The Catlins, New Zealand

Day 8

We were up early to hit the road…rain was in the forecast.

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Our first stop was Nugget Point Lighthouse….A 1.5 hour drive from Dunedin. BRRRRRRR it was COLD!

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Even the bathrooms were cold!

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And it was RAINING…and then raining harder. We almost said we can’t do this. It was also windy. We got out of the car and ran to shelter under a tree as the rain pelted everyone.

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At one point as we hid under the tree we discussed if we should scrap it. But were we really going to turn around?! Plus, we realized by this time that our rain jackets weren’t water proof.  I don’t know how anything can be when you are pelted with that much rain. It isn’t so much of an issue in Malaysia. It is more annoying; you are soaking wet but not freezing cold at the same time! Not the case here at Nugget Point Lighthouse. The wind was just the added kicker – cold and freezing. But having lived around all this British colonial culture:  we just got on with it and walked. My only issue was that the trail had a straight drop down to the rocks and ocean….and with it being a tad windy I was a tad nervous….

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But we kept the girls closer to the mountain side and walked ever so carefully staying as close to the mountain as we could…..

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And we made it!!!! This is summer weather?!

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That 900 meters felt like forever!

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As you can see, once you get past the mountain they have a fence to contain you from both sides. It’s pretty windy and I can see how you could fall….so we were thankful for that.

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The rain abated….and we were ever so thankful we didn’t turn back! When in NZ you must hike.

Our next stop: The Wheelchair hike – Purakaunui Falls (20 minute return). D called it this because there was wheelchair access at the top for viewing. The hikes are graded so you can see how long it will take and the difficulty level. We love NZ for this feature.

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It was raining but a bit lighter and I’ll be honest, this was a WALK not a hike. However, ‘A’ proceeded to jump a few steps and fell forward on her hands…

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We always get the real story after the fact….with coercion of course…

The coverage gave us some reprieve from the rain…and it was so so beautiful!

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Green mossy leaves and ferns….

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I was waiting for little forest nymphs to jump out and greet us. They didn’t unfortunately….we must have scared them away.

As we were driving we came across The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai. I guess I missed that section of the travel book and trip advisor….because it appears to be a thing to go see.

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A free art gallery of crazy wind ups and recycled stuff used to make crazy amazing moving items.

The stuffed animal foosball table was a hit:

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Blair Sommerville is the inventor/artist that created all these crazy contraptions….

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D’s favorite was this:

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‘A’ just goes up to the button and without even thinking just presses it. Water comes squirting out of it and sprays her. It was hilarious and rather disturbing that she showed such little impulse control. 😉

The inside of the bus was fantastic. I am still kicking myself that we didn’t give Blair a ringitt to put up inside the bus 😦

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This place is a hoarders dream come true!

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We learned that New Zealand had proposed changing its flag and there were several options to vote on. I need to be honest, NZ really is the step child of Oz. I get confused between their flag and Australia’s. No hate OZ but seriously, NZ needs some of its own identity reflected on its OWN flag. The contenders had ferns as they should.  But from last I heard the whole idea would be scrapped. In reality, the cost to change the flag would be paramount….but at the time it was an exciting prospect.

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We stayed for a bit and had a coffee in their cafe…and I paid 5NZD to see his bigger museum of pulleys etc. No children allowed…

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We bid goodbye to The Lost Gypsy Gallery and headed to our next hike. Stopped at a beautiful beach on the way….

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McLean Falls! The rain was gone and it was perfect weather for a 40 minute hike to the falls.

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An hour later we were in Invercargill! Checked in to our homey little motel. It reminded me of a little house a grandmother should live in. Roomy but chilly, we cranked the HEAT. Then it was out to Buster Crabb for a lovely meal….Dave got a filet. The funny story behind that was after our veggie meal in Christchurch he spent the next day saying: “I could totally be a vegetarian….oh look they have filet mignon on the menu! I’ll order that” His plans to be vegetarian were short lived.

I had scallops on a saffron risotto and of course shared some green lipped mussels.

To think that D was worried we wouldn’t be able to hike and we did all THREE!

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After dinner, bedtime and then it was up early (4 degrees Celsius!) and on to Te Anau (2 hour drive) and Doubtful Sound….

Until our next adventure when we see all the beautiful sounds in NZ!

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A bit more Dunedin, Allan’s Beach and The Otago Peninsula….

The rest of day 6 (after our first day hike) and day 7 consisted of exploring within the city and on the outer edges of Dunedin….

After our #firstdayhike we headed back in to Dunedin and visited the Otago Settlers Museum.

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The museum is a short walk from the Railway Station. The touch of blue is lovely.

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If you haven’t gathered from my past posts, Dunedin is ‘all things Scottish’ and it isn’t crap (I couldn’t resist that one)….Why is that? Because most settlers were Scottish. Another interesting tidbit, these settlers married Maori woman when arriving in NZ.

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If it’s not Scottish it’s crap!

We got to try on some cool clothes from back in the day….

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My morbid extremely curious older child learned all about lack of anesthesia in the mid 1800’s and the saws used to amputate limbs and other medical devices used at the time….she was rather obsessed with this information. If you know her….this is no surprise. If you know ME, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

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We learned about the personal stories of the Kiwi’s with Maori heritage….they had really wonderful interviews to listen to.

We saw the tiny quarters of the ships and how little emigres could bring with them, one small box!

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Did you know that 1,900 men from Otago were killed in Gallipoli (WWI). I should shine a light on this as it is ANZAC Day as I write. For Americans reading this who are unfamiliar – think of Gallipoli as Australia/NZ’s Normandy (but longer and more tragic – not that Normandy wasn’t…). It is crazy to think that it was over 100 years ago….and the campaign lasted for eight months, starting on April 25th 1915 – thus the reason that Anzac Day is celebrated on April 25th. The one of many things I have taken away from this expat experience – how little I knew about who fought in the world wars all over the world. Many many Australians and Kiwis fought in WWI, WWII and Vietnam just to name a few. In fact, the Japanese POW camps had many more Australians than I was aware of ….just to give you a bit of perspective.

We learned all about the drugs that were legal at the time! Chloroform, morphine, and extracts of Cannabis!!

We loved seeing the huge wheeled high bicycles called penny-farthing, developed in the 1870s in England.

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This is the most terrifying photo….but at least we have one on the bike!

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We touched the ‘green stone boulder’ or pounamu. “It’s good to touch and rub the stone to help maintain its vital energy.” I don’t completely understand what that means but we did it….thus helping it maintain its vital energy!

The Settler’s Museum was great and it was FREE!!! Go! We could have spent even more time there and it is super kid friendly. We ended day 6 with a tapas meal at The Bund. Pork belly sliders, beef sliders with chimichurri sauce – think Asian infused tapas. I did not get any great photos of the food but I did get a photo of my beer and it reminded me of Wellington.

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Day 7 was our last full day in and around Dunedin….It started with what we like to call ‘The Perc Debacle’. The Perc Cafe was HIGHLY recommended….and we got there at a busy time but were seated quickly! yay! The girls got frothy milk, I got a long black, Dave got a flat white….it was perfect. I ordered Avo(cado) smash with eggs and smoked salmon (that’s the big thing in OZ and probably in the US now for all I know). The girls ordered nutella toast and banana bread with marscapone. Are you getting excited?!  We were too….

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And then this rather entitled family comes in – you know the types….just overly indulged children, clothes that reek of where they bought them and how much they cost. The usual suspects…and we WAIT AND WAIT AND WAIT some more….the entitled family gets their food and we think they have accidentally got our order? Oh no….THEY NEVER PUT OUR ORDER IN! 45 minutes we waited like fools…and the staff were like ‘sorry, have a free muffin’.  It was pretty lame and there was no way we were going to stay in the restaurant for another hour….so we stormed out and headed to the farmer’s market.

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Fresh crepes, raw honey, fresh fruit and vegetables….amazing Lebanese food for take away. It was the corrective emotional experience that we all needed after that frustration. It was such a great memory and I bought two large containers of raw honey that are almost gone at the time of this writing. Sometimes you have to look for that silver lining – it is usually there if you look hard enough…

Then it was off to walk through downtown…and peek in the shops. That is where we met Lois….Lois spins and hand dyes NZ wool. She knits amazing scarves and sells amazing yarn. But the best part of Lois? She lived in Singapore in the 1960’s right after it split from Malaysia. She lived in Kuantan in Malaysia! She even lived in Sri Lanka during their civil war! We talked politics and all things Asia. She was a fantastic lady! I hope I am as amazing, energetic and engaging when I get to be her age. I love the people we’ve met and chatted with on our adventures. It’s the very best part of exploring!

