I loved these places so much....I had to write about them.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

10 Travel Mistakes and How to Avoid Them!

Udaipur, India - Beautiful Travel Destination

Travel Errors We Have Made.....

We travel to popular and exotic places, great cities and far away lands. We don't spend a fortune on travel, but we don't cheap out either. Travel  is an important part of our lives and we love it!  Here are some of the mistakes we have actually made, and learned from, in over twenty years of global travel. 

  1In your 'carry-on' take a change of clothes, essentials, and your camera. When we flew to Bangkok, our bags were missing for 2 days.  We wasted time shopping for essentials and missed some good photo ops. 

      2.   Pack light, travel light. In Santorini we stayed in a gorgeous cave hotel accessed by steep stairs down the side of the caldera.  My bag was too heavy and I hurt my knee - no fun. If you must shop buy light, small things. Example: Budapest buy paprika; Thailand, silk scarves. Buy heavier items at the end of the trip. Shopping takes time, money and weighs you down. Resist.

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

    3.  Learn before you go so you can appreciate the cultural experience.  In Bagan, Myanmar, we had some great meals with many unidentified small plates, but we had no idea what we were eating. I regretted not learning more about the unique cuisine, traditional customs and history before I went. Hint:- learn at minimum a few words of the local language before you go – like ‘thanks’ and ‘hello’. 

Small plates in Bagan, Myanmar
      4.    As a pedestrian, be aware. Cross the street with the locals. In Delhi and Bangkok, we ended up in some tight and dangerous encounters with vehicle traffic. Not every city is pedestrian friendly – some are downright hostile.

      5.    Beware the ‘soft’ scams. Even the most experienced travelers can get fooled. In Delhi, a well-dressed fellow told us that the museum was 'closed' for a lunch – upon his advice, we ended up at a shop. Don’t go with people who approach you on the street, don’t take their advice. Make your own plans and stick to them.

      6.    Don’t use taxis from the airport when the public transportation is perfectly fine.  Research this before you go and save cash and time. Singapore, Athens, Rome, Amsterdam, Paris  all have fast public transit from the airport. Ask your hotel if they will pick you up at the airport.  This was convenient and dependable in Cochin and Delhi in India, in Istanbul, and in Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar.  Ask your hotel for a good  local travel agent. Generally, they won’t steer you wrong.

       7.    Choose food carefully.  Don't eat creamy foods that are not chilled. Hot foods should be hot, not lukewarm. Enjoy great food experiences as you travel, but use common sense.  Take medications to combat diarrhea, constipation and vomiting. 
Shopping in Udaipur, India

     8.    Don't be lateCheck your departure times. Leave enough time.  In Jaipur we went to the wrong train station. In Lyon we missed the train.

       9.    Don't rely on e-readers as guide books.  E-readers are great for reading indoors, but not yet as 'on the street' travel guides. Hard to read in daylight and difficult to navigate through when on the street. 

       10.    Stay cool. When in the tropics,  get air conditioning. Kerala was so hot we needed to escape mid-day to a cool room. Varkala beach was stunningly beautiful, but we absolutely roasted at night! 

Here’s a few mistakes we haven’t made, and hope you don’t either.
View from the hotel room in Delhi.

     1.  Resist renting and riding on motorcycles or mopeds. We have encountered MANY injured travelers. Thinking of deep sea diving, or para-sailing? Safety is not always a priority on the beach.   CAUTION!  Is the equipment truly safe, is the training excellent, is the company reputable, are you insured for injury?

     2.  Buy medical travel insurance! You think you are healthy and nothing will happen to you? Maybe not, but maybe so. Get your shots before you travel, too.

     3.  Keep your valuables secure on your person. In Rome, a pickpocket tried, but got nothing, because our money was safely zipped up in shirt pockets.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mount Popa, Myanmar

We climbed to the top of Mount Popa, 777 steps.

Rendition of Nat spirits at Mount Popa
Nat Worship in Burma.

Some Buddhists in Myanmar, especially those in rural areas, worship Nats.  Nats are uniquely Burmese. They are spirits or guardians and protectors with dominion over people or things.  The worship of Nats  pre-dates Buddhism,  which became the national religion of  Burma in the eleventh century.   Nat worship was a form of animism, especially popular with the hill peoples of Myanmar, but practiced all over the country.
Mount Popa, Burma
Mount Popa, an extinct volcano in central Burma, was  home of the most important Nat, the Lord of the Great Mountain, and his Sister Lady Golden-Face.  In the ninth century they became the guardian gods of the city of Pagan.  Nat worshippers travelled to Mount Popa for a feast at the full moon in December.  Animals were sacrificed,  people drank palm toddy wine and danced. Full moon festivals were common throughout Burma in Nat worship.

