Taking a Break

Over the past almost three years I have kept this blog regularly updated, and will stop doing so until the end of the year.

After Jordan I went to Vienna, and then Spain, where I am now. I’ll be in the UK the week after next, off to Athens after Christmas, then somewhere a bit closer to the UK as I am flying from Heathrow to Melbourne. From Melbourne I’ll go to New Zealand where I’ll be staying for hopefully at least a year. The New Zealand visa is a bit of a tricky one for me to get due to needing medical examinations, and the time frame in which I will be able to get this done.

The past few months have been pretty full on; adapting to different cultures and being completely aware of my surroundings, over 17 countries since August, 18 if you count two minutes in a room on the North/South Korea border. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag, some parts I’ve really enjoyed – Egypt, Japan, temple hopping in Cambodia, eating in Vietnam, the Great Wall. There were parts I thought I was going to love but didn’t – being a tourist in Vietnam and noticing the downsides of countries that I do like. Also, dealing with constant back pain isn’t easy, and I missed out seeing a lot of Malaysia because of this. Now I’m just trying to chill, find some coffee and read my book instead of being a tourist, and sorting myself out until I land in New Zealand.

Jordan

Going on from Egypt, four of us from the group went onto Jordan, to meet up with the new group that evening. We went out to dinner and then to the bottle-o, as we were going to Wadi Rum desert the next morning.

The only reason why I knew of Wadi Rum was because it was where the film ‘The Martian’ was filmed, where the character Matt Damon plays gets stranded on Mars. It was a four hour drive before getting to the camp, watching the sunset and having dinner cooked for us. It was cooked in a traditional Bedouin way, buried underground with coals, though every time the guide mentioned Bedouins, I thought he was saying penguins and I was trying to work out why penguins were in the desert.

Desert hummus

In the desert we went on what was branded as a 14km trek, and there were a couple of people in the group I was thinking would crack the shits. As it was mainly flat, it wasn’t too bad apart from one uphill bit back to the camp.

The following day we moved onto Petra, and was told that the site was a two minute walk from the hotel. The two minute walk was to the entrance then a further 20 minutes from the treasury, with horses in carriages running up and down, proving to be very dangerous. I had quite possibly the best view with a lunch that I’ve had, in front of the treasury then had a guided tour around the whole site. For dinner we went to a lady’s house to have a homecooked meal.

The Monastery

After that, we had one full day to ourselves in Petra, where the group woke up early to hike up to the monastery with some cats and dogs following at times. People actually opt to ride donkeys to the top which is something like at least 900 uphill steps, a journey which took me around an hour. I think it’s incredibly cruel that these animals are used in this way, as though they are a price tag and not a living creature. I tried to make space for two people on donkeys, side by side on a narrow path on the edge of the cliff. Bearing in mind that health and safety here isn’t like back home, and had one of the people on a donkey saying “beep beep get out of our way” whilst I was stood on the side of a cliff. I did give a shitty reply, but I wish I asked them if they wanted me to beep beep out of their way off the side of a cliff.

I think we ended up walking 16km during the day, with a choice as to whether or not to go and see the Petra by Night. Most people could not be arsed to do the walk back up again, and therefore few people went, but by the sounds of it I’m glad I didn’t go. That night we went out for dinner, where for some reason our food came up on these big gold box platters, which were like a smaller version of King Tut’s tomb.

Following this, we went to Madaba, to stop in the Dead Sea. For me, it was something that I just could not be arsed to do, and I didn’t really feel the need to smother myself in mud that hundreds of other people have used to do the same prior, and then lay in water and get bored after not even five minutes. I just didn’t feel the need to do it. Instead, I had a coffee with someone else in the group and placed bets on who we thought would be first and last up.

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Sunset over the borders of Jordan, Palestine and Israel

During the evening we went to the Moses Memorial – perhaps a bit wasted on me considering my grade G in my GCSE RE exam, but is quite a nice site regardless of how into religion you are, and we had a really nice sunset. The next day we went to Jerash, with the largest intact Roman city outside of Rome, which is quite something.

For me, after Egypt, I felt as though Jordan didn’t really compare to it, and our Jordanian guide was not great. The history in Egypt is so interesting and so much more in depth – perhaps if we had another guide for this leg of the trip I’d think differently, I wasn’t too fond of the food, and the best things I ate were a falafel sandwich and a maccas at the airport. I’m glad I went, and chose to go straight after Egypt, and the group was great, but I think I’ll be satisfied going just the once.