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Then we were heading out of Dunedin and to the Otago Peninsula – a forty minute drive – we stopped a bit –

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at Larnach Castle (not worth the money so we skipped it), and then headed to Taiaroa head at Harrington Point to see the Royal Albatross Center. It was pretty windy so we didn’t head to the lighthouse but we did learn about the research going on and how some are endangered.

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Then a stop at Allan’s Beach…

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They weren’t kidding….as we walked on to the sand we see a sea lion right in front of us….

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He’s right there….I about had a heart attack.

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We kept our distance….and we were fine. They can’t move that fast! Trust me I saw one and recorded it. After about 15 steps he just falls flat on his stomach for a rest.

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The beach was beautiful. The water was frigidly cold. We did have a mission for this beach. It was Grammy’s birthday and we planned to wish her a HBD all the way from NZ!

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We saw a penguin hiding inside…can you see him?

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It was a such a great day. I don’t know how you can have a bad when you are traveling in NZ….

Until our next adventure in the Catlins- as we make our way to Invercargill….

First Day Hike, 2016! Tunnel Beach Hike New Zealand

Day 6 of our NZ adventure. 2016! D dreamed of a FIRST DAY HIKE #firstdayhike at Tunnel Beach…with all the hashtags in Instagram and everything….The great thing about being 5 hours ahead living in KL, we weren’t feeling the jet lag so bad and could get up and head out for some hiking.

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The hike down was steep downhill with gravel. It was sunny and breezy.

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The landscape reminded us of Twelve Apostles in Oz.

See the rock below? There were tons of people on the edge. Needless to say, we didn’t venture out there….

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Then down through a tunnel (thus the name of the hike) to the beach below….

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Here’s the view from below of that cliff I was mentioning before.

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and up through the tunnel to make our way back….

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The fog started rolling in….but D did make a pitstop at the cliff….before it got too thick. We chatted with an American woman from Missouri who was there with a college group. It was fun to chat with a fellow American.

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There he is!

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There’s the tunnel again….

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We then made the trek UP the hill back to the car. It was a definite undertaking…and even if my back hurt – it was all worth it!

Best New Year Day EVER!!!

Until our next adventure……

 

Moeraki Boulders, Dunedin and NYE Kiwi Style

What’s that saying? strike while the iron is hot? Yes, that is what I am doing….and I am just going to keep writing…

Sooooooo…..

Thursday December 31, 2015 we left Christchurch at 8 am after breakfast. I had hurt my back on the airplane and had been in pain for the first few days of the trip. Nothing like a good CRY on New Year’s Eve…That’s what it says in my journal and I do remember it. Needless to say, I should have never contorted my body like I did for 10 hours….lesson learned.

The drive from CC to Dunedin takes about 4 hours and 40 minutes. 1.5 hours in we stopped at an i-SITE to ask some questions and stretch our legs. We also stopped in a Kathmandu (think REI if you are American, if you are an Aussie you’ll know what I am talking about).  Big sale! so we did a bit of shopping. One thing about this trip – the dollar was stronger so it went much further than last trip.

We headed down the Otago coast and an hour outside of Dunedin (pronounced Done-EE-din) not DONE-A-Din like we thought, thanks to the Kiwi in my building who corrected me! hahaha Ok, back to the sentence: we stopped an hour outside of Dunedin at Moeraki Boulders. The boulders are septarian concretions eroding from the inside of cliffs. As they erode the boulders inside fall out.

I’m not a Geologist and I didn’t particularly love Geology when I took it in college (I’m sorry but I didn’t! maybe it was my teacher or my immature self but I never did)…Not that I don’t love to look at rocks and all. I do! I just get overwhelmed with all the info….all the extra added info makes my head hurt.  Wikipedia does a better job explaining:

The Moeraki Boulders are concretions created by the cementation of the Paleocene mudstone of the Moeraki Formation, from which they have been exhumed by coastal erosion. The main body of the boulders started forming in what was then marine mud, near the surface of the Paleocene sea floor. This is demonstrated by studies of their composition; specifically the magnesium and iron content, and stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon. Their spherical shape indicates that the source of calcium was mass diffusion, as opposed to fluid flow. The larger boulders, 2 metres (6.6 ft) in diameter, are estimated to have taken 4 to 5.5 million years to grow while 10 to 50 metres (33 to 164 ft) of marine mud accumulated on the seafloor above them. After the concretions formed, large cracks known as septaria formed in them. Brown calcite, yellow calcite, and small amounts of dolomite and quartz progressively filled these cracks when a drop in sea level allowed fresh groundwater to flow through the mudstone enclosing them.

I may not explain it as eloquently but I did loooove seeing them!  There were 10+ on the beach. We took the ramp and paid the 2NZD for beach access (you can do it a cheaper way but this was the path of least resistance).

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If you aren’t in this part of the world there are these types of boulders in the UK and in Mendocino California.

The sun was shining and after we maneuvered trying to get photos with every other tourist with the same idea we headed in to Dunedin….

The weather was FANTASTIC! We checked in to Quest Dunedin,  a short walk from the Octagon. We had a roomy two bedroom apartment AND a parking spot. Reception was very friendly and gave us some restaurant and New Year Eve recommendations.

We made our way in to town…and saw the poster below:

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If you are not aware. Ian Fraser Kilmister affectionately known as Lemmy passed away during our time in NZ – on December 28th. The frontman for the band Motorhead. I always had a soft spot for him so seeing this poster of him in his younger days deserved a photo.

We ate at The Terrace – smack dab in the Octagon. It was nothing amazing but we enjoyed the sunshine and some Speight beer (watery beer, not a fan but the whole experience was lovely)….

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You can see the Dunedin Railway Station ( built in 1906) peaking out at the end of the street.

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This restaurant made us smile….but we did NOT get Malaysian food while in NZ. It was western food all the way.

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We stopped by the grocery store next door to our apartment to buy provisions. It was that mad dash for everyone to buy before everything closed for the night.

I’ve never seen this brand of marshmallows in the US but it appears they are a ‘True American Tradition’….I am curious where this tradition exists? I mean yes, marshmallows are but not the Rocky Mountain variety – possibly in the Rocky Mountains?

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With memories from our last visit to NZ – we had to pick up another package of pineapple lumps…chocolate covered pineapple chewy candies. When in NZ, buy some, they are tasty and fun.

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We headed back to our apartment and planned for our big New Year’s Eve night! First off: sparkling grape juice and wine (depending on the family member).

We broke out the bubbly and completed our ‘hopes and dreams’ list for 2016. Thanks to my friend Helen, this is the second year of this tradition…

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D hates this photo. I thought it was hilarious. breaking out the bubbly! 🙂

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Our hopes and dreams...reviewing last year and going over this years list.

Our hopes and dreams…reviewing last year and going over this year’s list.

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What was on our list?

  • ‘A’ wants to learn to cook
  • ‘S’ wants the love (remember this is open ended – if that is what she wants, so be it.)
  • We all decided we want to play Mahjong as a family.
  • I have a reading goal for the year (because I am a dork).
  • We all want to be back in the US for NYE 2016 so we made goals for if we are in the US and if we are not (we love contingency plans).

We headed out to the Dunedin NYE festivities….they were held in the Octagon. Now, I was VERY VERY afraid of a NYE outside with other people. Have you seen TIME SQUARE? VEGAS? I experienced Vegas for NYE once. ONCE. never again. No thank you.

However, the receptionist at the hotel assured me it was family friendly.  It was! No alcohol allowed on the Octagon. All of the bars around the Octagon were cordoned off…they had live music, hot cocoa, hot coffee and bad for you food for sale (deep fried everything). It was family friendly!!  In fact, the girls spent the entire night playing with all the kids on the lawn while the band played….and we purchased these bizarre blow up thingies from the carnies….they were in heaven.

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Dunedin has a huge Scottish population. We were not surprised to see a Burns statue.

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Dunedin Town Hall

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St. Paul’s Cathedral

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New Year’s Eve is usually a quiet and reflective time for our family. This was the first New year’s eve we ever spent at a destination. What a treat to hear the canons, the bagpipes (they didn’t play Auld Lang Syne) and fireworks.  Earliest New Year on the planet!

