Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

New Year, New Adventures

January 8th, 2013 | Rachel


Relaxing beside the river in Kerala, India

I keep waiting for things to “slow down,” but I’m not sure it’ll ever happen for me. I’m not sure if I want it to.

Maintaining an unconventional schedule definitely has its perks. I didn’t do any shopping until I got back and was delighted to find everything on sale! I also got really excited every time I went into a store or casino (I spent New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas) that still had its holiday decor and was playing Christmas music. Other patrons did not share my sentiment. On my first day back to work, my coworkers — despite having expressed no preference as to the type of music we listened to — answered my suggestion of Christmas music with unenthusiastic blank stares.

I told Steve I felt like I missed Christmas since I was in India almost all of December and spent Christmas Day in transit (6-hour car ride, 45-minute taxi ride, 15-hour flight, 4-hour flight, and a 2-hour shuttle ride….whew!), so we are still pretending it is the holiday season. The “tree” is still lit (and by tree, I mean our bikes on the wall covered in Christmas lights) and we watched Love Actually the other night. I made Sunday brunch yesterday and used an apple cider-braised bacon recipe from Martha Stewart’s Christmas Brunch menu. I’m going to see how long I can keep this pseudo-holiday spirit going.

The trip to India was incredible. Before we left, I was so nervous about getting sick from food poisoning or otherwise that I couldn’t sleep. During the trip, I didn’t verbalize my amazement at how smoothly everything was going until the last few days for fear of jinxing us.

Sure there were some stressful moments of uncertainty. Exiting the Delhi train station was probably the worst because we couldn’t figure out where the pre-paid taxi stand was, and we were mobbed by men pretending to be “helpful” but really trying to lead us in a different direction. Even after we finally got to the stand, there were so many random people around me trying to talk to me that it was almost impossible to communicate with the dispatcher (who still overcharged me). After the transaction, one of the random men insisted that he was my driver, but when I turned to the dispatcher, pointed to the man, and asked if he was my driver, the dispatcher said no. It felt like a miracle when we finally arrived at our hotel.

Our itinerary was divided into three parts: 5 days in Kerala, the the southernmost state in India; 5 days in Hyderabad for a wedding, the inspiration for the whole trip; and 5 days traveling the “Golden Triangle” in north India. In hindsight, we planned it perfectly.

South India is an incredible region. Beautiful. Lush. Green. Tranquil. Unbelievably hospitable. It was the perfect introduction to India.

We started in Kochi, a bustling port city with only a few tourist attractions.

Promenade in Kochi, India

 River promenade in Kochi, Kerala, India


Tuk tuk”


 One of Kochi’s main tourist attractions, Japanese fishing nets built in 1350


 One of South India’s claims to fame: spices!

After exploring the city for a couple of days, including watching a fascinating Kathakali dance performance, our driver drove us about two hours south of the city to Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey, where we spent a relaxing day and night at a “homestay” on a river. A homestay is like a bed & breakfast, only they provide all meals. This area has been appropriately called the “Venice of the East” because of its intricate network of rivers, lagoons and lakes. These backwaters create the perfect conditions for growing rice, so there are rice fields (and coconut trees!) as far as the eye can see.


 View from the front of our homestay


 View from the back of our homestay


 We went on an educational walk with our homestay host

The next day, we boarded a beautiful houseboat and spent 24hours cruising the rivers and lakes and eating home-cooked meals prepared by our new host. It was perfect.


 Houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala, India


Flooded rice fields

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 Dusk on the river in Kerala, India


 Final sunset in Kerala, India

We were sad to leave the houseboat.

Our flight to Hyderabad wasn’t until that night, so we spent the day walking along a beach of the Arabian Sea, exploring a palace, and experiencing Ayurveda, a traditional form of medicine that incorporates a lot of herb-infused oils. Ayruveda can treat more serious medical issues, but my mom and I opted for a massage and Shirodhara, a treatment where warm oil is poured on the forehead. The massage was kind of crazy (which began when I walked into a brightly lit room and immediately had an elderly Indian woman tell me to take all of my clothes off) and it took a few washings to get all of the coconut oil out of my hair (the first of which involved only a bucket of hot water at the Ayruvedic facility), but it was all the perfect cap to a wonderful week in Kerala.

Au Revoir, La Belle France… For Now

June 9th, 2011 | Rachel

The problem with epic vacations is they fly by entirely too quickly.

And so, Steve and I have reached our final destination of this two-week jaunt: Paris.

It was my idea to spend our last two nights there.  I had romantic visions of a hotel overlooking the Eiffel Tower and casual morning strolls for coffee and croissants from the nearby cafes.

