India – Delhi

It’s been as hot as heck in London this week, which reminded me I still had some photos left from India, namely New Delhi, to share. My friends have taken to teasing me  – ‘have you heard where Amber went?!’ but whatever. It was THAT good.

Humayun's tombdelhi-tombHumayun’s tomb is one of the inspirations for the Taj Mahal, and will also be known forever as the place where I freaked out my cousin Shell by refusing to move in the 41°C heat… It was Just. Too. Hot. having flown directly in from the London chill.delhi-sky
I went on a street food tour with a great guy called Jeswin, who fed me all sorts of delicious things including fruit beer, gulab jamun and paneer shawarma. By dish number 13 I was flagging, but he cheerfully kept up the team effort. Bonus – he recommended some great Bollywood movies.Delhi Food Tourdelhi-street-fooddelhi-masala-sodaDelhi - Lassi Light

Agrasen ki Baoli is a is a 60-metre long and 15-metre wide step well in the centre of the city. It’s a bit of an architectural wonder, said to be over 1000 years old. Originally used as a water reservoir, now it offers respite from the bustle of Connaught Place and is home to quite a few bats!

delhi-step-well

One of my other favourite places in Delhi was the Jama Masjid. I was impressed with the scale of everything – the courtyard alone can hold 25,000 worshippers.

delhi-mosque

Side note: Next time I go to India I definitely plan to take a graduated filter set for my camera lenses as the brightness of the skies made everything under/overexposed. C’est la vie…

La Piscine

La Piscine is a museum of art and industry, located in the city of Roubaix in northern France – part of the Lille metropolitan area. It’s about 20 minutes away from Lille Flandres train station on the metro.

piscine

And what a treat it is! A contemporary art museum, housed in an art-deco public swimming pool.   Set across several levels, the main pool area remains a central focus, with sculptures lining a shallow body of water. Every so often the sound of children laughing and splashing is piped in, adding to the atmosphere.

piscine-stained-glassLille Piscine Statue

The showers and changing rooms are either used as walkways from one room to the next, or they house exhibition pieces. The gift store is perched alongside enormous tanks in the old filtration room, and what used to be the refreshment area has become a restaurant.

changing-roomStatue of a woman at La PiscinePool Tiles - La Piscine

Definitely worth a jaunt if you’re in the area!

Lille

I visited Lille, in northern France, last weekend for a city break. Why Lille? It’s one stop on the Eurostar from London on the way to both Brussels and Paris, and I was always curious as to what lay beyond the station platform.Lille

It turns out Lille is a very picturesque city that borders with Belgium, with everything you want in a French getaway – a big Sunday morning food and flea market; numerous patisseries; Europe’s biggest bookstore.

croissant-lille

Did I mention as well, on a fast train, it’s only one hour and twenty minutes from London St. Pancras? That’s the same time it can take to get to Birmingham!

city-bike-lillecoffee-cups-franceThese cups remind me of my friends Monica and Graham! The beautiful and the beautifully bearded.Companions of the Grape

Dinner one night was at Les Compagnons de la Grappe (the companions of the grape). While it was a little chilly outside in the evening, it was fun to sit in the courtyard and admire their insane murals. I love the gnome!
Pride eclairsIt was Lille Pride while I was there, and I very much admired these exquisitely decorated eclairs. Printed, perhaps?

Suze - Lille

I spent Sunday morning in the suburb of Wazemmes, around a half hour’s stroll from the city centre. I love flea markets… The suburb where I grew up, Takapuna, had a market every Sunday morning in the central car park from 6am until 12pm, and it was a rare weekend when we didn’t pop in for fruit and veggies, homemade soap, paint or some other errand. This one in Lille, has a similar hodge-podge of goods at its heart, including women’s shoes for two euros!

Mirror, Lillehortensia PatisserieBadminton Raquets french-pupI would definitely visit Lille again – it’s a cheaper(!), more relaxed alternative to Paris. Certainly less tourists in town… Perhaps in September for Grande Braderie de Lille – Europe’s largest flea market.

Glasgow – Mini City Guide

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So called problems: when you’ve barely finished sorting out the photographic remains – and washing – of your last trip when a new one rolls around… I was in Glasgow this week for work, and decided to come up ahead of the rest of the crew and spend my bank holiday Monday in Scotland.

Luckily for me it was the most glorious three days – bluebird skies and sunshine warm enough to make everyone strip off in the park. As I was there on a mission to find out what visitors to the city would enjoy, I thought I’d share my discoveries with you too.


SLEEP

  • Citizen M is a hotel of the future. Think cool iPad controlled lighting, windows, media and sound for you room, plus the biggest (XXL), comfiest bed ever. Even while making a starfish shape I only took up around half of it.
  • I also stayed at the centrally located Z Hotel – which had some delightful touches: bacon rolls at breakfast and a free cheese and wine buffet for guests each evening.

