Archive for the ‘Sightseeing’ Category

A Few Days in Kigali

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

My first stop on this adventure has been Kigali in Rwanda.

Travelling the world in 2016 is a very different prospect from what it was in 1999 when I first set off with a friend from Australia to Europe. I used AirBnB from the UK to find and pay for a room in a house in Kigali. I had some contact with my host before arriving. My plane landed in Kigali at about 11pm. By the time I got out of the airport it was midnight. But that was ok. There was an ATM where I could get local cash and a little kiosk selling SIM cards. So I had a local SIM in my phone with a data connection and could text my host to tell her I was on my way. I got a taxi to her place. She met me and gave me all the information I needed to get me set up for the next day. I could contact friends and family in Europe and Australia to let them know I was safe. Very different from 1999.

And despite having slept a lot on the plane I still slept well that night.

The next morning (Tuesday) I slept in and very lazily got up and sorted. I had a shower and washed some clothes from the previous day at the same time (stamping on them in the shower helps to push the detergent through them quite effectively and saves water).

I headed out with a few aims in mind: cross a road; buy water; get on a bus (preferably the right bus); go for a walk; find food. And I succeeded in all of these. I’m foreign, these things take considerably longer than they would for a normal, local person. But that’s part of the joy. 🙂

I got the bus into town and got off vaguely where I thought I wanted to be (not that I really knew where I wanted to be). I wandered around for a while and proceeded to get lost. (Well I was outside the Russian Embassy, just down from the Marriott hotel – so I wasn’t really lost – I just didn’t know where these places were.) I then checked the map to discover that I was heading in the opposite direction from where I wanted to be. So I turned around.

This is what travelling is all about. 🙂

I found somewhere for lunch and had a traditional Rwandan buffet. Though I just stuck with the veg options. I did realise part way through that I was breaking several of my food guidelines – I ate salad, I ate from a buffet, I didn’t peel the avocado myself. But my host had said that she brushes her teeth with tap water, so I guessed that any salad that had been washed in tap water was probably ok. I had a Coke with my lunch just to be on the safe side. Given that Coke can strip oil stains off driveways I figured it would kill anything I may have just put in my digestive system! (Note: this is a joke: I did not drink the Coke thinking that it would protect my health.)

After lunch I went for a wander to the Azizi Life boutique. Azizi Life are the organisation I’m visiting next week for their cultural experience days. There’s a café next door, so I sat in there for ages pottering around on my laptop and reading a bit. After all, this is meant to be a holiday!! 🙂

My host, very kindly came to meet me – she has a car. And we decided to go for dinner. She took me to this very lovely place where we sat by the pool overlooking the hills of Kigali. Gorgeous. And the pizza was pretty good too. 🙂 My host is lovely and chatting to her over dinner was fascinating. AirBnB is a fantastic idea!!

Wednesday was a ride on a moto (see the separate post about that) and a trip to the Kigali Genocide Memorial (a few separate posts about that). And the afternoon was buses to a coffee shop with a lovely view and great cake and a chance for me to write some blog posts after the morning.

This was also when the rainy season started. But there’s a separate post about that too.

So a lovely two days in Kigali. I think I could spend a lot of time here and not get bored, but I’m off tomorrow for the next stage in my Rwandan adventure.

Riding Wild Animals

Monday, July 14th, 2014

We went to an elephant park with the intention of looking at the elephants and of riding one. (Well, I had no intention of riding, but this is irrelevant at the moment but shall become more relevant later in the story).

Now here’s a thing. Elephants are either wild or they are not.

If they are wild, then the park/sanctuary will be very large and won’t be able to guarantee sightings. Visitors won’t be able to get close to the elephants, they won’t be able to feed them, they won’t be able to ride them.

The sanctuary may be one of those rescue places that saves injured or orphaned animals and then releases them to the wild. In these cases, if they are doing it properly, visitors shouldn’t be able to feed or get close to the elephants because that will damage the animal’s chances of surviving in the wild.

The park/sanctuary may have captive animals. They may have been born wild and rescued/captured at a young age, or they may have been born in captivity. In these places the animals will need to be broken and trained. Some of this training may include ill-treatment.

So it seems that animal lovers have a choice. They can get up close and personal with the animals they love, but those animals would have to have been trained. Which may mean they have not always been treated well. Alternatively, animal lovers can visit animals in the wild, but they will have to maintain their distance.

