Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Discovering God’s Own Country

The Indian state of Kerala is one of the many places that describe itself as God’s Own Country. Kerala’s tropical climate, natural beauty and a rich culture (that includes an amazing cuisine and interesting history) no doubt puts it in the running for the number one position.  

I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding in Cochin which I used as an excuse for a 12 day adventure in this amazing country. I visited Kerala as a baby and I've always had a slight fascination with India which was increased when I did a journalism project two years ago.   

I didn’t really know what to expect as I touched down in Cochin (or Kochin)a few days before the wedding. I knew that India was a British Colony but I didn’t realise the extent of the Portuguese and Dutch influence. Like most countries in the South East Asian region, India played an important part in the Spice Trade dating back to the Roman times (St Thomas is said to have brought Catholicism to India) and as a result it has a fascinating eclectic history with many influences.

Cochin is actually more spread out than I thought it was going to be or maybe because travel by Auto Rickshaw in Indian traffic is slower and which distorted my perception. I loved the local churches whose architecture was so different from what I've seen before.

Cochin is also where I feel in love with Indian dress. I don't normally spend much time thinking about clothes but here I fell in love with the colourful outfits and could help looking at what the ladies were wearing and wondering where they got them from so I could get the same. I did go on a couple of sprees and as a result I could only just shut my suitcase but I could have gotten so much more. 

I stayed in the newer part of town called Ernakulam which seemed more functional than historical. My hostel was off a highway that had car yard/auto accessory shops and cement factories down either side. Not far was LuLu Mall which is the swankiest shopping centre that I have seen for a long time and seemed out of place in the poverty and chaos.

The area that seemed to be the most interesting was Fort Cochin as this was where the historical sites where. The most famous of these were the Chinese Fishing Nets which were donated to the locals as a Thank You present and are about 400 years out and are still being used today.

Another Thank you present was from the Portuguese and the Dutch. The Dutch palace was originally made by the Portuguese but later was done up by the Dutch in the 17 century. It has a beautifully carved ceiling and gives an interesting history of the area but it does get busy with tourists so go early. Santa Cruz Basilica and St Francis church are both well worth visiting.

Not far from Port Cochin is Mattancherry which is home to “Jew Town” and its famous Paradesi Synagogue.  This Synagogue was built in 1576 (it’s the last of 7 Synagogues in the area) and established for a Spanish and Portuguese community that were given asylum after fleeing persecution. It is a pretty amazing buildings that are home to many beautiful objects including dozens of floor that are all handmade and slightly different.   

Unfortunately, the last day in Cochin I got really sick so I didn’t get to see as much as I had hoped for and plus there was a strike on which meant that a lot of places were closed.

My tips   
  • There is so much to see in Fort Cochin that it is probably better to use it as a base as that is where most of the action is;
  • Visit the Backwaters as they supposed to be amazing;    
  • Try as much food as possible;
  • I know that you expect to get sick when you go on holiday but when booking accommodation, choose somewhere that you wouldn’t mind getting sick in. When I got sick I was so glad that I hadn’t booked the cheapest place with no aircon or on suite as it made such a difference;    
  • If you want to buy Indian clothes go to the Boardway area.
  • Try and see some of the local dance, it is very cool.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

India’s Pink City is so much more than the Jaipur Literature Festival

I first heard about the Jaipur and its famous Literature Festival while volunteering on a Projects Abroad Magazine in Madurai in 2012 and as a lover of books and all things written it has been on my bucket list ever since.

But since arriving in the city that has been dubbed the “Pink City” I knew that there was much to it than it’s free Literature Festival even though it did seem to overtake the city for five days.

With the sessions at the festival starting at 10.30, I managed to squeeze in some sightseeing and a little bit of shopping. These were my highlights:

The City Palace
As its name suggests, the City Palace takes pride of place in the middle of the old city and as with many historical buildings it has been added on and transformed over the centuries.

