.... If we had more tie we definitely would have spent it exploring the mountains.
Alas it wasn't to be and from the manic medina of Marrakesh we made our way by coach ($7 aussie dollars and 3 hours later ) to the coastal town of Essaouira. Don't let the tongue twister of a name put you off - this little bohemian hideaway is a diamond in the rough. With whitewashed streets and sea breezes, Essaouria is the serene to Marrakesh's psycho. Peruse the fish markets and pet all the kittens ( they almost outnumber the humans) and just generally relax and bask in the feline presence, and if cats aren't your thing than stop reading my blog.
While in Essaouria we stayed at Riad Baladin - a perfectly located little home away from home with an excellent rooftop to watch the sun set over Northern Africa.
Morocco was so much more than I ever expected. If I had known about the warmth and beauty of the people, the excitement and hustle of the medinas and the peaceful relaxation of the mountains I would have scheduled double the time for this eccentric, eclectic and ethereal country.
The souks of Essaouria
Riad berbere by night
Berber village in the Atlas Mountains
Riad baladin - Essaouira
Sweet seller - Marrakesh
Bott bott - Essaouira
Middle Atlas mountains
Veggie market Marrakesh
Riad El Walaa - Marrakesh
Streets of Marrakesh
Rug store - Middle Atlas mountains
Riad El Walaa
Breakfast at Riad berbere
Riad rooftop in essaouira
In the spice market of Marrakesh
Checking tinder - Atlas mountains
Outdoor shower - Riad Berbere
Olives ft carcass
Greece - Milos
Milos - disarmingly similar sounding to Millhouse but with none of the nerdy prepubescent angst. Instead what this fully grown beauty does offer is a serene escape from the otherwise overpopulated mayhem that is the Cyclades Islands.
This is the island to choose if your a bit of a lone wolf, a bit of and off the beaten path kind of traveler- or if your just completely sick of people crowding in tour groups with little offensively colored flags and obnoxious selfie sticks standing in the middle of the minuscule path blocking your way forth.
Now, Milos is not the perfect prom queen ( Santorini ) or the trust fund baby ( Mykonos ) or the slutty next door neighbor ( Ios ). I would say it's more like that overlooked younger sister that nobody really pays attention to but alas grows up to be a Victoria's Secret model. The quiet achiever. The silent assassin.
It's raw and unpolished and utterly spectacular for its un-photoshopped allure. The aqua marine blues of the secluded lagoons tucked away on its moon like surface will have you drawing up new color palates for shades you never knew existed.
Swim all morning and sit down for Yaya's (that foxy old she devil ) home cooked Moussaka and red wine for lunch at one of the cafe's overlooking the glassy bay in Pollonia. But I'm warning you now, if you leave a single slither of food on that plate of yours, be prepared for a sturdy scolding. Hell hath no fury like an elderly Greek woman denied her chance to feed.
If your looking for fancy shmancy restaurants and a place to wear your kitten heals, than stick to the well worn path. Milos is not for you.
The bane of my very existence is forever figuring out where the hell to sleep that is close enough to edible material and alcoholic beverages, without having a dance party on my doorstep (and preferably with crisp white interiors that don't cost a bride's dowry).
So without further adieu I give you Pollonia. She's sweet, she's cheap and she's wickedly attractive. Need i say more? ( probably, considering that gave you no information). On the top most eastern tip of the island and about a 15 minute drive from Plaka ( the main town, don't stay there, I repeat, abort! ) sits Pollonia. A quiet little fishing village with one small supermarket that opens approximately 3 hours per day and a plethora of ambrosial restaurants.
To be honest your really not going to go wrong with any accommodation you choose in Pollonia - but for those who like tangible information I'm prepared to name name's. We stayed in Nefeli Sunset Studio's and I'm convinced I actually saw God there (it was heavenly, did you get my joke?).
Another honorable mention goes out to Salt Studio's - if you've got a little bit of spare cash saved up for your big trip spend it on this little sucker. White washed driftwood, crisp linen couches, bleached wooden decks - I've got a semi just thinking about it.
If Pollonia doesn't sound like your deal than my next suggestion would be the port town of Adamas - but a word to the wicked, no matter where you stay a car/bike/scooter is necessary to get to any of the beaches on this island.
