Sunday, 28 December 2008

Week 38, Varanasi, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
I can now quiet confidently say that India’s best attraction is also in India’s most boring town. Apart from the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, (a deserted palace outside Agra), 1 or 2 days at most would be enough for Agra. We spent 5 days here including Christmas day. The Taj Mahal is defiantly worth seeing. A lot bigger and more impressive than I thought it would be. We were there on the right day at the right time, the fog had disappeared and it was not very crowded at all so we had some good photo opportunities.

Christmas in India is a bit of a non event, no one pays it much attention until after it has happened, and then they put up some decorations. We phoned around some upmarket hotels to find a place to have Christmas lunch and only one had a Christmas buffet, but due to security reasons would not accept anyone who was not a guest. So we had pizza instead. The fog returned Christmas Night as we waited for our train to Varanasi at 11.30pm. The train was only a half hour late so we were onboard by midnight.

Varanasi, another hectic chaotic town, fortunately we had someone to meet us at the train station and guide us to the hotel. It’s just as well because the finding the way through the winding streets, Bazaar and alleyways down to the Ganges would be impossible. The city is billed as the oldest in the world and India’s holiest city. It is an incredible sight looking up and down the Ganges from our balcony. A ceremony it held every night here celebrating the river. It’s an hour long ceremony, with lots of incense, smoke and fire along with bell ringing chanting, gongs, water sprinkling and flower tossing. A frantic experience. We went for a walk along the Ghats today (the stairways leading down to the river), being Sunday it is the day off for most Indian’s, so they were out in force bathing in the Ganges and washing their cloths and praying. We also went past the Burning Ghats where cremations are performed on the steps of the river. A trip along the river is a good way to get back and get a view from the other side.

In other news, we booked some ticket back to Australia. We have some business to attend to with our properties, so it gives us an opportunity to refresh ourselves back home and plan for the next step, be that a trip back to Europe, New Zealand or around Australia, we don’t know, but destiny takes care of these things for us. We will still be doing our month volunteer teaching in Puna, then a train back to Bangalore. We will be back in Australia first week in February. Mumbai next stop.

All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Week 37, Agra, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

When we left Australia, we made it a rule not to travel anywhere with a ‘Stan’ in it. But this week we found ourselves in Rajasthan, India. Technically it’s not a ‘Stan’ because it has an H in it, but it is very ‘Stan’ like. There are more funny hats here of so many different designs, than anywhere else in the world per capita. However our only real destination here was Jaipur.

Jaipur turned out to be a real surprise. Apart from the chaotic city itself (only 2 million), it has more forts and palaces than anywhere else we have been. The forts are really impressive, built on top of the hills surrounding the city, with huge towering fortifications, they are truly impressive structures. Around the forts lie walls comparable to china that stretch off down the mountain side then back up the opposite side. Within the city walls are more palaces and an astronomical observatory.

In the suburbs surrounding Jaipur are more palaces again. We went to a one of these palaces, renovated by the Taj hotel group (5 star) and had to sit down at the restaurant and have a cup of tea, which cost us $18 but worth every cent just to be able to wander around the palace and beautiful gardens and use the luxurious loos. Also worth a visit is the monkey temple at Galta, actually two temples, a dozen shrines, some sacred pools nestled in a gorge and covered in monkeys. This is the same temple in the National Geographic TV show, Monkey Thieves.

We are now in Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal. We only arrived yesterday so haven’t been yet. It is much colder here than even Delhi and has a permanent pea soup fog. We will still be here on Christmas day, so till next week...MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Week 36, Delhi, India

Dear Ethel Family and Friends,
Delhi...Wow, what a contrast it was been to our last few weeks in Goa. We caught the train on Tuesday from Goa to Delhi, it was a 30 hour trip as it turned out only 2 hours late surprisingly. We traveled in a first class cabin as it was the only ticket available to us when we booked. It worked out well as we had the cabin to ourselves and could lock the door at night and get a good night’s sleep. The first 6 hours are a novelty, the second 6 are spent reading, sleep for 6 or 8 then by then you start getting bored. Louise was crook the night before the train trip and was quiet most of the trip. The curry I ate on the train got me later the day after.

