After getting a bit lost, spent the night in a lovely forest setting camping ground just south of Chateauroux in Velles . It rained lightly most of the way there as well as overnight.
The camping grounds we have found with our ACSI camping card cost about $20 a night including electricity and the facilities have so far been very good.
We set off for the south and had lunch in a quaint little pub in Alencon. The rabbit terrine and pork dish were delicious as was the
Iles flottant (soft meringue floating in custard).
We travelled mainly the national roads or 3 tier roads which didn’t attract a toll. We did do part of the day on the toll road
and were a bit taken aback at the $30 toll charge. The previous toll charges in Ireland which we experienced were only about 5euros.
We left Velles at 8.30am. We stopped for coffee at a lovely little village and then continued on to Alencon where we had
lunch at a modern Brasserie. We had forgotten to get a parking ticket so I went back and asked a pedestrian if one was needed.
He was very helpful and said “yes it was necessary and where was I from”. When I said Australia he replied that he thought it was a very nice country.
My French has held up so far but it has consisted mainly of simple questions and answers. It rained quite consistenly for most of the day as we travelled the winding roads through the lovely mountains of the Ardeche to Avignon and there was luckily very little traffic. We had read about an amazing town called Le Puy en Velay and decided to make the journey over the mountains to see it. The city is dotted with vast volcanic karsts on to which statues and a church were built hundreds of years ago. We were lucky that it stopped raining enough to take a few photos before the rain set in again. Just before Avignon we had a torrential downpour which lasted about an hour and which continued for the rest of the night.
In the four weeks that we have had the van we have covered nearly 4,000 kilometres and in a few days have travelled from the north to the south of France. The distances are not so great but
the winding roads and many small towns in between make progress much slower than in Australia.
Thursday saw us having a sleep in, catch up on washing our clothes. In the afternoon we ventured with the van to east of Avignon to
Pont du Gard an amazing 3 level aqueduct built in Roman times and perfectly preserved. From there we travelled about 25kms south of Avignon to see the Carrieres de Lumieres a multimedia exhibition of impressionist painters held in an old quarry which were excavated over the years to extract bauxite and limestone used to build the Chateau and the village of Les Baux. We were in time but the staff said they had closed the exhibition and wouldn’t let us in saying we were too late to see the show which was a pity as it was something that I wanted to see. We made a complaint to the Tourist office (don’t know if that would make a difference but it made me feel better!). We went however up the many stairs to Baux a beautiful old village sitting right at the top of the hill. It was very quaint and took away a bit of the disappointment at not seeing “Les Carrieres de Lumieres”. The whole area of the Baux de Provence is made up of spectacular limestone cliffs with resort hotels set into the mountainsides and slopes.
The following morning we set off in the rain again to see the “Palais du Papes” inside the vast walls surrounding the old city of Avignon but we could not find a parking spot so we made a note to come back at a later date and went instead to the Lavender museum in Coustellet. Here we happened to bump into Steve and Debbie from Perth. We knew they were travelling but didn’t know where they were. What a coincidence! We decided to have lunch together which was a nice interlude to the rainy day. We bid them goodbye and continued north east of Avignon to Anne and Laurent in Puymeras.
They and their delightful daughter who kept us entertained live amongst the vineyards overlooking Mt Ventoux which we could see only at the end of the day as it was raining still and covered in clouds. When we did see it we saw snow on the top of the mountain.
Laurent made a roaring fire as it was pretty cold. We had a lovely meal of local white asparagus, local beef and the most delicious strawberries we had ever tasted. Overnight the wind picked up and it was raining again by morning. It was a shame for all the people visiting Provence over the long weekend and for all the people at the Cannes film festival.
The next morning we stopped at a large “InterMarche” and with several bystanders help we purchased a plug which we needed with our French electrical connection for the campervan. We set off on the motorway as it was pouring and not worth taking the picturesque side roads to our friends Marianne and Franz who live near St Tropez.
After a brief stopover in Wexford to catch up with Fritz at the Friary and another nice overnight stay with Vincent and a lovely lunch with Barry, Louise and family we drove to Rosslare and boarded the “Oscar Wilde” which was full of French teenagers and other passengers. It was a bit lumpy at first but calmed down overnight which made for a good crossing. After a good coffee we disembarked to the right hand side of the road in Cherbourg at 11am on the 13th May and after setting the Tom Tom we set off up and around the coast to Quettehou via Barfleur to have lunch at La Chaumiere, a lovely little restaurant recommended to us by
Maurice’s cousin Paul which proved to be a winner with a three course ample lunch with coffee for about $30 total. We decided that when we are on our own we would have our main meal at lunch time which we find is digested better than having a large meal in the evening and going to bed on a full stomach especially after travelling in the van for
most of the day. The only drawback is that a lot of the time some wine is included with lunch and we feel like a sleep afterwards which would be alright in the van if we didn’t have to drive on further.