Ok I'm going to make this snappy. I'm currently writing this from Italy and my 5pm Aperol Spritz is calling..... A quick list of my standout favorites are as follows :
Kleftiko - only accessible by boat but don't be cheap and fork out - its seriously worth it tight ass
Sarakiniko - Literally looks like the surface of the moon and great jump rocks
Papafragas - Epic skinny hidden cove with tiny beach at the bottom ( all things you wont be post Greece )
Tsigrado - Climb down a split in the cliffs to this aqua blue gem - warning; you may see zealously tanned genitalia
The best way to see this island is to just get there, get a car and explore. And pack your sunscreen and inflatable flamingo ;)
Sarakiniko ft bottom after a few spanakopitas
Nefeli Sunset Suites
In the wilderness being chased by goats ( scarier than it sounds )
South west corner of the island
Random beach just before Pollonia
Nefeli - Pollonia
Couldn't find the name for this beach but it's on the road just before Papafragas
Max relax - Tsigrado
Streets of Plaka
Salt studio's - Pollonia
Beach next to Tsigrado
Rare moment of affection
beach next to Tsigrado
Day sail to Kleftiko
Greece - Santorini
Welcome to the fancy pants of the Cycladic Islands. Pack your Fendi romper and kitten heals baby, coz' this Island is all about exhibition. Colossal caldera cliffs and opulent white washed villa's form the backdrop for every fashionista with a selfie stick in a ten mile radius. With that said, there are some hidden parts to this ostentatious Island where one with more simple tastes ( and a little less green $ ) can truly relax.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and with that metaphor in mind I will begin this little written tour with the glorious Oia. Pronounced Ee-ya (much to my humiliation, after I consecutively called it 'oiyaaaa' to a minimum of 15 locals before being corrected) it is the best of the best - the jewel in Santorini's elaborate crown. This little tongue twister is where almost all of the Island's Pinterest worthy photo's are taken. Winding crisp white alley ways interspersed with flashes of Cobalt blue (Will still thinks it was indigo, amateur) and crammed with one million eager tourists armed with heavy artillery in the form of Canon DSLR's. It is expensive, luxurious, infuriating, exhausting and completely breathtaking. It truly wouldn't be a trip to Santorini without at least a nights stay in this photographers Nirvana.
I know some of you are all for that luxury livin life, but for those of you who like a quieter pace and a little more easy going fun, than the other side of this beautiful island may be a little bit more up your alley. Akrotiri is on the Southern end of the caldera, and boasts equally as impressive views as the party pleaser Oia - but with substantially less tourists. It's famously known for its ancient ruins - and less famously known for its mean lunchtime daiquiri's. One of its main draw cards is that it's close to all of the islands swim-able beaches. Head down to Perivolos Beach and lay your head comfortably in the lap of luxury for group-on prices. You can hire a day bed and get waited on hand and foot for 20 Euro's a day ( which I highly recommend ) or BYO beach set up and swim and frolic in those Mediterranean blues until your hearts content.
It is legitimately impossible to tell you where to stay in Oia - every place is as breathtaking as the next. If it has a Caldera view - rest easy honey coz' its going to be one spectacular stay. We rested our Ouzo soaked heads ( and livers ) at Strogili traditional houses. On a side note if you decide to stay in Oia - make sure you dine at Sunsets restaurant at least once at .. well... sunset. You must make a booking the day before - its a bit expensive, but it truly is the most breathtaking spot to watch the white washed town turn pink ( added bonus you can drink cocktails while doing it )
As for Akrotiri I can happily suggest you do your finger exercises, jump online and swiftly book a room at Apanemo Hotel - it has ridiculous Caldera views and an infinity pool that has girls in their bathers quicker than they can say "take a photo of me ?"
So off you go, pack your one piece and Camilla kaftan and make sure your insta-hubby (or wifey ) has those camera battery's charged.
France - Corsica
Is it French, is it Italian ? Is it a weird genetic hybrid who eats croissants for breakfast and pepperoni pizza for lunch? If your talking about Corsica, than the answer is yes.
The only thing more dramatic than Corsica's landscape is my personality. From disgracefully crystal clear beaches to forest waterfalls which TLC would never chase, this is officially ( as crowned by yours truly ) the land of wild swimming. If you prefer your water chlorinated and in a vaguely rectangular shape than I suggest a visit to your local PCYC instead of this arresting island.
If, however, you enjoy your water melted from the icy tips of insurmountable peaks and filtered through prehistoric rocks so it runs as clear as a bottle of Evian - than read on, Ive got just the place for you.