Given that both wild and captive elephants kill people sometimes I think keeping a distance is a very good idea in either case!

So back to the elephant park in question. It was one that had captive elephants (on very short chains). The mahut was hitting the elephant with a stick. It wasn’t very pleasant for the elephant lovers amongst us. Not only that, but due to this being the ‘treatment season’ we weren’t able to ride them. I decided a couple of years ago that I don’t want to ride animals since it doesn’t seem quite fair to make them walk around with me on their back purely for my entertainment. That’s what pushbikes and autos are for!

And the animal lovers amongst us were somewhat torn. Having seen how the elephants were treated, they weren’t sure if they wanted to ride after all, but given that riding an elephant is something that most elephant lovers want to do, it was a disappointment to have gone all that way and not been able to ride.

Elephants really are quite amazing creatures though! I don’t think I’d say ‘beautiful’ but they are interesting (despite being somewhat scary up close). I’m certainly very happy to be sharing a planet with them! 🙂

The Grand Bazaar – Istanbul

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Whatever your heart desires.
– As long as your heart desires something that we have.

A truly authentic experience
– We’ve been selling this trash to tourists like you on this very site for centuries.

It’s a bargain.
– The other guy sells exactly the same stuff for more money.

Everything you need.
-Nothing you actually need, but lots of things you want because we keep telling you that you need them.

Beautiful. Look at the quality.
– We know you feel insecure about your intrinsic beauty and self-worth. Linking your worth to material possessions is a quick fix. We can help you feel valuable.


I don’t object to people making money by selling things. It’s a sensible way to create a functioning society.

I don’t object to people paying lots of money for stuff that I think is worthless. I will spend money on things others think are useless.

I don’t object to people deriving pleasure from material possessions.

I do object to people spending money (especially money they don’t have) on objects that don’t give them pleasure – despite the advertised promises.

I do object to the precious resources of my planet being corrupted, exploited and destroyed in the proliferation of gaudy, unnecessary crap.

I do object to some of the subtext. The bazaar/shopping mall has become a focus of society. And its function is no longer the exchange of necessary items (and some luxuries). It is a temple to consumerism, materialism, waste, excess.

I feel isolated and alien because it is built on a premise that I disagree with and it communicates in a series of languages that I do not comprehend.

I feel powerless, frustrated and angry because the global, inequitable distribution of wealth and resources comes into a frightening  and clear focus that I just can’t ignore.

And I know that I’m overreacting. I know that I should just calm down and cope. But the passion and the fire that I have for social justice, environmental preservation and the pursuit of lasting and meaningful happiness is not something that I want to stifle. That fire is me. That fire is something that I am proud of.

And in the context of the Grand Bazaar, I say: Let it burn!

Getting to Poonthura – Part 5 – Chennai to Trivandrum

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

The bus was due to leave at 8. We were at the bus station early so we sat around chatting and watching the world go by. I was reminiscing over other bus journeys I’d had. I hoped this one would not be as scary as my Chinese bus experience where we drove the wrong way down the motorway at about 3 in the morning to avoid a jackknifed truck.

I’ve also heard lots of horror stories about Indian buses, but I suspect most of them were about the smaller local buses rather than these private AC fancy buses.

This bus was very nice. It had seats that reclined quite a way and the bit behind your calves came up as well. There were power sockets by the seats. There was a pillow and a blanket. The AC was cold! The attendant brought us a bottle of water and packet of juice. There was a video (rather loud and probably in Tamil so I didn’t really pay much attention).

I slept.

Though I found it a bit difficult to get comfortable. Might be that I’m shorter than average so the seats probably aren’t designed with my body size and shape in mind. With the pillow wedged behind my back my head could fall back a bit, though a bit too much, so my neck and back got a bit sore. Without the pillow, the headrest pushed my head forward a bit too much so my neck and back got a bit sore. Ah well, buses are never the most comfortable places for sleeping. And the muscle aches would go away. But I did get quite a bit of sleep so that was good. Plus, I never feared for my life. Which is a bonus! That might have been because I was too busy sleeping and not paying sufficient attention. But I think it was actually just a good bus and sensible driver.

Once we got to Trivandrum we found an auto which took us to Poonthura.

And a room with a bed that was horizontal and not moving!