It doesn’t get really dark until about 9.30pm and we are enjoying the long evenings.
It was sunny and almost a tropical temperature at 14degrees when we hit the continent which was about 7 degrees warmer than what
we had had in Ireland for a lot of the time. The wind however was still biting as we wandered around the areas of Utah and
Omaha beach and the American war cemetery. A very moving place to see, beautifully kept and in a wonderful position right on the coast. We visited the museum for which 2 American brothers had raised the money and although an excellent museum giving the history of the D Day invasion and a history of the German and American forces, it sadly made no mention of all the English and other forces of the Commonwealth countries who lost their lives.
Most of the roads that we took were flanked on both sides much green pastures and fields of beautiful yellow rape seed. Taking the backroads a lot of the time took us through the centres of lovely little villages where a lot of the main streets consisted of one lane.
The Fiat “camping car” as it is known in France has handled extremely well and is just the right size for the narrow streets
and country lanes.
We arrived in Bayeux about 8pm and settled into the excellent camping area (also recommended by cousin Paul) which
was situated very close (about 10minutes walk along the river) to the city. The receptionist I thought was not French from her accent and found that she was from Tasmania!
We wandered into the old city which was practically deserted and found the cathedral with it’s beautiful architecture and found
the building where the Bayeux tapestry was housed so we knew where to go the next day when it opened.
The next morning we were the first at the door at 9am and had the place practically to ourselves with only one other person viewing the tapestry at the same time. It is an amazing feat of embroidery over 70 metres long detailing the battle of Harold and William the Conqueror in 1066. It had an excellent audio system which was easy to listen to considering some of the audio systems we have had previously.
Outside the building a workman was blasting away the large graffiti left by some morons. Sadly it seems to be everywhere in the world.
A good strong espresso for about 1 euro and walk back to the camping ground saw us take off about 11am for our long (6hour) trip to Chateauroux via Le Mans.
We set off in convoy to the west of Ireland about 11am on the 7th May and travelled to Westport and then down through the Poetry mountains and via a Lough to Clifden. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains to our destination of Clifden where we arrived about 8pm. We did explore the capabilities of Van Mauriceson with six of us in it for lunch which worked well with two of us standing but we even managed to boil some water for tea on the stove.
Cousin Marcia a professional photographer took lots of pictures of the landscape and her friend Ellen and Barney and Caroline booked into the Abbeyglen hotel which is an old hotel complete with tennis courts and helipad where many celebrities had stayed in years gone by.
Maurice and I were going to find a caravan park about 20minutes away but Ellen asked the receptionist if it would be OK for us to stay in the carpark. She suggested asking the manager so we went with Barney who had on previous occasions met the manager to ask him. He readily agreed which was very kind of him. We had a very nice dinner in the dining room upstairs complete with birthday cake for Caroline and afterwards we retired to the downstairs lounge with nice warm fire to chat and listen to the live Irish music in the bar next door. The other four travelling companions slept in comfort in the large old hotel while the travellers spent the night in Van Mauriceson under a tree in the carpark which we regretted in the morning as it dropped bits on the roof all night and poured with rain depriving us of a bit of sleep.
We did however slip into Barney and Caroline’s room in the morning however to have a shower which was very welcome. We drove a little way back through the mountains to Kylemore Abbey in County Galway which was magnificent building which had been a private residence and then a school which had been attended by some of the family and one of Maurice’s and Caroline’s 1st cousin once removed who was a nun at the school was buried beside the church o the property.
We made our way then from Connemara through the very different scenery of the Burren in Clare and to Ennistimon.
We peeled off and booked into the Riverside Campsite in Doolin and the other four headed for the lovely Falls hotel
in Enninstimon. Maurice and I joined them (about a 20minute trip) for dinner and a spectacular view from the hotel
over the Falls which virtually run through the centre of town. It did rain for most of the day but we did get some
glimpses of the sun. A storm started while we were having dinner and it was very windy by the time Maurice and I drove
back to the campsite and bedded down for the night. The storm continued all night and there were heavy squalls which
rocked the van quite violently a few times. It was a cold walk to the showers in the morning and we were glad to get
back to the van and the reverse cycle air conditioning which was working very well.