We left Goa at 11.30 am and arrived at Delhi 6.30 pm the following day. We had hoped to get into Delhi before the sun went down, but sadly not the case. We followed our usual routine of finding a prepaid taxi booth, and after literally fighting our way through the hordes of taxi and tuktuk drivers, hotel touts and would be opportunists, we purchased a ticket that ended up being in a tuktuk. The madness on the streets of Bangalore is magnified by 10 on the streets of Delhi. Its hard to get your bearings, even with a map as the one way streets, roundabouts and circular street systems are so confusing. We eventually found our way to our hotel in the main bazaar with a few phone calls and checks with other drivers along the way.

The following day we decided to get into some serious sightseeing as there is a lot to see here and the place is vast and sprawling. We planned on the Red Fort first and set out walking through the main Bazaar, over the New Delhi Railway station and caught a tuk tuk on the other side to the fort, only a distance of maybe 1 kilometre. However this took us at least an hour and after haggling with the driver we made it. The Fort is a splendid example of Islamic Architecture and took us 3 or 4 hours to complete. The army protects all the sights around the city now and are set up with high profile security. But this doesn’t protect you from the hawkers and touts when you come out. We thought the taxi and tuktuk drivers were bad, but the cycle rickshaw drivers are far worse. They pull their bike up on the footpath and block your path and another will block you if you try to turn around. They also heavy the tuktuk drivers into not taking you, making it very difficult. We made it back eventually but it took a whole day to do the one sight.

We then decided to do a tourist bus journey of the city which we did yesterday, we saw all the sights we wanted too, although it was a little rushed. We also did the Museum here which included a Faberge collection much to Louise’s delight. It’s been a good brief visit to Delhi, glad we came but glad we are moving on tomorrow to Jaipur.

All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Week 35, Goa, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends

Well it’s been a quiet week on the beach in Goa, literally as the hordes of tourists seem to have cancelled their holidays to Goa in light of the Mumbai attacks. Many of the restaurants and beach accommodations are empty.

One highlight of our extra week stay here was watching a short but very fruitful fishing trip off the beach. Huge schools of fish swarmed in toward the shore at about sunset, as we are having an afternoon walk. Energetic fisherman (you don’t normally see this) push their boat into the surf and go out about 500 metres and drop their net. They trawl along for a bit and then come back in. The net is about 1 km long and they have 2 teams of 12 men hauling the net back up onto the beach. It probably took an hour to pull the net in. The fish were frantic and making the sea boil with their movement. Kids both Indian and visitors were having a whale of a time, some of the hippies were trying to catch some of the fish by hand and set them free and it was a real festival atmosphere among the usual band of jugglers, acrobats, yogi’s and guitar playing hippies that you find on the beach at that time of day anyway. By the way I bought a flute, but don’t call me a hippie. When they eventually got the haul ashore, there were mountains of fish. It was a great afternoons entertainment.

In light of having to stay an extra week in Goa, we have now managed to reschedule our north India trip. We are leaving on Tuesday 9th on a train to Delhi, we could only get the 1st class sleeper which cost us $20 more I think. We are usually happy with the 2nd class but you need 2 weeks’ notice to book the trains online successfully, so we paid for the upgrade. 15th we travel to Jaipur, the 20th we travel to Agra and 25th we travel to Varanasi (merry Christmas to us) and then the 30th we travel back to Mumbai for a few days and then on to Poona on the 3rd January.

We will be staying in Poona for a month or maybe more to do some volunteer teaching. We have been put in touch with an Australian couple who run a school there. We look forward to cementing our TESOL qualifications now that we have a chance to do so. They tell us there is also a chance to travel around the region near Poona to do some teaching in remote areas as well, so we look forward to the challenge.