Citizen M hotel


SEE

  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery/Museum (below, a photo of the Floating Heads by Sophie Cave) – is a free cultural attraction with beautiful architecture. Make sure to take a detour through Kelvingrove Park, too!
  • The Necropolis and Cathedral area in East Glasgow.
  • The Lighthouse – Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Climb up to the top of the tower to be rewarded with a great view of the city.
  • If you’d like to see a Highland coo (that’s a cow to everyone outside of Scotland), head to Pollok Country Park on the south side of the city.
  • There’s loads of great large-scale street art to be found throughout the city too, so keep your eyes peeled.

Kelvingrove

Street Art Glasgow

Glasgow view

lighthouse-glasgow

Downtown Glasgow


EAT

  • Riverhill Cafe serves great coffee and their restaurant next door is a nice place for breakfast. Check out my vegetarian feast – complete with tatty scone!
  • Venture down a grubby alley in central Glasgow to find Stereo, a performance space with an interesting vegan cafe/bar above. I thoroughly enjoyed my quesadillas! The 78 in Finnieston also comes highly recommended by vegans and non vegans alike.
  • The Willow Tea Rooms were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1904 in his distinctive Art Nouveau style, and serve traditional fare. A good place to take your mum.
  • The Ox and Finch served up a fantastic dessert – my pistachio ice cream was eagerly devoured, and the setting was just right for hours of conversation…
  • Head to the Ubiquitous Chip in the West End for fresh Scottish produce (like flowers from their rooftop gardens) and innovative takes on traditional dishes.

veggie-breakfast-scotlandUbiquitous chip

For more Glasgow tips, make sure to visit Dianne’s blog – it’s her spirit city and she is far more clued up than me on what’s good. People Make Glasgow is the official city brand and also worth a gander.

India – Jaipur

jaipur-wind-palaceJaipur is known as the pink city – because in 1876 the city was painted pink to honour the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), in 1876. Why? Simply because pink is a welcoming colour; and many of the buildings remain this way today.jaipur-baby-monkey Jaipur-fabric Jaipur-rubies-in-the-roughjaipur-limes Jaipur-flowers

In Jaipur we visited the most gorgeous lotus inspired cinema to watch a Bollywood film, indulged in more than our daily quota of lassis; and visited a gem shop. I am no longer one for indulging in shopping, even at the best of times, so I sat outside with our auto drivers, where they all teased me  for having an old fashioned Lonely Planet.

jaipur-lassijaipur-scarvesjaipur-basket-store

It was one of my favourite places we visited – really modern, colourful and friendly… As evidenced by the fact on the way back from dinner somewhere, I was allowed to drive an auto rickshaw! What trust, and a life goal accomplished. Meanwhile Shell was freaking out in the backseat.


From Jaipur we also took a trip to the Amber Fort (pronounced with a silent b) which was quite thrilling to me for obvious reasons. jaipur-amber-VIEWjaipur-amber-fortjaipur-amber-palace

Elephants lumbering up the steps, sweltering heat, gorgeous gardens laid out like a elaborate rug design, and famed for a hall of mirrors… It was fabulous. Here’s a video of a song called Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya – a scene from the classic film, Mughal-E-Azam – filmed at the Amber Fort in the sixties:

India – Tordi Garh

Tordi Garh is in rural Rajasthan, a few hours bumpy drive from Jaipur. It’s a restful sort place, in the foothills with an excitable little boxer dog guarding a handful of chickens and some  horses in the stable yard. We stayed in this fantastic palace – with stained glass windows and beautiful tiles.tordi-palaceTordi

One of the highlights of the visit was a Jeep safari to the organic farms outside the village, home to an ancient step-well and climbing a sand-dune for chai and biscuits.

tordi-jeepAbove: one if our most excellent rides; and below: the sheep having I’d call a classic ‘New Zealand moment’.tordi-sheepTordi ChilliesThis is an ancient step-well, with a few fresh faced- goats standing guard. Step wells are ancient water stores – they’re one of the most beautiful discoveries I made on my trip.
tordi-step-well tordi-sunset tordi-gah

The view from the top of the sand-dune, and the chai and biscuits we enjoyed while jackals howled around us… Sadly I didn’t have my glasses so I couldn’t see them in the distance, but my fellow travellers assured me they were there skulking about!


A few other moments from around the village – including the world’s most beautiful cow?

tordi-daisy-cowtordi-piglet tordi-temple-roof

 

India – Agra

Taj Mahal - Agra

No trip to India would be complete without a pilgrimage Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan’s, tribute to love, the Taj Mahal.

We arrived after another fitful night’s sleep courtesy of the slow overnight train from Varanasi. The group was woken up early by Bhanu, our leader, to make sure we didn’t miss our stop, but every half hour we didn’t seem to be any further along the line. This meant my companions and I turned to a desperate (mostly me) mission to find a steaming thimble of chai or coffee and get something restorative down our throats. No dice. We  stopped at one station for around 20 minutes and every time I leaped out onto the platform, I seemed to miss the wallah by a carriage length.