After a light breakfast and refill of water for our tank we left for the Cliffs of Moher which were only about 15minutes
away. I couldn’t believe how much the area had changed since I was there about 25years ago. There used to be a small parking area with an old stone cafe but now there was an enormous carpark lower down the hill and built into the side of the hill was an enormous visitor’s centre complete with cafe, restaurant and information about the area. We paid four euros to park and access the area and on our ticket was printed “McCarthy week” so Maurice and I were able to show our ID and register to win a holiday for four in County Clare. McCarthy means “loving” but this was thought to be ironic as they were known in the early days to to be involved in many territorial disputes! There were 647 McCarthys in 1901 and now there are apparently over 30,000 people with the name Mccarthy in Ireland.
We four women went up to the top of the hill to take some pictures of the cliffs and we had to link arms as we came down as we were nearly blown over in the wind. It was a cold Summer’s day – about 7degrees but the wind made it a very high chill factor. Maurice saw a little girl knocked down by the wind.
Marcia wented to see and photograph a Dolman – an ancient megalithic new stone age tomb in Poulnabrone which is one of two in the area and supposedly one of the best preserved ones in the Burren. It was nearly as windy as on the coast and very
cold but it was a worthwhile site to see.
From there Caroline and Barney took us to Clontuskert church were the three cousin’s great, great,great grandfather John Martin
and some of his family were buried and we then went on to where the Martin family farm had been in County Galway and then we drove along to the land where the two Martin brothers lived before one went to Australia and then onto the USA and the other brother to the USA. The house unfortunately has since disintegrated but a lovely couple who have lived on the land for the last 40years showed us where the house had been and had us to tea. They have done this for other relatives as well so it was very hospitable of them especially as we got a little lost on the country lanes and didn’t get to their house until after 6.30pm.
We got back to Dublin around 10pm and all decided to have fish and chips from the “chipper” for dinner.
Marcia and her friend Ellen left Dalkey on Friday to fly back to the USA. It was great for us to meet Marcia again after many years
and to meet Ellen and spend some time with them both.
On Friday our friends from Perth Pamela and Ken came up to Dalkey and we all went off to Finnegan’s pub for a long lunch which was lovely and by the time we got back to the house we were able to sit in the sunshine in the garden.
We reluctantly left the very hospitable Barney and Caroline on Saturday morning for Wexford for the night and then on to Rosslare and to France on Sunday the 12th May.
We set off for Dublin on Friday the 2nd May and we had been lucky so far with the weather which sunny and partly cloudy but with no rain. In Dublin we stayed with Maurice’s cousin
Caroline and her husband Barney as well as the other visitors – their son Hugh, his wife and their 3 year old daughter and the next day Marcia Martin and her friend Ellen arrived from San Francisco for the week,so it was a full house.
We took the van and followed Barney and crew over the beautiful Wicklow mountains on Sunday and visited the German military cemetary in Glencree and then attempted to have a late lunch in Glendalough, however, all of Ireland was out enjoying the sunshine and the bank holiday weekend so after an attempt at one car park we instead made our way back home to a nice roast lamb dinner instead.
The weather was mostly sunny the whole time in Dublin if a little cool and we even managed to have a long lunch outside on the Monday which was a bank holiday. All of Carolines’sisters,children and their children,cousins and their children joined us so it was a lovely big family party in brilliant sunshine.
We set off for the County Mayo in the west on Tuesday so that Caroline and Barney could show us and our American Cousin where their great grandfather and brother lived and enjoy some of the West Coast’s beautiful scenery.
We left Hitchin in bright sunshine about 1630 on the 23rd of April and travelled down to South Wales to Pembrey Country Park where we stayed for the night. The trip took about 5hours and there were many lovely displays of daffodils along the way.. Apparently the season is about a month late with many trees which should already be covered with green leaves, just now starting to show their buds. By the time we got there it was very foggy and we awoke to light rain and fog the next morning. The caravan manager plugged us however we had a faulty plug and we had no power, air conditioning etc which was a bit of a disappointment for our first camping night! We awoke to thick fog from there to the harbour in Pembroke where we boarded the Isle of Inishmore. We had booked the ferry online it was a very easy and efficient service. They recognized the vehicle and just handed us our ticket which cost 188pounds one way including us and the van. We saw nothing on route except for the fog but it was a very comfortable crossing and there were very few people on board.
On arrival it had cleared up a bit and we drove the 30minutes to Wexford to see our old friend Fritz and Vincent again in the Franciscan Friary. Fritz was in good form and we stayed for three days with Vincent his carer and met up with Barry Ennis, his wife Louise and their two lovely girls. We had met Barry 6 months ago and had kept in touch since then.