Imagine my disappointment then when I bid on a hotel in the Eiffel Tower area of Paris through Priceline and was given a room in a hotel room outside the highway perimeter of the city.  I don’t know if that is even considered Paris.  Upon further investigation, I discovered the section of the map on Priceline that I chose had a microscopic growth on the far corner that extended over the perimeter.  I would have had to zoom out to see it.  This deviation was big enough for just one hotel, and of course that is the one I was given.

The only upside of this Pullman hotel (which is 4 star) was they initially gave us a room with a dirty bathroom and inadequate air condition, and when I complained we were upgraded to a large suite with a separate living room and two bathrooms.  Not a bad way to end a trip :-)

We both slept like rocks, and the next morning we set out for Montmartre.

View of Paris from Montmartre

A little pop culture trivia for you: Montmartre was the setting of La Vie En Rose, Amelie, and Moulin Rouge.  I love all of those movies!

We stopped and had lunch at one of the cafes, and then walked up the hill to the beautiful Sacre Coeur.

Shops and cafes in Montmartre

Sacre Coeur Basilica

We spent the afternoon doing touristy things like viewing the Eiffel Tower from the Palais de Chaillot and taking the boat tour down the Seine.  Our boat actually broke down while we were on the tour, so we spent more time waiting for the police and another boat to show up than we did listening to the recorded tour guide.

Thanks, Mr. Photobomb Guy

View of Notre Dame from our boat tour

That evening, per the recommendation of two photographers we met in front of the Eiffel Tower (I have them to thank for the new banner photo above), we went to the 13th District for happy hour (cute bars with a young clientele, not far from the universities).

Bar in the 13th District

That evening, we followed the recommendation of our concierge and headed to the Boulevard Saint-Germain for dinner.  There were dozens of great restaurants to choose from, and we ended up at one called Au Beaujolais.  There were so many interesting characters in this restaurant — including the host, server, and Canadian gentleman at the table beside us — that I felt like I was in a sitcom (sorry for the iPhone photos… my camera died earlier in the day).

The food was great too.  Since it was our last dinner in France, I stuck to the traditional dishes: French onion soup, beef bourguignon (amazing!!!), and creme brulee.  Steve had the lamb.  Everything was delicious.

The sky opened up in the middle of dinner, so we had a leisurely cafe au lait afterward as we waited for the worst of the rain to pass.

Paris in the rain

That concludes the updates for our trip.  Stay tuned for more photos as I get them sorted out.  I could say the trip was great, but that would be a gross understatement.  It was the trip of a lifetime, and I am convinced more than ever that I want to live there.  More on that later :-)

Au revoir!


On The (French) Road… Again

June 3rd, 2011 | Rachel

Just a quick update on what we’ve been doing.

After our tour of northwest France, we headed south to spend some time amongst the grape vines.  We spent the first night in the city of Bordeaux.

Somehow I ended up on a date with Justin Bieber.

I learned that the French put butter on their oysters… and have bars with automatic wine dispensers.

The next day we went to a large flea market in the middle of the city.  We found the honey badger, but he doesn’t care.

The main event, of course, was the wine.  We spend two days driving around St. Emilion and Medoc, touring wineries, and drinking wine.

As a special treat, May 30 was Steve’s birthday.  We celebrated by visiting two wineries and eating lunch and dinner at two particularly delicious restaurants.

Stay tuned for more!

Guest Blogger: Come With Me On A Road Trip To The Mediterranean

May 16th, 2011 | Guest Blogger

In honor of my own road trip through France starting next week (!!!), today’s guest blogger takes us on a drive to the Mediterranean.

Joanne Mathews, a UK native, has lived in France for three years.  Joanne is the co-owner of a photographic tour company called Escape2France.  Joanne and her husband, Peter, also own La Calade, a bed and breakfast located on the outskirts of a Corbieres wine-growing village in South France.

This beautiful area, from where Escape2France conduct all its France-based photographic tours, sits, geographically-speaking, alongside the Mediterranean coastline between the port of Marseille and the Spanish border. Having been subjected to a recent name change, we are now to be known as Sud de France rather than Languedoc-Roussillon – a simplification that will not be popular locally. Ah, the universal dislike of change!

The other half of the French Mediterranean coastline comprises Provence-Cote D’Azur, which sits between Marseille and the Italian border. Sud de France, saturated as it is in history and awash with chateaux and vineyards, also incorporates the foothills of the Pyrenees and through it all ambles deep gushing river gorges, colourful market towns, hovering birds of prey, slinky Pyrenean lynx hunting the wild boar and alongside it all, isolated and beautiful villages, each one built on a rising, almost nipple-like rock, topped with a chateau and a church, bells clanging regularly across the red tuille roofs.