Egypt

Just a warning that this is a very long post.

Leaving Romania, I had a long travel day ahead of me. Whilst looking on Skyscanner most of the flights were around the same price and the options weren’t great; they all required a layover or bank loan for a direct flight. After a bit of thinking, I chose Turkish Airlines as they offer a free tour of Istanbul if your layover is longer than six hours.

I just about made it to the tour I wanted to get on as opposed to a later one. The customs queue was a shitfight, as well as the queue to register for the tour, which I signed up for with literally a minute to spare. We went through a palace, I forgot the name, for an hour and a half, then to the Blue Mosque – just the outside as the queue was over an hour long, a market, free dinner and a walk around the city. I’d definitely recommend doing it during a layover if it doesn’t make the flight that much more expensive as it gives you a feel for the city, but you can’t do a whole lot there.

After I killed five hours in Ataturk Airport and slept through the flight to Cairo, I got in a taxi and went to the hotel. They let me check in at 5am.

I didn’t plan on doing much after waking up, then thought it’d be a waste to be in Cairo and not do something, so I went to the Egyptian Museum. There’s over 130,000 artefacts inside, and a lot of it is older than the religion of Christianity – nowadays it’s hard to buy a pen that lasts longer than a month without it going missing, but 2000+ years ago, things were made to last. I’m really glad that I took the time to spend a few hours here; it’s the type of place you can spend all day at.

The next day the tour group met, went to a market which was pretty generic then off to dinner. There’s a speciality here of macaroni, spaghetti, chickpeas, lentils, fried onions and rice tossed together with tomato sauce which is oddly satisfying – there’s restaurants that sell just that. The following day we were up to go to and see the Pyramids – the third wonder of the world that I’ve seen so far.

You start to wonder not just how they built the pyramids, but how they got all the resources together too, with the bricks weighing tons each and being transported hundreds of miles to Giza, built really high. We had the option to go into the Great Pyramid or the smaller one, I went into just the smaller one as it seemed the most worthwhile choice and you spend less time crouched down. It’s really cool to go inside, hoping that you haven’t timed it for when the Pyramids collapse after thousands of years.

We had a camel ride after, but I just felt bad for the camels – they go on the floor, a tourist hops on them, then they walk a bit and walk back, to repeat, and I don’t think the people guiding the camels are that friendly towards the animals – they seem to just be after tips. It’s at the area where you get a panoramic view of the pyramids and it’s just great to see. After, as a group we went to the Egyptian Museum, this time I went inside the Mummy room and saw King Tut’s mask with the relics that were in the tomb, as well as the information behind some of the pieces there as we had our guide.

That evening we had a 13 hour sleeper train to Aswan; we’re paired up to share rooms so on the train I volunteered to be on the top bunk as I’m sure I’ve been in worse bunks in hostels. It was pretty ok besides having not much space and nothing to prevent falling out of the bed, with a toilet that you had to hold the lid up to use. Upon arriving, we had a short ride to get a boat to the Temple of Philae, also known as the Temple of Isis, which is just amazing. There’s carvings everywhere, even on the ceiling, and it’s somewhere to go rather than read about how I describe it. We chilled for the afternoon, then had a 4am start.

We got up early to go to Abu Simbel Temple, which turned out to be a 7.5, almost 8 hour round trip. It’s been relocated due to the lake near it flooding, but you couldn’t tell and probably looked just as good as the original. We spent an hour and a half in the temples there before heading back to the hotel. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple, but there’s some on Google.

After Aswan came Luxor, taking us 26 hours to get to – 22 hours on a boat, and then a four hour bus ride to finish the journey. After a couple of hours in the hotel we went to Karnak Temple which was just nuts in terms of the size of the place and how well preserved it is, not to mention the work that went into it. There were indicators to tell that it was an unfinished temple. I had been expecting to get templed out at some point on this trip, but every one of them has a unique touch to them, so we were still looking up in awe. We had a nice dinner that night on a rooftop bar, where I had an Egyptian styled pizza – the next day we were getting an overnight train so I did not want to risk eating something dodgy.

Our last place to visit was Valley of the Kings, for me I think this was the best stop. The site is hills and mountains where ancient kings had tombs made for them, a lot of them still undiscovered. The details and colours of the carvings on the wall, as well as the tombs, how the Egyptians managed to not only build them, but get the lids on top is insane. I also chose to pay a bit extra and go into King Tut’s tomb – it’s the smallest and underwhelming compared to the others – he died unexpectedly so the Egyptians had little time to build a tomb, and most of the treasures and tomb we saw in Cairo Museum. Inside there was his mummy on display. To take photos there was a charge and I just wanted to put my camera down and enjoy it, though the guards didn’t care if anyone took pictures, regardless of having a pass or not. During the evening before getting on the night train back up to Cairo I managed a quick trip to Luxor Museum.

