This wasn’t really a planned holiday, but thanks to my AmEx card, we had a Taj voucher to use. That sum being reasonably insignificant in the Taj scheme of things, we wanted to limit the amount we spent for a ‘free voucher’, and that was how Kovalam was chosen as a destination. That, and a chance to see relatives we hadn’t met in over a decade! In line with our miserly approach to this trip, we decided to get there by train. Through some excellent inattention to detail, we ended up in a 2nd Class Sleeper and not the A/C ‘Garib Rath’. It had been a while since we made a summer train journey, and the lack of practice showed! Meanwhile, train journeys are an excellent discovery process – of towns one never knew existed – and this one was no exception. But to cut a long story short, Kerala in the morning was quite a welcome sight!
By manuscrypts in Hong Kong, Travel No Comments Tags: Biergarten, Central-Mid Level Escalators, Garden Road Peak Tram Lower Terminus, IFC Mall, Little Bao, Oddies, Snake Wine, Star Ferry, TramOramic tour, Victoria Peak
A wonderful late start to the day. We just about made the breakfast deadline! The first task was to add currency to our Octopus – that was easily done at the customer desk in the East Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. We then walked through the subway to get to the Star Ferry Pier. After some excitement, thanks to me dropping the hotel access card on the ferry waiting bench and the gates getting locked, we hopped on to the ferry to cross from the Kowloon to the Hong Kong side of Victoria Harbour. Getting to IFC mall from there was easy, thanks to the directions on the way, but inside the mall was a different story!
Disneyland! The day D was most excited for! Our route and the time taken was pretty much a replica of the previous day, except we got out at Sunny Bay and took the special MTR rail to Disneyland – the one which had Mickey Mouse handles as D had been excitedly mentioning since the day before. We had booked our tickets earlier – directly on the site, because for a change the deal was better than Klook. (lunch was included) D had done her research well, and we hurried through Main Street soon as the park opened directly to Hyperspace Mountain in Tomorrowland. This was all Star Wars, so I had nothing to complain about. D isn’t really a fan of rides, but she help up very well and actually enjoyed it. The next ride we went on was Grizzly Gulch, mine cars and this time, unlike the dark tunnel of the previous ride, we could actually see what was happening. I quite liked this one. Mystic Manor was next, and I really liked this too, since it had a magical innocence to it. After we got out, we got lucky with a small line and D got her main wish – a photo with Mickey and Minnie!
By manuscrypts in Hong Kong, Travel No Comments Tags: Garden of the Stars, Ngong Ping 360, Numb Chicken Feet, Po Lin monastery, Tai O Fishing village, Temple Street Night Market, Tian Tan Buddha, Yee Shung Milk Company
We got up at around 7.30 with an aim to leave the hotel in an hour and a half. The standard Continental breakfast at Xi was absolutely good enough to begin the day. Mandy at the reception promised to help us follow up on the lost baggage. Ngong Ping was the plan for most of the day. The journey including MTR transfers and the walk took less than an hour. Might have been lesser if we’d known about the passage directly from the Tung Chung MTR to the cable car. We’d bought tickets for a guided tour via Klook and could therefore bypass the queue. If you reach early, you could probably wait in the queue a bit and buy. The instructions were clear and after a short wait, we boarded the crystal cabin- this one has a glass bottom – a real one which is cleaned after each trip. D remained poker faced and refused to comment on her previous experience with such things. The views from the cable car were spectacular – we could catch the giant bridge to Kowloon that was under construction, the airport, and as we neared the Ngong Ping end (20 mins) the Tian Tan Buddha (aka the Big Buddha).
My introduction to Hong Kong beyond just a name was thanks to James Clavell and Noble House. But that was more than a decade and a half back. As we were making the arrangements for the trip, I finished reading Flood of Fire, the final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy. It makes references to many real life characters, one of whom is William Jardine, of Jardine Matheson & Co., most eminent among Hong Kong business conglomerates from the time of the First Opium War to this day. The final pages of the book deal with the auction of land lots in Hong Kong, and the origin of what is now one of the most important nerve centres of the system of the world. Reminded me of the Amitav Ghosh book connection during our Penang trip in 2014, and set up the trip very well.