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Until our next adventure…..in the southern hemisphere!

Banks Peninsula

During our time in Christ Church we took a day trip to Banks Peninsula.  State highway 75 right to Akaroa. We made a stop along the way for a short walk at Kaituna Valley Scenic Reserve. See below:

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We found berries from the Titoki or New Zealand Ash.  The Maori steamed them and squeezed the oil from them to make perfume and medicine.

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We headed in for our very short hike….I found this ‘walk’, that’s a better term, to be the antithesis of what we’d experience later in the day. Just you wait! Always an adventure with our clan.

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After our very very short walk we swung (that’s a verb right? correctly conjugated?) on the swing for a bit…

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We had to snap a photo of the sweet little church on our way out….

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Then it was time for us to continue on our journey to Akaroa Bay. On the way we made a stop at Barry’s Bay Cheese Company for what else? CHEESE. I even found a cute little knife set to ‘cut the cheese’ with…my family is so so provincial.  Back at a shop in CC I asked if one of the knives I was looking at could ‘cut the cheese’. My family really laughed about that for a long long time (too long, ok?)  The joke had extended play during our trip and beyond…. I’m just keepin’ it real people and keeping the memory alive!  We are a classy lot.

Back to the cheese: We purchased gouda for the girls, salami and  paprika havarti, all were great. I do suggest if you are doing a road trip through NZ to bring an insulated bag. We were so thankful that the store had ice packs already frozen. We threw them in and were able to keep our cheese safe all day until we could get back to our place and throw it in the fridge. It also makes transporting perishable items from city to city a possibility.

This memory….I just love it. I remember vividly the first glimpse of below….

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Right when we came over the mountain and saw the blue water. We had to stop and snap a photo. It took my breath away. Oh man, NZ I just can’t quit you!

We made our way through the mountains in to Akoroa bay and harbor…..

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Walked around a bit and snapped some photos….

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The Glorious Dead – a World War II war memorial.

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What better to eat but Fish n Chips. I was in no way a part of the decision to eat at this place….it was all D’s idea. Akaroa Fish & Chips. Huge portions (as you can tell) and extremely greasy (as you can see)….when everyone in line is from the cruise ship (and there was a line, let me tell you!) best to find another spot. We were committed though and ate our greasy goodness of battered hot dogs for the girls and Fish and chips for us. We washed it down with a lemony L & P! The fat content was increasing while the nutritional content was descending….

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The ‘corn balls’ were actually corn deep fried! I had no idea what they’d be so I thought what the hey and ordered them. Very tasty in a “I now need Lipitor in an IV after this meal’ sort of way.

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Yes, I am griping about the greasy food but there was a serendipitous piece to our restaurant choice…..

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The vending machine had a One Direction tin! D bought it for me…because he loves me…He knows me so well….. Now if I could only remember their name – ONE direction not NEW direction. Harry forever!! (or maybe Nial? hahahaha). I know you are jealous!

We walked around a bit more….

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And on our way out we stopped in one of New Zealand’s tourist information centers:        i-SITE.  They are fantastic and ever so helpful….MOST of the time. We asked about a hike we were thinking of taking and if it would be ok with our children. “Oh yes! it will be perfect’ The woman did see the size of our children. So off we headed on the scenic reserve to Otepatotu Laverick’s Peak Track.

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An hour return….1.5 KM

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Was it hard? It was harder than I had expected….the main thing is that it was steep and there were parts that I worried about because I didn’t expect it to be so difficult. Once we started up I didn’t feel comfortable for the kids to turn around and hike back down. The footing just didn’t seem stable enough and I worried they’d fall…..and I’d fall too. So we kept going…and going….AND GOING, 750M vertical RISE.  Oh and the best part? Because the i-SITE guide said it was an easy hike I wore my TEVAS. BAD IDEA (OMG I am having flashbacks of cathedral cove). Had I worn my tennis shoes (trainers)  I’d have felt much more confident and less fearful I’d slip. BUT WHATEVER….we didn’t quit (and even D was suggesting we turn around). NO WAY WAS I QUITTING.

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We could see the pacific ocean from the other side!

We could see the pacific ocean from the other side!

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The last picture made up for it all! Views of the Banks Peninsula below us…and the weather was so perfect. We had sunshine and cool breezes. It was perfect weather for a hike.  We made it down unscathed and for the remainder of the trip I never wore my Tevas for hike again…..lesson learned.

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If you squint…in the upper right portion of the photo you can see the windmill. It gives you an idea of how far up we climbed. We were at the windmill at one point in the hike. ‘A’ doesn’t look too pleased at that moment…expectations will get you every time! The girls were rock star hikers….even if they had a few rough patches of crankiness. We just keep going and attitudes will change.

See? They turned it around by the end….

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We drove the windy road back….and in to CC to our little apartment hotel to eat leftovers and write in our travel journals. It was a  perfect day even with a harder than expected climb.

Until our next Kiwi Adventure!

Beggar’s Chicken

I belong to the foodie group Enak through The Malaysian Culture Group here in KL. It’s a fun group of locals and expats that meet once a month at restaurants around KL. Each month a member ‘hosts’.  A great way to try new food…we’ve tried Bangladeshi food, Vegan Indian Malaysian, Malaccan and the list goes on and on…A few months ago we even took a different turn and tried a great Vietnamese place. It’s a great group of adventurous eaters!

Well, this month we had a nighttime Enak! (enak means delicious in Malay) meet up and significant others were invited….We tried ‘Beggars Chicken’. I had such a fun time I thought I’d write a post about.  I’m including a description from an attendee that had researched the whole process….so I didn’t ‘write’ this, I am just including the fabulous description along with some of the great photos they took as well! The photos that look horrible are mine, all mine! The great photos are his! hahahahaha!

“BEGGAR’s CHICKEN (or Hak Yi Kai) at New Heong Kee Restaurant in Ulu Klang, Kuala Lumpur.has been around for 50 years.
At New Heong Kee, the chicken is first marinated in a blend of soy sauce, 7 kinds of herbs / spices and Shaoxing rice wine before being stuffed with other secret ingredients. Some of the herbs include yu zhu or solomon’s seal, dangshen or Codonopsis pilosila, wolf berries (or sometimes called goji berries / Lycium chinense), dang guy (Radix angelica), and hong zhao or red dates. Some recipes may include star anise and cinnamon.
Next the bird is wrapped, first in cooking foil, then wax paper, and tied with string. The final step is encasing the entire package in a “dough” of mud. The oblong parcels of beggar’s chicken are laid out in a row, ready to be lifted up by a shovel and thrust into the heart of the charcoal ash-filled kiln. The mud-encrusted chicken is slow cooked for 8 hours. This dish must be orderered 24 hours ahead.
Like most popular dishes, Beggar’s Chicken is a dish with an interesting story of origin, dating back to the Qing Dynasty. A starving, homeless beggar in rural China stole a chicken from a yard and was about to cook it when the emperor’s guards passed by. In his state of panic, he tried to hide the chicken by covering it with mud and threw it into the fire. Hours later when the coast is clear, he ended up with a chicken that was said to be the most tender and flavorsome he’s ever eaten.”

It was a lot of fun to see how they make this chicken. I thought everyone would enjoy seeing it as well….

On our way to the restaurant it started POURING rain. At first I was frustrated but by the time I got to the restaurant I realized that it was a blessing in disguise. #1 We could find parking! #2 It cooled off a very blisteringly hot day in KL. The heat has been scorching the last few months. Always look on the bright side of things!

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The menu – note that the chicken needs to be ordered at least 24 hours in advance.

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The clay that the wrapped chicken is dunked in....

The clay that the wrapped chicken is dunked in….

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The hot embers….

"The clay encrusted chicken or duck was dug out of the smoldering embers....ready for our table!"

“The clay encrusted chicken or duck was dug out of the smoldering embers….ready for our table!”

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Here is our chicken! It’s been cooking in the hot embers for 8+ hours.

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The parcel has been cooking for eight hours and is now ready to be broken open with the hammer shown in the photo.

The parcel has been cooking for eight hours and is now ready to be broken open.

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He uses a hammer to break open the clay….