So we will be at the Taj Mahal on Christmas day and Mumbai on New Year’s eve (I think that one will be a quiet one for us!). So we would love to hear what you’re up to over Christmas and New Year.
All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Week 34, Goa, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends
This week we have been to the Town of Panaji, the main town in Goa. It was a big change to the slow life of Patnam beach in the south of Goa. However we stayed in the old part of Panaji town filled with Portuguese houses and churches. We stayed in a nice old house, Alfonso Homestay with peal shell shutters on the windows, a roof garden for serving breakfast and a lovely Portuguese family running the place. The main town itself, on the banks of the Mandovi River, is a compact and clean enough for Indian town standards and has the usual smattering of upmarket hotels, stores and restaurants as well as some parks churches and old colonial Government buildings, lining the river. A pleasant enough town but half a day will see it done.

The real reason for staying here is to visit old Goa, the site of the former Portuguese city and capitol of Goa. The city was abandoned during the mid eighteenth century due to plague and most of the city has since disappeared except for a string of churches in a varying state of decay. A lot of the history here points to European Christian dominance over the local people. One travel book I was reading was explaining the two hundred year Inquisition started by Francis Xavier in 1560. In today’s world we would call them war crimes or crimes against humanity, yet Francis Xavier was made a saint? We saw hundreds of people queuing to kiss his tomb as they left a church service. The old cathedrals’ and churches are worth seeing and one, the Church of St Cajetan is based on St Pauls in Rome with the Italian baroque dome on top.

We only spent a couple of days in Panaji and then headed north to the beaches again. We stayed at Mandrem and spent a couple of nights in an overpriced traditional grass hut at a place called Riva Resort. The food is also expensive here as they have you trapped with little choice but a few other overpriced resorts. We moved further north to Arambol a more populated beach with dozens of homestays to choose from at less than half the price. We are now at Luciano’s guest house for $15 a night. (

During the week the bombings and terrorist attacks happened in Mumbai and we had train tickets booked to travel to Mumbai on Monday. We were also due to start some volunteer work in Pune later in the week as well but will now be starting at the school on the 5th of January. However, all our plans have changed now. We were able to change our train tickets and will now be travelling straight through to Delhi on the 9th of December instead. But we will have to hang around the beaches for an extra ten days now as a result, still there are worse things in life.

All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Week 33, Goa, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
We had a reasonably quiet week this week, Ernakulam being a small busy town and not much to offer the tourist apart from transport in and out of the area. However they did have a pizza hut which is a change to the usual offerings of curry and rice.

Tuesday we caught an overnight train to Goa. The train left at 1pm and arrived at 3.30am. The second class sleeper is comfortable enough with bunk sleeping arrangements and sheets and pillow provided. Food and beverages were available continually as the hawkers travel up and down the train and as soon as we stopped somewhere, one lot got off as another lot got on. The only small problem on the train is they don’t announce the stops. So we woke at 3am and to disembark at 3.30am precisely.

There is plenty of activity at the station at that time of night including taxis fortunately. However not the case when we arrived at our accommodation at 4am. The caretakers didn’t know about any room for us, so we found some hammocks in the garden and went to sleep there. When we woke later in the morning we found a glorious beach with lots of cows and people doing yoga. The place we are staying has a nice shaded garden and a restaurant overlooking the beach run by an English chef...heaven. And seriously it is a very nice beach, I know that we go on about our beaches in Australia being so good, but this is a real contender. As a result we have decided to stay 6 days here.

We are at Patnem beach in the south of Goa at the moment and will be travelling north this week to have a look at old Goa, the Portuguese town and some beaches in the North.