What did I think about Egypt? Quite possibly the highlight of my travels. It was unique in the sense that you see how people live when you travel, but here you see how people lived 3000 years ago and it’s right there in front of you, untouched besides the preservation work. I am so glad that I booked this tour, with the group that I was with, and was definitely worth what I paid for. I’ve left Egypt wanting to learn more about the ancient Egyptians, and when I’ve got my Netflix membership back I’ll definitely be watching a few docos after I’ve finished watching Brooklyn 99.

Back in Budapest

Going back to Budapest marked my third time there; I thought that arriving from India I’d want somewhere to chill and wanted to be in Europe rather than Asia. Budapest it was. The hostel I stayed in is the best one I’ve ever stayed in, with 14 guests when it’s full.

I didn’t really do a lot – went to the Gellert Hill baths, did a street art walking tour, went to Szimpla with a couple of Australians who wanted to be in bed by midnight and not much else.

 

Pushkar and Back to Delhi

The last day of our tour was in Pushkar, one of the holy cities. The main attraction is a market, selling the generic kind of tourist stuff. We arrived, had some lunch and went for a camel safari. I got on the camel where there was just a stump to hold onto, and was pretty uncomfortable on the top. From my workplace injuries I’ve lost proper grip in two fingers as well as grip in my thumb – I don’t need the list of injuries that I’ve had over the past five years to include falling off a camel. Whilst camels have been used for transport and carrying heavy loads, I wasn’t sure how ethical it was to ride them.

We went to the market, just to see what it was like as we had the next morning to do as we pleased. Our dinner stop was with a local family, cooking us all a vegetarian meal.

The next morning I spent in the market, but being in Asia for ten weeks there was nothing that really stood out. There were a couple of other places to visit that I wasn’t too fussed about seeing.

After a seven hour train back to Dehli, we reached the hotel and I had the next day to do as I pleased before boarding the flight to Dubai, then Budapest. My driver stopped me off at a Sikh temple, Humayun’s Tomb, a market, the outside of the Lotus Palace as the queue was around two hours long, and then the airport.

Chapati Machine in the Sikh Temple

I had been advised by a few people to go to the airport six hours before the flight to leave enough time for traffic, which was heavy when I first arrived to India. The only traffic I encountered was two red lights, so I had five and a half hours in Delhi Airport, a flight to Dubai, then nine hours in Dubai Airport and six hours flying/sleeping to Budapest.

What did I get out of going to India? I saw how other people lived. A massive part of the culture is based on marriage, religion, education level, political views – very different to what I’ve been around my whole life. I’m very content to be able to do what I want to do without being subject to do what is expected of me by everyone in the culture.

I also saw how people live on the streets, people with struggles that I will never have to face – just because I was lucky to be born where I was born. There was someone on the trip who moaned about being uncomfortable on an unpaved road, but if they had paid attention outside the window of the air conditioned car, she would have realised how well she’s lived. I enjoyed a lot of the trip, but at time it felt as though we were at places to be in places, like staying in a fort with not a lot to do around.

I also had a small group of four people, me being the youngest by at least fifteen years, and two retirees. I have a feeling that we missed out on a few things for their comfort, and there was no one really I could have a laugh, have a drink and chat shit with. There’s a few small things that I would’ve liked to do, like fit as many people as possible into a tuk tuk. Whilst it’s something Westerners would do more for a laugh as it’s something we would get arrested for back home, it’s legitimately how people live. They’d rather sacrifice their comfort for fifteen minutes and use the money instead of hiring another tuk tuk to help themselves live.

Would I go back to India? Absolutely. Next time though, the South and Central. As I’m approaching the end of my travels it’s definitely going to be a few years at least until my return, but it’s near the top of my list.

Bijaipur & Udaipur

The night prior to staying in Bijaipur was our rest stop, a glamping site and I had an epic nap, read a lot and slept.

Our stay in Bijaipur was in a castle – the trip titled “Classic Rajasthan,” meant that it was Classic in the sense of the royalty surrounding the state. There wasn’t a great deal to do there apart from walking around the village and I really think that the company could’ve interpreted the “classic” in different ways, not just staying in fancy places.

