Asia

A Kerala Holi Day!

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!

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Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 4)

Contd from Day 12, 3

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!

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Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 3)

Contd from Day 1, 2

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!

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Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 2)

Contd from Day 1

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).

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Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 1)

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.

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Turkish Baat 10 : Istanbul and The End

Continued from Days 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9

Day 10

We were supposed to leave only at 11 from the hotel, but we woke up early because…shopping! In addition to the more famous Grand and Spice markets, there is also one near the Blue Mosque called Arasta Bazaar. The internet had some good things to say about it. It was very close to the hotel, and we reached by 9. The shops were just beginning to open. It is smaller than the other two. We found some super cushion covers, but otherwise, it actually seemed pricier than the other markets.

We bid goodbye to the hotel by 11, and this time, reached the airport in just an hour! After doner kababs for lunch, we did some duty free shopping and boarded the flight. The flight to Doha had no in-flight entertainment and I had to restrain myself from finishing the book I had brought! The flight was a bit delayed and we had to make a run for the connecting flight! We were warned by the Istanbul duty-free salesman that they might not let the liquor through, thankfully spirits dampening didn’t happen. More

Turkish Baat 9 : Back in Istanbul

Continued from Days 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8

Day 9

Since it was going to be our last night in Turkey, we began searching for a restaurant with a view and found Olive. We asked the Sokulla Pasa reception to book a table for dinner. After breakfast, we were picked up, at 8.20 but then spent the next hour roaming around the hotel picking up and dropping people! Finally, at around 10, we landed up at the first palace in our itinerary – Dolmabahçe Palace. This was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans after Topkapi Palace. We were told that after the then Sultan visited Europe and saw the residences of his counterparts, he felt that his current residence lacked style. Despite not really having the money, he took loans, taxed his subjects and got this built. Now, this ‘little’ home built on EMI is valued at $1.5 bn.  I wondered if a Gates or Zuck could pick it up!

No photos are allowed inside the palace, but you know… 😀 The place is insanely garish and really looks rich! After the Ottoman sultans were exiled, this was used as a presidential guesthouse for visiting dignitaries and Ataturk, when he dropped in from Ankara. To be noted that this was where he died. I wondered whether the sultans had put a hex on him.  More

Turkish Baat 8 : More Cappadocia

Continued from Days 1,2,3,4,5,6,7

Day 8

One of the few days on which we could afford to wake up slightly late. The breakfast view from the Dedeli Konak terrace was quite awesome. This hotel was owned by our tour operator, and he visited every morning. We had seen him the previous day, but since we were in a hurry, we couldn’t chat. He joined us for breakfast, and promised to ensure we got time in the evening for shopping, have a driver ready to take us around and find good restaurants for us in Istanbul.

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Turkish Baat 7 : Cappadocia

Continued from Days 1,2,3,4,5,6

Day 7

This was the most highly anticipated day and event in the tour. All the conversations we’ve had about Turkey had this – the balloon ride – as the reference point. We had to wake up at 4 AM though. I heard later that this was also possible during the evening, but it was risky and very few operators dealt with it. Also, nothing like seeing the sunrise. We were picked up in fifteen minutes and taken, shivering, to the meeting point from where we’d get airborne. Before we got on, we had coffee and cake, and watched the balloons being filled up. All of the flame throwing made me think of GoT and dragons. 25 people are allowed per balloon, and once we were in the air, we could see a hundred balloons around! Different colours and at different heights, it was a spectacular sight!

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