All the best Ric & Louise

Monday, 17 November 2008

Week 32, Cherai Beach to Erakulam, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

We have been in the hill station district of Munnar for most of the week. The area is home to Tea Plantations, Coffee, Coco and spice farms including; pepper, nutmeg, cardamom and tapioca. The area also boasts Dams and National Parks. We did an early morning rise, 4.30am to do a trek through the Chinnar National Park to see some wildlife including leopards, elephants, deer, some rare mountain goats and the even rarer giant grizzled squirrel, so rare in fact that we didn’t see one or any of these things. We did see elephant and buffalo crap, a centipede and a small lizard. So, ok it was a nice park with a nice view but as far as bush goes, we have plenty of it at home. We were a bit disappointed so asked our driver to take us to see an elephant the following day.

He took us for a drive through the local sights, the tea and spice plantations the tea museum and factory, the dams and the top station, as high up as you can get without climbing. He also took us to an Elephant riding place where the elephants pose with tourists to get there photo taken and do short walks up and down the road. We asked our driver to ask the owners if we could wash the elephant. I think they thought we were a bit mad but they obliged us for the cost of two elephant rides, and we think the elephant enjoyed it more than the walk. (see video)

We stayed in a home stay called JJ Cotages and had a nice room with a view of the tea plantations with comfy beds and coffee in bed in the morning. We liked it so much we stayed a few extra days, five days in total. However the last two days we were there, the whole town decided to have a general strike. Nothing was open except one hotel restaurant for all the tourists to eat in. All traffic came to a stop as well. So it was a bit of forced relaxation. I took the opportunity to finish a number of videos.

We reluctantly came back down the mountain to the heat and humidity, to stay at Cherai Beach for two days. A nice beach by asian standards and the resort we stayed in was a bit overpriced for the quality, but they had good food, clean rooms and WI FI Internet. Yahoo, first time in India and with a fast connection as well. So I got to upload all the finished videos.

We are now in Ernakulam for two days, the main city in the region. We then catch an overnight train to Goa.

All the best Ric & Louise

Monday, 10 November 2008

Week 31, Alleppey to Munnar, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
Well we have been truly amazed by India this past week. The Southern Indian state of Kerala is so diverse and has so much to offer. We started the week in Fort Cochin, a colonial seaside fort area with quaint streets and nice and quiet. Here we saw the old Chinese fishing nets, crane like structures built out over the water to lift the nets in and out of the water. They take half a dozen men to operate and we saw one in operation. We also went to an evening of local Kathakali dance. They have great costumes and musicians play and sing along as the actors act out the story. I also went to a demonstration of Kalarippayat, the local version of martial arts, which use poles, knives, swords and shields and a nasty looking weapon consisting of three or more flexible blades, three or more feet in length and whirled around ones head to lacerate and otherwise assail your opponent.

On the Wednesday we left Fort Cochin by taxi and went down to Alleppey, the backwater country as they call it. It’s an inland lake and canal waterway system running a couple of hundred km up and down the coast. Some of it is reclaimed land that is used to grow rice and other crops. The canals run around the reclaimed land that is about one or two metres below water level. Anyway this is an Ideal area for house boating. We hired a boat for three days and two nights. The boat consisted of two bedrooms (aircon) and a dinning and lounge area open at the front and an upstairs veranda and viewing platform. We had a crew of three people looking after us. Needless to say we were fed well with three meals a day plus morning and afternoon tea with fried banana. The scenery around this area is real picture book stuff, every time we turned around there was something more amazing to look at. We passed duck hearders, duck farms, men climbing coconut trees, barges which are more like big canoes loaded to the gunnels with produce or sand, building materials, you name it. Even the mundane things like washing bathing, going to school were interesting to see. This is defiantly in our top 5 things of great stuff to do.