Moving on from Bijaipur, we went to Udaipur. After checking into the hotel we went out for lunch where I had Paneer Koftas, then moved onto the City Palace with a guided tour for around an hour and a half – one of the biggest palaces in India.

After visiting the palace and another nap, we headed off to the river to have a sunset ride which was pretty nice. For dinner I saw tandoori chicken tikka and couldn’t help but to have a day off not eating meat, and it was glorious, with a G&T which made it even better. For dessert we had the Indian dessert, Kheer, which is rice pudding with saffron, condensed milk, ground nuts and sugar.

The following day was our free day so I went to a cooking class, which was interesting. I learnt how to make Marsala Chai, Pilau Rice, Chapatis, an Okra dish, a vegetarian potato dish and a daal. I then went on to get my palm read just for fun. Apparently, I’m supposed to face east every Tuesday for twelve weeks and chant, fast every Saturday only eating one meal and to put water in a copper cup overnight and drink it each morning. Obviously, all of which I’m not going to do. He did tell me a few interesting things – apparently I could have two daughters but he can see from my palm that I don’t like children (I’m thinking maybe these daughters are kittens?), that I’m due to start feeling old at around 75 despite my back making me feel as though I’m 75 at the age of 24 and I’m to live into my 80s.

 

 

Ranthambore & Bundi

From Jaipur we moved onto Ranthambore to take part in a game drive, which I wasn’t impressed by. It was uncomfortable on the track with my back – a lot rougher than the ones in Africa. There was a lot of protruding foliage twatting me in the face and I ended up covered in dirt. We didn’t see any tigers, but instead a sloth bear which is rarer than the tigers.

The following day we headed off to Bundi- upon arriving I had a three hour long nap and our guide had to come and get me from my room to go and see Bundi Palace, as well as the town. We’d already seen a few palaces so far, as well as spending ten weeks in Asia, but this one was definitely worth a visit. We’d stopped off at a stairwell before and through the market after. The highlight for me was on the way back to the hotel, seeing a group of cows just chilling in the middle of the traffic, forcing traffic to go around.

Madhogarh & Jaipur

From Agra we went to a village called Madhogarh. There’s a fort where we stayed the night which had a very famous Bollywood movie director checking it out during our stay. On the way there, looking out of the air-conditioned car window, I saw actual poverty with people who could not have access to sanitation, proper/safe nutrition, shelter, education etc. It really hit home how lucky I am to simply have been born where I was and the challenges that the poor people have here are not ones I will ever have to face.

Once in Fort Madhogarh we were given time just to wander around the premises and to have lunch. In the evening we popped into the village where there’s kids playing in the street, and begging the tourists to take their photo, as they enjoy seeing their picture straight after. I can only imagine what would happen in the UK and Australia if people were taking pictures of other peoples children in the streets.

We moved onto Jaipur afterwards, stopping at the Amer Fort on the way. Again, we had a tour guide specifically for the Fort, telling us the functions of everything inside. When you’ve been to a few of these kind of places, they all feel the same. My favourite place inside was the Mirror Palace.

Moving on, we went to a tailoring place, endorsed by Intrepid. This kind of place likes to make you buy something, showing us various kinds of duvets, blankets, tablecloths, jackets, scarves, the list goes on. I was tempted by a duvet because no matter how much I travel, bed is one of my favourite places so it’s worth making an investment. However, without owning a bed or even having a fixed address, I passed.

The next stop was Hawa Mahal, the outside of the building is allegedly heaps better than what is on the inside, so had a quick stop to take pictures before heading to the hotel, where we didn’t do much else besides eat dinner.

After a lay in the following morning we had a look around the market which wasn’t completely open, though did have a quick samosa stop with some kachoori thrown in too, before heading to a jewellers and dropped back to the hotel and left to our own devices. I had to go to an ATM, passing a place for some lassi. Whilst crossing the road someone came up to me trying to sell me stuff that I do not want. When he asked where I’m from what seemed to be the perfect opportunity to make him go away turned to shit – he asked me where I’m from and the first place that came to mind was Germany. He gave me a sales pitch in German and I didn’t understand any of it. I have a feeling that next time I should pretend to be Polish.

I went to the City Palace, not staying too long as it was hot and had a really nice tuk tuk driver on the way back, asking me what he should expect for visiting Europe for the first time later this year. Apparently everyone has told him to be prepared for the cold. During the evening we went out for a vegetarian restaurant for dinner and had the nicest meal I’ve had so far (I got our guide to choose my meal), finished with an Indian rice pudding. Our guide took us to a traditional Rajistani sweet shop afterwards and I let him pick for me, which he seemed really excited to do.