They took us to a lovely choral performance with a group called “Vocare” who last performed in Carnegie Hall and St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Their daughter Sarah Kate
also performed with a children’s choir which was lovely.
The next morning we left for Clonmel and it was nice to catch up with Paul and Nell McCarthy and their daughter Aiofe. We had a relaxing few days with them and then headed off on the 30th April for “Foxbrook” and Mary Eivers.
She took us to Trim castle where we had a good tour guide and a nice sunny day. The following day we went to the Hill of Tara which was a place of medieval burial and we had a beautiful view over Trim and the surrounding countryside.
Mary’s 3year old niece Beatrice asked my name and then asked what the name of the boy was? She was referring to Maurice. She then asked what kind of English we spoke. Mary has three dogs that live in the stables and they are great fun. They eagerly (like most dogs) go for a walk and tear around the fields chasing rabbits and birds. We also visited Mary Gibsons brother Larry and his family that evening which was really nice.
The weather was still kind to us with no rain and mostly sunshine.
We arrived in Dubai on the 10th April and Alan our pilot friend came home the next day. We walked and swam every day and visited a couple of malls which is all we really wanted to do. It was nice and relaxing as always and Alan’s house is very quiet and comfortable. We had a couple of nice meals with Alan and met his
lovely daughter Samantha who had not long before landed a good job with Kempinski hotels. She is the only Austrlian out of 400 staff at the hotel.
Alan kindly took us to the airport on the 15th April and we flew Qatar airlines and transfered at Doha.
After the super efficient and modern airport in Dubai, Doha was still using the archaic system of stairs and buses to get to and from the terminal. We had a good flight however and arrived to a sunny but cool London.
We had booked a shuttle from Heathrow to the Victory Services Club for 18pounds each which took us right to the door which was very handy.
The next day we took the tube to Clapham Junction and Fiona (Maurice’s niece) who had very kindly had kept and aired our winter woolies,coats,hats and gloves. Her two little boys Joe and Sam had grown quite considerably since we last saw them in November.
We had a lovely dinner with friends David and Gerry who we had met in India at the Ayurvedic Yoga Villa back in December and we went and had a cocktail in a small bar and then to a nice European type restaurant in Soho called “La Giaconda” which had an
Australian chef. Gerry kindly dropped us back to the Victory Services club close to Marble Arch.
The following day we avoided the crowds for Maggie Thatcher’s funeral and went on the train to Sydenham Hill to visit my mother’s old friend who is over 90 but very much on the ball.
We actually took the train to Sydenham and discovered that we had got on the wrong train line.
We needed Sydenham Hill station so had to then catch a bus and walk up a very steep hill to the nursing home. Everyone however was very helpful and pointed us in the right direction and the
woman bus driver even stopped and chatted to us before we alighted.
In the afternoon we went and found Lukey Williams who works for Graf the diamond merchants in Bond St which is like Fort Knox with two security guards one outside and one in a locked portico inside
the front door.
On Thursday night we caught the tube to Bermonsey and David picked us up and we went for a delicious “dosa” meal in Tooting and then to an old pub nearby for a drink.
On Thursday the 18th April we caught a taxi to Kings Cross station and then a train up to Hitchin to pick up “Van Mauriceson”. It was an exciting day. The staff there were wonderful and made us
very welcome. They invited us to stay for a couple of days while we kitted the van out and got used to it. One of the girls took us to Stevenage and we loaded up with the essentials – sheets, duvet,
pillows etc. We spent the rest of the day unpacking our bags (a good feeling) and finding spots for everything. The van is very compact (read small) but is very well designed and finished beautifully.
The next day we made a list of other things that we needed and bought some of the items from the shop at the caravan park and then went into Letchworth to get the remainder of goods that we decided we couldn’t do without.
After fitting everything in we still had a couple of storage units to which we can eventually add a few more food items.
We set off on the 20th April for Broxbourne to see Barry Canterford who used to work for Autoglym in the UK and was kind enough to let us use his address to send all the essential paperwork needed for the van and various caravan club publications.
We then went to our friends Ruth and Michael Williams who live in a lovely part of the Chilterns. We had wonderful weather on the Saturday with not a cloud in the sky and the next day was lovely too. It would have been perfect if it had been 10degrees warmer! We had a wonderful afternoon tea at the “Compleat Angler” in Marlow on the river. The following day was spent at Halfords and TK Max getting more things we had forgotten and wanted for the van and then we were back on the Tuesday to Hitchin to pick up our Satellite dish for the TV. We thought that we had by then covered most essential items and a few indulgent items like the whole hazelnut German chocolate from Aldi that I remembered from years ago!