Well all great things must come to an end and we stayed overnight in a local homestay, a bit of a letdown after the houseboat, but we managed. Saturday we moved on north and into the hills on Munnar, a hill station area now holiday spot high up in the cool of the mountains about 1500 m up. It’s also a big tea growing area. The drive up here is truly a unique sight, after the coming through the heavy jungle areas on the way up the mountain you suddenly come around a corner and there are hills as far as you can see all neatly manicured tea plantations, it’s a fabulous sight. Well more about Munnar next week.

I have made a few video of our India experience so far but have been unable to post them despite India having a big silicon valley, IT reputation, they have the worst internet facilities we have come across yet. The connections are so slow and unreliable. We also bought a sim card here for our phone, a Vodaphone card and it has also provided terrible service. I’ll post the video’s as I am able.

All the best Ric & Louise

Monday, 3 November 2008

Week 30, Bangalore to Cochin, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
The first of November spells seven months on the road and also our trip to India. We flew into Bangalore on Tuesday night. I was a straight forward flight and no problems finding our accommodation. The airport in Bangalore is brand new as well as the roads in and out which leads you into a false sense of security.

First impressions of India are: It’s like Asia but much more intense, everything is more crowded, dirtier, the driving crazier. But it’s amazing in another way that there is some structure to the craziness, not that I can spot it though. All the women are dressed to beautiful saris of amazing colours. The markets are so colourful and vivid despite the squalor surrounding it. We started at the flower market where they prepare the flower offerings, threading thousands of flowers onto thread, and selling them by the strand or by weight. Then on to the spice market with huge mounds of colourful spices. Then followed by clothing, extraordinary colour and variety of Sari’s, Salwar’s and Kameez. And of course you can’t go to the markets without seeing the produce, once again colourful, exotic and with intense aromas.

Our hotel, the Cassa Picola Cottage is a small sanctuary away from the madness of the streets outside and they have a restraint attached. We ate out at a restaurant for lunch one day, at a vegetarian place. You don’t need to order as they bring you everything on the menu, but just small portions, talk about a taste sensation. It cost us $15 per person and that is an expensive place. We are told that Bangalore is a good tame introduction to India and that we should multiply our experiences by 10 for the rest of India. Bangalore is also home to all those call centres that bug you on the phone during your evening meal and also said to be the Silicon Valley of India so they are quite affluent compared to the rest of India.

Saturday we caught an overnight bus to the southern province of Kerala to Cochin, an inland waterway area. We arrived today at Fortcochin a seaside area with quaint colonial Portuguese and Dutch architecture. We intend to do a house boat trip here and also visit a Hill Station area and National park areas to wash some Elephants in the river.
All the best for now.
Ric & Louise

Monday, 27 October 2008

Week 29 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
Blood tests came back negative for malaria and I just had a case of the flu, 3 days in bed was all it took to recover. This made our trip to Penang rather dull, as our hotel wasn’t very close to the center of town so Louise was stuck at the hotel with me most of the time. We did get to see Danny and Barbabra for a meal and also caught up with Tana and Robert from the Sea English Academy for dinner, we also met Tana’s dad as well. It was good to catch up with people even only briefly.

Thursday, we flew to Kuala Lumpur for a 4 day stop over. We booked into a 5 star hotel on Wot If because it was so cheap and found out why. On one side of the hotel a building was being demolished and on the other side a new one was being constructed, fortunately we were on the construction side. Still it was right in the middle of KL on a train line.

Unfortunately, our friend Tony was in Sydney while we were in KL this time, so didn’t get to catch up, however the other student from our TESOL class, How Seng Lee, lives in KL as well. We phoned him and he showed up at the hotel to pick us up in a Saab convertible. First stop was Yum Char, a 15 course breakfast. We did a tour of the city and then we were taken out to How Seng’s garage. How Seng is an automobile fanatic and runs and owns a full auto garage to support his habit. He does this as a sideline to his main business of renovating houses and furniture manufacture. We wandered about his garage and counted about 5 complete Minis and another 20 or so in various stages of restoration.