Agra and the Taj Mahal

In Agra there’s not just the Taj Mahal but also the Red Fort, featured on the back of some of the bank notes. If there’s one thing I’ve not been able to do recently, it’s been getting out of bed before 11am but getting up at 5 wasn’t as bad as I had expected.

After a two hour train ride we arrived in Agra and straight away went to the Red Fort, with our private guide who told us about the history behind it and how it functioned mainly with the Indian royalty, but also with British soldiers.

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After the Red Fort we went to a carpet making center. The tour company put it in the itinerary as handmade carpets don’t get made too much. They want to be able to support these businesses to help prevent it from dying out, so fair enough. It’s interesting to watch people make them and to hear the amount of time it takes to make them, but it is awkward when you are technically homeless like myself, have nowhere to put a au$1000+ rug and having people just present a lot of rugs at you.

After lunch at the hotel and chilling for a couple of hours we went to the Taj Mahal. The last few years I’ve seen some of the most famous places in the world – the Sydney Opera House, Sangrada Familia, the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, etc., so it doesn’t really hit me to see things in the flesh anymore. With that said, it is very impressive and well worth the visit.

During the evening I went out for dinner with one of the guys on the tour as well as the tour guide. The place we went to is well known for BBQ food, and I am trying to stay off meat whilst I’m here. I had Paneer Tikka, which is spiced BBQ’d cheese with naan which was great.

Delhi

From Malaysia to Delhi was a five and a half hour flight – a lot longer than I’d expected. I didn’t get up to much in KL, though I’ll post some pictures within the next couple of weeks. I got to the hotel around half 8, but went to bed when I arrived.

Yesterday was the day prior to the tour group meeting. I was pretty hesitant about going out alone as India does not have the best reputation for safety for a foreign woman alone so I booked a tour. The choices were food, New Delhi or Gandhi’s Delhi – I’d definitely be eating local food on this trip with the help from a guide, and I’m going to be visiting places similar to what is included in the Delhi tour, so I opted for Gandhi’s Delhi as it’d be the most unique one.

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It was just the guide and I so our first stop was the place where Gandhi was cremated, and Sammy, my guide, took me over the early stages of his life and how he died. I had planned to read his autobiography on the flight over here but I got distracted by the Lord of the Rings movies on the entertainment system. Nowadays it’s a historical monument so is protected by fencing but it’s interesting that the flowers decorating the slab where he was cremated are changed every day.

Next we moved onto a stepwell, which is unrelated but served the purpose during monsoons to contain clean water for households. It’s no longer used for those purposes but now it’s a hangout place, there’s been movies filmed there and it’s a popular spot for people bunking classes as it’s fenced off. Whilst we were being driven to places Sammy told me a lot of information about the area and about Gandhi’s non-violent philosophies, and some of the major events in his life.

We’d stopped off to get some food – starting off with a samosa and some chai, which honestly is one of the best things I’ve ever drank. This was followed by a dessert called gulab jamun; it’s a semolina ball with nuts, spices including cardamom, deep fried in butter and served in a sugar syrup. I knew if the food was like this all along I’d be in for a treat.

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After the samosa pit stop we went to the museum of Gandhi, where he spent his last 144 days before being assassinated. They’ve left his few possessions there including his bedroom, glasses, flip flops and walking stick. There’s too much information there for me to take in, especially on a hot day and Sammy highlighted the major bits.

In the garden there, his final footsteps have been marked along with an alter right where he lost his life. It’s a very well maintained area and very quiet in comparison to the rest of Delhi that I’ve seen.

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Today, the group went on a tour of Old Delhi, starting at the Hama Masjid Mosque, and then a Sikh temple, both of which were pretty standard in terms of places of worship – I may still be templed out from Cambodia. We then had a stop at the spice market, then back to the hotel to chill for a few hours. We signed up for a street food tour with the company for tonight which I’ve recently arrived back from, and I feel as though I would still need an uber to walk a couple of blocks. In addition to the food in the pictures below we also ate Samosas, Kulfi (saffron ice cream with nuts) and Momos (Nepalese Dumplings).

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Chapati making in the Sikh temple

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Paneer Shawarma
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Golgappa
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Pao Bhaji
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Gulab Jamun

Tomorrow we’re off to Agra where the Taj Mahal is located for a one night stay.