After the clay has been broken off....reveals that the bird has been wrapped , first in cooking foil, then wax paper, and tied with string

After the clay has been broken off….reveals that the bird has been wrapped , first in cooking foil, then wax paper, and tied with string

 

opening up the bag and wrappings to reveal the prized chicken!

opening up the bag and wrappings to reveal the prized chicken!

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There was another special dish that came along with our Beggar chicken….Winter Melon Soup or Longevity Soup.

Winter melon soup (with red dates and white fungus)slow cooked over a wood fire.

Winter melon soup (with red dates and white fungus)slow cooked over a wood fire.

Longevity (chang sheng bu lao in Mandarin) Soup. A hollowed-out winter melon serves as a nutritious vessel for a herbal broth chock-full of winter melon, white fungus and red dates.

Longevity (chang sheng bu lao in Mandarin) Soup. A hollowed-out winter melon serves as a nutritious vessel for a herbal broth chock-full of winter melon, white fungus and red dates.

He is holding the winter melons. They are grown on site. Those little chickens...well they will be dinner at some point.

He is holding the winter melons. They are grown on site. Those little chickens…well they will be dinner at some point.

YUM SING!!!

YUM SING!!!

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Digging in! From the look of it the duck and chicken were a huge hit.

Digging in! From the look of it the duck and chicken were a huge hit.

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serving some of the Longevity (chang sheng bu lao in Mandarin) Soup or 'winter melon soup' . A hollowed-out winter melon serves as a nutritious vessel for a herbal broth chock-full of winter melon, white fungus and red dates.

serving some of the Longevity (chang sheng bu lao in Mandarin) Soup or ‘winter melon soup’ . A hollowed-out winter melon serves as a nutritious vessel for a herbal broth chock-full of winter melon, white fungus and red dates.

Here's the soup....a light broth...

Here’s the soup….a light broth…

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Such a fun night! I will have the best memories of this night and a fondness for eating outside sitting on plastic chairs….for the rest of my life. What do they say? The best food is served while sitting on a plastic chair somewhere in Asia, you take your pick. I’d choose Malaysia.

Until our next adventure!

Back in New Zealand again – first stop: Christchurch on the south island

I’m on fire! Seriously….I feel like I have a new lease on my blogging life!

Back in December 2015 we made our SECOND trip to New Zealand. We spent fifteen glorious days there. Why go back to NZ again? Because it is fantastic, magical and just plain beautiful. Just ask anyone that has been and they will attest to its magic. I could go on and on….We decided that for this second trip it would be exclusively the south island….If you remember back in 2013 we made a trip to the north island and top of the south….Click here, here and here and here to read about those adventures. There are even more posts but I just grabbed a few to link.

We made the red eye direct flight via Malaysian Airlines straight to Auckland. It’s a ten hour flight if you are curious. It was pretty uneventful aside from the horribly dirty bathrooms…and no toilet paper! Thanks MAS!

As we geared up to land there was a video being shown about NZ and its no animals, no meats, no fruits, no nuts policy. They are very strict about what is brought in to the country. I find it rather timely that I just watched that horrible video of Johnny Depp and his wife apologizing about bringing their two dogs in to OZ without permission. It’s pretty serious as you’ll learn throughout these blog posts and I am embarrassed that he’d think his fame and wealth would give him a free pass. WHATEVER….I’ll try to stay focused….

As we exited the plane and headed to immigration S was VERY concerned about if her leopard animal print pants from Target would be allowed in the country. I assured her that she’d be ok. 🙂

Hello New Zealand!!

Hello New Zealand!!

Immigration was fast! We headed from the international terminal to the domestic terminal to catch our flight to Christchurch. It’s a fifteen minute walk with a lovely walk way. The weather was wonderful….and who wants to wait for a shuttle when you can breathe in the beautiful NZ air?!

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We opted to pay extra for the ‘flexi-pass with Air New Zealand. I highly recommend spending the extra money for peace of mind. We didn’t know if our flight would be delayed or not. We booked a later flight time with the hopes we could get on an earlier flight but give us some cushion if anything went wrong. We were able to get on the earlier flight   and all was right with the world! Seriously, if we couldn’t get on the flight we could always wait a few hours but this just made it so much easier. We knew if something horrible happened we could get on the latest flight possible or the earliest if there was room. Fantastic!

I LOVE Air New Zealand! Who wouldn’t love an airline that has these:

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Best air sickness bags EVER! Yes, I grabbed several just in case!

We landed in Christchurch….

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Grabbed our bags….

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And our rental car…..yes, North Americans please KEEP LEFT. There were so many North Americans traveling during our stay I was shocked.  I’ve heard that remembering what side of the road to drive on is a real concern.

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We checked in to our sweet family apartment and found some grub.

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Burgers, fries (chips) with a peppered coating and gravy for dipping…and onion rings with an aioli dip. Only healthy food for us on vacation!

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Steinlager and Stokelager craft beers

The joke was that the girls ordered ‘lemonade’ and what arrived? Sprite. We are still confused about this but it appears that this is a term used in NZ that we are unfamiliar with? who knows… We went home to rest after our big meal and to get a good night’s sleep so we could start our first full day of Christchurch off right.

After picking up our GPS (the rental car was out when we arrived the day before) and bundling up because it was coooool….we looked for a place to eat. December 28th is a public holiday in New Zealand so it was slim pickings with where to eat.  We found a great place….

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Flat white of course….

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Hot chocolate on this very cold day (that’s for the people living in the tropics).

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bubbles and squigs – potatoes and bacon with a poached egg on top. The name alone was the draw for me….and the BACON.

We finished our brekkie and it was off to the newly opened Christchurch Art Museum. Yes, five years and two horrible earthquakes later (7.1 in 2010 and 6.3 in 2011). We were ecstatic about this opportunity. If you’ve gathered I do love an art museum so this was a treat.

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fantastic wood engravings….

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My travel journal says ‘pixie sticks meet rangoli’. This real candy exhibit was so so fun.

The theme for many of the exhibits was one of earthquakes and rebirth. If you walked around the city it was still striking how much damage still remained five years later.

The museum had a fantastic view of the cable car…. IMG_1102

And before we made our way to our next adventure – I give you our very favorite piece of art in the museum: ANONYMOUS CAT. We love love loved this so much. The most surreal part is that this piece of art made S cry?! We still don’t understand what about this made her so upset. She has a tremendous love of cats so we can only gather that she thinks Anonymous cat in reality doesn’t have a face? All we know is that for the entire trip we couldn’t even mention Anonymous Cat or have her see a picture of it or she’d break out in tears! 😦

Anonymous Cat

Anonymous Cat

We said goodbye to our beloved Anonymous Cat and headed over to the Botanic Gardens for a bit after the museum….

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Then to the children’s garden….which like all of NZ, has the best playgrounds! The most kid friendly place on earth (Australia is a close second).

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We walked around a bit enjoying all the beauty…and my favorite favorite FAVORITE flowers…

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The Canterbury Museum is right next to the gardens so we hopped in there for a bit. We learned all about life in the Antarctic…and were reminded that Sir Edmund Hillary was a BAD ASS! OMG that man was hard core! Yes, he was a Kiwi. The first person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953. He was also the first person to reach both the north and south poles. Incredible.

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We saw an old friend the ‘moa’ from our last visit to NZ….

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It was time to rush over to punting on the Avon…..

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The sweet baby ducks following mama was a favorite sighting.

The sweet baby ducks following mama was a favorite sighting.

Then over to the *free* new street art festival exhibit at the YMCA…..

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We ended our night with a wonderful meal at Valentine’s. So few places to eat….and so few available reservations! We were fortunate to get a seat. We had risotto balls, a pesto grilled chicken, brie and pumpkin pine nut pizza alongside a salad with bacon and blue cheese tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette. deeelish!

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After dinner we ran to the market….and look at the cutest little car in the parking lot….the owner said she loved it just as much as we did…IMG_1296

Dave was in craft beer heaven….

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I’m going to lump the rest of our time in Christchurch in one post (We headed to Banks Peninsula in between our days in CC but you can read about that later).

Our next day in Christchurch consisted of a ride on the tram….a great way to learn about the city. We learned that the Art Center complex would be opening in 2016 and it turned out that the project manager for the completion of the center was a Kiwi. He was working on the construction for the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore when he heard about the earthquakes and destruction in his home town. His contract was up for the Marina Bay Sands project so he decided to send his CV to apply for a position. The city was shocked and so thankful to get such an amazing person to spearhead the building of the complex.

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We spent time just strolling around town….