Our taxi driver arrived on time to take us the 3 hours back to Chennai. We got a little way down the road when he had a puncture so I took the opportunity and went into Baker Street to get us a couple of rolls for lunch.
By the time I got back to the car there was a bit of confusion and we were put in another car. Apparently the chap that first picked us up was not from the company to whom we paid our deposit but must have seen the bags waiting and decided he had a fare. He just happened to lob up at the time we were to depart.
We had a good flight on Spice Jet taking off early and it was only an hours flight from Chennai to Calicut where we landed early. We wondered when the pilot was going to put the wheels down as we saw quite a lot of runway before we did land and then we were thrown forward rather violently as he went to slow down. He raced across the tarmac and must have had an appointment because it was the quickest deplaning we had ever had. As soon as the aircraft stopped the door was opened and 30seconds later we left the plane. We also had our bags within minutes.
We had told the Yoga place that we were coming from Chennai and waited outside the domestic terminal and when no one showed up after about 20minutes I decided to walk down to the international arrivals and met our driver who had been waiting there!
It was a long 3 1/2 hour trip up to Udayagiri but the views were beautiful once we started climbing up into the mountains.
We were welcomed like long lost friends by the staff who remembered us from November.
There were only 3 other guests there at the time. One guy from Luxembourg who we guessed had worked with some kind of security force as he had been in remote parts of pakistan and
serbia just after the war and when I asked what work he did he changed the subject. There were also two women who lived in Austria who were Polish.
Least said about them the better especially as they continued to speak to each other in Polish even at the dinner table. One a real nut case who was a psychologist and had some strange views on life in general. We could however avoid them most of the time and they only wanted to speak Polish even when we were at the table.
We started our treatments the next day with massages and yoga twice a day and an hour’s walk twice a day. All the staff here are very caring and can’t do enough to make you feel welcome and comfortable.
The monkeys are occasional visitors to the villas but they are not agressive like the ones in Bali.
They just tear up and down the trees and in the coffee plantations surrounding the villas.
The many jackfruit on the trees are getting larger but won’t be
ripe for another couple of months. The staff told us that the elephants can smell them from up to 2kms away and they come and shake the tree until the jackfruit fall off. They then stand on them to break the tough outside skin and eat the fruit piece by piece.
The coffee trees when we arrived were all in flower and covered with fragrant white flowers.
The night Jasmine is also in flower and the white flowers of another tree smell faintly of vanilla.
Since we were here in November they have completed two extra villas now a total of seven and a new treatment room for massage etc. They have also finished a section of road with asphalt but
there is still quite a lot to do right up to the villas. It makes for a very bumpy ride.
The girls that do the massage were throwing rocks at a tree near us to try and get some mangoes which they succeeded in doing. They are not ripe here for another month but they eat them with salt while they are still hard.
In the evening three hours before dinner we are served either fresh coconut juice, papaya juice or fresh mango juice which is just delicious.
We don’t stay up late as we are fairly tired from an hour of walking down and up the mountain twice a day and an hour of yoga at 6.45am and 5pm. It is hot at this time of year here but it
does cool down a bit at night but no jumpers needed.
We read in the newspaper here that there is a bleak future for thousands of natives of Kerala and other Indian states who have been working (some for many years) in Saudi Arabia. A public outcry in Saudi has caused the government to change the laws regarding foreign workers. A business which previously had to employ one Saudi worker for each ten foreign workers now has to employ one Saudi for one foreign worker. The foreign workers earn less and have to work up to 15hours a day whereas the Saudis only have to work an 8hour day and are paid substantially more. Apparently a lot of Indians have already left with no other option as it would not be viable to operate some businesses. A Painting Contractor who has worked there for 9years has gone back to Kerala with perhaps no prospect of work there.
We went to an Easter mass to see what it was like here in Kerala on Saturday night. We were picked up at 10.15pm driven the 3 kilometres to the church and the mass went from 10.45pm to 1am. It was the latin rite so it was a very long mass but it was interesting to watch and experience even though it was in Malayalam
the local language. The priest welcomed the four of us at the beginning and end of the service which was very sweet of him. Afterwards we were given sweetened black tea to drink outside with the rest of the congregation. Our knees felt a bit worse for wear as we had to sit and kneel on a very coarse sisal mat and get up and down many times. The locals made plenty of space around us – I think they were afraid of being knocked over as we got up and down.
The 1st April (the day we started our adventure last year) brought a group of visitors from the Ayurveda villa to Udayagiri to see the property and to do a special dynamic yoga session which Maurice and I also attended. We then all had dinner together which was a nice change from just the two Polish women. The two Russians, two Indians who lived in England, a Latvian and a New Zealander were all very pleasant and we chatted for a couple of hours. They were then taken on a night safari to see if they could see elephant or tiger and then back to the Ayurveda villa.