Not long after we arrive another couple of Mini’s showed up and another owner to pick up one of his cars from the garage. How Seng had planned a Mini rally from KL up the hills behind to Fraser's Hill, about 120km away and 4000 meters up. We started out as 5 cars, one overheating before we left town and another driver got called back home for domestic duties, so we we ended up as 3 cars going up the hills. It was a fun day, as every time we stopped, a crowd of on lookers gathered to take photos of the shinny wee cars. How Seng had a friend who runs a guest house up at Frasers and we were treated to Tea and Scones at an old stone colonial hill station.

We had a fantastic day out and it is a terrific drive up the hill, through the jungle on the narrow windy roads. We will be having steam boat for dinner tonight, a Chinese specialty.
India on Tuesday. PS see the photo album for photos of the Mini Rally.

All the best Ric & Louise

Monday, 20 October 2008

Week 28, Penang, Malaysia

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

Despite our visa fiasco, we made it to Penang without a hiccup, but this was surely “pushing the envelope”. We left the lovely Island of Ko Samet on Wednesday at 10 am, opting for the speed boat back to the mainland, rather than the bone crushing ride in the taxi, which is really a ride in the back of a ute, and the slow Ferry back. It cost us an extra $20 each but worth it. On the mainland we were lucky enough to get a single mini bus back into Bangkok. The following day Tuesday, we picked up my new glasses then picked up the Visas at 5pm. Then Sky train to the MRT underground train which took us right to Bangkok Railway station and the 7.30pm overnight train left on time.

The second class overnight sleeper is a great way to travel. Food and drinks on the train if you want to buy them. Beds are made up at about 10pm and apart from the ‘clackety clack’ we had a reasonable night’s sleep. We were up at about 6am and had breakfast on board at 7am and the train arrived at Suri Thani at about 8am. The waiting bus drivers herded us on to our designated bus and we were off again, this time for the port about 60km from Suri Thani. Next we all pile off the bus and on to the ferry to Ko Sumi. About a 2 hour trip. Keeping in mind we have a 2.30pm flight to catch and its now about 10.30pm. It has been a somewhat nervous trip for both of us. The ferry arrives in Ko Sumi 12.30 on the dot. We transfer again to another minibus for the 45 minute drive to the airport. However we picked the only driver on the Island who has never been to the airport. And there were road works to gust to keep the stress levels peaking.

Needless to say we did make it on time, but it was a close one. Ko Sumi is a lovely airport, open air with free drinks and snacks while you wait which is just as well as that all we saw of Sumi. We flew with Firefly airlines, the old fashioned type airline that uses propellers for propulsions. It’s a good flight and got too see a good view of Penang as we flew around the west side of the Island as we came in to land. From the airport a short 1 hour taxi ride (peak hour traffic) to our hotel to relax.

Apart from that we haven’t done much this week. However, I have come down with some flew like symptoms. We have been to the doctor this morning (Monday) to get a blood test for malaria before setting off to India just in case. Will be in KL next week.

All the best for now.

Ric & Louise

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Week 27, Koh Samed, Thailand

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

After 21 days in Bangkok I have now finally escaped and lounging on a beautiful beach on Koh Samed. Most importantly I have Louise back with me, she arrived on Tuesday night. 21 days apart dosen’t seem like a long time apart but it is, believe me. We had both made the decision that we would be moving on to India. So my last week in Bangkok was spent aimlessly wandering around the enormous shopping malls, you can literally walk for miles inside the aircon and not have to set foot outside unless you want to cross the skybridge(the walkway under the skytrain) that links one group of shopping malls to another.

