Thursday, 22 November 2007

PostHeaderIcon Alarming Times

Our alarm goes off at 6AM in the morning and the usual procedure is I’ll get up make Emma and I a cup of coffee and bring it back up to bed. Well this morning the alarm sounded and I woke up feeling quite pleased that I’d slept straight through as I’ve been waking really early since coming back from India and not been able to get back to sleep. So I got up, went down stairs to make the coffees and brought them back up to bed.

I sat there sipping my coffee when Emma asks “what time is it?” Six O’clock I reply. “Are you sure?” she says. This gets me thinking oh no have we overslept but I look around and it doesn’t appear any lighter outside than it should do so confused I look at the clock and it’s just turned midnight, I’d only been in bed 45 minutes!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Goa, India, November 2007

We spent two weeks in Goa, India staying at the Nanu Beach Resort (photos 6, 8) in South Goa. The hotel was On Betalbatim Beach (photos 10-18) situated in the middle of nowhere. This was both good and bad – it was great not being in the middle of a developed resort, we had piece and tranquillity and for most of the time the whole beach to ourselves. On the downside you couldn’t just wander outside of the hotel to go to another restaurant etc.

The hotel itself was nothing special, it was showing its age and in need of a bit of an update. The air-con for instance was definitely no longer very affective and very noisy. The air temperature was very warm even at night it was just too hot to sleep without having the air-con on. There was one night when we had to switch off the air-con as it was so noisy only to discover that it was actually the air-con in the room below us that was keeping us awake! It was so loud that our room was vibrating! I eventually got up in the middle of the night and went to the hotel reception and asked them to sort it out. After a while when they’d done nothing about it I went back to reception and told them I wasn’t going to leave until something was done and if they couldn’t do anything then they’d have to give us a new room! Needless to say they did something about it then.

There was one good restaurant, Martins Corner, a short taxi drive from the hotel which we went to a couple of times. The food there was great and very cheap, you could get a meal for two that in an Indian restaurant in the UK would set you back about £30-40 for about £7!

The food in our hotel wasn’t anything special. The majority of it was vegetarian (90% of Indians appear to eat veg only, probably because of the cost) with one or two token meat dishes. The meat dishes would often be an attempt at a western dish and were best avoided but when they did do Indian meat dishes they were no better. Here in the UK we are used to very good Indian food (chicken tikka marsala is after all the biggest selling dish in the UK) but in India the quality of the meat available cannot compete. One night I had their lamb rogan josh (well mutton not lamb so goat really) which looked really appetising but on eating it you soon discovered the meat was still on the bone making it fiddly to consume and the sauce itself contained many small bone fragments. You soon learned to eat the veg only dishes, which were actually very good and very tasty. However living on vegetable curries for two weeks has had a rather unpleasant affect on my bowels!

One day on the beach one of the local hawkers approached me and as his English wasn't great he handed me a card to read. It turns out he was supposedly medical trained in cleaning the middle ear! I had to read the card twice just to make sure I'd read it correctly and before I knew what was going on he had his tools in my ear scraping away. Of course I couldn't move in case I got injured and so let him get on with it. He was showing me all the wax that was being removed which quite surprised me. When he went on to clean my other ear I let him get on with it thinking he's doing a great job. He starts babbling on about something and then hands me another card to read which says he has found stones in my ear and it costs 250 rupees to remove each! I can feel his tools scraping against a stone and so ask him to yes please remove them. He removed two stones and then demanded the 500 rupees (about £6.50), I manage to haggle him down a bit to 400 rupees but after handing it to him he shows that I'd only given him 300. I am sure he used some slight of hand to make one of the 100 notes disappear but I couldn't prove anything. Anyway, I was feeling quite pleased that my ears were now nice and clean. Later that day whilst walking down the beach someone else wanted to clean my ears and although I told him I'd just had it done he too got his tools into my ear before I could do anything about it. This guy scrapped around and pulled out a huge blob of wax which most definitely did not come out of my ear! I knew then that it was all just a con and the wax and stones they inserted themselves through some slight of hand, not difficult seen as you cannot see what they are doing. I met many more of these 'ear doctors' and told each one of them to get lost in an ever more aggressive manner.