The next day two new guests arrived – Karen from England and Stefanie from Boston. They were lovely and we could at last have some normal conversation. The two Polish women left the next day and we felt better because then the doctor and the manager told us that they were both crazy.
Maurice continued with his massages and treatments for arthritis control and me with weight control. We are both enjoying the yoga twice a day with a great yoga instructor Naveem.
We were told that a rogue elephant had killed a man down on the plain last week. He his wife, mother in law and neighbour were collecting firewood when they were attacked. The other three were
seriously injured. The elephant then proceeded to ram a small car but luckily the driver escaped unhurt. We were advised not to walk outside the property at night (not that we wanted to) as there have also been tiger sightings in the area. The property itself is cordoned off with flimsy shadecloth but apart from the odd monkey or lovely large squirrel who put on a wonderful performance
for us flying from tree to tree, we haven’t seen any other wildlife nearby.
Yesterday we went in the evening to a temple festival which was interesting. We did see a female elephant by the side of the road on the way there.
The festival went for 3days and you could hear the drums and music from the plain below very clearly. It went all night with a few breaks in between. There is a temple higher up the mountain and there was a long procession which took a couple of hours to reach the celebrations on the plain. We were also going to walk with them but thank goodness opted for the 4wd instead. Ajith the owner had flown in from Finland during the day and it was nice to see him and have a chat.
There were two men dressed as deities who danced around the temple and then sat and listened to the problems of the village people and gave them advice.
There were some stalls selling Indian sweets other stalls selling bangles and plastic toys. Most of the staff came with us and gave us explanations of what was going on. The locals paid us as much interest and we had a lot of small children who wanted to know our names and from where we came. One ten year old stuck to me all night and he spoke quite good English. I gave him one of those clip on koala bears with Australia written on it’s jacket. He didn’t want to take it at first but then decided to take it after all. Some of the adults just wanted to come up and shake our hands and also asked us for our “good names”. A lot of the English spoken by the Indians is quite old fashioned and quaint but then reading the paper they call the police “cops” which does
We are in an area here called Tholpetty and the owner of the neighbouring coffee and pepper plantation came to look at Udayagiri one night. You have to have permission to walk on his land so we asked if we could go for a walk the next morning to see his house and land.
He agreed so Karen and I went for our morning walk (Maurice had treatment)up the hill to the house. It had been built and owned by an Englishman who died around the 60′s and was buried
next to his dog on the property. Shamil’s wife’S family now owns the plantation but the house has remained and is reminiscent of an old colonial house with remnants of animal skulls with antlers on
the wall. We had a nice chat with Shamil who told us of the difficulty of running the plantation (he lives in Chennai normally)with a manager in charge and workers who in the main are illiterate and do not have bank accounts,spend all their money on alcohol and finish work early. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the states that also have the greatest number of protests and strikes and he told us that he had been twice excluded from entering his own property.
His property will become a buffer zone for the local wildlife and for this he has to make a few changes like painting buildings green to blend in with the forest. He also plans to cut down the jackfruit trees on his land to stop the elephants from trampling his coffee trees.
I had to miss a day’s yoga sessions and I found I really missed them. We both feel so much more balanced (bodywise) and flexible. In the evening the rooster from across the road starts up
as soon as we commence yoga and the goats are let out to feed and they start bleating.
On the 6th April a couple we met Hamid and Rosmin from Birmingham and a New Zealand girl Lucy joined Karen and ourselves for our last few days
We enjoyed the company and we had a fire outside on our last night
which made for a nice atmosphere even though it was a bit warm for one. We had a lovely farewell from everyone on our last day and started our 3+hour trip down the mountain to Calicut where we spent the night before our flight to Dubai.
We arrived in Pondicherry on 22nd March by taxi which was a 3hour trip from Chennai.
The taxi eventually found it’s way to the Gratitude Heritage hotel in the French or so called “white” quarter which is located behind the sea front. We were greeted by the lovely Anyu who is French. The hotel was an old family home which has been beautifully restored to it’s original charm with 4 poster beds and long corridors and balconies. There is a communal dining room where we ate breakfast in the morning and the whole atmosphere is a very lovely and tranquil one. The rooftop terrace is large and you can catch glimpses of the sea.
There are a lot of restored heritage buildings and beautiful bouganvillea everywhere.
Some of the film (a building and the botanical gardens) were used in the film “Life of Pi”.