We ditched Meru for Uber this time and it did turn out cheaper. Surprisingly Malaysian Airlines had worked out better than Air Asia in terms of time and cost, and given the chances of adventure with the former(!), we took the midnight flight to Kuala Lumpur, which was delayed. We just about made the second flight and finally reached Hong Kong almost an hour later than scheduled. The good news was that we weren’t lost in transit, the bad news was that one of our bags was – the one with the clothes for the first couple of days! The delay also meant that our special lunch plan was sabotaged. We made peace with that, and after getting the currency exchanged, proceeded to make the first and most important transaction – the Airport Express Octopus Card. The Octopus is a payment card with tentacles everywhere – restaurants, transport, shopping and so on. We chose this particular card because our plans included a lot of MTR (mass transit rail, not South Indian dishes!) but you could buy a card of lesser value and use buses, trams etc too.
Sigh, the last day of our vacation. The nice folk at the riad gave us a good breakfast, and set us off on our half day tour. Our guide’s name was Khaled, and the first stop was less than 100m away! The Palais de la Bahia, part of the Jewish quarters, was built by the king’s vizier(s) as a harem, and later occupied by the French, who did that by throwing out their host! Only a portion of this palace is open to the public, but it does live up to its name in terms of craftwork – brilliant!
Khaled was not very jovial and preferred dry sarcasm and sharp verdicts – the original occupants of the palace being his victims in this context. But he knew what he was talking about, and seemed to be well respected judging from the way he was greeted as we walked around. It was not the typical familiar greetings that tourist guides normally get.
The scene from the previous day’s breakfast played out again, except we changed the battleground – to another table. The bees really did like the other table – we weren’t disturbed, and the poor folks sitting on that table were busy swatting them away!
We set out a little late to Marrakesh since the distance wasn’t much. Ismael Lo was the soundtrack for the drive, some amazing music. We made a couple of stops on the way, or rather D did. The first was an Argan cooperative. The fruit of the Argan tree is used to make oil for cooking as well as cosmetic purposes. D was given a demo of the whole process, and finally bought flavoured soap, even as I snoozed in the car. The next stop was also Argan based. Apparently, goats like the leaves so much that they were willing to climb the tree for it. We stopped for photos. (and barely took them before their owner came around to ask for a tip!)
We woke up around 9 only because breakfast would be served only until 10. The riad had a lovely terrace, and we chose a table that gave us a view of the beach and beyond. Some bees apparently liked the table too. After attempts from both sides, the bees successfully shooed us away! The staff very kindly sent the breakfast to our room.
Essaouira, formerly Mogador, (that sounds so GoT!) seemed to have a very active market, and Marrakech was the only stop left, so we planned to exert our shopping muscles a bit. The WIFi was working fine and we mapped our entire walk. It helped that the routes were pretty straight forward and the places weren’t far off. Our first stop was supposed to be the Bab Doukkala, but we managed to distract ourselves and wander into the side lanes. There were a couple of shops which made some very interesting figurines with vehicle spare parts, cutlery, cameras etc. We reached Bab Marrakech, another corner of the medina, before we realised we had forgotten our original destination.
By manuscrypts in Morocco, Travel No Comments Tags: Ait Benhaddou, Astapor, Atlas mountains, Essaouira, Game of Thrones, Gueliz, Marrakech, Picasso Abdulllah, Riad Benatar, Riad Maktoub, Taros, Telouet, Thami El Glaoui, Tizi Ait Barka, Yunkai
Breakfast was standard fare, except for an omelette that arrived in a tajine, and some excellent vanilla yogurt! We checked out from Riad Maktoub, and happily got into the car, when Hisham told us that we’d be walking up. That took us about 20 minutes, and we were early enough to miss the crowds that would soon arrive from Marrakech. The site is a kasbah which apparently still has a few families staying inside. The rest of the population had shifted to the opposite side of the river, (that looked more like a stream) because it had electricity, transportation etc.
On the way up, we met “Picasso Abdullah”, who painted using indigo, saffron and tea+ sugar. The fantastic part of it was how the colours changed when he heated the paper. This was an old ‘encryption’ technique, he said. Ait Benhaddou has also appeared in Hollywood fare, (including Gladiator) and more recently as Yunkai in Game of Thrones. The view from the top was fantastic.
The sun apparently woke up early in this part of the world. So we did too, to watch it rise. 6’o clock, brutal! A little over an hour on camels took us back to Yasmina. Though we had to ask for some tech support in between, the bath felt really refreshing. The breakfast brought us back from our elated state – stale, and the worst mint tea we had on the trip. But, to be fair, they’re in the middle of nowhere, so things must be tough to maintain.
We returned the way we came, and chose to skip an archaeology museum visit on the way. For the second day running, we had a long way to go – close to 400km.