In our enthusiasm in planning the next few legs of our journey to India we have got a bit carried away with ourselves. In one afternoon on the internet we had booked tickets all the way from Bangkok to Koh Pangan, Koh Sumi, Penang, Kuala Lumpur and then on to Bangalore India. Success, all done, until... we quickly checked the visa requirements for India. Yes Australians need a visa before arriving, as does everybody nowadays. Quick search for Indian Embassy, check, get train and taxi, ah, embassy has moved, ok new taxi, race around the corner quickly run up to foyer...So sorry sir embassy is closed (pronounced close ed) today. Nervous wait until Friday morning. Friday morning arrive on the dot at 8.30am join queue fill out all forms including 27b, attached photos (luckily got them yesterday), wait in queue, approach counter...much stamping shuffling of paper, ticking of boxes . Thankyou sir, $80 each pay over there, then come back here and pay $20 each processing fee. IT WILL TAKE 5 WORKING DAYS TO PROCESS YOUR VISA. AAAAAAAHHHH (thats me). There is the spanner that brings it all undone.

As a consequence we have travelled down to a small Island not far from Bangkok for 4 days to wait until or visas are ready. Its Sunday today and we had hoped to be on Koh Pangan enjoying the fantastic Sunday roast at the Reluctant Chef with John, Richard, Steve and the rest of the characters who live there. Unfortunately we have missed that and will also not get to see Koh Sumi, as we now pick up our passports in Bangkok and catch the overnight train then bus and ferry to Koh Sumi and fly out that afternoon to Penang. So it’s a busy life we lead.

However Koh Samet is a very laid back Island, small and quiet and no real hi rise style tourist accommodation here yet. We are staying at Horizons, ao Seangthien in the grass hut style bungalow with aircon. As we come from Coolum Beach, we never really go looking for a nice beach as ours is so hard to beat, but the beach here is great, nice white sand and clean. And they make good coffee.

We should be in Penang next week. All the best for now

Ric & Louise

Monday, 6 October 2008

Week 26, Bangkok, Thailand

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

Well, I missed the blog last week, mainly because there was not much worth writing. Louise went back to Sydney and Bathurst and now back in Coolum with Colin and Sammy. I have been looking for work without much success. Nearly all schools want you to have a university degree, in order to get a work permit and I also don’t have any work experience apart from the 3 short weeks I did during prac on the course. One recruiter told me I will always be offered the jobs no one else wants, either being the furtherest out of town of in the countryside somewhere, largest class sizes etc. Also only getting a one month visa in Thaliand when you are looking for work makes it difficult as well, as my visa runs out in about 10 days time.

Louise & I have been talking on the phone and have decided that we will keep travelling for a while, this time going on to India. We will go to Penang first to visit our friends there, then on to Kuala Lumpur and get flights to Bangalore for about $350 each. Bangalore is in the interior in the south of India and will be a good starting point. We have a lot of research to do yet. Louise has been to India many years ago and I have never been. There are a lot of danger spots in India nowadays, with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka not to mention natural disasters, monsoons and flooding in the north. So we will probably stay down the south and west side of the country.

To fill in my time here apart from some interviews, I’ve been going to the movies a bit as it’s really cheap here about $2.50 AU ($14 at home). I’ve also been updating the youtube site and picasa web albums so don’t forget to have a look.

All the best for now

Ric & Louise

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Week 24, Istanbul, Turkey

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

Well we eventually made it out of Turkey after 9 weeks, however not without some self induced stupidity. Have you ever showed up at the airport a day before your flight? Probably not, but that’s what the Noble’s managed to do. Imagine our surprise, well better a day before rather than a day late.

Enough of that, we had a good week in Istanbul, we stayed at the Cordial Hotel in the Sultanamit district, which is the old city area and very central. It has a very European feel with the cobble stone streets. The public transport is very good as well with trams, trains buses and ferries all using the same ticketing system, how organised is that? Walking is easy as well as the weather has been kind to us as it’s been much cooler, even cold at night. As it is still Ramadan, where the locals fast during the daylight hours, it is almost impossible to get into a restaurant after dark, so we ate before dark. However one day I had the dodgy kebab experience and was laid up for a full day, stomach cramps, the full works, nasty. Once again, lucky it wasn’t the day before we left.