We wandered along the coastal promenade along with hundreds of locals enjoying the evening breeze. The hottest time in Pondicherry is apparently in May.
It is between 32-35 degrees during the day but not very humid and the breeze at night cools the place down.
We went to the “Palais de Mahe” hotel for dinner. It was previously a bank but was now a lovely hotel complete with pool which has only been opened for 3months. It was lovely sitting upstairs with the sea breeze blowing while we ate a delicious Indian meal.
We had breakfast the next morning in the dining room with another couple (Italian – Paolo and Virginia) and Anyu with whom we had a nice talk. She offered to take us to Auroville in the afternoon which was really nice of her. In the morning we explored some of the streets past the canal which is the Tamil side of Pondicherry and found a lovely young couple (he Kashmiri and she French) who sold us some lovely Kashmiri scarves. We went on to “Fab India” one of our favourite shops in India which sells all handloomed products as well as furniture, fabrics, jewellery and homewares.
I had managed to pick up a cold in Bali so was not feeling great. We stopped at the “Maison Colombani” on the sea front for a coffee and then went back to the hotel for a rest during the hottest part of the day.
The French left here in 1954 and were here for over 300years.
We were recommended to go to “Baker Street”complete with a picture of Sherlock Holmes which is apparently the best French bakery in town. It is over the canal in the Tamil quarter. Ponicherry is very delineated by a canal which runs the length of the town. On the side closest to the ocean is the French quarter and on the other side the Tamil quarter. There is a big distinction between the two with the French side much neater and reconstructed although they are doing major road works with laying of new pipes in the Tamil area.
Auroville is 20minutes drive from Pondicherry and is an amazing place. Anyu took us the back way via large coconut groves on a very red dirt road and a lot of the roads in Auroville are dirt roads. Auroville covers thousands of acres and is very spread out. You could imagine you were in the middle of the Australian bush. Most of the buildings are well hidden.
Anyu took us to the visitors centre which is state of the art with the most beautiful boutiques with everything you could imagine. The local artists Indian and expats craft lovely wares and clothes.
Auroville is a fascinating place and the concept was created by Sri Aurobindo an Indian and Mother a French woman who ran an Ashram in the area and wanted to create a non denominational city. The centre of the town is “Mandrimandir” an amazing gold domed structure situated in a lovely garden area which is used for meditation and contemplation.
We walked back to the shops and bought a few items before getting an Autorickshaw back to Pondicherry.
We went in the evening back to Maison Colombina where a festival called “Bonjour India” was taking place. It is held every year in Pondicherry and includes photographic exhibitions, writers evenings,
concerts and films in French and in various Indian languages. We went
to the Alliance Francaise building and to their auditorium to see the
Malayalam film “Alexander the Great” which did have English subtitles. It was a simplistic film based on the story of “Rain Man” but was quite entertaining. We then headed along the Promenade to the “Promenade Hotel” which had a special festival menu. There were food stations doing various Indian Specialties as well as an enormous buffet with Western and Indian food for about $20 a head.
I finally got to try “Bel Pouri” a mixture of raw vegetables and sauces mixed together and “Bel Pouri” little crispy pockets with vegetable fillings. These are a specialty in Mumbai with many stands at the beach but I was not game to try it there.
I also had a vegetable samosa which they proceeded to squash onto the plate and add various sauces and vegetables to it which was delicious. We are both very addicted to Indian food, south and north, non veg and veg. alike. It is all so tasty.
We walked the next day up and down the streets of the French area
where there were some cute boutiques and shops. A film crew was using the main park to film a rap dance sequence and that was fun to watch for a while.
The Autorickshaws or “Auto Wallas” and their drivers are amazing. They sound like sewing machines and they can turn on a postage stamp. The drivers are very adept at dodging traffic and we felt very safe in them. Some of them have very funny sounding hooters which they blow every time they come to a cross street. There are no traffic lights.
We found a lovely restored house and courtyard called “La Maison Rose” where we had a delicious French dinner. I had a very nice “cheese plateau”! The only drawback when asking for drinks or coffee is to have to remember to say “no sugar” otherwise everything is too sweet for us. Our favourite drink was lime/soda with fresh lime juice and very refreshing.
Some of our last day in Pondicherry was spent at “the mother’s parcel service” where we had an entertaining time watching the owner and worker prepare our parcel to Australia and Ireland being wrapped, first in thin cardboard and then in calico which was duly sewn up expertly by a worker.