If you ever go to Goa and want to do a bit of site seeing then don’t book any organised trips by your tour operator. Every hotel has a number of ‘resident’ taxis outside which are very cheap and very enterprising. We booked our first taxi driver to take us to Anjuna Flea Market (photos 21, 22) it was a good hours drive from our hotel and on the way back the driver up-sold us a detour to Old Goa (photos 23-35). Old Goa is the old 16th century capitol city and has a number of church’s and cathedrals as a tourist attraction.

All the taxi drivers are on commission from local stores and they’ll always want to do a bit of a detour to various shops on the return journey to your hotel. You don’t have to buy anything but humour them, one of our taxi drivers showed us what he got for delivering tourists to a shop – 12 visits got him a spare tyre for his taxi! One taxi driver took us to a tailors, we didn’t want to go but Emma agreed without realising it and before we knew what was happening we were ushered inside. The tailors will make anything you want made-to-measure for very cheap prices. They bring out the Next Directory, you select what you want and then the fabric you want and a couple of days later it’s ready. We did a trip to Ponda (photos 46-69) to see some of the spectacular Hindu temples and booked it through the taxi driver that took us to Anjuna and Old Goa just because he was a nice chap.

The only trip we didn’t do with a taxi driver, but we could have, was the trip we took to Hampi. As it needed a couple of nights in a hotel at Hampi there was some comfort in knowing everything was pre-booked. Hampi was an 8-hour train journey away (photos 70-80) so there was a whole days travelling to get there and another whole days travelling to get back with just one days site seeing in between. One day probably isn’t enough to do Hampi justice (photos 83-159) but it was well worth it anyway. The train journey alone is an adventure in itself – there was one point when I was listening to my iPod dozing off a bit when I opened my eyes only to see a mouse sat on my backpack cleaning his whiskers!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

PostHeaderIcon Photos: West Belfast

I am sat writing this in Belfast City airport on my mobile phone with a pint of Smithwicks Ale and a sausage roll in front of me. I have another hour before my flight and have to waste it somehow! As someone recently commented to me "that's true ├╝ber connectivity!"

I'm in Belfast installing network equipment at our NI office and as things went like clockwork yesterday afternoon I had a couple of hours to kill before getting to the airport today. So I thought I'd do the touristy thing again, last time I had enough spare time to go to Giants Causeway, this time with only 2 or 3 hours I had to do something in the city and so decided to have a look around West Belfast in the infamous Falls Road and Shankhill Road area.

This district and others across Belfast are probably like no other place in the UK. The history of the area needs no explanation to anyone, along the Falls Road you have a heartland of the Irish Republican movement and running parallel to it is the Shankhill a heartland for the Unionists. And dividing the two is the so called 'peace line' a monstrosity of concrete and steel that keeps the two communities apart. At the couple of places where roads pass through the wall there are large gates which still today sometimes get shut during periods of heightened tension. Today the wall is nothing more than a tourist attraction with a steady stream of taxis and tour buses bringing people to write there cheesy messages of peace on it.

Personally I think it should be ripped down as it's such an eyesore and symbol of segregation but apparently it gets half a million visitors a year and so someone somewhere is probably counting the money from all those people and thinking it'll cost so much to remove when it's generating so much income. I think that is really sad, whilst it is poignant reminder of recent history and something that will move even the hardest of men it is still a monstrosity, imagine having to live in one of the houses opposite it. And anyway there's loads more to keep the tourists occupied.

There's also all the murals which are on the sides of buildings around almost every corner. There's never any question as to which part of the city you're in, nationalist or loyalist as the murals make it quite clear.

Something I found quite amusing but really only goes to highlight the obsessiveness of the residents was the way in which on the Shankhill side where you had street name plaques on the sides of buildings they had placed additional plaques underneath saying 'Ulster', what's the point really?

I took a few photos with the crap camera in my mobile phone, so the quality isn't that good:


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