We did our share of sightseeing, Blue Mosque, St Sophia Museum, the palace, including the harem (pay extra), the Grand Bazaar. We ate at a restaurant with local music and a whirling dervish (will be in a video), how do they do that without falling over? The only thing we didn’t do was a Bosporus river cruise. We also caught the tram out to the city walls and found it very disappointing. The walls are there and are impressive however we found a carboot style market there, but found that it was really a place for vagrants to sell stolen goods, we felt very uncomfortable and couldn’t really get away quickly as there was a bottleneck where we had to climb up the walls to get in and out.

Well I’m now here in Bangkok and Louise is at home with her mum for a couple of weeks and will join me soon. I have met up with some friends here and they tell me it is a good time to be finding work here, so I’ll be doing interviews and looking for somewhere more permanent to stay over the next week or so.

All the best for now

Ric & Louise

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Week 23, Cappodocia, Turkey

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

It has been great staying in our small apartment for the past six weeks. It has been a great base from which to explore to south west region of Turkey. We have made some great friends in the area that we were sad to farewell also. But on Monday we took off for Cappadocia. We stayed overnight on Terry’s boat on Sunday night and didn’t leave until 6pm on Monday as it is an overnight service from Marmaris to Cappodocia.

The overnight bus is not ideal but probably the best way to travel internally in Turkey. It saves you a nights’ accommodation and usually get you where you want with enough time to do a tour that day if you choose to. We chose to rest and have a walk around Urgup, which was the small town in Cappodocia that we stayed in.

On Wednesday we did a half day tour in the region which included lunch and a visit to one of the dozens of ancient underground cities that the area is famous for. The cities were underground refuges for early Christians escaping persecution of firstly the Romans and later Muslim armys. The cities were an underground labyrinth stretching up to 8 stories below ground and were cut into the soft rock of the area. Our tour only did about 4 stories below ground but that was uncomfortable for most people as some of the tunnels had to be crawled through. Afterwards we did an Onyx and turquoise factory and bit of panorama gazing. The landscape in this part of the world is remarkable and resembles the moon’s surface (not that we have been there yet).

Thursday was our biggest budget blowout yet (well per minute of entertainment). We got up at 5.30am to go Ballooning. The temperature in Cappadocia is much cooler that on the south west coast and 5.30am was freezing, naturally we had not packed for cold at all. However that was short lived as they fired up the flame for the balloons. There were 12 people per balloon plus the pilot and there must have been 30 or 40 balloons. The landscape is covered in these tall thin rock formations that the pilot flies between. We also fly close to other balloons and over the top and underneath them as well, such is the skill of the pilot. Words cannot describe this so please see photos and video for visual superlatives.

The balloon flight was only an hour but well worth it. The rest of the day was spent on an organised tour of other areas of the region. Our accommodation was in a cave hotel, the rooms dug out from the face of the cliff, very comfortable and cozy. The food in the area is plain but tasty, the special being lamb or goat casserole cooked in earthenware sealed jars in a wood fired oven. After our early start on Thursday, we had a rest day Friday before our 12 hour bus ride overnight, arriving in Istanbul on Saturday morning.

Once again, after a long bus ride we had an easy day Saturday looking around where we are staying and visiting the Grand Bazaar. I also found the only bar in Istanbul to show the Bledislow Cup final between Aus and NZ. The place was packed to the rafters with holiday makers of both persuasions, faces painted and wearing matching shirts. It was a great atmosphere and an excellent game of Rugby, unfortunately my team didn’t win, but well done to NZ, 28 -24.

Sunday is the busiest day in Turkey as it is usually their only day off, so we keep quiet today as well and do a tram trip and wander the streets...plenty to see. We will save the pay for attractions for mid week.

Well not long to go now, we leave Istanbul on Thursday evening, so I’ll be corresponding from Bangkok again from next week.

All the best for now

Ric & Louise