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A sweet little free library out on the street…

The tram dropped us off  at the remnants of the Christchurch Cathedral at Cathedral Square.  The second earthquake to rock CC was not as strong as the first but the epicenter much closer in to the city center. None of the buildings were built to weather such a strong quake. Places like California and Japan have designed their buildings to handle the earth shaking (think buildings on rollers)…not these old stone buildings. They just crumbled…

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There was a sweet little park near the Cathedral to sit and ponder it all….

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We looked at all the murals…and made a mental note to find all the murals around town. The one below took all of TWO days to complete.

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I love that these seats look like sheep. ha!

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Next stop the Re:START mall for lunch and shopping. This temporary mall was created in response to the February 22, 2011 earthquake that leveled the original mall. The mall is built from shipping containers. If you look closely you’ll see that all of the shops are made exclusively out of shipping containers. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

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This was posted in the department store Ballantyne’s. I thought it was a bit sad…but needed.

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The art sculptures inside the Re: START mall were fantastic!

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It was 16C that day! BRRRRR we opted for some flat whites, hot chocolate…..

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And Afghan biscuits….a chocolatey treat made from cornflakes (or oats) and lots of butter, cocoa and sugar. The best part is that it is egg free! It’s on my list of things to make for S.

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Then it was time to find all the murals for the street art festival….It was fun driving around looking for them.

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The 185 empty chairs earthquake memorial was a sobering account of the lives lost during the February 22, 2011 earthquake.

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It was also very real seeing all of the open lots that remain around the city. During our punting on the Avon excursion, one of the punters talked about what life was like in Christchurch after the second earthquake. He said it was so depressing….and only after five YEARS does he think that CC is finally turning around. I think the murals are a testament to the cities attempt to keep the town beautiful and for people to express their grief at so much loss.

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Despite so much of the devastation, Christchurch is still fantastic….

We ended our stay with a little bit of travel journal writing…..

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while dining at Dux Dine. We even ran in to one of my KL book club members while dining! This seafood and vegetarian is superb. GO! You won’t regret it!

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We had to order green lipped mussels!

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quinoa, green pea and haloumi fritter

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seafood papadelle

We washed it all down with a lovely Shiraz! My fellow book club member loved the restaurant so much they made reservations for the next night. But we were on our way out of town and heading to Dunedin to celebrate NYE.

Until our next New Zealand adventure….in Dunedin!

 

IPOH and The Banjaran

All it took was finishing that post on India and now I’m motivated to get blogging again….if only my list of posts wasn’t so long.

I thought I’d write about a fun small trip we made SANS kids a few months back (yes there are several trips I am jumping over to post this).  I haven’t really been posting about our fun adventures in Malaysia.

You read correctly in the above paragraph – NO CHILDREN. The grands were here and let’s be real – they want grandchildren not US. That means a trip without kids was in order. The grands got to spend quality time with the grandchildren for a weekend while we ventured to a different part of Malaysia. It was a win/win!

Here’s where my idea came alive – A year or so ago a friend posted photos of this amazing place with beautiful scenery, villa, uber romantic just fantastic. In my travel obsessed mind I thought WE MUST VISIT. I was then informed that no kids were allowed. At the time I figured it was not an option until this ‘opportunity’ arose to make a little weekend trip. The wheels started turning, as then tend to do, and Voila! we made reservations.

Traveling without children is oh so different. Our last trip without children was 4+ years before. My how easy it is just packing for yourself.

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The drive to Ipoh was an easy two hours on the highway…

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A welcome drink, banging the gong and boarding the golf cart for a ride up to our villa.

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The Banjaran is built on a natural hot spring. All of the water that you see is HOT. I think that is one of the reasons that kids are not allowed.

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That’s Celsius not Fahrenheit!

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It is hard to see but steam was coming off of the water….

Then to our villa which was super fantastic!

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The plunge pool is the blue tiled pool by the umbrella.

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This is the jacuzzi. It’s basically piped in hot spring water.

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Everything is open air except for the bedroom, bathroom and shower. There were naughty monkeys hanging around so items needed to be kept inside our room. If they saw us they’d leave but once you are gone they’ll rifle through your stuff so best to keep it locked away.

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This was the trail leading to our villa.

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There were several caves to explore; a meditation cave, a crystal cave and even a hot spring cave that was like a wonderful sauna. We did some walking around….to enjoy the natural beauty and the QUIET. I loved that there were no kids there. I love my kids but some places are meant to be CHILD FREE.

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A view of our villa.

 

We took a day to visit Ipoh.

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I’m waiting for the “why aren’t you ever in any of the photos” question. Because I usually take the photos. The ones my partner takes are on his camera phone.  I am way too lazy and easily frustrated with technology to take the extra step to upload them as well.

Ipoh was a huge tin mining town in the 1920s and 1930s. It is also one of the biggest cities in Malaysia. We hung out in the old town….so much character. I think the shop houses are so dreamy. They transport me back to a different time….

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And the murals….I LOVE all the murals…

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This one is my favorite. If you live here you know that this is the standard issue for drinks. It represents so many memories of our life here in Malaysia. The car, the sign….all of it.

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The original Old Town White Coffee building mural. This is probably the most iconic of all the murals in Ipoh.

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We had to cool off of course. Ipoh is HOT.

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Then it was back to the villa. Are you asking “But what about the food?!” No we didn’t eat anything that great….the food is legendary but we were late to get out of dodge and by the time we decided to eat, everything was closed for lunch. We ate some noodles at a not so legendary establishment. This wasn’t really an ‘Ipoh’ trip per se so I didn’t do a ton of planning….The Ice Ball (Ais Kepal) at Bit’s & Bobs was the highlight of what we ingested during our day visit to Ipoh. Yes ‘Ais’ is pronounced just like Ice. I love Bahasa! The flavors we chose were sarsi (think root beer) and rosella (hibiscus). It was super refreshing and completely messy. Best memory!

We headed back to the resort for happy hour and some bites inside Jeff’s Cave….

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The owner of Sunway Industries bought this cave and the property. He converted it in to a restaurant. It’s got aircon so you don’t sweat while you enjoy your meal. Dinners inside the cave are an extra RM300. We decided just to have some drinks and bites inside instead. Plus, happy hour was so generous they took our last glass of Prosecco with us for our appetizers in the cave! Too nice.

We took a tour of ‘Jeff’s Cellar’. This is his personal wine cellar with crazy expensive bottles of wine….none of it is for sale. You can just take a look and feel jealous….

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I can’t remember the actual cost of this rice wine but maybe $50,000 USD? It doesn’t matter….I’d never spend that kind of money. 🙂

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We woke for our last day in paradise with a hike….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There I am! Hot and sweaty!

We took a small jungle hike and there were A LOT of naughty monkeys….and they were fighting! We made it back and forth without incident but yikes!

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we explored the different caves as well…

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Then it was goodbye Banjaran! We had a wonderful time but I should note that there were mixed reviews from my friends without children. Some loved it and others who travel often didn’t feel it was worth the price and that the food wasn’t as great as expected. It depends on the reasons you are visiting I guess and what your expectations are. For us it was a wonderfully peaceful retreat for us for two days.

As we headed out we had to make our last important stop….

I was told that the NICEST Starbucks in Malaysia was in Ipoh. I had to visit. I do agree. HUGE, DRIVE THRU STARBUCKS!

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I also found these….official Starbucks cups for all the states in Malaysia!

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So now….I have a little memory of our time here every time I drink coffee in the morning.

Until our next adventure…..

Jaipur and goodbye to India

I’ve been avoiding the blog….mainly because I am so behind. Also, because the sheer amount of photos I have is overwhelming. As I attempted to write this blog post I realized my photos were mixed up from several different pieces of my India trip. All that Mughal architecture becomes confusing peering from a small thumbnail. So, if you think the photo is incorrect, let me know. I might have posted the wrong photo thinking it was in a different city. The shame! Plus the trip to India was whirlwind and I didn’t keep up with my travel journal. eek!

It isn’t a real problem in the whole scheme of things. However, I have a deep empathy for all of those bloggers that just stop blogging. It becomes too much and they throw in the towel. I have decided I will NOT be one of those bloggers. It would be a waste to stop when I’ve been somewhat consistent for the last three plus years. Many of our most amazing trips haven’t been posted yet -I have my work cut out for me. Think of this post like that term paper you waited until the last minute to write….and all you want is for it to be DONE. I just want to finish this post and move forward!