It’s nice to be home!

A very big thank you to Johny (and his friend) for coming all the way to Chennai to meet me. It was a fabulous adventure and I’m very glad I didn’t get the expensive flight direct to Trivandrum! 🙂

Getting to Poonthura – Part 4 – Chennai

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

So we had a few hours in Chennai. We’d booked a hotel for two nights when we’d initially thought we’d be staying for two nights.

The auto driver who had taken us to the bus station then took us to the hotel. Via a couple of food places so we could get some lunch.

The traffic in Chennai at that time of the day was horrendous so it took us ages.

But by 2pm we were in the hotel. We were leaving again at 5:30 to head back to the bus station for our bus.

So not long in Chennai. And the traffic meant that we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere or see anything.

Ah well, a shower was in order and some food and some resting and some chatting.

And before we knew it, it was time to head off.

Traffic at 5:30 was even worse! But we made it to the bus station and found a place to eat.

Dinner was chappatis, wade, curry and fresh orange juice. Very, very nice indeed!

We three all agreed that we like Trivandrum much more than we like Chennai but, to be fair, we didn’t really give Chennai much of a chance.

We’ve seen quite a bit of Chennai, from the back of an auto. It’s busy, dirty, smelly, big, crowded. Almost certainly not the worst city in the world (or in India) but not exactly pleasant. Though it was interesting to drive through it. I have no idea how kids on bicycles can navigate those roads and that traffic.

I laughed at intersections with vehicles of all types going in all directions (most seeming to ignore the traffic signals completely) and the funniest bit was the pedestrians just walking through the middle of it all.

Having to stop to wait for some water buffalo to walk down the road (the wrong way) before we could do our U-turn was also quite funny. As was the fact that the only reason we could do the turn there was because someone had come and ripped up the concrete blocks that divided the two sides of the road. Johny and I both suspected this act of vandalism had been carried out by the auto drivers.

The bus that knocked another concrete block into the middle of the lane of oncoming traffic was also interesting. But a few people did stop to manhandle it out of the way.

So, if nothing else, the traffic in Chennai is interesting. 🙂

Getting to Poonthura – Part 2 – Travel to Chennai

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Johny left home at about 9pm. I left at about 10:30pm. I got to the airport at about midnight. My flight was at 3am. It got in at about 4:30 (I slept on the flight). I got through customs etc and walked across the road to the train station.

I got the right train to Chennai Central, I just got off at the wrong place. I should have got off at Park and then walked across the road to Chennai Central, but I didn’t know that at that time. Ah well. I wasn’t in a hurry.

I made it to Chennai Central station eventually and confirmed that the boys would get in at about 10am.

I had directions for how to get to Café Coffee Day. It’s an Indian chain of coffee shops and I thought I would spend a couple of hours there drinking tea (with separate milk) and snacking and then I’d head back to the station to meet the boys.

It was only 2.5 kms from the station. That’s not far, so I started walking. It was about 7am. Not too hot but certainly not cold. I did manage to work up a sweat carrying my 10kg bag on my back and crossing Chennai roads without getting run over.

I found the place, which made me happy. But at 7:30 in the morning it was closed. Which did not make me happy. And there was no sign telling me when it might be open. Ah well, it was a good idea in theory.

Plan B. Head back towards Central Station and try to find an open AC vegetarian restaurant. No luck.

Plan C. Get the bus back to Central Station because it’s getting hotter and my bag is not getting lighter! Success.

Plan D. Find something cold to drink and something to eat at Chennai station, find a seat, wait there for 2 hours for the boys.

I liked Plan D.

I did nap for a little bit. After twisting myself and my bag into a configuration that meant if someone tried to steal my stuff I’d wake up. This didn’t happen. I still woke up every few minutes anyway.

The boys arrived at 10:30.


Getting to Poonthura – Part 1 – Pre-Travel

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

I was in Sri Lanka. I wanted to be in Poonthura (in Trivandrum district, Kerala, India). Not a problem. With the plethora of transportation options on offer, this should be easy. And it was. Sort of.

The journey turned out to be fantastic (just to give away the ending). But it was something of an adventure. 🙂

The first not so great decision was deciding to travel on the 20th of December. This is quite close to Christmas which causes transport to get booked up earlier than it would otherwise. But not a problem.