With its striking Rajesthani/Mughal architecture, I loved the intricate stone and paint work that was often breath taking. The detail and effort involved in creating such buildings blew my mind.

Jantar Mantar
This is just opposite the City Palace and you’re into pre-modern machines. Jantar Mantar is a big garden with dozens of what Lonely Planet describe as sculptures but I think they are more like useful sculptures as they allowed people to measure the passage of time, etc.

To be honest, this isn’t my thing so I kind of sped around it but if is your thing you can get a guide that can tell you more about the exhibits.            

Amber Fort
This is quite a way out of town but is worth the trek. The fort is at the top of a steep hill and offers great view of the surrounding area and includes defensive walls that are quite similar to the Great Wall of China.

While it costs to go inside the palace section, it is free to wonder around the outside to admire the view. 

You can also ride elephants here.

Hawa Mahal
I only had time to admire the Hawa Mahal but this is the jewel in Jaipur’s crown.

This ornate sandstone palace was built in 1799 to allow the ladies of the Royal Court to watch life go past without being seen. It has five storeys and offers (so I am told) of the city. 

It has a small museum that highlight’s the Jaipur’s regal past but note it is closed on Fridays and shuts at 4.30.   

I defiantly will have visit Hawa Mahal next time I am in Jaipur, which will be soon I hope.      

There is so much to see in Jaipur so make sure to include it in your next Indian Trip 

No cost allow thousands to enjoy Jaipur Literature Festival

When I close my eyes and think of the past few days I have images of large crowds; great numbers of school children, older people and everyone in between. While the idea of India and large numbers of people often go hand in hand, what is so unusual is that they were all there for one thing – The Jaipur Literature Festival.

The Jaipur Lit Fest focuses on showcasing Indian writers to both Indians and the world as well as bringing writers and thinkers to India. While there were many sessions in English, there were many in one of the various Indian languages. The Festival also covered the visual arts, popular culture and politics.   

With other writers’ festivals only having modest attendance, this writers’ festival was able to attract 245,000 people over a five day period which is a fantastic achievement. People came from all over India and from overseas to enjoy a bonanza of ideas and debate.

The crowd was so diverse and it was great that they could come and enjoy it for free. The often highly intelligent questions at the end of each session were impressive and showed the people attending were completely engaged and switched on.  

I was lucky enough to make it to the last 3 days, which was probably a good thing as coming from Perth, Australia (where we don’t do crowds) I found the number of people to be a little overwhelming.  But it was still an amazing experience be immersed in a literary tradition that I love and want to find out more about.

The Festival doesn’t stop when the sessions end. Each day is bookended by music, softer music in the morning at Diggi Palace that can be enjoyed with a Masala Chai (while figuring out what you’re going to see that day) and full on concert in the evening over at Clarks Amber Hotel.  

I could give you a word by word account of each session but to be completely honest, you just had to be there. Thankfully, all of the sessions are on YouTube where you can enjoy them sitting down and from the comfort of your own home.

My suggestions are: session 75 – Wonderlust and the Art of Travel Writing, session 117 –Beautiful Offspring: The Art of Historical Fiction, session134 – The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets, session 146 – The CIA and the Wilderness of Mirrors, session 152 – The Theatre of War and session 158 – Cultural Revolutions.

But seriously, so many talks were interesting and memorable that I will defiantly go back to listen them again as well as view the ones that I missed.

Will I go next year? I hope so. It was such an amazing experience and I met so many great people and learnt so much that I felt uber sad when it was all over. So if you need an excuse to visit Incredible India, make 2016 the year that you make it to the Jaipur Lit Fest in person. 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Not Pho to go

I love living in Victoria Park! With all its cafés and restaurants, it means that the world’s cuisines are represented and you don’t have to go far to find something wonderful to eat.