Atop Mount Popa, monkey's view of Myanmar.
In the town below Mount Popa
Although pre-Buddhist practices, such as astrology, alchemy and the worship of Nats, were suppressed when King Anawratha unified Burma in the eleventh century and made Buddhism the national religion, Nat worship continued. The King eventually integrated Nat worship into Theravada Buddhism,  added one of his own to the traditional 36 primary Nats, and replaced other Nats with his own dead war heroes. 
Today in Myanmar, Nat worship continues, side by side Buddhism, with pilgrimages and festivals held throughout the country. Nats are similar to Saints, some with human characteristics, such as drinking and smoking. Some protect the environment and dwell in the forest or mountains, and environmental destruction could bring their rath.   Nats are spiritual friends of the Burmese people.

Nats guard Buddha in Bagan. Stop, and look, they seem to say.

Mount Popa is a day trip from Bagan. On the way to Mount Popa from Bagan, we stopped to see how palm oil, palm candy (jaggery) and palm toddy wine are made, the old fashioned way. The drinking of toddy, wild dancing and traditional hsaing music enduce the trance at a Nat festival, and assist in the belief that revellers are possessed by the Nats.

Palm Toddy

Grinding to make palm oil

Mount Popa, as an important shrine to Nat worship, was an extremely interesting place to visit. Monkeys inhabit the temples, and we enjoyed watching them, keeping our distance because they can be aggressive. The climb up to the top, 777 steps in bare feet, was not too difficult. Mount Popa does not have the beautiful old buddhas, pagodas and temples of Bagan, but as Nat worship is still prevalent in Myanmar, Mount Popa is culturally important.  Before we went to Myanmar, we knew nothing of Nats.  

In Mandalay, Myanmar

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Jodhpur, India

Jodhpur town square at twilight. Look at the activity, even as the day is winding down.
The tailor sewing, customers at the pakora cart. In the background, trucks and
motorcycles rage ahead near cows, and above it all - the ghost of the
British empire, the landmark clock tower. (My favourite picture of the trip).


Jodhpur - the Blue City, from the Fortress  the Mehrangarh
Jodhpur, the Blue City of Rajasthan

After an afternoon train ride from Jaisalmer, we arrived after dark at the bustling Jodhpur train station. We were quickly ushered out towards the cabs through the crowds, into the dark, noisy night.  Local travellers were sleeping outside, next to the station. Every free spot of land was occupied. Something was moving at the base of the walls of the station....quickly and rythmically. Rats. Hundreds of rats, running in and out of cracks and holes in the walls of the station - scurrying around the  blanketed sleepers.  It was a startling but mesmerizing sight.  

In the Fort, Jodhpur, India

Busy, crowded, colourful, friendly.....Jodhpur.

Mr. Sharma, astrologer, in Jodhpur, India

The Mahrangarh

With only one full day in Jodhpur, we headed to the Mehrangarh. The formidable, impressive fortress of Jodhpur, the Mehrangarh, rises solidly on rock above the blue city. It houses cannons, gates and turrets, grand palaces,  jewelled rooms  of maharaja royalty and an interesting, popular museum. We  took the recommended audio tour. Famous astrologer, Mr. Sharma, read my palm and astrological chart inside the fortress. Astrology has been valued by the people of India since ancient times, and astrologers are consulted for many matters, including marriage compatibility. What better place for an astrological reading than India? 

The Mahrangarh in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

In the fortress at Jodhpur

Markets near the Clock Tower Landmark

We walked around the lively Sadar market and the narrow streets and medieval bazaars of old Jodhpur for a few hours. The marketplace was bustling, with crowds of local shoppers, carts with fresh produce and lunch foods, stores with teas and spices, beautiful bolts of fabrics, Rajasthani crafts, and household dry goods of all sorts. The friendly people of Jodhpur were happy to chat with us.  

Spices and friendly people in Jodhpur, India.

In the old town and marketplace in Jodhpur
Vibrant Jodhpur

Jodhpur, a city of just under a million people, is rich in the cultural history of Rajasthan. It has a rural feel about it. Jodphur was the most colourful of any of the places we visited in Rajasthan, with its' panorama of blue buildings, dazzling neon fabrics, sparkling handicrafts, and brightly decorated auto-rickshaws, or 'tuk tuks', as we called them.

I love my pictures from Jodhpur - some of my favourites of the entire trip. We stayed two nights in Jodhpur, as planned. It's a place worth spending some time in on any trip to Rajasthan.

Decorated and colourful tuk tuk in Jodhpur - behind a belching truck ...

....loaded with bright fabrics.

Negotiating a tuk tuk ride in Jodhpur. Only two passengers- that's the rule.