But back to the topic:  Jaipur – read below:

After our amazing breakfast in Agra (think Dosa)….we made our way to Jaipur…..’A’ bounced back from her tummy ailments.  We braced ourselves for the drive:

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Say what you will, but you haven’t experienced intense driving until you’ve driven in India. This is coming from someone that has lived and traveled extensively in Asia. That is saying something!

Our first stop on our way to Jaipur ( a six hour drive from Agra): Fatehpur Sikri. I had the hardest time remembering this name for some reason.  Akbar’s walled city built in 1571 in honor of the Sufi saint Salim Chishti. It was the Mughal capital for fourteen years.  The architecture is a mix of Hindu and Islamic styles. Akhbar’s vision was definitely secular. Our ‘guide’ for this monument was nowhere to be found….and the tour office couldn’t figure out why. Our driver secured a local tour guide for us….it worked and we were thankful. Was it amazing? hardly – but hey, you gotta roll with it….

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In Pachisi Square with the Diwan-i-Khas behind us.

I loved the human parcheesi (Pachisi) board. Yes, the emperor had lackeys that dressed in different colors and moved around this huge board in the middle of the square. Since the nights were cool and breezy, his harem liked to sit out in the courtyard for a game of human parcheesi. Wouldn’t you do the same? My dear girls were happy to pretend….they were human parcheesi board pawns for a photo op.

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Pachisi Square

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Panch Mahal

Red sandstone was the hallmark of this walled city. The designs on the pillars and throughout were what I loved about this part of history. If I remember correctly (and trying to keep up my travel journal on this crazy adventure was difficult) each wife had a different house within the fort. They called this section the Haram Sara (basically the Harem Complex). If memory serves me, each wife was of a different faith. The mix of architectural styles was a real treat – Christian, Hindu and Muslim. In my opinion, it was probably the most interesting and eclectic of any of the forts we visited.

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Turkish Sultana’s House

After a few hours at Fatehpur Sikri it was time to make our way to ….’The Pink City” – Jaipur. Not pink like you are envisioning it….but more a terra cotta pink.

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During our visit to Delhi….I stood in front of man in line at Good Earth (remember the amazing home goods store in Khan Market -the expat enclave) – I could tell his accent as American and asked where he was from….”Dallas originally, but I live In Jaipur”….he leans in close and says “Jaipur is the REAL India….” 🙂  Not that he didn’t love Delhi, he was there shopping for goodness sake but I got what he meant. Jaipur definitely didn’t feel touched as much….no Starbucks…no western footprint that I saw. Love.

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It is true. Cows roam free, everywhere. Hindu temples in the middle of an intersection…..camels pulling carts. I loved it all.

We made our way in to the city…..the intense, loud craziness of Jaipur….and into a tranquil haveli.

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A haveli is an old mansion converted in to a hotel. It was just what we wanted…it felt like an amazing Mughal time warp.

Our tour company had gifts for us! The one for D was by far the BEST….

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The tye dyed cloth Bandhani is traditionally Rajasthani….The girls and I both received gifts as well – just beautiful cloth, no turban (or ‘safa’) for us.

After six hours in the car we were exhausted. We ate the hotel buffet, drank wine (adults only) and let the girls swim in the pool….it was ever so deserved.

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Our first full day in Jaipur consisted of what else? an elephant ride. We were supposed to have our elephant ride up to the Amber (Amer) Fort but there was a Hindu festival going on so that wasn’t an option. If you know my hatred of elephant rides, I was ever so pleased….the idea of riding on an elephant on an incline like that? NO THANK YOU. I was happy to walk! We instead went to the source for our elephant ride. We were able to see all the elephants just hanging out. I did like the bindi on the elephant below. Too cute.

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I walked by them to get photos….

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And at the very end I CHEATED. I admit it….I refused the ride. My one experience in Chiang Mai was more than I could take….but at the last minute I asked for them to let me ride for a photo opportunity. So here it is:

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I can now say I did it. I checked that box. I have read that riding an elephant up to the Amber Fort is controversial. Many say that these wonderful creatures aren’t treated well and many are abused. We did not see anything at the camp that made us think they were abused (no chains). However, I don’t think we will ever ride elephants again….anywhere. Too much abuse, mistreatment, and exploitation within Asia. Take my advice, see them in the wild!

Next stop: Amber (Amer) Fort! But on the way we got a photo of the water palace, Jal Mahal:

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As we drove up….our guide told us about the monkeys. Not naughty monkeys but these:

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The Grey Langur, we were told, are sweet and kind. They’ve been known to hold on to your hand and pick food out of it ever so slowly.

Amber Fort

Located in Amber, 11 kms north-east of Jaipur, Amber Fort was the capital of the Kachhawa Rajputs before Jaipur was built.

Wikipedia along with random blogs and websites tell me that Amber, or Amer, derives its name from the Ambikeshwar Temple, built atop the Cheel ka Teela. However, local folklore suggests that the fort derives its name from Amba Mata, the Goddess Mother of fertility and earth goddess of the Minas. She, by the way, was the protector of the world. The citadel was established in 1592 by Raja Man Singh I on the remains of an earlier 11th century fort. Please…I’m taking from everywhere so don’t think any of this is actually from me. If I knew how we reference in 2016 I might do it but I am living in the days of MLA or APA prior to the advent of the internet. NO LIE.

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Ganesh Pol built in 1640

 

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Here’s a close up of Ganesh Pol.

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Ganesh Pol

 

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Suraj Pol (sun gate) is the main entrance to the fort. The square inside the gate is called Jaleb Chowk. The primary main quad.

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Sukh Niwas and Aram Bagh Gardens

 

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Kesar Kyari Bagh

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Namaste with a view of Maota lake and the kesar kyari bagh

Kesar Kyari Bagh is on Maota Lake.  It was created circa 1600 for the women of the harem to admire from the fort.

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Diwan-e-Aam or the ‘Hall of Public Audience’ with 27 colonnades called Sattais Katcheri

 

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Diwan-e-Aam or the ‘Hall of Public Audience’ is a beautiful hall that stands on two rows of ornamented pillars and opens on three sides. It is said that the king listened to the needs and complaints of the general public here. ‘Diwan e-Khaas’ or the ‘Hall of Private Audience’ has delicate mosaic work in glass. In this hall the king would entertain and meet with dignitaries and special guests.

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magic flower frescoes – or is it?

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The Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace)

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Jas Mandir – the hall of private audiences

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I really hope I am accurate in my identification in these photos. My head hurts trying to cross reference. Even if I am WRONG – I LOVED IT ALL. So take my pure love of the architecture and history instead of my actual accuracy for this blog post. My heart is in the right place!

We spent a good deal of time at Amber Fort….and then headed to lunch at a touristy buffet. Let’s be real – we were so limited on time, trying to look for a restaurant to eat at was too much to handle.  The food wasn’t anything to write home about but we did have some fun with henna (mehendi):

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We then went shopping….which if you see a theme of this trip was a bit of a cluster….because I had specific ideas of where we would go and our guide had a bit of a different agenda. He said he couldn’t ‘find’ a few places that a woman in Delhi told me about (flat out lie in my opinion but whatever we had limited time). He did take us to Anokhi and if you have been to India you know that it is AMAZING!!! clothes, jewelry, tables cloths – all hand blocked fabulousness!! The picture below is just awful but you get the idea…

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Then Fabindia…which is fab and where we found the finishing touches for the girls Deepavali outfits for their school festival.

We ended our first day with take away (that’s take out for all you Americans) from:

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Tandoori inspired and delicious. It was just what we needed. The one restaurant we had ear marked to eat had closed down. By this point we just wanted to go home and rest….so taking this back to enjoy was by far the very best idea.

We also saw a puppet show at our hotel.

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It’s hard to see but he has traditionally Rajasthani puppets dancing….and FYI, if you watch the show there is an expectation to BUY a puppet. We are now the proud owner of two puppets….(we only wanted one but he threw the other one in for free).

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Our next day we were up and ready for more exploring of Jaipur…..and stopped by the Wind Palace and snapped the iconic tourist photo. The cobra has no fangs in case you are scared or curious (and part of me is completely disturbed by the notion of all of this – who am I kidding? ALL OF ME IS DISTURBED)….and of course the guy wanted a tip. This is serious business.