Located off the coast of both France and Italy ( talk about your supermodel parents ) this Fritalian ( fictitious name I recently invented ) island is a nature lovers dream. Over the years it has received a somewhat spiteful reputation as the favored holiday destination for philandering millionaire celebrities - thus sky rocketing prices and generally being put on the - ' when I win lotto' list. Your faithful travel guide is here to tell you this is nothing but ( somewhat accurate ) lies. I must say, like every other European pinterest destination it does sting the pocket - however no more so than the smug likes of Amalfi or Nice. Moreover it is very achievable to see everything this Fritalian beauty has to offer on a serious budget.
For starters - get the boat over. It aint particularly pretty but it sure is cheap. For seconds ( atrocious use of grammar I'm assuming you will forgive ) hire a car and drive yourself. For thirds ( once again, apologies ) use Airbnb. This, my flock, is my biggest secret to successful travel. Airbnb for president.
What to see ?
I'm glad you asked. I highly suggest at least one - two weeks to truly experience what this little nugget has to offer. It does involve a substantial amount of driving ( and subsequent road arguments between you and *always wrong- not to be trusted* your significant other )
- Arrive in Bastia and drive north up the coast of Cap Corse - this is potentially my favorite area of Corsica ( I'm definitely going to say that at least 4 more times )
- Porto - Incredible cliff faces, home to the Calanques de Piana ( must see ! )
- Lozzi/ Corte - this area is home to incredible wild swimming holes
- Cascades de Purcaraccia - inland from Port Vecchio, if there's anything you do, make it this!
- Port Vecchio to Bonifacio - some of the most picturesque crystal clear waters of the island.
- Bonifacio town
Now please, don't ever say I don't do anything for you. I'm practically a Samaritan. I'm a shoe in for the good bloke of the year award. I will only respond to the name Sensei from now on.
New Zealand - South Island
Ahhh New Zealand. Like an awkward third cousin, were practically family. I arrived at Queenstown airport expecting Legolas and Aragon at every turn – what I received however was a sprawling vista of snow-capped peaks and ice blue lakes as far as the eye could see (one would argue which was actually the better view…)
Now I will admit, in the past I have overlooked this pocket rocket of a country for sunnier and more distant shores. I envisioned going to New Zealand much the same as making the trip to Melbourne – mildly appealing, much like taking a tepid bath. I know now, that I had made a grave error in judgment.
Nothing can really prepare you (unless you have been to Canada, northern Europe, or any other mountainous region - but let me just have my moment) for the complete sense of insignificance the untamed wilderness that is the South Island bestows upon you. It glorious in its magnitude. Resplended in its grandeur. Heroic in it’s significance! (I promise to stop using thesaurus from here on in)
Now, I would love to tell you the most efficient route to see the best spots on the island, but unfortunately my approach to seeing the sights resembled a cat chasing a laser beam. Erratic and bizarre. So what I will do for you instead is give you a wee run down on my must see places and let you route yourself (that sounds rude).
First and foremost is Milford Sound. Weird name – fabulous location. It is I dare say, a must see location. If your driving from Queenstown there are plenty of free camps throughout Fordland’s national park, but if a hot shower and a little more comfort is more your style than there are powered sites in Te Anau.
From here I highly suggest taking the route past Wanaka (my mum kept calling it wanker and giggling like a 60 year old school girl) past lake Hawea and on towards Haast pass. Haast pass itself is a magnificent drive – with waterfalls and Ice-melt Rivers along its entirety. At its conclusion its spits you out along the Western coastline, where you can make your way north towards the glaciers.
Now my next recommendation gives Milford Sound a run for its prestigious title as most aesthetically pleasing location. Without further adieu I give you Lake Pukaki, Lake Tekapo and their protective older sibling Mount Cook. These turquoise alpine lakes are a serious sight to behold. I was absolutely convinced someone had put dye in the water and was pulling everybody’s leg with the “natural occurrence” story. If budget allows – treat yourself to a 45-minute flight over the mountains – it was worth every pathetic penny.
Worth a mention are Dunedin and Queenstown – when I travel I tend to gravitate towards the natural earthy delights, but if a bit of civilization is what your after these two cities are probably a couple of the prettiest I have ever seen.
To wrap things up (because I have to not because I want to, I could rattle on for days) the best way to see this island is to grab a campervan, a map and just go hell for leather. There truly is no wrong turn on this island. And on a last note – I apologize for anyone who watched my instagram story staring my mother during this hard and harrowing journey. I am nothing if not my mother’s daughter.