Nescofe

Not to despair. I had packed a travel kettle (and thus proving I truly am ready to become a British citizen in the near future) and had stashed some emergency instant coffee sachets in my wallet. Between us, Shell and I managed to perilously boil a jug of water and make a nerve-soothing brew in our tiny travel cups. While the kettle was completely useless the rest of the trip – I thought I might boil water and refill my bottle in an eco-friendly manner, but that doesn’t work when you’re sculling nine litres of water a day – I did have this win to my name.

agra-train


We were only in Aghra for a day, so we had to make it count. First up, Agra’s 16th century Red Fort, which was built to enclose the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It was an unexpected architectural treat, and according to our guide, we only saw 25% of the estate.

agrea-red-fort-roof

agra-red-fort


The Taj is situated in Agra, city sitting on a large bend in the holy Yamuna River. The train sweeps in from the east, crossing through dusty land, when suddenly, you get a glimpse of this most majestic building in the middle of the landscape. I honestly couldn’t do it justice, so turn to the incredible Steve McCurry for his perspective.

Agra - Looking Back

The above is a shot of what you see if you’re standing on the raised platform, looking back across the gardens.

Agra - Taj Mahal

And close up… I honestly thought it had been a bit over-hyped – a la the Diana seat, which had a scrum of people around it – but it was breathtaking – especially at sunset.

Agra is also notable for being the place where I was weed upon by an obnoxious monkey, but we shall not delve further into one of the most embarrassing moments of my life!

India – Varanasi

Last weekend I returned from just over two weeks in beautiful North India – what a magical, dusty, awe inspiring time. I met my cousin Shell in Delhi – almost the halfway point between our homes  – her flying in from New Zealand, and me flying from England. We chose to make life a bit easier and maximise opportunities with the limited time we were there, and took a tour with responsible travel operators, Intrepid. This was book-ended with a few days in Delhi either side!

varanasi-cardomom-chai

To get to Varanasi, we took an overnight train from Delhi. It was an interesting affair, with chai wallas calling up and down the carriages and my cousin (I’ll let you take this one on the chin, Shell) getting into a little war of dirty looks with one of our cabin-mates. A great experience nonetheless – I loved the fresh sheets, packaged in paper printed with the train timetable; and drawing the curtains to watch farmers and families get to work at dawn as we rolled towards Varanasi.

Varanasi - Assi Ghat varanasi-boat-buildingvaranasi-washingVaranasi sits on the river Ganges/Ganga, and is considered spiritual capital of India. Birth, life, death. It all happens here on the riverbank. Nothing stops, it just keeps going as it has done for thousands of years. It made me feel so small, with my ‘hectic lifestyle’, the pressing concerns of London life, and of course, the relentless worry about how well some Facebook posts are doing… Interestingly, Varanasi is the place where my phone decided to implode, perhaps due to the heat and dust, leaving me incommunicado from the world for the next two weeks.
Varanasi Ganges Space invaderVaranasi - big stepsOne of the many street dogs I met in India. This puppy and its two siblings were almost irresistible – I was very tempted to scoop them up (plus mama) and take them all home. varanasi-cycle-rickshaw varanasi-heroOne of the many utilitarian ‘Hero’ brand bicycles I saw on my journey. Note the double tube on the frame. This is intended for carrying heavy loads – such as milk pails in the morning, or gas cylinders, which are hooked on the frame.varanasi-cowvaranasi-thaliDelicious ‘special’ thali for ₹300. Plus free air conditioning – bonus! It was around 42°C each day we were there. Somehow it was survivable – perhaps because there was none of the overwhelming humidity that some cities have (I’m looking at you, Auckland). More photos from Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and the village of Tordi to come… Namaste.

Daily photo: Retro roosters

Chicken licken

Chicken licken… A throwback to 2005, when I went travelling with my friend Richard in Thailand. This is from somewhere in Bangkok; a flock of golden cockerels.

I feel a little bit ill to think that it was a whole decade ago we ventured into the smoggy heat, exploring South East Asia for the first time. I’ll spare you the self-portrait – but think bleach blonde hair, white t-shirts and aqua-marine cotton skirts with a hem skimming my ankles.

Praha – Prague

June 2014. Thom and I flew to Prague on a Sunday afternoon, for a few day’s exploration of central Europe. Once we arrived at our hotel, we found a cute, compact city with loads of cheap beer. It was a whirlwind trip – we only had just over a day before we headed off to Budapest, but it was fun.

PragueEven though I have lived in a city with an underground for nearly three years, I find them endlessly interesting. They same goes for beautiful old buildings. I can’t resist pastel coloured architecture.

Prague

The famous medieval astronomical clock, the first mention of which was recorded in 1410 . If you’re lucky enough to walk by on the hour, there is an animatronic display – with a bell ringing skeleton and a shuffling of apostles in the windows above the dial.

Prague

Two favourites in one image: Thom checking out the view from Frank Gehry’s Dancing House, which overlooks the Vltava river. The beer is at the Prague Beer Museum – a fantastic name for a pub! I had a sip or two of Modra Luna, a sweet blueberry lager.

Prague

One of the more pronounceable subway stops and a tourist selfie at Prague castle. (Hi parents!)

Prague

A Soviet era vehicle in stylish brown, and the author posing on one’s 70’s era couchette seat on the night train to Budapest. Shortly after this photo was taken we were off, tucked up in bed and chugging through the Czech Republic with a 5:00AM appointment in Bratislava to keep.