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The Hawa Mahal

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Then to my very favorite place in Jaipur, The City Palace. Below is the entrance gate. European meets Mughal meets Rajasthani….a fusion made in heaven.

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yes, the photo is uneven!

The patterns were lovely…one of my favorite parts of India is all of the art! Art everywhere, with every carving, in every arch….its just magical everywhere you look.

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Another FYI….if the guard suggests that you take a photo with them – they expect a TIP. They were happy to demand one 🙂 I wish I was lying….I see a theme….

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The City Palace was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur; built between 1729 -1732 by Sawai Jai Singh II.

My favorite part of the City Palace was by far the Pritam Niwas Chowk which means ‘The Courtyard of the Beloved’. It is an inner courtyard with four beautifully colorful gates. These four gates represent four seasons and four Hindu gods. The Northeast – The Peacock gate which represents Autumn and Lord Vishnu. The southwest – The Lotus gate which represents summer and honors Lord Shiva- Parvati. The northwest -the Green Gate, is also known as the Leheriya gate which means waves, in green color suggestive of spring and Lord Ganesha. The fourth and final gate – The Rose gate that represents winter and the goddess Devi.

The Peacock Gate (can you guess which one was my favorite?!):

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The Lotus Gate:

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The Green Leheriya gate (Leheriya means waves).

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The Rose Gate:

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Sigh…..even looking back on these I swoon. I could look at them all day long.

Next stop: Jaipur Observatory….JANTAR MANTAR

Built by Sawai Jai Singh II (he built five) is the largest and most well preserved. It was built between 1728-1734. Many of these instruments are still used today to forecast weather, monsoon, floods and even famine!

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Rashivalaya Yantra

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Narivalaya Yanta

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Our trip and a blog post wouldn’t be complete without a picture of the local currency….the Rupee.

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We did a bit more shopping at Cottons, Naika and Soma. We looked for some blue pottery…. Since with all our travel there is a theme – for this trip it was more horrible tourist shops that we had no intention of spending our money in. The last straw was the goofy ‘write your name on a piece of rice’. Been there, done that circa 1992 at Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.  C’est la vie….

Our last day we rose early and made our way back to Delhi. A five hour drive with crazy horns, weaving and all the visceral overload that is driving in India – intense. Since we were on a red eye flight we had some time to see sights that we missed during our first go around the city…..

The Qutb Complex

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The Qutb Minar

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The Qutb Minar – (qutb means pole or axis in Arabic). It is the world’s highest brick minaret at 72.5 meters (237.8 feet) high. Inside the tower, a circular staircase with 379 steps leads to the top (per Wikipedia). Our guide said that on December 4, 1981, there was a stampede and forty-five people died. The tower is now closed to all visitors. There had also been suicides as well. That was a very sobering story. If you know me….I was not looking forward to climbing to the top if it was opened!

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We ended our time in Delhi at where else? Dilli Haat – the open air market that many of our friends recommended. Our guide said his goodbyes a tad bit early…I think he realized we were NOT going to be lured in to any more goofy tourist stores or any Kashmiri rug stores. We looked around for a few hours and then had our sweet driver Tarsem take us to the airport.

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A photo of our Punjabi driver on our way from Jaipur to Delhi.

These auto rickshaws in the international terminal were too cute. We didn’t buy one but thought they were adorable….

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This was just a taste of India. We can’t wait to visit again now that we understand what we’d do differently. Can you guess what we’d do differently? We’d have NO GUIDE and a driver that was proficient enough in English that he could get us to where we wanted to go. I think we were a bit intimidated to visit India without our hand being held a bit but next time we’d be just fine. I am already making a mental list of every place I want to visit for our next trip. That’s the beauty of travel and life….you learn by making mistakes…

Until our next adventure!

India and The Golden Triangle….Part ONE: Delhi and Agra

I have to laugh…..this is what the post started with…”Christmas is looming and with that I need to get busy on my final post of 2015….this isn’t anything new. If you have followed me for a while you know I’m a little tardy in posting, especially as the end of the year approaches.”

Sigh….It is in fact January 2016 wait now almost FEBRUARY and I am finally getting to writing this post!

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What to say? It seemed like a no brainer when we heard that e-visa was initiated for US citizens.  The idea of getting a visa for India was a royal pain prior to implementing the e-visa. Their embassy is farther away than the other embassies in town. Reports from friends said it took much longer than promised with lines and frustration. Plus, fall break was in October and the perfect time to make a trip to The Golden Triangle. The only glitch was a work trip that D had to make….right at the very end of our trip. It cost us a few very needed days in India and we had to rearrange. But with a 5.5 hour direct flight – we soldiered on and booked our trip!

This was one trip where we made the executive decision to use a travel agency for everything – hotels, driver and guides. It was suggested by friends to be sure to stay in nicer hotels than we would during our other travels…

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Aside from the scariest landing EVER (yes we realize those are the brakes….but did you really have to SLAM ON THEM LIKE THAT MR/MS.PILOT?)…..regardless, we arrived in New Delhi without incident. We also grabbed a few of these….Just in case!

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I LOVED the art in the immigration area of the New Delhi airport.  I didn’t snap a photo since I was being extra cautious….instead I give you a photo of the toilets….Our guide informed us that the man is wearing a traditional Rajasthani head dress (turban, safa….I worry I am not using the correct terminology for this specific one).

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I finally broke down and looked for a picture on google of the art in the immigration area. See below -it  really doesn’t do it justice….but you get the idea.

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From everyone’s reports I expected New Delhi’s airport to be intense and over the top….it wasn’t. Granted, we arrived at night….but it was just fine. Our driver Tarsem picked us up right on time (he was a Punjabi guy) and drove us straight to the Shangri-la Eros. I wasn’t prepared for the metal detector, bomb detectors….and armed guards. I don’t know if it made me feel more safe or more scared.

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The girls handled the very long night so well….like the travel rock stars they are!

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We woke to an amazing buffet! wow. Amazing service, amazing food….fantastic Shangri-la Eros, Kudos! (I’d read so so reviews but this buffet was great).

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We tried a North Indian breakfast…and loved how they explained all of the dishes to us….

Then it was time to find the concierge and pick up some coffee a friend had delivered….she’s from Delhi, loves this coffee….and knew we’d be heading there. We’d pick up the coffee, D would take it to the US and her husband would grab and take it with him to Calgary. Expat craziness! She was kind enough to let me choose a bag for myself. Yum!

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I loved the art on the cover of the bags.. this was JUST the beginning of the truly amazing art of India!

Our first morning – our guide picked us up….and with that we headed to Jama Masjid (driving by the Red Fort in the process). Jama Masjid was built in 1656 by Shah Jahan. It took 6 years and 5,000 workers to complete.

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Did you know that 15% of India is Muslim? Jama Masjid is in Old Delhi which we learned is the Muslim part of Delhi. Jama Masjid means Friday mosque. Friday is the beginning of the sabbath for Muslims and this mosque sees 20,000 people for Friday prayers!

We took the very touristy rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. We were warned that it was not as busy as usual because it was a Sunday.

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Then it happened….and let me tell you we were PISSED.  Our guide did the unthinkable….he took us to a Kashmiri carpet store and the ‘hard sell’ began. It took about five to ten minutes to realize what was going on and we were stuck. I had to hold back my laughter….I felt like I was watching an informercial….I did like that we learned how they make the rugs so that was the positive. ‘A’ was hoping we’d buy a rug! I guess the tea, cookies and hard sell worked on her sweet heart. Yes, we had a discussion with the tour agency prior to us leaving for India that we wouldn’t tolerate this kind of crap but well…..it appears the guides have other agendas.

We got out of the situation as fast as we could but needless to say – there was no way in you know where I was spending $15,000 USD on a rug in an hour! To say I was disappointed with the guide was an understatement. I had attempted to get a SIM card the night before and it continued not to work (we would come to find out that my old iPhone 4S had made a turn for the worst during our trip, thus the reason it wouldn’t work) so the option to call the travel agency wasn’t there….plus we had places to see and things to do! We didn’t want to waste time.  We got out of that cheesy situation and told the guide where we wanted to go….Tarsem’s English wasn’t great so we couldn’t just have him take us alone (and in retrospect I think I’d have preferred an English speaking driver and no guide). He took us so I think he got the message…..but again, I’m keeping it real – India tours are notorious for these kind of antics….stay strong fellow travelers!