The second not so great decision was not actually making my final decision on dates until quite late (November I think). This meant trains were booked up. Trains in India tend to book up a week or two before travel under normal circumstances, for travel dates just before Christmas this is even worse.

The first interesting decision was to run with the Chennai plan. I could fly from Colombo to Trivandrum (the airport is only a few kilometres from Poonthura), or I could fly to Chennai and then get from there to Trivandrum and then to Poonthura. I decided to go with the Chennai option since that would save me about 100GBP. Which is a lot of mangoes! (As it turns out, it was also good fun, so definitely the right decision.)

The first brilliant decision was arranging with Johny to come to Chennai to meet me. He would bring a couple of his friends. We would have a couple of days in Chennai and then get the train back to Trivandrum. No problem.

Except for the lack of train tickets.

Ah well, it’s India, anything is possible in India.

Johny assured me that getting on the train would be ok and that we didn’t need to book in advance. I trusted him. (Ok, so I did buy a cancellable flight from Chennai to Trivandrum for the 23rd, just in case the boys couldn’t get to Chennai and I couldn’t get back to Trivandrum any other way. Shhhh. Don’t tell Johny. 🙂 I do trust him, honest! 🙂

Before I left Colombo, Johny told me that he and his friend had train tickets to get to Chennai. So that was good. We would then have an interesting adventure in Chennai and getting back but at least there would be three of us. Roll on my Chennai adventure!

Uda Walewe

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

We visited a national park called Uda Walewe. We stayed in a nice little hotel not too far from the park. The guy at the hotel arranged a jeep safari for us.

We got picked up at 6am. In the morning. 6. In the morning. Before breakfast (actually, that was good, I really didn’t want to have to get up early enough to be able to have breakfast in the morning before leaving at 6).

There were four of us. The jeep was pretty funky. We drove to the park. There were some very nice views on the way to the park of the sun over the hills and the mist beginning to rise off the trees. Beautiful!

We got to the park and got our tickets and our guide.

Off we went. I was standing on the seats (as was the guide) in order to be able to get a good view. Plus I could hold on to the bars on the roof (the canvass had been rolled back). It was a bit like being on a Sri Lankan bus. 🙂

We didn’t get far into the park before we started to see interesting things.

We saw peacocks in trees. They fly you know. Not far, only about a 100 meters. But they don’t like the rain (their feathers get wet and heavy) so just before the rain comes they fly up into a tree (not entirely sure how that helps them, to be honest, but I applaud them for having a plan – it might be that when wet they can’t get into the tree – (but they can get out) so maybe getting into the tree first just opens up their options).

We saw land monitors.
We saw hawks of varying types.
We saw spotted deer.
We saw a golden jackal.
We saw a wild dog (more about the dog shortly).
We saw painted storks.
We saw pelicans.
We saw parakeets.
We saw black robins.
We saw a couple of different types of bee eaters.
And we saw elephants!!!!!

Lots of elephants. Baby elephants (one that was probably only a week or two old). Some young males and females. Some bulls. Some older females. We saw some bulls on their own (and in pairs). We saw the herd of adult females and babies.

We also saw other tourists and a BBC camera crew.

But they were less interesting than the elephants. 🙂

There was also a dog. As many of you know, I’m not a big fan of dogs. It turns out elephants aren’t either. It seems that dogs hunt the baby elephants (“do di do do do do do do do do, do do”). The adults are (understandably) a bit miffed by this and seem to respond by chasing dogs when they see them (or smell or hear them – their hearing and sense of smell are much better than their eyesight). If the elephants catch the dog, they will kill it.

There were two elephants from the herd who had noticed the dog so they were chasing it. At one stage the dog was on the right hand side of the road and the elephants were on the left. We were on the road coming up to this point. Fortunately, our guide signalled for the driver to stop. None of us fancied being in between a charging elephant and the object of its dissatisfaction.

The elephants didn’t catch the dog on this occasion.

It turns out elephants are quite nimble things! They can run quite fast. They are agile. Watching them use trunk, teeth and feet to strip bark off tree branches is fascinating!

After watching lots of the birds and animals in search of food, we went back to the hotel for an awesome breakfast for us (pol roti, pol sambol, seeni sambol, butter, jam)!