 Next stop......Udaipur via Ranakpur and the renowned Jain temple.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dieppe, France. A Soldier's Story from WWII

clipping from the Windsor Star, August 1942.

The Dieppe Raid: August 19, 1942

Of the 6100 assault troops to land at Dieppe, 5000 were Canadians, many from Windsor, Ontario. Dieppe was a nightmare - over 900 soldiers killed, 2000 captured, hundreds more wounded. Here is my father's story. He was one of the lucky ones to escape the slaughter at Dieppe on August 19, 1942.

My father, Henry Charles Read, and his younger brother, William George Read, from Windsor, Ontario, were both at the Dieppe raid. They were Sergeants with the 11th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. As engineers their job in the Dieppe raid was to get into the town, set explosives and blow up their target, I believe it was a factory. They landed at Dieppe in the dark, before sunrise and before the majority of the troops came ashore. The Germans were waiting for them, and there was heavy gunfire and shelling. My uncle was injured shortly after landing. His arm was badly wounded and he was evacuated back to a hospital in England. My dad continued on with other engineers into the town of Dieppe where they set and detonated the explosives, as ordered. Eventually, the word came down the line from the Canadian command that they were to surrender to the Germans. My dad and a few of his buddies would have nothing of that. As he said, he wasn't going to sit out the rest of the war in a German prisoner of war camp. Instead, they surveyed the land and the beach and found a spot where they 'went into the water'. They waded way out into the English Channel, where a Polish destroyer picked them up a few hours later, and they were returned safely to England.

For pictures of the day on the Dieppe Raid

A link to video of the Assault on Dieppe

A link to video footage of the Aftermath at Dieppe, August 19, 1942

Dieppe now......
The pebbled, rocky beach at Dieppe. Was it any wonder the tanks got stuck?
We travelled to Dieppe a few years ago.
Arrived by train
Dieppe, France, from the cliffs. It was evident that Dieppe could be easily defended by the Germans.
On main street, Dieppe, France.
Canadian War Memorial on the beach at Dieppe, France

Poppies growing near the beach at Dieppe, France

On August 19, the sun shines through the maple leaf on the momument, to match up with the maple leaf on the ground.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Inside Fort Jaisalmer, view from a patio
Station in Jaipur
Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India  is near the border with Pakistan in the Thar desert. For security reasons, the airport isn't open. The remote location of Jaisalmer attracts fewer tourists, and this is part of its' tranquil charm. We left hectic Jaipur for Jaisalmer by train shortly after midnight and awoke next morning streaming through the Thar desert, with glimpses of peacocks along the tracks and wind generators in the distance. 

We arrived in Jaisalmer, the Golden City, around noon. Fort Jaisalmer, built in 1156, rises on a sandstone ridge high above the desert. A third of the people of Jaisalmer still live in the old town inside the Fort. We stayed outside at the Hotel Fifu.
Jaisalmer Fort from Hotel Fifu

Hotel Fifu is in a rural neighbourhood within easy walking distance of the Fort. Above the guest rooms of this superb small hotel are several levels of comfortable dining and relaxation terraces with stunning views of the Fort and the surrounding desert. 

In the Jain Temple

Jain carvings

Jauhar handprints

We found Bobbi's Craft Shop on a narrow street on our first day.

Mr. Fifu hooked us up with local guide, Vivender, for a full day walk through the historic sites of Jaisalmer. We toured the Fort, old havelis, exquisite Jain temples, attended a Hindu celebration, and climbed up a  turret to a patio for tea and views of the Fort and the desert beyond. What an interesting day.

Jaisalmer lies in the heart of the Thar desert. This is the land of snake charmers and camel caravans, where women wear bright neon scarves and dance with fire pots on their heads. The music is lively, crafts are colourful, the architecture medieval, and the people are friendly and unique with a rich culture.  

Village near the camp

Mr. Fifu organized a safari by jeep through the desert, where we slept in canvas tents, with camels nearby, ready for trekking. We watched the sun set over sand dunes, an entrancing, peaceful experience. After dark, there was energetic and beautiful Rajasthani folk music and dancing around the campfire by local Kalbelia folk artists - a highlight! 

Talented dancer at our campsite.

We visited Jaisalmer in early March, midway through our 3 week trip through Rajasthan. There is an annual performing arts festival in Jaisalmer in early February, which would be spectacular to attend. Jaisalmer is fascinating in so many ways, and Hotel Fifu, too, was a special place. Summer is brutally hot in Jaisalmer, so check out the climate before you book - but go.

Our tents in the Thar Desert

After sundown, we were treated to fabulous local talent.

Thar desert near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Rajasthan  Music and dance around the campfire.