But I do have to say we *still* laugh about that horrible hard sell from that carpet guy. When he touched his heart and said “this I will only tell you because you are a friend”….sometimes those bumps in the travel road that make the crazy memories. There is always a silver lining.

OUR next stop (read: WHERE WE WANTED TO GO) Khan Market…..and Good Earth….I can’t tell you how many people told me I had to come here. Yes, it is expensive compared to the bazaars but it was great.

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Then we had a little snack and a local drink:

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I hit a local bookstore to grab a few books for book club:

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Yes the photos is blurry! But I had to document! India has so many bookstores! The prices and selection are fantastic! Five books later, we were ready to go….

I have to laugh in retrospect that the guide didn’t ‘suggest’ the bazaars and in fact said to my face that we “wouldn’t like them”….UGH, can you tell that was a sore point for me as I reflect on our trip? In all honesty we just didn’t have that much time in the first place so we just got on with it. As much as I had hoped this would be a shopping trip it couldn’t be….and for whatever agenda our guides had to take us to these goofy shops when it came to actually educating us on the history of the sites they did a fantastic job…

We headed to Humayun’s Tomb as our last tourist stop of the day…..

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This is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun. Humayun was the second Mughal Emperor (Babur his father was the first).  His son Akbar commissioned it in 1569. This structure was just the beginning of our introduction to all things Mughal….

What is Mughal you ask?  In the interest of time and fear of plagiarism….I’ll let Wikipedia do the explaining:

Mughal architectureis an architectural style developed by the Mughals in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries throughout the ever changing extent of their empire in Medieval India. It was an amalgam of Islamic, Persian, and Indian architecture. Mughal buildings have a uniform pattern of structure and character, including large bulbous domes, slender minarets at the corners, massive halls, large vaulted gateways and delicate ornamentation.[1]Examples of the style can be found in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Mughal dynasty was established after the victory of Babur at Panipat in 1526. During his five-year reign, Babur took considerable interest in erecting buildings, though few have survived. His grandson Akbar built widely, and the style developed vigorously during his reign. Among his accomplishments were Humayun’s Tomb (for his father), Agra Fort, the fort-city of Fatehpur Sikri, and the Buland Darwaza. Akbar’s son Jahangir commissioned the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir.

 

Mughal architecture reached its zenith during the reign of Shah Jahan, who constructed the Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, and the most famous Mughal monument, the Taj Mahal, as well as many other fine examples of the style.

 

While Shah Jahan’s son Aurangzeb commissioned buildings such as the Badshahi Masjid in Lahore, his reign corresponded with the decline of Mughal architecture and the Empire itself.

There you have it! Our trip was filled with amazing Mughal architecture…..

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We ended our crazy busy day with some delicious Indian food!

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We had the usual suspects…..butter chicken, aloo gobi, naan and a new addition: paneer makhani. It’s basically butter chicken without the chicken.  It was divine but super duper rich. Then we took a drive by India Gate and The President’s Palace. It was pretty to witness at night. Sorry folks, no great photos to share but I have the memory and that is what counts.

The next morning it was up and ready to hit the road…..on the Yamuna Expressway and on to Agra…..4+ hour drive. Let’s just say….you haven’t experienced craziness until you’ve driven in India. Insanity…..and Tarsem was completely on top of it and got us to Agra in one safe piece. It was also nice that we had large SUV so that we were comfortable. We drove A LOT for six days.

We loved seeing all the colorful trucks….everything in India is colorful. There is nothing mousy about India and that is the part of it that is so captivating. It’s a visceral slap in the face. Color, sound….everything seems over the top.

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They are not kidding when it says BLOW HORN. It is a safety thing, really….so other trucks know you are there. Tarsem honked that horn ALL.THE.TIME ….I didn’t want to hear another horn honk for months after returning to KL. Several friends had warned me about the horn honking – they weren’t exaggerating.

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We shared the road with the teeny tiny auto rickshaws….and I was lucky enough to get a great smile from some of the passengers…

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I loved seeing the processions on the freeway….groups of worshippers walking behind deities as they made their way to the temple; accompanied by huge loud speakers with music blaring …It was a sight to be seen and unfortunately I didn’t get a photo.

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One thing I was not prepared for? Look at the picture above…..that’s nothing. It was the 60 people on top of the city bus. ON TOP OF THE BUS. They were RIDING on top of the bus with no rails….nothing….Tarsem thought my scream of fright was funny….and the small jeeps holding 20++ people….sigh….

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We arrived in Agra around noon and waited to get in to our room. THAT was a funny story….and the local guide’s manager that met us at the hotel got a piece of our mind about how they dealt with telling us it would be FIVE minutes for check in (even offering to take our passports and check in for us) but the hotel had other ideas (that they didn’t relay to us)….Let’s just say, after waiting for an HOUR plus with no access to wifi we both had a chat with the hotel management and the guy who gave us incorrect information. We also wrote a nice comment card about his very condescending attitude towards Dave when we asked about getting help with our non-working SIM card 🙂 ITC AGRA needs to get with the program and offer wifi for the guests that are waiting to check in – be warned….not even a manager could give us a wifi password until we were checked in and that took over 2+ hours! Had we known check in would be that late (or the standard time it usually is….) we would have gone and had lunch…..Be warned travelers, it was a very very disappointing experience. We were comped some drinks but by then I was too angry to even imbibe. A little too late….in my opinion. Take your business where you are treated well….We are not uppity people and all we ask is for some basic things and basic respect. RANT OVER. 🙂

So……with checking in to our room – *finally* – we were ushered off with our driver and guide to the, what else? The Agra Fort…..

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Below is the view that Shah Jahan had of his beloved Taj Mahal….his son Aurangzeb put him in the AGRA Fort as a prisoner (if you are reading this for a second time I realized my blunder and went back and changed it)…..and he spent his last days looking at the beautiful building he made for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal as her last resting place….If this is tragic and slightly ironic….I don’t know what is. You build an amazing building for the memory of your best loved wife (there were two other wives before her btw, I didn’t get this information until we arrived – I’ve always liked surprises) and the son she gives you (Aurangzeh was the third son and sixth child between them)…..This son grows up and decides he will put you on house arrest….with your punishment, the view of this amazing building. Talk about deep seated issues between a father and son! yikes.

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See the archway? This is the entrance to the Agra Fort…and the archway is big enough to allow elephants to walk through….

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Then it was time…..for the main attraction….The TAJ MAHAL….(it means ‘Crown Palace’)

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The best story of all?  running in to our neighbor’s husband from our apartment in KL. He was on the same tram as us! Talk about a very small world.  Cars are not allowed close to the site because of pollution. They drive you in on trams….

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You check your bags before you enter for added security.

As you walk up, this is the first thing you see through the arch…I still get chills at the memory of my first view….

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It took my breath away. Words don’t do it justice. It’s fantastic. I didn’t expect to be so moved by it but I was.

Then the fun began….we manned up and had the photographer take all the goofy poses of us…

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Not the best family photo….but by this time of day – we were WORKED.

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Shoe covers are required to go in to the palace….

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I was blown away by the jewels inside….inlaid and multi faceted…the jewels were collected from all over the world…

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Pictures aren’t allowed inside the palace (the picture above is from the outside) and cell phones will be confiscated if you are caught taking photos. The lights are out to preserve the colors.

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I loved that we saw the Taj at sundown…..and snapped this pic….

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The Taj Mahal is considered the 7th wonder of the world and it is fitting; not an exaggeration by any stretch of the imagination….By the time we ended our visit it was pitch black outside and we took a rickshaw back to the car….

Once back at the ITC, we enjoyed a lovely North Indian dinner…

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Well, some of us did…..it was sidelined when D took Alexis outside of the restaurant where she proceeded to vomit…(I wish I was lying). What is this vomit theme in all of our travel?!?

Our guilt was compounded because we honestly thought she was just being dramatic. Sigh, we are always in adventure mode, aren’t we? It was fine in the end….I think it was just a very long, crazy, hot day. A good night’s sleep was all she needed…..because, trust me, I was well equipped for any sickness that may arise with my bag full of medications!

Our morning breakfast consisted of a South Indian dosa….

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We said goodbye to the Taj…..we could see if from our hotel (after we made sure the huge monkey that was looking at it had left) :

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And it was time to get on the road and make our way to Jaipur!

Stay tuned, friends…..for the next installment of our Golden Triangle adventure…..