Daytrip to Colombo – Part 4 – The New Park

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

The bus we had to get was the same bus we’d got from parliament in the morning. It went from just across the road from Coffee Bean. After a small (but very friendly) argument between Isuri and me about whether the bus was going the right way or not, we arrived. Isuri is used to driving through Colombo so knows how to get to and from places by car. Buses go different routes. Likewise, I know how to get around by foot and on bus and get very confused (and often equally suspicious) when in a different mode of transport that goes a different route. This happens to me a lot in Cambridge. I can walk through Cambridge. I can cycle through Cambridge. I have absolutely no idea how to get from one end to the other in a car, there are so many restricted and blocked off roads. Taxis often go in completely the wrong direction when following their optimal route. So I completely understand her scepticism.

Anyway, we got to the park and wandered round. It’s a really nice place. A good use of space. Very pleasant. Lots of places to sit.

It was evening and dusk doesn’t last very long in Sri Lanka. We enjoyed watching the lights come on as the sky darkened.

Daytrip to Colombo – Part 3 – Colombo

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

We got a bus from parliament into Colombo proper. We went to Majestic City for lunch and to do some shopping. Majestic City is a shopping centre.

Isuri hadn’t been to Majestic City (or MC as the cool kids call it) before. We wandered around looking at some of the shops. Jean bought some souvenirs. We went to the food court for lunch.

We then headed off to the planetarium. It’s an interesting building architecturally and Isuri had been really keen to go. Which suited me. I love planetariums. 🙂

We looked for a meter three wheeler to take us there. The first couple gave us fixed prices. They’ve got this interesting thing they say which is to say “Meter price is 200”. Which of course makes people think that the price is 200 and they’re using the meter. Which is not necessarily true. So I said “No. Meter.” and then walked off to find another one. Isuri was a bit confused until I explained to her that the price may not be 200. The last time someone told me the meter price was 200, I got a three wheeler with a meter and the price was 90. As it turns out, the price on the meter this time was 196 so the first guy hadn’t been trying to rip us off, but I’m still happy we went with the second one. I want to use meter taxis as much as possible and not use the ones without a meter to try to encourage them to use the meter.

Anyway, we got to the planetarium. The website said there was a show at 2. We were there about quarter to. There were three other people there. It turns out that the timing isn’t particularly fixed, they will run the show when there are 30 people. If there aren’t 30 people then they won’t run it. Hmmm. So we decided to wait for a while at least to see what happened. This was a good decision. About 5 minutes later a bus load of school children showed up! Yay! So we had to wait for a bit while they had their lunch, but then we all trooped in. And the price was the same for the locals as for the foreigners. I love the planetarium.

The show as all in Sinhala. But that’s ok. I learnt a new word: ‘sooriya’ which means sun. And they showed the Southern Cross at one point so that was pretty cool. I was struggling to stay awake, not because I was bored, I wasn’t, just because I was tired and sitting in a darkened room gazing up at the stars not understanding the commentary was rather soporific. But I managed to stay awake for most (if not all) of it.

Isuri said afterwards that she thought it was boring. Because of the school group (primary) it was all very simple stuff. Jean and I explained that that was good for us, because it meant we had a better chance of working out what was going on. 🙂

Next stop: Coffee Bean. This is a western style coffee shop. I love it because I love coffee shops. And I love it because it’s clean and the tea comes with separate milk and they do iced frappes and coffee shop style snacky things. Much as I love Sri Lanka and everything about it, it is nice to escape to something a little more western occasionally.

I had a map, it wasn’t far, so we walked.

Isuri was doubtful. Jean was happy. I was confident.

Even when Jean recognised the road we were on and knew that Coffee Bean was a few hundred metres up on the left, Isuri was still highly doubtful. In fact, when we actually saw the place, she stopped in amazement that we’d made it. I’m not the best at map reading and navigation. I do get lost sometimes (all part of the fun), but I am pretty good at finding my way around, especially when I have a map and my destination is a place I’ve been to before (even if I haven’t been along that particular route).

Coffee Bean was awesome. The do a Pure Double Chocolate Ice Blended Drink. It’s amazing. Particularly with the additional whipped cream. I love it. Isuri loved it too. I think we’ve now got her hooked on Coffee Bean. 🙂

We sat around chatting and drinking and enjoying ourselves before it was time to head off to our next destination. A new park near Rajagiriya, another suburb of Colombo and quite near to the parliament.