So when a friend and I picked Vietnamese, we decided to try To To Vietnamese Restaurant as our spot for dinner. As they do traditional Vietnamese and other Asian cuisine, there is something for everyone but make sure you come early because it gets packed, even on a Thursday night.

To begin with we ordered Fresh Spring Rolls and money bags which were perfect. They tasted great and were beautifully presented.

Then we ordered San Choy Bow and a Beef Pho both were perfectly presented and very fresh. The pho could have had slightly more flavour in the broth but it still lovely.

The décor of To To Vietnamese Restaurant is great and all up is a great place to eat. The service was fast and the staff were great.     

If you live in Vic Park, To To's is a great place to have Vietnamese because there is so much about it that is great. 

To To Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Perth Writers’ Festival 2015 launch promises weekend of big ideas

With all the discussions surrounding freedom of speech as well as the power of the drawing the written word, this year’s launch of the Perth Writers’ Festival (PWF) was especially poignant.  

In the mellow coolness of Windtrop Hall, the launch began with welcome to century by Auntie May McGuire who welcomed us to Noongar (the local indigenous tribe and traditional custodians of the land) land and gave us a sense of what the area was like when she was young.

Soon the General Manager of the Perth International Arts Festival Julian Donaldson spoke against the recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo Magazine which made me think of how powerful cartoons/literature are and how they can be used to achieve both good and bad.

He went on to promise that PWF will be a weekend of celebrating humanity by immersing ourselves in words and ideas. He also reminded us that it will give us access to the writers we’ve idolised and introduce us to people we didn’t know.   

Soon PWF Programme Manager Katherine Dorrington spoke about the 2015 line up.

Highlights will be a Double Bill that will include Hillary Mantel (via video link from London) and Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love fame at the Perth Concert Hall.

Human Rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson will be speaking about compassion in the pursuit of justice in his work with inmates on death row. Bob Brown will speak on the happiness while Hugh Mckay will discuss the art of belonging. I am also looking forward to seeing Geraldine Doogue speak about her conversations with Australian Women in Power.  

These are just a few of the many writers that will speak.  There are many more that will inspire, entertain and make us think.   

Other highlights will be the PWF Family Day which is the most popular aspect of the weekend and a great opportunity for families to enjoy the various activities on the beautiful University of WA campus.

There is also a Twitter Novella that asks ‘what do you get when you give 50 writers 250 characters and no creative limits?’

Want to find out? Keep your eye on @pwfnovella and #perfest to know what happens.

I hope that you will get to enjoy some of the Perth Writers’ Festival and if you want to find out more about the PWF and the Perth International Arts Festival in general visit https://2015.perthfestival.com.au/ because it is truly awesome.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Celebrating New Year’s Eve Sydney style

There is something about celebrating the end of one year and the start of a new year. It is a chance to remember the good times and commemorate the bad times. It is also a great time to set a positive tone for the New Year.

This year I got to spend New Year in Sydney; partly to celebrate my sister’s “big birthday” as well as to see in the New Year in one of the world’s most amazing cities.

My little sister and I were able to score tickets to The Opera Bar’s New Year’s Eve event, which was amazing and I couldn’t think of a better way of celebrating the end of 2014. It had a Tropicana theme which included beach like decor (very cool) and “acts” which were funny and the food was perfect. The music was also pretty good.

But really, it was the Opera Bar’s prime location that made it the perfect spot. Luckily enough we were able to get seats right by the water and while sipping on GHMume champagne we chatted away and enjoying the perfect view of the fireworks, which were breath taking beautiful and beyond amazing.

New Year’s in Sydney would not be the same without a visit to the beach.

1st January saw us celebrate our sister’s birthday at Reef’s Beach, which was one of her personal favourites.

There was cake, (more) champagne, laughing, chatting, swimming and just enjoying an amazing view.

Soon enough it was time to go pack and endure the five hour flight back to Perth.

 So Happy New Year everyone and I hope 2015 is everything that you want it to be.        
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