Because of this stunning scenery, the region (whatever its name!) makes an excellent base for photographic tours and holidays with its undulating scenery and the dreadful history of the Cathars to absorb. Briefly, in the 13th century the church of Rome ruthlessly put down heretics and sects such as the Cathars who threatened their authority and financial stability. The church, with the strong support of the Kings of France, disbanded and persecuted the Templars and outright murdered the Cathars, who had sought refuge in a series of chateaux and towers along the Pyrenees.

However, today, the Cathar and Templar crosses are proudly displayed on the flags of the region. The local people, who don’t consider themselves to be French but the d’Oc, are typically Mediterranean – friendly, chaotic and noisy – and, of course, everywhere, the superb quality wines produced in this, the largest vineyard in the world.

It’s the start of springtime here in the Sud de France. Searching for inspiration, I decide to take the short road-trip to the coast. On the drive down to the favoured wine chateau – Château Rouquette sur Mer on the Massif de la Clape – a wine-growing area sited on a small cliff-faced mountain separating Narbonne from the Mediterranean Sea – I have my “plastique” wine container in one hand – and in the other, my camera.

All around, the mimosa is flowering – clear splashes of yellow against the wintery sunlight but most exhilarating of all, when I approach the Mediterranean Sea, are the colours of the sky. I have only ever seen such blues in the work of painters who flock to this coast for the intensity of the light. The deepest blues are high above me, the palest near the horizon, with every brilliantly reflected variation pulled in different directions across the water by the breezes and the currents. Such light can mesmerise – you feel pulled towards the sea, clutching your camera and feeling slightly breathless about these, the first truly possible outdoor shots of the year. Pink almond blossom illuminates the vineyards which are otherwise empty of colour and which appear slightly drab against the beautiful, newly emerging hedgerow greens.

I’m in a hurry – I’m afraid the scene will vanish if I don’t catch it soon. But then one change in the wind direction, one cloud – everything will be altered, will have disappeared before the shot is in the bag!

As I drive over la Clape, I realise the windscreen is spattering – the rain is falling. This is one of the driest parts of France – less than 50 cms of rain each year – and virtually all of it in November and March. Recent descriptions of our weather in springtime include “you know the Mediterranean weather in the spring – up and down, like the mood of the people ……” a true to life description of everything Mediterranean.

I look out over the vineyards to my left – their sheltered situation meaning that even so early in spring, there is the merest hint of a green wash to the vines. The sun has encouraged a few buds to burst forth, whilst the edges of the fields are carpeted in deep-purple and pale lemon – hundreds of heavy headed Iris flowers peering at the sun, planted throughout the generations by vineyard owners, who consider the Iris their symbol, always giving a pictorial feeling that Easter has arrived early. Looking watery, the combination of sun and rain has produced a rainbow of course. More Mediterranean magic!

I take my photographs, fill my “plastique” and I drift away to the étangs, a string of lakes which sit along the Mediterranean shoreline and which, in the springtime, attract large quantities of migrating birds – pale, watery colours wash over this inland sea combined with pink flamingos, standing one-legged in the water – and I consider a summer full of light and sunshine. Always a hot summer, filled with photographers, summer food and wine, tours around the castles, chateaux and vineyards – and conclude that such idyllic times are there to be shared.

Come and join us! Follow the Escape2France link for further details of our summer tours.

– Joanne Mathews

Guest Blogger: Sojourn to Savoie

April 11th, 2011 | Guest Blogger

This is the first of hopefully many guest posts.  My friend Lisa recently traveled to Savoie, and she kindly agreed to shared some of her beautiful pictures.  If you would like to write about something or share some pictures, email me at  ~ Rachel


Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit the Savoie, which is in the Rhône-Alpes region of France and about four hours outside Paris. Upon arriving in the small town of Saint-Pierre-d’Albigny, I was immediately greeted by natural beauty–snow-capped mountains, lakes, waterfalls, fir trees, birds– and felt like I was on a set for “The Sound of Music.” On my first day, I hiked up to the Chateau de Miolans, castle ruins from the Twelfth Century that later served as a prison, the most famous of whose convicts was the Marquis de Sade.

On later days, I enjoyed sunbathing at a natural lake, exploring the quaint town, and enjoying many of the locally-produced wines, which were a steal at € 2-4 a glass. Wine production is a large part of the agriculture of the region. Savoie wines are made from grape varietals that are rare elsewhere and best enjoyed young.

I also took a day trip to Annecy, in the Haute-Savoie. This scenic city offered a perfect blend of natural beauty with urban delights.

There is great shopping in Annency (I did some serious damage), including well known chains as well as independent shops, and abundance of aesthetically pleasing food, whether sold in patisseries or at a farmer’s market.

You can also take out a paddle boat on Lake Annency.

Should you find yourself in the Savoie, I highly recommend visiting an Intermarche, which features the ingenious product Porteval=wine in juice boxes, which makes a great treat for the long trip home.

A bientot!

~ Lisa D.