We walked along and found old man to whom we asked directions. He walked along with us and put a hand on both our shoulders. He was very gentle and sweet and gave us directions for the “Hand made paper factory”. which was a very large establishment where they turn out wonderful stationary and other items from hand made paper earrings to papier mache vases. Everything was extremely cheap so we purchased a few items and they were at least light in weight.
We visited the giftshop at “Hotel de L’orient” and bought another couple of beautiful items and decided to come back for dinner in the courtyard. This time it was another delicous Indian meal. The hotel had a lot of before and after photos of the hotel and they have done a beautiful job of restoration from an absolute ruin with trees growing in and around the structure.
We were sad to leave Pondicherry the next day but will definately come back to the city. By Indian standards it is very small with only a million people living there.
We had a good flight on Malaysian Airlines from Denpasar
to Kuala Lumpur (2 1/2hours) and stayed at a very convenient hotel 5minutes from their lovely new airport. We left again early the next morning and had a coffee at “Harrods” at the airport before flying on to Chennai (a 3 1/2hour flight). We were collected by a lovely man from the hotel complete with cap and white gloves who kept on calling us “Sir” and “Ma’am”. He told us that in Tamil Nadu they have outlawed window tinting as there were too many murders!
There was a student demonstration for we don’t know what but which was holding up the traffic and the driver told us that the traffic was “slightly moving” so it took us a long time to get to our hotel the “GRT Grand”. Again a lovely hotel with excellent staff.
We took a tuk tuk to “Express Avenue” Chennai’s newest mall of which they are very proud. We found a good little Olympus camera with worldwide warranty for a fraction of the price we would pay at home.
I have only been using my mobile phone for the last few years but have decided that I would like to be able to use a good zoom function. It even takes 3D photos which you can view with 3D glasses that they supply with the camera. What will they think of next!
We ate at the hotel’s “Copper Pot” restaurant which was superb, delicious food and great service. We both felt as though we had a bit of a cold so took it easy and had a good sleep. In the morning I lashed out and had a wonderful “Masala Dosa” for breakfast. I’m addicted to Indian food.
Chennai is very different from the very populous cities of Delhi and Mumbai in the north. It has many more low rise buildings and seems very spread out. The beach area has a very broad sandy area with very poor people living along it’s road and on the beach. Fish seems plentiful and we passed many fish markets which exuded a very strong odour from our open tuk tuk. There are some tuk tuks on LPG gas but many also that are not which makes long journeys in them a bit uncomfortable. We visited the interesting Kapaleeshwar temple and then the San Thom basilica – one of only three in the world that have the remains of one of the disciples. This one being St Thomas who lived her in 52AD. The only other two are St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St James in Campostelo de Santiago.
We walked a fair distance and were asked a few times where we came from and the answer seemed to please the people who all welcomed us to India. We waited at a large intersection with a flashing little red man sign opposite. I asked the policeman standing next to me if the light ever went green to which he replied ” I am the traffic manager” and he proceeded to show me the switch in his hand which he pressed to turn the light green. “Come along” he said, so we did and crossed by the green light!
I found a taxi company online to take us to Pondicherry, a 2hr 30minute taxi ride away.
We departed the next morning the 20th March about 10am and there was not a lot to see along the way. A few low hills and small settlements and a lot of arid land. It reminded us a bit of the north west of Western Australia.
We arrived on the 10th March and met up with Des, Mary and Pauline.
Helen arrived a little later and we had a nice dinner and catch up.
The next day Terri, Sarah and Bubbles arrived and Maurice and I went off to the airport (the day before Nyepi – the Balinese day of silence) to pick up Robert and Gay from Sydney.
The Balinese create large effigys of evil spirits out of paper mache and some of styrofoam. After prayers these are paraded around the individual villages and then burnt or destroyed to be rid of the evil spirits. We all went down to the closest village Senkidu to watch the procedings before going back to Joglo restaurant for dinner.
Nyepi the following day was a very quiet one with no one including tourists allowed on the streets. The Balinese have guards patrolling the streets to make sure no one breaks the rule. After
6pm all the lights are turned off and it was quite eerie but nice
to be sitting by the sea in the dark. We all sat around and had a few drinks and then were back in our rooms about 8.30pm.
We all had a lovely week shopping,visiting the various restaurants in Candi Dasa, going to the “white” beach by boat 20minutes away or visiting a few of the water palaces and Amed to have lunch overlooking the bay below.
Pondok Bambu where we stayed is a very relaxing place right on the ocean and there is usually a lovely sea breeze and lovely sunsets to enjoy.
We are sad to be leaving this lovely spot tomorrow. We will fly to Kuala Lumpur for the night and then on to Chennai and Pondicherry for a week before going back to Udayagiri in Kerala for two weeks.